Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spending Family Day in Niagara

Family Day has come and gone. What a beautiful day it was in Southern Ontario. My wife and I used this day to spend time with her family, as we were at my parent’s house the day before. It was a perfect opportunity for us to try some new wineries that we have yet explored.
We packed into my father-in-laws SUV and drove down to Niagara on the Lake to have lunch and look around. Lunch was not a high point for the day, as the service was slow and the food was sub-par. Worse part of it all was that we were wasting valuable time sitting in this restaurant instead of looking around down town Niagara on the Lake, or its surrounding wineries. The only looking around that we did in NOTL was to check out the local cheese shop (Cheese Secrets).  The shop had a really good variety of cheese and also carried Niagara Gold, which has become a wine favourite for the both of us. We then went back to the car and began our wine touring.
First stop was on our way out of NOTL was Stratus! I have really wanted to visit this winery for a very long time, as I have continuously been hearing good things about their wine. The building is very impressive and is the first eco-friendly winery in Ontario. As we entered the massive doors (must have been 20 feet tall) we were greeted by a young lady who would guide us through our tasting.  The cost of the tasting was $10 for 4 wines. I selected their Stratus White 2007 (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewurztraminer for most of it), the Stratus Red 2007 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Malbec blend), the Stratus Malbec 2008, and the Stratus Cab Franc 2007.  Here is the low down of each wine.
Stratus White 2007 ($44)
-  Lush aromas of citrus fruit and wood. This was a full bodied white that would be wonderful with any lighter dishes as well as sipping on a nice summer’s day.  Not an everyday white, but a fabulous white to bring out to show off to guest or to be enjoyed with a love one. This is a very unique white blend.
Score 90
Stratus Red 2007 ($44)
- Dark garnet colour. Fragrant aromas of dark fruit (cherries) and cedar. A full bodied red that was beautiful on the palate. Taste of dark rich fruit with a lasting taste. A wonderful red! Our guide also asked me to compare this to the 2006 red. The difference is night and day. The 2006 was darker and had more earthy notes on the nose. Overall, I preferred the 07. This wine will age for 10 years plus!
Score 93
Stratus Malbec 2008 ($38)
- Looked forward to this wine as it was my first introduction to Canadian Malbec. This grape is getting some serious play all over the world. It is still being grown in France, is King in Argentina, and is now being used in Ontario, B.C., and California.
This wine had dark purple colour. On the nose it had raspberries, spice, and herbal.  On the palate it was full and had high acidity with taste of raspberries. I very intriguing North American Malbec. Worth a look.
Score 88
Stratus Cab Franc 2007 ($38)
- This was the sleeper of the tasting. I did not have high expectations for this wine. I thought it would be good to try and was I ever surprised. This wine was possibly the best wine I tried while at Stratus, especially for its price difference of the Stratus Red.
It was a dark garnet colour that had aroma notes of cassis, black berries, and herbal tones. It would be interesting to see this wine evolve when opening it fresh.  Medium bodied with light acidity. Very lovely on the palate. Give it a try and be pulled in by Ontario Cab Franc! Cellar worthy!
Score 94

After our tasting we went to Pillitteri Winery. A good winery to visit for good QPR wines (Quality/Price ratio). I wasn’t overly excited about the tasting here so I did not make any notes. We purchased a 2007 Cab Franc and a 2010 Pinot Grigio. Funny enough, the following week there was an article about one of the owners and how they are charged with tax fraud. Blaming it on gambling.

When then started to make our way back to Burlington. While driving on the QEW, we made a stop at Hidden Bench Winery in Beamsville. Another winery that I have been waiting to try. This winery specializes on Chardonnay, Rieslings, and Pinot Noir. While parking I could see that their fields had Dijon Pinot clones 777. Should be good!
Tastings cost $10 and you get to choose 3 wines. Like a lot of wineries, they allow you to try others as well if you are showing interest in their craft. I selected to try their 2009 Nuit Blanche White Meritage (Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon), 2008 Terroir Cache Red Meritage (Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, and Malbec), and lastly their 2009 Estate Pinot Noir. Nicole tried their Chardonnay, which were fabulous! We purchased their 2008 Chardonnay Tete de Cuvee for our cellar. Great Burgundy chardonnay being made here! A lot better then the heavy, creamy stuff that is being pumped out of California!
2009 Nuit Blance White Meritage ($40)
- This wine was bright straw-like in colour. It had aromas of peaches and citrus fruit. On the palate it was dominated by citrus fruit (lemon, grapefruit). A full bodied white. Not my cup of tea, but well made.
Score 84
2008 Terroir Cache Red Meritage ($35)
- Dark in colour. This wine had dark berry aroma. It was very smooth on the palate with berry flavours. Not overly impressed with this wine. I am usually impressed with meritage, but I was not crazy about this wine. Similar to the white, well made. Yet not something I would put into my cellar.
Score 85
2009 Estate Pinot Noir ($38)
- From tasting Hidden Benches Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, it is clear that this is their bread and butter. Very impressed with these varieties. This wine showed where it is from. Good terrior. Light red colour. Beautiful aroma of cherries, floral notes, with some wood. This wine on the palate is true cool climate pinot. Great balance! Red fruit dance on the tongue, with earthy tones. Great finish! Bought a bottle for the cellar. Great to see Niagara Pinot Noirs are improving!
Score 93

