Sauvignon Blanc

There are a few wines that just beg to pair with food and Sauvignon Blanc is one of them. Regional climate, soil conditions, and wine making technique dictate the resultant style of Sauvignon and most casual wine drinkers will recognize the characteristic herbal and gooseberry aromas of Sauvignon not to mention the occasionally offensive but always intriguing ‘cat pee’ scent.  But Sauvignon isn’t always this bold, and from the old world, it tends to have a softer touch; melon and spice if I can attempt to narrow it down.

I know of several people who shun this wine, which is unfortunate in a way, for the grape reflects the terroir in which it is grown and each example can vary rather dramatically.

Today, the North of 9 tasting group samples a collection of Sauvignon Blanc from around the world.  We start with a wine from South Africa followed by the famous Californian label created by the late Robert Mondavi.  We would be negligent not to include France’s greatest expression of Sauvignon: Pouilly-Fumé and its modern equivalent from New Zealand.  Lastly, we’ll taste the lesser known but equally interesting, white Bordeaux

The wines:

2010 Mulderbosch
This exudes stereotypical characteristics of new world Sauvignon Blanc with its pungent aromas and grassy taste.  A powerful wine and one best served well chilled.

2008 Robert Mondavi, Fumé Blanc
It changed in the glass, and arguably for the better.  Slightly creamy to start and a bit aggressive but the oak influence pulls this one together, softening this wine's sharp edges.

2008 Domaine Masson-Blondelet,Villa Paulus
Okay, I'm really biased here; this is one of the best examples of Pouilly-Fumé ever to tease my taste buds; elegantly soft with very little reflection of the new world, if any at all as it slides across the palate.  Astonishingly good!

2007 Astrolabe, Voyage
A sweetness hit initially but it faded to show tropical fruits and a mild spice on the crisp finish; lots of lemon-lime zest here; fantastic wine and purely a pleasure to drink. 

2009 Château Les Bertrands, Cuvée Traditional
Pronounced herbal and spice notes intertwine with lime.  It’s a bit hot on the finish I thought and a rather modern style from the old world.  

As always, the guys at Bistro Seven Seven in Alliston have prepared appetizers to pair with our theme of the month.  And while the wines were all quite good, the food was even better, though I neglected to take any pictures.  I must share these unbelievable dishes with you though:
  • Beer battered Zucchini flowers in a dill sauce
  • Chicken Kiev
  • Smoked Arctic Char on a homemade potatoes chip with a dollop of crème-fresh
  • Goat Cheese in a Phyllo Purse with Wheat Grass and Ontario Strawberry Coulis

Voted either the favourite or runner-up by everyone in attendance, the 2007 Astrolabe from New Zealand was undoubtedly the wine of the day - Thank you Gary and Joy for contributing this amazingly delicious wine from your collection.  Next in terms of group preference was the Masson-Blondelet, Pouilly-Fumé from Tyler and Jacquie’s cellar, and the third place wine was the Bordeaux offering from Château les Bertrands.

Thanks for tasting with us today and stay tuned for a new style of tasting event from North of 9 beginning this October…

Flying Corks and Shattered Glass

- Sabreing wine at North of 9. July 10th 2011.  

Last year at this time we spent the afternoon sabreing Champagne on the patio at Bistro Seven Seven in Alliston.  This month, we return to explore the vast range of sparkling wines available outside of the coveted French AOC.  Like the previous year, with sword in hand, we planned to sabre a few of the corks off the bottles… I’ll get to that in a moment. 

It is nearly impossible to discuss, let along taste the vast array of sparkling wines available in wine shops today.  In fact, the topic makes the isolated subject of Champagne seem rather basic by comparison. 

A common misconception is that sparkling wine is inferior to Champagne.  By Champagne, I am referring to bubbly from the French region of the same name.  Indeed, Champagne is steeped in tradition and history but many famous Champagne houses have now firmly established themselves as leaders in the new world by creating sparkling wine of equal quality while selling their product for a fraction of the price.  Today we explore Italy's Prosecco, Cava from Spain, sparkling rosé from California, and an example from our own backyard here on the Niagara peninsula.

