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  • Date publishedSunday, February 27, 2011

13th Street Gamay Noir 2008 VQA Niagara Peninsula - Review

Just purchased this last week from the latest Vintages Release (see post from February 19th for my full list picks). Normally I shy away from Gamay's - they taste different, but this one got a good review.

13TH STREET GAMAY NOIR 2008 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#177824) - $17.95

Tasting Note:
Black cherry, burnt toast, smoke, raspberry and some vanilla aromas. Black cherry, raspberry, menthol flavours. Touch of acidity at mid-length, finishes smooth with some bitterness. Medium-bodied. Some light tannins make it ageable, but definitely ready to drink now. Having this tonight with oven-baked chicken.

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  • Date publishedSunday, February 27, 2011

The Oenophile's Guide to Grape Sex

Wine grapes have been sex-starved for centuries to satisfy our palates.

So keep that stem to yourself, Mr. Merlot. Only viticulturists get to touch the likes of luscious Ruby Cabernet. Otherwise, a wine’s flavour can be dramatically altered when plant nookie occurs naturally in fields from Bordeaux to the Niagara region.

That abstinence has been great for the discriminating oenophile, but not so great for the grape.

It’s been farmed to remain chaste over 8,000 years while filling amphora, flagons and, more recently, crystal stemware with modern vintages pressed from cloned berries not much different from those fermented by ancient civilizations.

The lack of fruity booty action means grapes have become one large, genetically stagnant family — which makes the crop vulnerable to ever-evolving diseases, pests and fungi, says Canadian geneticist Sean Myles.

“If the grapes don’t change and the pathogens do, then it’s an arms race between pathogen and the host,” says Myles, a researcher at Cornell University who’s developed a gene chip that quickly identifies genetic traits in grapes.

Myles would like to see some pulp friction — the breeding of new grapes to find pest- and disease-resistant plants. His gene chip could speed up this experimentation by years, if not decades, to detect hardy, wine-worthy plants.

The problem: Breeding is expensive and time-consuming. It could take 30 years for a new hybrid grape to become commercially available. Many experiments don’t make it to market at all.

Europe is slower to embrace change, but Canada — a newbie in the wine game — is not.

The l’Acadie grape, for instance, is a hardy 20th century cultivar born and bred in Vineland. It turned out that Ontario’s summers were too hot for the grape, but Nova Scotia’s cooler climes were perfect.

“I find in the new world, we tend to be more willing to try things because we’re not burdened by tradition,” says Ed Madronich, chair of the Wine Council of Ontario and president of Flat Rock Cellars in Jordan, Ont.

“We have hybrids where we’ve crossed breeds . . . with (native) labrusca grapes that are winter-resistant and (cultivated) vinifera varieties to create things like baco noir, a big bold red that people love and we can grow here in Niagara.”

Myles led a team of researchers that studied more than 1,000 samples of the domesticated grape Vitis vinifera and its wild relative, sylvestris, from batches in Geneva, N.Y., and Davis, Calif. The team extracted DNA from grape leaves to develop a genetic fingerprint for each vine using more than 5,000 sites in the fruit genome. Their work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January.

What Myles didn’t expect to discover was that 75 per cent of grape cultivars (plants bred for certain characteristics) are directly related as parent, offspring or sibling.

It’s a tight bond that allows vintners to perfect their wines by growing clones, which are genetically identical plants snipped from existing stock. Should natural plant sex unexpectedly occur from winds blowing fertile matter across neighbouring vineyards, it’s not unusual for those offspring to be weeded out.

“Once we have a plant that we like a lot, we don’t want it to have (natural) sex because it will change that plant,” says Gina Haverstock, a Nova Scotia winemaker and Myles’ wife.

“It might change the flavour of the grape, it might change the growth habit, it might change many things.”

Stubborn loyalty to go-to grapes may present problems for growers if chemical insecticides and fungicides are banned — a day many in the industry feel is coming as consumers increasingly demand untainted food and drink.

“A lot of regions are still using varieties that have been vegetatively propagated for hundreds of years,” says Myles, “and that doesn’t really make a lot of sense scientifically but it makes a lot of sense commercially, so it’s a conundrum.

“When it comes to horticulture, grapes are so much more romanticized than any other crop. People don’t realize they are requiring quite a bit of (chemical) spray. Seventy per cent of the fungicide used in the U.S. is used on grapes. (Grapes) need to be treated chemically in order to produce the amounts we demand (for wine).”

Wineries will have to think outside the Tetra Pak should governments outlaw chemical sprays.

Myles says growers have three main options: breed hardier varieties of grapes (his gene chip comes in handy here), go completely organic (a labour-intensive prospect for high-volume commercial businesses, or use genetically modified strains to combat insects and pathogens.

