Monday, November 30, 2009

A Mouthful of a Name

OK, so I figured, as we lead into Halloween, the wines could use a little atmosphere for the photo. The setting does not necessarily imply that the wines themselves are scary.

243. 2006 Fazi Battaglia Le Moie Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore (DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi - Italy)

Now, how's that for a mouthful? That in itself might be a bit scary.

The wine is perhaps a bit more simplistic than the name might suggest. Fazi Battaglia is the producer. Le Moie refers to the vineyards. Verdicchio is the grape varietal. And Castelli di Jesi is the region in the Marche province where the wine is produced.

The Marche region, in the past, has been a bit off-the-beaten-track. It follows the coastline of the Adriatic Sea to the East of the better known - and better travelled - Tuscany and Umbria. As in much of the rest of the country, and the world, wine production has improved with modernization and Marche wines are started to be taken a little more seriously.

Much, if not most, of the wine produced in the region is white and Verdicchio is the best known. It has been seen as a "lesser" varietal in the past; however, it is now seeing a bit of a boost in popularity and is being touted as one of Italy's finer native, white varietals. Being a particularly good match for seafood is often its claim to "fame." It is also often referred to as having a bit of a "bitter" finish - which does lends itself to being more of a match for food than a patio wine.

The varietal is still not commonly found in BC liquor stores. I only saw three wines listed on the BCLD website. However, as Italian wines gain in popularity, it will be interesting to see if Verdicchio becomes a more common wine and a little easier to pronounce.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lady Di & Yew

We received an invite from She Who Must Be Obeyed to join up with her and Lady Di for a birthday brunch at Yew, the restaurant and bar at the Four Seasons. Considering who the invite came from, there really was no saying "no." Not that we wouldn't have welcomed the opportunity in any event. I've heard some good things about Yew and, thus far, had only ever popped in for a single drink some months back.

I've gotta say that I like the look of the restaurant - very West Coast Modern - and I'll definitely need to come up with an opportunity to dine in the glassed in wine room.

We also lucked out in that the hotel was having a Sunday special - all wine was half price! I don't think I've ever seen that before, but I liked it. A lot. It provided a perfect opportunity to try some higher end wines that might otherwise be out of our price range when dining out. Unfortunately, we weren't going to get the chance to avail ourselves too much of the special. Not everyone was going to join us in a glass - seeing as how it was still only 11.00 a.m. and they had busy afternoons ahead of them.

That was until we tried the wine though. Another couple glasses were brought out after sips were shared.

242. 2008 Kettle Valley Viognier (Naramata - Okanagan)

I've always thought of Kettle Valley as home of big, extracted, primarily red wines. I also think of them as being rather hard to find. They may produce a large number of wines (one count had them at 29) but they generally make small batches of those wines.

It was the Viognier that caught our eye this morning though. Like me, Lady Di is a fan of the varietal and it sounded like it'd match wonderfully with the breakfast dishes like lobster roll and crab Benedict with saffron hollandaise. And it did go down easily - aromatic and crisp - it took no time before a second bottle was needed. We didn't ponder the possibility of a different, second wine for long - despite my ever-present desire to add yet another bottle to The List.

I gather there must not be much of this Viognier around. I didn't even see it listed among the Kettle Valley wines on their website. Hopefully, we'll find more down the road.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thrills, Chills, No Spills

This is a bit of an interesting entry because it's going to take a number of venues and events into account all at once. The picture above was from the Thrill The World annual dance. I'd heard about the zombie event which is staged simultaneously around the world - when everyone starts dancing the choreography from Michael Jackson's Thriller at the same time.

Since I was heading downtown for dinner that night anyhow, I thought it would be great to check it out. I was NOT disappointed! There must have been close to 250 zombies, in all degrees of costume, rocking the show. If I hadn't headed there on my own, it would have been an incredible spot to add a blood red wine to The List.

The wine didn't happen, but I did think that it would be amazing to take part next year.

Rather, the wine had to wait until I arrived at Tyrant's happy little condo. He had asked a couple of the old fraternity brothers over for cocktails before dinner because, Kavanator, one of the University Arizona Dekes that we've known for years was in town for a brief visit.

Turns out that Tyrant didn't wait very long to open one of the bottles that we'd picked up the other weekend while on the Naramata Bench.

239. 2007 Marichel Syrah (Naramata)

I hadn't expected to add this wine to The List so quickly. Marichel Vineyard was one of the wineries that Tyrant, Taylor and I visited the other week in Naramata. I guess Tyrant picked up a few more bottles than I did and he felt that he could open the first tonight - to our distinct benefit.

I'll find another time to talk more about Richard and Elisabeth Roskell and their winery. I first came across them at the Naramata Bench Spring Release Party a couple of years back. It was their first vintage and we found them to be one of the "finds" of the night. I'd been looking forward to actually visiting the winery and being able to buy some of their wine.