Many sparkling wines are made using the Method Traditional or Method Classique, the very same winemaking technique used in Champagne.  Often these wines are a near flawless reproduction of that style, but regulations in other regions also allow contrasting methods and techniques which can cater to a significant difference. Is it inferior to the ’real thing’? Perhaps, but it may also be a question of personal taste: Good Champagne is rich in body and flavour; the use of oak while balanced is normally quite obvious and the bubbles should be always small and plentiful.  In the north of Italy, by regulation, Prosecco is often the product of the Charmat method which employs large vats for the secondary fermentation rather than individual bottles.  In contrast, this creates a crisper body and more fruit driven taste, but just as importantly, that is exactly what it's supposed to taste like.

Cava, on the other hand emulates the method classique and the Spanish do this rather well. Once called Spanish Champagne, the French authorities have banned the use of the term Champagne outside of their own region and as of 1970 the official term for these amazing Spanish wines is Cava.  Of note, Spanish sparkling wine not produced by the traditional method cannot be called Cava; these wine are referred to as vinos espumosos.

The list of high quality sparkling wine regions goes on, and with a little background knowledge, you can sample great bubbly from HungarySouth Africa, and Australia, to name just a few.

The wines sampled today were:

Santa Margherita, Valdobbiadene Prosecco – Italy
The Charmat method makes this light, crisp, and fairly acidic; seemingly more fizz than bubbles; the label says Brut but it’s too sweet for the style; a very commercial example.

2007 Sadeve, Dama De Naveran Cava - Spain
A vintage cava with aromas of tea biscut and grapefruit; initially smooth to taste followed quickly by a celebration of bubbles on the palate and a lovely dry finish.

2006 Jackson Triggs, Entourage – NiagaraCanada
Good, I thought, though the majority of the group disagreed. A vintage dated sparkler showing toasted notes on the nose and a mix of citrus, stoney minerals plus a hint of spice on the palate. 

Mumm, Napa Rosé - California
A great effervescence of fine bubbles bursting in the glass to release toasted aromas and hints of cranberry and strawberry. Nicely balanced on the palate with just the slightest sweetness and a lovely lingering dry finish.

·    The favourite of the day was by far the Mumm Napa Rosé followed by the ’07 Sedeve Cava.  Both wines are fine examples of the style and available for a very reasonable price.

Now, about the sabreing... today I was witness to something I have never seen before in all my time studying this subject.  I’m not sure whether it was the incredibly high level of humidity in the air or the rapidly changing atmospheric pressure due to the imminent rain in the forecast that caused all the commotion, but corks were flying through the air as though we had stepped back in time to when cellar workers under the direction of Dom Perignon called the exploding bottles in his cellar the 'Devil's Wine'.  Last year at the same event, our group sabred 14 bottles with not a hiccup.  I should pause to explain that sabreing Champagne and sparkling wine is both highly unpredictable and slightly dangerous in the wrong hands; you must exercise caution when attempting this at home.  I estimate that I have sabred close to 100 bottles in total without incident. Today though the story was quite different:  

To sabre Champagne or sparkling wine, you must loosen the cage to expose the lip of the bottle (for a clean strike).  Normally when unfastening the muselet (cage), one must maintain downward pressure on the stopper to prevent a ‘premature pop’.  When sabreing this is not possible for obvious reasons making the exercise a touch risky on the best of days.  As we loosened the cages on the bottles today, amazingly the corks ejected on their own, catching everyone off guard; one bottle even exploded in my hand as I touch it with the sabre.  At the end of the day, only one attempt at saberage was successful, and that was the Mumm Rosé; the bottle of French descent.   

In all, an very exciting day spent tasting fantastic wines paired with delicious appetizers.  To watch Tyler demonstrate how to sabre a bottle of bubbly Click here ~> Sabre Demo 


Chablis vs. Côte de Beaune

Everyone has a favourite taste when it comes to wine.  Yours might be a semi-sweet Riesling, a crisp Pinot Grigio, or maybe even a jammy California Cab, but for me, my preference is for the white wines of Burgundy.  I truly believe that the longer one spends sampling fine wine, the fonder they become of this traditional region for its uniqueness of style and taste. 

