Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Relative Surprise

Straight from the afternoon posting at Bunker Cay, it was off to a bit of a command performance at the folks. They had been hosting a couple of the relatives who were visiting from Jolly Old. No, not Liz and Phil, but Pete and Anne. However, their stay in the colonies was quickly coming to an end, and Mom and Dad wanted to throw a little going away party for them - particularly since Pete and Anne would be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary shortly after their return to England.

Considering the fact that it wasn't an all out family reunion, they gathered up quite an assortment of the relatives - including some of the cousins that I hadn't seen in many a year. So there was lots of catching up and re-telling of old stories. It's no surprise to anyone that knows her that my mother can pull out all sorts of tales when she has an attentive audience. Well, OK she generally still has lots of stories even if the audience isn't that attentive. But they were tonight.

Now Mom is not known as a full-fledged wine geek. So, awhile back, I'd asked her if she wanted any help in picking out some wine for the party. I'd hinted that it probably wasn't appropriate to serve Dad's home-made plonk - ooops, er, wine - to the guests given the occasion. She said that none was needed because she'd already bought the wine. It was going to be interesting to see just what she'd chosen.

I guess it just goes to show the masterful marketing job a certain Australian winemaking company has accomplished.

162. 2007 [yellow tail] Shiraz (South-East Australia)

The marketing story that is [yellow tail] is an entire entry on its own. In fact, it's provided entire chapters in marketing books, being talked of in the same tones of awe as IKEA and Starbucks. But my mother wouldn't know any of that. So, it's interesting that she picked this Shiraz - the cornerstone of the [yellow tail] portfolio as her chosen wine. I'll have to ask later how she came to the decision that she did. (My guess right now is that it was on sale at Costco during one of their visits to Washington state.)

For the party she was hosting, [yellow tail] is a pretty darned good choice. Good flavour, easy sipping, that touch of residual sugar that new wine drinkers don't even recognize. The wine just doesn't offend.

And you know what? I had no qualms in the least at toasting Pete and Anne's 50th with it. It would be interesting to see 50 years into the future to see if [yellow tail]'s marriage of good wine and good pricing is still successful and as ubiquitous as it is now, but I think young Skeletor (once again hamming it up in a dress instead of her crazy hoodie) will be the only one of us that will actually be around to find out.

Happy Anniversary Pete and Anne.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sailing to Bunker Cay

"Aaaargh Billy, have you ever been to sea?"

The invite was to "Bunker Cay." A newly discovered, quaint little backyard oasis to park your boat. Not that I think one "parks" a boat. Then again, the only water that the boats at Bunker Cay tend to see is the water to keep the vegetables afloat.

There are many stories of renovation and revelation abounding (like the four layers of carpet on top of each other - I've heard of pile carpet but this was a bit much) since Jeaux and Matinder bought the old "bunker" as a fixer-upper. The name "bunker" came from the old barbed wire that was used for a neighbourly fencing material. I have no doubt that a very entertaining blog could have been maintained over the last five years from their DIY escapades.

But, today was in celebration of their completing the deck (dock) and backyard. I think the use of the old dinghies as raised vegetable beds was sheer gardening brilliance. Practical and aesthetically pleasing. And I have to be jealous of anyone that can actually grow cantaloup in Vancouver.

Seeing as how there was a bit of pirate's theme behind the event, there was plenty o' rum in the air; however, The Tyrant and I had brought along some wine to add to the mix.

160. 2008 St. Hubertus Dry Riesling (VQA Okanagan)

161. 2005 Vinos Sin-Ley Diego Fernandez Monastrell M1 (DO Valencia - Spain)

St. Hubertus is another BC winery that I know of and it has been around since the early 90's, but we don't drink much of their wine or run for their tasting table at events. The story I think of most with them is that they are the only Okanagan winery to ever burn to the ground (although who knows if that will still be true with the abundance of fires this summer in the Okanagan).

The flames that swept through the vineyard was the huge Okanagan Mountain fire in August 2003. The brothers Gebert, who own and operate the winery, were dedicated enough to re-open with a makeshift tasting room within 10 days of the fire destroying their lands. What I particularly liked about their outlook was that they immediately came out with new white and red blends that donated a percentage of all sales to firefighting efforts in the area.

When checking out the cooler at a VQA shop for a bottle to take to the party, I saw this and thought it might be a nice change of pace for my BC consumption. It didn't disappoint.

The Tyrant brought the Monastrell (Mourvedre) and he knew nothing of its producer. Nor did I. A quick Google didn't garner a lot of information but what I did find was rather intriguing. Vinos Sin-Ley (translating as Wines Without Laws) is a collaborative effort that matched a group of innovative Spanish winemakers with grapes from different regions in the country. They started with the G Series which initially saw six Garnacha (Grenache) wines.

The M1 wine is from the second series of five Monastrell wines. The Monastrell or Mourvedre varietal is more often seen in blends. But here, the idea is to showcase varied sides of the same grape varietal from different regions of the country. M1 is one of two efforts by Diego Fernandez and is from the Valencia region.

Trying to introduce a newer style of Spanish wine with reds completely fermented and aged in stainless steel, Vinos Sin-Ley partially aims for a freshness and brightness in the fruit which hasn't necessarily been a tasting profile immediately associated with Spanish wines.