Finding their wine may always be a task. Their intent is to only produce wine from the grapes grown on their estate of 7 1/2 planted acres (with perhaps a few supplemental grapes from their neighbours on the Bench). They only grow two Rhone varietals - Syrah and Viognier - and their goal is to produce a BC Syrah that will both reflect the Bench's terroir and make people take notice at the same time. They doubt that they'll ever exceed production of a thousand cases and they were completely sold out of the Viognier when we visited. We managed to pick up some of the remaining Syrah though.

The limited amount of wine plays a big role in the price of $44. So, it may never be your everyday house wine - even if it were readily available. But, it was grand of the Tyrant to break out this big red for us to enjoy before heading out for dinner.

Once we'd polished off the Marichel, we moved on for dinner. Luckily, we didn't have too far to go that night. The skyline is a picture from the Tyrant's balcony and we were heading to Lift, the restaurant that just happens to be the building in the bottom right corner of the photo. I'd never been before and was looking forward to seeing what it was like.

240. 2006 Edge Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa - California)

With eight of us at the table, the dishes being ordered went all over the map. Choosing a wine to match everything wasn't going to be easy - particularly with a lot of fish on the menu. So, we just went with a bottle we were pretty sure that we could enjoy, with or without the accompanying food.

The Tyrant is a West Vancouver boy and, as it happens, so is one of the original folks behind this Napa Cab. Edge started out as a side project of Ray Signorello and three of his boyhood friends. The idea was to produce a premium Napa Valley Cab at non-Napa prices.

Their website says that 2006 saw an addition of about 12% Merlot to the Cab to help smooth out the wine. Not being a regular tippler of Napa Cabs, I'll never be the one to say how whether this bottle has the edge over its competition in value and price but it didn't take us long to polish off a couple of bottles.

Dinner topics went all over the map; however, there was no end of checking up on the score to see just how badly Kavanator's beloved Wildcats were losing on the football field. Not only did he have to put up with the American jokes but his team was getting trounced. He may well have been happy to see the last wine bottle empty so that we'd all pick up and move out.

Moving out, however, simply meant heading on back to Tyrant's - where there was more wine at non-restaurant prices. We were pretty good to our host though. With work for some and travel plans for others, we only drank a quick night cap from his cellar.

241. 2002 Paradise Ranch Late Harvest Chardonnay/Riesling (VQA Okanagan)

Paradise Ranch is a bit of a rarity in that it is one of only three wineries in Canada (at least as of last year) that only make Icewines and Late Harvest wines.

Reading from John Schreiner's writings, there appears to have been a fair bit of change happening with the winery over the decade since it was established - ownership, production levels and even having an estate vineyard or production facililites. But, then, pinning your business hopes on making your premium product one that requires good growing conditions during the spring and summer and then minus 8 degrees C. temperatures before you can harvest, doesn't necessarily lend itself to continuously restful sleeps.

This was a Late Harvest, as opposed to an Icewine, so the -8 temperatures weren't required, but favourable growing conditions are still needed in order to allow the "sweetness and varietal flavours to intensify."

I'm a real sucker for dessert wines and this was a fine way to end my evening. I don't know how many of the boys stuck around after Boo and I left or how much trouble they got into, but, hopefully, The List didn't suffer too much from our "early" departure.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Watershed Moment

Now back from both Vancouver Island and the Naramata Bench, I'm hopefully going to be able to settle down a bit and get some postings done so that I can catch up a bit. There won't be as much need for travelogue as well as wine talk.

238. 2004 Watershed Shiraz (Margaret River - Australia)

Don't worry. I didn't open an Aussie Shiraz just to go with soft cheese. It just made for a better picture of the bottle and it did show off one of the Poplar Grove cheeses that I picked up on the weekend while at that winery.

As you can see on the label, a fair bit of effort goes into marketing this winery - with competitions and labels for medals. I suppose it does draw your eye to the bottle on the shelf - it did mine - and it's a good way to gather some attention and momentum for a newer winery. So long as you can deliver.

Watershed wasn't a winery that I was familiar with - and I like to keep my eyes open for all things Margaret River. A bit of Google-ing (has a proper spelling for that "word" been determined yet?) shows that their first release of wines was in 2002 and that they're located in a pretty tony region of Margaret River - next to renowned Leeuwin Estates.

The winery started with a syndicate of investors and had the single largest initial planting of vines in the area. They now have four vineyards and are one of the few regional wineries that have the capacity to go for international sales.

New winery or not, it is delivering for the wine writers. Noted Aussie writer, James Halliday, has awarded Watershed his highest ranking, 5 stars, and it has been called one of the top ten Dark Horse Wineries in Australia.

All this being said, I'm guilty of liking a bit more fruit on my Shiraz when it comes to just sipping. This wine was fine with food (not the cheese so much) and I'd try Watershed again but this bottle wouldn't be my first choice for a cocktail party or sitting in front of the TV.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Old Faves and Some New Ones Found

Once we'd had our fill of Red Rooster's endless offerings, we wanted to take in at least a couple of other wineries on the Naramata Bench since it had been a couple of years since any of us had visited. Our first stop was to be LaFrenz but there was a big "Sold Out" sign greeting us at the driveway. This was the weekend after the Okanagan Wine Festival; so, I suppose it's not surprising that their remaining wines would have been snapped up during that week.

