Oddball Winespotting

February 28, 2010

Oddballs. Without them, the world would be rather dull. Genuine oddness is refreshing and interesting, so I like to seek it out whenever I can.


A loveable oddball

Wine is not especially odd. I suppose it can impose oddness if consumed in volumes, but on its own it’s pretty tame. At this very moment it’s probably being swirled and sniffed in some civilised restaurant, or collecting dust in some extremely normal person’s basement. You need to look deep for the oddball factor in wine. But thankfully this week I spotted a couple of examples. And they’re both French, go figure. (Ha ha, oh, je rigole!)

Malbec Bordeaux

75% Malbec from Bordeaux

Oddball #1.
Château Relais de La Poste, Cotes de Bourg 2005. 1
Because it’s a Right Bank Bordeaux made from 75% Malbec/25% Merlot. Malbec is typically a minor, blending grape in Bordeaux, but here it features as the main show.
On the nose, characteristically Malbec – blueberry, fig, chocolate – but without the jammyness sometimes present in Argentine Malbecs. Mid-weight in the mouth, slightly bitter, and not much fruit. Tannins felt tight, but there was still good acid. Slightly out of balance, I thought. 2005 is still very young for a Bordeaux, so it might benefit from ageing which would help soften the tannins and allow some of the fruit through. For the cellar!
Picpoul de Pinet

2008 Picpoul de Pinet

Oddball #2.
Domaine des Lauriers Picpoul 2008 2
Because Picpoul (or Picpoule) is a funny name for a grape, and it usually goes unnoticed in posh blends of the Southern Rhone – most notably Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Here it is upfront and centre in a Languedoc white, and in a flute-shaped bottle (a la Alsace or Germany).
Youthful, pale, nearly clear colour with a touch of green. The nose was floral and fruity – almost muscat like – with a briney/seaside character. The palate was fresh, clean and really vibrant – lots of acidity but not tart. My immediate reaction was: FOOD wine. Seafood, clearly. Digby scallops if we’re getting specific.

1. About $20 at Cristall & Luckett at time of this writing.
2. About $15 at Cristall & Luckett at time of this writing.


Reflecting on my time in London, one thing I admire about the English is their unabashed love of a bargain. My friend, Debs, I don’t think ever bought anything not on quadruple mark-down. Each new purchase she’d reveal with beaming pride and the preface: “Well, you know how I LOVE a bargain…” followed by full details on how much she paid for it, where she traipsed to get it and any haggling she suffered. Most people my age were this way. Complimenting someone an item of clothing would often be met, not with a “thanks”, but with a price disclosure:

“Oh, I love your shoes!”

“10 quid!”

Bargain-hunting was a fundamental component and aim of the shopping excursion. Snagging a deal was something to be proud of; paying too much, or full-price – a last resort.

The feet of known bargain hunters

Feet of known bargain hunters

We Canadians, or perhaps, East-Coasters are not really this way. At least, not outwardly. And certainly not my generation. (My mother’s generation, however, utter Deal Demons – sometimes out of necessity, other times for sport. I recall one occasion, upon visiting my brother’s flat, my mother noticing in bewilderment the ‘No Flyers Sign’ on the front door: “Why would anyone not want the flyers!”) My demographic is different. We like a deal when we can get one, but we don’t always make it our mission, and would probably feel a little embarrassed doing so.

Well I say, to heck with these silly hang-ups! Times are tough. We work hard for our money.  It’s time to discover our inner deal-seeker and embrace the bargain. And what better place to begin than with wine.

Bargain wines

Bargain wines

The $20-$25 price-point is where a lot of people I know scan for new wines. Many feel that this price tag  is high enough to indicate quality, and low enough to swallow should the choice turn out to be a bad one. This isn’t a bad system, but it ignores potential bargain territory. The above image happens to show 7 wines that myself and two professional Sommeliers tasted just last week. We all agreed that these showed very well, all for under $20 *. Bargain!

