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What I Drank in Taipei

16 Apr

When work calls, I go. And sometimes it means that JvBUnCorked hits limbo for a few days. One of my recent ‘limbo’ moments was a trip to Taipei, Taiwan.

Before I left, I reached out on various forms of social media to ask “What should I drink when I’m in Taipei?”

I’d hoped to hear about some wine bars or resources. But the responses were few in number. Some said “drink tea, dummy”, others said that Taiwanese people are much more into whisky. I can confirm this- any restaurant I visited that actually had a wine list, had a much longer whisky list, plus other liquors and various house cocktails. But I DID find some good wine, fellow world travelers, and I’m here to share that with you.

 

But first, I drank tea, and it was simply inspiring. My host took me to the Wistaria Tea House, where we drank four different teas- from classic oolong to an “ancient” oolong, a wistaria tea, and a pu’er tea, along with a classic tea ceremony.

If you go to Taipei, do yourself a favor, and go to Wistaria Tea House. 

 

Later that afternoon,  I found wine! We went to a Taiwanese Dim Sum restaurant called Din Tai Fung, renowned for their steamed dumplings, buns, and Taiwanese-style dishes. If you go to Taiwan, DO NOT MISS Din Tai Fung. Getting back on track we had  just finished lunch and were walking through a mall browsing with friends, when my eye spotted this bottle in a mall wine shop. I loved that the back label is in Cantonese! While I knew the bottle was (over) priced based on tariffs, I also knew this was a good option for a dinner wine to pair with Japanese food.

 

Johan Josef Prüm 2009 Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany. 9% ABV, Normally @ $24 USD/bottle; found in wine store in a mall in Taipei for $1700 TWD = $58 USD.

Color is pale straw. The nose offers starfruit, lemon-lime, and sodium. On the palate, gentle pear and apple are met with hints of gooseberry, grapefruit, and lime zest. An excellent blend of citrus with notes of peppercorn, slate, and limestone, presenting a delicate mouthfeel with aged, linear acidity,  Upon opening, I was initially overwhelmed with petrol and a little funk, which burned off with about 20 minutes of air. Paired perfectly with sashimi, sushi, raw fish, and tempura. 

I was happy to have found this bottle but the 2009, considered an excellent year for Prüm, did not bowl me over. I liked it , but not as much as other vintages I have enjoyed. Still, Prüm, a master winemaker of riesling, is always a joy to taste and was a delightful pairing for me and exciting for the Taiwanese guests at dinner who tasted this, at least one tasting riesling for the very first time.

 


I also liked the fact that the back label is printed in Cantonese; that was a first for me.

 

 

A day later after work, I visited the hotel’s executive lounge, which features both Asian, American, and European style food and drink.

 

The bar featured scotch, vodka, several types of beer, and one each white and red wines. I tried the Heartland Stickleback.

 

Heartland Stickleback White Blend 2012, Southern Australia. 13.5%ABV. Street price $8-12/bottle USD.

 

Pale straw in color with a nose of lemon zest and herbs.  On the palate: pear and starfruit, a hint of tangerine, secondary note of dried apple, with a gentle mouthfeel and moderate acidity. Easy to drink, this was food-friendly and popular in the lounge, pairing nicely with fresh cut fruit, cheese, and dried meats. Not enough acid for the zip I  prefer if you want to drink the wine by itself, but a perfectly fine vin du table on a daily basis, especially in the lower price range.

 


 

 

 

My last evening in Taipei, we went to a Szechuan Restaurant that is known for Peking Duck served three ways. But we started off with cod in spicy pepper sauce, green beans, black fungus (mushroom), whole fish in garlic sauce, prawn with chili sauce, and more. My host asked me to choose a wine, but I pulled a classic JvB and asked for two. I went with Champagne, and an Italian red blend…. because, the food, the food, the food! SO TASTY!

 

Jacquesson “Cuvée 740” Extra Brut Champagne; 12% ABV; around $60/bottle USD.

Beautiful lemon-lime zest, sweet apple, white peach, brioche and chalky limestone. A nice balance of fruit, acidity, and mouthfeel; medium sized bubbles bathe the palate while the acid screams for another sip. The grapes in this champagne ( a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier) were harvested in 2012, and it was disgorged in 2017. With a supple mousse, it is easy to down the entire glass- this non-vintage wine is drinking very nicely right now, as if it were a vintage champagne.  This sells in the restaurant for $2800 TWD, about $95 USD- it retails for about $60 in stores in the USA. I found this to be an excellent mid-level champagne, low dosage, perfect for aging, but really ideal for drinking. And enjoy it, we did! This was superb in pairing with the seafood, vegetables, and white meat dishes. it did not last for long, and I will look for it again in the USA!

