Sunday, February 27, 2011

A White Carpet for the Oscars

So what's all this talk about "red carpets" on Oscar night? It's time for the annual movie fest and we're having a heckuva snow day in Vancouver. The only "carpet" leading up to our front door is white and, like that old shag carpet my folks had back in the 70's, it's not exactly welcome.

Don't get me wrong. I love a snow day as much as the next guy. I mean we live in the Great White North, but clearing the sidewalk is a bugger. Luckily for me, Boo took on the task this morning. In what must have been preparation for the Oscars, last night's dump did result in the sighting of a number of celebrity snowmen in the neighbourhood. After the sidewalk was cleared, we took a bit of tour of our winter wonderland and made like paparazzi with some of Frosty's buddies.

With the Oscars only hours away, it seemed like an appropriate occasion to break out a bit of bubbly and have a sip with some of our new neighbours.

743. N.V. J Cuvee 20 Brut (Russian River - California)

This bottle was hanging around from the "2010 Costco Collection." I haven't seen it available on our side of the 49th Parallel, but I picked it up while at the Bellingham Costco last year. I wasn't sure of what to expect but the packaging stood out and you can always add orange juice to a not-so-good bubble. No need to worry about that on this occasion though. The wine had a great bead (of bubbles) and was full of classic toasty notes and creamy fruit notes.

J is the name of the winery and the Cuvee 20 was introduced a couple of years back in celebration of the winery's 20 years of operation in the Russian River area. The wine is made in the classic methode champenoise and is a blend of the classic Champagne varietals - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Although Californian wine country may not see much of the white stuff that we saw today, J's vineyards in the Russian River valley have some site specific cool climate conditions. The cooling pacific fogs that flow up the valley through the growing season help allow the grapes to retain the acidity needed to make sparkling wines.

We weren't exactly cooling the wine in the snow outside, but at least our new friends weren't hogging all the wine.

744. 2009 Marcus James Merlot (Mendoza - Argentina)

Once we'd settled in from the snow to watch the real red carpet and this year's "oh so blah" Oscar presentation, we didn't stick to big name Hollywood style wine. Rather, we just carried on with the Argentine theme from the Wine Boyz the other night. Marcus James is one of the mass market Argentines that have excelled in our market. Indeed, it's one of the top 15 wine brands exported from Argentina in both value and volume.

I still don't generally think of varietal Merlot when it comes to Mendoza - and this wine isn't likely going to be the one that turns my head - but there aren't many wines in our market that come in for under $10. So, it doesn't surprise me in the least that there's a lot of it sold here.

It would have been interesting to see how it fared in that blind tasting the other night. It's easy to reach conclusions when you know what you're drinking, but it's something altogether different when you don't.

I think the J Cuvee won the Oscar for the better wine of the night though.

Open That Bottle Night - 2011 Edition

Needing to drink ourselves through 2001 bottles, there's no question that Boo and I will need to drink our entire cellar and much more. We have, however, managed to gather a few cellar-worthy bottles over the last so many years - and there's always the question of when will it be the right time to open some of them. A continual parade of big ticket bottles, night after night, may be a sinful thought - but it's hardly practical. At least not on our budget.

As a result, we get caught up - like many other people - in the practise of buying some nice bottles with the thought of opening them when a special occasion comes our way. The bottles seem to collect a little faster than the occasions come along though and it's not all that difficult to find yourself in a situation like the Tyrant was in just the other night - having a 1983 vintage of a wonderful wine that just didn't age as gracefully as the owner did.

Welcome "Open That Bottle Night." The concept is the brainchild of the former wine columnists for the Wall Street Journal, John Becher and Dorothy Gaiter. In 2000, they wrote on the topic of so many of us having one or more special bottles of wine hidden away in a closet or cellar - waiting for just that special occasion to open it. Somehow that extraordinary occasion often takes longer than expected and many of those special bottles, unfortunately, go off. Becher and Gaiter urged everyone to make an exceptional event out of nothing - make the wine the centrepiece of the event - open that bottle, with or without friends, just for the thrill and the memory of it. Capitalizing on that line of thought, Boo and I are going to re-live a bit of a Tuscan escape.

Becher and Gaiter actually advocate that there's no reason why every night can't be open that bottle night, but the formal event is traditionally scheduled to be the last Saturday of every February - and that's tonight, the 12th edition of Open That Bottle Night.

742. 2004 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino (DOCG Brunello di Montalcino - Italy)

It's taken awhile, but I'm finally adding a Brunello di Montalcino to The List. I've come close with a Rosso di Montalcino, also called a "Baby Brunello," and there have been a few Sangiovese based wines sampled along the way, but I decided that Open That Bottle Night was a great opportunity to pop the cork on the real deal.

Along with Barolo and Amarone, Brunello di Montalcino is seen as one stars of Italian wines. Before the Super Tuscans arrived on the scene as the new darlings of Italian wine production, the relatively small Brunello district was well regarded as producing distinctive wines of high quality and longevity. Altesino - the winery we're trying tonight - has been referred to, by none other than top British wine writer Jancis Robinson, as having "long been a standard bearer for Montalcino" and one of the "more senior, more distinctive vineyards" in the region.

Back in 2008, when Boo and I had a brief stay in Tuscany, we knew nothing about Brunello but Terry and Marcello, our B&B hosts, hooked us up with a tour at Altesino. It was the only winery tour we managed to pull off in Tuscany but, luckily, we happened upon a good one.

As a wine, Brunello di Montalcino has a great story - limited production, scandal involving the possible use of international varietals, old school producers facing the introduction of new procedures to increase the wine's allure to foreign markets and, not the least, a romantic Medieval village centring the regional adaptation of the local grape. This posting will barely scratch the surface but it's an example of how the story behind the wine can be as enjoyable as the wine itself.

