Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Poo Wine Revisited

Though I'd normally take Monday and Tuesday off, I thought I'd report on my return to the poo wine. After 10 days sitting in the fridge in the half-bottle, I was about to pour it down the drain, when I decided it couldn't hurt (much) to try it one more time. And surprise! it had evolved into something entirely drinkable. A perfectly reasonable light red. Well up into the 84/85 range (though it's not really fair to rate it now). It looks like all this wine really needed was to be decanted for 10 days or so.

Monday, September 29, 2008

About Me / Contact Info

I am not a wine expert. I like a variety of different wines and I like trying new wines, but apart from that I have absolutely no qualifications for writing about wine. On the bright side, this blog is free.

There is no team so far. Except that my wife, Kelly, usually likes to make her own notes about the wines she drinks. Her notes are better than mine - she usually tastes the wine blind, while I almost never do, and her palate is better than mine anyway - so sometimes I steal her stuff when she's not looking. Also, when readers post their own reviews in the "Make a Suggestion" thread I will often repost it as a separate blog entry into order to get a searchable thread going on that particular wine.

If you like to contact me about this blog - if you have a review you would like me to post, or even better, if you would like to send me free wine! - send an e-mail to me at "NBwines /at/ gmail /dot/ com"

Newton Red Claret 2003

In my "Make a Suggestion" post I threatened that if anyone wrote a full review I might lift it into its own thread. And just as I realized that I couldn't keep posting 5 days a week, Iron Chef conveniently posted a review of a current sale wine. So here is Iron Chef's review of the 2003 Newton Claret.

"It was layered with coconut, wood vanillas and sun tan lotion. Lots of extracted cherries and cassis. As a drawback there was a bit of Bell pepper astringency. Very smooth month feel- integrated tannins, at 15.2% it was not as hot as one would expect. No sediment and seems ready to drink. The tannins were rounded into form, it would be interesting to see if the Bell pepper taste would grow or disappear with time. Poor composite cork. Overall it reminded me of a Clos De Los Siete or a Mission Hill Oculus- same type of price point but maybe I was expecting more from Napa. I think WS is 88 points. Slightly disappointed- glad I only bought one. I would say 84 points."

Price: $31.49
Value: 2/5 (my value rating, not Iron Chef's)
Score: 84 (Iron Chef's score)
Alcohol: ?%
Tasted: Sept 2008
ANBL UPC: 081753801847

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Posting Schedule

Last week I realized that I couldn't keep up a schedule of posting 7 days a week, in terms of either money or liver function. This week I have realized that even five days a week is more than Kelly and I can handle, since we normally only drink half a bottle a night and we like to take one day a week off. So, now I'm going to cut it back to posting myself three times a week, or every other day at most. But I would like to keep the blog posting on a daily basis, or at least five times a week. So I think I'll try guest reviews and other items on days that I don't post. Please bear with me as I experiment with the posting schedule.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2004

After trying the 2005 I was keen to crack open the '04 for comparison. It does seem to have gotten better -- it's better than I remember it being, and it's better than the '05 is now. The hit you over the head fruit has mellowed (and I suppose "the oak has integrated" as they say) and it's picked up a bit more interest. Even so, it is still a bit jammy and over-the-top, though well done in a jammy over-the-top kind of way. It's still got plenty of fruit in the cherry / raspberry end of the spectrum, though it's not very complex and doubtless never will be.

Since the '04 isn't available anymore, this is of more interest because it suggests that the '05 will improve as well.

Price: $22 (approx)
Value: 3/5
Score: 88
Alcohol: 13.5%
Tasted: Sept 2008
ANBL UPC: 012354051003 ('05)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2004

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the third, or perhaps fourth, wine of Tuscany, less famous than Chianti, Brunello or the so-called "super-Tuscans" (made from international grapes). While it lacks the reknown of these other styles, Vino Nobile more than makes up in value. Kelly and I spent a fantastic two week biking holiday in Tuscany a couple of years ago, just about 20 km from the vineyards where La Braccesca is grown, and by the end of our stay we found ourselves mostly drinking Vino Nobile instead of the equally local Chianti or Brunello. We preferred the richer style of the Vino Nobile as compared to Chianti, and Brunello is outrageously expensive even in in the region where it is made.

