Saint John, New Brunswick

Saint John, New Brunswick

Last week I spent a few days milling around Saint John, New Brunswick. My purpose was wine work – serving it, to be exact – and of course, drinking some too.

It’s been some years since I’ve professionally served anything to anyone (I won’t say how long exactly, but let’s just say Grunge was very big at the time). And the term “professionally” is probably a bit of a stretch as my serving duties mostly involved balancing beer pitchers on a tray and yanking drunk girls down off tables. So, I arranged with Peter Smit, owner of happinez wine bar, a few “refresher” shifts at his hugely popular haunt.

Some happinez wines

Some happinez wines

On the first day Peter and his staff showed me the ropes and patiently walked me through all of their inner workings – then set me loose. I was surprisingly nervous serving the first guests. I’d forgotten what it was like to wait on people how to do it properly (at one point I absent-mindedly collected some empty glasses by their rims which resulted in a finger-wave from Peter, “No. Always the stem”). Peter has decades of hospitality experience, training in Europe with the best of Hilton International and finishing as Director of food and beverage at the Drake Hotel in Chicago at a time when service levels were unparalleled. He also taught Hospitality and Tourism at the NBCC and carries through this top committment to service at happinez.

The wines at happinez are carefully and personally chosen by Peter and changed regularly. Open bottles are preserved with the Le Verre de Vin system following each pour. I liked the system – it was easy to use, fast and performed well (we tasted the opened wines each day to ensure there was no drop in quality). Glasses are all washed by hand (via the Bar Maid, triple-sink system), hand-polished and inspected under the light for spots (a strict procedure established by Peter who dislikes the noise of dishwashers and the residual odours they leave on glassware). Keeping on top of the ‘dirties’ was challenging, but an automatic dishwasher probably wouldn’t have helped much since the stemware still need polishing. This way, it is only slightly slower and appears to result in less breakage.

The environment at happinez is intentionally relaxed, and pressure-free. Guests are allowed to linger as long as they wish and are not nudged to buy more (“can I get you another?” is a no-no) nor are they pushed to pay-up. A friendly honours-based system governs tabs –  no credit cards. The guest’s name is hand-written on a notepad along with their order and when they’re ready to pay they come up to the bar to do so. This practice, of course, relies heavily on the honesty of both staff and patron, but I’m told that in nearly 5 years of operating no one has ever run out on the bill (that hasn’t come back the next day to pay).

happinez goers

happinez goers

All ages darkened the doorway (and the funky Hapito patio), from students to retirees to all generations in between. Most came for the wines by-the-glass (12 red, 12 whites) and custom tasting-flights. Local and organic charcuterie and cheese plates were gobbled up in numbers, too – goodies such as Barbizon and Tomme Blanche cheeses from Fromagerie Au Fond des Bois and Saucisse, Jambon and Paté from La Ferme du Diamant.

Most notably, and indeed, most importantly, everyone seems to love this wine bar which made working there a very pleasant experience.

Bila-Haut Occultum Lappidem

2007 M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem

But it wasn’t all work! Peter was kind enough to share a few wines from his cellar. The 2007 M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem, a Syrah, Grenache, Carignan blend from the Rousillon, was particularly nice. An intense, dark violet colour extending to the edge, and a lively complex nose of dark fruit, floral, liquorice and barnyard. In the mouth, full and round with prominent tannins that softened the longer it sat. Wonderfully balanced.

Viognier tasting

Viognier tasting

I also went out to Rothesay to visit friends Craig and Christine to lust over their gorgeous property and help them taste some Viognier (nine, to be exact). Comparing our notes revealed the three of us had common favourites – one being the 2008 Mission Hill Viognier from the Osoyoos Vineyard Estate in British Columbia’s Okanogan Valley. A pale golden colour with a brown/green tinge. Apples, mild apricot, blossom and a touch of lime citrus on the nose. Medium-bodied, good mouthfeel, slightly pettilant with great acid, and bright lime flavours. Loved it!

Viognier Lineup

Viognier Lineup

All in all, a great wine experience in Saint John. I hope to return very soon.