This was a wonderful trip that I got to share with my new family. I was very impressed by Stratus and Hidden Bench. In the spring/summer I am looking forward to introducing these wineries to friends and family, as well as going to the following wineries that we could not attend (Lailey, Five Rows, Daniel Lenko).

Monday, February 13, 2012

Checking out the SAQ

This past weekend my wife and I took a trip up to Ottawa to visit friends and family. As well as to check out Winterlude festivities.
On our last day in the Nations Capital, I thought it would be fun to go over to Gatineau and go to an SAQ. I was interested to see what it's like and how it compares to Ontario's LCBO.

The SAQ that we went to was of decent size, similar to an average LCBO in Ontario. Their selection was very similar. They had their wines divided into regions (Bordeaux, Loire, Burgundy, Italy, etc). So it was easy to find wines to compare. Both stores had the big brand names, but they also had different selection. Example of this would be a good selection of Chinon (which I enjoy a lot while in the Loire this past summer). As well as having a wider selection of Burgundies, Spanish, and Oregon Pinot's.

The one big reason I wanted to go to the SAQ was for their selection of magnums. The LCBO only has 195 labels available (Magnums and above), while the SAQ carries 270 labels in magnum alone. So this was a good place to buy some large format wine!
In my new wine cellar I have magnum racking, but no magnums. So I felt this was a good place to start my collection. Hands down the SAQ have a better selection of magnums and other larger format bottles in a range of prices. The prices of the magnums at this store ranged from $45-130. I bought two:
- 2008 Penfolds Bin 389
- 2007 Fontodi Chianti Classico

Thought these two would be cellar worthy as I have done my research. I was also looking at the 2007 Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Cuvee Exceptional Chateauneuf du- Pape for $96, as we really enjoyed visiting their winery while visiting the Rhone this past summer. I thought two magnums were enough.

Another differences in the two stores in price. Occasionally the LCBO has better pricing and visa versa. Examples:

Dominus 750ml
LCBO $144 (2008)
SAQ $113 (2007)
- I know that they are different vintages, but the 2007 was the better vintage, yet it is the less expensive of the two.

Fontodi Chianti Classico 2008 750ml
LCBO $30
SAQ $28
- Two bucks saving isn't huge, but it doesn't hurt.

Beaulieu Coastal Sauvignon Blanc 750ml
LCBO $11
SAQ $15.25
- From what I have heard, LCBO has better pricing on everyday wines. Here is a clear example.

Beaulieu Vineyard Georges De Latour 750ml
LCBO $90 (2007)
SAQ $99 (2006)
- Strange difference considering the pricing of the Dominus.

Do your research before you make the trip. Understand if it's worth the trip to an SAQ or should you just stay home. For me it was worth the trip, got the two magnums. Try it out for yourself. I will be going back the next time I am in the area.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Completed Wine Cellar

Finished product

So I was talking about this new wine cellar my wife and I built over the holidays. Here are some pictures of the finished product. It used to be a bathroom that we never used (there were 4 in our townhouse!)

Racking: Redrack (Holds about 240 bottles, currently holding 70) I have a ways to go to fill it!

Tasting table: Hand made pine table top with vanity

Enjoy the photos!

Desendientes De J. Palacios Petal0s (Bierzo, Spain)

When looking through the January 21, 2012 LCBO vintages release I came across a very intriguing wine. It was focused on lesser know grape variety's from around the world. This one was regarding the Mencia (pronouced men-THEE-ah). I was excited to try it because I like to try new things and it is not your run of the mill Spanish wine that you would run into at the LCBO.

Also the rating that it got from WS caught my eye as well. #26 on the WS Top 100 of 2011. Lets dive into the tasting notes.

Colour: Dark Garnet

Aroma: Not over powering, you really need to stick your nose in the glass to get a good understanding. Spice and dark fruit came to mind.

Taste: This wine was really well balanced. Spice notes reminded me of southern Rhone. I decanted the wine for 2hr. Medium bodied wine. Lovely tastes of black fruit and spice, with even acidity and tannins working well together. This wine works in harmony. A real enjoyment to taste. Alas I only bought one bottle and I can imagine that they are long gone, due to the WS hype of being in the top 100.

This wine is ready to drink now, but could improve with more aging (4 years)

Score: 92

A great example that their are other delicious varieties from Spain.