Like Chianti and Brunello, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is made solely or primarily from Sangiovese (called Prugnolo Gentile in this region). (Note that Vino Nobile is not made from the Montepulciano grape, which is grown mainly in the south.) La Braccesca, from Antinori, is a blend of 90% Sangiovese with 10% Merlot. It is not particularly long or complex, but it has very satisfying flavours in the dark fruit & leather range, supported by a beautiful elegant structure with fresh acidity and tannins that are a welcome middle ground between the softness of something like the Privada and the grippiness of the Bocca di Lupo. BTW, Wine Spectator also gave this a 90.

Price: $30.29
Score: 90
Value: 4/5
Alcohol: 13.5%
Tasted: Sept 2008
ANBL UPC: 8001935001386

Friday, September 26, 2008

Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2002

Ted brought this over and decanted it without me seeing the bottle, so for once I got to taste blind. I'm very proud of myself - I picked this as a Grenache / Shiraz / Mourvèdre blend. Ok, so it's really Mourvèdre, Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah, but that's close enough. I give myself full marks.

This wines comes from just outside the boundaries of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region. It was a very good wine in the southern Rhone style, but I felt it was somewhat marred by slightly muddy flavours as well a distinct lexia raisin note that carried through from the nose to the finish. I wonder if it is a bit over the hill at 6 years old? Kelly liked it a bit better than I did. Here are her notes: "Very raisiny, dried flowers, apple cider, minerals, earth, pepper. Clear and long, ending with firm tannins."

We tried the 2002, but it is the 2004 that is currently available. If anyone has tried the '04, I'd be interested to hear how it is.

Price: $36.79
Value: 3/5
Score: 88
Alcohol: 13.5%
Tasted: Sept 2008
ANBL UPC: 633135042159

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2005

This is a tricky one. It's a classic well made, fruit forward Aussie Shiraz - a worthwhile step up from Aus Shiraz in the sub-$20 price range. It's definitely got character and I like it better than the Norton Privada or the High Trellis (both of which are more expensive) for that reason. But right now it's got way too much vanilla / grape / jam for my taste. As Kelly put it, "It's a cartoon of a wine."

Will it improve? We bought a bunch of the Wynn's 2004 a couple of years ago - it was jammy then as well, but there was lots of good fruit so we crossed our fingers and hoped. If I can trust my memory, the '04 then tasted quite a lot like the '05 now. I'll pull a bottle of the '04 out soon and see how it's done.

Right now I think I'd give it 87. I can't quite recommend it, but even now it's a close call at this price. You can drink it now if you like a fruit bomb style and even if you like a mellower style a year or two the cellar might be rewarding. Wine Spectator has a ten year drinking window for the '04 and '05 is supposed to be a better vintage, so you might be able to keep this until 2015. But if you like an old world style, this wine is probably not for you. Certainly not now, and probably not ever.

Price: $21.49
Value: 3/5
Score: 87
Alcohol: 14%
Tasted: Sept 2008
ANBL UPC: 012354051003

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tormaresca Bocca di Lupo 2003

I love this wine. Kelly says it's a manly kind of wine, and I'm a manly kind of guy, so maybe that's why. The nose is clean and elegant yet powerful - minerals, leather and violets. Well ok, it doesn't exactly smell like that, but that's what it reminds me of. It's got great structure and mouthfeel. The tannins are grippy but not at all harsh. Not a fruit driven wine. It reminds me of the Bouscassé Vieilles Vignes and in a different way it reminds me of a Barolo.

Wine Specatator gave it an 88, but noted that it "needs bottle age" and they tasted it more than two years ago. It must have developed, because right now this wine absolutely deserves more than that. With that said, while there's lots of interest and complexity here, when you look at the score keep in mind that this is probably my favourite style of wine. But this is an excellent example of the style and Kelly gave it the same score independently after tasting it blind. Here's her note: "Inky purple. Lush nose of violets, anise, plump blackberries, leather, tar. Same flavours are round and smooth on palate, with lots of anise, extra-firm and persistent tannins. Very long."

This is more in the old world style, but it could very well appeal to those who like a big new world wine. And if you do like the style, it's great value. (Note that Castel del Monte is in Puglia, inland from Bari, near the border with the province of Basilicata.)