Brunello must be made from 100% Sangiovese grapes; however, the region has excelled in its adaptation of particular clones of the grape to local hills. The Montalcino district is barely 40 miles from the centre of the Chianti Classico region - where the Sangiovese grape is also foremost - yet, the wines made from the same grapes see very different results.

Brunello has traditionally been aged for a minimum of between three and four years in large Slovenian oak botte as they impart far less of an oak influence on the wine than the smaller French or American oak barriques do. However, as some producers have introduced the use of French barriques to their winemaking process, the appellation regulations have been revised to allow a shorter minimum of two years oak aging.

Altesino produces three Brunellos - the bottle we're trying, a single vineyard label (Montesoli) and a Riserva that requires even longer aging and is only produced in exceptional years. Our "basic" Brunello is somewhat "old school" in its approach. The winemaker isn't going for a big, modern, fruity style. Rather, there's an earthiness that is front and centre and cries out for some great, Italian cuisine. Our choice of moules/frites isn't likely what we'd have been served in the local enoteca but the acidity of the tomato broth and the richness of the mussels worked fine for us. The dinner certainly brought back memories of Tuscan decadence and fanned the fires of a desire to return sooner than later.

According to the powers that be, the 2004 vintage was a particularly good one for the Montalcino region and the Altesino picked up some big scores, in the 90's, from publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. I'm hardly a point-chaser, but I always like seeing that a wine we're drinking has earned a bit of a badge of honour.

Part of the allure of Open That Bottle Night is to live and re-live life to its fullest while enjoying a special bottle of wine to heighten the experience. I think our Brunello and the accompanying memories of Tuscany is exactly what was intended.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wine Boyz Go South

Par for the course, it's been far too long since we've managed to put together a gathering of the Wine Boyz - our little impromptu blind tastings (with whomever we can put together) to blindly taste wherever our theme may go. In fact, we haven't pulled off a tasting since last summer.

The actual Boyz that sip changes up pretty much every time we get together and four of our participants were newbies this time around - with Kaver & Katz joining us all the way from Arizona. Our other virgins - Nature Boy and Vice-Man - came all the way from across the lane.

The evening's theme - playing a bit with Boo's and my trip last Fall - was South American Reds. The wines chosen and the tasting results were both interesting and rather surprising.

733. N.V Familia Schroeder Deseado (Patagonia - Argentina)

As we waited for all the Boyz to arrive, we kicked off the evening with a little Argentine bubble - not the easiest of wines to find in our market. The fact that this one was even here to be grabbed is a little surprising seeing as how there were only 1750 cases made. We're a long ways away from Patagonia for such a limited release wine to make its way up here. Made in the Charmat method, the bubble was made from 100% Torrontes and was a semi-sweet start to the night.

N.V. Luis Pato Maria Gomes Vinho Espumante Bruto (Portugal)

We actually went through a second bottle of bubble before the real show started but we've already knocked one of them back (and added it to The List at #498) - at another Wine Boyz event as a matter of fact. Accordingly, we can't count it again. With this wine, we were cheating on the theme anyhow since it's from Portugal. But then, how many people have an extra bottle of South American sparkling wine just sitting around on a regular basis?

Seeing as how all the wines were brown-bagged and tasted blind, we didn't find out that I was the only one to bring wines that weren't from the from the Mendoza region in Argentina - until all the rankings were in and the wines had been revealed. I hadn't expected any Peruvian or Brazilian wines to be in the mix, but I thought we might see at least a couple from Chile instead of our lonely one. I don't know if that's an indication of where Vancouver tastes are when it comes to South American wines or not but it was a little surprising.

For the most part, there wasn't a whole lot of difference in how everyone reacted to the wines. Everyone ranks the wines from most to least favourite and we give points accordingly - 1 for favourite and 8 for least. Therefore, if one wine took all first place votes, it would end up with 8 points. Our winner only won by 4 points and only 3 points separated the next four wines. All it took was one person to dislike a wine to put a wine's final ranking at risk.

734. 2008 Bodega Vistalba Corte C (Mendoza - Argentina) (23 points)

I have to say that I was rather pleased to see that Vistalba finished first this evening. Vistalba was one of the wineries that Boo and I visited while in Mendoza and we were a tad surprised to find it at a number of bottle shops when we arrived back home. Although it wasn't anyone's favourite for the night, it was the second pick of five of us - with a third and fourth thrown in as well.

I never get much of a chance to talk about the wines in detail in recapping a Wine Boyz night but the Corte C is an 80/20 blend of Malbec and Cab Sauv. I think the Vancouver market still mostly thinks of Argentine wines as strictly Malbec, but Boo and I found that our faves while in Argentina generally tended to be blends. Hopefully, we'll continue to see more and more of them in our market.

735. 2005 Montes Alpha Syrah (D.O. Colchagua - Chile) (27 points)

Second place went to the lone Chilean wine that made it to the table. It was also the only Syrah. In a fit of cleaning that night, Boo tossed all the tasting notes that were left behind; so, I don't recall if a big difference was noted in general. However, the wine split the gang a bit more than any other. It received three first place votes (including mine); yet, it also took two 7th place votes.

The next three wines were only separated by one point. I think it's pretty fair to called them tied for third. All three of them received at least one first place vote.

736. 2007 Bodega del Fin del Mundo Single Vineyard Malbec (Patagonia - Argentina) (29 points)

The Del Fin del Mundo was the other "favourite" of the night in that it received three first place votes - like the Montes Syrah; however, from first it went to two 4th's, a 5th, 6th and 7th. Funny that it was a bit of a "love it or loathe it."

Not that any of the wines were truly "loathed." There wasn't a heck of a lot left of any of the wines at the end of the night.

