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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

PORTFOLIO TASTING, TORONTO: Hobbs & Co Wines, Airen Imports

The Time and Date: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 2:30 PM to 5 PM

The Event: Portfolio tasting of Hobbs & Co. and Airen Imports, with a side
trip through a few Glen-Ward Wines.

The Venue: Spoke Club

The Target Audience: restaurateurs and wine media, private clients (plus
more in the evening)

The Availability/Catalogue: all wines were available through Consignment,
Vintages, or by Private Order. The catalogue was nicely laid out, with
tasting notes, prices, grapes, etc. The wines were poured in the order of
their catalogue listing. There were signs over the heads of the pourers to
indicate country of origin. And Canada (with Featherstone Estate) was listed
as first up...Kudos to the catalogue producers for putting everything in
that I could possibly want (will scratch and sniff samples be next?) Each
outfit had an expanded list of wines available but not shown today. 59 nines
were shown in all.

The Quote: "There are some winemakers here, in from France and Australia as
well as Niagara, and there are some export managers here as well".

The Wines:

**** Four Stars (91+ in Quality/Price Rating terms):

-Estampa Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere/Petit Verdot 2006 Chile $14.95
Airen (my fave red of the afternoon)

-Dusted Valley Vintners Stomp! Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Washington State
(Bordeaux blend) $22.83 Glen-Ward

-Clairault Wines Cabernet/Merlot 2004 Margaret River $21.86 Hobbs

-Warwick Wine Estate Trilogy 2005 Simonsberg-Stellenbosch $39.79 Hobbs

-Domaine Francois Lichtle Gewurztraminer 2006 Alsace $20.99est Hobbs

-Chateau Balestard la Tonnelle Grand Cru Classe 1995 St.Emilion $61.91 Hobbs

***1/2 Three and a Half Stars (88 - 90 in Quality/Price Rating terms):

-Conde de Caralt Brut N/V Spain $16.25 Airen

-Guenoc Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 California $19.45 Airen

-39 Degrees Sauvignon Blanc 2006 California $16.95 Airen

-39 Degrees Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Lake County $16.95 Airen

-Governors Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough NZ $20.38 Hobbs

-Chalkers Crossing Hilltops Riesling 2004 New South Wales $19.99 Hobbs

-Landskroon Merlot 2005 Paarl South Africa $17.79 Hobbs

-Bodegas Barreda Torre de Barreda Amigos 2002 Toledo Spain $21.46 Hobbs

-Domaine Thibert Pouilly Fuisse Vieilles Vignes 2006 $34.42 Hobbs

-Chateau Grand Moulin Vieilles Vignes 2004 Corbieres $20.41 Hobbs

-Cantine di Monteforte Ponte Pietra Merlot/Corvina 2006 $11.94 Hobbs

-Alpha Zeta "A" Amarone della Valpolicella 2003 $53.15 (with cabernet
sauvignon, a ripe vintage, and chocolate tones) Hobbs

*** Three Stars (85 - 87 in Quality/Price Rating terms):

-David Traeger Verdelho 2006 Australia $19.95 Airen

-Featherstone Estate Old Vines Riesling 2007 Niagara $18.70 Hobbs

-Featherstone Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Niagara $18.70 Hobbs

-Domaine Francois Lichtle Pinot Blanc 2005 Alsace $18.25 Hobbs

-Chateau Gaudrelle Methode Traditional Brut 2005 Vouvray $26.28 Hobbs

-Friulvini Pinot Grigio 2006 Friuli-Venezia $11.28 Hobbs

The Food: cheeses (Niagara Gold, Parmigiano Reggiano, and French Comte),
fresh fruit including figs, bread and crackers, bottled water.

The Downside: a terribly blustery day which I hope did not impede people
from attending.

The Upside: a terrific and quiet location, lots of elbow space, some fine

The Contact Person: all information and orders can be placed through

The Effectiveness (numerical grade): 91.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


The Time and Date: Tuesday, March 18, 2008 5PM to 8 PM.

The Event: California Wine Fair Toronto Media Preview Tasting.