 


 

 

Last but not least, was a beautiful red wine!

 

Rocca Di Frassinello “Le Sughere” 2012, Maremma Toscana. 14%ABV, SRP $32/bottle in the USA.

 

Dark ruby in color. The nose offers licorice and red fruit. On the palate: cherries, red plum, and dried cranberry. Secondary notes of tobacco, dank forest floor, wet leaves, potting soil. On the finish: toasted oak, a hint of vanilla, and granite. Medium body, with a medium-length finish. My first impression is that this tastes like a classic European field blend: Sangiovese, Merlot, & Cabernet, and was a good foil to the main dishes at the Szechuan Dinner: Peking Duck three ways and stinky tofu, (which had a subtle scent of manure about it) a traditional dish that visitors should try, but one that takes a little getting used to. This wine is probably best with grilled meats, and was a touch strong for some of the Szechuan dishes but is a good choice for a red wine in Asia, with enough body and flexible flavors to handle the savory dishes. It was simply perfect with the Peking duck.

 

 

 

 

 

All in all, I truly enjoyed the many flavors and restaurants we visited in Taipei, and look forward to the continued evolution of wine in Taiwan. I hope to go back, and report on more wine and food!

Gān Bēi!

or…

à votre santé!

 

 

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The Old-World Consistency of Napa’s Chateau Montelena

15 Sep

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 and 2014 vintages. Calistoga, Napa Valley, CA; USA. 14% ABV, MSRP $58/bottle.

 

When an opportunity presented itself to compare back to back vintages of cabernet sauvignon from Napa’s famous Chateau Montelena, I simply could not wait! For those who don’t track annual harvest reports, 2013 was reported as a perfect growing year in Napa. To follow, 2014 started out badly with drought, but eventually this vintage was touted as a “dream” season for the Napa Valley, in spite of providing less tannin and structure than the previous year. Both years are ideal for collectors, and highly suggested for oenophiles.

 

 

In my tasting sessions, I found the vintages had significant similarities and minor differences, as you might expect from the vines, vineyard, and winemaker.  After much deliberation, I decided to use one set of tasting notes, and I’ll discuss the subtle differences in the vintages afterwards.

Color is deep purple; the nose full of blackberry, spice box, hints of fresh violets, and notes of earth. The palate is massive blackberry with allspice, cocoa, some green cuttings, and a hint of ripe raspberry, with a beautiful blend of complex minerals which demonstrate the Calistoga AVA’s flexible, alluvial soils.

 

 

 

 

I tasted these vintages with several neighbors over a mix of grilled meats, savory salads, fresh roasted vegetables, and highly spiced mediterranean chicken. Any red wine lover who tasted either wine was in heaven, but there were some differences. The 2014 was fruitier and more direct, while the 2013 more tannic, with more structure. Had I not known the vintages, I might have expected it was the same wine blend with 5 years of age. Overall, the 2013 appeared drier with the fruit more condensed, whilst the 2014 still demonstrated youthful fruit and an edge towards jam or compote with less tannin and a hint of mocha. By carefully rationing small portions, I was able to taste these bottles for four more days in which I expected the differences to become more apparent. Instead the opposite happened! I found that with more exposure to air, the wines showed stronger similarities as the fruit muted and the tannins melded, harmoniously, like some of the world’s finest old-world chateaux.

 

 

Both of these vintages drink beautifully now, but will show improved finesse and expression in another 5-10 years and beyond, if you can wait that long. The fact that they are an excellent value (and drink like an $85 Napa cab) should not be lost on the wine lover or collector: if you drink these now, you’re a smart drinker; and if you hold them and drink them later, you’re a brilliant collector!

 

Needless to say, I was impressed by both of these vintages of Chateau Montelena. They are proof to me that the winery continues to have tremendous consistency from year to year, and maintains their historic drive for excellence that shocked the wine industry at the famed 1976 Judgement of Paris. It is wonderful to be able to access these wines at a moderate price point. For the serious drinker, the quality of winemaking will make you yearn to taste their upper echelon “estate” series.