737. 2009 Bodega Clop y Clop - Los Clop Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina) (29 points)

Not a wine that I've seen before. It was right there in the middle of the pack and no one particularly disliked it - the "worst" it fared on the evening was three 5th place votes.

738. 2008 La Posta Bonarda (Mendoza - Argentina) (30 points)

The only Bonarda, the fact that someone even found or thought to bring a Bonarda to the tasting was neat. Ending right up there with the other wines is a good indication that there may well be a market for more Bonarda wines to make it up to our market.

739. 2009 Bodegas Bianchi - Arrabal (Mendoza - Argentina) (43 points)

740. 2007 Luigi Bosca Reserva Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina) (44 points)

Again, not much these two wines. Both wines picked up one second place vote; then the only real difference between them was one third place vote for the Arrabal. Except for the second place votes, I don't think there were many Boyz wrtiting down the names to run out and buy either of these teo wines.

741. 1983 Weinert Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendoza - Argentina) (63 points)

Unfortunately, there was little doubt that this was the least favourite of the evening's wines - and that's right, it was a 1983 vintage. Tyrant pulled this one from out of his cellar and thought it would be a treat to serve. It's not too often that our crowd gets to sample an aged wine like this. The bottle wasn't corked, but it had clearly lost any of the charm it likely held in years past. It pulled in seven of eight last place votes and the one dissenter ranked it second to last. In a way, it's too bad that Boo tossed the note sheets because there were some doozies when it came to the nose on this wine. If memory serves, some involved locker room aromas while others related to unsavoury bodily functions. I doubt the folks at Weinert would have wanted those descriptors detailed though.

I suppose it goes to show that not all wines are meant to be cellared. I'm sure, however, that this was a fine wine in its day. We've previously had another Weinert wine (back at #98) and thoroughly enjoyed it. I won't be scared off from the winery - but I might be a little selective if the vintage appears to be getting on.

All in all, a grand affair. There were laughs galore and the Boyz didn't leave until well after midnight. I did hear, however, of at least a couple slow morning after's that were encountered. I'll have to make sure that it doesn't take nearly so long to get the next one organized.

Cooking With Wine

"I always cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food." I saw an apron that sported this phrase and immediately wondered if I should really be laughing so - it's hitting perhaps a little to close to home. I didn't buy the apron - but only because we already have a couple and never seem to even wear those ones.

There was a gathering of the Wine Boyz on the horizon, so I had to get some of the prep work done in advance. I thought some marinated mussels would pair nicely with the wines of our next theme and that truly called for some cooking wine - if only because I actually needed to put a bit into the cooking stock and marinade. Since I needed to know the exact flavour components of the wine that I was going to use, I naturally had to sacrifice myself and have a couple glasses while working away.

732. 2009 Red Rooster Reserve Pinot Gris (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I didn't find a lot of references to the differences between the Reserve Pinot Gris and the regular label; however, it appears that this Reserve is a single vineyard wine sourced on the Naramata Bench. I'll assume that the regular label Pinot Gris features fruit from the various vineyards available to the winery. I did see that production was limited to 222 cases though. So, we're pretty lucky to have our hands on some.

Winemaker, Karen Gillis points out that the Erickson Vineyard is known for its "site specific minerality and stone fruit flavours. Richer in mouth feel than many Okanagan Pinot Gris, it was a bit of shame that I had to use any of it for the mussels. Luckily, we were able to limit the amount that went into the cooking and sip back on the better part of the bottle.

The Wine Boyz will appreciate the mussels though.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Noble Ridge Meritage

2011 is the 10th anniversary for Noble Ridge and, although Boo and I aren't all that familiar with the winery, this is the third of their wines that I've added to The List. This is the first Meritage, however. The other two wines were a Pinot Grigio (#217) and a Pinot Noir (#253 - although, admittedly, this bottle was added in a rushed state and didn't get any sort of a write-up - my bad).

731. 2004 Noble Ridge Meritage (VQA Okanagan Valley)

If memory serves me correctly, we picked up this bottle at the brand spanking new tasting room some years back when we did a bit of top-down cruise and tour of the Okanagan Falls wineries with Lady Di and She Who Must Be Obeyed. There'd been a dozen or so of us that made it up to the Okanagan for the Spring Wine Festival, but the four of us jumped into the Lady's convertible and took a spin down the lakeside for the afternoon.

It's the only time that Boo and I have actually made it to Noble Ridge's winery and I understand that there have been some substantial changes since we were there. Hopefully though, the tasting room folk are still as friendly as they were that afternoon. We were treated to the full range of wines and were allowed to purchase some of this Meritage even though it wasn't officially being released for another two weeks. We just had to promise that we wouldn't tell anyone. That Lady Di is a silver-tongue gal, I tell ya.

I thought it interesting that the winery produced a Bordeaux blend because most of the wineries in their immediate vicinity are all producing whites primarily. Indeed, even the majority of Noble Ridge's approximately 3000 case output is Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and the earlier ripening Pinot Noir. They told us, however, that their vineyards are characterized by an East-West ridge that bisects the property and results in both Southern and Northern facing slopes. The South facing slope receives greater sun exposure and certain blocks are capable of growing the later-ripening Bordeaux varietals.

I didn't find any reference to the actual blend for the wine. I believe that, with these earlier vintages, they contained only Cab Sauv and Merlot though. The owners have since planted some Malbec in 2009 and I should think it will be incorporated soon as well - if it isn't being done so already. We found that, when compared to a number of the Meritage blends coming out of the Okanagan, this wine was more restrained. It might have been a deliberate attempt to make a more elegant, food-friendly wine or may just be an indication that the grapes - even with that South-facing slope, may not be ripening quite as much as some of the grapes further down the valley. Didn't really matter for us though because the wine paired nicely with Boo's pork cutlet as it was.