Update Jan 2009: I tried another bottle with friends. While we all enjoyed it, the consensus score was a 91. I think this second score was more accurate and I was just more in the mood for that style of wine the first time I tried it. With that score I'd give it a 4/5 for value.

Price: $33.79
Value: 5/5 - 4/5 (2nd tasting)
Score: 93 - 91 (2nd tasting)
Region: Italy
Grape: Aglianico
Tasted: Sept 2008
ANBL UPC: 8026530000091

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Monday & Tuesday Off

I've realized that I can't afford to post 7 times a week - that's just too much wine, especially since Kelly and I only drink a half a bottle a night at most. So from now on, I'm going to scale it back to 5 posts a week, with Monday and Tuesday off.

Coming up next week:

Tormaresca Bocca di Lupo 2003
Wynn's Coonawarra Shiraz 2005
Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2002

Glaetzer Amon-Ra Shiraz 2005

This is a hot wine from a hot wine maker. Robert Parker gave this vintage 98/100. But Wine Spectator was more restrained, giving it a relatively modest 92. I'm with Wine Specator on this one. I had it with a few friends and while it was very nice, it didn't blow us away by any means. We had a bottle of the Pio Cesare Fides Barbera (post coming soon) and there was total agreement that the Fides was a much better wine (at half the price) because it was sigificantly more complex. The Amon-Ra was well balanced with good flavours, but without anything that would put it into that category of really special wines. Kelly and I had the Glaetzer Bishop a couple of weeks before, and there wasn't much difference between them, even though the Bishop was half the price.

Here's Kelly's note: "Intense nose of lush blackdurrant with evergreen and black pepper. Lush, smooth, and soft on palate with firm tar edge to end. Very nicely balanced. Up with Elderton command and Wolf Blass Black Label 1999 shirazes, which are best ones I've had. General agreement that (a) shiraz just isn't a particularly complex grape and (b) the Amon-Ra, while good, isn't great value at $70 or even $60. Ted says this isn't a classic big Aussie shiraz, as it's not so big on the fruit and doesn't have the pepper he's used to."

Price: Approx $70
Score: 92
Value: 2/5
Tasted: April 2008
ANBL UPC: No longer listed

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Make a Suggestion! Write a Review!

If you're interested enough in wine to be reading this blog you will have had a wine tasting moment where's you said to yourself "This wine is really great / terrible / good value / disappointing - I should tell my friends." This is your chance to tell your friends. If you try a wine and you want to share your impressions, good or bad, post a comment in this thread. You don't need a full review. You can start the conversation going with a brief comment along the lines of "I tried Wine X and thought it was good / bad / overpriced / great value - what does everyone else think?" As I said in About this blog I'm not a wine expert. I want this blog to be an exchange of information.

I haven't quite decided how I'll handle suggestions posted here. I expect that most of the time I'll just let the conversation develop here, but if someone posts a relatively long review I may cut and paste it into a new thread about that particular wine.

Domaine d'Ardhuy Puligny-Montrachet Le Trezin 2005

French wine has regions, of course, most famously Burgundy and Bordeaux, but they also have sub-regions, sub-sub-regions and even sometimes sub-sub-sub-regions. This is done on purpose to confuse and irritate North American consumers. Puligny-Montrachet is a sub-sub-region of Côte de Beaune, which is a sub-region of Burgundy. Le Trezin is the name the vineyard. While Burgundy as a whole is best known for its pinot noir based reds, the Côte de Beaune is famous for its whites, which are made from the Chardonnay grape.

I've historically been a red wine drinker, though I've started drinking whites, and I'm pretty new to Chardonnay. It had good balance and mouthfeel, and a variety of interesting flavours, which is all good, but I've wasn't entirely sure if I liked all the flavours. It has a bit of plasticine on the nose, and a kind of yeasty finish.

This wine was from last year's WineExpo and a friend brought it to a dinner party, so I don't know the price.

