Fetzer Merlot

2008 Fetzer Merlot, $14.95. LCBO#341131.

Last week, we hosted a lovely little dinner party, and tried this new bottle. I am a big fan of Fetzer Zinfandel, and was hopeful that the merlot would also be delicious. I don’t tend to buy merlot, as I’m always worried it will be a bit boring, but it seemed a safe choice with guests.

I was impressed with this bottle. It is very smooth, medium to full bodied, smoky with oak and ripe with berries. It has a bit of a sweet-tart quality, which I love in a fruity wine. It went well with roasted chicken and tomato-basil pasta, but also was great on its own, and with dessert. A keeper for dinner parties! It really hits all my favourite wine notes, and definitely matches the tastiness of their zinfandel. I’m going to have trouble choosing a bottle when standing in the California aisle at the LCBO. Which is really nothing to complain about.

Overall, I give this wine 9/10 for taste and 4/5 for value.

Holiday $10 Wine Tasting

The bottles, after the big reveal, in the order we tasted them.

Our $10 wine tasting was such a hit this spring, we decided to throw a repeat for the holidays. The details from the first party and the logistics can be found here. In a nutshell, a $10 wine party involves each guest bringing 2 bottles of $10 wine, one gets tasted and the duplicate bottle goes in as a prize for whoever brings the best bottle, as voted by the guests.

This time was as fun as the last, and the appetizers disappeared just as fast. The fan favourites continue to be home made sausage rolls and baked brie topped with fresh raspberies. I was quite proud of the spread, but am sad to report that I have no pictures of it. My camera man had too much fun socializing and neglected his duties! I suppose this means I will have to host another party and manage to document all the tasty treats.

This time we had seven bottles of wine to taste, and ended up with 2 whites and 5 reds. We covered the bottles in paper bags for a blind tasting and randomly tried them, starting with the whites and moving to the reds. I don’t know how much research there is on wine tasting bias, but the first 3 bottles we tasted got the top scores. Perhaps they were indeed the tastiest, or perhaps we got harsher as the night went on. I also liked the first three bottles the best, so I really can’t comment on tasting psychology!

There was a 2-way tie for first between the 2 white wines. It was great to see that both bottles were Ontario VQA. Third place went to a California red. The final 4 reds were very close in scores, so I won’t rank them. The tasting crowd was similar to the spring party, and it was easy to see that people like what they like. At the last party, off-dry whites and easy-drinking reds were a hit, and we saw a repeat of that this time.

Our winners were:

1. 2008 Eco Trail Chardonnay Auxerrois, VQA, $8.95. LCBO#591719. Pelee Island Winery, Ontario. Crisp, fresh, slightly sweet with apple and citrus flavours.

1. 2009 Strewn Gewurztraminer-Riesling, VQA, $10.95. LCBO#467662. Strewn Winery, Ontario. Off-dry with peach and floral flavours.

3. 2008 Barefoot Merlot, $9.95. LCBO#53991. E & J Gallo, California. Medium bodied with hints of toasty oak and vanilla. Very smooth and easy to drink.

The runners up:

  • 2008 Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon, $9.95.
  • 2009 Mommessin Beaujolais, $9.85.
  • 2009 McGuigan Shiraz, $9.95.
  • 2009 Fuzion Shiraz Malbec, $7.75.

Our entry, the McGuigan Shiraz, was my second choice for a red in the blind taste. I still enjoy its spiciness and complexity, but I don’t think our guests enjoy a bold red very much. For our next party……perhaps I’ll have to bend to the will of the crowd and pick an off-dry white!

Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel

2007 Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel, $15. LCBO# 678698.

When is wine at its best? When shared with a dear friend, of course. My long-time best buddy Laurel and I drank some of this fantastic Zin one weekend while at her family’s cottage on Brereton Lake, Manitoba.

