Sunday, February 11, 2018

Best Of The February 17 Release

Coolest of all the cool-climate wines of the world is Chablis, bar none.  Vaucopins is the mini-terroir growing one of the best: Begue-Mathiot 2014, a flinty, austere and elegant premier cru that's well worth your attention.

    It's $33 and just the fuse waiting for a platter of creamy seafood stew with all the shellfish ingredients you can muster. The razor-like acidity is the catalyst for a gustatory explosion. 

    The ancient limestone deposits bequeathed by primeval oceans have blessed us with intensely mineral wines delivered to us through 20-year-old Chardonnay vines. Bless 'em! Snag them on-line via

    Likewise, on-line for the very different-style Chardonnay from Patz & Hall 2015 grown in California's Sonoma Coast. Upscale at $65, with half a forest of toasty new oak aging and full, rich ripeness of the Golden State. Some new leather notes among the Delicious apple, Anjou pear and Key lime complexity.

    For incredibly intense nutty-sweet, dried fruit and dried walnut taste sensations, there's Osborne's 10 RF Oloroso Medium Sherry, $17 on-line. A sipping sensation like few others, especially with fruit pie or my favorite St Agur cheese for dessert. A simply delightful change of pace and guaranteed de-stressor.

    For 30 bucks, again on-line at, is a rich, reliable and more-ish red, Tablas Creek Cote de Tablas 2015. Grown in the Adelaida district of Paso Robles, it's a concentration of blackberries, new leather, raspberries, black cherries and a whiff of shoe polish. Stunningly good!

    For fans of  more herbaceous vino pleasure, there's Nordesia Vermouth Red, $27 for a whole litre, a most elegant clove-citrus oriented aperitif all the way from Galicia, Spain's cool Atlantic northwest corner, on-line again.

Taste a little California history in this bottle named for the founder of Buena Vista winery in Sonoma County: The Count Founders Red 2014. The patriarch was flamboyant adventurer, author, innovator, proto-capitalist and viticulturist Agoston Haraszthy. Hungarian-born, he imported European vines to California where ironically they died of the phylloxera virus that later killed Europe's own vineyards. This visionary pioneered premium winemaking in Cali, dug the first wine cellars, built the first winery of stone. 
    This Zinfandel blend, $17 in stores, is typical Cali: ultra-fruity, smoky, easy-drinking and great with any barbecue fare.
        Fascinating Aussie blend of Shiraz, Cabernet and the more exotic Dolcetto, the junior grape in the Barolo regions of northwest Italy, Heartland Stickleback Red 2014 is pure South Australia value, $15 in stores: silky tannins, smoky-spick and ripe berry flavor profile, easy drinking and very affordable. Think slow-roasted lamb, ribs, BBQ  or aged cheeses.

    Speaking of Barolo, meet Sordo Gabutti 2012, a 100% Nebbiolo grape-based aristocrat to enjoy now or cellar for a decade. Sinewy is a good way to describe this mineral- leather, rare roast jus flavored work of art, $69 in stores, fair for a Barolo 

    There's wild strawberry, maraschino cherry, wild flowers and pipe tobacco, too. Paler red color intensity typical of the grape but it packs the power to give huge pleasure with the finest roast, steaks and stews.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Fun With The F-Words

They have fun with F-words making Fancy Farm Girl wines – Frivolous, Flamboyant, Fresh, even Frissonesque, as well as Vibrant, Opulent, Seductive and Sassy. All of which apply to the Fancy Farm Girl herself, Sue-Ann Staff, the talent behind the wines.

    She’s the fifth-generation grape grower/winemaker at 200-year-old Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery in Jordan, Ontario. As farm girls go, she’s the real deal!
    After enology studies at Guelph and Adelaide, she became Ontario Winemaker of the Year (first female, youngest ever) and short-listed for Top Women in Wine at the International Wine and Spirits Awards in London.

    Since 2008, she’s been vinifying award winning wines sourced almost exclusively from the family vineyards. 

    Whites like the 2015 Frivolous White sold in more than 270 LCBOs, a semi-dry 100% Riesling that has a marvellous Key lime acidity, the freshness of grapefruit zest and the cleansing feeling that’s a spa for your palate. $14.95.

    New arrivals this month are Frissonesque Sauvignon Blanc 2015 that’s all fresh-mown grass, rhubarb compote and gooseberry jam. The frisson comes from an electric streak of fruity acidity that makes you want another sip! $16.95. Perfect with seafood, warm salads, simple roast chicken.

    Flamboyant Red 2013 is a hearty Cab-Merlot Bordeaux style for everyday enjoyment, especially with casual BBQ fare, pizza, pasta, parmesan, and plump rare burgers, stews and ribs! Big fruitiness and a hint of new leather and black licorice. $14.95.

    They are sold in the century-old farmhouse, online and LCBO, represented by Churchill Cellars.; @Fancy_Farm_Girl, 905-562-1719 or you can fly in! This is Ontario's only winery with two grass strips for your single-engine airplane or helicopter.

Monday, January 22, 2018

My Vintages February 3 Recommendations

Dry, light and fruity in a glistening package, Bottega Gold Prosecco  is $27 worth of elegant sipping, calling forth ripe apple, pear and citrus notes and a zesty Key lime acidity.

    For something perfectly pink and bubbly with a French accent, there's Luc Belaire Rare Sparkling Rose, $40, that gets you an additional dimension of subtle fruit nuances. This time, it's fresh baked cherry pie with a dash of melon and raspberry coulis.

    Continuing in this unseasonably pink vein, there's Lapostolle Le Rose 2016 from Chile, one of the very best roses anywhere, for a bargain $18, dry, suave, food friendly and loaded with gorgeous strawberry and white pepper stoniness. Stock up now for spring! 

    Organic and biodynamic, seriously under-priced, Paarl South Africa's Jontys Ducks Pekin White 2015 is a versatile, food friendly everyday pleasure, round and stony with lime zest, Anjou pear and chalky limestone underpinnings. $16. Buy this by the case! 

    Speaking of zesty, this entry from Austria's Kamptal is electric! Kitmansberg Gruner Veltliner 2016, $17, will test all those people who say: "I just love really dry wines!" but actually prefer California-style residual sugar every time. In this case, think white grapefruit on steroids with limestone and granite underpinnings. Wonderful with grilled or pan-fried white fish, raw shellfish, and as an aperitif.

    If the term "toasty oak" turns you off, try the stony, steely, slightly flinty Chablis 2015 from J Moreau & Fils, $23. This northern outpost of Burgundy is rightly famed for its elegant aristocratic Chardonnay whites with their understated apple/pear nuances and legendary minerality.

    For a softer, more perfumed Chardonnay, from the south of France, Novellum 2016 is a steal at $18. Very different, easy-drinking, dry, fruitier with a hint of orchard fruit, especially white peach and scarcely any oak at all.

Among the most pleasurable red wines, Murphy-Goode Merlot 2013 is very well named.(Merlot-phobic Myles can just go Sideways!) Velvety, almost cuddly, mouth-coating and deliciously chewy (soft tannins), it leans towards black fruits and berries with a whiff of smokiness, $23. 

    Heftier by far, the brawny Mount Riley Syrah 2016 is smoky, tarry and mouth-filling, in a good way. Marlborough on New Zealand's South Island, it's really quite Rhone-like with crushed black pepper, roasted meat, ripe berry and old leather notes. Complex and intriguing, $19. 

    Overshadowed by the lordly Pinot Noir of Burgundy, the Gamay-driven reds just to the south rarely get their due. However, the Jean-Paul Dubost's Beaujolais-Villages Climat Le Tracot 2015 will not be denied. There's a hint of that classic Band-Aid aroma from the whole cluster fermentation followed by a superb coulis of ripe berry aromas and flavors. Silky tannins, drinking well now, $20.

From France's deep south in Corbieres, bordering the Med, Chateau Treviac 2015 gives big and hearty a good name, $17. Black currant, forest floor, leather, smoke and crushed black pepper call for big roasts, stews and steaks or burgers.

    Best of all but hard to find: Marchand de Gramont Vieilles Vignes Nuits-Saint-Georges 2015. Maybe the outstanding wine of the entire February 3 release. They say a great red Burgundy will cost you $250 -- $50 each for the first four crappy ones and another $50 for that ethereal bottle you're seeking. This is that bottle, and it's $59.95. aromas of crushed wild strawberries, damp earth, exotic spices, new leather and grated truffles! Online or in the flagship LCBO stores only. There's also an interesting red Bordeaux on offer there from crazy French actor Gerard Depardieu called Ma Verite, $49.95, that garnered an impressive 92 Parker points but our lab sample was untasteably corky. Dommage!

    For the plutocrats:  a superb and rare single vintage 1998 Armagnac from the leading producer, De Montal, seductive smoky citrus, dark honey, caramel and baking spices that should really be sold as an aphrodisiac. $143.95. Sorry!

Monday, January 15, 2018

To Hell With Burgundy -- Just Kidding!

Etienne Julien

It's pretty hard to not covet Burgundy wines.They're just so irresistibly damn good! 

    Even though the winemakers themselves sell their liquid heritage for a pretty penny, they're always quietly ballistic over the stratospheric prices achieved later by middlemen in the secondary market.That's where you and I come in. Way later. 

    To get the very top Burgundy wines you have to buy each bottle bundled together with ten or eleven distantly related siblings and even then you need to be an industry insider or a plutocrat. 

    Sure you can buy Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines from around the world, and some of it's pretty fine, if that's good enough for you. Another way is to contact boutique importing agencies like CGU Fine Wines in Ontario. 

    Among their current offerings are an interesting Cremant de Bourgogne sparkler from Meursault made by Domaine Francois Mikulski coming this spring at around $30.Think Blanc de Blancs (i.e. pure Chardonnay) Champagne dry and toasty at half the price.

