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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 288 (April 26, 2010)

Monday, April 19: Received an email from Georges Meekers, the voice of Maltese wine. I had asked him if there are any wines from Malta being shipped to Canada. He replied:

Strangely enough nobody as yet is importing Maltese wines into Canada despite the fact there is a large community of Maltese expats.

Off subject, you may not find Maltese wine, but you can buy the Maltese version of the Monopoly game in Toronto, now that's weird!

I had mentioned to George that once in London in the late 1960s I met a Maltese in a discotheque called "The Revolution" whose name was Tony Aspler. Now that's weird.

Today is the 30th California Wine Fair with its traditional lunch for the trade at the Royal York Hotel. After the sparkling wine reception (Gloria Ferrer and Domaine Chandon) we all went in for lunch, filling the ballroom. I'm seated at Table 20 with Howard Wasserman, within bread roll range of the podium. The guest speaker this year is Karl Wente, the winemaker at Wente Vineyards, who convulsed members of our table by referring to a segment of his staff as "lower level employees." This got contracted to the acronym LLE's and has now become a catch phrase. The wines on our table were:

  • Testarossa Castello Chardonnay 2008: straw colour; smoky, spicy, peachy-pineapple flavour (89)
  • Thomas George Viognier 2008: straw colour; floral, peach with spicy vanilla oak nose; full on the palate with a pear flavour; a little short with a touch of bitterness on the finish (87)
  • Testarossa Palazzio Pinot Noir 2008: deep ruby colour; leather and cherry bouquet; ripe fruit – minerally, cherry; soft mouth feel with a firm finish. (88)
  • Atalon Cabernet Sauvignon 2005: dense purple-ruby; cedar and blackcurrant with a salty note; lovely sweet blackcurrant flavour, richly extracted, firmly structured; medium to full-bodied (90)
  • Thomas George Pinot Noir Allen Vineyard 2007: Burgundian style – light ruby with a truffle note on the nose; ripe raspberry flavour, elegant but firm structure with great length (92)
  • Noble Tree Russian River Pinot Noir 2008 (second label of Thomas George): ruby colour; minerally, eucalyptus, cinnamon nose; chunky mouth feel, high alcohol; blackcurrant and black raspberry flavour; powerful and great value
  • Edmeades Zinfandel 2005: deep ruby colour; minerally, plum; sweet plum and blackberry flavours; fruit-driven, chunky mouth feel; firm and hefty (88)
  • Noble Street Syrah Blend 2008: deep ruby colour; candied raspberry nose; full-bodied, fruity and weighty (87)
  • Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Mountain 2005: dense purple colour; creamy blackcurrant with vanilla oak nose; firmly structured with balancing acidity (89)

Lunch: saffron-infused pan-seared scallops with mango, red onion and peach salsa, jumbo shrimp, arugula cress, popcorn shoots and saffron aioli. Main course: wild mushroom duxelle crusted beef tenderloin, roasted garlic rösti potato, perigourdine jus, spring vegetables. Then a cheese plate: triple cream brie, aged Spanish manchego and bleu l'etoile, baguette grapes and California walnuts.

Then into the tasting itself. Over 130 wineries were pouring. I concentrated on the Pinot Noirs, tasting 31 altogether (somehow, inexplicably, I missed the Schug table, one of my favourite California Pinots). My top marks went to Byron Nelson Vineyard Pinot Noir 2003, Landmark Vineyards Grand Detour Pinot Noir 2008, Thomas George Lancel Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Clos La Chance Pinot Noir 2007, Kenwood Vineyards Russian River Pinot Noir 2008, La Crema Pinot Noir 2008, Paul Hobbs Winery Russian River Pinot Noir 2008, Pedroncelli Russian River Pinot Noir 2008 and Siduri Russian River Pinot Noir 2008. Best value: DeLoach Pinot Noir 2008.

My son Guy and his girlfriend Teresa came to dinner. Opened a bottle of Inniskillin Two Vineyards Riesling 2008 for the bocconcini, avocado, tomato and capers and the lobster & prawn ravioli and a bottle of Quails' Gate Pinot Noir 2008 for the cheese.

Tuesday, April 20: Lunch at Good Earth on Yonge Street to launch a Vintages presentation of eco-friendly wines – organic, biodynamic and those produced by sustainable agriculture.