Traditional wine markets have survived one sweeping, deadly scare — barely.

In the 19th century, European vineyards were almost wiped out by the phylloxera louse.

A desperate but successful fix was found in grafting shoots onto American root stalk, which was resistant to the aphid. Yet after that disaster, growers didn’t aggressively continue to diversify.

More recently, that attitude is changing, with research and development picking up in Germany, Italy and France, notes Myles.

In Ontario, the industry tries to keep chemical sprays to a minimum, but sometimes they’re necessary to save crops, Madronich says.

“We know we’d like to reduce sprays. We know that mildew (a rot) is a problem for us and we know there are bugs and insects affecting grape vines, but we tend to find solutions.”

Those solutions can be a blend of chemical, organic and old-fashioned elbow grease, says Madronich.

His Flat Rock Cellars is not an organic operation, but when rot and bugs appear, his 32 hectares of plants are first hand-tended. Leaves are clipped by hand for better air flow to prevent rot taking hold when hot, humid, rainy weather smothers the area. Powdery and downy mildew are two types that might require chemical fungicide, since they can quickly decimate a crop.

Though the grapes aren’t having sex, the mating game is used to deceive a killer pest: the grape berry moth.

Pheromone traps are set away from the plants to lure the male moth to a scent he believes is from a female moth. The trap confuses the unfortunate bug, which lives for about 24 hours, and curtails the need for insecticide.

“We tend not to use insecticide, but if I ever had a really serious insect problem, I would use it because I’m a small business and (an infestation) could ruin my business,” Madronich says.

The largest centres of Canadian winemaking are in British Columbia and southern Ontario. However, Nova Scotia is emerging as a plucky upstart, using l’Acadie blanc wine to bump up its output, says Haverstock, the winemaker at Gaspereau Vineyards near Wolfville, N.S.

Sipping wines with DNA rooted in antiquity is an oenophile’s pleasure — after all, he or she may be drinking much the same thing a Renaissance king enjoyed. But surely there’s room on the wine lover’s palate for newer tastes.

People like Haverstock are banking on it.

Written by Mary Ornsby. Source -

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  • Date publishedWednesday, February 23, 2011

Review: Magnotta Oak Aged Cabernet Sauvignon, Ontario, Canada

Tonight's wine is from Magnotta (Ontario, Canada) - the Oak Aged Cabernet Sauvignon. There was no vintage on the label, so I'm not sure how old it is.

Tasting Note:
Strong raisin and plum aromas follow through on the palate. Very lightly oaked, slightly tannic. Light- to Medium-bodied. Normally, I enjoy wines from Magnotta, but this one I did not really enjoy. This is a light and fruity wine lacking oak depth. The label describing this wine was WAY off the actual flavour profile - perhaps it was aged too long.

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  • Date publishedSunday, February 20, 2011

Review: Château la Chèze 2005, Bordeaux, France

Choice for tonight was a 2005 Bordeaux.

CHÂTEAU LA CHÈZE 2005 - AC Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, France (#191007) - $18.95

Tasting Note:
Blackberry, currant, earth aromas and flavours. Spicy palate at mid-length. Medium-long finish. Still tannic and very chalky. Probably could have used another year or two in bottle for tannins to settle. It paired nicely with chicken and lamb meatballs.

  • Date publishedSaturday, February 19, 2011

Ontario Wines Strike Gold - February 19th Release

This Vintages Release features many Cabernet Sauvignon's from around the world, as well as the Ontario Wines which "struck gold" at recent Canadian Wine Awards. Here are my top choices:

Red Wine:
  • WAYNE GRETZKY NO. 99 ESTATE SERIES CABERNET/MERLOT 2007 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#128652) - $19.95
  • 13TH STREET GAMAY NOIR 2008 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#177824) - $17.95
  • NASHWAUK SHIRAZ 2007 - McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (#221788) - $19.95
  • WAKEFIELD ESTATE SHIRAZ 2008 - Clare Valley, South Australia, Australia (#943787) - $17.95
  • ABBONA PAPÀ CELSO 2008 - DOCG Dogliani, Piedmont, Italy (#193730) - $19.95
  • CHÂTEAU AU VIGNOBLE 2006 - AC Bordeaux Supérieur, France (#140004) - $15.95
  • COLUMBIA CREST H3 CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2007 - Horse Heaven Hills, Washington, USA (#210047) - $19.95
  • ANNE BOECKLIN RÉSERVE PINOT NOIR 2008 - AC Alsace, France (#196949) - $17.95
  • LA CHAMIZA POLO PROFESIONAL CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2009 - Mendoza, Argentina (#128595) - $12.95

