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Friday, October 3, 2008

So Much Wine...So Little Time

In the last two weeks, I have been to nothing less than six wine tastings – it’s just that time of year. You would think with the amount of wines I have tasted in this time frame that a lot of it would be lost in my memory banks forever but there has been a common thread throughout most of these tastings of one particular wine that has stood out – Shiraz (or Syrah)!

Let’s start with the Languedoc-Roussilon tasting on September 22nd at the Rosewater Supper Club. There were 85-90 wines in the room that day and although several stood out, the real knockouts were the Syrah’s, most especially that $100 bottle of wine tucked away in the one corner that was actually a Syrah blended with Grenache, Carignan and Mourvedre. Currently only available by private order through Wine World Importers, the Chateau de Serame L’Icone (AOC Corbieres) was unbelievably amazing. A powerhouse in every sense of the world, the aromas were chocolate, coffee and just the right amount of berry while the palate was silky smooth with a finish that seemed to go on forever. There was incredible structure to this wine and if you want to get your hands on this delectable treat, contact World Wine Importers at http://www.worldwineimporters.com. Other wines that deserved honourable mentions were Chateau de Gourgazaud (AOC Minervois) which, at $13.00 a bottle, is a great value and is ready to drink now and the Azzaro Syrah from Vins de Pays d’Oc which has this wonderfully complex nose of chocolate, berries, currants that follow through to a taste that has light tannins and the perfect amount of spice. At $14.30 a bottle, it is also another great value find and they are both readily available on the general list (non-Vintages) of the LCBO. By the way, until October 11th, the Chateau de Gourgazaud is also one of the LCBO’s Air Miles Bonus products so if you are a collector, this is a great wine to pick up.

The following night, at the University of Toronto Faculty Club, I attended a tasting dedicated solely to Shiraz’s and Syrah’s from a variety of wine regions around the world. The Ontario Wine Society decided they wanted to compare the best that Ontario had to offer against one wine from the Rhone Valley of France and one wine from Australia. Before I go into details, let me just say that the Ontario wines did not disappoint. The events director of the Ontario Wine Society – Gerry Arbus - is a huge believer in the merits of blind wine tastings and this event was no exception. In an Ontario Wine Society first, I believe, our guest speaker was able to correctly identify each and every one of the eight wines. However, when you consider that our guest speaker was none other than John Szabo, the ONLY Master Sommelier in Canada, it really shows that his education has served him well and will continue to do so for a number of years to come. All that Gerry asked of the rest of us is to try to pick out the French wine, the Australian wine and choose a favourite. Well, picking the favourite was the easy one and some people were able to pick out either the French or the Australian and a small group of us managed to pick out both. For myself, I managed to pick out the Australian and my favourite was the final one of the evening – the Peninsula Ridge 2006 Syrah Reserve. If I had to choose a second favourite, it would have easily gone to the 2004 Reserve Shiraz from Creekside Estate Wines. The great thing is that each and every wine brought something different to the table. With each wine we tasted, we encountered different aromas and flavours when, for me at least, I was expecting some similarities. Just the way I’ve heard the weather described in some regions around this world, “if you don’t like the weather wait five minutes” when it came to these wines, “if you don’t like this one, try the next one.” Chances are that if you didn’t like one wine you liked the next and all around, it was a great selection of wines showing a wide range of styles and diversity. When I asked people after the fact how they felt about this particular tasting, the response was all favourable. The wines were great, the speaker was great, the food definitely seems to be improving and is now at an acceptable level in our eyes. Clear choices on favourites in the wine were the Creekside Estate Wines 2004 Shiraz Reserve and the Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery 2006 Syrah Reserve. John had started out the evening by saying that in the last ten years we have had a real boom in Shiraz or Syrah plantings worldwide. Originally, the largest plantings were in the Rhone Valley of France with the second largest area spreading across the wine regions of Australia but, in Ontario, we now have major plantings ourselves and our wines are starting to show real potential. Craig McDonald, winemaker at Creekside Estate Wines, had these thoughts to express to us, “If you can get your hands on the 2005 and 2007 vintages they will definitely change your context of Ontario wines.” This can be just as easily said about any red wine from the 2005 vintage and any wine that was made in Ontario in 2007.