I can see looking out for other wines produced by this group. Aaaargh.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Keeping with the Italian Theme

Having just finished family night at the Spaghetti Factory, here we find ourselves starting the weekend with some more pasta at home. Throwing together a sauce seemed like a good idea while I was waiting for Boo to get home. The tomatoes were crying out to be used and we do have that seemingly endless supply of zucchini.

159. 1998 Le Rocche Dei Barbari Alivio Riserva Barbaresco (Barbaresco DOCG - Piedmont - Italy)

Like the Spaghetti Factory, my cooking may not be Zagat-rated, but this sauce was a good one if I do say so myself. Or maybe it was just that we liked this wine better than the other night's Chianti and it made the food taste better.

I don't recall the pedigree of this bottle, but despite its 1998 vintage, I think I just saw it on a sale rack at the local provincial liquor store awhile back. With the recession an all, I hear there are plenty of bargains to be found as the various stores are trying to clear out stock. That sounds like great fun, bargain hunting, but the No-Buy Leash is pretty tight at the moment. I kind of have to make sure that Boo is with me in the store at the time and coax him into suggesting, himself, that it might be a good idea to buy a bottle or two.

I couldn't find out much about this producer on the web. They have a website but I couldn't see any information on it - other than the location and contact number - except for the fact that "we produce wine in Barbaresco."

Found up in Piedmont, Barbaresco is sometimes referred to as "Baby Barolo" since it made from the same Nebbiolo grape and it is generally not as tannic as most Barolos in the years closer to the actual vintage year. Barbaresco wines are also not required to be aged as long as a Barolo before they can be released to the public - however, a Riserva wine, like this one has to be aged a minimum of four years before release. Most people are not as familiar with Barbaresco though as there is three times as much Barolo produced and it has been dubbed the "King of Wines."

Our wine might have been a baby and not the king, but for this evening's needs, the Alivio was just right.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Spaghetti Birthdays

There wasn't a whole lot of wine in play tonight, but there was a lot of birthday action. Three of them in fact. Grampa, Stargirl and Skeletor (although minus her scary hoodie here).

As is often the case when Gramma, the grandkids and dinner is involved, it was a night on the town at Spaghetti Factory. You can almost guarantee a table's worth of Manager's Favourite orders. I don't think I've ever seen the Spag Factory Zagat-rated, but it keeps the grandkids and Gramma happy.

158. 2007 Ruffino Chianti (Chianti DOCG)

I can't swear that, the last time I had a bottle of Ruffino, it was still in the old fiasco (straw covered) bottle, but it has been a long time. In fact, we might have drunk Ruffino back in the day because we needed the bottles as atmospheric candle holders. That's got to tell you something about how long it's been.

The Factory doesn't exactly have a huge wine list though and at least this was an honest Italian.

I don't think that there's not an awful lot to say about either the evening or the wine. However, Ruffino is the best selling Chianti in the U.S. and it's been around for over 130 years. I suppose they must be doing something right. Maybe I'm just not a Chianti kind of guy.

I do admit that we spent more time with Rosso di Montalcino when we were drinking wines from the Sangiovese grape in Tuscany last year. Another time, I suppose (and hope).

As for the third pic, of course it's Vixen, the sister, teaching the kids the best way to enjoy their spaghetti.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Desert Riesling

157. 2007 Nk'mip Riesling (VQA Okanagan)

This isn't the first Nk'mip wine that we've added to The List; however, I didn't get a chance to talk much about the winery with the earlier entry. I love the whole background of the winery and how, when it was established in 2002, it was the first aboriginal-owned winery in North America.

The Osooyoos Indian Band has a long history of growing grapes for wine in the Okanagan. As one of the larger stakeholders in the neighbouring lands, the Band either grew the grapes for sale or leased out their lands for production. In fact, the Band has played an instrumental role in the ability of Vincorp (the parent company behind Jackson Triggs) to set up shop. That long-term relationship proved beneficial to the Band when they decided to start up their winery.

The Band had been turned down by the provincial government on its application for a casino licence. The winery was a fallback position and Vincorp provided a lot of the knowledge and assistance needed for the Band to take its next step. Nk'mip's facilities and production have seen a steady progression and they now boost a beautiful winery and tasting room, not to mention that they are one of the larger producers in the province - with about 18,500 cases last year. There aren't that many wineries in BC that produce over 10,000 cases.

We were lucky enough to try the Nk'mip Riesling in its first vintage about, I think, four or five years ago. It might have been the first BC Riesling that turned my head and had me think of the varietal as a serious go-to wine for the province. Thing is that there wasn't a lot being produced and you could only buy it at the winery itself - if they had any left.

There's a bit more being produced nowadays but it's still not an easy find. That's probably not that much of a surprise when they can say that this 2007 vintage won a gold medal at the 2008 Canadian Wine Awards and won silver (Best in Class) at the International Wine & Spirit competition in England. Crisp and dry, this Riesling isn't going to be confused for the wines that passed as Rieslings in BC 20 years ago.

I hope to be able to continually find a bottle or two of this Nk'mip as we continue on our quest.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Stella Bella & the Left-Over Lamb

As mentioned in my last post, I was lucky enough to leave last night's BBQ with an entire leg of lamb - and as you can see it's definitely still on the leg.