  1. Crios Torrontes ’07 –  From the revered Argentinian winemaker Susana Balbo. Floral, citrus,honey, tropical fruit and well-balanced acidity. Very refreshing, crisp. $13.96
  2. Crios Malbec ’08 – Another from Susana Balbo. Dark ruby, juicy, spice, cedar, black cherry. Easy drinking, good acid/structure. $15.74
  3. Luigi Bosca La Linda Malbec – Good black currant fruit, dry, bitter chocolate. Well-balanced.  $12.20
  4. Cuvee Des Galets, Vin De Pays Du Gard ’06 – Southern France co-op. Grenache Noir/Carignan/Cinsault blend. Lively red fruit/berries and black pepper with just a little tannin. A favourite of the group!   $13.09
  5. Monpezat Merlot, Vin de Pays D’OC ’07 – Aromatic, rich, expressive fruit, soft tannins, dry. A ‘New World’ style, some felt. Another favourite! $14.86.
  6. ERA Nero D’Avola IGT – Fresh and fruity, spicy, fairly tannic, but easy-drinking. ORGANIC.  Great value $13.97
  7. L’Oustal Blanc, Cuvee “K” ’08– Southern France, Carignan/Cinsault. Slightly astringent with some minerality. Good dark black currant, stewed fruit, good structure, no-nonsense. $20.

* Premier Wines & Spirits prices at the time of this writing.

Habits are at first cobwebs, then chains, the old proverb goes. It’s generally considered a good thing to break out of the habitual occasionally and try something new.

Like a lot of people, if I had a wine comfort-zone it would be Red; probably Old World and most likely French. Last Friday I veered from the norm picked up a bottle of German Riesling on the recommendation of a friend: Dr. Zenzen Apollo Falter Riesling Spätlese 2004 from the Mosel – Saar – Ruwer. *

Dr. Zenzen Apollo Falter Spätlese Riesling

Browsing the Guardian the following day I spied Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Chickpea, Potato and Kale Curry recipe. Not only did it sound gorgeous, it looked easy and, more importantly would be a great match for said Riesling.

I confess that I un-posh-ified the recipe a little and used tinned chickpeas, instead of dried; and pre-ground spices, instead of the pan-toasted/mortar & pestle seed action Hugh suggested. I also accidentally added far too many potatoes (I used red russets, and left the peelings on) and perhaps cubed them a little too large because they took FOR-EVER to cook.

Chickpea, potato & kale curry

But after 45 mins or so, dinner was finally served over brown, long-grain rice (a final departure from the recipe) with the dallop of plain yoghurt, as instructed, which was a nice addition indeed.

Back to the Riesling. It’s generally understood that German wine labels are a bit of a labyrinth (though thankfully, this is being addressed). Mysterious descriptors, combined with a consumer-mindset that all Rieslings are sweet (a carry-over from the German wines present on the market in the ’70s/’80s) result in many of these wines getting passed-over – especially here in Nova Scotia.

German Riesling label

German Riesling label

North American Rieslings, though their labels are easier to parse, still suffer from the sickly-sweet stereotype. But education, and programs like taste profiling are helping to clear up confusion. For our German counterparts, recognising a few key terms can help tremendously. Spätlese is a quality German wine designation, under the classification Prädikat, meaning “late harvest”. The grapes are normally riper than those of Kabinett, but less ripe than Auslese (sibling designations). Feinherb is a term meaning off/medium dry. This gives a pretty good idea of what we’re getting.

Because of the acidity most Rieslings age well so, a 2004 should still have lots of life left. The appearance was a bright lemon colour with some tiny bubbles – though wasn’t sure if the bubbles were from the glass, or the wine itself. The nose was delicate with apple, pear and honey notes. On the palate it was clean, slightly effervescent with apples again, and a touch of sweetness. The slight fizz might’ve indicated a fault (e.g. second fermentation in the bottle) but I didn’t mind it and found it very refreshing.

If I may say, the dish didn’t disappoint but didn’t dumbfound either. I found it had a slightly “sour” flavour that admittedly could’ve come from a number of liberties taken with the recipe – or, maybe that’s just the way it’s supposed to taste (cue Hugh shaking his head).

The residual sugar in the Riesling provided the sweetness I was searching for in the curry, and the freshness ensured it didn’t overpower what was going on in the food. The wine actually improved the dish for me. All in all, a great pairing.

* Currently on mark-down at Premier Wines & Spirits for about $25.

