Chenin Blanc

Tasted November 14th, 2010

A very exciting session this Sunday afternoon with the LCBO Fine Wine & Spirits auction occurring simultaneously downtown. A few of us spent Friday and Saturday at the auction and we setup the computer at the Bistro for live bidding during today's tasting. Our varietal this afternoon is the great chameleon Chenin Blanc, a native of the Loire Valley in France. It would be wrong to say that Chenin is an unpopular variety; it's actually quite common as an everyday quaffing wine though usually labeled tactfully as something else. In California for example, Chenin Blanc is the third most planted grape and produces thousands of gallons of everyday table wine. In South Africa, Chenin has been planted for over a hundred years where it is known as Steen. In fact, the varietal is planted nearly everywhere wine is grown and while once hugely popular, it is generally unrecognized under it's own name.

Chenin's claim to fame is its ability to express the terrior of the land on which it is grown. The grape's personality, like Riesling, is rather transparent and small variations of the micro-climate are readily apparent in the wines it produces. Chenin vines bud very early and ripen quite late which makes harvesting the fruit in cooler regions somewhat challenging in cooler years. Like most varieties, when harvested too early, the fruit is low in sugar but high in acidity. To compensate, many producers chaptalize (add sugar to) their wines. This technique does have benefits but can also result is some very low quality wines and that unfortunately has been the downfall of Chenin Blanc. I regularly refer to Chenin as an extreme: it's either really good or downright bad with very few options in between.

After toasting Scott's triumphant completion of his PhD (with Sparkling Vouvray - of course) we sampled Chenin Blanc from several regions which in some cases, are found at opposite corners of the globe. Five wines are tasted in total this afternoon and they are listed below in order of sampling:

2007 Domaine de Vaufuget, France
2008 Lammershoek, South Africa
2007 Cave Springs, Estate Bottles, Canada
2007 Millton, Te Aria, New Zealand
2007 Bougrier Vineyards, France

Chenin is famous for its incredible variation of style from one vintage to the next; dry in some years while sweet in others. This makes the grape very challenging to predict and thus difficult to market. For those who understand this constant variation and appreciate each harvest as a unique offering, Chenin rarely disappoints.

We began our tasting with 2007 Domaine de Vaufuget from Vouvray. Sweet but crisp is how one of the members described the nearly colourless wine. In terms of sweetness, it was off dry or sec-tendre as they say in Loire. Next-up, the Lammershoek from Paardeberg, South Africa. For those who were able to attend our pairing dinner on November 6th, this wine conjures up some familiar aromas. Would you believe me if I said it smelt of Gasoline? It's not a bad thing, perhaps a bit obscure but the scent in our wine today slowly faded as the afternoon progressed. At the pairing dinner, we enjoyed the incredible 1996 Moulin Touchais which in its youth, is famous for this petroleum scent but with time in the cellar or when decanted well before serving, this unusual aroma dissipates to reveal softer notes of honey and almonds. Initially, the South African Chenin tasted today was quite aggressive but by the end of the tasting, the wine had softened nicely.

As we sampled the Chenins, Stephen, Gary, and Deb who were also monitoring the auction underway in Toronto brought to our attention an upcoming five bottle lot of vintage port. Tyler quickly polled the group for potential interest in a 'Port Dinner' - Absolutely, let's do it! they said and with Stephen at the controls and several Port fanatics eagerly peering over his shoulder the bidding was underway: 380 - 400 ... 460 - $480 - the lot is ours!

Lot 1962
  • 1983 Fonseca 92 WA
  • 1983 Graham's
  • 1983 Taylor's 94 WA
  • 1985 Graham's 96 WA
  • 1992 Taylor's 100 WA
Standby for the dinner plans...

Back to the Chenin: Our third wine this afternoon was the 2007 Cave Springs. Light in colour again and a bit of a pungent odour; not flawed, no, that's the way it is. Jac and I tried this wine the week before and were less than impressed though at the same time hopeful that it might show better today - surprisingly, it did not and sadly, our quest for superior Ontario wine continues... Next up was the 2007 Millton Te Arai Chenin from New Zealand: "This is nice." I heard someone say; softer, rounder and quite pleasant on the palate to be exact. The 2002 vintage of the same wine is in Neil Beckett's book "1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die". Was it good? It certainly was. Lastly, another Vouvray, this time from Bougrier Vineyards. This one was sweeter and perhaps heavier on the palate with good fruit and just the right amount of acidity. In France, they refer to this style as demi-sec or half dry and the Bougrier will pair wonderfully with a multitude of dishes including seafoods, spicy asian or even just as an apperitif.