We did manage to find some wine still at perennial fave, Poplar Grove. I was darned pleased to find that they still had a bit of the Syrah, that was a particular pleasure at the BC Wine Appreciation Society summer picnic, still for sale. I'll be looking forward to adding that to The List in due course. And speaking of courses - cheese, in fact - I can never leave Poplar Grove without buying all sorts of their excellent cheeses.

We only had time for two more quick stops at two wineries that I'd never been to previously - Howling Bluff and Laughing Stock. Both are putting out highly acclaimed wines, so it was good to finally get a chance to visit them personally.

Back at the house, there was just enough time for a short hike or a peaceful, relaxing nap. Taylor took the hike - and it was no doubt "peaceful and relaxing" as well - but I chose nap. Tyrant went to work on getting dinner prepped. What a guy.

By the time Taylor returned, it had been well over an hour or so since our last sip, so we cracked the day's first addition to The List.

236. 2003 Tinhorn Creek Oldfield's Reserve Merlot (Golden Mile - Okanagan)

I mentioned "cracked open" because Tinhorn Creek was one of the first BC wineries to bottle almost all of their wines - white and red - under screw cap. 2003 was the first vintage that the winery put all their signature Merlot under Stelvin.

It would have been easy to just open one of the day's purchases. Bringing wine with us on this trip might be seen as a bit like "carrying coal to Newcastle," but I'd figured that most of the reds we'd be buying would be nice with a bit of aging, so I brought this bottle along as an offering to the pot.

There are a number of things that I like about Tinhorn Creek - approachability, pricing and the wine (funny that) - but this was a vintage that I remembered as being one that I specifically sought out after tasting it at another BCWAS tasting. We all thought it was holding up with plenty of body and fruit for a 6-year old BC Merlot.

Good thing because, Tyrant was doing magic in the kitchen with rack of lamb and dinner could stand a bit of heft in the wine.

237. 2006 La Frenz Reserve (Naramata Bench - Okanagan)

There's no mistaking the heft of this wine. This is La Frenz's contribution to the Meritage/Bordeaux blend category and the winery says that it "represents the very best of our red wines." "Immense," "concentrated" and "dense" are descriptors that they've chosen to define the wine on their website. I don't think we'd quibble with them on this.

La Frenz has gone with a higher percentage of Cab Sauv (60%) in this vintage, filling out the wine with 30% Merlot and a final 10% of Cab Franc.

This wine was one that we just lingered on for some time. It was sufficient enough that we didn't even need a further bottle to get us through a flighty, little romp watching Bruno. I couldn't believe some of the OMG moments in the movie, but I definitely believe I'll readily look to trying another bottle of the Reserve down the road. Good thing both Tyrant and I have another couple of bottles in the cellar.

And on that happy note, there wasn't anything left for us on this trip but a bit of sorting out the morning and making a final stop at another (new-ish) winery that I'd been hoping to finally stop in at. Marichel wasn't open for daily tastings anymore, but luckily, we were granted a gracious visit - despite the fact that they'd been up crushing grapes until early in the morning and were sold out of virtually all their wine. Good thing that the remaining wine is a winner and will be added to The List shortly.

Now, back to the day-to-day.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Crush Course

Considering the better part of our drive yesterday was through fog and pouring rain, it was nice to wake up and see that we were merely overcast - and, hopefully, not due for a drenching. I'd really been looking forward to this harvest event as I'd never been able to make it before despite having been an adoptive parent at Red Rooster for about three years now. Tyrant had been to the party a couple of Falls back and he'd waxed glowingly about the fun to be had. This year's harvest party started off with coffee and Tim Horton's while all the adoptive parents were told a bit about the viticulture process at the winery and how the year's growing season had been.

As informative as hearing about the various components of the winemaking process was during the day from winery manager, vineyard coordinator and, particularly, winemaker Karen Gillis, we were all anxious to actually get out into the vineyard and pick us some grapes. All of the adopted rows are located just outside the winery's tasting room and they were fully laden with this year's Malbec grapes. Most of the winery's grapes had already been picked but they deliberately left our rows unpicked with this event in mind. October had seen an early, hard frost this year, so the grapes were at a point where they were no longer ripening. We were told that, once the leaves have started falling off after the frost, the vines are no longer giving any additional nourishment to the grapes. It was definitely time to get the grapes picked and crushed.

This playing "farm boy" proved fun - not that I'm really kidding myself. But for the moment, there just weren't enough grapes to keep us going. We had all the grapes harvested within the hour. Now that might have been a good thing since a light rain started falling on all our efforts. The unbridled enthusiasm might have started to wane had the rain been harder and earlier.