The Venue: Far Niente Board Room

The Target Audience: wine media

The Availability/Catalogue: all of the wines were to be shown at the Fair in
Toronto, but not all of the wines would be available for sale through the
LCBO systems of General, Consignment, Vintages, Classics, or Private. Some
were just plain "n/a" - except at the Fair.

The Quote: "The night time meeting seemed to bring out twice as many media
as in previous years. I only hope their palates had remained as good as when
the tasting used to be at 11AM."

The Wines: there were flights of Sauvignon Blanc (6 wines), Chardonnay (19),
Pinot Noir (9), Zinfandel (8), Cabernet Sauvignon (14), Blends, mostly
Meritage type (7), and six others, which included only TWO Merlot. This was
the "Sideways effect"...

**** Four Stars (91+ in Quality/Price Rating terms):

-Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay 2006 Livermore $16.05 General List (PMA

-Arrowood Chardonnay 2005 Sonoma $35 Consignment (Grape Expectations)

-La Crema Chardonnay 2006 Russian River $36.95 Vintages (Diamond Estates)

-Tandem Winery Van de Kamp Pinot Noir 2005 $54.95 Private (Kylix)

-Michael-David 7 Deadly Zins Old Vine Zinfandel 2006 Lodi $24.95 Vintages

-Peju Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2004 $59.95 Consignment (Le Sommelier)

-Rodney Strong Symmetry 2004 $66.95 Vintages (Mark Anthony)

***1/2 Three and a Half Stars (88 - 90 in Quality/Price Rating terms):

-Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Jardine $19.75 Consignment (Glen-Ward

-Cuvaison Chardonnay Carneros 2006 $29.95 Vintages (Prevedello & Mathews)

-Clos du Val Chardonnay 2006 Carneros N/A

-Testarossa Palazzio Pinot Noir 2006 $54.35 May Vintages (B & W)

-Alexander Valley Vineyards Sin Zinfandel 2006 $20US Private (Small
Winemakers Collection)

-Nichols Silver Fox Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 California $22.95
Private (Le Sommelier)

-Merryvale Starmont Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Napa $36.95 Consignment

-Ridgeline Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Alexander Valley $39.95 Private (Kylix)

-Miner Family Oracle 2003 Napa $77.95 Consignment (Barrique)

-Terlato Family Syrah Dry Creek 2004 $42.25 N/A

-Duckhorn Merlot 2005 Napa N/A

*** Three Stars (85 - 87 in Quality/Price Rating terms):

-J. Lohr Estates Riverstone Chardonnay 2006 Arroyo Seco $16.80 General List
(Barrique Wine Imports)

-Schug Carneros Pinot Noir 2006 Sonoma $31.95 Consignment (Lifford)

-Lucus & Lewellen Valley View Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Santa Barbara County
$18.65 N/A

-Artesa Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Napa $41.95 August Vintages

-Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Napa $139.95 Sept Vintages
(Churchill Cellars)

The Food: scrumptious appetizers and tapas, including lamb lollipops,
grilled shrimp, seared tuna and shrimp chips, short rib tarts, goat cheese
tarts. But alas, no cheese.

The Downside: I find that I am not as sharply focused at night, particularly
for a tasting with no food until the end.

The Upside: a great opportunity to taste 70 California wines - 70 out of 400
at the show that I will NOT have to re-taste.

The Contact Person:

The Effectiveness (numerical grade): 90.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

BRING YOUR OWN WINE: some recent selections found at the LCBO

The Bring Your Own Wine campaign at Ontario restaurants has been moderately
successful, with corkage ranging from $1 (depending on day of week) to $15
or so. I write a newsletter for the trade. In it, I encourage restaurants to
buy moderately expensive but "restaurant ready" wines from Vintages, for
current consumption. And to mark them up only $15...There is no reason why
BYOW fans could not buy these same wines at the LCBO and bring them along to
a dinner, paying corkage of $1 to $15...Here are some recent selections from
the January and February Vintages releases. All wines are ready now, all
wines have a certain cachet with great labels or credibility, and all wines
taste very good. They would rate at about 89 plus points. The key for
restaurants and for BYOW fans is to find expensive wines that are reasonable
in price for what they are and that are ready for drinking with food.
Restaurants have horrific markups, so most people would end up paying $60
for a decent wine (plus tax). That means, with a $15 corkage, you could
safely buy a great $55 wine at Vintages, and bring it along. Tipping is up
to you. Hardly any of the wines which follow can be described as "sippers":