Our group tasted and ranked the wines in terms of personal preference. The top three wines are listed below:
  1. 2007 Bougrier Vouvray
  2. 2007 Domaine de Vaufuget
  3. 2007 Millton, Te Arai
Earlier, I said that Chenin functions as an extreme and that is exactly what we have witnessed here today. The top 3 wine were highly favoured and in terms of numbers, ranked very closely together while the bottom two selection did not fair well at all. In conclusion and to summarize Chenin Blanc: It's quite simple - When you do manage to find a good one, there really is very little that can compare!


Rioja Red

Tasted October 24th, 2010

This is a region of both great tradition and newfound modernistic views. The wines of Rioja are deep in flavour and complexity and vary tremendously in style. Our wine selections today range from an older 1996 gran reserva to a 2005 crianza from a newly founded bodega. It will be very interesting to see if the group prefers the heavy oak influence of tradition or the fresher approachability of modern taste.

While I have read about an endless supply of plonk that originates from the vast sea of Spanish vineyards, I can honestly say that I have never been disappointed by bottle of wine from Spain's great Rioja region. The soft texture and velvety tannins seem to hit the mark (or close to it) almost every time. I will even go so far as to say that the greatest bottle ever to stain my palate with it dark-fruit flavours was from Rioja, but then tradition will always earn the most points in our cellar.

With nearly 3 million acres under vine, Spain is the most widely planted of all grape growing countries. The conditions here can be harsh though, as much of the land is dry and generally infertile. For this, the vine's roots must tunnel deep into the arid earth to search out essential nutrients which concentrate the fruit's flavours. It is this intensity combined with the characteristics imparted to the wine by oak aging that creates some of the most rewarding and surprisingly affordable red wines in the world. Spanish wine aged in oak must fall under one of three classifications as dictated by the DOC. We should also note that these specifications are only a minimum and at the discretion of the producer, they may be exceeded:
  • Crianza: aged two years [at the Bodega] of which one must be in oak
  • Reserva: aged three years of which one must be in oak
  • Gran Reserva: aged five years of which two must be in oak
The use of extended oak aging truly is the backbone of Rioja wines but this tradition has come under intense fire in the last half-century causing some producers to take a more modern stance on winemaking. The wines are similar but the difference is certainly apparent and today we span this variation of style with five great labels:

2005 Navarrsotillo, Magister Bibendi, Crianza
2006 Muga, Reserva
2002 Marqués de Murrieta, Reserva Ygay
1996 Marqués de Vitoria, Gran Reserva
2001 Bodegas Valdemar, Conde de Valdemar

Wow! Judging by the response today, choosing a favourite was not an easy task. Some of the comments overheard during the tasting were: "Can I pick 3 wines as my favourite?", "Each wine is different but equally good.", and the best one... "We should organize a fieldtrip to Spain!". Selecting a favourite indeed was a challenge but that was the task and eventually everyone did successfully narrow it down to one. In terms of styles, there was some good variation and the peppery spice of the Garnacha grape was apparent in several of the samples.

Our first wine was Gary and Joy's Navarrsotillo Crianza which was accurately described as "lively and fresh". Being the first bottle opened, we were fortunate to witness this wine changing in the glass as the afternoon progressed. When compared to the Muga Reserva, a rather peppery and heavy LCBO Vintages essential product, the Navarrsotillo was clean and crisp and clearly the better wine. The Gran Reservas, one modern and one traditional were both incredible but varied significantly in style: the 1996 Marqués de Vitoria showed no hard edges whatsoever and some lovely earthy notes (for those of us who like that kind of thing) while also surprisingly deep in colour with no sign of browning at the edges for a 14 year old bottle. Conversely, the 2001 Conde de Valdemar, was a solid fruit-forward and very modern wine. The flavour profile was that of the typical black and red berries associated with Tempranillo/Garnacha blend. But it was the 2002 Marqués de Murrieta Reserva Ygay the took the top spot today. This wine was drinking absolutely perfect at 8 years of age and was perhaps the overall favourite because it displayed a balance of what the two gran reserva possessed individually. Murrieta is the oldest winery in Rioja which surprisingly produces their wine with a very modern and fruit-forward style.