We may need to add another Noble Ridge Meritage to The List soon since, as part of the winery's 10th Anniversary celebrations sees them knocking $10 off the Meritage's regular price of $30. You've got to love it when the celebrants give you a present. I like the sound of one of their other celebratory events as well - small group tastings with the owners out in the vineyard. Great fun. Now we just have to make it there.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Israeli Pinot

Much to Boo's dismay, I can amuse myself for long spells wandering wine shops. It's not the actual "window shopping" that bothers him; it's more that, too often, the urge to grab something new takes over and compels me to pull out the wallet. This bottle was a case in point; however, in my defence I grabbed two bottles - one for ourselves and one to give to the neighbours as a Hanukkah gift.

730. 2006 Galil Mountain Pinot Noir (Israel)

I had actually tried a couple Galil Mountain wines at last year's Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival. So, I recalled that they had some merit to them and wasn't buying them completely untried and on a whim (as is often the case).

Wine has been produced in the lands of Israel since biblical times and there are more than 150 wineries currently making wine there and, as is happening the world over, the quality of production has been increasing by leaps and bounds over the last couple of decades. That doesn't necessarily mean that we see many Israeli wines in the Vancouver market though.

Having planted their first vineyards with international varietals in 1997, Galil Mountain started production in 2000 in the Upper Galilee as a joint venture between the locally established Kibbutz Yiron and Golan Heights Winery, the latter having been one of the wineries that helped put Israel in the wine world spotlight. The mountains of Upper Galilee are among the highest in Israel and the winery's six vineyards are planted at elevations ranging between 420 and 700 metres above sea level. The winery relies on the higher altitudes to temper the growing conditions and offer a range of varietal characteristics.

Pinot Noir might not have been my first choice of their wines to try. Even at altitude, my first thought would be that the growing conditions must be hot for Pinot, but the wine was much lighter in body than expected. Our neighbours actually drank their bottle before us and they reported that they didn't think much of it - "thanks for the gift, eh" - so, Boo and I weren't expecting to discover a new killer wine. We were surprised at first though as we thought it paired rather nicely with the merguez sausage; however, we had to agree that, once the food was gone, the overall profile of the wine wasn't nearly as enjoyable.

I think I might need to look for a couple more tastes at the Playhouse (should the winery show up again) before I grab another bottle.

In the mean time, I get to add Israel to the list of countries that I've wandered through on this little Odyssey of mine. I figure that's definitely worth a bottle of wine.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ballet BC & Malbec - No Tango Though

It's been a couple of seasons since I've been able to make it to a Ballet BC performance. That might be a statement indicative of a great many Vancouverites, considering the near collapse of the company a couple of years back. Never a company content with performing classical Nutcrackers and Swan Lakes, Ballet BC has been on the forefront of contemporary ballet in Canada (if not internationally for years) and tonight's program was altogether enticing with two world premieres and two Canadian premieres.

I stretch it enough talking about wine; so, I'm hardly going to pretend to comment on the quality of the dance or the inventiveness of the program. The evening did, however, provide us with a great opportunity to stop in and have an early dinner at Chambar, one of the city's most acclaimed restaurants. Without reservations, we could only eat in the bar area but that was fine considering the gastro-pub fare we were looking for. Any excuse for a bottle of wine before taking on a little culture.

729. 2009 Adeluna Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

Preferring a red and having decided on sharing Moules/Frites and a tasting plate of pork 5-ways, Malbec seemed to be a lighter, fruitier way to go. Little did we know that, for an entry level Malbec, this Argentine label packs a good little punch. Luckily, the mussels were in a punchy little broth themselves.

I can't recall having tried Andeluna previously. We may have driven by the operation - or at least near by it - when we were in the Mendoza last Fall as we visited at least a couple of wineries in the Uco Valley, near Tupungato where the winery is located. Good thing our exploration of the region is easily continued back here at home.

Andeluna appears to be a reasonably large commercial winery but one that, at the same time, keeps an eye on the market they're looking to hit. With so many value-priced Argentine wines hitting the world markets nowadays, Andeluna has foregone the basic entry price level and moved into a slightly more immediate range. This wine is Andeluna's entry level label (of three offered), yet it is priced in the $20-$25 range here in BC. There are lots of less expensive Malbecs to be found on our shelves.

That approach to a higher starting point may stem from the Michel Rolland influence - as Rolland, being one of the world's most travelled wine consultants, works in tandem with one of Argentina's top, young winemakers, Silvio Alberto. This team is backed by an ownership that involves a well-known Argentine wine family, the Reina Rutini's, and H. Ward Lay, the son of the founder of the Frito Lay empire.

I could easily see our ordering another bottle or, perhaps, trying the next tier up, but that would have to wait as the corps de ballet was summoning.

Knowing that Ballet BC isn't a company where you should expect tutus and classics, I'm not sure how the rather avant-garde pieces go over with a more knowledgable crowd, but they were challenging for we neophytes. There was no chance of confusing the final piece of the evening, Petite Ceremonie, with the Nutcracker. That being said, however, it was an intriguing piece and our favourite performance of the evening - full of everything from the company entering an empty stage from the orchestra seats to wooden boxes that were used as props and even juggling with spoken word accompaniment on how men's brains work (or don't).

Hopefully, the company will continue to grow beyond their recent financial woes. If the creativeness of tonight's program is any indication, they still have no intention of falling back onto tutus and swan corps any time soon. Our wines should be so adventurous.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Viognier Fit For the Lieutenant Governor

Looks like are a couple white Sandhill wines that need to opened sooner or later as well. It might as well be sooner. This makes three Sandhill wines in less than three weeks. Oh well, I suppose there are worse things in life to have to deal with.