Price: $77.76 (original)
Score: 87
Value: 2/5
Alcohol: 13%
Tasted: August 2008
ANBL UPC: No longer listed

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bodegas Norton Privada 2004

Wine Spectator really liked this wine - gave it a 90 - but I was underwhelmed. It's a blend of 40% Malbec, 30% Merlot and 30% Cab, but I could hardly tell. To me it was just a generic "international style" wine; soft, easy drinking and nondescript. Reminded me of the High Trellis and the Gnarly Old Vine Zin (though the Privada is a bit better balanced than the Zin - not quite as cloying). What's going on? Am I becoming a Euro-wine snob, always moaning about how new world wines just don't have 'elegance' and 'terroir'? Well, I am what I am, as Popeye said. Nothing really wrong with this style, though it doesn't appeal to me. But if this is a style you like, I'd say you might as well save a few bucks and go for the High Trellis instead. Jancis Robinson gave it a 16.5/20, which I think is more reasonable than the WS score. I gave the High Trellis 3/5 for value, but this one is just a few dollars more and I'm feeling a bit cranky, so I'm going to give this one 2/5, though it's a close call. For better value from the same producers, try their Barbera. Kelly tasted it blind and agreed with me on the score.

Price: $28.29
Value: 2/5
Score: 86
Alcohol: 14.5%
Tasted: Sept 2008
ANBL UPC: 7792319678027

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Syrah 2005

After my scary encounter with the poo wine, I decided that I didn't feel like picking a wine at random from the ANBL shelves for at least a couple of days, so this time I went with a recommendation. And we have a winner! This Shiraz reminds me of my favourite classic Australian Shiraz (see yesteday's post), though it's maybe not quite as fruit forward. Tastes like a bit more of a cool climate Shiraz, though I'm not sure the Rapel Valley, where it's sourced, really counts as cool climate. Not super complex and maybe just bit on the sweet/lush side for my taste but yummy. Great value too - the Aussie wines in this style are creeping up over $30. I think I'll have to get a bottle Wynn's 2005 Shiraz soon and see how it stacks up for value. In the meantime, I'm very happy with this.

Here's Kelly's note: "Evergreen, blackberry, chocolate, coffee, and maybe violets on nose, which is very nice, if a bit restrained. Same flavours follow through on palate, with lovely blackberry dominating. Well balanced, moderately long. The nose seemed to open up after an hour or so."

BTW, Wine Spectator gave it a 90 and Stephen Tanzer gave it 88, so it looks like Kelly and I split the difference (but we rated it ourselves before we looked at the pros, honest).

Price: $24.29
Value: 4/5
Score: 89(K)/88(N)
Alcohol: 14.5%
Tasted: Sept 2008
ANBL UPC: 7804320117294

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Jacob's Creek Reserve Shiraz 1998 and 2003

Boutique anything is all the rage. Small lots, handcrafted, artisanal etc. etc. Well, this is not a boutique winery. Jacob's Creek is one of the major brands of Australian wine. And all credit to them. Making excellent wine is one thing; making it good value as well is another; and making very large volumes of excellent, good value wine is a whole different story again. I'm really curious about how they contract the grape growing, monitor quality and so on. But however they do it, consumers are the winners. The Jacob's Creek Reserve Shiraz delivers the classic peppery, fruit forward, balanced Shiraz that made Australia's wine reputation.

We've recently had the 2003 and the 1998 (it was called Show Reserve in '98). The 2003 is drinking extremely well right now. The fruit on this style of wine can be a bit over the top when first released, but the intensity is down and the balance is perfect right now on the 2003; just delicious. I'm patting myself on the back for having bought a whole case. The 1998 (courtesy of Ted's cellar) was also excellent. The fruit has faded slightly compared to the 2003, but there's still plenty of it. I tasted it blind, and while I picked it for an Australian Shiraz right off the bat, I guessed it might be a 2004 - that's how much fruit it had left. (But I have to admit, Kelly thought it was 10 years old - like I've said, she has a better palate than I do.) Interestingly, it hasn't gained much complexity. If I have one complaint about Aussie Shiraz, it's that they tend to be a bit of a one-note wine - a great note when it's well done, but still. Even at 10 years old the JC Reserve was still much the same fruit-driven wine that it was at 5 years. The fruit had faded (or mellowed), but there wasn't a lot of extra complexity. Comparing the 2003 and 1998, I'd say that cellaring this wine for a couple of extra years after release for the '03 was totally worth while, but the extra five years for the '98 didn't add a lot, even though it's still drinking well. And that's just as well - who needs to cellar a wine for a decade if it's not going to make any difference?

ANBL doesn't carry the Reserve line from Jacob's Creek any more. If they're still delivering the same value, I for one would like to see it come back.