 

 

If you are a serious Napa cab lover, you won’t want to wait to take advantage of these two vintages. Now is the time to collect, if you have not already. Or if you are like me, now is the time to invite friends over and open a few bottles to enjoy!

à votre santé!

 

Victor Schoenfeld and Yarden Wines

29 Jun

World-Class Wines, from the Middle East. That may not be the first region that comes to mind, but a few great winemakers are changing that. Victor Schoenfeld, a California native who has been the Yarden head winemaker since 1992,  is credited with being THE single greatest influencer in developing world class wines in Israel, most specifically in the Golan Heights. He’s also a very nice guy, and loves to talk wine. I could have chatted with him for hours and talked terroir and winemaking…but we had wine to taste!

 

Victor Schoenfeld, head winemaker of Yarden Golan Heights Winery

 

And these are some really good wines. World-class, kosher, made-in-Israel, non-mevushal, kick-butt wines.

Don’t believe me? Please, be your own judge and let your mouth tell you. Taste the wines, it’s that easy. I did, and I will tell you, they are worthy wines. I tasted seven wines, and each was impressive in its own way.  Here are my top three that will blow your mind; each of these was so good, I didn’t want to do anything but drink what was in my glass:

 

Yarden Blanc de Blanc 2009, Sparkling Brut Chardonnay, MSRP $30

Light gold in color, with a delicate nose. Beautiful, mature white fruit with gentle effervescence. A delicate sparkling with nice complexity, this wine shows delightful minerality with a hint of toast and no sweetness on the palate. A low-dosage sparkling brut, your mouth will think it is champagne. It was a perfect foil for a raw crudo appetizer.

 

 

Yarden Gewurtztraminer 2016, MSRP $21

Medium straw with a green tinge. Citrus & banana peel on the very floral nose. On the palate, an exotic blend of kiwi, passion fruit, and lychee is matched by a perfect acidity; secondary notes are floral and spice box.  I found this paired so gorgeously with asparagus risotto. I just kept going back and back to it and didn’t want the pairing to end.

 

Yarden Bar’on Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, MSRP $96

Deep, dark, maroon with garnet edging. The nose offers black plum, cassis, aged leather and cigar box. On the palate, mature red fruit along the tongue, with cassis along the sides. A lengthy finish features gravel, granite, and sandy clay. The price on this is worth every penny, comparing well to New and Old world wines in the same price range. This wine was as complex as the lamb I enjoyed with it: flavorful, sensual, evocative, exotic.

 

 

With a few tastes, it’s obvious that Victor Schoenfeld is doing something right, not just great wine (yes!), not just organic (oh, yes, that too!), and not just a few grapes with tremendous terroir. Yarden’s library of wines is varied and includes syrah, malbec, merlot, rosé,  muscat, sauvignon blanc, in addition to these listen just off the top of my head- surely something for every wine drinker.

If you haven’t tried Yarden wines, it’s time for you to taste how the Middle East compares to what you’ve been drinking. You will find yourself impressed, and might be tasting more and more of them. With a full stable of tasty delights, you are bound to find a wine that compares well, and maybe even blows away one of your current favorites.

 

à votre santé!

Chateau Smith Cabernet & Kung Fu Girl Riesling

23 Jun

Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 by Charles Smith Wines, Washington State, USA. 13.5% ABV; MSRP $20/bottle.

The color is dark, inky purple, while the nose provides black fruit, vegetation, spice, and eucalyptus. On the palate: cassis, mature black and red plum dominate, with an undertone of potting soil. Secondary notes of oak, forest floor, granite, slate, and loam. Nice extended finish with lasting tannins. After some air the wine opened, the acid mellowed a touch, and the tannins act brilliantly taut, making this wine a lovely foil for red meat. Smart to achieve by decanting, or 30 minutes in the glass should achieve the same result- but who can wait that long for a Charles Smith wine? Not I, so that air will have to be on glass #2 or #3.

I like the choice of name, as it reminds me of a right bank Bordeaux. Focused, direct, drinkable while young, but age-worthy. Delightful to pair with powerful flavors like red meat, heavy sauces, strong to medium-bodied cheese. If you haven’t had a Columbia/Yakima Cabernet, or you didn’t know that Washington State makes great cabernet, then you owe it to yourself to taste this juice. At this price point, it’s an easy one to put in the cellar or keep ready to go.

 

Kung Fu Girl Riesling, 2015; Charles Smith Wines. Ancient Lakes AVA, Washington,USA. 12%ABV; MSRP $13/bottle.

