Sunday, February 27, 2011

Taste Ontario Wine !

 I recently got an invite to a media and trade show event for Taste Ontario! wine tasting at the NAC in Ottawa. I was really looking forward to the event as there would be a good selection of wineries from the Niagara area, North Shore Lake Erie, Pelee Island and Prince Edward Counties and they would undoubtedly bring a great sampling of wines from their vineyards. Sampling a large amount of wine over a 2 hour period and then jumping in my car and trying to negotiate my way through downtown Ottawa rush hour traffic would not be a sensible decision so I opted for the 15 window limo and road with the masses to downtown Ottawa and then walked a couple of blocks to the NAC. While riding in the bus, I had time to do a little brain math to calculate how long it would take me to cover all of the boothes. Assuming that each booth had 4 wines and it would take me about 2 minutes to sample each wine plus discussion with the representative would be mean I could spend no more than 9 minutes at each booth. Multiply that by 36 booths and I would only need about 6 hours to cover the whole event. Hmmm ? Unfortunately, the media and trade event was only 2 hours long so I had to change my strategy and be more selective in which wineries to visit. With a master plan in the back of my mind, I arrived at the greeting desk in the Panorama room of the NAC. The event was well very organized as they had lots of staff at the front desk processing invitees and I was into the event in only a few minutes with my name tag hanging around my neck, a Taste Ontario program in one hand and a tasting glass in the other. Prince Edward County was first on the list and I sampled some really wonderful Pinot Noir wines from Rosehall Run and The Grange of Prince Edward County plus a 2008 South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay from Huff Estates was very good. A new winery called Casa Dea also had some interesting wines and a really enjoyed talking to the winemaker Paul Battilana about his vineyard.
 The clock was ticking so I had to move onto the Niagara region where I sampled wines from 13th Street Winery, Henry of Pelham, Southbrook, Calamus, CaveSprings, Creekside Estates, Featherstone Estates, Fielding Estates, Flat Rock Cellars, Hidden Bench Vineyards, Le Clos Jordanne, Malivoire, Vineland Estates,  Wayne Gretzky Estates and Peninsula Ridge Estate wineries. All of these wineries produce excellent wines and to list them all would not highlight the effort of the winemakers who obviously have a real passion for producing high quality wine products. I would like to spotlights some of the wines which I thought were exceptional vintages.

  • The Henry of Pelham 2008 Reserve Baco Noir was rich with earthy flavours and well balanced
  • The Clos Jordanne 2008 Village Reserve Chardonnay had nice pear and tropical fruit flavours 
  • The 13th Street Winery 2008 Gamay Noir with strawberry fruit and some pepper on the finish.
I continued to move around the room as fast as I could knowing time was fading quickly. As expected, the Taste Ontario! organizers flashed the lights like parents at a teenage party when the kids have consumed too much pop and sugar and are flying off the walls. The 2 hours had flown by and I was only half way around the room. My master plan to conquer the room in 120 minutes had been defeated by a lack of time management and a need to talk endlessly about wine. The good news was I sampled a lot of great Ontario wines and met some really interesting people passionate about making exceptional wines.

Here's my picks for this week.

Long Flat - 2008 - Shiraz - Australia

A dark ruby red Shiraz with aromas of dark fruits (plum) and a little smoke. Dark fruits again on the palate with some cherry and tobacco. The wine is well balanced with medium tannins and a long smooth dark fruit finish of plums.
Price - under $12 (LCBO)
I like this wine because it pairs well with sharp cheeses or a nice Sunday roast beef with roasted potatoes.

Little Yering - 2008 - Chardonnay - Australia

A nice "little" 100% chardonnay wine that is barrel fermented in French oak and has pale yellow straw like colour with aromas of peach, melon, citrus and vanilla.. Flavours of melon, vanilla and apples standout and the mouthfeel is a buttery texture. This medium bodied Chardonnay has a long smooth fruit finish with a slight taste of residual sugar.
Price - under $15 (LCBO)
I like this wine because it pairs well with creamy pasta dishes or just sipping on it's own on a cool summer evening.