Contrary to popular belief, white Burgundy is not always a product of the Chardonnay grape; there is indeed a tremendous amount of low-end white plonk crafted from the Aligoté variety as well. For our tasting today however, we compare the difference in style between high-end wine from Chablis and the Côte de Beaune, both which must represent Chardonnay without exception.

There are so many strong opinions when you ask people about Chardonnay:  Some prefer the aggressively oaked wines of the new frontier while others enjoy the soft wood flavours and tradition of the old. There is also a strong camp that does not favour oak influence whatsoever, seeking out instead, a wine that reflects a greater degree of minerality and/or a fruit forward style.

Today, I’ve asked the North of 9 tasting group to determine their own preference by sampling two unoaked Chardonnays from Chablis and two barrel aged wines from the Côte de Beaune.  As a comparison, we’ll also include an oaked example from the great 2007 vintage right here in Ontario.  Let’s see what the group thinks…

The wines are listed below in order of sampling:

2008 Domaine Bernard Defaix, Chablis 1er cru, Côte de Lechet
2007 Remoissenet Père & Fils, Meursault
2007 Stratus, Chardonnay
2000 Louis Michel & Fils, Chablis 1er cru, Montmain
2005 Domaine Roux Père & Fils, Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru, les Macherelles

The wines…

2008 Domaine Bernard Defaix, Chablis 1er cru, Côte de Lechet
Our first wine of the day added a citrus infused start to the tasting.  There is no mistaking this one as unoaked; perhaps a bit aggressive initially but it did soften with some time in the glass.

2007 Remoissenet Père & Fils, Meursault
This is textbook Meursault and an absolute pleasure to drink.  As the afternoon continued, this wine became richer and increasingly more full bodied to the point where I’d almost say that it was overpowering.  Fantastic though - if you like buttery chardonnay.

2007 Stratus, Chardonnay
A fascinating aroma of floral scented soap caught me off guard with this Ontario Chardonnay.  Stratus uses 100% Burgundy oak for the production of this wine and while initially the oak influence was not prominent, after an hour or so it came on strong displaying characteristics similar to that of the ’07 Meursault.  A touch of heat on the finish reflects the high degree of alcohol in this wine but kudos to Stratus for their solid and highly unique Côte de Niagara!

2000 Louis Michel & Fils, Chablis 1er cru, Montmain
Typically, white Burgundy will last 7-10 years in the cellar as it gains complexity along the way.  It would appear though that we have just missed the peak with this premier cru example; the spark is still there but unfortunately the flame has faded.  When tasted alongside the breaded seabass appetizer, the wine seemed to reenergize and suddenly hints of apples and white fruit added to the tasting experience.       

2005 Domaine Roux Père & Fils, Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru, les Macherelles
Whoah! I’m not sure, I might have played this one up to the point were it had to taste good but wow, what a fantastic wine.  Village level Chassagne-Montrachet is always good but to sample a premier cru is certainly special.  There is a balance in this wine and a common ground; it is not as oak influenced as the Meursault, but is much softer than the Chablis offering greater complexity on the palate and perfect amount of fruit, acidity and hints of spice on the finish.  They say nothing can compare to the great wines of Le Montrachet, the Grand Cru vineyard across the road from les Macherelles.  But if it is indeed better than this example, then I fully understand why people pay such an incredible price to own a bottle.  Wow!  

The group tasted all five wines and ranked them in order of personal preference.  The top three are listed below:

1.  2005 Dmn Roux, Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru, les Macherelles
2.  2007 Remoissenet, Meursault
3.  2007 Stratus, Chardonnay

I’m not at all surprised by the outcome today; the oaked samples of the Côte de Beaune were drinking beautifully while the crisper wines of Chablis, though still very good did not display the same level of finesse. 

If I can give you a piece of advice on white Burgundy, it would be to know your producer before buying the wine; do a little research on the vineyard and domaine before you commit and secondly, don’t over-chill high-end Chardonnay no matter where it is from, it mutes the aroma and masks the taste of what is undoubtedly the greatest of all white wines.

I would like to thank our members: Ann/Ed, Stephen/Krista, and Jim for their very generous contributions to this tasting session.

Next month we sabre bubbly on the patio… I’m off to find my sword right now!



The Hostage of CondrieuFrench legend says that long ago a trade ship traveling north from the Mediterranean Sea toward the growing town of Lyon was carrying Syrah grapes destined for planting in Beaujolais. The ship would not arrive at its planned destination however, intercepted instead by a group of bandits who stole the cargo for their own use. Unknowingly, mixed within the payload of young Syrah vines were a few stems of a white variety called Viognier. Unaware of the difference, the local farm hands planted the vines in the vicinity of a place now known as Condrieu.

Stubborn, unpredictable, and unreliable are only a few of the adjectives tossed around in frustration by many winemakers having attempted to make good wine from the difficult Viognier grape.

This challenging nature is what makes Viognier fascinating for inquisitive minds and those in pursuit of something slightly off the frequently traveled path.  In terms of varietal character, the grape can be rather overpowering, showing both a strong aroma and taste.  On its own Viognier has become an alternative for the many once Chardonnay drinkers and when blended, Viognier adds a fragrant softness to the powerful Syrah/Shiraz of Northern Rhone and South Australia

Viognier has never been a popular variety.  In fact, at one point not long ago, only 35 acres remained planted in all of France.  Today, the tables have turned and in addition to massive expansion in Frances Rhône, Languadoc, and Roussillon regions, Viognier is now successfully cultivated throughout the world.  

We tasted five wine this afternoon, each profiling a variation of wine making technique, regional climate, and growing conditions in their respective countries.  The wines are listed below in order of tasting:

2008 Yalumba, ‘Y-Series’
2009 Sandhill, Small Lots
2008 François Villard, Terrasses du Palat
2009 Anakena, Single Vineyard
2009 McManis

The wines...

2008 Yalumba, Y-Series - Australia
Rich yellow colour with aromas of lemon, honey, and brown sugar.  Somewhat unbalanced in terms of acidity but it did mellow after an hour or so in the glass.  Okay on it’s own but much better with food. 

2009 Sandhill, Small Lots Viognier - Canada
Shockingly deep yellow in the glass; it looks like a thick syrupy sweet wine but the nose is lifted by soft floral notes intermixed with honeydew melon.  The oak influence is obvious but not overpowering and a pronounced white pepper finish only added to the pleasure; this one did seem to lack acidity.

2008 François Villard, Terrasses du Palat - France
Stunning old world Viognier; notes of fungus and earth mixed with white fruit and a hint of flowers; someone in the group said it smelled like François' feet!  But most of us found this example from Condrieu beautifully balanced, tasting of melon and very mild citrus followed by a lovely lingering aftertaste.  Expensive but very good.

2009 Anakena, Single Vineyard - Chile  
Aromas of white flowers and lychee; a hint of sweetness on the palate with a slight grapefruit twist; fairly light bodied but nicely balanced.  This one is good both on its own and with food.

2009 McManis - United States 
It’s the same colour as Lemon-Love Fruitopia!  There's also a very slight effervescence which settles on the surface and looks like soap scum; the wine is light, simple, and easy drinking, but I do suggest drinking this one well chilled.

The following are the top three wines as chosen by the North of 9 group in order of preference:

1.       2008 François Villard
2.       2009 Anakena
3.       2009 Sandhill

Incredibly complex in terms of both aroma and taste, the wine from Condrieu, France stole the show today.  When compared to the other selections in the tasting, this wine from François Villard appeared to be in a class of it’s own.  But then for three times the price, I suppose it should be…

The Anakena, Single Vineyard offering was drinking beautifully as well today and was voted second best by the majority of the group. 