728. 2006 Sandhill Small Lots Osprey Ridge Viognier (VQA (Okanagan Valley)

We tend to drink Sandhill's red wines more than the whites; however, that being said, this is the third vintage of the Small Lots Viognier that I'm adding to The List. We've already enjoyed the 2007 vintage (at # 292) and the 2008 (at #348) but that will be due in part to the pedigree that this wine seems to have developed for winemaker, Howard Soon, and the winery.

As previously noted in this blog, the 2008 vintage was named the Best White Wine of the Year in Canada by Wine Access magazine, while the 2007 had to settle for a Silver Medal at the Canadian Wine Awards. This 2006 vintage got things rolling for the subsequent years when it was awarded a Lieutenant Governor's Award of Excellence as one of the very best VQA wines produced in British Columbia in any given year - one of only ten wines to be given the prestigious prize in 2007.

Viognier is still really establishing itself as a grape of choice in the province. When Sandhill put out its first vintage in 2004, there were only 93 cases produced. This bottle was from one of 279 cases. Not exactly the easiest bottle to get your hands on.

I'm still out with the jury on whether viognier is going to ultimately be a go to varietal for my cup of tea - or glass of wine, as the case may be. There was still a robust nose on the wine but the full body and taste of tree fruit still hasn't completely convinced me.

If the newer vintages continue to rack up the trophies, I'm sure I'll be back to try another.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ole! Wine Blogging Wednesday is Back!

I was late discovering Wine Blogging Wednesday - the online wine gathering conceived over six years ago by a New York blogger, Lenn Thompson, as a monthly, virtual conclave. The concept is simple enough. It's been previously recapped as, "people interested in wine, the world over, would coalesce each month around a single theme." Each month, a different host blogger determines a topic for that month. Anyone interested submits their postings or e-mail comments to the coordinator. Those musings are then consolidated and shared.

WBW had already been around for five years before I stumbled across it while surfing. I'd only participated a whopping three times before WBW seemed to lose its steam. WBW69 saw everyone revel in the Grenache varietal. Then it simply disappeared.

So, it was with great enthusiasm that I discovered that Gabriella and Ryan Opaz, of the Catavino blog, after liaising with Lenn, announced that they were going to host WBW70 and take a chance that there'd be enough interest to resurrect one of the web's longest running online wine events. They've called upon everyone to "seek out Spanish wines that you've never had before," to be creative and to "hunt for unique styles" and "unheard of regions."

My only "problem" is that I am way behind on my postings for the bottles that we've already emptied but that I haven't added to The List - that List more-or-less being the raison d'etre of this blog. Oh well. I'll just have to take a bit of a leap over those three or four dozen wines that are patiently waiting to be posted and work my way up to giving these bottles an actual number on The List. Unfortunately, it's not the first time that's happened. (Editor's Note: I've finally caught up with those earlier wines and I'm now amended this post to give the WBW wines their numbers on The List. Phew!)

As for Spain and the task at hand, you can't seem to pick a more topical theme than that for a wine-lover nowadays. I'm not sure that I'd say the Vancouver market is flush with unique styles and unheard regions, but we are seeing more and more Spanish offerings on the local shelves - and everyone's biggest drawing point is that there's plenty of bang for buck. Indeed, we had some fun trying some of the local offerings when Spain won our World Cup of Wine last summer.

In a way, though, WBW70's Spanish adventure may be a tad early for us Vancouver types. At the end of March, the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival is happening and this year's featured region is Spain. We'll be awash with dozens of Spanish wineries and hundreds of their wines. But, that'll be then, this is now.

I decided to go with three wines for this posting and ended up trying wines from three different regions. Not normally being one for three bottles in one night, we needed to make a bit of an event to accomplish this feat. Boo and I managed to coerce Mr. D. to join us for dinner and we opened a different bottle for each course.

725. 2006 Marques de Gelida Brut Exclusive Reserva (D.O. Cava - Spain)

Paired up with some Manchego and Gran Capitan cheeses, assorted olives and serrano ham, we started the evening off with some bubble. I wanted to try something other than the Freixinet or Cordoniu Cava's that tend to dominate our bottle shop shelves, but I'd always shied away from this particular wine previously because I thought the bottle was maybe a little too gimmicky - what with the shrink wrap and all. I needn't have been wary.

Marques de Gelida is found in Penedes, part of the Catalonia region in North-East Spain and the traditional home of Cava production. Although the Cava denomination is a little quirky in that it is the only Spanish D.O. that isn't necessarily tied to one region. So long as the D.O. regulations are followed - in particular, that the traditional method of making sparkling wines (Methode Champenoise) and the permitted grapes are used - Cava can be made in a number of regions in the country. That being said, 95% of all Cava is still made in Penedes.

This Marques de Gelida Cava (they have a number of them) uses the three original varietals - Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada - but it also adds some Chardonnay, now that the latter varietal has been allowed since 1986. Aged 3 years in order to merit the "Reserva" label, the wine didn't have the most exciting of mousses or endless bubbles, but it did have a much brighter palate of lively fruit than we'd expected. Boo is not one for yeasty, biscuity sparklers. So, this was more up his alley and all three of thought it'd be worth grabbing another bottle down the road.

726. 2005 Bodegas Abadia Retuerta Rivola Sardon de Duero (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Leon - Spain)

I figured we'd try making paella for the first time. Having made my fair share of jambalaya over the years, I thought what the heck. Our main course red was one Mr. D and I picked up the other night on the recommendation of one of the sommeliers at an Everything Wine tasting. There was no doubt here; we had another hit in our glasses. I'd never run across the winery before but it appears to be making quite a name for itself as an up and comer among Spanish producers.