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Nice to see more Portuguese wines popping up on the shelves, here. Tried a nice one the other night at my brother’s 30th: 2005 Callabriga Tinto Roriz from the Dão region. The meal was BBQ’ed Strip Loin accompanied by various side dishes brought by friends & family.  The steaks were cooked to perfection (my brother takes steak very seriously) and the smoky, peppery Callabriga was a wonderful accompaniment.

2005 Callabriga Dão Red

2005 Callabriga Dão Red

Callabriga is one of many brands produced by SoGrape Vinhos with the Dão Red being one of about twenty in the range spanning the regions of Altentejo, Dão and Douro. (Yep, they’re a large producer). At $28* it’s a bit pricey for everyday drinking but a wine worth checking out just the same.

Made with Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional and Alfrocheiro Preto grapes the colour is extremely dark, inky, almost black. A perfumey/smoky nose with pepper, blueberry, chocolate and earth.  Medium-full bodied, balanced and velvety smooth. I’ve not had a wine this easy to drink in a while. But possibly – just possibly – it was too smooth… (is there such a thing?) Comes down to personal preference, I suppose. Sometimes a bit of an edge is nice, too.

2005 Callabriga Dao Red


*At Port of Wines at time of this writing

Bring It.

June 24, 2010

Since 2007 it’s been legal to Bring Your Own (store-bought) Wine to Halifax restaurants. Establishments are left to choose whether to participate in BYOW and how much to charge you for the effort. A number of restaurants in town do take part, with corkage fees in the $10 – $25 range (Halibites has a list). Admittedly, I don’t take advantage of this service nearly enough – mostly because I’m too disorganised to plan ahead –  but this past weekend I gave it a go. A friend was visiting from out-of-town and we decided on dinner at Morris East – a wood-fired pizza restaurant on Morris Street that happily lets you BYO. I stopped by Port of Wines beforehand to pick up two wines I’d been meaning to try: 2007 Perrin & Fils Vacqueyras “Les Christins” (Southern Rhône) and 2007 Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina).

Morris East (Credit: nsca on Flickr)

Now, a proper foodie would’ve snapped some pics of the delectable Charcuterie plate we shared, or captured at least one of the fine pizzas we filled our bellies with: Pepperoni & spicy banana peppers; Puttanesca, fresh basil & goat’s cheese; Housemade sausage with bacon, onion, pineapple & mozzarella … but I’m not a proper foodie (see note re disorganisation above).

I did get a picture of the wines though. (Albeit these were taken a few days later, after having gone back to the shop to re-buy the wines specifically for this photo, but what matters is that we have visual!)

Perrin & Fils Vacqueyras and Catena Malbec

Perrin & Fils Vacqueyras and Catena Malbec

The Perrin & Fils “Les Cristins” Vacqueyras was the favourite and only slightly shy of being too heavy for the pizzas. Someone described this wine as “racy” and I think that’s perfect. Deep, opaque, inky/black/purple colour with a little sediment. Notes of black cherry, black currant, leather, smoke, liquorice. Full-bodied, dense mouthfeel, slightly firm tannins (little young?), touch of bitterness and more black fruit. $29 at Port of Wines.

The Catena Malbec was a very close second. Rich burgundy colour, opaque. Intensely fruity nose, with cinnamon, raisin, mocha and clove. On the palate the fruit was big and powerful, but well-balanced with just enough acidity, softer tannins and slightly looser/mellower structure than the Vacqueyras. $24 at Port of Wines – great value.

BYOW is a great little program, especially if you dine out often. It’s an easy way to branch out and try different wines, and you save a little (or a lot) on the bill.

A hat-tip to the friendly BYOW table service at Morris East.

Notes On A Luddite

June 18, 2010

A couple of years ago I joined Twitter. I didn’t really want to. Geeky peer-pressure and name-calling (and I think, alcohol) forced me into it. In honour of my then technological resistance I created an account called @curlyluddite, and like most noobies I tentatively uploaded a faceless image as my avatar, and locked up my tweets.  Eventually, I grew cheeky and confident enough to shed the shackles of my shrouded Twitter existence and share my meanderings with the rest of the world. Off came the security locks and up went a picture of my real-life face. And it’s been pretty good so far. I’ve made some lovely connections and learned some handy things as @curlyluddite. But to the tweep who (rather seriously) informed me that I am “not really a Luddite” because I “have a blog and am on Twitter”: you are correct. I’m not really a Luddite. But like a lot of ironic/pointless nicknames this one has stuck, and it led me to a pretty special wine recently, 2004 Luddite Shiraz.