 

Hang on. $13/bottle? I have to double check myself on this. Seriously? Why am I even telling you this? Back the truck up to my house with this juice…ok, my readers deserve to know the inside scoop: Kung Fu Girl is a black belt in wine, with delightful fruit, just a hint of sweetness, great acidity, and lovely balance. I want to drink this all day long while cooking, gaming, watching movies, shooting pool, or hanging out at the beach house. And it pairs beautifully with asian cuisine and medium bodied cheeses, but it also can hold its own with red meat-  just to try, I paired this with a ribeye last night, and it was a solid choice, proving once again that (a) the old wine rules don’t matter, and (b) you really can pair white wines with red meat if they have enough acidity.

This is so good, I have gone through four one-ounce tasting pours and haven’t even begun my review… that should tell you that I’d rather drink this wine than talk about it, but here goes:

Color is medium straw. Nose of lychee, lime zest, starfruit, and honeysuckle. On the palate, a stunning key lime/citrus with backhanded acidity that surprises the palate. Notes of limestone, calcium and sodium in the lovely minerality. A complex, evolved wine, 2015 must have been an amazing year as the balance of this wine is tremendous and it drinks like much more expensive bottle. As I held the wine in my mouth and pulled air across, a tiny sensation of petrol deep under the surface- but this wine is such a delight in the mouth, it’s impossible to fault. Say again, $13? I’ll be curious to see where this wine is priced next year, and I wish I had room for a couple of cases. If you love bargain riesling, you should give this a try- it could be your wine of the summer.

 

à votre santé!

 

 

Charles Smith Wines: Eve, Boom Boom!, and The Velvet Devil to Tempt Your Tongue!

16 Jun

Charles Smith. If you’re like me, hearing that name is enough to scroll down to the reviews. If not, please continue:

Few names in recent years have acquired such rock star gravitas in the wine industry. Wait, You don’t know him? Taste his wines. Don’t have one available? Ok, so in 2016, Constellation Wines bought five of his brands for $120 million. Are you impressed yet? You should be. And I say this, being a superman of the CS Cabernet Sauvignon, because that wine has been one of the top, under-$20 Cabernet Sauvignon wines you can find in the USA, PERIOD.

So when offered a chance to taste a few, I jumped. YES, I want to taste them. I tasted two of these wines for five days. and the other… well, it lasted an hour before it was gone. (Not sorry.) The labels look like a tattoo chosen by a millennial based on their favorite song. So? It’s not about the label, it’s about the juice.

The motto reads loud and clear on the back of the bottle: “Land to hand, vineyard to bottle.” Charles Smith is irreverent and fanciful, yet an incredibly serious winemaker: these wines are seeing at least some portion whole cluster pressed, with fermenting on the lees. Straightforward, the best fruit he can give you from sustainable farming, ideal fermentation, a carefully controlled pH and moderate ABV. So? Ok, fine: TASTING NOTES!

 

Eve Chardonnay 2014 by Charles Smith Wines, Mattawa, Washington. 13.5% ABV, MSRP $13/Bottle.

Color is pale gold, while the nose offers tangerine peel, wildflower cutting, and gravel. On the palate, pure green apple- no wonder the name. It is like taking a bite of a chardonnay apple from the Garden of Eden. Straightforward, fruit forward, less acidity than I expected with a hint of marzipan. On the finish, notes of silt, clay and yeast. At this price point, what chardonnay lover would say no? An easy purchase, at double the price! At street prices, I’d easily put three bottles in my cart. You should do the same.

 

 

 

Boom Boom Syrah 2015 by Charles Smith Wines, Columbia Valley, Washington. 13.%5ABV, MSRP $18/bottle.

Color is a gorgeous, opaque dark orchid/byzantium. The nose shows blueberry, black plum, and crushed  violet while the palate offers up blackberries, plum jam, cassis and black cherry. Secondary notes of pepper, potting soil, wet slate, sandy loam and old wood. I love a good syrah but shy away from the fruit bombs- Boom Boom does a tremendous job of maintaining balance in the wine from opening until day five of tasting, never being overly fruity and only showing a hint of bitterness on day 5. With this gorgeous color, balance of flavor, and gentle alcohol content, how is this still on the shelves? When word gets out, you’ll have a hard time finding this for under $20.

 

 

Are you ready to be severely tempted? You better be…

The Velvet Devil Merlot 2014 by Charles Smith Wines. Columbia Valley, Washington.  ABV 13.6%, MSRP $13/bottle.

