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Petit Clos, by Clos Henri, 2011

Sauvignon Blanc
Petit Clos, by Clos Henri, 2011
Marlborough, New Zealand

For ten generations the house of Henri Bourgeois focused on producing excellent quality Sauvignon Blanc from the classic vineyards of Sancerre, in the Loire valley, just south of Paris.

In the year 2000 the family decided that the quality of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was undeniable, and purchased over 100 hectares of the finest vineyards in Marlborough.

On the nose citrus, apple and grapefruit excite the senses. It’s youthful, clean, fresh and focused in a classic Sauvignon Blanc style. On the palate the wine is dry, crisp, light in body with beautiful purity, minerality and flavors of passionfruit and citrus. We hope you enjoy a French styled New Zealand Sauvignon.

Food and wine pairing: The perfect match for goat’s cheese, salads, smoked salmon, crab, and other light seafood dishes.

Cuvelier, Los Andes, Coleccion, 2009

Malbec
Cuvelier, Los Andes, Coleccion, 2009
Mendoza, Argentina

The Cuveliers are one of the most prominent families in Bordeaux, owning several chateaux, including 2nd growth Ch. Leoville Poyferre, a fabulous estate in St Julien.

As early as 1914 Paul Cuvelier traveled to Mendoza, in the foothills of the Andes. He discovered a thriving wine region, and upon his return informed his family they should consider expansion plans to this remote, and as yet unknown, part of the New World.

The fresh blueberries mingled with espresso and vanilla entices the nose. The palate has a beautiful level of dryness, and a subtle backbone of tannin enabling it to age further. Rich and ripe, dense and plush, showing smooth textures, the power of the wine saturates the senses. This is one of the finest Malbecs from Argentina.

Food and wine pairing: Grilled meats, such as beef or lamb, are the perfect match, and the wine drinks well by itself too.

Chateau de Sales, AC Pomerol, 2005

Meritage – Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon & Franc
Chateau de Sales, AC Pomerol, 2005
Bordeaux, France

Pomerol produces the most expensive wines of Bordeaux. It is a tiny appellation on the Right Bank of the Dordogne river, but home to legendary estates such as Chateau Petrus.

This particular property, Chateau de Sales, is remarkable because it is the largest estate in Pomerol with over 100 acres under vine, and it has been owned by the same family for over 500 years.

The ideal weather in 2005 and the exceptional terroir produced a wine with milk chocolate, toast, black cherry and plum on the nose. The palate displays gorgeous layers of the same flavors, with plenty of weight, richness and ripeness. There is gorgeous length on the finish, excellent balance, and lovely complexity. Delicious!

Wine and food pairing: In Bordeaux the classic match is a fine piece of beef or lamb, or some hard cheese.

RIESLING

RIESLING
By James Cluer, Master of Wine

Riesling produces some of the most spectacular white wines in the world. If you want to see a wine lover get really excited then open up an old vintage Grand Cru Riesling from Alsace or a fine Mosel from Germany. In my opinion, drinking a top quality Riesling is one of the greatest experiences in wine. It’s heavenly.

Outstanding quality Riesling is a model of purity. The taste reflects the nature of vineyard where the grapes were grown. The fact that they are never aged in new oak enables the character of the grapes to shine and often in a fine Mosel you can taste some of the minerally nuances that come from the blue slate soils.

Very few other grapes show the complexity that you can find in Riesling and the depth and layers can be astonishing as they unfold in your mouth. I’ve constantly got my nose hovering over the glass because there are so many lovely nuances to enjoy with each sniff.

Riesling also produces wines with incredible longevity, more than almost every other grape. In some of the cellars in Germany you’ll find stocks of wines going back over 100 years.

It’s with age that the wines really start to shine because it takes time for the complex nuances to evolve. With a few decades of maturity you can find a combination of elegance and power, delicacy and intensity, and a vast spectrum of flavors and nuances. And to cap it all off, Riesling refreshes the parts that other wines don’t reach.

So, where are the classic regions and what should you buy? If you like dry white wines then Alsace is the classic area for outstanding Riesling. It’s situated in north eastern France, just across the Rhine River from Germany. I love it here because there are so many small family owned wineries that have been making stunning wines for hundreds of years. In fact, it’s my favorite region in the world for white wines, which include the fabulous Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminers.

The towns and villages can resemble something out of Hansel and Gretel. Think thatched roofs, cobble stone streets, small cozy restaurants, and everyone seems to know each other so there’s much kissing and a constant exchange of “bonjour” as the locals go about their business.

Alsace produces wines that are much fuller in body and higher in alcohol compared to the Mosel in Germany. This is largely thanks to the dry and sunny climate that is the result of the rain shadow effect of the Vosges Mountains, which are high enough to ski on. So most of the Rieslings are in the 12-14% alcohol range, are typically medium in body, dry, and have crisp acidity. The aromas and flavors can include a beautiful citrus and green apple note, with a hint of ripe peach, and a touch of the classic petrol aroma that develops with age. The top wines inevitably have a streak of minerality that’s to die for, and the length that can last for hours.

My favorite producers are Domaine Weinbach, Trimbach, Zind Humbrecht and Ostertag. But there are so many other excellent producers like the reasonably priced wines from the co-op Pfaffenheim. One of the tricks to buying good Riesling is to buy Grand Cru, which can retail for around $30 per bottle all the way up to $100+. And if you’re keen on specific recommendations then you can’t do much better than the Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile, the Weinbach Grand Cru Schlossberg, and if you are looking for rich, fat and powerful wines then Olivier Zind Humbrecht is your man.

Alsace also produces a late harvest style of Riesling called Vendange Tardive and, in exceptional years, a sweet botrytis effected wine called SGN, standing for Selection de Grains Nobles. One of the greatest bottles I ever had was from Domaine Ostertag, whose sweet wine showed sublime flavors of honey, pineapple and apricot with just the perfect amount of acidity to counter-balance the sweetness. That’s the art of achieving balance in sweet wines.

Another classic Riesling producer is, of course, Germany, albeit in a totally different style. Most of the wines are sweeter, to one degree or another, and have less body, lower alcohol and more delicacy. They can age for decades, and once upon a time they were the most expensive white wines in the world.

My favorite region is the Mosel where the wines can be as low as 7.5% in alcohol, which means you get to enjoy more of them whilst still remaining coherent. What never ceases to amaze me is the steepness of the slopes in the Mosel, which are not far off being precipitous cliffs. The angle and aspect of the slopes is all important because you are so far north that ripening grapes can be a challenge. Exposure to the sun is critical here.

Buying wine from Germany can be a challenge because the labels have so much complex terminology on them. The key words that I always look for relate to the level of sweetness you will likely find in the wine, and that is determined by the so called Pradikat level. You see, German wines are classified according to the amount of sugar in the grape at harvest time.

If a producer picks some grapes earlier in the season, at lower sugar levels, the wine could be classed as a Kabinett, which is typically the driest of the Pradikat levels. If you leave the grapes on the vine for longer and pick later, when there is more sugar, the wine could be classified as a Spatlese which are usually a touch sweeter. Then comes Auslese which is generally a pretty sweet wine.

But there is a trend in Germany to produce drier wines and so you need to watch out for the word “trocken” on the label, which means dry. You see it is feasible to find some Auslese trocken wines, which means that the winemaker has picked the grapes at Auslese sweetness but then fermented it into a dry style. German wine labeling can be so complicated that you’ll need a glass or two just to recover from the brain strain.

And yes, there are other categories too, including an even sweeter Beerenauslese and then Trockenbeerenauslese, which are botrytis effected sweet wines. Icewine is also made in vintages when it gets colder than -8 degrees Celsius.

My favorite wineries are Dr. Loosen, Fritz Haag, JJ Prum, Dr Thanisch, Selbach Oster and Egon Muller. For a life altering experience try to get your hands on a Spatlese or Auslese with a few decades of age and feel the acidity dance across your tongue as the ripe stone fruit and honey flavors seduce you.

You can’t talk about Germany without mentioning the Rheingau, which is the other classic region for Riesling, and lies just outside Frankfurt. The Rheingau is home to some of the oldest and most famous wine growing estates in the world. Because it is a little warmer here the wines tend to have a touch more body and alcohol compared to the Mosel. One of my favorite places to visit is Schloss Johannisberg. They have a lovely restaurant where you can sit on the terrace and feast on asparagus, a specialty in Germany, and drink copious amounts of divine low alcohol Riesling.

Australia is another major player on the Riesling scene. The Clare and Eden valleys are the classic areas for high quality Rieslings. They are certainly in a very different style to the German wines in that they are very dry and often so sharply acidic that they can taste austere. But they can be excellent quality, with flavors of lime juice, a petrolly character, and a piercing acidity that certainly refreshes under the hot sun. Grosset, Yalumba, and Heggies all produce good wines.

Speaking of Canada, we do make some fantastic Riesling, especially in Ontario. Although it’s the preferred grape for icewine production, there are many versions in a dry to off dry style. I have always admired Cave Spring winery because they have this beautiful delicacy in their wines, and are often leaning closer to a Germanic style.

Closer to home, I’m a huge fan of Tantalus winery out in the Okanagan. The vineyard is on the outskirts of Kelowna and was planted back in 1978. The only problem is that it seems to evaporate in the glass. I love the almost dry style, the racy acidity, and the combination of lime juice and stone fruit flavors. The label design is perfect for British Columbia, with depictions of the masks worn by the original native settlers.

So when it comes to Riesling I would buy the dry wines from Alsace and the sweeter wines from Germany. I would definitely try to find some older vintages and be on the look out for Grand Cru designations on the labels. As an alternative, I might venture off to Australia or stay closer to home in Canada, just for a change of scene.

In terms of food and wine pairing the dry or off-dry wines can be delicious all by themselves, but usually pair well with seafood like scallops, prawns, crab cakes and white fish. When you find wines with a touch more sweetness then start thinking about spicy dishes such as many Asian foods, especially Thai dishes, because you need intensely flavored wines to stand up to the strong flavors of the food. All this is making me very hungry and thirsty. Where’s a bottle of old Riesling and a plate of fresh seafood when you need it?

SUGGESTED FOOD AND WINE PAIRING

Style—>Winery—>Pairing

Dry Riesling—>Tantalus Old Vines, Okanagan—>Prawns, scallops, goat’s cheese

Off-dry Riesling—>Selbach Oster Kabinett—>Sushi, German sausages

Medium sweet—>Dr Loosen Spatlese—>Spicy Thai chicken curry

Sweet—>Fritz Haag Auslese—>Fresh fruit plate

Dry Riesling—>Domaine Weinbach, Alsace—>Munster cheese

Kangarilla Road, 2010

Shiraz
Kangarilla Road, 2010
McLaren Vale, South Australia

McLaren Vale is perhaps the most beautiful of all the wine regions as it hugs the coastline, with its kilometers of sandy beaches, just outside the city of Adelaide. The heat of the Australian summer is slightly tempered by the cooling effect of the sea breezes.

Kangarilla Road has often received scores over 90 points and critics describe it as a classic Australian Shiraz. The super-ripe grapes bask in the sun, developing intense sweet aromas of blueberry, raisin and dark chocolate.

Only a moderate amount of new oak is used, allowing the wine to display its fruit-forward style and concentrated flavors. There is lovely balance between the richness of the fruit, the crisp acidity that cuts through it, and the supple tannins that house the wine.

Food and wine pairing: The best matches are with beef, lamb and hard cheese but it can be enjoyed by itself if you like full-bodied reds.

Babich Family Estate, 2012

Sauvignon Blanc
Babich Family Estate, 2012
Marlborough, New Zealand

Established in 1916 by Josip Babich, this winery has remained in family hands. It now ranks in the Top 50 World’s Most Admired Wine Brands, according to Drinks International.

This comes from Marlborough, the capital of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The region lies on the northern tip of the south island, and receives more sunshine hours than any other major growing region in the country.

The nose bursts with fresh and lively aromatics of melon, passionfruit and lime. The palate is dry, light in body, with a certain zest and purity of flavor, and the clean finish lingers. This is classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Food and wine pairing: In hot climates this is the ultimate dry white wine, enjoyed as an aperitif or with light and fresh seafood dishes such as crab, salmon or scallops. It is also excellent with spicy dishes.

PORT

PORT
HAPPY ENDINGS

Great dinner parties are marked by a spectacular beginning and a climatic ending.
The beginning is usually done pretty well. Champagne hits the mark, especially when served in magnums. Sabering a bottle leaves everybody riveted, mainly because they’re waiting to see if you cut off your fingers.
But the initial excitement can fade when white and red wines are then served. It’s difficult to keep up the momentum. So to ensure that your guests leave on a high note, you’ve got to go out with a bang. And that’s where the Port comes in.

It sits in a decanter, gently breathing for 2-3 hours. The bottle stands beside it. There is a vintage date boldly marked on the label. The wine is older than you.

A glass is poured, people sip, and the OMG’s start flying. It’s the climax.

There are other ways to finish off. You could go for a Sherry but I’d be careful with that. You may ruin the night as many people don’t like the unique tastes, and you’ll be left sitting there trying to convince everyone that it’s such an amazing wine. Irritated, you’ll go to bed grumpy about the lack of sophistication of your guests and they’ll leave gossiping about how awful that last wine was, and accusing you of prematurely ageing. Grannies drink Sherry.

Madeira could be an option, but again, you’re playing with fire. You can hold court with tales of how they originally made the wine, shipping it across the equator so that it would literally cook. Chances are that guests will be intrigued, and then a comment will slip out from someone about how they think the story is amazing but they don’t really like the wine. No offence, of course. And so the climax is ruined.

So you’re left with Port, a wine that is sure to please both the casual drinker and the connoisseur. It’s partly the sweetness, but it’s also the rich dark fruits and chocolaty flavors, the full-body and heady power that people fall in love with every time. And don’t get me started on those Tawnies.

It’s one of the most amazing wine regions for several different reasons. First, it’s located in one of the most arid and rugged places on earth. The vineyards have been planted on steep terraces cut out of brutally hard rock. Sometimes they have to use dynamite to blow a hole in the rock so they can plant a vine. The fact that the terracing was done by hand, using a pick and a shovel, over 300 years ago, simply defies belief. This is the Machu Picchu of wine regions.

Then you have the fact that much of the vineyard work is still done by hand. Most of the terraces are so steep and narrow there’s no hope of racing around in a big machine harvester. You typically see Portuguese women wandering through the vineyards tending to the vines, and sometimes dusting them with a spray, all done by hand.
When it comes to quality control, you can’t just buy any old vineyard in the Douro valley and start making Port. No, you’ll be told if your vineyard merits making Port by the local regulators, and then they’ll tell you how much Port you can make. So the viticultural aspects are strictly controlled in order to maintain a minimum quality standard, unlike in much of the world.

In fact, each vineyard is classified on a scale of A-F. It’s kind of like being at school. If you’re grade A then your vineyard has the best terroir and you have the most chance of making high quality Port. If you’re graded F then I’m afraid you’re not allowed to make any Port at all.

And so in this way the regulators, called the IVP, ensure that poor quality vineyards don’t make Port and they also regulate the volume produced so there isn’t a surplus. The Australians could have benefited from this type of regulation, given that they estimate to have over 30% too many vineyards.

Another fascinating aspect of viticulture in the Douro valley is the grape varieties they have planted. Over 80 different varieties have been identified. All of them have bizarre Portuguese names, and in some vineyards there are dozens of different varieties interplanted, even in the same row. In fact, for the longest time, growers didn’t even know what they had in the vineyards. It just made Port.

But over the years about 5 different grape varieties have been deemed to produce the finest Port. People often use Bordeaux as an example of the benefits of blending varieties, but Port is a better one. Touriga Nacional forms the backbone, Tinta Barroca adds color and dark fruit characters, Tinta Amarela contributes fragrance, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) adds flesh, and Tinta Cao notches up the complexity. The art of blending is the ultimate skill in fine winemaking.

So the grapes are harvested. They arrive at the winery, called a Quinta, and they are unloaded into lagares, which are concrete tanks about the size of a paddling pool. The pickers then jump in, thigh deep in red grapes, and start stomping. This is to extract as much color, flavor and tannin from the grapes as fast as possible and the human foot does a great job. This is the preferred method at the top estates.

Even the foot stomping is regulated. The Boss orders the stompers to march up and down the tank, back and forth, to the sound of a drum. After a few hours, and if you’ve behaved, he’ll announce the libertad and then the party starts in the lagar. Wine is swigged from pig-skins. Music plays. People smoke. Passion and character is infused into the dark red nectar. You see, squeaky clean winemaking can rob a wine of character.

Along comes the winemaker, and when there is around 6-9% alcohol from the fermentation, he’ll add a powerful grape spirit at 77%. The yeast dies as soon as they come into contact with such a strong potion, and so the ferment is arrested, and the wine is left partly sweet. It’s half fermented grape juice.

They then put the wine into barrels, and usually transport it down to the coast, to Vila Nova de Gaia, where it becomes the responsibility of the cellar master. Arguably his most important job is to decide what style of Port each batch of wine will make. In Port, there’s a range of qualities and styles.

To cut to the chase, my favorite is the 20 year old Tawny. And that’s mainly because you don’t often see, or get to taste, the 30 or 40 year olds. Tawny Ports are the preferred style for many of the Portuguese shippers. They find it smoother, more refined, and easier drinking in the heat of the Douro. You can serve it slightly chilled.
What’s fascinating about Tawny Port is the fact that it is aged for so incredibly long. Twenty years is the average age of the wines found inside a 20 year old Tawny. So the producers are holding stocks for decades, and decades. They must have lunch with the bank at least once a month.

An aged Tawny turns a brownish red color and becomes the epitome of smooth, with all the tannin integrated or dissipated. The toffee, nuts, raisins, and butterscotch are so silky, yet rich and concentrated. It’s power and elegance. It is surely the most enjoyable Port to sip by itself.

Of course, Port from a single vintage is the ultimate for many. This is arguably THE greatest fortified wine in the world, capable of ageing for half a century or more. It is only the finest parcels in the greatest years when a vintage is “declared” by a House, and that is after the IVP regulators have approved the quality as “vintage”.
Now vintage Ports can be pricey, especially the latest and greatest 2007 vintage. But I always search out the older ones, like the 1994, or even older, because they are ready to drink and cost much less. Cost aside, when you hit the mark with a vintage Port, served with Stilton, it’s an experience. Raisin, milk chocolate, sweet black cherries, spices, density, and built like a Roman palace.

But the best kept secret in Port has got to be Late Bottle Vintage, or LBV. LBV is a wine from a single year that must have been aged for between 4-6 years in cask before being bottled and released. It’s wine that didn’t make the cut for the “vintage” batches.

But keep in mind that some years they don’t make vintage Port and so LBV becomes the next closest thing, and at least half the price. It’s the best deal you’ll find in fortified wine. For less than $30 you can be drinking a wine that is dark and inky, heady and perfumed, and explodes with flavor.

The best dinners are ones when the room is filled with laughter. Great wine is the catalyst. So next time you’re planning a party make sure you pick up a bottle of Port, maybe a mousse au chocolate, a few truffles, and some Stilton. Happy ending guaranteed.

STYLE—>PRODUCER—>FOOD PAIRING
10 Year Old Tawny—>Grahams—>Chilled, by itself
20 Year Old Tawny—>Taylor Fladgate—>Caramel tart
LBV—>Dows 2004—>Mousse au chocolate
Vintage—>Fonseca 2001 Panascal—>Stilton
Vintage—>Dows 2007—>Truffles and cheese

Selbach-Oster, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Spatlese, 2011

Riesling
Selbach-Oster, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Spatlese, 2011
Mosel Valley, Germany

Since 1660 the Selbach family has been producing some of the very finest Rieslings in the Mosel Valley. This is arguably the greatest of all the German wine regions, which is known for the incredibly steep slopes, slate soils, and wines that are capable of ageing for decades. This wine comes from the Sonnenuhr vineyard which is close to the village of Zelting.

Typically pale in color, the nose exudes a gorgeous perfume of stone fruits like apricots and peaches, along with green fruits like apple and pear. On the palate the sweetness becomes evident, but the wine finishes in a drier style. There are notes of honey, pineapple and apricot, along with a subtle mineral character and a miniscule spritz that lifts the palate.

Food and wine pairing: The medium sweet character of the wine will suit spicy Indian and Asian dishes, and fresh fruit plates.

Chartron et Trebuchet, AC Meursault, 2011

Chardonnay
Chartron et Trebuchet, AC Meursault, 2011
Burgundy, France

Chartron et Trebuchet is one of the old established merchants in Burgundy. They have been producing classic wines in the prestige appellations for generations. The House is particularly famous for white wines.

Meursault is one of the prestige appellations in Burgundy, known for producing some of the richest and fullest bodied Chardonnays in Burgundy. It is located in the Cote de Beaune, and is a relatively small appellation.

The nose is gorgeous with medium to high intensity and notes of toast, smoke, lemon, vanilla and nuts. The palate is classically dry, medium to full bodied, still very youthful and vibrant with a good life ahead of it, and a lovely touch of buttery richness to complement the peach and citrus flavours. The acidity brings structure and style to a wine of breed and class.

Food and wine pairing: This is the perfect complement to fish dishes, pasta in a cream sauce, and poultry.

Villa Maria, Cellar Selection, 2011

Sauvignon Blanc
Villa Maria, Cellar Selection, 2011
Marlborough, New Zealand

Villa Maria is the most awarded family-owned winery in New Zealand. It was founded in 1961 by Sir George Fistonich who has been instrumental in putting the country in the spotlight for their crisp, fragrant Sauvignon Blancs and now the Pinot Noirs.

Marlborough is the center of production, located on the northern tip of the south island. The region enjoys a large number of sunny days and cool nights, which is perfect for ripening this varietal.

It’s a beautifully intense and lively wine, overflowing with aromas of ripe gooseberry, melon and passion fruit. The wine is dry, light bodied, with bracing acidity, showing clean and pure mineral characters on the finish. It’s classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Food and wine pairing: The perfect match for smoked salmon, crab, and other light seafood dishes. It also pairs well with spicy food.