I'd be remiss if I didn't admit to the fact that I had to nibble on some of those grapes. They were just calling out my name, saying "taste me, taste me" - or at least the row had my name on it and how could I not try some. It was surprising how sweet they were. I wouldn't have figured that you could throw a bunch of Malbec grapes on the table and just chow down.

Once all the grapes had been picked, we wandered over to the winery building where there were a couple more introductions to both staff and processes.

We watched as a couple bins of Cabernet Franc grapes (that had been picked the day before) were crushed. It was interesting to see just how much of the skins and stems actually get pumped along with the juice for the initial fermentation. I'll leave how that big machine separates fruit from stem and "determines" how much of the grape and vine continues on to the next stage to the engineers and winemakers. There's no doubt that there's a bit of hefty work involved though. Our little hour in the vineyard doesn't begin to give a real idea of all the work involved. Picking is romantic. Drinking and tasting is romantic. Cleaning and lugging is work.

And that may be why we got to move on to the wining and dining aspect of the day. There was a grand little lunch buffet supplied and there was no limit to the wine. We tasted our way through four wines that included barrel samples and my favourite, the recently crushed viognier. I know they told us the technical winespeak term for the early-stage wine, but I forgot to write it down. Silly me. Since this is the first vintage of Viognier for Red Rooster, we weren't able to sample before and after versions, but I'll have to try and remember the distinct juiciness and sweetness when I try some of the finished product - because you know I want to.

Although it might seem a tad strange, I don't actually get to add a bottle to The List because we were simply trying a number of wines as they were being brought around. The boys and I didn't finish a specific bottle. I did, however, order a box of wines (thanks to a brief relaxation of the No Buy Leash by Boo).

We might not have got the chance to jump in the barrel and stomp away at the grapes, but I definitely hope that we can make the spring pruning party and come to see our adoptive baby again.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Back to the Bench

I've mentioned a couple of times in previous posts that Boo and I have "adopted" a row as part of a marketing program that Red Rooster winery offers. I think it's quite a savvy program where the "parents" adopt a row at the winery. It's hardly a step in the direction of owning a winery, but it might as close as most of us will ever get. Then there are perks as well. Not only do the adoptive parents receive a yearly case of wine and special offers at the tasting room, but the winery also hosts two events a year - a pruning party in the Spring and a harvest party in the Fall.

It's the latter event that I made my way up to. Unfortunately for him, Boo had to work this weekend, but The Tyrant and Taylor, another couple of friends, were headed up for the party so I tagged along with them.

Following the afternoon drive up the Coquihalla, we arrived in Naramata with just enough time to settle into our accommodation on the Bench and head over to the winery for an informal mixer. There was a tasty spread of hors d'oeuvres and four of the wienry's latest wine offerings. Since we didn't actually commandeer and drink a bottle by ourselves, I'm not adding one to The List; however, the boys and I did carry on back at the house for a bit after the soiree started to wind down.

234. 2008 Oyster Bay Merlot (Hawkes Bay - New Zealand)

It might seem a little sacrilegious to be drinking New Zealand wine in the heart of BC wine country, but, hey, it's always good to see what the competition is up to. In Vancouver, Oyster Bay is one of the better known Kiwi producers but - like most things vinous and Kiwi - they are better known for their Sauvignon Blanc.

Normally operating out of the Marlborough district on the South Island, with this Merlot, Oyster Bay has expanded its reach and started operations on the North Island at Hawkes Bay.

It might be an interesting move on Oyster Bay's part, but I wonder if this wine has the chops to take on BC's Merlot - particularly since it is being marketed as a cool climate wine. The Okanagan may be a long way from determining if certain varietals are THE choice to grow in the region, but Merlot is certainly an early favourite among the reds. We didn't have any problem downing this bottle, but I don't know that it intrigued me enough to give up on the homegrown bottles.

235. 2005 Poplar Grove Cabernet Franc (Naramata - Okanagan)

When talking homegrown bottles that can draw you in and keep you wanting more, there's no doubt that Poplar Grove is in the forefront. Tyrant treated us to one that he's had in the cellar for a bit. Cab Franc has been a specialty for Poplar Grove almost since the beginning of the winery in 1993. In BC, we probably see the varietal used more in Meritage blends, but Poplar Grove is one of the few, and one of the best, at producing a straight Cab Franc varietal wine.

At $40, this isn't your standard Tuesday night burger wine, but this was a bit of a special occasion. It's not every weekend we get a road trip into wine country. And, then, we were going to need a bit of fortitude for the next day's work in the field. If nothing else, this wine has some fortitude and it seemed a fitting finish before hitting the sack.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dancing the Passo Doble

Back from vacation and settling into every day life again, I thought a little exotica from the wine world might help keep that vacation spirit alive.

233. 2006 Masi Topungato Passo Doble (Argentina)

I've mentioned previously that I'm particularly intrigued by ripasso wines (partially because they're like a little brother wine of Amarone and I can't afford to drink Amarone except on a once in a blue moon basis). This Passo Doble is a most interesting take on ripasso wines - and I love the play in the name, like a second pass.

