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Wine Review: The Power of the Press

Thursday, January 28, 2010 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

The San Francisco Wine Press Syrah 2006 ($12 US, $16 Cdn)

This organically grown Syrah won a Silver Medal at the 2009 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. “We can highly recommend the 2006 Syrah, which had a gamey flavor and a depth that belied its price,” said Blair Campbell of www.eastbayexpress.com. Let’s see if I agree.

I smell this wine from two feet away as I pour it into my glass. A very powerful woodsy aroma and deep crimson color almost make me afraid to taste this wine. Upon closer sniffing, it has very strong petrol and chemical refinery aromas with some dirty laundry smells mixed in. Another sniff reveals more pleasing aromas of gingerbread cookie dough.

The tasting: Wow, it’s hard to tame this beast. It’s chewy and chalky with flavors of wild boar (OK, I’ve only eaten wild boar once and don’t really remember what it smelled like, but I’m still calling wild boar on this one), sawdust, prune nectar and gasoline. I’m making this wine sound terrible, and it is quite an assault on the senses, but I like the fact that it’s not a fruit bomb – more like chemical warfare on the back of the throat. Who knew organically grown grapes could be so bad-ass?

Quaffability Rating: 84 + 2 bonus points for searing off my taste buds = 86

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A Workingman’s Guide to Bordeaux 2007 – A Whiter Shade of Pale

by Michal The Joggler Kapral

By guest blogger David Chaundy-Smart

Grand cru Bordeaux is suffering a dicey 2007 vintage. At a recent tasting of about 50 such wines put on by the Union de Grands Crus de Bordeaux in Toronto, I was impressed by the gameness of the chateaux who have to produce a declared vintage regardless of the quality. To be sure, there were some highlights, especially from the left bank, with Haut-Bages-Liberal, St-Julien and Pomerol coming off with a little more structure. This is because cool summer temperatures leading to unprecedented hang-times did not affect these Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines as much as Merlot-based wines of the Right Bank, since that grape provides its best in summers hot enough to bring it to ripeness in early autumn.

Although some left bank wines, such as Clos d’l’Oratoire were lovely, fresh wines with fruit on the nose mingling with the oak, they mainly lacked the complex tannins and structure that would give them the future that would justify the investment of an amount of money an increasing number of consumers find restrictive. A grand cru Bordeaux ordinarily must have at least 10 years of bottle aging to reach its prime and to have the subtle mixture of faded tannins and fruit come forward to deliver the flavors and aromas of the world’s best red wine experience. All of this just emphasizes the degree to which consumers should take advantage of whatever wine from the excellent 2005 vintage is still available on the shelves, using the rule that less prestigious wines from a good year in an important region are good investments.

There is another bright side to the story of 2007, however, and that is that it was a terrific year for Bordeaux’s white wine, which is unfamiliar, despite its relative affordability, racy flavors and aristocratic pedigree. The Graves region produces the most white Bordeaux and Pessac-Leognan produces the finest and priciest ones.

Chateaux Carbonnieux (65% Sauvignon Blanc, 34% Semillon, 1% Muscadelle) had a nose of grapefruit and pineapple, leading to flavors of deep peach and a finish with a complex acid structure.

Malarctic Lagraviere (80% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Semillon) was pale gold tinted with green. Grapefruit and jasmine flower led to a minerally finish – described by one taster as redolent of crushed stone – and an astonishingly long finish of subtle acidity.

These wines will age for 10 years or more and are well worth their $50-100 price tags, but the good news is that some very good Graves is available for quite reasonable prices both from the outstanding 2005 vintage and from the perhaps even more outstanding 2007 white vintage.
It’s worth noting that although now all of the expensive, classified whites hail from Pessac-Leognan, that appellation was only separated from Graves in 1987. Although these wines are wonderful on their own, they are traditionally paired with seafood, pork, rabbit and mild young cow’s milk cheese, but I like them with lamb with white beans and tomato-based fish stew. One final advantage is that most white Bordeaux clocks in at 12-12.5% alcohol, whereas comparably rich Ontario and Aussie Chardonnay usually boasts 13.5% alcohol.

Chateau Grand Bordrieu Sensation Blanc 2005 (about $12 US, $16 Cdn)

This five-year-old 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Semillon is a deal. It has flavors of citrus and lime, and trades the grassiness that is a fixture of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs for a richness imparted by six months on the lees. A subtle hint of vanilla comes from a portion oaked in new American barrels.