Only founded in 1996, the winery consists of 1700 acres in the North central part of Spain - spaced out over 54 separate blocks - it's also the home of a 12th Century Romanesque monastery. Indeed, local records from the 1600's show that the resident monks of the day produced 125,000 litres of wine and monopolized the regional market. The estate is located just outside the boundaries of the prestigious D.O. Ribera del Duero and, therefore, is required to produce all of its wine under the "Vino de la Tierra" denomination - much like Vins de Pays wines in France or IGT wines in Italy. Regardless of the denomination - or lack thereof - Abadia Retuerta is located on the region's "Golden Mile," a strip of influential wine estates along the Duero River. The winery is happy to point out that Spanish superstar, Vega Sicilia, is only two miles or so down the road.

The Rivola is a 60/40 blend of Tempranillo and Cab Sauv and we were pleasantly surprised by the heft and structure we found for a Spanish Tempranillo. We figured that it could easily pass for a Bordeaux blend of nice pedigree. At $33 in our market (high I know), it still comes across as a good value.

727. N.V. Alvear Pedro Ximenez Solera 1927 (D.O. Montilla Moriles - Spain) (375ml)

I'm not so sure that we needed the creme brulee because this fortified wine could easily have been dessert by itself. With this bottle, we've moved down to the South and to Andulucia. Not for everyone, it's thick and unctuous but this PX (as it's also known) hits the spot for a "sticky" lover like me. Once again, I didn't know what I was buying when I picked up this half-bottle some time ago while in Seattle. It turns out that Alvear is the oldest producer of wines and sherries in Montilla Moriles.

The wine is made from 100% Pedro Jimenez and the dark amber colour belies the white grape varietal that is its origin. The varietal is an early ripener that likes the heat of Andalucia and the grapes are very high in sugars. Once harvested, the grapes are left to dry in the sun until they're raisined. The juice that is pressed, therefore, starts concentrated and rich and the winemaker needs to add grape alcohol during fermentation to preserve sweetness and prevent too much conversion of the sugars into even higher alcohol levels.

The wine is then added into a solera system - the production method that is generally reserved for sherry. The key concept of a solera is fractional blending - a solera being the collection of barrels used in the process and it sees a mixing of the barrels such that a portion of the wines produced over each of the years makes it into the finished product. The "1927" contained in this wine's name refers to the year in which the solera was initially started. There won't be much of that vintage left in the solera, but there will be some and the longevity of the blend can't help but add to the complexity of the wine.

You don't need a lot of it, but, if you like some pure sweetness at the end of a meal, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything sweeter. I'd say we were three for three on our bottles - and I celebrated a further benefit. I get to add the Pedro Jimenez varietal to my application for the Wine Century Club. I'm getting up there now.

All in all, a good night. So, welcome back WBW. Here's my hope that you stick around for another 70 (or more) editions. Now, if only I can get caught up on The List before WBW71 comes around.

Monday, February 14, 2011

In Amore with Enamore

Boo is working this Valentine's Day evening. Consequently, there's no passionate night of romance, fine food or wine planned for Cupid's celebrations this week. Boo does love his cochon though and I'd picked up some pork belly the other day. I also had a bottle that I'd been dying to open and was waiting for an appropriate occasion. An early Valentine's pour seemed spot on.

I didn't know that Boo had asked Mr. D to join us for dinner, but what the hey. If pork belly and fine wine is a recipe for romance, it was just going to have to be a menage-a-trois. Besides, Mr. D brought the tulips.

724. 2008 Allegrini + Bodega Renacer - Enamore (Mendoza - Argentina)

Enamore was one of my favourite discoveries at last year's Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival. Renacer was participating for the first time at the event as Argentina was one of the featured regions in 2010. The wine stood out - not only because it was a pleasure to drink (I actually kept this one and didn't simply taste and spit) - but because I hadn't expected to find an amarone-style wine from the Argentine producers.

Renacer is a relatively new operation in Mendoza. The winery was only built in 2004; but that has allowed them to build with state of the art Italian technology. Despite being less than a decade old though, many of the vineyards owned by Renacer have Malbec vines that are over 50 years of age. As Renacer is best known for its Malbec, they were able to open with a running start.

I'd actually hoped to visit the Renacer winery when Boo and I were in Mendoza last Fall; however, the winery was closed the week that we were going to be in town. I did, however, find a bottle of Enamore in one of the Mendoza wine stores. I was determined that this had to be one of the four bottles that we'd be able to legally bring back through Canadian Customs.

As mentioned, the Enamore is a play on Amarone - both in name and style. The grapes used are anything but the varietals used in traditional Italian Amarone. Not surprisingly, the wine has a backbone of Malbec (62%) with Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Syrah and Bonarda making up the balance of the blend - none of those grapes make it into an Amarone blend. Regardless of the varietals used, the "appassimento" method of semi-drying grapes is front and centre in the wine's production.

The idea of attempting this style was first considered during a visit to the winery by Marilisa Allegrini, a principal at one of the leading producers of Amarone in the Veneto. She felt that the climate and dry winds coming off the nearby Andes mountains would be ideal to expose the harvested grapes to until the grapes had lost about a third of their weight and water. Winemakers from both wineries then collaborated in using the concentrated flavours and sugars to produce a wine that has a deep, rich nose and dark, ripe fruits on the palate. As the concentrated sugars are plentiful when the grapes are pressed, not all of the sugars are converted into alcohol and, accordingly, there is some residual sugar remaining on the wine but I don't find the slight sweetness to be so prominent that you still can't enjoy the wine with dinner - and the richness of the fat in the pork belly matched well with the richness of the wine.

I've yet to actually see a bottle of Enamore for sale in Vancouver, but Renacer does have representation in the province and I'll be sure to grab another bottle when I finally do find a bottle on the shelf. A merging of New World and Old World, it's a wine that's easy to fall in love with. I certainly did.