Luddite Shiraz

2004 Luddite Shiraz

Luddite Wines is based in South Africa’s Western Cape and opened its doors in 1999 with its sights set on making top-notch Shiraz. Their Luddism philosophy stems from a focus on self-sufficient and global conscious farming. 2004 was the first vintage they used their own Walker Bay fruit (though blended with the grapes of 3 other vineyard sites,  Malmesbury, Helderburg and Bottelry). I spied this particular bottle in Bedales, a small wine shop/wine bar hybrid near Spitalfields Market in London, and like a child seeing her name in print I squealed with recognition and bought it. The bottle has sat in my cupboard for over a year awaiting a decent occasion. Mercifully, a half decent occasion presented itself the other night. Good enough. We popped the cork.

Deep burgundy colour with blackish hues and a little sediment. The nose was rich and complex with stewed plumb, leather, tobacco, cinnamon and pepper. Solid & full-bodied in the mouth with smooth tannins and  nicely integrated fruit, alcohol and spicy acidity. My sense was that the fruit could’ve been a little more prominent, but what existed hung together well with everything else so, no matter. An intense, bold, yet very together wine. Liked it a lot.

4 vineyard sites, Malmesbury, Helderburg, Bottelry and for the first time our own fruit from the Luddite farm in Bot River.
Jasper & Wiley

Jasper and Wiley

A year or so ago I met a friend for drinks a few days prior to her moving abroad. Planning to be away at least a year she was rather beside herself over the issue of her two cats. “If I can’t find them a home I’ll have to give them to a shelter…” she whimpered. My heart panged but my (then-sober) brain interjected: “Oh no you don’t”. I nodded to myself and listened to my friend sympathetically, promising to help spread the word. As the night wore on and more pints were consumed, heart strings gradually squelched logic and I pledged to take said cats off her hands (should no one else want them).

Needless to say, the cats, Jasper and Wiley, were mine a few days later. And for over a year they snoozed and  shed on nearly every surface of my flat, tore my window screens, picked my furniture and barfed on my floor. If I wasn’t buying wine for neighbours to feed them while I was away, I was running to the store in the wee hours to get them food, or flea treatments, or cat litter, or whatever else they needed. But… despite the financial and domestic inconveniences, I developed quite a soft spot for the little guys. Jasper, the alpha male, was sensitve and pensive but loved to cuddle. Wiley was more aloof but liked the occasional pat and had a curious fondness for hanging out in the shower. They killed the odd mouse for me, growled at strangers and were always glad to see me.

2004 Chateau Ksara

2004 Chateau Ksara

So, as you may have gathered from my wistful prose, Jasper and Wiley are no longer with me. My friend has since returned from her nomadic spree and took them back this weekend. I’d known the day was coming for some time, but I was not prepared for the emotional upheaval that came with stuffing their little bodies into the cat carrier and handing them over. OH, IT WAS HARD. The tears flowed and noses ran as my friend thrust a bottle of 04 Chateau Ksara into my fist as a thank-you.

I hereby raise a glass of Chateau Ksara to my furry friends, Jasper and Wiley:

May all your storms be weathered. (they detest disagreeable weather)
May all that’s good get better. (expensive tinned tuna water, not the cheap stuff)
Here’s to life.
Here’s to love.
Here’s to you.*

The Ksara, I should mention, was wonderful. A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. I am pretty partial to Lebanese wine, and this is one of the better glasses I’ve had in a while. Notes:

cat eyes
A deep burgundy colour with slight browning/bricking at the edges. Starting to show age.
cat nose Intense ripe blackberry, black currant with liquorice, star anise, tobacco and cedar.
cat mouth Medium-to-full bodied. Smooth, velvety texture with a warm chutney-like spice, soft tannins, good acidity and perfectly integrated fruit. Very balanced.