Finishing in third place behind the Chilean, but not by much, was British Columbia’s Sandhill, Small Lot program Viognier.  In total, only 615 cases of this wine were made in 2009.  By comparison, 16000 cases of the McManis wine we tasted today were produced in the same vintage making the B.C. rarity a real treat to sample.

If you are one of the many people who bypass bottles of Viognier on the store shelf to reach for something more familiar, I strongly recommend that you give this wine a try the next time you are in need of a really good bottle of white wine.

Next month we taste and compare the different styles of fortified wine – see you then!



I am a huge advocate of Amarone.  A well made example will stand second to no other wine and nothing else can make such a profound impact on one's palate as this rich Italian red - not even a jammy Cali Cab, an over-hyped Bordeaux, nor a big Aussie fruit bomb, they simply don't have the stuffing!  Today, we seek out the classic Amarone powerhouse.

Amarone is a result of the appasimento method, the process of partially drying fully ripened whole grape clusters to concentrate the juice and sugar content.  The grape varieties used in the production are Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara and approximately 40% of the grape's mass is lost during appasimento which leaves behind dehydrated raisin-like fruit. Good ventilation in the drying house prevents the development of Botrytis (noble rot) so highly sought after in French Sauternes and German Trockenbeerenauslese wines but unwanted in Italy's great Amarone.  Typically, the grape must is fermented until completely dry and thus all residual sugar is converted to alcohol.  As stipulated by the wine's DOCG status, Amarone must be at least 14% alc/vol and most are elevated well beyond that.     

Today we sample five wines, they are listed below in order of tasting:

2004 Luigi Righetti
1993 Villa Bellini
2006 Corte Majoli
2000 Cesari, Bosan
2004 Zenato

This was a great opportunity to sample a range of vintages and the amount of variation across the five bottles was tremendous. We asked the Bistro to 'beef-up' the appetizers today in preparation for the weight of these wines and yet again Chef Jay at Bistro Seven Seven left us all flabbergasted by his culinary skills. 

The wines...

2004 Luigi Righetti
Initially some earthy notes followed by sour cherry which became quite pronounced. Quite light on the palate for the style; more like a high end Valpolicella with a good core of red fruit which developed nicely as the afternoon progressed.  A very enjoyable bottle. 

1993 Villa Bellini
Interesting nose of truffle, green pepper, mushrooms, and underbrush.  A very thin wine and we actually questioned the possibility of oxidation initially but later concluded the wine was likely past its prime, though still quite good in a 'funky' kind of way (much like the '81 Haut Brion we tasted in May 2010).

2006 Corte Majoli
Some licorice on the nose. Initially light but it quickly filled out to become medium bodied with some air.  Some figs and spice, this one paired beautifully with the lamb pot-pie appetizer. A bit young was the consensus - let it cellar for a few more years and see what develops.

2000 Cesari, Bosan
BOOM!  Now this is an Amarone!  Big, bold, and powerful.  Very old world - dry and complex; dark fruit, some spice and no hard edges whatsoever.  An incredible wine!

2004 Zenato
Spectacular again!  Amarone with perhaps a more new world twist. Ultra rich, viscous, port-like and lip-smacking good.  Drinking beautifully now.
The group tasted and ranked the wines in terms of personal preference. The top three favourites are listed below:
  • 2004 Zenato
  • 2000 Cesari, Bosan
  • 2006 Corte Majoli
In terms of 'wow factor', the tasting was a bit slow to get started but I think that once we hit the jackpot with the 2000 Cesari Bosan, our keen tasting team clearly understood what all the fuss and anticipation was about.  The Cesari Bosan, our second place wine was perhaps the greatest expression of the Amarone style even though the ’04 Zenato took first place today in terms of group preference, likely for its fruit forward style.  Both wines were absolutely spectacular.  In third place today, though not quite in the same league, was the 2006 Corte Majoli which while very enjoyable, will likely develop into something much greater with a few years on its side... The other two bottles were fascinating in their own way and I actually overheard someone say they enjoyed all the wines equally.  

Thank-you Gary/Joy and Jim for your very generous wine donations for this tasting.

See you all next month for the highly perfumed 'Viognier'.