Color is a garnet center with purple edging. The nose offers boysenberry, cherry pie and a hint of tobacco leaf.  On the palate, bright, acidic flavor of dark cherries, maturing blackberries, and blueberry. Secondary notes remind me of damp Northwest: wet earth, and young, freshly hewn wood. On the medium-long finish: plum wine, crushed leaves, sand, and the distinct mineral flavors of volcanic rock. And pour me another taste… (just watch, you will do the same.)

OK: I was hoping for the velvety mouthfeel I get from Chateau Margaux, but let’s be honest: should I expect the same mouthfeel from a $13 wine that I do from a $600-$900 bottle? No, but for the cost of this wine, the mouthfeel IS quite velvety. Why? Because Smith is giving us 94% Merlot and adding a few tremendous blending grape (cab sauvignon, malbec, and our beloved friend cabernet franc) and aging in new French Oak to take this wine from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Put this wine in front of ten people, and (incorrectly) they will probably not call it Merlot. It just has a totally different vibe! But they will call it delicious, and they will ask for a second glass, then a third. So will you- and the bottle will be dry, as mine is from tasting pour after pour. Trust me, this Velvet Devil is going to stick a pitchfork in your plans and you will love it.

 

Boom.

 

Now go rock your weekend with a Charles Smith Wine, you can thank me later by sending me a bottle.

For more information on these wines, check out: www.charlessmithwines.com/

 

à votre santé!

 

Locations Wine AR5 Argentinian Red Blend

30 Dec

Argentina.

Mendoza’s Uco Valley is ripe here.

And nowhere have I seen that ripeness as evident as right in this bottle of wine.

 

locations-ar5

 

Locations Wine AR5 Red Argentinian Blend; %14 ABV, MSRP $18/bottle. 

Color is magenta with light purple edging. Boysenberry, cassis, menthol and lavender oil are demonstrated on the nose. In the mouth, juicy black plum meets blackberry jam, spice box, saddle leather, slate, gravel and wet stone. Plenty of acid keeps the palate hopping, while firm tannins round out this young and exciting wine.

With a classic and bold Argentinian flavor profile, this blend of malbec & cabernet sauvignon paired beautifully with meatballs and pasta, as well as a bite of dark chocolate before the bottle was empty.

Adjectives like intense, explosive, and vibrant fit this wine well. I had expected to taste it with Thai, Mexican, and a classic American steak, but my brother-in-law and I quickly polished off the bottle without thinking. I expect you, too, will find this wine so easy to enjoy that it’s gone before you realize it.

It has been a while since I tasted the Andes and Argentina. But the taste of them are both bold and fierce in this bottle.

At this price, you should have a few of them in your cellar. Not because of the 95-point score it received from the 2016 Sommelier Challenge Wine Competition, and not because Robert Parker thinks the winemaker, Dave Phinney, is a wine god. Buy it just because it’s damn good wine that your mouth will thank you for. 

 

locations_ar-pr_-2

 

à vôtre santé!

Bodegas Salentein Wines from Valle de Uco, Argentina

2 Dec

salentein-wine-line-up-1

 

 


Bodegas Salentein 2015 Reserve Chardonnay; Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5%ABV, Average street price  $18 USD.

Color is pale sunshine with green tinge. Gentle aroma of grilled pineapple, lemon-lime and wildflowers on the nose. In the mouth, golden delicious apple and citrus fruit mixes with powerful acidity. Directly behind the fruit, heat crosses the top palate while the back palate reels from the tannins and tart lime peel. Notes of vanilla, baked bread, and chalky limestone on the medium-long finish. A gorgeous, delicate chardonnay that is a pleasure to drink. Alone it may be a touch acidic, but with mild cheese or white meat, the wine is a perfect complement and palate cleanser. For friends who won’t drink Chardonnay made outside of California, here is something you need to taste- a subtle, mature, underscored hit of a chardonnay that smacks your interest early on and shows you how a star is born. If you can’t tell, I was very impressed by this chardonnay, which demonstrated clearly to me that truly great white wines are also possible from the famed Mendoza wine region Valle de Uco!

 

salentein-chardonnay

 

Bodegas Salentein Killka Collection  Torrentes 2015; Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. 12.5%ABV; Average street price $15 USD. 