Masi is the well known producer of Amarone and Valpolicella wines in the Veneto region of North-East Italy. In the 1960's, Masi created created the ripasso technique, which they refer to as a double fermentation. It was a means of creating a fuller Valpolicella styled wine without going the whole route of drying grapes as with Amarone wines. Originally Masi would ferment young wines on the drained but unpressed skins and lees of grapes used in making their Amarone.

They've altered the method somewhat nowadays and this version of a ripasso wine sees the original wine fermented for an abbreviated time and then semi-dried grapes are added, together with additional yeasts, to start a second fermentation. The result is concentrated flavours and sugars which lead to a fuller and richer wine with higher alcohol levels.

This wine is a result of Masi's move into Argentina in the 1990's when they acquired an estate in the Topungato Valley in Mendoza. They use Argentina's best known grape, Malbec, but they blend it with juice from the Corvina grape (which forms about a third of the wine) and a bit of Merlot. Neither Malbec, nor Merlot, could be used in Masi's Venetian wines, but Corvina is one of the three primary varietals used for Valpolicella and Amarone.

It is the Corvina grape that sees the appassimento technique of partial drying, such that about a third of the water in the fruit has evaporated when the grapes are added whole to the young, fermented wine.

Sandro Boscaini, from Masi, has been quoted as saying that Passo Doble is a "wine with an Argentinean soul and Venetian style."

In some ways, the romance of this bottle makes me want to just love it - particularly when watching Dancing With The Stars - but it doesn't quite live up to my desires. It's a very full sip, with lots of fruit and tannin; yet, I can't say I needed to open another bottle immediately. I will buy it down the road to try it again, but that time might be a little ways away.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Giving Thanks

As much as I'd been dreading the moment, I woke up this morning to the realization that this was our final day on vacation. Come tomorrow, it was back to Vancouver and getting readjusted to heading back to work. Good thing our last day with Bella Jianna and Flyboy B. was going to feature Thanksgiving Dinner.

Back in her Kits Girls days, Bella Jianna was much loved for her regular scheduling of "Orphans' Dinners." A good number of the actual Kits Girls - and the guys that adored them - were transplants to VanCity. And whether they were from the Prairies, the East or farther afield, everyone was welcome to the Easter and Thanksgiving potluck dinners so that they wouldn't be alone at a time of family dinners.

We were hardly orphans now - more like old married couples - but there was a promise of a fine evening.

We still had a number of hours before dinner though, so we continued to enjoyed the leisurely pace of Sidney and the Saanich Peninsula, taking a walk on the waterfront, sipping back a latte and hitting a farmer's market (come grocer) to pick up dinner supplies. Picking out vegetables was about as potluck-y as this dinner was going to get though. Bella Jianna was so organized that there was nothing for us to do but relax - and eat.

230. 2004 Elephant Island Apple (Naramata - Okanagan)

Kiwi yesterday and apple today. We don't usually see so much fruit wine (not that grapes aren't fruit), but Bella Jianna had picked up this bottle during a trip to the Okanagan and thought that this was the perfect occasion to open it.

Not all fruit wines are declared or marketed with vintages - maybe because it seems that most of them are made for quick drinking and not aging. Elephant Island, however, sells a number of their still table wines in their portfolio with a vintage designation. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a 2004 wine was still as fresh as it was. It wasn't quite as bright and acidic as the current vintage would likely be, but you could definitely still taste the apple in the wine and it was a nice way to start the evening.

Bella Jianna's turkey had to be the best tasting bird that I remember digging into in many a year - if not ever. Her "trick" in the cooking process (if she really parted with the true secret) was to start by rubbing down the bird and roasting pan with olive oil. She then sprinkled chopped herbs that she just plucked from her garden and, finally, she added a couple cups of Chardonnay. The bird was continually basted with the wine through the roasting and the result was delectable!!

It's been a number of years since Boo and I have had the chance to share a Thanksgiving table with Jianna and Flyboy - and I'd been looking forward to it ever since we'd found out that our trip to the Island would allow us this pleasure. And a pleasure is exactly what we experienced - lots of reminiscing friends and moments from the year and years past.

231. 2007 Tantalus Riesling (VQA - Okanagan)

Another pleasure that I'd been looking forward to was opening this bottle of wine. Ever since Boo and I went to the BC Wine Appreciation Society Tantalus tasting earlier in the year, I'd been looking for an appropriate occasion for what I was hoping would be a special wine.

As noted on Tantalus's website, "it doesn't get any better in the wine world" than to get the approval of British wine writer Jancis Robinson - and Ms. Robinson has singled out Tantalus on at least two occasions. The first time, in 2007, she referred to Tantalus Riesling as the creme-de-la-creme of Canadian wine. That was the 2005 vintage but Tantalus's wines continue to impress year after year.

Tantalus has also been highly praised by internet wine star, Gary Vaynerchuk. He tried this 2007 vintage and, in his inimitable way, said that it was like "taking apples and rocks and making a salad out of it."