We thought it would be a great opportunity to cook up some the purple potatoes that we actually grew this summer in our community garden plot. We likely harvested them a bit earlier than we might have, but I went over to water the plot one morning and saw that someone had been digging in places they shouldn't have. After a few nasty expletives, Boo and I figured that we'd best dig up the rest or we'd risk losing them as well.

Never grown a potato before. Makes the beans that we grew as well seem a tad pedestrian, but altogether it was a heckuva (an) easy dinner. It was probably more work deciding on the wine. Lamb? First dibs on the Aussie Shiraz I say.

156. 2002 Stella Bella Shiraz (Margaret River - Australia)

We'd actually been holding this bottle for a bit. I'd never tried a Stella Bella wine before but you have to be intrigued by a winery with names like Stella Bella, Suckfizzle and Skuttlebutt.

The winery website says that the question most asked of them isn't about price or availability, but is about the names. Great thing is that the wines (at least this wine) live up to the notoriety and marketing. Stella Bella is a small, privately owned winery in the Margaret River (which anyone who's been reading along with me, is definitely a grand starting point for me). Seems like I'm not the only one that thinks so either. James Halliday, one of the big names in Aussie wine-writing, has given the winery 5-stars for the last couple of years - his highest rating.

The region is generally lauded more for its Cabernet Sauvignon than its Shiraz, but the Stella Bella Shiraz seems to be consistently named to "great value" and "best of" lists. The winery's tasting notes say that 2002 was a cool year for Margaret River and that, therefore, the vintage is perhaps more Rhone-like in its profile than the well-known Aussie blockbuster.

I'm just thankful for a bonus lamb dinner and another new winery to keep an eye open for.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Now, That's What I Call BBQ!

One of my colleagues at work, Stacee, invited a crowd over for a treat of a BBQ that she and her family threw for us all. Considering the fact that there might have been a dozen of us in attendance, they regaled us with enough food to feed us through the weekend - and part of the next week.

As you can see by the custom made rotisserie pit, Stacee's dad and brother were cooking for a crowd. That's a whole lamb cooking away there. I love my lamb, but I don't think I'd ever be so daring as to try that. I think I should have talked to her family when Boo brought home the side of camel. They might have had an idea as to what to do with it.

As if the lamb wasn't enough, there were also marinated and grilled short ribs, salads, hors d'oeuvres, dips, cheeses and on and on. One neat aspect of the evening was that Stacee introduced us to some of the culinary aspects of her Korean heritage. There were four or five different kimchees to try with the meat, as well as some Korean side dishes, including a jellyfish salad that was very enjoyable.

Despite a bit of concern earlier in the day, the weather cooperated and it was a fine dinner al fresco in the back yard. Outdoors, BBQ, lively conversation and some good wine to sip back - what more could you ask for on a summer evening?

154. 2006 Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon (South Australia)

I don't know about you but, when I think BBQ lamb, I think big Aussie reds. So, it was fine by me to enjoy the Wolf Blass along with the marvelous meat. Having heard many a story about Mr. Blass at Australia Wine Appreciation Society events, I think he would heartily endorse the use of his wine at such an occasion. I'm quite sure he'd be no stranger to throwing another lamb on the barbee.

I was surprised to read on the Wolf Blass website that the Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz/Malbec was the first wine to ever carry the Wolf Blass name on a label. The wine evolved into a straight varietal over the years and it is now their "most successful wine across all countries where Wolf Blass is sold."

155. 2007 See Ya Later Ranch Riesling (VQA Okanagan)

The Riesling made for a nice sipper for the weather and the other nibblies. It's not necessarily my favourite BC Riesling, nor my favourite SYL wine, but it's always fun to talk about the winery stories at gatherings with people that are fairly new to wine. Dog cemeteries and "Dear John" notes are fun conversation points.

By the time we'd worked our way through the various desserts, it had become a multi-hour event. I'm not so sure that Stacee's family had expected quite that much entertaining.

I've got to say though, the abundance of food certainly had at least one enormous benefit to our home. I'm pretty sure that I can say I've never left a party before with an entire leg of BBQ's lamb as a parting gift. Now that's a doggy bag.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Knock at Quails' Gate

I've been falling a bit behind with my postings lately. This having to work for a living bit can be a bit tiring, not to mention getting in the way of endless hours of sipping back wine and blogging on the computer. Not so tiring that we don't have the strength to open another bottle of wine, but enough that making time to blog away can be difficult when there's the final rounds of So You Think You Can Dance on the tube.

So, I guess this posting will be a quick, down and dirty one - not that this is meant to be indicative of the wine. However, the setting doesn't really cry for an inordinate amount of inspiration either - mid-week, in front of the TV with another menu attempt to use up a bit of the zucchini (that has decided to grow like never before this summer). Was this your soup or mine this time, Boo?

153. 2006 Quails' Gate Chardonnay (VQA Okanagan)

Renowned as a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producer, we don't drink a lot of Quails' Gate. That might just be the case because we don't tend to make it up to the Kelowna end of the Okanagan Valley when we manage a rare trip up there. It is, however, one of the wineries that I think of as the initial guard that started putting BC on the wine map - such as it is now.

Owned and operated by the Stewart Family, John Schreiner points out that the Stewart's are one of "the Okanagan's pioneer horticultural families," having emigrated from Ireland in the early 1900's. They started planting the current vineyard in 1969 and are now one of the larger wine producers in the province.