Our group tasted and ranked the wines in order of personal preference, the results are show below:
  1. 2002 Marqués de Murrieta, Reserva
  2. 1996 Marqués de Vitoria, Gran Reserva
  3. 2001 Conde de Valdemar, Gran Reserva
As for a group preference, in terms of modern vs. traditional it is difficult to provide a decisive conclusion; the wines were all very enjoyable but for different reasons and the top two wines were polar opposites in style. If there was one thing emphasized today, albeit indirectly, it was the influence of food choices on the overall enjoyment of a glass of wine. We are privileged to conduct our tastings at what is arguably the top restaurant north of Toronto - Bistro Seven Seven. The food here is simply perfect and both our Chef and Host take great care to help co-ordinate the food choices with the region, variety, and style of wine which we sample each month. Today, to compliment the Red Rioja, hors d'oeurves such as the braised lamb shank on buttermilk smashed potato only highlight the incredible flavour combinations which make this passion so fascinating. A 'proper' wine tasting does not involve rich foods and exotic tastes but this is North of 9 Fine Wine and we don't pride ourselves as critics but instead, as connoisseurs of fine taste - Cheers!

Next month, we taste the wonderful wines created by the Chenin Blanc varietal. See you then...


Tasted September 12th, 2010

What a Fiasco!

The original plan was to taste Supertuscans today but at some point, we modified the schedule to taste Chianti instead. Of course, just for fun, we'll throw in a Supertuscan anyway. Let's see how it compares...

We taste four Chiantis this afternoon, ranging from a blend of all Italian varietals to a pure Sangiovese wine, a mix of traditional and international varieties, plus a riserva from Rúfina. As a comparison, the final wine in our line up is a Supertuscan. Let`s see if the group prefers the traditional style of Chianti or the more familiar new-world flare.

The wine samples are listed below in order of tasting:

2007 IL Corno, Chianti Colli Fiorentini
2007 Antinori, Pèppoli Chianti Classico
2007 Le Filigare, Chianti Classico
2001 Frescobaldi, Montesodi, Castello di Nipozzano, Rúfina Riserva
2007 Poggiarello, Montebruno, Supertuscan

Chianti is a wine region that is forever changing - for the better most would say. The main grape used in its production is Sangiovese which, like Pinot Noir, can be a little difficult to ripen should conditions not be ideal. The grape is rather intolerant and is therefore blended with multiple other varietals to add a degree of complexity to the wine. You might say that Chianti has come under a great deal of international pressure to perform. In fact, not long ago, the mere mention of the name made people cringe at the thought of a thin lifeless table wine. Additionally, the squat, straw-covered bottles only added to the fiasco - literally, and with the onset of a new international style, that being a more full-bodied and fruit forward trend, Chianti was approaching imminent extinction.

One of the more significant modifications in the region was to update both the vineyards and cellars to reflect modern winemaking techniques common throughout the rest of the world. The growth of vine canopies on olive trees or other framework is all but non-existent these days and cellars are now immaculate; the result, better wines. Relatively new to the region as well, is the addition of international grape varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz to list a few. Blended with the Sangiovese, the wine have a more familiar body and taste to new-world drinkers. On the whole, Chianti is a wine which has been redefined and revitalized. The wines are perfect for pairing with rich pasta dishes and a variety of light finger foods.

But change in this region has gone far beyond minor modifications and modern thinking. Change here has also led to a revolutionary discovery. In the late 1960s, the world was about to witness the birth of a new wine; one which would send shivers up the spines of the Italian government and leave the rest of the wine-world awestruck. International varieties were not permitted in Chianti and traditionally, Sangiovese has always been the majority grape in the blend. But Bordeaux and later, California and Australia were creating full-bodied wines that were quickly changing the preferences of wine enthusiasts everywhere. A small but devoted group of winemakers in Tuscany had secretly been blending their Sangiovese with the international varieties. The mysterious wines were full-bodied, lush, and complex on the palate, full of new aromas and fascinating flavours but at the same time, they were also contradictory to what Italian laws allowed. Coined the ΄Supertuscan΄, Italy`s new rogue wine took the world by storm, ploughing through political restrictions and barriers to challenge the very best of Bordeaux, Napa, and Barossa. Today, these wines are widely available starting at around $30 with no apparent upper limit.