The wine does have a whack of acidity to it. So, if you're looking for an off-dry Riesling, this isn't your best bet. But there's still a lot of fruit evident here and I like it!

Turkey and Tantalus is a winner in my book.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't say that I think this bottle is also one classy package. I love the label and its prominent BC art.

232. NV Gaspereau Vineyard Reserve Port (Nova Scotia)

Just as I'd brought out the Tantalus as a wine to give thanks for, Bella Jianna told us before dinner that she was saving a special treat for dessert. In the summer of 2008, she had cycled across Canada and picked up this bottle after she'd reached her destination on shores of the Atlantic.

We had a great laugh when Boo and I told her that we'd visited the same winery when we'd visited the city of Halifax in 2006. If memory serves, we even bought a bottle of this Port as well. Before we made it to my namesake city, I didn't even know that there were wineries in Nova Scotia and the Maritimes. And here both Bella Jianna and we were impressed by the same wine. Small world.

I do rather wonder how long the winery will get away with calling this wine a "Port," particularly since it was entered into and won a gold medal at the International Taster's Guild Association competition. I think the Portugese will come calling should they catch wind of the winery. "Port" is a proprietary or trademark name that is supposed to be only available to wines from Portugal. None of our BC fortified wines go further than to call their wines "Port-styled."

All the same, the bottle was a lovely end to our evening. I couldn't find out much about the making of the wine; however, one site said that it was fortified with local maple syrup and L'Acadie brandy.

I think we had plenty to give thanks for.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bella Paella

Our last wine stop for the afternoon was at the Muse vineyards. I know more about the winery from its earlier life as Chalet Estate. Bella Jianna and Flyboy B used to live a couple of kms down the road and we inevitably made the trek to the winery whenever we managed to spend a weekend. Those treks include some mighty fine times - including a (much delayed) wedding reception (for Jianna and Flyboy), a 40th birthday party and a fine old barrel tasting in the cellar.

Chalet was sold in 2008 and the change in ownership also saw a change in name this year to Muse. We trust that we'll still be able to visit and enjoy some fine times - and fine wines. We were rather surprised to see that some of the old Chalet Estate wines were being sold and were told it was because there weren't that many bottles left in the cellar and they needed to clean house a bit. So we quickly grabbed a few that we remembered as faves so that we would be able to add another few to The List as we progress.

Then it was home to actually try one of the Muse wines.

227. 2006 Muse Pinot Noir (Vancouver Island)

The Saanich Peninsula isn't known as a hotbed for growing red grapes, but this bottle is labeled as being "Island Grown." I don't know if the grapes were all estate grown or whether the estate Pinot Noir vines were supplemented by other grapes from elsewhere on the Island. All the same, it was light and pleasant enough to start the evening off as we prepped for dinner.

A lot of people have a signature dish and Bella Jianna has always been justifiably proud of her paella - in fact her prowess was well established years ago when she was still one of the legendary (at least in my life) Kits Girls. But the story of the Girls was briefly told in an earlier posting; so, I'll keep this entry paella-centric.

When most of us still thought pizza and beer was a great dinner selection, BJ not only knew what paella was but she could already serve one up with aplomb. When she offered to prepare it, there was no question that we'd take her up with pleasure. It's been a long time since I've got to enjoy one of her standout meals, but it was great to see that it had only improved with time.

Our Bella Jianna also decided to keep with the theme of the day when it came to refilling our wine glasses. Once the Muse Pinot Noir was history, she brought out a bottle from one of our other stops during the day's tour.

228. 2007 Church & State Coyote Bowl Merlot (VQA - Okanagan)

Although we, indeed, stopped in for a tasting at Church & State at the Island location, the fruit going into their Merlot is actually grown at their vineyard on the Black Sage Road, just down the way from Burrowing Owl. I don't think I know of anyone brave enough to try Merlot on Vancouver Island - yet. Who knows what might be in store with global warming and all? But for the time being, a wine this big and juicy is going to need a tad more heat units than the Island can provide.

This bottle was gone as well by the time we were done with the paella. So, our hosts brought out the final wine to complete our day's tour. It wasn't a purchase from the day, but it did allow us to pay some respect to Marley Farms, just as we had to our other stops for the day.

229. NV Marley Farms Kiwi Solera (Vancouver Island)

This is a non-vintage wine that was "named" for a richness and depth that was reminiscent of sherry. The traditional method of making sherry in a series of barrels that are fractionally blended each year is called a solera. When we tried a tasting of the wine earlier in the afternoon, I asked the woman serving us if the winery used an actual solera system to make the wine and she replied in the affirmative.

I can't find any reference, however, to the use of the actual system on the website. This is a specific and expensive means of aging wine; so, I think the winery would want to advertise that fact as much as possible. BC author John Schreiner writes that Kiwi Solera is aged for two years in oak. So, I'm left thinking that Marley Farms is simply referring to the taste profile and not the vinification process.