  • Pommery Cuvée Louise Brut Champagne 1999 (67% Chardonnay from Avize and Crémant/33% Pinot Noir from Ay): pale colour; minerally, lemony, green apple nose; crisply dry and youthful, elegant, light and lacy on the palate (91).
  • Southbrook Triomphe Chardonnay 2008: Burgundian style, forest floor nose, apple; dry, minerally, sour cream note (88).
  • Yealands Estate Pinot Gris 2009 (a new winery in Marlborough with 1,000 hectares, planted in 2001; this wine is their second vintage): medium straw colour; salty, peach pit nose; good fruit expression, white peach flavour with a dry finish (88).
  • Seña 2006 from Chile (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 10% Carmenere, 13% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Franc): dense purple colour; intense creamy blackcurrant bouquet with a cedar note; sweet fruit, quite forward with good acidity and obvious oak on the finish; ripe, mellow tannins (92).
  • Altos de Lanzaga 2006 (Rioja): deep ruby colour; floral, black cherry; earthy, meaty with a roasted note; thick and full-bodied on the palate with a savoury finish (91). (The winemaker, Telmo Rodriguez, couldn't make it because of the Icelandic volcano with the unpronounceable name.)
  • Benziger Tribute Proprietary Red 2006 (Sonoma Mountain) (77% Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot): dense purple colour; cedar, blackcurrant, licorice and violets on the nose; thick on the palate with black fruits and dark chocolate flavours (91).
  • Paul Dolan Deep Red 2006 (Mendocino) (57% Syrah, 31% Petite Sirah, 12% Grenache): dense purple; spicy, earthy blackcurrant and blackberry with notes of cedar and violets; dry, lovely mouth feel, ripe black fruit flavours; well balanced with powdery tannins (90). Chris Benziger, who introduced this wine, had a nice turn of phrase to describe biodynamic growing, calling it "an authentic machine that truly amplifies what's in the ground... The best impression a winemaker can make on his wines is his footprints in his vineyard."
  • Catherine Faller from Alsace was meant to be here to introduce her wine but she too was a victim of the Icelandic volcano. Domaine Weinbach Furstentum Vendanges Tardives Gewürztraminer 2005: straw colour; intense lychee, rose petal and orange peel nose; rich and sweet, aromatic and spicy; beautifully balanced and still very fresh. Absolutely delicious and sexy (93).

These wines were on the table with the lunch: herbed buttermilk biscuit, Perth county pork creton & sweet butter; Yukon gold potato purée with wild leek pesto, Best Baa sheep's milk yogurt; baked wild B.C. halibut, crispy pig ear arugula salad, heirloom carrots, confit lemon chive oil; cheese plate, Ewenity crème fraiche panna cotta, wild blueberry compote.

After lunch, a table top tasting of other wines by these producers. Made a beeline for the Domaine Weinbach table, where I sampled a series of Rieslings and a Gewürztraminer Réserve Personnelle 2007 (pure Turkish Delight, 91). Also enjoyed Benziger's Signaterra Three Blocks 2006 (Sonoma Valley, 64% Cabernet Sauvignon , 36% Merlot – 89) and, for sheer value, Viña Arboleda Carmenere 2008 (smoky oak, dry blackcurrant and red pepper flavours, 88).

An email from the Grape Growers of Ontario with their new label they are making available to the wineries for their VQA wines.

"As growers, we want to play a part in marketing the great wine made here in Ontario from the grapes we grow. We're excited about the potential that this label has to raise consumer awareness about 100 per cent Ontario wines," said Bill George Jr., Chair, Grape Growers of Ontario. "The decision to create the label follows consumer research conducted by GGO which showed that Ontario consumers don't always understand what the VQA label denotes. The logo is meant to complement existing VQA labelling, further emphasizing that one of the characteristics of VQA wine is that it is made from 100 per cent grapes grown in Ontario. Several wineries including Megalomaniac Wines, Stoney Ridge Estate Winery, and Erie Shore Vineyards began using the label as of March 1, 2010, and feedback to date from the wine industry has been positive." I still think they should change their name to Wine Growers of Ontario to show their commitment doesn't end at the weigh scale when they deliver their grapes to the wineries.

For dinner with roast chicken, Huff Estates South Bay Chardonnay 2007 – a beautifully composed Chardonnay from Prince Edward County.

Wednesday, April 21: Recorded my 680News wine reviews and after lunch over to Doug Towers for a tasting with David Lawrason.

Thursday, April 22: Lunch with old friends today at Le Paradis: Eric Wright and Howard Engel. I've been asked to write the early history of the Crime Writers of Canada. I was the first President in 1982. Over lunch we reminisced about the early days of the CWC. Nadine and Gary Melemis and Deborah's sister Suzanne came to dinner. To honour Nadine's Greek heritage I opened a bottle of Tselepos Mantinia Moscophilero 2009 with sautéed almond and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus. With the bocconccini and tomato starter, a bottle of Road 13 Stemwinder 2009, a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 32% Sauvignon Blanc and 8% Chardonnay Musqué (delicious). With the BBQ sirloin, boiled fingerling potatoes , French beans and broccholini I opened a bottle of Painted Rock Merlot 2007. With the cheese course, a bottle of Road 13 Rockpile 2008 (60% Syrah, 19% Merlot , 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 2% Zinfandel, 1% Viognier, 1% Grenache, 1% Mourvedre!). This winery is turning out some terrific wines.

Friday, April 23: A mad scramble to input my tasting notes for the May 29th Vintages release before I leave tomorrow for London. I'm judging in the Decanter World Wine Competition and am Regional Chair of the Canadian panel. My fellow judges are Steve Thurlow from Toronto, Barb Philip MW from Vancouver and Joel Butler MW from California.

A meeting with Aaron Zifkin of Artez Interactive to discuss the possibility of on-line donations for Grapes for Humanity. And then a later meeting with Jean-François Bergeron to discuss a possible book project. Opened a bottle of Joie Farm Riesling 2009 –one of the best Rieslings I've tried from BC (lovely off-dry, honeyed grapefruit flavour, great tension between residual sweetness and citrus acidity.




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