Our group tasted and ranked the wines in order of personal preference, the results are show below:

1st - 2001 Frescobaldi, Rúfina Riserva
2nd- 2007 Antinori Peppoli
3rd - 2007 Le Filigare
4th - 2007 IL Corno

While not listed in the overall ranking, the Montebruno Supertuscan was the clear favourite today but also in a sense, an unfair comparison. Therefore, for the sake of commonality, we shall only list the Chiantis in order of personal preference. The Frescobaldi, at almost tens years old, finished well in front of the other three selections which was somewhat expected with this group: looking back through our previous tasting sessions, history has shown us that as a whole, the members of North of 9 prefer well aged wines. Chianti can be tart in its youth and arguably is better served with food than on its own. The Rúfina however, had lost most of the tartness so typical of the Sangiovese grape and instead was quite smooth and fragrant compared to the others. Several members commented on the scent of violets. Second in the ranking was the Pèppoli by Antinori. This wine is of a very modern and international style which makes it very approachable in its early years. Compared to the Il Corno, a traditional blend, the Pèppoli had greater roundness on the palate and a more pronounced fruit core - quite nice indeed, but also a wine to enjoy with rich foods. In third today, finishing just behind the Pèppoli, was the Le Filigare, a purely Sangiovese wine. When conditions are just right, the Sangiovese grape can produce some wonderful wines without the addition of other grape varieties and this wine was a perfect example.

A very interesting tasting session indeed. The group seems to prefer bigger wines and a more international style over traditional blends and an old-world taste. At the end of the day however, it would appear as though we are all heading to the wine shop to buy a few Supertuscans! I'll add a couple to the Virtual Cellar shortly... Enjoy

Thank-you for joining us today. Next month, we explore the fascinating wines of Spain`s great Rioja region. See you then...


It's always a pleasure to drink really good white wine and what a perfect day to taste Riesling from around the world. In fact, they say (though I don't know who they are) that only with experience will you will learn to appreciate white wine. Today we taste a combination of Rieslings, some dry and some semi-sweet. We begin with the dry, two samples: one from New York State and the other from Alsace, followed by three off-dry (semi sweet) from: New Zealand, Germany, and Ontario.

The key to really good Riesling is the balance of sweetness and acidity. Both are essential but when out of sync, one will overpower the other and seem rather obtuse on the palate. Riesling produces beautifully aromatic wines that pair with a multitude of food styles. The wine is considered the most versatile of all and will easily accommodate a range of food styles from white fish to Thai cuisine.

Our goal today is to determine what style both individually and as a group we prefer. The wines were served chilled one at a time and the group critiqued each selection in terms of personal preference.

The wines sampled are listed below in order of tasting:

2008 Chateau La Fayette Reneau - New York State, USA
2002 Pierre Sparr, Altenbourg - Alsace, France
2008 Spy Valley - Marlborough, New Zealand
2006 Studert Prüm, Spatlese - Mosel, Germany
2007 Henry of Pelham, Reserve - St. Catharines, Ontario

Specific information relating the the cost and source of each wine can be viewed in the members only area.

There are some beautifully balanced wines here today. In retrospect, when it comes to tasting red wine, a degree of concentration is involved: Burgundy and its terroir, Bordeaux and its complex blends, but the white wines are always a pleasure; still complex in many cases, but perhaps relaxing might be the right word. The wines sampled today, were all vastly different in terms of sweetness, body and texture but all reflected the varietal transparency of the Riesling grape. Riesling excels in cool climates; heat tampers with the magic formula making the wine flabby but our five examples are all grown in ideal locations and climates.

