January 31, 2009

Cono Sur Organic Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

They seem to be quite proud of the bicycle thing at Cono Sur - it's the way their workers get to the vineyard, apparently. Ties in with the organic philosophy / marketing spin; I guess their vines are treated humanely and allowed to roam free across the valle central. Not like those bastards over at Concha y Toro, who must drive their gas-guzzlers into the vineyard to spray chemicals on grapes that are cruelly tied up for their entire life until brutally crushed to death. My conscience feels better already.

But apart from the political correctness, the wine is actually fantastic. It's mature and earthy but supple, with balanced tannins and great confident black berry and cherry flavours and a long, slightly peppery finish. We had this for dinner with pasta and a simple tomato sauce, and it didn't stand a chance. This would be great to taste on its own, and would be great with all kinds of meat and savory dishes.

I picked this up at the Wine Cellar, but I'm guessing you can find it for around ten bucks somewhere else. The merlot is rated highly. I'm definitely going to try more from Cono Sur. And I don't care whether the workers go home by bike or Hummer.

90 points (a bit of a reach, but I stand by it). $13.95 at the Wine Cellar.

January 30, 2009

Bodegas Piqueras Marques de Rojas 2007

Love the label, and the back has an equally good story: "Almansa in the South East of Spain was a Republican stronghold duning the Spanish civil war where the local women who took up the struggle were known as 'Las Rojas'. Many of the vines survive from this era...."

Now then, the wine itself is 100% grenache ("garnacha") and is bold, plummy with a great balance and structure. Actually it would make a kick-ass sangria. It smells a lot like port but is not overpowering to drink. I have to admit, it's not my favorite, probably more because of the varietal that the winemaker, but it does grow on you a bit. It's a little too sour for my taste to really get a top grade (I'm finding too much acidity is a real turn-off these days for some reason). I'd probably not buy it again if it were $18, but for half that it's a good value and will probably show up again on our shelf. At that price, I don't even feel bad about using it for sangria, which has traditionally been reserved for our crappiest wines (really, an undrinkable red wine makes great sangria - try it!).

86 points. $8.99

January 20, 2009

M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône 2006

We bought this one because I was looking for the white version which was highly recommended by Wine Access magazine (89 points, under $20, available in Alberta - perfect). We haven't found that one yet, but since this was on the shelf we gave it a try.

The red Maison Chapoutier is a blend of grenache and syrah, and is not too full bodied, all of which is I think typical for a Côtes du Rhône. It is fairly acidic, too much for my taste which keeps me from giving it top marks, but not very tannic and it's a little meatier than most from the region (where, I just learned, they have been making wine for over 2000 years). I'm sure this would complement lamb or game dishes. Quite nice, and a pretty good value as well. We may have to bring this to a dinner tomorrow night hosted by a friend who (a) usually serves us roast lamb, and (b) almost exclusively drinks French wine. Definitely a step up from the cat on the egg.

86 points. $14.79 at Superstore.

Catena Malbec 2006

Here's a wine that demonstrates why you need to taste it yourself and trust your own instincts. Both the Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator give it 91 points, going on about how well layered it is and its long fleshy finish. I liked it, but thought it tasted a lot like sour cherry juice. Maybe the pros give more consideration as to how a wine will age, although they didn't say that and one review even noted explicitly to "drink now". I am by no means an expert on what a wine will be like a year or two from now based on how it tastes today, but IMHO this malbec will likely be better down the road when it's a little mellower and less acidic.

All in all it was pretty good, but not - in our view - outstanding. It would probably go best with a somewhat spicy meal with strong flavours like jambalaya or even fajitas. Have to make a mental note to come back to this one for a retaste to see if we still differ from the experts, or if we just had an off night.