We went out for dinner at the only restaurant in the area, found at the Brereton Lake Resort. The wine selection consisted of two reds and a white, so when the waitress listed Gnarly Head as an option, I nearly fell off my chair, and then jumped at the chance to order it.

I saw this bottle in a January LCBO Vintages release, and was too slow to get a bottle. That’s my greatest beef with this province’s giant fascist liquor system- they get a bunch of something great, it gets snapped up, and then you have to wait til next year. No ordering it from somewhere else for you, oh no no. Meanwhile, small town Manitoba has cases of the stuff. The injustice!

I love Zin, especially when it hails from California. There’s something about the way they make it out there, the balance of fruit and oak, softness and zip, that nearly always pleases me.  And this bottle lived up to my expectations, and definitely surpassed anything I thought would be offered on a wine list in the middle of nowhere.

The wine is a wonderful dark purple, promising a deep full flavour and ripeness. The nose is a bit musty-dusty, and the taste is fruity, as one would expect, with plums and berries up front. There’s a touch of oak to add some complexity, and the finish has a bit of a spicy bite. Which makes for a perfect glass, full of ripe fruit, with a sweet-tart contrast as you swallow.

When I got back to Ontario, I made one more attempt at getting a bottle of this gem, but was unsuccessful. I did, however, find a bottle of the same winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon for $16.95. I plan to taste it soon in case it is also lovely and I need to stock up.

Overall, I give this wine 10/10 for taste and 4/5 for value.

$10 Wine Tasting Winner: Beringer California Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Our 8 economical bottles, ordered from highest score to lowest.

I am very happy to report that last night, a good time was had by all.  We hosted our very first $10 wine tasting, which I hope is only the first of many variations on that theme.

The rules were: you must bring 2 bottles of your favourite $10 wine (red or white), one for tasting and one for the prize basket. The bottles for tasting were wrapped in brown paper bags and were sampled “blind,” ordered from white to red and randomly numbered.  The bottles were scored out of 20 (5 for nose, 5 for taste, 5 for finish and 5 for overall impression). We picked the basics: how does it smell, do you like the taste, how does it leave your mouth, and what do you think of it overall? Here is a copy of the $10 wine tasting score sheet for those who want to host a similar event. The score sheet is certainly not designed for wine snobs and sommeliers, but for ordinary folk who might not be thinking of uppity terms like balance, complexity and bouquet.

Last night we had 13 attendees and 8 bottles (5 white and 3 red). The winner was Beringer California Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, $9.95. Sadly it was not my entry, but a wine I’ve reviewed in the past and been very pleased with regarding quality at its price point. Good choice, Eve & Tomek. Congrats on winning 8 bottles of wine, and thanks for sharing a few with your hosts!

Kevin and I entered our latest favourite white, Sogrape Gazela Vinho Verde 2009, $8.95. Unfortunately it was not a fan favourite, and we came in 6th. I think our crowd enjoyed off-dry whites the most, and weren’t into its crisp dry spritzy quality.  But I still love it!

Here is a list of the 8 wines and where they fell in the ranks:

1. 2008 Beringer California Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, $9.95. LCBO# 113001. (California)

-Soft vanilla and oak flavours, very smooth finish and medium-full body.

2. 2009 Deinhard Green Label Riesling, $11.95. LCBO# 8094. (Germany)

-Off-dry, fruity and fresh.

3. 2009 Ruffino Orvieto Classico, $11.75. LCBO# 31062. (Italy)

-Slightly off-dry, clean and crisp with flavours of apple and pear.

4. 2009 Copper Moon Moonlight Harvest Pinot Grigio, $9.45. LCBO# 158303. (Ontario, Canada)

-Off-dry with flavours of citrus and melon.

5. 2009 Argento Chardonnay, $9.95. LCBO# 591701. (Argentina)

-Fruity with a sweet, almost maple syrup finish.

6. 2009 Sogrape Gazela Vinho Verde, $8.95. LCBO# 141432. (Portugal)

Dry, light and effervescent. Flavours of citrus and tomato leaf.