1. Jordan Chardonnay 2005 Russian River Valley (+68023, $37.65 ) shows bold,
concentrated flavours.
2. Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Marlborough (+677450, $21.80 ) is very
off-the-wall zesty New Zealand
sauvignon blanc. For the racy lover.
3. Cedro do Noval 2004 Douro (+64709, $24.75 ) is very restaurant-ready,
moderate fruit, great food wine,
integrated and noticeable French oak.
4. Leasingham Bin 56 Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 Clare Valley (+39545,
$25.75 ) is nicely aged, sip or food.
5. Teusner The Riebke Ebenezer Road Shiraz 2005 Barossa (+48470, $25.75 ) is
juicy and addictively delicious,
reaching 13.5% ABV.
6.. Freemark Abbey Chardonnay 2004 (+57323, $27.75) is traditional
California with floral tones, citrus,
pear, and oak.
7. Austins Pinot Noir 2005 Geelong Victoria (+684142, $26.75) is a twist-top
with good pinot depth.
8. Chateau Belle-Vue 2004 Haut Medoc (+35592, $31.70 ) continues the fact
that HMs are the best value in
Bordeaux today. Restaurant-ready now.
9.Martin Ray Chardonnay 2005 (+57067, $23.75) has been crafted for the resto
trade, 14.3% ABV, butterscotch
and caramel.
10.M. Chapoutier Chante Alouette Blanc Hermitage 2003 (+140541, $74.75) is a
rare MVC treat for a Northern
Rhone white. Certainly worth it as a BYOW.
11..Henry of Pelham Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 Niagara (+268391, $24.75) deep
burgundy style, ready soon.
12.Chateau Le Caillou 1998 pomerol (+45682, $48.75 ) is nicely aged already,
great food wine at this stage.
13. Degani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2003 (+52423, $37.75) is this
month's amarone flavour.
14. Palacios Remondo Propiedad 2005 Rioja (+597880, $37.75 ) is brimming
with fruit and integrity, 14.5%
ABV, great finish.
15. Chateau de Rully Blanc 2004 (+46714, $27.45) is ageing very well, some
butter and light oak.
16. Dominus 2004 Napa (+63057, $90.95 ) and its second wine, (17.)Dominus
Estate Napanook 2004 Napa
(+63065, $39.95 ) form an
interesting comparison. Both wines are ready to go now, but the
Napanook is slightly more accessible and does not need food.
18. Ridge Geyserville 2005 Sonoma (+723072, $47.75) is largely zinfandel.
Read Josh Raynolds notes in
the Vintages catalogue, and you won't even have to drink the wine.
19. Rosemount Traditional Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Petit Verdot 2002
South Australia (+484097, $35.20 ) is 82-10-8 in percentages, very mellow
and ready now.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

APVSA Toronto Tasting Feburary 28, 2008

The Time and Date: Thursday, February 28, 2008 10AM to 6PM
The Event: APVSA tasting (Association pour la promotion des vins et
spiritueux en Amerique du Nord).
The Venue: Delta Chelsea Inn
The Target Audience: wine agents, wine press
The Availability/Catalogue: none of the wines are available in Ontario.
The group is here to try to get some agents to agree to rep the
principal. Some of the wines are available in Quebec. Most of the wines
were French, and there were sales staff available to comment on the
prices and production.
The Quote: "How did those little wines from Australia get into this
The Wines: All of the wines were from France except for some from
Castilla and La Mancha in Spain, and three wines from Australia. The
problem I had with the wines, and one that must be acknowledged, is
that they were no better than the wines that we already have here.
There really did not seem to be any price advantages, either. These
wines could be made available through Vintages or Consignment. Here
were my faves, regardless of price:

**** Four Stars (90 - 93 in Quality/Price Rating terms):
-Villebois Val de Loire 2006 Sauvignon Blanc. 13.5%ABV
-Rene Fleck Riesling Alsace 2006. 12.5%ABV
-Rene Fleck Pinot Gris Zinnkoepfle Alsace 2006. 13.5%ABV
-Rene Fleck Gewurztraminer 2006 Alsace
-Rene Fleck Muscat Zinnkoepfle Alsace 2005. 13%ABV
-Domaine Baumann Gewurztraminer 2006 Vieilles Vignes Alsace. 13%ABV
-La Grave Figeac 2005 St. Emilion Grand Cru. (next door to Pomerol)
but 18 Euros FOB
-Domaine Jean Gleizes Syrah 2006 Pays D'Oc. 13%ABV
-Simon Roche La Serine des Fees St Joseph 2005. 12.5%ABV
-Alliance Lafoy Syrah Rhone 2006. 12.5%ABV

*** Three Stars (86 - 89 in Quality/Price Rating terms):
-Rene Fleck Gewurztraminer Zinnkoepfle 2005. 13.5%ABV
-Domaine Baumann Riesling 2005 Vieilles Vignes Alsace.
-Domaine Baumann Riesling SGN Grand Cru 2005 Alsace. half bottle
-Domaine de Belle Feuille Cote de Rhone Blanc 2005. 14%ABV
-Domaine Le Portail Cheverny Blanc 2006 Loire.
-Domaine Le Portail Cheverny Rouge 2006 Loire. 70Pinotnoir/30Gamay
-Alliance Lefoy Cote Rotie 2005 Cuvee JVL.
-Domaine de Belle Feuille Cote de Rhone Rouge 2003. 14%ABV (oaked)
-Vignobles David Prieure La Clastre 2005 Cotes du Rhone 2005. 13.5%ABV

The Food: none.
The Downside: not enough space to sprawl out and write notes. No paper
was furnished, so I used some 3 by 5 cards.
The Upside: a chance to taste some engaging wines not available here.
The Contact Person: for prices, etc, check with Pascal
The Effectiveness (numerical grade): 88.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


...all reflect a boom in the cookbook publishing business. A paperback
reprint will lower the cost to the purchaser, and also give a publisher
a chance to correct egregious errors or add a postscript. Some will
reissue a book in paper covers with a new layout or photos. Others will
rearrange existing material to present it as more informative text
while keeping the focus tight. Here are some recent "re-editions"...

11. TWINKIE, DECONSTRUCTED (Plume Books, 2008, 282 pages, ISBN 978-0-
452-28928-4, $15US paper covers) is by Steve Ettlinger, a writer of
popular reference materials. It was originally published last year in
2007. The rather long subtitle pretty well says it all: "my journey to
discover how the ingredients found in processed foods are grown, mined
(yes, mined), and manipulated into what America eats. As Pollan did
with a cow in "The Omnivore's Dilemma", Ettlinger does to the Twinkie -
sourcing where all the stuff which created the food comes from. You can
read the label yourself; Ettlinger tracks down the components of
processed and packaged foods: polysorbate 60, high fructose corn syrup,
partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening, but only two brief
mentions of MSG. Marion Nestle calls his book "terrific detective work
and terrific fun to read". Try a visit to the phosphate mines in Idaho,
or the gypsum mines in Oklahoma. Beginning at the source, each Twinkie
ingredient is followed as it is crushed, baked, fermented, refined,
etc. The original Twinkie came from Wonder Bread in 1930, with a shelf
life of two days. Now? Shelf life is anybody's guess...This is a must
read. Quality/Price rating: 90.