Chateau Le Pavillon Boyrein Blanc 2007 (about $12 US, $16 Cdn)

A delightful nose of gingersnap apples and melon lingers for a long time. Refreshing acidity moderates the oak to deliver a finish with none of the smoked vanilla ice cream flavors of the ruder Sauvignon Blancs of the southwest United States.

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Unusual Food and Wine Pairings

Friday, January 22, 2010 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

A recent column in the Toronto Sun than mentioned the strange pairing of Ontario icewine with a pulled pork sandwich. Flat Rock Cellars, the Ontario winery that hosted the tasting event, said the unusual pairing worked because the pork had been glazed with an icewine sauce. The glaze, they said, served as a bridge for the palette to jump from wine to food.

This kind of pairing might make you cringe, but some experimenting is a good thing. If anything, a new combination of food and wine will force you to think about what you’re eating and drinking. As you concentrate on the flavors, there’s a better chance you’ll gain something new from both the food and the wine. Of course there’s always the danger of a pairing gone horribly wrong, and you might find yourself thinking, “Maybe this California Zinfandel doesn't go with this filet of sole.”

Nevertheless, it’s worth looking back at some of the food and wine pairing trends to see how drastically the norm can shift over the years. In his book Making Sense of Wine, Matt Kramer opens his chapter on food with this gem: “Wine exists for food. Without the context of food, wine is a eunuch, a sterile experience which soon acquires distorted features.” Kramer goes on to describe how people’s tastes in wine and food pairings have reversed. Menus from the late 1800s show that Sauternes , the rich, sweet Bordeaux dessert wine, was served with raw oysters. Champagne was typically served with the beef course, and during a meal, red wines were often sipped before the whites – a big no-no in most restaurants today.

Kramer comes up with some interesting recommendations for food and wine pairings, the first rule being that rich foods pair well with rich wines. For example, he recommends matching an avocado and egg dish with a rich, buttery Chardonnay.

Other interesting pairings that Kramer advocates:

-Pinot Gris with salty and oily smoked salmon
-Gewurztraminer with fois gras and any dish dominated by onions
-Chenin Blanc from the Loire paired with butternut squash soup
-Well-aged Semillions with chicken breast with gorgonzola and chives

Try some new food and wine pairings, think about how the flavors interact, and don’t be too much of a stickler for modern conventions.

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Wine Review: Matua Makes the Grade

Thursday, January 21, 2010 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

Matua Estate Paretai Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (about $20US, $25 Cdn)

Made with fruit from the Awatere Valley in the Marlborough region of New Zealand, the Paretai has floral and mild honeycomb aromas and a deceptively light straw color. The first sip brings a powerful hit of tropical fruit and hints of honey flowers, with zippy white grapefruit and delicate pear and apricot closing out the whirlwind of tastes. This wine has excellent balance and much more intrigue than the usual grassy citrus-dominated Sauvignon Blanc. When people rave about great New Zealand wines, hopefully this is the kind of bottle they’re talking about. It’s aromatic and flavorful without being either cloying or acidic – a showstopper from the first sniff to the last remnants of the long-lingering finish.

Quaffability Rating: 91

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Bertrand’s Montpeyroux – a Taste Sensation

Friday, January 15, 2010 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

Wine Review

Gérard Bertrand Coteaux du Languedoc Montpeyroux Grand Terroir 2007 ($15 US, $18 Cdn)

From the Languedoc region in southern France comes this sumptuous blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Carignan and Grenache. The wine is thin on the nose, but full-flavored on the palate with a good balance of sour cherry, chewy caramel, black currant and white pepper. It’s a very lively, juicy wine, rounded out with a bittersweet chocolate and raspberry finishing kick. There’s a mix of taste sensations ranging from sour to sweet to bitter to salty, and even umami – tongue-tingling goodness. I'd be curious to find out how this bottle develops in the cellar over the next few years, but it’s drinking well right now. I could see it pairing with a nice steak. Languedoc is producing some of the best-value reds around, and this one is absolutely delicious.

Quaffability rating: 90

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Likin' the Lindemans

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

Pinot Grigio is not my thing. As you may have gathered from most of the wines I review for The Quaffer, I prefer towering reds with beefy flavors like leather, unsweetened chocolate, smoking road tar and bacon fat. So it was a surprise to find that I enjoyed the Lindemans Bin 85 Pinot Grigio 2009 (about $8US, $11 Cdn). This unoaked Australian wine has a very light pale straw color, delicate aromas of citrus and lemongrass and crisp flavors of lime, unripe pear and passionfruit.

