Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Vineland Estates 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon - $24.95

Diving into the cellar for this week’s Weekly Wine Note we come up with a bottle of Vineland Estates 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine’s last retail price that I am aware of was $24.95, but I would not be surprised if it’s stock has gone up due to the impressive way the wine is developing. Now 4 years removed from the vine the wine is shaping up beautifully, but you’ll need to decant this one prior to serving, or open it up an hour or so before. I poured it into a Bordeaux-style Spiegelau glass and aerated it like crazy – because this is still a big, bold, brawny wine. Lots of dark fruit and spiciness on the nose, with a heavily tannic/oaky smell … in fact, it hurt my nassle passages to sniff if for too long. The taste is really starting to take shape, with plenty of influence from the wood it was aged in. Look for lots of spices, including cinnamon and pepper, along with hints of vanilla lurking in the shadows. This wine remains one of my cellar candidates for the next 5 to 7 years … so if you’ve got some, hold it. Available at the winery only, if at all.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

20 Bees 2005 Cabernet Merlot - $12.95

If you go to the LCBO website, the tasting note for this wine says “Price subject to change without notice” … and I thought to myself “there must be more to say about this wine”. Let’s start with the packaging … if animals are selling wine these days then 20 Bees is on the right track. The bottle is eye-catching, with yellow and black stripes on the Stelvin-sleeve and screw cap – the picture on the label is cute too. But unfortunately that’s where the impressiveness of this wine stops. The nose is non-descript, the taste is leather, oak and earth (and that’s because I’m searching for terms to describe it). It’s certainly drinkable, quaffable in large amounts even; but there’s nothing really grab you by the bottle (if you know what I mean) – there’s nothing there to make you stand up and take notice. The person I shared this wine with said “it reminds me of an inoffensive Italian table wine, you know the kind they serve in those mom and pop places. There’s no tannin. It’s smooth, easy drinking and … bland.”

Maybe I was too gung-ho about trying this wine from this Niagara-on-the-Lake based co-op: 19 growers and one chief winemaker (20 bees, get it?) got together to, quote, “make great tasting unpretentious wine at an unpretentious price”. Well, they succeeded at the price part, but at what cost? While the bottle is eye-catching, the wine lacks the depth and structure to really make it stand out. With all the pomp-and-circumstance, the media coverage and the years of experience of the people behind it that went into this brand, I just expected a little more from it. Do all these growers have a say in the outcome of the wine? And if they did, did too many bees dilute the honey? For now I will reserve too strong a judgment on this wine and let them find their voice, or taste, in the Ontario wine landscape. Let’s just say it’s a decent attempt for a first release, and cross our collective fingers that the 20 Bees figure it out better in 2006.

Does anyone else have an opinion on this wine? Did I miss something? Please let me know. Available at the LCBO.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Battle of the ‘Boise: Southbrook vs. Downey’s (Framboise challenge) – $14.95 each

At this year’s Toronto Wine and Cheese Show (2006), best sweet fruit wine was won by Downey’s Estate Winery Framboise. “That’s because we didn’t enter ours,” says winemaker Steve Byfield, of the perennial winner in the category, Southbrook Winery; while over at Downey’s those are fightin’ words. We take the battle out of the bottle and into the glass to see who’s Framboise is better. Six tasters weigh in to help me make the decision:

Downey’s Estate Winery Framboise - $14.95 … 14.9% (375ml)
Less sweet than the Southbrook version with higher alcohol, which some tasters claimed was right upfront on both the taste and nose: “the alcohol was very prominent to the wine, it’s the first thing that hit me”. This Framboise is lighter, both in colour and consistency than it’s Southbrook counterpart. Some tasters comments were: “it tastes more like the real thing, like fresh raspberries” and was more “pleasantly pungent”, “truer to the smell of raspberries”. Overall, Downey’s Framboise is lighter in colour, thinner on the palate with more alcohol – but true to what you’d expect a raspberry wine would be like. Final analysis: very good and tasty.

Southbrook Framboise - $14.95 … 14.5% (375 ml)
Definitely sweeter than the Downey’s version, richer in the mouth and a deep red in colour. Southbrook’s Framboise was described as “thicker, almost syrupy”; “definitely a dessert wine”; “I could see pouring this over ice cream, pie, or even cooking with it”. Other comments made were “smooth”, “viscous” and “perfumey”. The lowdown on this wine: fresh raspberries with a sprinkling of sugar on top, and it was consistently ranked sweeter then it’s Downey’s rival.

The final result was 3 – 3 … no clear-cut winner this time round, a sure sign that personal taste always wins. Those who enjoy sweet liked the Southbrook, while those who enjoy lighter flavoured wines enjoyed Downey’s. The good news is that nobody disliked either wine, the panel thought they were both excellent and very enjoyable. I guess it is now up to you to decide … then weigh in with your opinion.

Southbrook Framboise available at the LCBO and the winery - Downey's Framboise available at the winery only.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Angels Gate 2005 Emerald Shore Chardonnay - $15.95

There aren’t many really good semi-sweet Chardonnays out there, but Angels Gate has made a delightful stab at it. Blending the standard Chardonnay with the more aromatic Chardonnay Musque they end up with this semi-sweet sipper (or off-dry if you prefer). A nose of floral, peach, lime, pineapple and mango is followed by the cockle-warming taste of white peach and pineapple on a short finish. Quite enjoyable and tasty …what a treat when out on the patio these (hopefully) warm late-summer, early-autumn, days. Makes a great alternative to straight dry-Chardonnay, or even your typical Riesling. Their website proclaims "devilishly good wine" - with this one I would agree. Available at the winery only.