In the Land of the Blind

February 10, 2010

I should preface this post with a disclaimer. There’s something about tasting wine in a classroom that leaves me feeling a bit cold. Like seeing Hugh Jackman in the Broadway musical, The Boy From Oz…Yes, still the lovely Hugh Jackman, but contextually, it’s not how I prefer to experience him. *

Hugh as Boy From Oz vs Hugh as Wolverine

Experiencing wine for educational purposes – analysing it, dissecting it, staring at it, spitting it out – has a kind of numbing effect on the enjoying it aspect for me. And while I appreciate the knowledge acquired, I have a hard time determining whether I actually liked what was in my glass. End disclaimer.

Tasting lineup

So, last Monday we blind-tasted 6 Red Burgundies. The flight was as follows:

  1. 2007 Chateau de Javernand Chiroubles (George Duboeuf)
  2. 2005 Domaine Louis Jardot Marsannay
  3. 2005 Domaine Michel Mallard & Fils Ladoix ‘Le Clos Royer’
  4. 2005 Olivier Leflaive Volnay
  5. 2006 Domiane Amiot Guy et Fils Chassagne-Montrachet ‘Les Chaumes’
  6. 2007 P. Ferraud & fils Morgon ‘Les Charmes’

The goal was to pick out the 2 Beaujolais from the 4 Pinots and indicate which AC they might be from.

The Burgundies

Pinot Noir and Gamay (Beaujolais) are pretty similar. In colour and in weight they are a lot alike so I tried looking for subtle, yet telltale, differences to help pinpoint the Beaujolais. Primarily, evidence of Carbonic Maceration which would be tellable on the nose (banana and bubblegum). Anything that whiffed of fresh berries or floral things might indicate Pinot. In the mouth, I scanned for thinness, cherry, crispness, maybe a candy-like component. A Pinot, conversely, might feel slightly more complex, with a tad more structure and tannin, and maybe berries – instead of cherries.

Once the Beajolais were nailed down, choosing the ACs could be based on perceived weight – heavier might be Moulin-a-Vent or Morgon (notably sturdy Bojos); lighter might be a Chiroubles (cooler village, higher altitude). Same logic could be applied for the Pinots – Marssanay being lighter (most northern); Pommard being brute (iron rich soil).

I ended up scoring poorly but I should think that with more practice and a bit more palate-refining I’ll be well on my way to aceing one of these one day.

* For those of you wondering how I prefer to experience Hugh Jackman: Scowling with claw hands (as opposed to grinning with jazz-hands).

Some Rise by Zin…

February 2, 2010

So, I thought I’d use my first post to share some tasting notes on a pretty nifty Sonoma County Zin I discovered recently: 2006 Adobe Road Zinfandel.

I first tried this wine at last October’s 14th Annual NSLC Port of Wines Festival in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The festival was decidedly less ‘festival’ and more ‘trade-show’ (as you can see) but at least there was foliage and more importantly, some fine wines to be had, so all was quickly forgiven.

"POW Festival"

2009 Port of Wines Festival, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Not being fond of the typical California, mondo-alcoholic fruit bombs, I would’ve normally skipped the Adobe Road table entirely but a friend happened to be pouring the stuff and urged me to try it. “You’re going to be blown away – in a good way”, he said. I was. And I left with two bottles.  Dry Creek Valley is a small vineyard, as I understand, with only 700 cases of this particular style & vintage made. So, at about $50 per, I was saving my two bottles for a special occasion. But special occasions being as they are – rather elusive and all that – my brother and I decided to crack one of them last night while we were finishing up some business paperwork.

"2006 Adobe Road Zinfandel"

2006 Adobe Road Zinfandel

Well! What a lift. For starters, the colour was a gorgeous deep raisin centre with a slight brick hue and a pale, garnet blush rim. Notes of banana greeted first but blew off after a few seconds revealing lots of spice, pepper and plumb with a bit of leather. Full bodied and round on the palate with good fruit, silky tannins and balanced acidity. The 15% alcohol was barely detectable! I really loved this wine. I do wish more Zinfandels were made this way and not priced so high. But, such is life.

At the time of writing this is available at Port of Wines for about 50 bones.  Premier Wines & Spirits is currently selling some 2002 for about $43 but I haven’t tried it. Maybe I’ll pick up a bottle and report back.