*Here’s To Life by Shirley Horne

30% Carignan, 30% Cinsault, 20% Mourvèdre, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 California Wine Fair

2010 California Wine Fair

The Halifax Society for American Wines held their annual California Wine Fair last night at Canada’s Immigration Museum, Pier 21. Pier 21 is an austere, but beautiful building refurbished in 1999 to commemorate its past life as Canada’s port of entry to over a million immigrants from the late 1920’s to the early 70’s. It’s a large, open, airy space with spashes of colour, exposed brick and wide open views of the harbour. A remarkable history and a refreshing setting for a wine show.

2010 California Wine Fair, Pier 21

2010 California Wine Fair, Pier 21

Clearly, there is no shortage of Cali wine lovers in Halifax. The show was very well attended with a good mix of professionals and enthusiasts of all ages. Over 250 wines were on show, most of which were either available for purchase in Nova Scotia already, or coming soon. Viognier & Chardonnay appeared to be the prevailing Whites, with Bordeaux blends topping the Reds. French-looking labels were the fashion as were French-sounding vineyard names a la Clos and Chateau. Big brands like Gallo and Mondavi were on hand, but so too were lots of interesting, lesser known players.

Mondavi

Mondavi Table

So, impressions of the wines overall? Officially, I cannot tell you as I did not try them all, but having made a decent dent there was, I felt, a lot of same-sameyness to most I tried. But not all. Here were some personal highlights:

Whites:

  1. Birichino Malvasia Bianca, 2008, Monterey. Very muscat-like. An incredibly floral nose, with peach, melon and citrus. Surprisingly dry, slightly grassy, limey palate with crisp acidity. Really pleasant.
  2. Sonoma Cutrer “The Cutrer”, 2005 Chardonnay. The marketing sheet says its vines were planted ‘on an ancient sea bed’… which might explain the calcium/briney like character I was getting on this wine. If they oaked this, I couldn’t smell or taste it. A very clean, crisp, mineral style of Chardonnay that made me think of Chablis.
  3. Domaine Chandon Brut Classic. My favourite of the three. Made using méthode traditionnelle this is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Aromas of almond, spice and biscuit. Fine bubbles, apples and pear on the palate, finishes dry.
Kenwood Artist Series, Cab Sauv

Kenwood Artist Series, Cab Sauv

Reds:

  1. Ferrari-Carano Merlot, 2007, Sonoma County. Full-bodied, soft and round with rich, plummy fruit, earth, cedar and just enough acid to balance it all out. None of that overpowering oakiness.
  2. Etude Pinot Noir, 2007, Cerneros. A very classy Pinot. Lively red cherry, mushroom and barnyard notes with a touch of vanilla. Light-bodied with dark cherry earthiness on the palate. Perfectly balanced.
  3. Kenwood Artist Series, Cab Sauv, 2005, Sonoma County. My favourite of the three.  Intense black currant, cassis, mint and liquorice with slight leather. Full-bodied with green, grippy tannins, black currant and great acidity. Maybe a tad young but still very drinkable.

The secret to happiness, some say,  is having an appreciation for life’s simpler delights. The secret to happinez, a tiny wine bar in Saint John, New Brunswick, is much the same: delightful simplicity.

Happinez by-the-glass

Happinez by-the-glass

This past weekend I visited happinez, not for the first time since moving back to the Maritimes. Sitting below street-level of the historical Brodie building it beckons you inside with ancient natural stone walls, low ceilings and a buzz of happy patrons. Servers make eye contact as you enter, but thankfully don’t descend on you immediately, giving you time to get settled. Even before my first glass of Yarra Valley Pinot Noir I am instantly recharged from the 4 hour car trip from Halifax.

Come A Little Closer

"Come A Little Closer" bench

What’s most refreshing to me about happinez is it’s ability to take a single concept and execute it very well. Everything from the architecture, to the furnishings, to the people working there creates an atmosphere conducive to relaxing and socializing – the wines are merely a compliment. A credit to owner and creator, Peter Smit, a native of Amsterdam who’s lived in Saint John since the early 80s.