Tasted February 13th, 2011

Though rather cumbersome to pronounce, Gewurztraminer (Guh-verts-tra-mee-ner) is one of the most enjoyable white wines to sip both on its own and with food. The history of this grape dates back centuries and likely stems from Italy's Traminer grape.   Over time, the green Traminer has evolved/mutated to become the pink-skinned Gewurz-traminer that we are familiar with today.   Gewurtz literally means 'spicy' but these wines tend to display more floral characteristics than actual spice.  

Today we sampled three labels from Alsace, one from Ontario, and another from Chile.  The vintages span from 2001 to a very rescent 2010 and touch three continents each famous for its own style and winemaking technique.  

2008 Wunsch et Mann, Alsace, France
2008 Malivoire, Ontario, Canada
2003 Dopff 'au Moulin', Alsace, France
2010 Cono Sur - Vision, Chile
2001 Pierre Sparr, Alsace, France

We began with the 2008 Wunsch et Mann from Alsace which showed a lovely nose of citrus and spice.  On the palate the wine was initially quite subdued but after an hour or so came alive with clean flavours of white fruit;  'the perfect summer sipper' someone said.   Next up was Ontario's 2008 Malivoire from the Beamsville Bench sub-appellation of the Niagara Peninsula.  Quite different from the first wine, this one was nearly colourless not showing any evidence of the pink skinned grapes from which it was pressed. The Malivoire smelled of peaches and soap, interesting; a bigger wine, fuller in the mouth while still displaying the typical Gewurztraminer flavours; a little flat on the mid-palate but on the whole a nice wine with just a touch of effervescence.  Third in the lineup was an older French bottling from Dopff of Alsace:  the color here definitely showed the wine's age:  deep yellow but with ripe citrus notes and a pronounced sweetness on the palate; 'delicate' in a word, soft, flavourful but at the same time very different in terms of Gewurztraminer.  Moving to the southern hemisphere, we sample a wine from Chile, the 2010 Cono Sur, single vineyard Gewürztraminer. South America has exploded on to the wine scene in recent years with a plethora of great wines and this effort is no different:  definitely of the 'new world' in terms of aroma and flavour:  peach - and lots of it, lychee fruit and some apple plus a touch of sparkle here too; quite lovely.  Last in line was the 2001 Pierre Sparr Reserve:  at 10 years old, this wine unfortunately was on its slow decline having past its peak a few years ago.  This sample lacked much of the character that Sparr is famous for.  It's worth searching out a more resent bottling of this wine for a more accurate assessment of its potential. 

The group tasted and ranked the wine in terms of personal preference.  The top three wines are listed below in order of their ranking:
  1. 2008 Wunsch et Mann
  2. 2003 Dopff  'au moulin'            
  3. 2010 Cono Sur 
The favourite of the day, by far, was the Alsatian Wunsch et Mann, while the second and third place wines ranked so closely together that it seems almost unfair to differentiate between the two. Interestingly, the wine of the day, the '08 Wunsch et Mann is the producer's entry level effort which was preferred over several other 'premium labels' which once again demonstrates that by not revealing details such as cost, grading, and vintage conditions, the group is left only with their love of wine and personal preference for style and taste; a clear demonstration that the best wines are not always the most expensive.

Certainly one of the most enjoyable tastings from my perspective - Thank you everyone for participating and for the generous donations from our membership.

See you next month for the seductive taste of Amarone... I'm already working on the appetizers!



Tasted January 9th, 2011

It's been two months since we tasted together as a group at the Bistro Seven Seven.  In December, we held our Holiday Mystery Tasting (blind tasting) at Jacquie and Tyler's home featuring several of the wines previously sampled at our tutored tastings.  We should probably commend the lovely Jacquie for identifying all but one of the wines by grape variety correctly - well done my dear!  