As for there being no actual Valentine's celebration, I think I should get some bonus points for remembering that it was imminent and planning for this bottle in advance. No?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Godello On the Mountain

Alright, I admit "Go-dello on the mountain" is about as bad of a pun as it gets (especially since it's pronounced "go-day-o"). After all, we're well passed Christmas and I'm hardly spending my Sunday mornings singing gospel in church. I might have used "Waiting for Godello" but that's been used before. I guess I'm just at a bit of a loss because, before this wine, I couldn't have told you a darned thing about Godello wine. In fact, to be honest, I'm not so sure, even now, that I can say a whole lot when it comes to the greater scheme of things.

Before doing a little research into the wine, I wouldn't have known if Godello was a grape, a region, a winery's proprietary name or something else altogether. As it turns out, I have another varietal to add to my application for the Wine Century Club.

723. 2009 Bodegas Adria - Vega Montan Godello (D.O. Bierzo - Spain)

A white varietal, Godello is fairly particular to North-Western Spain - although the Gouveio grape that is grown in Portugal is thought to be the same grape. Not that I've ever seen a Gouveio wine. Indeed, Godello is so identified with its Spanish home that it was almost extinct thirty years ago. No one was growing it except for a few vintners; however, as the Bierzo region has gained a higher profile in the international wine scene, the grape has seen a slow resurgence as the primary white grape in the district.

Godello is thought to have a taste profile that is similar to the Albarino grape - a varietal that is grown in near-by regions and has also become more popular with the wine cognoscenti over the last so many years. Due to the inhospitable lands and mountainside socks and soil that most of the Bierzo vineyards are located in, the vines' roots need to burrow deep into the mountainside for nourishment. Accordingly, the resulting wine is often seen as having a distinct minerality. Some wine lovers search for such a quality but I can see how such a profile won't be everyone's cup of tea - or glass of wine.

Some winemakers have taken to aging at least part of their Godello wine in oak. Bodegas Adria has an oaked Godello as well; however, this wine is aged only in stainless steel. I'd be a little afraid to go with the oak version.

I don't see Godello replacing my Riesling on a regular basis. Then again, I doubt it's going to be a wine that we see regularly on our local shelves. It's great to run across wines like this though as discovery has got to be a big part of any Odyssey, doesn't it?

It's no doubt a good thing we tried this wine before the upcoming Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival. With Spain being this year's regional focus, I'm sure going to know a whole lot more about any Godellos that I may happen to run across than I would have otherwise. Now, how many folks are going to be able to top that?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Another Small Lots Wine for the Record

I see that we had a Sandhill Small Lots just the other night and I said that I was surprised that it was only the eighth bottle of Sandhill that's been added to The List. Since Boo wants to drink up some of the wine we have in our "cellar" (of boxes in the second bathroom), there's likely going to be more of Howard Soon's wines filling our glasses shortly. Indeed, I figured we might as well start tonight.

722. 2003 Sandhill Small Lots Burrowing Owl Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah (VQA Okanagan Valley)

With a 54/46 split between the Cab and the Syrah respectively, it's a pretty even blend of the two varietals. Although these two grapes are often blended in Australia, it's not a blend that we see a lot in BC - likely because there isn't an endless supply of ripe Cab Sauv around on an annual basis. The Cab that does ripen is generally made into varietal wine or used in Bordeaux or Meritage blends. It would likely take a smaller or even experimental program for a winery to go this route - hence, only 287 cases of this vintage was made.

Relatively rare - and despite the fact that I adore Howard Soon and the winery - this wasn't my favourite Sandhill wine. The winery touted that "the Syrah from the Burrowing Owl Vineyard is big and tannic. Blending it with the Cabernet Sauvignon lightens it up and gives it finesse and heightened aromatics." Maybe we should have opened it awhile back but I don't think it quite lived up to the hopes and expectations. Not that it was unpleasant. It just didn't have any notes or aspects that jumped out for me.

If it's true that we should have opened it earlier, I guess that just plays into Boo's mantra that we don't need to buy any more wine until we've finished off most of what we already have. What a sad thought. The good thing is that we would have to drink our way through a fair bit more Sandhill.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Couple Furrocious Wines

Since Boo and I behaved ourselves last night and didn't stay up until the wee hours at the Pool Party, we were actually able to get up and function through the day.

We may not have had it in us to hit the slopes but, even at our advancing ages, we could still wander the Village, do a little shopping, sip back on coffees - even blog a little - along with the best of them. It was actually a bit of a surprise to find the Village as decked out with Pride flags as it was. I've been to a number of Gay Ski Weeks over the years but I don't recall the locals as being as all-embracing as they seemed to be this time. I guess the post-Olympics let down has been a bit rougher on the economy than expected. If a little rainbow colouring spurs spending of the "gay dollar," so be it.

It was a little disappointing that there wasn't much in the way of snow in the Village. There was plenty on the ski hills and the less travelled paths, but the Village itself was rather bare. You didn't have to go too far to find the snow though and during a stroll to the Upper Village, I noted the deck chairs along the river bank and thought it would be cool to open a bottle and blog a wine out in the snow. My brilliant idea was a bit of a non-starter, however. Boo thought there was a tad too much emphasis on "cool" being the operative word here. He said he had no objection to an afternoon tipple but it wasn't going to be while we were playing snowman.

I'd grabbed a couple of bottles from the wine rack to bring along for just such an occasion. So, we settled back into our suite and opened another bottle that's been hanging around for awhile, thinking that having a glass before heading off to the apres ski activities was exactly what we needed.

720. 2003 Jacob's Creek Centenary Hill Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

Jacob's Creek is one of the largest selling brands in the world, but such success can come with its own cross to bear. I'm probably like most people in that I tend to associate them with their value-based Classic series - especially when that line is pretty much all that receives a general listing in our provincial liquor stores. The winery actually has three levels of wines and the Centenary Hill is one of their "Super Premium" wines. I'm pretty sure that I must have picked this up at the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival a couple of years back when Australia was the featured region. I don't know that the wine is otherwise available in our market.