White Wine:
  • DOMAINES SCHLUMBERGER LES PRINCES ABBÉS RIESLING 2007 - AC Alsace, France (#981662) - $18.95

  • FEATHERSTONE SELECT LATE HARVEST CABERNET FRANC 2008 - VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#210757) - $19.95 (375 mL) - If you've never tried a Late Harvest Cabernet Franc and you like sweet wines, then you should try this one.
  • CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES LATE HARVEST RIESLING 2007 - VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada (#432930) - $21.95 (375 mL)

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  • Date publishedWednesday, February 16, 2011

Review: Cat Amongst the Pigeons Alley Cat Shiraz/Grenache 2008

Wasn't feeling too well the last few days, so I was staying away from the wine and drinking warm Brandy with honey. Yummy. Feeling much better today, so here's what I am drinking tonight:

CAT AMONGST THE PIGEONS ALLEY CAT SHIRAZ/GRENACHE 2008 - Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia  (#127621) - $15.95

Tasting Note:
Minty blackberry, raspberry, basil aromas. All follow through on the palate. Finishes with earth notes. Chewy, ripe fruit. Smooth tannins. Not a big wine. Smooth and easy drinking with a medium-long finish.

  • Date publishedSunday, February 6, 2011

Review: Ontañon Crianza 2003 - DOC, Rioja, Spain

Ontañon Crianza 2003 - DOC, Rioja, Spain (#976910) - $14.95

Purchased this one back in 2007 and let it age in the basement. (It's not available at the LCBO anymore.)

Tasting Note:
Smoky blackberry, plum and black licorice aromas which follow through on the palate. Also notes of crushed red berries and leather. Spicy finish. Light- to medium-bodied and ripe. Definitely ready to drink now.

I'm not much a North American football fan, but I am enjoying this one on Super Bowl Sunday with some vegetable spring rolls, shrimp spring roll and jerk-style wings. Yummy.

  • Date publishedSaturday, February 5, 2011

February & Valentine's Day Release - Vintages Wine Picks

Here are my top picks from the today's Vintages Release. The release has a sub-theme on Tuscany, Valentine's Day, and has a spotlight on Washington State - I have chosen at least one from each.

Red Wine:
  • COLUMBIA CREST H3 MERLOT 2007 - Horse Heaven Hills, Washington, USA (#209874) - $19.95
  • LORNANO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2007 - DOCG, Tuscany, Italy (#211599) - $15.95
  • LE CINCIOLE CHIANTI CLASSICO 2007 - DOCG, Tuscany, Italy (#207795) - $19.95
  • RINGBOLT CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2008 - Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia (#606624) - $19.95
  • LANGA CENTENARIA GARNACHA 2006 - DO Calatayud, Spain (#194795) - $13.95
  • CHÂTEAU LE GRAND MOULIN 2008 - Cuvée Grande Réserve, AC Premières Côtes de Blaye, Bordeaux, France (#198994) - $15.95
  • GEORGE WYNDHAM FOUNDER'S RESERVE SHIRAZ 2007 - Langhorne Creek, South Australia, Australia (#107904) - $19.95
  • L.A. CETTO PETITE SIRAH 2008 - Guadalupe Valley, Baja California, Mexico (#983742) - $11.95
Previous vintages of the Ringbolt from Australia and L.A. Cetto from Mexico are a couple of my favourites. I recall the Mexican wine used to cost $9.95 - and was a steal!

White Wine:
  • JOSEPH CATTIN PINOT GRIS 2008 - AC Alsace, France (#196956) - $18.95
  • YEALANDS SAUVIGNON BLANC 2009 - Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (#199935) - $17.95

Rose Wine:
  • DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER ROSÉ DE CHEVALIER 2009 - AC Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux, France (#209734) - $18.95

  • FLOURISH VIDAL ICEWINE 2007 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#222356) - $18.95 (200 mL)
  • RED LEAF VIDAL ICEWINE 2006 - VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#179705) - $17.95 (200 mL)
  • FLAT ROCK CELLARS SWEET REVENGE VIDAL ICEWINE 2007 - VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (#047803) - $34.95 (375 mL)

  • Date publishedWednesday, February 2, 2011


Tonight's wine is a lovely white from the Piedmont region of Italy.

CASTELLARI BERGAGLIO SALLUVII GAVI 2009 - Piedmont, Italy (#185033) - $13.95

Tasting Note:
This Gavi has fresh lime/citrus, apple, pear aromas. All the aromas follow through on the palate. Crisp. Some oak ageing evident. Dry style that is very similar to a Chardonnay. First time trying a Gavi and I wouldn't hesitate to try another in the future.

Stay tuned for my next Vintage Wine Picks which will be published this Saturday.

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