Our group tasted and ranked the wines in order of personal preference, the results are show below:

1 - 2006 Studert Prüm, Spatlese
2 - 2008 Spy Valley
3 - 2002 Pierre Sparr, Altenbourg

Tyler and Jacquie's 2006 Studert Prüm was tasted fourth and followed three very good wines but safe to say, the German selection shocked the group. Sweeter than the others, the '06 Spatlese was packed with intensity and flavour showing more honey than citrus on the nose and rich flavours on the palate. Next in line, from Marlborough, the '08 Spy Valley, a semi-sweet, new-world wine packed with aromas. It followed the Pierre Sparr, a wine that many of us felt was itself, very aromatic, but the Spy Valley exploded from the glass with jolts of green apple and grapefruit tasting balanced with wonderful minerality. Third was the 2002 Pierre Sparr from France's Alsace region. An older wine by comparison, showing golden yellow hues with lovely aromatics. On the palate, the Alsacian was softer and rounder than the other selections, perhaps losing its crisp edge with a few years in the cellar. A few in the group even detected an element of petrol in the older sample, which certainly invoked an interesting conversation.

It's the off-dry style that has prevailed here today with 82% of the group selecting a semi-sweet wine as their favourite.

As always, thank-you for participating in our tasting today. We look forward to August when we sabre Champagne on the patio at the Bistro.



le vin du Diable!

Now that was a blast!

I can't think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than to sip champagne with friends on the patio. Mother Nature did her best to dampen our spirits today but after tasting a few samples indoors we moved outside to sabre the remaining bottles under the sun. Champagne is among the most celebrated of all wines. Its tiny bubbles appear as though they might be beads of crystals mysteriously appearing and floating single-file to the surface where they burst to release the wine's incredible aromas.

To say that champagne was once greatly frowned upon would not be an exaggeration. Those who first produced these wines did everything in their power to prevent the formation of the bubbles, but in the end, nature won and the bubbles prevailed. Rather volatile when bottled, the wine was considered extremely dangerous and the people of Champagne asked the church to investigate the demonic behaviour of their wine. Dom Perignon, a Benedictine Monk, learned how to control the seemingly untameable gas and mastered the art of blending wines to create a product Champagne could call their own while English scientist, Christopher Merret explored the concept of secondary fermentation and perfected methods of containing the wine. Together, both men helped shape what would soon become arguably the world's greatest wine. But can any one person take credit for its invention? Likely not. This Sparkling phenomenon is quite simply the product of enclosed fermentation which, though artificially contained, is completely natural.

Our selections for today's tasting span a range of styles: two Brut, one Demi-Sec, and a Vintage wine. The wines were served chilled and were pair with delicious appetizers of varying textures and tastes.

The wines sampled are listed below in order of tasting:

Louis Roederer, Brut Premier
Moët et Chandon, Imperial Rosé
1996 Gosset, Grand Millésime
Veuve Clicquot, Demi-Sec

Tasting from driest to sweetest, there is a good variety here today and our group tasted and ranked the wines in order of personal preference, the results are show below:

1st - 1996 Gosset Grand Millésime
2ndVeuve Clicquot, Demi-Sec
3rd - Louis Roederer, Brut Premier
4th - Moët & Chandon Imperial Rosé

The wine of the day was undoubtedly the 1996 Gosset, Grand Millésime. This bottle is a perfect example of how Champagne changes (arguably, for the better) with a few years spent in the cellar. The vintage Gosset had long since lost is crisp, citrus qualities becoming full bodied and displaying beautiful toasty notes on the palate. 80% of the group voted the Gosset as their favourite and 100% placed it in their top two selections. While the 1996 vintage is no longer available through the LCBO, the 1999 is, and you can view this wine in our virtual cellar.

The Demi-Sec from the house of Veuve Clicquot was a sweet surprise and seemed quite smooth on the palate in comparison to the Brut selections. Of course, the milk chocolate dipped strawberries only added to the experience. The Louis Roederer, Brut Premier started off the tasting and displayed typical Brut champagne qualities of apple and toast - not a bad effort, but nothing to celebrate was the consensus on this one. Ranking last today was Moët & Chandon's Imperial Rosé. Surprising in a sense, being from the house of the famous cuvée Dom Perignon, but most of us felt the Moët Rosé lacked finesse and was perhaps, a touch sour.

We opened the first three selections with very little pizzazz; just a pop to be exact. But Tyler brought his 18th century French sword-bayonet and was waiting patiently for the sun to peek through the clouds. When the dark clouds did finally part, he beheaded the two bottles of Clicquot to a great roar of cheer. Of course it's even more fun if you get to try it yourself he said, and with that, a case of Canada's great Spumante Bambino surfaced; at $7 a bottle, the perfect candidate for sabreing! Topped with fancy hats, we each tried our hand at sabreing. In all, a dozen bottles of bubbly fell to the sword this afternoon - too much fun, and Fernanda took the prize for the best chapeau!