12. CAFE COLLECTION (Penguin Books, 2006, 2007, (128 and 128 and 136)
pages, ISBN 9780143020660, $38 Canadian soft covers) is by food writer
Julie Le Clerc, a former cafe owner and chef. It is a reprint of three
separately published books, "Simple Cafe Food" (1999), "More Simple
Cafe Food" (2000) and "Simple Deli Food' (2002). All three books are
combined together. With no changes to the books, that means THREE
separate indexes, which is a pain. Since there can be two or more
recipes per page, there are several hundred recipes here. Her take is
mainly on "cafe" food, which fits in with the new tapas small plates.
All courses are covered, with an emphasis on make aheads such as soups
and stews, lots of breads and pastries, easy to prepare salads and
sandwiches and other light lunch dishes. While there is a summer lamb
meatloaf, there is also a more challenging olive-coated rack of lamb.
Weights are in metric, while volumes are in Imperial measurements.
Quality/Price rating: 86.

13. A SHORT HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN STOMACH (Harcourt, 2008, 205 pages,
ISBN 978-0-15-101194-0, $23US hard covers) is by Frederick Kaufman, an
English professor who also writes on American food culture for Gourmet,
Gastronomica, and mainstream magazines. Of the seven chapters here, two
have been published in Harper's, and two more from Harper's were
incorporated into the book as well as some material from the New
Yorker. The book is thus wide-ranging, and explores themes such as the
Amish black market raw milk dealers, the South Beach diet, the Food
Network, hot dog eating contests, and the like. Log rollers include
Marion Nestle and Lawrence Osborne (The Accidental Connoisseur). The
extremes here cover "stuffing" and "starving" our North American
selves. It is all served up with a light humour, large typeface, and an
index. Quality/Price rating: 88.

14. EXPLORING TASTE & FLAVOUR; the art of combining hot, sour, salty
and sweet in 150 recipes (Kyle Cathie, 2005, 2007; distr. Raincoast,
256 pages, ISBN 978-1-85626-728-1, $35 CDN soft covers) is a straight
reissue of the 2005 hardback which won a World Gourmand Award and was
nominated for an IACP Award. It is by Tom Kime who created UK Tesco's
Thai food line and is a BBC food writer. Most of this book is SEAsia;
the 150 recipes are meant to combine hot, sour, salty, sweet and bitter
for balance. The blending of flavours is useful, of course, but Kime
does not even mention umami. Kime devotes space to discussing the
principles of SEAsia taste theory, suggesting that some combos of food
work well together. His taste directory of food is divided by the five
categories. He has material on matching wine with spicy food, when you
want to go beyond riesling or gewürztraminer. Chapters are arranged by
course, with one whole section on one-pot creations. Recipes include
cha ca (fish with turmeric and fresh dill): miang khom (salad of prawns
with ginger, lime and chili); gravad lox (with detailed instructions);
Moroccan grilled squid salad with chermoula; spicy sausage and bean
soup with roast tomatoes; and roasted pork belly with caramelized
peanut and chili dressing. Quality/Price rating: 88.

15. PURE VEGETARIAN (Kyle Cathie, 2006, 2008; distr. Raincoast, 192
pages, ISBN 978-1-85626-740-3, $35 CDN paper covers) is by Paul Gayler,
a British Executive Chef at The Lanesborough, recipe book author, and
multiple TV UK show personality. It was originally published in 2006,
and this is a straight reprint but in paper covers. The broad range of
150 recipes includes finger food, appetizers, soups, salads, pasta and
grains, mains and desserts - all fairly upscale. There are a series of
vegetable stocks and sauces to prep the foods. As a British book, there
is no coverage of eggplants and zucchini, but rather of aubergines and
courgettes. Recipes include avocado salsa rolls, spelt soup, Roquefort-
stuffed fig salad, wild rice and parsnip rice fritters, butternut
squash and blue cheese tacos, Persian ratatouille-baked tomatoes, Cajun
mozzarella and ricotta fritters, crushed artichoke and goat cheese
pesto toasts, Spanish romanescu baby leeks, and beetroot gazpacho.
Ingredients are listed in both avoirdupois and metric measurements, but
there are conversion tables. Quality/Price rating: 86.

16. THE FOOD AND COOKING OF TURKEY (Lorenz Books, 2007; distr. NBN, 256
pages, ISBN 978-0-7548-1763-5, $29.99 US hard covers) is by Ghillie
Basan, a cookbook writer specializing in Middle East and SE Asia
cooking. Her previous "Classic Turkish Cooking" was shortlisted for
some book awards in 1998. This current book was previously published,
in part, as that shortlisted book. She has about 150 recipes shown
step-by=step in 800 photographs. There is a fair bit of culinary
history as well as geography, a comprehensive visual guide to Turkish
ingredients, and detailed instructions - all in the first 60 pages.
Modern Turkish cuisine comes from both its melting pot position between
Europe and Asia, and the scores of religious festivals. She ranges from
soups, meze, hot snacks, salads, pilafs, fish-meat-poultry, vegetables,
sweet snacks, jams and more. The book is oversized and somewhat
unwieldy in the kitchen. Ingredient measurements are in both
avoirdupois and metric; each recipe has full nutritional information
(calories, protein, carbos, fat, cholesterol, calcium, fibre and
sodium). There is also a glossary. Recipes include a plum tomato and
almond jam, yogurt cake in orange syrup, shredded chicken with walnuts,
lamb skewers with flat bread, chicken liver pilaf with currants and
pine nuts, lentils with carrots and sage. Quality/Price rating: 90.

17. GREEN & BLACK'S CHOCOLATE RECIPES; from the cacao pod to cookies,
desserts, and savory dishes (Kyle Cathie, 2003, 2007; distr. Raincoast,
192 pages, ISBN 978-1-904920-67-0, $19.95US soft covers) is by Caroline
Jeremy, under the sponsorship of Green & Black chocolates, a firm that
began in 1991 with organic and fair trade chocolate. It was originally
published in 2003, and won a World Gourmand Cookbook Award. This 2007
reissue has been "Americanized", even to the extent of changing the
subtitle from " muffins, mousses, and moles" and labeling some
recipes "Wicked". Typical preps include chocolate bread, Italian
venison agrodolce, rich stout cake, chocolate apple cake, and
brigadeiros. Quality/Price rating: 90.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

TN: Quebec Wines, Feb 25, 2008.

The Time and Date: Monday, February 25, 2008 10AM to noon

The Event: monthly Wine Writers' Circle of Canada tasting.

The Venue: LCBO Scrivener Square

The Target Audience: members of the WWCC

The Availability/Catalogue: Larry Paterson collated some two dozen wines
from Quebec for him and the WWCC to taste and sample.

The Quote: "Some fascinating wines of excellent intensity".

The Wines:

**** Four Stars (90 - 93 in Quality/Price Rating terms):

- Chapelle Ste Agnes 2003 Geisenheim Icewine 9.5% alc $43.88 for
200 ml (outstandingly intense)

-Vignoble la Mission 2005 Vidal Icewine 11.5% alc $27.00 for 200 ml

-Domaine les Brome 2005 Reserve Vidal White 13.0% $20.18 750 ml

(outstanding because of its oak complexity, very well made, reminds me of
an oak aged seyval blanc from New York.

*** Three Stars (86 - 89 in Quality/Price Rating terms):

-Domaine du Ridge 2006 Vent d'Oest White 11.5% $12.94 750 ml

-Vignoble Carone 2006 Frontenac Red 13.0% 750 ml (chocolate tones)

-Vignoble Carone 2006 Verita Red 14.0% $25.00 750 ml (highly
suggestive of Oz but also highly priced)

-Vignoble de la Riviere du Chene 2006 Lalande Signe Bastien Red 12.0%
$17.55 750 ml (concentrated, dense)

-Vignoble la Mission 2005 La Mission Vin Rouge Red 11.5% $13.00 750
ml -Marechal Foch, Chancellor and Lucy Kuhlmann varietals.

-Vignoble Le Cep D'Argent 2006 Reserve des Chevaliers Vin de Magog 12.5%
$12.24 750 ml

-Vignoble de la Bauge 2006 Brise Rose 11.5% 750 ml Frontenac
Rose (aromas of ripe cherries, strawberries and cinnamon)

-l'Orpailleur 2006 Eleve en Fut de Chene White 12.0% $13.04 750 ml

The Food: bread and water

The Effectiveness (numerical grade): 90.