As I just mentioned, from the Ontario Wine Society tasting, the Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery 2006 Syrah Reserve was my personal favourite and later that week I was able to present that particular wine to a group of fifty people in the northern town of Kapuskasing. TJ Jacobs, aka The Ontario Wine Guy, and myself travelled up to this wonderful little town of less than 10,000 people to have some amazing food and drink some amazing wine all in an effort to help the Animal Rescue of Kapuskasing raise some much needed funds for their cause. While the menu was in the planning stages for this dinner, we decided we were going to challenge the conventional thought that you need to pair white wines with white meat and red wines with red meat. With a wide variety of meat that was donated by Golden Beef, we pushed the limits of conventional thinking by putting both a Pinot Grigio and a Fume Blanc with the beef. Now, when it came to the main entree, we had four different cuts of beef and two wines to pair it with – the 2006 Fume Blanc and the 2006 Syrah Reserve, both from Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery. The interesting thing about this course was that two of the cuts of beef paired well with the Fume Blanc and two of the cuts paired extremely well with the Syrah Reserve. Both from the same winemaker, J-L Groux, they both have a distinctive French style to them which seemed to give them some extra versatility and some added complexity to draw upon when pairing it with the food.

This particular week, I attended two tastings – one showcasing the entire portfolio of the Profile Wine Group and one dedicated to the wines of Chile. At the Profile Wine Group’s portfolio tasting, I found a couple of great tasting Shiraz’s from Australia – the Coriole Vineyard 2006 Estate Shiraz and the Maverick Wines 2005 Trial Hill Eden Valley Shiraz. The Coriole Vineyard Shiraz was made from 40 year old vines and produced a wine that was not overpowering, had great structure and firm tannins. The Maverick Wines Shiraz had a great set of aromas – light berry and earthy notes abounding. The flavours brought interesting twists and turns every few seconds and ended in a medium long finish. It was like this wine was evolving in your mouth – constantly changing – and it made it one of those wines that could quite easily be drunk on its own despite being a heavy red wine. Since both of these wines were at the large portfolio tasting, they are readily available through Profile Wine Group who can be reached through their website: http://www.profilewinegroup.com. The final tasting of the week was the Chilean Wine Festival on October 1st at the Distillery District. Although there were several wines there that received decent marks in my book – between three and four stars out of five – there was only two wines the entire afternoon that stood out as outstanding. Both were from Vina Valdivieso and, in Ontario, both are available through Carriage Trade Wine & Spirits (http://www.carriagetradewines.com). The non Shiraz wine that was absolutely outstanding was the 2006 Single Vineyard Malbec from the Lontue Valley while the Shiraz was their 2006 Single Vineyard Estate Syrah from the Central Valley. Although they were both big, bold red wines, they each brought something different to the table. Both had strong, aromatic noses and great structure and flavours on the palate. The best thing about these two wines is that they were both coming in at around the $20-25 range and they both have the potential to age for a number of years or could easily be drunk now. Like most of the Australian Shiraz’s available on the market, the Syrah had a lot of berry, jammy flavours with intense spices making it a definite fruit bomb that was exploding at every turn. Although I don’t believe this wine could have really gotten any better than it was, it might have been interesting to see it again in ten minutes but, alas, this was the last wine of the day and they were closing the doors for the afternoon.

Although the last four weeks have been filled with a wide variety of wine tastings, and there are still a couple more in the next week, I can definitely say that there have been some mediocre wines, there have been some good wines and then there have been the great wines that I mentioned above. Be sure to take some time to pick up a bottle and try them for yourself – you won’t be disappointed. By the way, for the wines from Ontario, contact the individual wineries directly as they will be happy to ship them to you or entertain you at their wineries.
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