You won’t find Budweiser or Smirnoff here (however, you might find an obscure local craft beer, or a good Russian Vodka if you ask). The main focus at happinez is wine. A good selection of reasonably priced wines by the glass, tasting flight, or bottle changes monthly (higher end bottles are also available from the cellar). Plates of local artisanal cheeses from Fromagerie Au Fond de Bois and local charcuterie from La Ferme du Diamant are on hand and pair beautifully with the wines. And everything is enjoyed amidst friendly strangers either seated communally in the back, perched near the bar, or atop the highly entertaining Come A Little Closer Bench.

happinez

some happinez'ers

Somehow it all manages to be serious, without being snobby; polished without being flashy, simple without being dull. There is little point in missing this gem next time you find yourself in Saint John, New Brunswick (but do check the time, they are only open Wed – Sat).

happinez wine bar
42 Princess Street
Saint John, NB
E2L 1K2
506.634.7340

http://www.happinezwinebar.com

Super Nova

May 6, 2010

2009 Benjamin Bridge Nova 7

Benjamin Bridge, a small Nova Scotia winery in the Gaspereau River Valley, released their 2009 Nova 7 yesterday. Following the sell-out success of the 2008, I was eager to try this year’s result so off I skipped to Port of Wines to procure myself a splash.

The scene on arrival looked promising: all in attendance seemed pleased with their bubbly bounty – lots of chatting, nodding heads and rosy cheeks. Jean Benoit, the winemaker, wasn’t present but consultant Peter Gamble was on hand to answer questions and tout the wares. He described the wine in great detail, contrasted it with the last vintage, and alerted us to the upcoming 2004 Brut Reserve and Blanc de Noirs classic-champagne-method sparkling wine due to be unveiled this autumn (read more from Sean Wood on that). So, what of the Nova 7? I thoroughly enjoyed it. And at 7.5% alcohol it’s possible to enjoy larger than normal volumes and still maintain your dignity.

Blend: NY Muscat, Perle of Csaba.
Appearance: Pale gold, fine bubbles.
Nose: Intensely aromatic. Lychee, orange and melon with orange blossom and honeysuckle florality.
Palate: Lively fizz, light-to-medium bodied, slightly sweet with balancing acidity. Peach and orange on the finish.

Delicious! Looking forward to trying this with a spicy curry or maybe some Mascarpone & fresh berries… Hmm.

The Unfinished Bottle

April 25, 2010

wine bottle

Source: Winebarr.com

Apparently, there are people who open a bottle of wine and don’t finish it in one sitting.

I know. I didn’t believe it either.

This concerns me on many levels, but mostly because in as little as 2 hours that lively wine will start to succumb to the ravages of Oxidation. Well-meaning Oxygen will rouse the nasty Hydrogen Peroxide who will oxidize the innocent Ethanol to produce a rather ugly love child, Acetaldehyde. The result of this hapless union is loss of colour, flavour and aroma – i.e. flat wine.

Thankfully, there are measures one can take to prevent such an outcome. A plethora of Wine Preservation Systems claim to slow (or stop) Oxidation (and in the case of Sparkling wines, preserve bubbles). I recently discovered some of these methods in doing a project for my Sommelier class and thought I’d share some of the details with you.

Interestingly, Oxidation does not take long. How long exactly depends on a few factors:

  • Varietal (grapes high in phenolic compounds more susceptible)
  • Age (older wines collapse sooner)
  • Volume (more air than wine in the bottle = faster oxidation)
  • Temperature (warmer temperater = faster oxidation)
  • Light (more light = faster oxidation)
vintage fridge

Source: julianinterior.com

The quick-fix approach to addressing the last three of the above factors is recapping/re-corking the wine and sticking it in the fridge. When stored upright and tightly sealed, a bottle of wine will enjoy a few more hours of life here. Its freshness can be improved further by simply transferring the contents into a smaller bottle (e.g. 1/2 bottle or water bottle) which decreases the amount of air in contact with the wine. Purpose-built products like PlatyPreserve (flexible plastic “flasks”) are based on this principle while also allowing you to squeeze excess air out and seal the pouch with an air tight cap.

Most formal Preservation Systems, at a minimum, focus on removing excess O2 from the bottle and preventing any further air from entering. (Sparkling preservation systems carry out the added task of preserving CO2.) How they accomplish this, and how much it’ll cost you, literally spans the gamut – there are hundreds of options. But all can be more-or-less grouped into one of five categories.