Today we explore the amazing history of Merlot.  Do you consider world's the third most planted grape a primary varietal or a winemaker's secret tool? In California and Washington State, they often bottle perfectly ripened Merlot as a stand-alone varietal whereas in Bordeaux, the grape is considered dominant on the Right-Bank and the perfect complement to the more structured and often tannic Cabernet Sauvignon on the Left side of the Gironde. Merlot is grown throughout the world in countries such as:  Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, and Italy but today, we will focus on the greatest examples of both the new world and the old - the United States and France.  Since we have two bottles from the US west coast we'll also include one from a little further north: Canada's beautiful Okanogan Valley in BC.   

The new world represents an international style and preference for ripeness and full body whereas the old is the symbol of finesse and delicacy.  The wines sampled are listed below in order tasting:

2005 Chateau Barde-Haute, St. Emilion
2000 Chalk Hill, California
2006 Quails' Gate, British Columbia
2008 Charles Shaw Merlot, California
2006 Chateau La Confession, St. Emilion

In fairness, the first wine tasted, the 2005 Chateau Barde-Haute was still quite young, though we did decant this one early in the afternoon to allow some breathing time.  While the intensity of the Barde-Haute did mellow somewhat, the wine seemed slightly out-of-sorts; another 5-7 years in the cellar we all agreed. Incidentally, I tasted the Haute-Barde the following day, and it was lovely; my favourite of the lot in fact.  Next up, the 2000 Chalk Hill, Estate Bottled Merlot.  Judging by its brick-hue colour, the age of this wine was obvious.  The inital aromas of were of mushroom and fungal characteristic and we agreed that with 10 years under cork, the wine may very well have been shocked by the reintroduction to oxygen.  On the palate however, the Sonoma County example still possessed a good fruit core and over the afternoon developed a really nice flavour profile while still retaining it's earthiness. Our Canadian entry, the 2006 Quails' Gate from British Columbia was lovely and the favourite of several members; thinner in body when compared to the first two but a very nice balance of fruit and acidity.  Having not originated from France or the US, the Quails' Gate was the perceived exception in the lineup today and inadvertently took the focus off what would come next:

The group was unaware of the next wine's identity or that they would be tasting a legend (so to speak) in California's quest for 'world wine domination'.   To spring a bottle of this calibre is a fairly old trick in the wine tasting world and I was sure that someone in the group might recognize the label and spoil the effect.  While we don't taste blind, this one needed to be a surprise to maximize the shock value.  Blaming the humidity in my cellar for the label's absence, I introduced the bottle as 100% Merlot from the Bronco Wine Co., the monopoly that owns and bottles the Charles Shaw line of wines aka."Two Buck Chuck".  So how was it? 'Simple wine' someone said, another: 'there is no aftertaste' while still another: ' I love it!'  Personally, I think the stuff tastes like fruit punch combined with Thrills chewing gum but if it tickles your fancy, all the better for your wallet I suppose.  But the question remains: does a bottle of 'Two Buck Chuck" actually have what it takes to best the other four bottles, each the product of skilled winemaking and tradition?  We shall see...

The last wine in our line up today was the 2006 Chateau La Confession from Saint Emilion.  The colour here was surprising considering the vintage;  2006 Bordeaux is typically noted for producing lighter bodied wines for early consumption but this example was deep purple and shockingly concentrated.  At four years old, the La Confesssion was too young to truly appreciate. Give it another 5 years we agreed, this wine has the stuffing to become something spectacular.

Our group tasted and ranked the wines in terms of personal preference. The top three wines are listed below:
  1. 2000 Chalk Hill 
  2. 2006 Quails' Gate
  3. 2008 Charles Shaw 'Two Buck Chuck'
The results were all over the board today with a mix of preferences. The Chalk Hill placed first by its total points accumulated but did not receive the most first place votes - that was the 'Two Buck Chuck'.  The reason the Charles Shaw wine finished third and not higher in the ranking was simply because those who did not prefer this wine, thoroughly detested it! Canada's Quails' Gate was ranked third by almost the entire group though with the sporadic ranking of the other samples, the BC Merlot slid comfortably in to second place.

Thank-you Jim, Gary and Joy for your generous bottle donations!
Next month, we switch to white wine and taste Gewürztraminer. See you then.