They produce two levels of Chardonnay - this label and a Family Reserve. This wine is a combination of barrel- and tank-fermented, perhaps allowing for a bit more complexity in its profile. Neither too oak-laden, nor pure acidity, it worked well enough with our zucchini and our salmon. Not sure that it was enough to pull me forcefully back to become a regular Chardonnay drinker though.

We will give the winery a bit more consideration as The List progresses though.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Move Over Sancerre

The other week, when we had our Dinner Club with Lady Di and She Who Must Be Obeyed, I waxed poetically (well sort of) about one of the Sancerre wines that we had that night. Sancerre white wine means Sauvignon Blanc and we really liked the refined nature of the Francois Crochet.

Well, this BC fave winery has delivered a Sauvignon Blanc that makes me think I don't need to go all the way to France to find an SB that doesn't feel that it has to mimic New Zealand in its flavour profile.

152. 2007 La Frenz Sauvignon Blanc (Okanagan)

We usually think red when we drink La Frenz, but that might just change now that we can add this Sauvignon Blanc to their Riesling which is already one of our faves.

I don't think Jeff Martin can really do any wrong. Interesting guy. Great wines.

At $22 this year, it is a bit more than we'd normally pay for a mid-week white, but you could serve this to me any time. And that's almost half the price of the Sancerre that we liked so much. There's just not a lot of it to be found.

In fact, a most unfortunate note is that Boo's "No Buy Leash" was strapped on pretty tightly around my neck when La Frenz's whites were released this year. I didn't order any - like I usually would - so we don't currently have any of the 2008 in the cellar. I'm going to have to keep my eyes open for it in some of the private stores in case there's the odd bottle around. Leash be damned. Wish me luck.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

You Say "Garnacha" and I say....

Well, I say "Garnacha" as well when we're drinking Spain, but I suppose I'd usually say Grenache. I guess it doesn't really matter what you call it if you like what you're drinking. And, we've been liking this wine for a number of years now.

151. Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha (DO Calatayud - Spain)

The Bodegas San Alejandro are grape growers that have sold their grapes for years to one of the local cooperatives. Having been producing wine for centuries, it was only a matter of time before the resurgence of global interest in Spanish wine would attract consultants and importers to the region.

The Calatayud is an arid region found in the North-East part of Spain. Garnacha, or Grenache, accounts for 2/3's of the wine production in the area. The aridness of the region helps keeps production yields low which can lead to increased concentration in the wines.

French consultant, Jean-Michel Lafage, and importer, Eric Solomon, were so impressed with the grapes grown on the 70 - 100 year old vines here, they convinced the directors of the cooperative to bottle some of their product under a separate label and Las Rocas was born at the turn of the 21st century.

Since its introduction, this wine has been known for its consistency and it is consistently found on all sorts of "Best of..." and "Best Bargain" lists. Perhaps it's biggest claim to fame was that Robert Parker, the king of taste determination, said that the 2002 vintage "may be the greatest wine value I have ever tasted." Even in the Vancouver market, where a bottle will currently set you back $17, Las Rocas is seen as delivering more bang for your buck than most wines on the market.

Very approachable, with lots of flavour, we'll no doubt keep reaching for a bottle or two as the years go by.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Comparatively speaking

Well, "comparatively speaking" may not be the best way to tag this entry. We didn't drink the two wines on the same evening and didn't really compare them at all. They weren't even chosen for comparative purposes. But, they are both BC Merlots from the Naramata Bench and we did have them one night after the other. Since there wasn't anything special about the occasions - just mid-week dinner wines this time around - I figured BC Merlot was enough of a tie-in that I could add the two wines to The List at one time.

149. 2005 Red Rooster Merlot (VQA Okanagan )

150. 2002 Hillside Estate Merlot (VQA Okanagan)

The Hillside was one of the bottles still hanging around from our "Best of the Bench" box that the Naramata Bench Association put out so many years back. The Red Rooster came from our box that we get every year as "adoptive parents" of a row of vines at the Red Rooster winery.

Both were still lively, with fruit on both the nose and the palate - although the Red Rooster definitely opened up and gave us a lot more to enjoy after a half-hour or so.

Although the two wineries are located probably no more than a couple of miles away from each other, we know more about and drink a lot more of the Red Rooster. We've certainly enjoyed Hillside wines over the years, but we just don't seem to buy the wines unless we actually visit the winery - and that's not all that often. I suppose it shows what a novel marketing idea - such as the adoptive row plan - can do for a winery and for its relationship with customers.

An actual comparison of the same varietal and vintage from the Bench may just be a good, and real, comparison down the road.

Spinifex Does The Kinks

For me, this Lola wasn't nearly enough to make me give up The Kinks and their version of unforgettable.

148. 2005 Spinifex Lola (Barossa Valley)

Not sure if she was just a little long in the tooth, but this gal didn't meet hopes or expectations. Maybe it's just that I don't know white Rhone varietals that well, but I wouldn't hurry back to grab another bottle - unless it was a new vintage and we were going to open it right away - just to see if this is really what the Rhone tastes like.

I don't know much about this winery at all, but that, in itself, seemed like a pretty good reason to give it a try. I like Barossa on the whole. And some of my best friends are the Rhone red varietals. It just seemed like a good fit. The winery is fairly new as a husband and wife team of transplanted Kiwis set up shop in 2001. Their emphasis appears to be largely on the red varietals from Southern France, but this is a blend from the other side of the spectrum - 50% Marsanne, 27% Ugni Blanc and 23% Grenache Gris. I've heard of them all but couldn't tell you much - except that I do see Marsanne show up in some white blends along the way.

What I don't generally see a lot of in our market is white Rhone-style wines - unless it's a Viognier. I suppose with Shiraz/Syrah having such a toe-hold in the Barossa, it's not unreasonable to find a pocket of producers working the whites as well.

Considering the good reviews I've seen (after the fact), I'm hoping that this bottle had just run its course and we won't be as disappointed with another come around.

Monday, August 10, 2009

VinoCamp 2009 - Five Random Thoughts

I just happened to run across a short blurb about VinoCamp in one of the local papers last Thursday and checked it out a little further online. Liking what I saw about the event, I bought a ticket to attend on the weekend. Wouldn't you know it, I was listening the the radio Friday afternoon (CBC's afternoon show, On The Coast, with Stephen Quinn) and I won another couple of tix. My guess is that I never would have won the tickets had I not already bought my own.

In any event, Mr. D and I went to camp on Saturday and took in a series of speakers that covered topics that aren't generally addressed at a standard wine tasting - single vineyard, glassware, operating a boutique winery are examples.

We don't get to add a bottle to The List (damn my own criteria) but I can throw out some random, maybe even noteworthy, thoughts or moments.

1. I liked the definition of biodynamic farming as "organic but with religious zeal."

2. You had to know the conference was largely addressing the converted, as a majority of hands went up when asked "how many of you have a glass of wine every day?"

3. I doubt I would have expected my first 15 year old BC wine would be a white. It was great to try a 1994 Mission Hill Riesling, but, to be honest, I preferred the 2007 vintage. I'm not so sure the '94 has held its own. It'd be interesting to see how some of Mission Hill's reds have held up though.

4. Who knew that you could make wine from walnuts? Township 7 served up a delightful fortified wine that's an intriguing blend of Marechal Foch, Merlot, Cab Franc, Fraser Valley Green Walnuts and Okanagan brandy. Definitely one to follow up on.

5. Quote of the Day: "If you can take your dog to work, you're a boutique winery."

VinoCamp makes a direct effort to involve technology and new communication and that likely plays a part in why the attendees seemed a lot younger than the folks I generally see at tastings. I thought that I was doing okay on the technology side since I, at least, have this blog. But I gotta tell you. I was definitely feeling my age upon seeing almost every other person in attendance plop down their laptop or iPhone or Blackberry on the table so that they could concurrently keep the world up to date with their going's on.

Heck I barely even know what Twitter is - let alone participate. I do wonder if these musings are the sort of thing I might have Tweeted (is that the word?) though. Would that make me a "Twit?"

I didn't get to take in any of the seminars across the hall at CheeseCamp but they sounded interesting as well.

Thanks to the organizers. I'll definitely keep an ear open for the 2010 camp.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Happy Anniversary

So, Boo and I get asked all the time how we decide which anniversary to celebrate. True enough, we have had two ceremonies - the first being on July 4, 1998, and the second being August 2, 2008. The reason was that, back in 1998, same-sex marriages weren't legal in Canada and we had what was called in its day, a "commitment ceremony." For all intents and purposes, it was our Big, Old Gay Wedding.

Since last year was going to be our 10 year anniversary, we decided to have a big party during Pride celebrations. That party turned into a backyard wedding ceremony. I laugh and say that Boo was determined to make a legal spouse out of me yet.

Regardless, the answer to the question posed is that we celebrate both. Who needs a reason to celebrate? It does, however, give us an excuse to open a couple of those special bottles every year.

147. 2006 Two Hands Bella's Garden Shiraz (Barossa - Australia)

Google Two Hands and you generally come up with a whole bunch of sites extolling the excellence that is their wines. You name 'em, Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson, Stephen Tanzer, James Halliday, they all wax exuberantly. I didn't really know all that at the time I bought this wine.

I'd always noticed Two Hands because of the intriguing packaging and names of their wines. I'd also noticed the price of their wines and that likely explains why we've never tried it before. They do have a number of levels but even their entry level is considered a "premium" by most from a pricing standpoint (although you can drop a whole lot more coin for a whole lot less wine IMHO).

I cottoned onto the Bella's Garden because we wanted to give a bottle of wine to friends that had assisted us in the wedding preparations and had agreed to participate in and stand up for us during the ceremony. I wanted it to be a special bottle and when I saw Two Hands again, it just seemed to be the perfect choice. Hands joining. Garden wedding. And so on.

The Garden Series is Two Hands' range of wines that profiles six of the premium Shiraz growing regions of Australia. Bella's Garden is the Barossa Valley effort.

The winery website says that this is one of those bottles that we should be aging. They suggest that it shows a "drink best" date from 2010 to 1017. We might have been a year early but I was dying to see if we'd made a decent choice as a gift. Suffice it to say that, if this wine hasn't peaked yet, I want to be around when it does!

Good thing that all the folks we gave a bottle to are wine lovers. Hopefully, they'll invite us around when they decide to open their bottle.

Hot Fun, Refreshing Wine & Pride

Okay, let's face it, this entry is way more about the location and the people than it is about the wine. But hey, from Day 1, I've said this blog is about documenting the wines we drink, where we drink them and with whom. It just so happens that we drank today's wines in a vibrant and colourful, party-like setting.

Following brunch and the mimosas back home, the plan was to get downtown and find a viewing point that would shade us a bit for the two-hour Pride Parade and allow us to get some good shots as the Parade marched on by. "Problem" was there were a couple hundred thousand people that had the same idea AND arrived at the parade route long before us. Darn those mimosas.

After a bit of a wander, Boo, Miss Jaq and I determined that we weren't to likely to find that ideal spot and the Parade was due to start shortly. So, we just lodged ourselves in a spot where the folk in front of us were a bit shorter in stature. It actually turned out to be quite a decent spot and we had some good laughs with some of our neighbour spectators.

However, one note to self. Don't stand in a location behind a bunch of kids sitting on the curb if you want to get any of the beads and swag being thrown about. The kids are inevitably going to get the bulk of the goodies handed right to them. I guess a possible alternative would be to "rent" a couple of kids for the day and just set them up in front of you. The only problem with that is you have to return them before you can carry on to the party or start throwing back some refreshing wine.

Following the Parade - which I found to be quite entertaining this year, much brighter and not so political - we wandered by Marquis Wines and picked up a couple of cold bottles to sip on down by the water and festivities.

145. 2007 Fred Loimer Rose (Kamptal - Austria)

It only seemed fitting to have a little pink at Pride and the Loimer looked very inviting. Nice packaging (although you likely can't tell so well from the photos) and the wine was ever-so-refreshing. Being an Austrian wine, I suppose it shouldn't come as a shock that it's 100% Zweigelt, the most highly-planted red varietal in the country.

We just plonked ourselves down on the hillside about the festival and watched the world go by for awhile. When resident doyenne, Bill Monroe, walked by, I thought it might be a perfect way to capture this bottle. Bill's been a standout performer and fundraiser in the community for years and may be the best impersonator of Lizzie Two Strokes (HRM Queen Elizabeth II) around. I'll always have a fond memory of walking behind Bill in his royal regalia, with Team Vancouver, through Team France at the Opening Ceremonies for the 2002 Gay Games in Sydney, Australia. I think it was a flask of gin - rather than wine - that kept us all moving along there though.

Unlucky for Bill, we didn't have a spare glass to send Bill off with - but we did get a shot to capture the day for a little more than a healthy swig of rose.

146. 2008 Loosen Bros Dr. L Riesling (Qualitatswein - Mosel - Germany)

This is another wine and producer that we'll be adding to The List down the road. Ernst Loosen is a highly respected and influential winemaker in the Mosel. He's often credited, by the big names in wine reporting, with playing a particularly significant role in moving German winemaking into the 21st Century. Loosen Bros has been referred to as the "standard bearer" and "bell weather" winery for the Mosel.

Dr. L is an introductory wine for Loosen Bros, but it is continually found on "best of" and "top buy" lists. We didn't part with any of this bottle to a passing drag queen but we couldn't have enjoyed it any more than we did in the setting of the day.

A closing thought for the afternoon was that the hillside where we sat was within 100 metres of a spot where Miss Jaq and I experienced a Pride moment that we often look back on fondly. It must have been 20 or 25 years ago. I wasn't out to family or school friends at the time, but Miss Jaq and I had gone to the Pride Parade - which was teeny, tiny back then - and we were sitting on the curb, all preppy and cute (as we were in those days). A wildly fashioned drag queen came marching by us and stopped to smile and loudly announce, "Ooooh, milk and cookies. How sweet." Lord knows what she'd be saying now.

Happy Pride!!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Gearing Up For Pride

It's the morning of the Pride Parade and we were readying ourselves to head off and join the 600,000 revellers that were being forecasted for the annual party. We'd crossed wires about an invite to a brunch downtown that morning, so Boo, Miss Jaq and I just had our own little brunch at home.

Sunday brunch. Pride Weekend. Glorious sunny weather. Could anything match the occasion better than a round of mimosas?

144. Cook's Brut Sparkling Wine (California)

We were in the government liquor store looking to grab a bottle for our brunch mimosas and Miss Jaq drew our attention to the Cook's. When looking for economical sparklers, I generally look first to the Aussies. In our market, the Prosecco's tend to hover at $20 or more, so the kids from down under can generally deliver a decent bottle for under $15.

When you're just going to mix it with OJ, who needs stellar production values and flavour profiles?

I'd never noticed - or tried to my knowledge - the Cook's before. But Miss Jaq said that she constantly sees it back in Abu Dhabi when hanging out with the ex-pats at brunch-y sorts of affairs. At $10 a bottle, what was the harm in trying it.

Let's be straight (even if we were heading to the Pride Parade right after the mimosas). This is not Champagne or even a close facsimile thereto. There's no methode traditionelle being used here. Rather, Cook's uses a bulk method process where the secondary fermentation (and, hence the bubbles) is completed in large stainless steel tanks before bottling. The production method is reflected in the price and, hey, I didn't freshly squeeze the orange juice for the mimosas either.

But I found it to be very respectable for its price point and for the purpose at hand. I was also surprised to find out that Cook's Brut is the top selling sparkling wine in the US.

I think it'll be an integral part of my mimosas for many brunches to come.