  1. Physical O2 Barriers.
  2. Vacuum pumps.
  3. Pressure pumps.
  4. Gas Barriers.
  5. Serve & Preserve Systems.

Physical O2 Barriers

WinePreserva

WinePreserva (Source: designawards.com)

These are objects inserted into or over the bottle creating a physical barrier against Oxygen. The most common of these are rubber-ringed wine stoppers, used to temporarily close the bottle with a near air tight seal. Other products, like Wine Preserva, use a floating-disc device that sits on the surface of the wine inside the bottle blocking the air above (working much like floating lids on fermentation tanks). Response to this system has been very good (though some debate the 5-day freshness claim). Price is reasonable (~ $6/6 pack) and one disc lasts an entire bottle. They are biodegradable and made from recycled materials.

The consensus appears to be that these will preserve freshness for about 2 days. Great for the home and practical enough for trips.

Le Verre de Vin

Le Verre de Vin (Source: imvusatech.co.za)

Vacuum Pumps

These systems withdraw air out of  the bottle. The bottle is normally capped with a rubber stopper forming a near air-tight seal. A popular criticism of the manual pump is that bottles are often over-pumped removing precious aromatics from the wine along with the air.  Calibrated (automated) versions, like Le Verre de Vin were designed to address this problem by delivering an optimal pump ensuring just the right amount of air is sucked out leaving aromatics/flavour molecules intact. Vacu Vin‘s manual Wine Saver has seen ergonomic improvements over the last few years and some models, like the Concerto, give feedback (e.g. “click”) when the maximum pump is reached. Leaky stoppers, another nuisance, are also being improved.

The consensus appears to be that provided the correct amount of air has been pumped out and the seal is made air tight this method can preserve freshness for a few days – maybe more if combined with the fridge.

Pressure Pumps

Perlage

Perlage (Source: wholesalebarsupplies.com)


Mainly for Sparkling wines, these systems purge the bottle head space of O2 and re-pressurize it with C02. Le Verre de Vin offers a pressure pump option, and other systems like Perlage use a hand-held gauge and outer glass enclosure for protection. A major criticism of C02 infused systems concerns the quality of the added bubbles. A traditional-method Champagne, for example, where C02 is created naturally (and pumped-in carbonation is prohibited), would, some argue be polluted by “fake” bubbles. Many commercial establishments are thrilled, however, as it allows them to sell the once off-limits sparkling wine by-the-glass with little to no wastage. The majority of their customers, it would seem, don’t notice, or care about differences in carbonation purity (perhaps the ones that do care, opt for the full bottle). For the home, Perlage makes a residential model, and others like Presurvac are also home-friendly.

The consensus appears to be that  if you can a) put up with the hassle of buying CO2 cartridges (or cylinders), b) you want bubbly to last more than a day and c) your palate is unoffended by pumped-in fizz, the treated wines are far better than their flat alternatives.

Private Preserve

Private Preserve (Source: hemingwaysltd.com)

Gas Barriers

These systems spray or inject inert gas (typically Argon or Nitrogen) into the bottle forcing O2 out and  ‘blanketing’ the wine’s surface with a protective shield. Spray canisters like Private Preserve or WineLife are popular, affordable options at about $10/can and are generally good for about 100 uses. Some people report a synthetic flavour in the treated wine and suggest aeration. There is also some debate over the non-inert properties of Nitrogen and its tendency to alter wine. Others complain that the system is just plain awkward to use citing difficulties with administering just the right amount of spray and getting the stopper on quickly enough (without losing the straw in the bottle).

The consensus appears to be that if a the spray is administered correctly and bottle is swiftly re-capped this can preserve freshness for up to a week. Aeration may be required depending on gas-related sensitivities.

Enomatic

Enomatic (Source: enomatic.com)

Serve & Preserve Systems

These systems are normally aimed at the commercial market with serious by-the-glass or try-before-you-buy programs. These are typically computerised units that preserve wine by displacing O2 with neutral gas and storing it at controlled temperatures. They offer push-button or manual-tap pouring without exposing the wine to air. Simplified Home versions like EuroCave’s SoWine (which requires removing the bottle for pouring) go for about $300, but commercial grade systems like N2Vin, By The Glass or Enomatic can run anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 (depending on bells & whistles). WineKeeper was long the main player in this space, but is gradually being superseded by more sophisticated products that offer features like customised temperature zones, card activation and administrative software. For preserving wine over longer periods these systems perform well, and the technology is constantly improving. Because the bottle is not handled, lost costs associated with spillage and over-pouring are avoided too. Cons tend to be associated with the initial price tag and ongoing costs of regular professional maintenance. Other people lament the loss of the wine-pouring ritual and find the “vending machine” approach to wine vulgar. But despite clinical and cost drawbacks many establishments are reporting swift ROIs. The systems have a strong visual impact and let customers know the establishment is serious about its wine and is handling it properly.