    In the red Pinot realm, Domaine Gerard Julien & Fils has a superb 2013 Cote de Nuits on offer at CGU for $50. Velvety and earthy with that magical Pinot 4th dimension that only comes from this sliver of limestone-flint terroir.

    Just to the south, in Beaujolais, is Domaine Labruyere, owner of a precious piece of Moulin-a-Vent that yields one of the best Crus Beaujolais anywhere, for under $30. Called Coeur de Terroirs, it's all black berries, violets, licorice, smoke and spice!

    Find out more at

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

It's A New Old Year

1943 is my favorite vintage -- even though I was a very small part of it. 

    The fabulous wine grapes of that vintage all the way across Europe were carefully picked by hard-working farm girls and their moms because all the brave and terrified young men that year were far, far away, fighting for freedom/defence/liberation/country/you name it. It was War. 

    That's the vintage when I was born. Along with George Harrison, Janis Joplin, Sharon Stone, Bobby Fischer, Arthur Ashe, Mick Jagger, Catherine Deneuve, Billie Jean King and Keith Richards. 

    It was a a good wine year, one of the best of World War II. I celebrate it every year with a wine of 1943 and a fine dinner with my old friend Alan Gardner, a man of the same vintage and British heritage (and same off the wall humor). 

    This year we enjoyed a palate cleanser of Billecart-Salmon Rose Champagne, impeccable as always. Then a precise and thrilling old Chardonnay, a mere 10-year-old Coche-Dury Burgundy 2007 with our lobster. Big guns followed with the roast leg of lamb and Yorkshire pudding: Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion 1943, opening from tight chalky tannins into ethereal red and black berry fruit in the glass, then a 1943 vintage Port just now coming into its own. 

    It's a birthday tradition around here. May it long continue!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

That Sixties Feeling

Old wines are like old rock stars -- lined, leathery, mysterious and sometimes lacking in taste (Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Rod Stewart) or silky-smooth, mellifluous, harmonious and classy (Paul McCartney, Everley Brothers, Beach Boys). 

    Think of California Cabernets from the Sixties, brooding, tannic and potent then. Where are they now? 

    To find out, I joined some old friends to confront/enjoy a cohort of the best wines of the '68s. 

    Like the great rockers, many of whom were highly experimental in their musical journeys, many of the very early winemakers were pushing the outer limits of enology/viticulture, too. 

    Tannins up the wazoo, toasty new oak barrel-aging to a tongue-splintering fare-thee-well, alcohol levels to the max. Here's what we found: Much more Keef than Macca, for the most part. Good vinous vibrations but fading fast. 

    The Louis Martini Mountain Cab '68, for example, packed a tannic bass note to shake your socks off, grace notes of dried berry fruit and a short heroic gig on the palate.

    Charles Krug Special Selection Cab, a little creaky but hanging in there on the finale. 

    Robert Mondavi Napa Cab '68, in a similar vein, recalling the splendor of its twenties, aren't we all?

    Mondavi Unfined Cab '68, later known as the "Reserve" bottling, living on its past glories with some forest floor, saddle leather accents. 

    And the once proud Inglenook Estate Cab Sauvignon '68, possibly the finest wine in California 1933-64 before changing hands, holding up slightly better than its siblings with an elder statesmanlike elegance, some subtle fruitiness and good length.

   They all did their level best to woo a menu of mustard-braised rabbit and venison pie.

   What's 50 years among friends? It was a blast and now it's back to the future!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Phantom Icewine Crop A Net Gain For Ontario

 Karl Kaiser was all set to leave for England and the London Wine Fair. It was December and he'd told his vineyard crew at Inniskillin Winery under no circumstances touch the rows of late-hanging grapes braving the tumbling temperatures. That was back in 1983 and Canadian Icewine didn't yet exist. 

    On his return from a few days in London, Karl was mortified to find not a single precious grape left on the vines! An excited conversation ensued with the crew and the true perpetrators were revealed. Hordes of hungry starlings had made very short work of the tasty, sweet (unprotected) fruit! 

    And so, it was on to the 1984 harvest and netting was used to protect the delicate fruit, which then yielded delicious Icewine. 

    This groundbreaking Canadian elixir, created by an Austrian wine genius, was destined to be honored at the Oscars of the wine world, at Vinexpo in Bordeaux, winning the Grand Prix d'Honneur as the world's finest example of this stunning dessert wine. 

    It was a turning point for modern Canadian wine, our international signature of wine excellence. And it's all thanks to Karl, who died recently at 76 after a stroke. 

    Dr Kaiser, who received more honors and acknowledgments than you could list, literally brought Canada from its foxy old native grape varieties into the bright light of international acclaim. 

    He had a passion for all wines but his personal grail was great Pinot Noir, the stellar but difficult grape of Burgundy. Apart from launching boutique winery Inniskillin in 1975 with partner Donald Ziraldo, one of Karl's lasting achievements will be helping establish the internationally acclaimed Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University, St Catharines. 

    Karl was one of the great pioneers of Canadian winemaking. We'll all miss him.