Wine Review: Winter Warmers, Part 1

23 02 2018

By Dan Steeves

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

The end of February is slowly approaching and we are less than a month away from the first day of spring. That means warmer weather is in our sights and we soon won’t have to deal with any more snow, right? That might be wishful thinking, but we can certainly hope it is the case! Until that warmer weather shows up and takes permanent residency in the prairies, we will need to keep staying warm and spending our evenings huddled around the fireplace with a nice glass of full-bodied red wine. Although I personally drink all types of wines all throughout the year (nobody should deprive themselves of rosé for months on end), there is no doubt that I enjoy more red wines over the cooler winter months, not only for the warming effects of a 15% ABV Cabernet Sauvignon, but also because we tend to eat more hearty full-flavoured comfort foods during this time and less light and refreshing fare.

To get you through the next month until you start seeing green on the ground, we have reviewed a few robust red wines that will be great at keeping you warm and satisfied until the spring flowers start blooming. We kick off this two-part series with reviews of great value reds from two regions known for their big red wines:  Bordeaux, France and the Colchagua Valley, Chile.

Read the rest of this entry »


2013 Emiliana Novas Gran Reserva Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon

13 10 2016

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]


Chile: home of Carmenere and inexpensive quality.

If you were starting up a wine venture today and were looking to maintain high quality but stretch your viticultural buck as far as possible, you would almost certainly go to Chile.  While braver souls are now starting to venture to the more extreme climatic and geographical parts of the country in search of cutting-edge lands and the flavour potency and complexity that can come with them, those who stick to Chile’s warm central valley find themselves in something close to a grape-grower’s paradise:  warm, mild, consistent growing seasons, refreshing cooling breezes at night off the surrounding mountains and a relative lack of vineyard pests.  Since the Southern Hemispheric nation is fairly segregated from the rest of the world’s vineyard (with its closest main viticultural neighbour, Argentina, walled off by the Andes), it has managed to keep itself free from the devastating vineyard louse phylloxera, which has ravaged vines almost everywhere else and has required the bulk of the world’s wineries to graft their vines onto resistant North American rootstocks to allow their crops to survive.

What does all that mean from a commercial perspective?  It means that you can have a vineyard with a lot of beneficial, normally highly costly or dangerous features — organic viticulture, no pesticides or herbicides, own-rooted vines — without the associated price tag or risk of crop loss.  That allows you to make bottles like this one, a single-vineyard wine from 25 year-old vines planted on their own rootstocks, farmed organically and then hand-harvested, and then sell it to export markets at a shade over $15 a bottle.  That combination of price and input quality is basically impossible in the majority of the wine world. Read the rest of this entry »

Torres New/Old World Value Duet

8 09 2015

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

New/Old World.  Pink/red.  Value/value.

New/Old World. Pink/red. Value/value.

Over the past couple years, Torres has become my Old Reliable, the brand that never lets me down regardless which sub-$20 value offering I’m trying, regardless where in the world it’s from, and regardless of my level of expectation or uncertainty going in.  It has now been named the World’s Most Admired Wine Brand for two years running by Drinks International (to get a sense of that accomplishment, others in the top 15 this year include Vega Sicilia, Chateau d’Yquem, Ridge, the First Growth Chateaux Margaux, Latour and Haut-Brion, and Tignanello), and it succeeds without a multi-hundred-dollar wine on its resume and with wineries on three separate continents, focused on marrying high quality with affordable pricing wherever it goes.  That combination is not easy to achieve, but Torres makes it look routine.  I had a chance to toast the end of summer amidst the weekend snow in Calgary with two QPR (quality-to-price-ratio) gems from the Torres portfolio, one from the New World and one from the Old, each crafted with the same evident care and attention. Read the rest of this entry »

The Great Coravin Test, Part 3: Two Weeks In

2 08 2015

OK, so to recap:

  • I got lent a Coravin and figured out how to use it (Part 1).
  • On July 17th, I accessed three different bottles – a white and two reds – via Coravin and wrote up control tasting notes (Part 2).
  • Exactly two weeks later, on July 31st, I Coravinned the bottles again to see how they were doing.  Now the real fun begins (Part 3, right now).

