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Wine all the time: A Portfolio Tasting

Last week I was in Toronto for a tasting of the wines of Churchill Cellars, one of many companies representing various wineries and producers here in Ontario.
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Last week I was in Toronto for a tasting of the wines of Churchill Cellars, one of many companies representing various wineries and producers here in Ontario.  In the case of Churchill Cellars, many wines are listed in the LCBO or carried from time to time through the Vintages programme. 

As well, distributors like Churchill Cellars may import additional products which they can sell directly to restaurants or to individuals on consignment.  In situations like this, the sale is made directly though the agent, but under the umbrella of the provincial system.  However the product is sold, the government gets its fair share. In fact, last year the LCBO turned over a dividend of 1.6 billion dollars to the province, with sales up 5%.

A highlight of the Portfolio tasting was the opportunity to compare several different types of sparkling wine.  Prosecco wines are usually from northern Italy, where they are very popular.  They tend to be light and zesty, and, in the case of the Blu Giovello, very frothy or foamy.  While the Champagne or traditional method involves wine undergoing a second fermentation in the bottle to produce the fizz, most inexpensive sparklers like Prosecco have the gas introduced under pressure in stainless steel tanks, using what is known as the Charmat method. 

Wines produced this way are meant for early consumption and don’t improve over time.  Most Proseccos are dry with just a touch of sweetness.  If you’re looking for sweet, then try a Spumante or Moscato, normally made from the Muscat grape, and usually quite low in alcohol – 6 to 7 %.

The Blu Giovello in its blue bottle with a dragonfly on the label is a good party wine, but there are other proseccos worth seeking out for less than the $15 price here.

I also tried Spain’s Segura Brut Reserve Cava currently available for $12.55, two dollars off the regular price.  “Cava” is the Spanish term for sparkling wine made in the “traditional” method.  This is one of the best inexpensive sparkling wines available.  Made from grapes native to Spain, it has nutty and creamy qualities, and bigger bubbles than those found in Prosecco.  In a blind tasting, this wine is said to have out-performed champagnes 4 times the price and more.

I liked the Vincent Raimbault Vouvray Methode Traditionelle Brut from the Loire.  Vouvray, made from the Chenin Blanc grape, can be still or sparkling, sweet or dry.  A “brut”, one of the driest styles of sparkling wine, tends to have a little bit of sugar, up to 12 grams per litre.  This $18 example was racy and very pleasing, with long lasting flavour.

Capping the experience was the Pol Roger Brut Champagne, $59.95.  To be called champagne, a wine must be produced in that specific area of France. While a prosecco is usually clear, this wine is a deep gold and has a steady, fine “mousse” or effervescence.  It is made from three grapes – chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier, the last two of which are actually dark-skinned. Compared to the others, this had a lovely big nose, yeasty and toasty, followed by nutty flavours that went on and on.  This was in a class by itself and clearly demonstrated the difference between a well-made champagne and lesser sparkling wines.

There were many other wines to taste, one of which was Chateau Bel Air, a $12 value red made from Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Smooth, with good ripe fruit, it is an entry-level Bordeaux that is simply enjoyable.  It would go well with steak or stew.

At the same event I met Cristian Ridolfi, winemaker for Bertani in the Veneto region between Verona and Venice.  His well-made Collezione Soave white wine, $11.55, has very good texture, with a minerality reflecting the volcanic soil where its garganega grapes are grown.  Rinaldi is justly proud of it, along with his red Valpolicella Classico 2010, at $14.95.  Here, the aromas reminded me of violets.  It was lively and refreshing with tart cherry on the palate. 

Moving on from the Churchill Cellars wines, I learned that Mr. Ridolfi  also admires Zenato’s Lugana  San Benedetto, $13.95. (Bertani’s own Lugana is not available here) The Zenato is one of my favourite whites, with great freshness and balance, and is available at the new store in the Vintages section. 

Another wine, Argentina’s exceptional Manos Negras Malbec 2007, is still readily available in the Vintages section.  $14.95, it has lovely aromas of dark fruit and sandalwood, a plush, full texture and lingering flavour that keeps the enjoyment going.

On the May 26th release, Vintages features other high scoring wines.  At $15.95, the La  Posta Pizzella Family Vineyard Malbec 2009 is another Argentinian with dark rich fruit, lovely depth, and long smooth finish.  Spain’s Lealtanza Reserva Rioja 2005 should probably be cellared for a few years, and then would drink well over the following 10 years.  It is a powerful big red, well worth its $19.95 price. 

In the Limited Time Offers (LTOs) which run from May 27 to June 23, there are a couple of Vintages wines which invite comparison with wines on the general list. The Rodney Strong Estate Pinot Noir from Sonoma will be $3 off at $21.95. Reviews show good scores, but are contradictory in description.  One writer calls it elegant and more restrained than typical Californian Pinot Noir, while another remarks on the smoke, vanilla, raspberry jam and bing cherry flavours – but still finds it fresh and smooth.  You decide.  Compare it with the general list Mud House Pinot Noir 2009 from New Zealand, $17.95, praised in the Globe and Mail as having medium body, intense cherry-like flavour, solid acidity and satisfying complexity.

Another comparison can be made between Vintages’ Muga Reserva Rioja from Spain, $4 off at $19.95, and the General List  Montecillo Reserva, $2 off at $16.45.  Both are based on the great Tempranillo grape and would accompany roasted meats beautifully.   Both accentuate spice, ripe cherry fruit and smooth texture.  They would drink well now.

While away, I also participated in a tasting of California Zinfandel.  I’ll tell you all about it in my next column. 

Any questions or comments?  You can either respond to this column or e-mail me at vinonwine@gmail.com.  Thanks for reading.