Thank-you once again for participating in our tasting today and we look forward to sampling Chianti Classico together in September.


Click here to watch Tyler sabre a bottle of bubbly. 

California Cabs

While the intention today was to simply taste Cabs from California, some of us were still coming down from the great Bordeaux tasting last month. As a result, during the planning phase, this California session quickly became a comparison between the two regions. And why not - California and Bordeaux are in direct competition with each other. With that said, the style of California and Bordeaux while both very good, are also quite different. The primary difference is one of temperature and thus the ripeness of the grapes. Poor vintages are few and far between in California and therefore variation from one vintage to another is usually a result of winemaking technique and not bad weather. In a effort to 'keep up with the Jones' or to generate 'Parker-Points' (depending on how you want to look at it), the trend in Bordeaux in the last two decades has been to let the fruit hang as long as possible, but even so, that timeframe still does not achieve the same degree of ripeness witnessed in California. Of course, with ripeness comes sugar, among other things, but let's focus on the degree of sweetness or brix: As the sugar content of the grapes increases, so does the potential degree of alcohol during fermentation which in turn, will affect the body and mouth-feel of the wine. The higher degree of alcohol brings out the fruit and sweetness of the wine but too much can also be overpowering so there must be a balance. In terms of body the wines are full and round; the terms 'chewy and jammy' are often used to describe California Cabs.

At North of 9 Fine Wine, we have tasted a great deal of old world wine in the past, and with last month's Bordeaux session still fresh in our minds, this afternoon we set out to determine what the group prefers. Today we sample four wines from various regions within California and one from the left-bank of Bordeaux. All the selections have a high concentration of Cabernet Sauvignon. The purpose of the Bordeaux sample is to refresh/remind our palates of the region and therefore indirectly, stimulate a comparison between the two regions.

The wines sampled are listed below in order of tasting:

2006 Napanook - Napa Valley
2004 Clark-Claudon, Estate Grown - Napa Valley
2001 Ségla - Margaux, Bordeaux
2004 Clos du Val - Stags Leap District
2006 Longboard, Redgrav Vineyard - Alexander Valley

These are some truly fantastic wines! I think as a group, we all agree that while the old-world is fascinating and its history captivating, the new frontier and specifically the high-end California labels are an absolute pleasure to drink.

Our group tasted and ranked the wines in order of personal preference, the top three are show below:

1 - 2004 Clark-Claudon
2 - 2006 Longboard, Redgrav
3 - 2004 Clos du Val

The top two wines today finished very close together and at the same time, well above the rest of the pack. In first place was the 2004 Clark-Claudon Estate Cabernet Sauvignon follow immediately by the Longboard, Redgrav Vineyard. Both wines were full-bodied and packed with red fruit aromas. The Clark-Claudon, at one point during the afternoon even showed some black licorice on the nose and perhaps a slight effervescent feel on the tongue - fascinating! If you like your wine 'jammy' and obviously the majority of our group does, the Longboard, Redgrav should be right at the top of your wish list. This wine exploded with fruit and sweet aromas straight out of the bottle. Thank-you Jim for generously donating both of these bottles to the tasting today!

Following behind, as the group's third favourite was the 2004 Clos du Val, Stags Leap District. By far the deepest in colour today, the Clos du Val was somewhat closed initially, though after a half-hour or so in the glass, the aromas and the flavours came to life.

Based upon what we have tasted here today, the group has certainly favoured the new-world style. The three top wines are a very accurate representation of why California Cabernet Sauvignon is and continues to be the preferred wine style of the masses. Is it better the the Old World? The 2001 Ségla, our selection from Bordeaux was in top form today. In fact, there was no fault to be found in Château Rauzan-Ségla's second label, but like so many of the competitive tastings held since the famous Judgement of Paris in 1976, when pitting one region against the other, California finished on top yet again.

Thank-you kindly to everyone who donated bottles from their collection for our enjoyment today. We look forward to gathering again in July to compare Rieslings from Niagara and Germany.


Tasted: May 16th, 2010

Bordeaux - Opposing Sides

No other region is more often duplicated and no other wine is more readily sought after; its famed estates set the prices and trends for the fine wine market worldwide. At 800 million bottles per year, Bordeaux produces a massive amount of ordinary table wine but for those who choose to research the subject, to delve a little deeper, there are endless treasures awaiting to tempt one's curiosity and taste. For this session, we are comparing the two styles of the region: those of the Left and Right Banks.

The styles of wine produced on opposite sides of the Gironde river varies almost as much as the ideals of the two rival groups themselves. The soils are not the same either; the left bank is predominantly gravel while the right bank consists of clay and limestone. For this, the grapes of choice and blends produce highly contrasting wines. During this tasting session, we set out to explore these differences, to discover our personal preference for the style of either the Left or Right Bank and to learn how these wine change with bottle age.

The wines sampled are listed below in order of tasting:

2000 Château Armens - Saint Emilion
2001 Clos du Marquis - Saint Julien
1999 Château La Vieille Croix - Fronsac
2002 Château Prieure-Lichine - Margaux
2003 Château Gigault 'Cuvée Viva' - Côtes de Blaye

When Tyler presents a mystery bottle, one has to be curious and perhaps a little wary; he has tricked us before by substituting an Ontario pinot noir in with the collection of Burgundies back in March. This time however, there was no fooling around. Trays of glasses containing the mystery wine circulated around the room and everyone inspected the contents. We swirled, then sniffed and of course tasted, assessing the wine's colour, clarity, aroma, and body. "What do you think, do you like it?" Tyler asked. A simple request, normally the questions are a lot more involved. He continued, "In your opinion, is this a young wine or an older one? The consensus was that we were drinking something quite old. Everyone was rather intrigued by the mystery and most seemed to enjoy the brick-coloured contents. The wine itself was soft and smooth, the colour and taste thin by comparison to the other selection. The fruit, while still present, had faded bringing to the forefront earthy notes and a lovely lingering aftertaste. "I suggest that you savour this one, it's not a wine for the spittoon. This wine is very special, but it is also approaching 30 years of age." Tyler informed the group. "But what better opportunity to sample very old Bordeaux than today." he said, "And it's not every day that you will have the chance to drink a First Growth."  Today however, we did just that; our mysterious guest was indeed a bottle of 1981 Château Haut Brion. Deborah, one of our members shared that she had picked grapes at Haut Brion back in 1985 so no doubt, this bottle brought back some wonderful memories for her!

Our group tasted and ranked the wines in order of personal preference, the results* are show below:

1 - 1999 Château La Vieille Croix
2 - 2003 Château Gigault 'Cuvée Viva'
3 - 2001 Clos du Marquis

Our top wine this afternoon was Gary and Joy's 1999 La Vieille Croix, a wine from the Fronsac region on the Right-Bank. This Merlot dominated wine was deeply coloured, balanced, and very fragrant. Most of us agreed that at 11 years, 'The Old Cross' was at its peak and seemed perfect for drinking today. Thank-you Gary and Joy for sharing your collection with us! The 2003 Gigalt 'Cuvée Viva', another right-bank selection was our second place wine and the product of an atypical vintage. The heatwave of the 2003 growing season made the wine stand out as 'different but very good' several members said. This wine had pronounced fruit and a 'jammy' body by comparison to the others. In third was the 2001 Clos du Marquis, a product of the left-bank and the second label of Château Léoville Las Cases. 2001 is a well above average year that is often overshadowed by the great vintage of 2000. This was indeed a lovely bottle that also seemed to hit the mark with a number of people this afternoon.

*Note regarding the 1981 Haut Brion: This wine was tasted blind and as expected, questions and comments quickly developed. After a short period I identified the wine, but also I fear, before the group had completed their final ranking of the other selections and therefore, I do believe that my description of the Haut Brion influenced the opinion of the group. It is indeed a very fine bottle but this example was also past its prime and had begun its slow decline from greatness. In terms of ranking, the Haut Brion finish well ahead of all the other wines though in retrospect, it probably would not have without my input and therefore is not included in the top three. - Tyler

Thank-you for joining us today and we look forward to seeing you again in June for an afternoon spent sipping California's liquid sunshine.