FullSizeRender-91Some brief methodological notes:  after tasting the bottles on July 17th, I put them back in my cellar as if they were brand new – on their sides, no special treatment.  They stayed there till the 31st, when I gave them a brief chill before accessing them again.  I took detailed tasting notes without looking at my initial set of notes and then compared the two sets after the fact to see if the descriptions were similar and if any notable changes to the wines had taken place.  After the second round of tasting, the bottles are all about half full, and they have been put back in my cellar until I pull them out again for the grand finale of this Coravin experiment six months from now.  So how did the wines do?  Is the Coravin all it’s cracked up to be?  Let’s get to it, again:

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2011 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere

19 11 2014

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

If someone made a movie about the story of Carmenere, I would watch it.

If someone made a movie about the story of Carmenere, I would watch it.

The story of Carmenere is one of my favourite stories in all of wine.  It starts, as many wine stories do, in France, where centuries ago Carmenere was one of the six varietals used to make red Bordeaux, along with Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  As French explorers set out to claim and colonize new territories outside of Europe, they often brought plantings of their national vines with them, introducing these grapes to foreign soils.  It turns out they were lucky they did, because when the phylloxera louse decimated the vineyards of Europe in the mid-19th century, it wiped out Carmenere in Bordeaux completely — today, there are only five red Bordeaux varietals.  Everyone thought that Carmenere had been tragically lost forever…and then it randomly showed up in Chile over a hundred years later.

On November 24th, 1994, the French ampelographer (actual meaning: one who identifies and classifies grapevines) Jean Michel Boursiquot was paying a visit to the Carmen vineyards in Chile when he noticed that the Merlot growing there wasn’t actually Merlot at all, but Carmenere.  The lost grape of Bordeaux had been growing in the Southern Hemisphere for more than century, but due to its vines’ and grapes’ uncanny resemblance to those of its Bordeaux cousin Merlot, everyone assumed it was the latter, particularly given the general understanding that Carmenere no longer existed.  This led to some extensive (and confusing) cross-planting of vineyards that proved extremely difficult to unwind.  Boursiquot’s epic discovery was a boon to world viticulture, and it gave Chile what it needed most at the end of the 20th century:  a wine identity, forged in what is now proudly recognized as the country’s national grape.  It was also a big help to the resulting wines:  Carmenere ripens weeks later than Merlot, and if picked early (due to mistaken identity) it can exhibit strong, and generally unpleasant, green pepper flavours. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2008 Canepa Finisimo Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon

21 11 2012

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Call me strange, but I would like to see more wines with orange labels. Snazzy.

I don’t think a bottle from Chile has graced this site since late February, so I’m overdue to show South America some love.  This particular bottle’s major claim to fame is that one of its prior vintages was named the 5th best wine in the 1979 Wine Olympics held in France.  Winding up in 5th usually isn’t that memorable (I tried to do a Google search for “famous fifth place finishes” to see if I could come up with an exception to that rule, but the pickings were slim), but in this case it was a national breakthrough of sorts:  the top four wines in the Finisimo’s category were French, making this Cab the top New World wine of the bunch and helping cement Chile’s status as a serious producer of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Back in the late ’70s the words “quality Chilean wine” were almost certainly thought of as an oxymoron; fast forward 30-odd years and the country is now a veritable wine power with a strong reputation for producing solid, flavourful bottles at bargain prices.  Canepa’s website suggests that Finisimo’s near-podium Olympic finish positioned it as Chile’s first premium wine, but these days it is more of a mid-range bottling (Canepa’s Magnificvm is its current top Cab, allowing Finisimo to settle in at an everyday-enjoyment price range). Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Antiyal “Kuyen”

29 02 2012

The name says it best: this is a lunar sort of wine.

I’m hoping this is a glimpse at the future of Chilean wine.  While until recently the Chile section of your local wine shop was probably best known as a half-decent place to get a $15 bottle, there has been an increased focus in making wines of quality and interest in the country that is perfectly highlighted by this producer and this bottle.  Antiyal is the brainchild of winemaker Alvaro Espinoza, whose wines are all the product of organic and biodynamic viticulture (a pesticide/herbicide-free method of farming that makes use of cover crops, natural predators, and even lunar cycles to grow grapes harmoniously with the surrounding ecosystem), an approach growing in popularity and one very well-suited to Chile, whose wine regions are in mostly drier climates with consistent weather and few natural pests/diseases.  The winery’s eponymous wine Antiyal (which means “sons of the sun”) still stands out in my memory a couple of years after I last tried it because of its sheer purity of flavour.  You know how some wines are the perfect example of a certain type of taste?  Antiyal is THE standard-bearer for the flavour “black currant”…I’ve never tasted anything like it.  Ever. Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: