Monthly Archives: November 2012

Smoking Loon Syrah 2010

Smoking Loon Syrah 2010
California, $15

By the time you read this, all 39,000 bottles of Shafer’s Relentless Syrah are likely to be snapped up. The huge, boozy wine graces the top position in the Wine Spectator‘s annual Top 100, which means it’s more instantly coveted than a golden ticket. I haven’t tasted it, though I do generally enjoy Shafer’s highly extracted, highly praised Cabernets and Merlots. The alcohol on the Relentless is a jaw dropping 15.6%—we’re getting dangerously close to port territory, folks—which is to say, this isn’t a syrah made in the classic Rhone incarnation. So given that you can’t get it, can I offer a substitute? The Smoking Loon Syrah is about one-fifth the price of the Relentless (and that was before the Top 100), it’s available everywhere and it has a full 2.1% less alcohol. I hate to sound like one of those alcohol curmudgeons who wants everything lean and mean, but the trend of high alcohol syrahs isn’t for me. And the Smoking Loon’s leaner profile means that its lovely soft plum and herb notes can sing a little. That being said, if you know where I can still source a bottle of the Relentless.

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Bere Toscana IGT 2009

Bere Toscana IGT 2009
Italy, $20

Natural wine advocates decry the day cabernet sauvignon and his pal merlot ever crossed the alps into Italy. In their mind the super Tuscans like Sassicaia, Tignanello and Solaia are over ripe monsters with no sense of place. And while I see their point, I love these wines too much to disavow them. The fact is, in a wine like this Toscana IGT from Fattoria Viticio, the addition of Cabernet and Merlot add a dynamism that might not have been there with a $20 Sangiovese. The wine still showcases trademark lovely cherry aromas but the finish is longer and the spice a bit more pronounced because of the interlopers. It’s such a good wine for such a good price that I simply don’t care about anything else.

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Vina Koyle Carmenere Reserva

Vina Koyle Carmenere Reserva
Chile, $18

First the bad news. Koyle (it’s pronounced Koy-Lay) is not a great name for English speakers and the “Reserva” is in fact their entry-level wine. Now the good: who cares? Koyle is the relatively new project of Chile’s famed Underraga family (there’s pretty good odds that if you grew up in Western Canada that an Underraga bottling was the very first Chilean wine you ever drank), and with Koyle they’ve set aside the ethos of mass-production in order to make what can only be described as handmade wines at near mass production prices. Their Syrah Reserva is the most widely available label in BC and AB, and it’s dynamite, but this Carmenere is even more surprising. It avoids the overly fleshly attributes the grape sometime show an instead has a tea, tobacco and red fruits mélange that’s welcoming. There’s 9% Syrah and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon to help steady things. This is a winner.

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VIVI Falanghina

VIVI Falanghina
Italy, $15

For years those Western Canadian acolytes of the crisp Italian grape Falanghina were forced to drink Feudi di San Gregorio (a little like only being allowed to drive a BMW). It’s a lovely wine, but a tad pricey for an everyday drinker. So it was nice to see a new entry in the niche falanghina category. Vivi checks in at a considerably lower price point and it still retains that crisp Granny Smith apple bite that the grape is known for. To be honest, it doesn’t have as much honey finish as the Feudi, but life, my friends, is all about compromises.