Pale gold in color with a beautifully floral nose that features sweet honeysuckle and jasmine. In the mouth, fruit starts with bosc pear and a blend of secondary notes of tart lemon zest, star fruit and pineapple. Bright acidity with a hint of bitters that works well in the character. Chalky loam on the short finish. A great choice to enjoy under the hot sun when well chilled, this wine can quickly transition from being a tasty and refreshing apéritif to complement a salad and fish course, capable to handling shellfish, ceviche, or  grilled salmon, bass, and even seared tuna.

salentein-killka-torrontes-2015

Killka Collection Red Blend 2014; Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% ABV, Average Street price $15/bottle. 

The color shows a garnet center shifting to deep ruby. The nose offers  red plum, cherry, and rose bush with a hint of menthol. In the mouth, sour cherry and ripe red plum are dominant fruits. Notes of aged oak, vanilla bean, schist, granite, and sodium round out the finish. Ideal for grilled meats. The blend is of 50% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and 5% Petite Verdot.

salentein-killka-red-blend-2014

 

Bodegas Salentein 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. 14%ABV, Average street price  $18 USD.

Deep purple in color with a nose of eucalyptus, forest floor, and pencil shavings. In the mouth, a harmonious & moderate blend of fruit, acid and tannins. A dark fruit mix of aged blackberries, black currants, and prunes, with secondary notes of potting soil, tobacco, old leather, toasted oak, graphite and wet stone. Features a medium long and very dry finish; this wine is a solid value in reserve cab and a classic, firmly masculine expression of Mendoza’s terroir.

salentein-reserve-cabernet-sauvignon-2014

 

Bodegas Salentein 2014 Reserve Malbec; Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. 14%ABV, Average street price  $16 USD.

Dark ruby color with a nose of blueberries and black plum. On the palate, a driven and singular focus of blackberry, with secondary notes of cherry cola, freshly cut grass, black pepper and spice box. The strong acidity and powerful tannins leave a real bite on the finish making this a great complement to grilled meats.

 

salentein-reserve-malbec-2014

 

If you taste these wines blind, you won’t immediately think of South America or Argentina. But you WILL think: “These are delicious, wonderful wines.” 

 

à votre santé!

Drinking World Wines in Toronto

14 Nov

I continue to be out of the country working on a new Broadway musical, trying Canadian wines when our production schedule allows. Wine selections at the LCBO (basically, the Canadian Liquor Store) are OK by my standards, but not stellar. I managed to find a bottle of Michael David’s Chardonnay from Lodi, here in Toronto of all places…along with many bottles of Zinfandel. That bottle made me very happy with great memories of picking viognier in the MD vineyard this past August, and I drank it and fondly recalled fun adventures with my WBC friends. 

 

Michael David Winery 2015 Chardonnay. 13.5%ABV, $23CAD/bottle from LCBO. Color is pale gold. Nose of green apple, white peach, and hibiscus flower. In the mouth, the fruit profile is a balance of golden delicious apple, honeydew melon and pineapple. Secondary notes of peach, cedar, vanilla, and clay on the medium-short finish. For me, this bottle was a delightful memory of the 2016 harvest in the MD vineyards. While I enjoyed this, I wished the LCBO had stocked the MD Viognier as well.

mdchardonnay

 

jvb-graping-copy

This is a shot of me from the viognier harvest in the MD Vineyards.
Photo by Randy Caparoso!

 

 

Working in the entertainment industry often means very long hours and few days off. Since arriving,  I thankfully have managed to get to a couple of nice restaurants in Toronto that feature excellent wine lists that are worthy of sharing!

 

Nearby the Royal Alexandra Theatre at Byblos, the middle eastern fare is warm and inviting. Their lamb shoulder is braised for 12 hours and falls off the bone, succulent and savory, accompanied by a garlic paste, shug (a hot pepper blend) and house-made pickles and turnips, with tasty sides of rice and brussel sprouts. With the help of my trusty iphone (it’s a dark restaurant) I scanned the wine list and found an appropriate comfort wine to match the house specialty.

Chateau Musar “Hochar Père et Fils” 2011, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. This red blend is deep garnet in color with an opulent, floral nose. On the palate, mature black plum, fig, cherry, and the distinct quality of baked fruit is met with notes of earth, leather, mocha, allspice, black pepper and cinnamon. On the dry, lengthy finish there are beautiful flourishes of oak, along with gravel and sandy limestone on the side palate.  It is a heady aroma and velvety mouthfeel, a gorgeous second wine from a brilliant winemaker. I have long been a fan of Chateau Musar, with an ’04 and a few bottles of the 2000 remaining in my cellar, and I was trepidatious at the youthful age of this bottle, but ended up being very pleasantly surprised. I thoroughly enjoyed this blend of 50% cinsault, 30% grenache, 10% carignan, and 10% cabernet sauvignon. 14% ABV, Street price avg $33 USD, (obviously not what I paid in the restaurant.)