Quaffability Rating: 87

From the same easy-drinking style, the Lindemans Bin 95 Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (about $9US, $12 Cdn) is another good work-week workhorse. I used some of this one in a risotto and tasted it as the wine was sizzling away in the pot of carnaroli, butter and onion. (Tasting a wine at the stove is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated wine-drinking experiences – as the flavours of the wine meld into your food and the vapors waft through the air, you inhale the fresh aromas out of your glass and take a swig.) Still fresh and crisp like the Pinot Grigio, the Sauv Blanc has a deeper bouquet of lemon and a touch of honey. Classic grassy and tropical fruit flavors lead to a pucker-free finish. Not bad, not bad at all.

Quaffability Rating: 88

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Like a Rolling Stone

Friday, January 8, 2010 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

Storied California winery, Beringer, has released its latest line of Stone Cellars vintages. These easy-drinking, flavorful wines fall in the everyday drinking category – the kind of wine you might buy by the case and drink during the week. Yesterday, I wrote about cellaring, but forget about that for these – drink ‘em now.

The Beringer Stone Cellars Chardonnay 2008 (about $11 US, $13 Cdn) gives off apple, pear and floral aromas and exhibits crisp flavors of tart apple and lime zest. I would almost have trouble guessing that this was a Chardonnay but for the vanilla undertones. The winery actually calls this one “quaffabile” in its own description. I have to agree.

Quaffability Rating: 88

In the same vein as the Chardonnay, the Beringer Stone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (about $12 US, $14 Cdn) has all the characteristics that would appeal to the casual wine drinker, and perhaps more importantly, there's nothing off-putting about it that would turn off the casual wine drinker. It could be faulted for being a little generic, but hey, the whole point of this line is to produce approachable wines, and in that regard Beringer gets it spot on. This Cabernet is light-to medium-bodied with a dark cherry juice-like color and aromas of sweet berries and plum. On the palette, it’s slightly sweet and tart, but smooth as silk. The perfect bottle to fill in the gaps between more complex tastings.

Quaffability Rating: 87

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Buy Now, Drink Later

Thursday, January 7, 2010 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

Personal wine cellars have become increasingly rare over the last 20 years as the industry moved toward ready-to-drink fruit-forward wines. But keeping even a modest cellar in the home can reward the wine enthusiast with the pleasure of turning a $30 wine into a magnificent – and pricey – gem. This article by the Toronto Star’s Gord Stimmell provides some good advice on which wines are worth cellaring in this age of New World-dominated youthful wine.

Some tips from Stimmell:

-When he finds a red that he likes, Stimmell says he’ll buy six bottles and drink one every six months.
-Drink everyday reds within a year.
-Be careful not to over-cellar Burgundy
-Top Rhône reds can age for 20 years.
-For most other reds, keep the cellar ceiling at 10 years.
-Drink $10 white wines as soon as possible.
-Premium whites worthy of cellaring for up to 10 years include German, Alsatian and Austrian Rieslings.
-Canadian icewines can be cellared for up to 12 years.
-French Sauternes can last for decades.
-Chardonnays are prone to oxidization after four years of cellaring.
-Premium New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has the capacity to evolve tremendously.

Of course most of us can’t afford to build a giant walk-in wine cellar with a tasting counter, but that shouldn’t stop you from finding a suitable corner of your abode for laying down a small collection. The Wine Doctor has a guide to creating a home wine cellar here.

Next time you find a decent wine that you like, buy a few more bottles (or a case) and lay them down. What could impress dinner guests more than a bottle from your personal cellar – even if said cellar is actually just a nook in a temperature-controlled corner of your condo.

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Michal Kapral has been enjoying wine at home since way before he was of legal age. The editor-in-chief of Canadian Running magazine runs marathons to burn off all the calories he consumes on wine and cheese. Kapral spent some time living in Italy as a teenager, solidifying his appreciation for all things wine-related. In his days as a journalism student, he was likely one of the youngest – and poorest – subscribers to Wine Spectator magazine. In 1999, Kapral turned down a job at a winery to work at Captivate, where he spent 11 years as a news editor.


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The Quaffer

Highlighting the best new wines from around the world, in the price range of $10-40, Michal "The Quaffer" Kapral reminds viewers some of the finer things in life are most definitely within their reach. This feature focuses on North American wines and includes reviews, food pairings and news from the world of wine.