The consensus appears to be:  do your research. While the systems are unmatched in their ability to preserve wines over long periods, it’s a vast market. Features and functionality vary widely as does quality of workmanship and design.

She had the necklace in a little box.
Flamenco Dancer

Flamenco Dancer

The Port of Wines in Halifax has begun to host free, weekly in-store wine tastings. Led by agents whose wines adorn the shelves there (or soon will), the wines typically adhere to a theme with  normally at least 5 to try, and occasionally nibbles are provided (sorry, I cringe at the word nibble, but for the sake of clarity I had to use it). The agents are pretty knowledgable, too, providing a nice forum to ask questions. Given all this, I’m always surprised at the low turnout. But I, the resident Village Wino, somehow find time to show up to most… I do it all for you, dear Readers (all 3 of you).

This week’s tasting included 5 Spanish wines from Celtic Cellars:

  1. 2006 Cosme Palacio Cosecha Rioja Blanco
  2. 2005 Cosme Palacio Cosecha Rioja
  3. 2005 Taurus Crianza Toro
  4. 2006 Resalte Vendimia Seleccionada
  5. 2005 Resalte Crianza
Cosme Palacio Cosecha Rioja (White)

Cosme Palacio Cosecha Rioja (White)

2006 Cosme Palacio Cosecha Rioja Blanco. Having not had much White Rioja in my time (and probably even less of the good stuff) I was interested to try this. 100% Viura, a grape that seems to have suffered a similar fate to Italy’s Trebbiano – high yielding, once vinified with red varieties for acidity, often associated with poor quality wines, etc. With several months in French Oak (seems to me, the winemaker is French, too) there was some vanilla on those along with spice and tropical fruit (pineapple and citrus). Palate was rich, creamy and mouth-coating with more of the spice and tropical fruit. Mild acidity with a medium-long, dry finish. I’d normally prefer more acid, but I could see how this might be less of a concern when paired with the right food, e.g. Spanish Tapas – seafood, heavy on the garlic!

Cosme Palacio Cosecha Rioja Tinto

Cosme Palacio Cosecha Rioja Tinto

2005 Cosme Palacio Cosecha Rioja. This one was a little more familiar. 100% Tempranillo. The colour was a youthful, bright, ruby red. Dark, ripe blackberry fruit with good earthy, oak notes mixed in. Light-Medium structure, barely any tannins with pronounced fruit and good acidity, but at the same time slightly bitter. It finished quickly, with flavours dropping off pretty suddenly.

2005 Taurus Crianza Toro. This is a 100% Tinta de Toro (aka Tempranillo) from the Castilla y León region. Both inside and out this wine struck me as being one of those consumer “brand” wines… You know: The winery figures out the tastes and preferences of their biggest buying group and then designs a wine to suit them? These wines are priced nicely but typically not very interesting (which is probably by design so as to appeal to everyone and offend no one). OK, before I get too opinionated here I’ll just share my notes and you can make up your own mind. Moderate notes of ripe, red berries with touch of toasted spicyness. Palate was simple, fruity, woody with mild tannin and moderate acidity. Finished quickly. To me, it was fine, I could drink it, but it wasn’t  remarkable.

Taurus Crianza

Taurus Crianza

Resalte. Both the Vendimia Seleccionada & the Crianza had very similar flavour profiles and weight, but the Crianza was notably smoother. Both 100% Tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero DO and oak-aged (the VS 3 mos, the Crianza 15). Both are robust, very fruity and fresh but the Vendimia Seleccionada had additional notes of green pepper both on the nose and on the palate and the tannins were grippier. The Crianza was better integrated and softer overall – likely due to its slightly older vintage and its longer time in Oak. I preferred the Crianza by far and will keep this Bodega in mind for my next hefty, Spanish-inpsired meal.

Resalte

Resalte Vendimia Seleccionada

Vendimia Seleccionada