 

hochar-2011-1

 

 

Further down King Street is a hidden gem suggested by my co-workers for having a high quality (and somewhat pricey) wine list. Buca is a northern Italian restaurant that is reknowned for savory delights and curing their own meat;  you can see examples of their delicacies hanging in a cooler as you walk down a hallway to the bar and to one of the two dining rooms. We obliged our evening hunger by ordering shared dishes, starting off with olives stuffed with sausage and fried to hot, crisp, and salted savory perfection;  hand-rolled ricotta gnocchi stuffed with taleggio cheese; carpaccio di mango; and a pizza salumi di buca- delightful, mouthwatering bites. Strongly salted meats and powerful, savory flavors beg for a tremendous wine, and the sommelier did not disappoint! A native Italian (whose name I sadly did not understand when I asked), we chatted, I inquired about some of the ‘hidden treasures’ on the wine list, and he came back with his arms full of options,  from which I selected his very last bottle of a reserve Nebbiolo- and I was very glad I did!

Ar.Pe.Pe.’s  2011 Sasella Stella-Retina Valtellina Superior Riserva, Lombardy, Italy. The color is deep ruby while the perfumed nose offers crushed rose petals and lush vegetation. This wine opened up beautifully with a bit of time in the glass to offer mature raspberry, dried cherry, and african violet. Secondary notes of vanilla, wet earth and aged leather on the finish with hints of toasted almonds, sodium, wet stone, and granite. A beautiful soft mouthfeel; feminine expression of aged fruit meets bright acidity and firm tannins. 100% Nebbiolo, 13.5% ABV, Street Price around $52 USD.

 

sasselica-stella-retica

 

The clock is ticking until my return to the USA! I still have two bottles of Canadian red wines I need to review before my time is up here in Canada. Keep an eye out, and enjoy. Life is beautiful and precious, and I hope we all see the beauty every day in our loved ones and the world around us.  -JvB

à votre santé!

 

 

Sbragia Family Vineyards- Wines that Sing in the Glass

22 Aug

Sbragia Family Vineyards is a Sonoma winemaking family I did not know before..

And now it is one I will never forget.

Sbragia Family Vineyards 2012 Gino’s Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, CA.  15.1%ABV. MSRP $44/bottle. Sample provided by Bacchus Capital Management.

Color is garnet with violet edging. The nose shows red and black fruit, eucalyptus, anise and green pepper. In the mouth, plenty of black and red berries meet spice, black pepper, chewy tannin and nice acidity. Big in flavor, hot on the back palate when the alcohol crosses the threshold. Tasty by itself and with food, this matched up beautifully with pizza, chili, and by itself in the afternoon sunshine on the back porch. Refrigerated after opening the bottle, it lasted nicely for over a week while maintaining freshness and proper balance. Some great value found in the street prices of this wine. #HeyNow!

Sbrag ZIN

 

 

Sbragia Family Vineyards 2014 Home Ranch Chardonnay, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, CA.  14.5%ABV. MSRP $30/bottle. Sample provided by Bacchus Capital Management.

Color is deep straw verging on golden sunlight. On the nose, baked apple pie, pineapple, a hint of baked bread  while toasted cashews tantalize the senses with a strong sense of alcohol. On the palate, white stone fruit, kiwi, lemon zest, marzipan, and vanilla, with granite on the long finish that leaves a zesty heat across the top palate. #SoNice!

Sbrag Chard

 

 

 

Sbragia Family Vineyards 2012 Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Moon Valley District. Sonoma County, CA.  14.8%ABV. MSRP $65/bottle. Sample provided by Bacchus Capital Management.

What a gorgeous & classic California cab: deep ruby in color. Eucalyptus, menthol, earth, wet leaves and green pepper with cedar on the nose.  Massive cassis and blackberry fruit up front. Some mid-palate spice, some heat, forest floor, saddle leather, and a soil-rich minerality on the finish with lasting heat, lovely oak and a lingering body. Lovely to drink now but what perfection might this be in 5-10 years with the alcohol muted and the fruit sliding back? This wine drank beautifully for a week of evenings when stored in the fridge… rationing a half-glass of heaven each night. This drinks so well right now but I can’t wait to see what it is like in 2022. #BOOM!