The Forgotten Bottle

So, Miss Jaq, Boo and I headed back to our place after the 2009 Wine Picnic and I started looking for the third bottle that I'd pulled out for the picnic. Since I couldn't find it in the park with the picnic goods, I figured it had to be left on the table at home.

Not to be found. And that just left me in a quandary because I knew I'd pulled out the bottle. Plus, Miss Jaq remembered seeing it on the table with the other two bottles.

Complete puzzlement.

So, I started looking through the picnic "basket" (it's really one of those fully-decked out knapsacks) and the second bag that we took with us. Still nothing. Then, I tried one last zipper on the knapsack and, sure enough, there's the bottle all safely stowed away. Well, duh. We'd had it with us all along. Not quite sure how that zipper had been missed on the actual picnic.

So we opened the missing bottle at home and carried on.

143. 2002 Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache (Barossa - Australia)

I'm rather surprised that this is only the second varietal Grenache that we've opened for The List and almost as surprised that this is the first Yalumba wine that been added to The List. Guess we were jsut waiting for a special occasion - like a visit from Miss Jaq.

Love Grenache. And love Yalumba.

Yalumba is the oldest family owned winery in Australia as it was founded in 1849. James Halliday, one of Australia's pre-eminent wine writers, has awarded Yalumba his five-star winery designation - his highest - and he's stated that it is an "outstanding" winery that "has always been a serious contender at the top end of full-bodied (and full-blooded) Australian reds."

Although this bottle is more a mid-range wine for Yalumba, it gives a good indication of just how good their flagship wines must be. I could happily drink this on an on-going basis.

We often run across Yalumba wines at Australian Wine Appreciation Society tastings and at different festival tastings. The winery has continually had a good presence in Vancouver. Here's hoping it continues.

We may have "forgotten" the bottle at this year's picnic, but a laid-back sip in our garden is, hopefully, almost as good for Miss Jaq. It worked for me.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The 2009 Wine Picnic

Ok, so the first picture on this post doesn't exactly have anything to do about the wines I'm discussing today. But, it is a favourite picture of our's of one of our dearest friends, Miss Jaq. And SHE's a big part of today's wines.

We don't get to see Miss Jaq often nowadays since she's been living in the Middle East (primarily Abu Dhabi) for over a decade now. This was a picture that we took when visiting her in 2007. She's on top of one of the sand dunes at the oasis town of Liwa. She's basically looking in the direction of the Arabian Desert and Saudi Arabia - which started a couple miles from where we were. We did share a bottle on the dune, but that's another story.

Miss Jaq tries to get back for a visit to Vancouver at least once a year - generally in the summer since it can hit 50 degrees Celcius on a regular basis in Abu Dhabi. For the last so many years, we've had an annual picnic where we just laze away for the afternoon - with great food and wine. We look forward to it every year!!

For this year's picnic, we decided to venture to Queen Elizabeth Park. With all the heat and dry weather lately, there wasn't much in the way of lush green grass. So we opted for a bench overlooking the quarry garden - watching the various wedding parties take their waterfall shots as we whiled away the afternoon.

The last time Miss Jaq was in VanCity, we went to a big wine tasting (prior to the start of this blog) and she found a definite favourite that night. It wasn't a wine that we see often in the stores, so, when I saw a bottle earlier in the spring, I knew I had to pick one up for the picnic to be.

141. 2007 Quinta Ferreira Chardonnay (VQA Okanagan)

It's funny that this is our second Quinta Ferreira wine in like a week. Guess I won't need to go into any discussion about the winery. You can just go back a few posts.

There were only 275 cases of this wine produced. So, you can understand why it isn't found in every wine store and why we thought it'd be such a treat to surprise Miss Jaq with a bottle on the picnic. I'm not a huge fan of heavily oaked Chardonnays, but I think they've managed a decent balance of oak and fruit here. It's also gone under 70% malolactic fermentation (which will have to be a topic for another day).

It didn't last too long in the heat of the afternoon when matched up with the goodies for the day.

142. 2004 CedarCreek Platinum Reserve Pinot Noir (VQA Okanagan)

The CedarCreek, on the other hand, is one of Boo's favourites.

And with good cause.

Although the winery is undergoing some re-structuring of its tiers of wines, the Platinum Reserve series is their very best and they've only produced it in vintages that they feel are worthy of the designation. This is one of the Pinot Noirs that is helping put the Okanagan on the map for Pinot afficionados.

Past picnics have lasted for hours on end as we lounged around, but this one was a bit shorter than some - not for lack of food or conversation though. I wonder if it had anything to do the fact that we polished off those two bottles rather quickly and I couldn't find the third bottle that I was sure I'd packed. We determined that we either needed to find some more wine or take a nap. Since it was already 5pm, we opted to head home and make plans for the evening.

In the mean time, we declared the 2009 Wine Picnic a rousing success and toasted a fine tradition.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Hard Day at Work

After a busy week at work, it didn't take much of an arm twisting to step out onto the office balcony for a quick refreshment. The call was actually for a beer, but one of our local buds got caught up with a last minute client - and HE was the one supposed to bring along the beer.

There were only TWO beer in office fridge (Yeah, I hear you, "What kind of an office fridge is that?!") and there were three of us ready to call it a day at a quarter of five. I lost the coin flip. That meant I had to go on a bit of hunt and I found the following bottle hanging around. I'm not going to mention where I found the cache though since there are a few folks from work that actually read this blog once in awhile.