7. 2008 Finca Flichman Misterio Malbec, $7.95. LCBO# 28803.  (Argentina)

-Oaky nose and blackberry flavours. Medium-bodied, fruity and toasty.

8. 2009 Funky Llama Shiraz, $9.90. LCBO# 614685. (Argentina)

Black currant flavours with a hint of oak, medium-bodied.

All the bottles were enjoyed and represented great quality for price. My personal top 3 were the Beringer Cab-Sav (17.5/20), Gazela Vinho Verde (16/20) and Ruffino Orvieto Classico (16/20). Funnily enough they are all wines I have reviewed before and really enjoyed.  Even with a “blind” tasting, I still like what I like!

J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon

2007 J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon, $21.95. LCBO#656561.

For this week’s Wine Wednesday, I have a fabulous wine to report on. I highly recommend having a birthday party mixed with a house warming party, because apparently it makes people shower you with lovely bottles of wine. This bottle was given to me by my friend Jung, who has always had impeccable taste in all things gourmand.

This Cabernet Sauvignon definitely falls outside my usual $10 range, but is worth every penny. J. Lohr Wineries has several California vineyards, and this bottle was born at their Paso Robles location. Paso Robles is my favourite California region, and I’ve just added J. Lohr to my mental list for the wine tour I am always imagining. I’m happy to see that the LCBO considers this bottle a Vintages Essential as this is definitely my pick for my next wine splurge.

The wine is a very dense purple with an earthy, toasty nose.  The taste is a berry-plum mix, with lots of soft, buttery oak. It is wonderfully full bodied and would pair well with something hearty and beefy. We sipped it solo and then gorged on crackers and cheese while rather tipsy, and that worked well too.

I would fully endorse this bottle for your next special occasion, or Friday night splurge. Pair with pasta, BBQ, or just savour it on its own. You will not be disappointed!

Overall, I give this wine 10/10 for taste and 4/5 for value.

Beringer California Collection Cabernet Sauvignon

After trying this wine’s $14 older brother earlier this week, my friend Evelyne was happy to help me make an unbiased comparison.  After drinking both (and composing this entry while under the influence of Beringer), we’ve concluded that you could safely just spend the $10.

The California Collection version is still ripe and fruit-forward but a little less sweet.  There is less of an oaky quality, which might be a plus for some, and the wine has a smooth finish. This bottle is lighter in colour and in body than the Stone Cellars, which makes it a bit more suitable for pre-dinner drinks or gossiping at a party, both of which I fully endorse.

Beringer California Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, $9.95. LCBO# 113001.

Overall, I give this wine a 8.5/10 for taste and 4/5 for value.

Beringer Stone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

2007 Beringer Stone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, $13.95. LCBO#606798.

For this Wine Wednesday, I am cheating a bit on the $10 quest.  I haven’t made it to the LCBO lately, so I decided to try a bottle that has been hanging out in my wine cellar (aka a wine box in the corner of my kitchen) for a while.  This cab-sav has been tempting me, but costs $14 and has been languishing while I’ve been drinking its cheaper cousins.

Hailing from Napa, California, this bottle is from the somewhat commercial but usually tasty Beringer Vineyards. I just noticed on Wine Align that Beringer makes a $9.95 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for its California Collection, which I of course will need to add to my shopping list and compare as I dare.

I am a fan of cabernet sauvignons, as well as California reds, and this bottle does not disappoint.  It’s very ripe and fruit-forward, almost a touch sweet.  The oak is mellow and velvety in your mouth, with a very smooth and satisfying finish.

I paired this wine with beef stew and it stood up to the rich meatiness well.  It’s so drinkable it would be a good party wine as well, since it is full bodied but not overpowering.

I have a depressing feeling that the reason this bottle is so good is because it costs $14….but never fear, I plan to taste its $10 brother and report back.

Overall, I give this wine a 9/10 for taste and 4/5 for value.