Price: '03 = $23; '98 = $28
Value: '03 = 5/5; '98 = 4/5
Score: 89
Tasted: Sept 2008
ANBL UPC: No longer listed

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

How We Taste

Blind tasting makes a huge difference in what you think of a wine. If you know a wine is $80 and well reviewed, it will taste better than one that is an anonymous $20 bottle, no matter what is inside. But I don't have a bunch of assistants preparing 'flights' of wine for me to taste. Sometimes someone brings a wine over without telling me what it is, and occasionally Kelly picks one out of the cellar, but for the most part I don't very often taste a wine blind. That's one more reason that my opinions are worth what you pay for them.

But Kelly almost always tastes the wine blind. I pull a wine out of the cellar without giving her any hints - and we've got enough wines down there that it could be just about anything. She always scores and makes notes before I tell her anything about the wine. So her ratings are way more reliable than mine.

If I'm having a dinner party or a BBQ I also try to get feedback from everyone about whatever wines get opened. Usually there are a few bottle available, and I decant them and serve them quasi-blind - people know what they brought, but they don't know what they're drinking.

The bottom line is that I don't taste blind very often, but I try my best to make sure that everyone else does.

d'Arenberg The Twentyeight Road 2005

Mourvèdre is typically found in a blend with Grenache and/or Syrah in southern Rhone. This varietal by d'Arenberg is an excellent fruit-forward (Australian!) version. I'm going mostly by memory here, so there's not much to this note - but I saw a couple of bottles in the Prospect St store, so I thought I'd post a note to say it's worth buying. We have 6 bottles in our cellar. Wine Spectator gave it 89 and Steven Tanzer gave it 91.

Since I have a few bottles in the cellar, I e-mailed d"Arenberg about the drinking window (their website isn't helpful) and this is what they said: "For our Twenty-eight Road Mourvedre, while it can be drunk now, this wine can also be cellared away for 10 - 15 years under ideal cellaring conditions."

Price: $33.99
Score: 91
Value: 4/5
Tasted: March 2008
ANBL UPC: 9311832393002

Monday, September 15, 2008

Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel 2006

The characteristic cherry nose marks this as a Zinfandel - Kelly picked it blind right off the bat - but apart from that this California Zin is what you would expect from a fairly generic, inoffensive wine in the $17 price range. Think Rosemount Diamond Label or Penfolds Koonunga Hill. It has a very noticeable sweetness (even though analytically it is dry, with a 00 sugar rating) that no doubt makes the wine easy to drink and broadly appealing. Personally, I find the sweetness to be cloying - I couldn't really drink this wine on its own - but I expect it's fine with a burger. The only problem is that it costs about $5 more than it should for a wine of this style and quality.

Price: $21.99
Value: 2/5
Score: 83
Alcohol: 14.5%
Tasted: Sept 2008
ANBL UPC: 082242294935

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Half-Bottle

A whole bottle of wine is a lot for two people to go through in one evening (especially during the week!) To keep what we don't drink, Kelly and I have saved a few 375 ml half-bottle bottles. When we open a new bottle of wine we usually split one half of the bottle between us, pour the rest into a half-bottle and pop it into the fridge. This method isn't perfect. About a third of the time the wine suffers a bit in the half-bottle, usually by losing something on the nose. Occasionally it suffers a lot. But half the time or more the wine comes out tasting as good as it went in, and sometimes (wines that needed to breathe) it's actually better for the experience. And in any event, so far it's the best method we've some up with for saving wine. Has anyone else tried this? Does anyone have other methods that have worked for them?

Château Lamothe de Haut Premiere Cuvee Bordeaux 2004

I almost never drink Bordeaux as I tend to find it overpriced and not very tasty. But in the spirit of blogging I decided to see what ANBL has to offer in a mid-price Bordeaux. I picked this pretty much at random and shared it with Kelly and Ted.

The nose on this wine is striking. Here's how their analysis went: "Whoa, this wine smells like poo!! It's dog poo! No, no, it's baby poo. No, not baby poo, it's diaper bucket. Yes, you're right, diaper bucket, without any bleach. Yes, that's it." I wouldn't have called it poo, but then I have to admit I'm not all that familiar with the smell of diaper bucket. But the nose was definitely not very appealing. It wasn't as bad on the palate, but it wasn't very good. Kelly did pick it out as a Bordeaux blend, even though she and Ted were tasting it blind, so it does have reasonable "typicity." But that's the best that can be said. It was thin and acidic, with a short finish and an off-putting sour aftertaste.

I'm afraid this wine confirmed all my prejudices against Bordeaux. Bordeaux drinkers out there, please set me straight. Is this just not my style? Or can you do better in a mid-priced Bordeaux? Can anyone recommend a good one?

Day 2: Kelly decided give it another chance, with the thought that a couple nights in the half-bottle might have mellowed it. Verdict: "It still smells like poo. And there are some smells you just can't get past."

Price: $25.79
Value: 1/5
Score: 70
Alcohol: 12%
Tasted: Sept 2008
ANBL UPC: 3539301094113

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Feudi di San Marzano Primitivo di Manduria Sessantanni Old Vines 2004

This is one of the worst wines I have had that is not technically flawed. I am glad I had it because I think I now truly understand what is means for a wine to be over-extracted. It is slightly sweet, inky purple and 'big', without fruit, complexity or character, or anything else that makes a wine worth drinking. This is not just a style issue - I like a decent Australian shiraz as well as anyone. I rate this wine below 80 because I have had many slightly corked wines which I prefer.

Price: Approx. $34
Value: 1/5
Score: 78
Tasted: May 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bodega Catena Zapata Catena Malbec 2005

Malbec is the signature grape of Argentina and Bodega Catena Zapata is one of the most respected producers. Their Catena line makes its reappearance at ANBL after an absence of a year or so. With that said, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed with this wine, not because it's bad, but because it's not as good as I remember. I remember loving it the last vintage I had, which I think was the 2004. This time I found it to be very lush and soft, with decent fruit, but a bit generic and lacking in character. It reminded me of the High Trellis cabernet. But hey, Wine Spectator gave a score of 90 to both the '04 and the '05, so its probably just my memory playing tricks. But just to prove my independence, I'm going to give it an 86 anyway. It's probably just a matter of style and mood. If you want something lush, soft and fruity, this may be the wine for you.

Here's Kelly's note: "Promising nose of raspberries, spruce, and spice follows through in palate, but not quite as lush and flavourful as expected. Firm tannins, clear taste. Not overly complex. Score: 87"

Price: $25.49
Value: 3/5
Score: 86
Alcohol: 13.5%
Tasted: Sept 2008
ANBL UPC: 089046444030

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Marrenon Côtes du Ventoux Orca IV 2005

Côtes du Ventoux is a large region in the southern Rhone, just to the east of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, though without the lofty reputation (or prices) of that famous region. The main grape in this blend is said to be Grenache with a splash of Syrah (Shiraz). This wine is very French in style and was initially underwhelming - mineral with little fruit and a slightly harsh undertone. But after an hour it opened up nicely. The mineral structure was complemented with some interesting cedar / mint on the nose and a bit of licorice on the palate. But then I have to say it fizzled out a bit -- or maybe it was me fizzling out.

The changing character makes it difficult to judge - at its best I thought it was worth an 89, but it didn't seem to stay that way for long. In any event, if you're a new world afficiando, you won't like this, but if the old world appeals to you, this wine is definitely worth trying - but do give it some air before you make a judgment. At this price point you would normally expect to pop and pour, but in this case that would be a mistake.

Here are Kelly's notes: "Nose of anise, cedar, tar, raspberries follows through on palate. Initially, there was a persistent bitter undertaste on the palate, but it smoothed out after ½ hour or so. This wine developed very well in hour after opening. Very firm tannins. European in style. Score: 86"

Day 2: I've just had the rest of this wine, and it did very well overnight in the half bottle. Not a "wow" wine, but "hey, that's got some good stuff happening." And I love the style. I did have it at 87 and 3.5/5, but I'm going to bump it up a notch.

Price: $20.49
Value: 4/5
Score: 88
Alcohol: 14%
Tasted: Sept 2008
ANBL UPC: 3256811113133

Monday, September 8, 2008

J. & F. Lurton Hacienda Araucano Clos de Lolol 2003

This wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere, is a bit tricky for me to rate. I wasn't keen on it; while I thought it has a good cab structure, it didn't seem to have much fruit and I found it to have a harsh edge to it. But on the other hand, I know that I am quite sensitive to some component that shows up pretty regularly in cabernets. I first noticed this while tasting the Alconde Reserva Navarra from last year's Wine Expo with a group of five other people. Four people sat around discussing the fine points of the wine and what flavours they were getting, while two of us just looked at each other thinking "Are they nuts? This wine is crap." At the end of the day, I'm pretty sure that the two of us were tasting a flavour compound that the other four just couldn't taste at all. I think there might be a touch of that here, which accounts for the harshness I noticed, because Kelly liked this wine very much.

Here's her note: "Elegant nose of raspberries, violets, anise, tar, and hint of spruce follows through on palate for long finish with firm tannins. Clear, bright flavours and decent complexity; but flavour profile is somewhat static (in that it doesn't change much over time). Nose became more lush after half hour or so in glass. This wine struck me as European in style - my first guess was Italian."

She scored it 91. Personally, I would have to give it much less than that - much much less. More like 83. Kelly and I usually agree pretty closely about wine scores, which again makes me think I'm tasting something she's not.

Day 2: I served the remaining half-bottle blind to Ted and Kelly. Ted was a fan: "I'd be happy to pay $35, and I'd expect this to be in the $45-50 range." He also scored it 91. Kelly's tasting notes were consistent - raspberries, tar and evergreen - though she downgraded the score to 87. But I think it did suffer a bit in the half-bottle. I still didn't much like it, but it looks like that's just me.

Price: $29.29
Value: 2/5(N); 4/5 (K)
Score: 83(N); 91(K)
Tasted: Sept 2008
ANBL UPC: 635335676318

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Bay of Fires Tigress Pinot Noir 2005

Bay of Fires is a Tasmanian winery that also produces the delicious Sauvignon Blanc I reviewed a few days ago. Here's Kelly's note: "This wine is what I think of as classic Australian Pinot. It is smooth and flavourful, with well balanced earth and fruit elements. It's really difficult for me to name particular flavours b/c this wine for me is just Pinot; but here goes: wild strawberries in a damp evergreen forest begin in a luscious nose and follow through on the palate. Firm tannins, long. Probably I'm rating it a bit high b/c tasty pinot isn't that easy to come by: Score 91."

I agree that 91 may be a bit high - it doesn't have a lot of complexity. But on the other hand, tasty Pinot is hard to come by. . . Too bad I don't see Bay of Fires represented on the wine list for this year's Wine Expo.

PS - Now Kelly says Tancred was right. This wine doesn't really deserve a 91 - rampant grade inflation is already at work. So, new score = 89

Price: Approx $30
Value: 4/5
Score: 89
Tasted: Sept 2008
ANBL UPC: No longer listed

Friday, September 5, 2008

d'Arenberg The Derelict Vineyard 2004

I was a bit harsh about the d'Arenberg High Trellis a while ago, but I do like d'Arenberg as a winery. To prove it, I thought I'd review The Derelict Vineyard Grenache. Grenache is originally a Spanish grape (where it is known as Garnacha) but it is famous as one of the three main grapes of the southern Rhone. In Australia I find that Grenache can often be unpleasantly candied (something I've never noticed in a Grenache based Rhone wine). But this is a wonderful example of a new world Grenache. The distinctive Grenache candy is still there - the d'Arenberg website claims it's marachino cherry, and I'll go with that - but instead of being overwhelming it's just one element in a delicious balanced mix. A bit of a fruit bomb, maybe, but nothing wrong with that if it's done well. And that may even out with age. Their website claims it will age for 10 years or more, and Wine Spectator agrees, though I think it's drinking well now.

If you like Aussie style Shiraz, you should give this a try for an Aussie style Grenache. There are only a few bottles left in the province. Let's hope we get more of the next vintage!

Price: $30.70
Value: 4/5
Score: 91
Tasted: May 2008
ANBL UPC: 9311832467000

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Farnese Edizione Cinque Autoctoni 2004

The "cinque autoctoni" refers to the five indigenous southern Italian grapes that make up this blend: Montepulciano, Primitivo, Sangiovese, Negroamaro and Malvasia Rossa. I'm not a big fan of Sangiovese which always seems a bit thin and acidic to me, but it's only a small part of this blend, which has a beautiful smooth mouthfeel. Dark fruit, but not a fruit-driven wine, with a smoky finish. After an hour it opened up and reminded me of a Brunello (not that I've had very many of those). It's been a while I tried it but this is a wine that has stuck with me.