140. 2003 d'Arenberg The Stump Jump (McLaren Vale - Australia)

You can almost be counted on to remember d'Arenberg wines as much for their intriguing names as you do for the wine that's in the bottle. In fact, I remember the first time a Stump Jump wine was ever recommended (it was the red at Bin 941 many years ago).

As an entry level wine, The Stump Jump can always be counted on to please as an easy drinking and accessible bottle. The white blend changes from year to year and this vintage was a blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Marsanne. Not eaxactly a blend you'd find in France where all these varietals are main stays in Alsace, the Loire and the Rhone, but it can't be seen as a surprise when we're talking Oz.

A cool wine on a hot day, out in the sun at the start of a long weekend. This is a glass of wine that I can handle.

Nothing Faux About It

Over the last little while, we've had at least four friends tell us that they've thoroughly enjoyed a new French bistro-style restaurant that set up shop in the unlikely spot of East Vancouver. It was finally time for us to make it to Le Faux Bourgeois. It was twice as good an evening since we hardly get to see Bittr and Sweetz anymore - despite the fact we saw them last weekend. It was their suggestion to dine here since they've heard the same good things. Seemed like a no-brainer to me.

138. 2008 Kettle Valley Pinot Gris (Okanagan)

Kettle Valley is one those wineries where I probably know more about the winery than I know about their wines. Known primarily for their bigger BC reds, Boo and I don't come across it much except when out at restaurants like this.

I knew that they are one of only a few wineries that allow the grape juice to soak for a short while on the skins, so I made a bee line to it on the wine list. The folks at Kettle Valley say that the soaking enhances the fruit flavours and it definitely imparts a salmon-coloured hue to the resulting wine. They also barrel ferment a portion of the wine in older oak and allow that portion to go through maloactic fermentation before blending it with the balance of the wine that was fermented in stainless steel tanks.

Whatever they do, I like it. A lot. It would have been very interesting to serve it up against the Pinot Gris selections that we had the other week with the Wine Boyz. I think it would have fared very well.

139. 2006 Domaine de Mourchon Tradition (AOC Cotes du Rhone Villages)

This was one of those wines that was a "replacement" suggested by our waiter because they were out of the wine we'd ordered. Never heard of it before, but we love the Rhone and the waiter's tip was on the line after all.

He kept his tip. We quite liked it. I looked up the winery and it's fairly new by French standards. It was only started up in 2000. The vineyards are tended organically and it's a family run operation. They make two reds and this is the entry level wine. It's a blend of 65% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 10% Carignan and it matched up nicely with the duck confit. What more can you ask?

As for Le Faux Bourgeois, it didn't help that the restaurant didn't have any AC on the hottest day ever recorded in Vancouver. But, in every other facet, we all mirrored the positive reviews we'd heard in advance. I can definitely see returning in cooler weather for the soupe a l'oignon or bouef bourginon. A little Paris in the Springtime might just be the way to go.

Monday, August 3, 2009

J-T Rose

As previously mentioned, after the recent BC Wine Appreciation Society's tasting with Brooke Blair and a selection of the Jackson Triggs line-up, Boo loosened the No Buy Leash long enough for me to order a case of the winery's finest.

It arrived.

Although we'll be laying down most of the reds, it didn't take long to open the first bottle.

137. 2008 Jackson Triggs Rose (VQA Okanagan)

This was the wine that was served up first at the BCWAS tasting and it was certainly a hit at our table. Everyone there was looking to get their hands on some. The problem is they don't produce enough of it for general release. A special order from the winery (like our's) or buying right at the cellar is the only way to find it - outside of a restaurant wine list that's lucky enough to get some.

We were glad to find our's because it was the perfect refreshment for the hottest day ever recorded in Vancouver!! Bittr and Sweetz - having adopted their blog names after being identified by visiting relatives as a "bittersweet couple" - came by for a cocktail in the garden before we all headed out for dinner.

Last year's vintage of this wine won Best of Class at the All Canadian Wine Championship. We never had that wine, but I have to think that this year's wine has to have every bit as strong a pedigree. It was just as good as we'd remembered from the tasting.

The wine is 100% Cabernet Franc which is interesting - not because of the varietal, Cab Franc is often used for rose wines - but because J-T doesn't produce a straight Cab Franc varietal red wine. Even with their wide range of levels and varietals of wines, they only use these grapes for blending in their Meritage wines and for the Rose.

I'd love to try a Cab Franc red from them, but in the mean time, I'm more than happy to drink the Rose.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Little Algarve in the Okanagan

136. 2005 Quinta Ferreira Pinot Blanc (Black Sage Road - Okanagan)

A fairly new addition to the burgeoning collection of BC wineries, Quinta Ferreira is owned and operated by the Ferreira family. John and Maria Ferreira were both born in Portugal and emigrated to Canada with their respective families at an early age. Once married, they took over the operation of John's family's farm. They continued to grow tree fruit as John's parents had throughout his youth.

Their website states that "coming from a Portugese heritage, our passion for wine led us to convert our orchard into a vineyard after 20 years." In 1999, they planted their first grapes and they've added more varietals as the years have progressed. Son, Michael is also actively involved in the winery as he's working on obtaining his designation as winemaker.

It will be interesting to see if they add some more traditional Portugese wines to their portfolio - such as Touriga Nacional, Port and Vinho Verde.