On a totally unrelated note, the label reminds me of the Mayan pyramids that my daughters and their grandfather built on the beach in Mexico last year. Check it out:

86 points. $16.99

January 17, 2009

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2008

In a word - wow. This New Zealand malborough reminds me of Oyster Bay, but with perfectly balanced acid, aroma and flavour. It also reminds me of a couple of Okanagan favorites: Greata Ranch Ehrenfelser, and Wild Goose God's Head Reisling. This one has the same fruity bouquet but is more restrained. Some lime, grapefruit and violet I think. I wish it was summer and I had a bottle of this on ice in the cooler on the patio.

Kris thinks this may be the best white she's ever tasted. That's quite possible.

92 points. $19.99 at Superstore.

January 16, 2009

Penfold's Rawson's Retreat Shiraz Cabernet 2007

So, I left the rest of the Finca for Kris to try, and opened another bottle instead. We've had this one before - I always thought it was pretty good. But after that last malbec, it seems very ordinary. No bouquet, not much taste - some pepper and currant - and little sustain. Considering Australians are usually bold, juicy and full of flavour, this is fairly bland. A good table wine, but not a great one.

83 points. $9.79 at Superstore (we seem to be spending a lot of time there).

Finca Los Primos Malbec 2007

OK, we're getting serious about this Cheap Wine Night. I have a list of over 200 top-rated wines that cost under $20, although a lot of those are from an American wine website and are probably (a) more expensive here or (b) not available anyway. Also making up the list are selections from the Canadian magazine Wine Access feature "Best Wines under $25", but of those wines only some are available in Alberta. But, there are still enough to make for a decent scavenger hunt. We had a fun night last night slowly picking through the aisles in a couple of liquor stores, cross-checking our printed lists.

This malbec rated quite highly, so we were happy to find it at Superstore under ten bucks. It's delicious. The first thing that hits me is its earthiness. It's what I think of when Paul Giamatti's character in Sideways refers to a wine's character as "ancient". That was part of the big Pinot Noir soliloquy, but I think it applies here. The Finca has a purply plum colour and some plum flavour, all extremely well balanced with good character and unfortunately little finish. The wine is great for sipping on its own, but would be great with red meat dishes. Complex and drinkable.

Given the price, I would get this fantastic malbec again in a heartbeat.

90 points. $9.99 at Superstore.

January 9, 2009

Chat-en-Oeuf "Red" 2006

Kind of fitting that the first French wine in here has a cartoon of a cat on the label. If I can't get a free gift hanging around the neck of the bottle when I buy wine, then I go for the cartoon label next. This one is from the Cotes du Ventoux appellation in the Rhone region, not far from Chateauneuf-du-Pape as you may have guessed from the name of the wine. If you like this type of humour, then you'll love "Goats do Roam" and "Bored Doe".

Chat-en-Oeuf is made with grenache and syrah, which are typical for the region. I actually opened this last night and had a glass, but I was too tired and just went to bed. I thought it was better last night, maybe it doesn't oxidize well even though I screwed the cap on tight. The back label promotes itself with lots of adjectives like "mouth-filling" and "juicy", but it's fairly thin and ordinary to me. I would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this one and a Sonora Ranch red. Mostly earthy and a little heavy on tannin, and practically no nose or finish. Maybe a little more complex, but honestly a bit disappointing. We don't drink a lot of French wines, but the ones we do - the ones Robert Parker doesn't get to - have been underwhelming. Despite the non-snooty marketing and bargain bin price, I'd pass on this next time. Well, maybe I'd try it once more and drink it fresh just to make sure.

81 points. $9.89 at Superstore.

Cheap Wine Night!

We've decided to host a cheap wine tasting evening in a couple of weeks. We've asked five couples to bring two bottles: one under $20 and one under $10. We plan a blind tasting with a couple of prizes for best-in-show and best value. We've never hosted such a thing before, let alone attended one, so it should be interesting.

So, as we do our "research" (wink wink) for this event, we'll be restricting ourselves to the $20 and under categories for a little while. Even more than usual.