Not that it mattered at the moment we opened the bottle. I supposed that's more of a blog concern. At the time, we were looking for an accompaniment to our cheese, nuts and jam. The afternoon's taste seemed more honeyed to me than the evening's bottle but, since Bella Jianna had bought this bottle a couple of years ago, this drier, more oxidative taste might just have been indicative of another couple years of storage.

But, hey, how often am I going to get a chance to add a Kiwi wine to The List - regardless of the production methods. Let's be real.

All in all, it was a good day for us - and for The List.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tasting the Saanich Peninsula

One of our hopes for this little vacation was to visit at least a couple of wineries and see what's happening on de Island mon. Luckily for us, it didn't take any arm-twisting to coax Bella Jianna and the Flyboy to make an afternoon of it. Living in Sidney, they're not far at all from the wineries that have set up shop on the Saanich Peninsula.

I was particularly looking forward to re-visiting Marley Farms as we'd throughly enjoyed a previous tasting with them when last we stayed with our hosts. I remember being pleasantly surprised trying Marley's Kiwi wine and hearing about the family ties to dat odder Island mon, Jamaica.

Marley is still producing their Kiwi and fruit wines but they have a lot more of the traditional grape varietals now that their vines have had a chance to establish themselves in the bucolic setting. The winery hasn't lost its sense of fun though. One of the remaining fruit wines is named, Rastaberry. I'm assuming that you can guess what the base fruit is.

Our next stop actually wasn't a winery. Being a small church cemetery looking over the valley hills, it might have been an interesting location to pop a cork and add another bottle to The List. However, it was an impromptu spot to take in the view and we didn't think to bring along any glasses. We could have opened a bottle that we picked up at Marley Farms but drinking straight from the bottle in a cemetery might have raised a few eyebrows from passersby.

Our next stop was the Island's biggest winery Church & State. Until the current ownership took over the failing winery that was Victoria Estate, the location and impressive building was the most consistent thing working for the old winery. Nowadays, most of Church & State - from land to grapes and production - is based in the Okanagan.

They enticed the winemaker that helped put Burrowing Owl on the BC wine map, Bill Dyer, back from California and they now win medals, awards and journalistic praise all the time. The Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes that are grown on the Saanich site are now used for a sparkling wine, but the tasting room and dining facilities are still top notch.

Following our tasting at Church & State, we thought it might be a good idea to grab a bit to eat and actually get down to some real drinking. The sun was cooperating; so, it was deck-time to a little hole-in-the-wall (hardly) that Bella Jianna knew.

226. 2007 Larch Hills Ortega (Okanagan)

Just like yesterday's Bacchus wine, Ortega is another grape that you don't see a lot as a varietal wine. It is another of the hybrid vines that remains after most others had been ripped out in BC to make room for the Merlots, Chardonnays, Pinot Gris and Shiraz that dominate our vineyards now. It made sense to me that Ortega would be a grape that we'd see grown on Vancouver Island with its cooler climate. The waiter told us that this was another Island winery and that we could add to our vacation list of local wines.

Turned out that, once we'd ordered, opened and tasted the wine, we took a look at the label and found out that it wasn't an Island winery at all but was from the northern end of the Okanagan Valley. A mistaken source was hardly a reason for sending back a bottle of wine though.

Ortga is a cross between two other Germanic varietals, Muller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe, that can also still be seen sometimes in the province. The wine resulting from this grape is known as being crisp, fruity and aromatic and often on the off-dry side of the spectrum.

I've since discovered that Larch Hills is found around Salmon Arm, north of almost all other BC wineries. In fact when the lands, now forming the winery's vineyards, were purchased in 1987, the land was total bush and no one had ever tried growing European varietals that far north in BC before. Ortega was one of the grapes that was seen as having a fighting chance. When the winery released its first wines in 1997, it was an Ortega wine that was offered up. It has since become a signature wine for Larch Hills.

One of the joys about these Germanic varietals and their abundant fruit is that they can match nicely with a wide array of food. Hence it was welcome addition to salad, fish and chips, an oyster burger and pizza that arrived at our table.

We made one last stop after lunch, but I'll save that for the next posting since we actually opened a bottle the winery's offerings for dinner.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Return to Sidney

After arriving back in Tofino from Hot Springs Cove, the plan had been to head straight out and try to hit a couple of wineries in the Cowichan Valley as we made our way down to Sidney. Our late flight out, due to the fog, kind of put the kaibosh on that plan - particularly when we stopped for a tad in Port Alberni.

Shaun, our host at the boat & breakfast, has some incredible native art gracing The Innchanter - masks in particular. We were compelled to ask where he found them. While most came directly from local artists, he did suggest one rather novel location - a pawn shop in Port Alberni that has developed a bit of a specialty in native art. It was a great tip and we saw some beautiful pieces and at prices that were substantially lower than the Tofino galleries. We decided to pick up an incredible grizzly bear mask, but the car was already packed to hilt and we couldn't have fit anything further even if we could have afforded to.