 

Cab 2

 

Ed Sbragia of Sbragia Family Vineyards provides a classic California edge with a long-term family history and pedigree you can taste in the glass. Get a few bottles, pop them with friends, and listen got everyone tell you how good they are. They are just that crowd pleasing.

 

à votre santé!

 

Iconic Wines go Lodi!

4 Jul

I’m a fan of small, independent winemakers. Over the last couple of years I’ve been fortunate to try wines from Iconic and quickly became a fan of their Heroine Chardonnay (my original review of Heroine Chardonnay is here).

So of course, I jumped at the chance to taste their current lineup and meet winemaker Birk O’Halloran and his partner Karl Antle from Iconic Wines on a crowded Times Square rooftop.

17 floors above Broadway, it’s much quieter without traffic but like fighting through a crowded, subway-car-like-bustle to get close to the wines being poured. Grabbing a plastic cup of pink wine, it would be easier to down it and ask for another like black and white movie scene featuring a gunfighter in a saloon. But this is an entirely new situation. So I sipped…at first… before asking Birk for another. And I understood why the line for the wine was wrapping down the side of the building past the bocce court to the elevators.

 

Birk

Birk O’Halloran, star winemaker, sporting (1) a bottle of Secret Identity rosé, (2) a bottle of Heroine chardonnay, and (3) a Jamie-Lannister-from-Game-of-Thones-styled-beard. Beard not for sale on line (currently) at http://www.IconicWine.com. 

 

Rose Front

Shhh! It’s so darn tasty, it’s a secret! 

Rose Back

Enter Secret Identity Dry Rosé 2015. MSRP is $18, and a mere 11% ABV, the winemaking details were a real surprise- the grape blend includes zinfandel and syrah! To the casual drinker, what you need to know is that this is a superbly dry, crisp, light, delicious rosé. You would be shocked to see an entire rooftop of NYC power-brokers drinking this, but believe me, they loved this wine as much as I did. It will rock with seafood, appetizers and light entrées but I doubt the bottle will last that long. It will delight your palate, disappear almost magically from your glass, and you will find yourself wishing you’d picked up several bottles.

In addition to Heroine and Secret Identity, Iconic has launched a new SK line- the Sidekick wines!

Iconic’s Sidekick or SK category, starting with SK (Sidekick) Chardonnay.

Sidekick Front

Sidekick back

 

2014 SK Sidekick Chardonnay, Napa, CA. MSRP $18, 13%ABV. Beautiful aromatics of honeysuckle, apricot and hay. The palate features stone fruit: crisp green apple and white pear with even acidity and a floral aftertaste. Stainless steel fermentation unlike their flagship Heroine Chardonnay which is matured in oak- because every hero needs a sidekick! A perfect introduction to California chardonnay, and a great primer for Heroine- to which you might become addicted. Yeah, I went there. And that’s how I treat bottles of Heroine Chardonnay in my cellar.

 

Iconic Wine 2014 SK Sidekick Cabernet Sauvignon. Because LODI! 

Iconic Cab front

iconic cab back

Lodi’s cabernet grapes are the star of this new wine for Iconic. Bold plum and blackberry lead on the front palate, followed with cassis and black earth. Silky tannins with notes of cedar, anise, granite and potting soil. Great on its own or with red meat, and at $18/bottle MSRP, it is a tremendous value- a real steal in California Cabernet!

Each time I have tasted Iconic’s wine, I have been impressed by the flavors, attention to detail, structure, and my overall enjoyment of their products. One of my surprises came when I included the 2013 Heroine Chardonnay in a neighborhood tasting where it was unanimously the public’s preferred wine in a tasting of pricey, worldwide options. I hope you take an opportunity to find their wines (currently in more than 37 of NYC’s finest restaurants) and other locations, found here.

I’m especially excited about Iconic’s relationship with Lodi in choosing great fruit for their wines. I have been a fan of Lodi for a while, but I the upcoming #WBC16 Wine Bloggers Conference. I will be participating with over a hundred other wine bloggers, meeting with Lodi winemakers, and tasting their wares.

Heroine Label

The Heroine Wine Label. What’s better than a superhero? A super Heroine!

à votre santé!

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