Cheers !

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cap or Cork

Is the traditional cork dead ?

To be replaced by an easy open metal cap that removes all of the romance and elegance of uncorking your favourite varietal or is it simply giving us a less complicated way of enjoying wine. I've certainly heard a lot from both sides of the cork versus screw cap debate and each camp has put up a significant collection of pros and cons to support their argument.
 One of the assertions from those in favour of the screw cap technology propose that the number of cork tainted bottles would be virtually eliminated by screw caps. Cork taint is the result of a chemical called TCA that naturally occurs in cork and is responsible for approximately 1 to 2 % bottle spoilage each year. The odour of cork taint or TCA resembles wet mouldy newspaper and causes the person tasting the wine to scrunch up their face and utter the words "Yikes ! This doesn't smell very nice." The actual concentration of TCA can be quite small (parts per trillion) but our sensitive noses are able to pick it up quite easily. It's not a rewarding experience when you open a $20 bottle of wine only to discover that it smells like someone used it to mop the floor and then put it back in the bottle. Those on the pro cork side would argue that while TCA is still a problem, the wine industry is using better cork cleansing technologies and the use of plastic corks and cork compounds is significantly reducing this problem and that more bottles are dropped and broken during transport from the winery to the glass than TCA spoilage. True enough
Another point put forward by the screw cap side is the reduction of dried out corks that disintegrate on older bottles of wine. Anyone that's opened an older bottle of wine and has struggled with a cork that comes apart like a cheap suit on a hot day knows what I'm talking about. Sometimes it can take a little McGyvering to figure out how to get the cork out without pushing it into the bottle. You end up with more tools in front of you than a heart surgeon on a busy day. Your face contorted as you delicately insert the corkscrew into the crumbling cork like physicist inserting a uranium rod into a reactor all the while reassuring your spouse with that repetitive phrase "I think I've got it this time". Metal screw caps are significantly easier to open, provide a good seal over time and can be recycled when finished. Hold on ! The corkers doth protest. Screw cap technology is relatively new and the long term effects on wine and seal stability can't be assumed. Corks have been used for over five hundreds years. Screw caps have not been tested as long or under the same conditions and corks can be recycled to make make neat little gifts and crafts.
I could go on and on with pros and cons for both sides but it won't bring us any closer to solving the question of whether cork or cap is better.

Whether you're a "save the cork protester" or part of the "screw cap revolution", you as the consumer can choose the type of wine enclosure you prefer. However, the choice of cap or cork resides with the winery owner as they select the bottling technology and the cost of cork or cap is certainly a deciding factor in that choice. So you may get the enclosure you prefer but not necessarily the wine you like. Personally, cork or screw cap, it makes no difference to me. I take great pride in flawlessly opening a bottle of Primitivo. Carefully removing the foil around the rim and then uncork it with a slight pop while not spilling a drop but when I take a Chardonnay out to my guests on the deck and realize that I left the corkscrew on the kitchen counter ... I really wish that it was a screw cap.

Here's my picks for this week

Red Knot - 2008 - Cabernet Sauvignon - Australia

A beautiful deep red cabernet sauvignon with a purple hue around the rim with aromas of blackberries, cherry, tobacco and a little menthol. The 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Shiraz has flavours of dark berries and vanilla with light tannins and a slightly sweet finish.
Price - under $18 (LCBO)
I like this wine because it has nice jammy taste with a intense dark red colour. It has a nice smooth finish and is nicely balanced between tannins and acidity.

Famiglia Bianchi - 2008 - Chardonnay - Argentina

This light yellow chardonnay has aromas of tropical fruit, vanilla and spice. The 8 months of oak aging gives it a creamy flavour of vanilla and apples. It has a long smooth vanilla finish with a moderate acidity level.
Price - only available in the US
I like this wine because it pairs well with most chicken dishes or simply on it's own. A nice easy going chardonnay that shows it's oak and sur lie aging very well.