The 2004 is no longer available, but the 2005 is on the shelves. Note: because of some bizarre Italian wine law, they're not allowed to give a vintage for this wine (I think because it isn't the approved blend for the region). So, instead of giving a vintage, they provide a "series number" - and luckily, that number just happens to be the same as the year in which the wine was made. But the number only appears on the back of the bottle - just so the authorities know it's just a random number, and not some sneaky way of getting around the anti-vintage law.

I hesitate a bit with the value rating as it's been a long time since I tried this wine, but I'm going to give it a 4/5 and a Recommended because it is an unusual style of wine - if you're looking for something different this might be for you. In any event, will someone please try the "2005 series" of this wine and let me know how it is!

PS - we tried the 2006 at the Wine Expo and found it to be somewhat disappointing.

Price: $40.48
Value: 4/5
Score: 90
Tasted: November 2007
ANBL UPC: 8019873924407

Tigress Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006

This Sauvignon Blanc is from Tasmania, but it is firmly the New Zealand style. It is to white wine what Aussie Shiraz is to red - fruity, accessible and easy to love. This was from the 2007 Wine Expo - we bought a case and have been enjoying it all summer. Their Pinot Noir was very good as well. Let's hope we see more from this winery.

Price: Approx $24
Value: 3.5/5
Score: 90
Tasted: August 2008
ANBL UPC: No longer listed

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Leasingham Bin 61 Shiraz 2002

The Leasingham Bin 61 (along with the Jacob's Creek Reserve) was one of my favourite Australian shirazes -- a consistent benchmark, both in price and quality, for the full-bodied fruit forward style that made Aussie shiraz famous. Then Wine Spectator gave the 2002 vintagte at score of 75 - terrible, in other words. "Strong gamy flavors pervade this one" was all they said. Even though I'd liked the wine for years, I never even tried the 2002, just because of that score. But a friend bought a bottle and last night he brought it out of the cellar, as the second wine of the evening. We didn't plan to enjoy it; we just wanted to see how bad wine with a score of 75 really was. And guess what? It was a very good, full-bodied, fruit forward classic Aussie shiraz! I know I am not a professional wine taster, but in no possible world does this wine deserve a score of 75. No gamy flavours at all. All I can think is that they got a bad bottle and didn't try a second. There's a lesson - shame on me for trusting Wine Spectator so blindly that I didn't even try a bottle of one of my favourite wines. Now I don't have any in the cellar, and I wish I had a case. And NB Liquor doesn't carry it any more - I hope there's no connection to that 75 score.

Price: Approx $25
Value: 4/5
Score: 89
Tasted: August 2008
ANBL UPC: No longer listed

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Oyster Bay Chardonnay 2006

I've never been much of a white wine drinker, though I've been trying more over the past summer. But when I do drink whites I tend to like riesling and gewurztraminer and lately I've discovered New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Not chardonnay. If you'd have asked me a couple of weeks ago I might even have said that I hate chardonnay, which has always struck me as buttery and insipid. With all that said, I was very surprised to find that I liked this wine. It was creamier in body than a sauvignon blanc, but without the butteriness that I remember from other chardonnay. Good fruit, if not quite as prominent on the nose as a sauvignon blanc, but very good length and an intriguing yeasty finish. Lightly oaked according to their web site. My eyes have been opened to chardonnay!

Price: $22.29
Value: 4/5
Score: 88
Alcohol: 13.5%
Tasted: August 2008
ANBL UPC: 9415549801604

Monday, September 1, 2008

Las Moras Reserve Malbec 2006

Malbec is the signature grape of Argentina, but that doesn't guarantee brillance every time. A heavy style (I'd say powerful, but it didn't quite reach that level), I thought it was reasonably smooth if nonedescript. But it wasn't a favourite at the BBQ - "communion wine" was the word. Perfectly reasonable at the price, but nothing to get excited about.

Price: $12.79
Value: 3/5
Score: 83
Alcohol: 13.5%
Tasted: August 2008
ANBL UPC: 7791540090066