This left us even further behind and it was now after 5 pm. So, we didn't get the chance to drop in on Alderlea - our Island discovery. By the time we made it to Sidney and to Bella Jianna and Flyboy B's home - our new vacation paradise - it was getting close to 8.00. We were hard pressed to make it to a local fave restaurant of their's before the kitchen shut down.

Once again, I was rather surprised at the lack of Island wines on the restaurant list, but, wouldn't you know it, they did have yet another Alderlea wine available. So, what the hey...

225. 2007 Alderlea Bacchus (Vancouver Island)

Bacchus is another white wine grape that you don't see a lot of on its own as a varietal wine - at least not globally. That might be because it is not usually considered as producing an elegant wine. Rather it is used more to blend with other whites. It has a bit of foothold in BC though as it was planted here as it excels in cool weather growing conditions and can withstand the cold Canadian winters.

The grape was created in the 1930's by crossing Muller-Thurgau with a Silvaner x Riesling grape. It was only released as a varietal for general cultivation in 1972. As it ripens early, it is seen as a possible grape on the Island in areas that Riesling might not consistently flourish, especially since Vancouver Island doesn't feature the desert that much of the Okanagan Valley does.

Once again, Alderlea delivered. It seemed well suited to our mix of dishes, everything from chili squid and caesars through fish & chips and seafood pasta.

I didn't know how many wines Alderlea actually produces but we were certainly tasting a good assortment on this vacation.

Flyin' High

One of the things that The Innchanter's website warns you about is the unpredictability of the weather. Unforeseen and inclement rains or winds can easily prevent a guest's departure. When booking a stay, they remind you that it's best if you're ready to have to spend an extra night in case the weather changes. Unless you arrived on your own boat or kayak, you're pretty much limited to hitching a ride on the whale watching and hot springs tour boats or flying out on one of the small float planes.

Here it was time for us to return to the more hectic pace of the city and we woke up to a world of fog. There wasn't much chance that a single-prop Cessna was going to be able to negotiate a landing in our little neck of the woods.

All we could do was keep our fingers crossed that the skies would clear by noon. Although there was definitely movement on the fog issue, the fog was still with us come noon and we had to decide whether we were going to keep hoping or try and get on the first tour boat that was going to leave. Turns out that decision was made for us when a couple campers and government workers showed up on the dock with great bundles of gear. Two of the other guests were already going to take the boat and, all of a sudden, there was no room for us whether we wanted to leave or not.

We got a break when everything started clearing big time about an hour later. Tofino Air called The Innchanter to say that they'd were able to get out of the harbour and that they were on their way. Timing was moved back about an hour and a half, but we were still going to make our way down Island. Yippee.

I'd really been looking forward to the short flight. It's a rare occasion that I get to head up into the wild, blue yonder in such intimate circumstances.

It's only a 15-20 minute flight but, as you can see, it's a heckuva way to commute.

If you click on the one photo and look closely, you can even see some of the bathers soaking in the hot springs. It was neat to see an aerial shot of our little haven of relaxation.

We'd hoped to add another bottle of wine to The List during the short flight, but we were told by the pilot that he's been waiting years for the stewardess/trolley dolly to finally show up to work. The next bottle would have to wait until the evening.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Last Enchanted Evening

As our stay at Hot Springs Cove was down to the final night, we savoured what ended up being our last hike along the boardwalk through the park.

Looking back on some of the pictures that we took, it's anything but difficult to see how special our part of the world is. We don't make it over to Vancouver Island very often, but times like this certainly make me long for the next opportunity.

We had a short while before our host, Shaun would have dinner ready. Sounded like a good time to enjoy another sunset and another cocktail. Dinner was going to prove interesting since one guest wouldn't eat seafood and another wouldn't eat red meat. There isn't exactly room on the ship for big pantries or freezers, so Shaun didn't have any chicken available. That pretty much left him to come up with a vegetarian dish that would be hearty enough to satisfy a day of outdoor activity.

224. 2007 St. Hallett Gamekeeper's Reserve (Barossa - Australia)

Considering the fact that we had no idea what we'd see as far as meals went while at The Innchanter, I figure we brought along some pretty savvy choices. As far as Barossa reds go, this is as approachable as it gets. A blend of mostly Shiraz and Mourvedre, this wine is known as a super BBQ wine that's a good value, at under $15, for what it delivers. The more traditional Aussie varietals are fleshed out a tad with a small percentage (4-5%) of Touriga Nacional, the grape that's traditionally known as producing base wine for Port.

The Innchanter was full of guests tonight, which was interesting considering that Shaun was getting ready to shut down for the season and sail the ship down to Port Alberni for the winter this year. Apparently, he's got a date in Peru for the winter. Despite the full ship, most were off to bed early. So, I took the last couple sips of the Gameskeeper and headed back up on the deck to watch the star-filled sky for a bit. We don't get a view like that back in the city. With all the "light pollution," you'd never realize how full the sky really is. Got to take advantage when an opportunity presents itself.

No picture, but, trust me, it was a enchanting way to end our last night on The Innchanter.