Chief winemaker for twenty years, Philip Laffer - who just happened to be named Australia's Winemaker of the Year in 2002 - has since stepped aside from a daily involvement in the winemaking but he was still in charge of the Centenary Hill with this vintage. He's been quoted as stating that it's far more challenging to make a large volume of good wines, at a reasonable price, than it is to make a small quantity, boutique wine. On the other hand, it's a lot easier to have the wherewithal and resources to make premium wines when you have those volume wines to help pay the bills.

I don't think Centenary Hill qualifies as a "boutique" wine, but Laffer does strive to make it to exacting standards. Three blocks of the winery's vineyards have been identified as producing particularly nice fruit. Those blocks are fermented and matured separately and Laffer chooses what he feels are the best barrels to blend as the final wine.

I don't know how much of the Centenary Hill was produced but I see that our bottle was individually numbered as "20717." As unlikely as it is, if we purchased the last numbered bottle of the vintage, that's only about 1700 cases. Even if you double or triple that rather limited production, when the winery as a whole can produce up to eight million cases annually, we're potentially talking nothing but the winery's finest.

We found it a bit bold without food but the full and intense, dark fruit was up front and likely could have withstood even some more aging to mellow out some of the big edges. I can see why I would have gravitated to a wine like this at a tasting though. I might need to give the value lines a bit more of look.

721. 2006 Nk'mip Qwam Qwmt Merlot (VQA Okanagan Valley)

We followed that premium Aussie with one of the Okanagan's more notable labels during dinner at the Westin's restaurant, Aubergine Grill. Nk'mip was an early favourite of mine in the new BC wine regime. I loved the whole involvement of the Osoyoos Indian Band and the fact that this was the first aboriginal owned winery in North America - but I've already written about much of this in past posts.

The QQ series is the premium label for the winery. We're told that "Qwam Qwmt" translates from the band's native tongue as "achieving excellence," although you'll often see the phrase "best of the best" in many articles. Regardless of the translation, the wine in the glass clearly translates as "tasty." We needed a wine that was versatile enough to match up with Boo's buffalo and my lobster pasta - not the easiest of pairings but the wine was approachable and more than suitable.

It's not too often that BC wines get a front seat on the world wine stage but Nk'mip experienced precisely that when, in 2009, one of the world's most renowned wine writers, Jancis Robinson, titled one of her regular Financial Times columns, "Nk'mip - Qwam Qwmt Merlot Anyone?"

I don't know how Ms. Robinson would have reviewed our next little pastime but I doubt she could have given it a better name. Following dinner, we joined up with some of the Whistler Pride gang at one of the two big parties being held that night - Furrocious. This is hardly the forum to discuss the in's and out's of "bear culture" in the gay world, but this party seemed a little more appropriate for Boo and I than the "twink" heavy disco night at one of the Village's more notarious night clubs.

Having already done a good job on the better part of two bottles, there was no need for another here - even if it had been possible to buy an entire bottle. But, you know, it's not every day that we join in with an international party crowd; so, it only seems fair to mention Furrocious in this post. We might not have been drinking wine here, but the evening's earlier grapes definitely played a part in the enjoyment of the evening.

Winter Pride at Whistler

At last year's Chefs for Life gala dinner, Boo and I picked up one of the silent auction items that included a two night stay at Whistler. Time's been flying by and the expiry date was nearly upon us; so, we figured that a couple nights during Winter Pride would be the way to go. My days as a ski bunny may be well behind me, but there's still a fair bit of apres-ski left in my bones - especially when the resort has open arms to gaggles of gay men from around North America and beyond. Ski Week might not reach the party levels of last year's Olympics but it's still a big draw on the party circuit.

We managed to arrive in time to make it for the apres-ski beer garden and ran into more people than we expected to - even one of the Toronto curlers that had played in the Pac Rim Bonspiel last weekend. After the beer-up, Boo and I decided to join in with the Dine Around crowd. Every night during Ski Week, the organizers promote a couple of restaurants in the Village. One of tonight's choices was perennial Whistler favourite, Araxi. We'd never been before; so, we thought it would be a nice start to the weekend.

719. 2007 Telmo Rodriguez Lanzaga (DOC Rioja - Spain)

Araxi has quite the lengthy wine list and I'd never heard of Lanzaga before - likely because my knowledge of Spanish wines is pretty limited - but the waiter recommended it and I figured a Tempranillo wouldn't overpower the wide range of plates that we'd ordered. Turns out that the winemaker, Telmo Rodriguez, is becoming a bit of rock star in Spanish wine. We certainly enjoyed the wine.

Rodriguez comes from an established winemaking family and, after finishing his education and an apprenticeship in France, he took over the reigns at his family's winery in Rioja. He ended up leaving to set out on his own in the 1990's and has since worked to create a range of brands and wines that capture the diversity of nine different viticultural regions in Spain. As he puts it, he's become a "driving winemaker" rather than a flying one - as he moves from one region to another throughout the year.

He's known for his commitment to the uniqueness and regionality that is abundant in Spain; yet, his modern approach to winemaking results in approachable and well-received wines. Known to deride operations that rip out old bush trained vines of indigenous grapes, his wines seem to benefit from the low-yielding vines that fill his vineyards and struggle to produce in some challenging conditions.

The Lanzaga is Rodriguez' mid-range wine in Rioja. It tastes of a New World approach that is well-balanced and soft with lots of red fruit coming through. This vintage was 95% Tempranillo with Garnacha (Grenache) and Graciano filling out the wine at 3 and 2 percent respectively.

As mentioned, we quite enjoyed the wine and I'll be sure to see if he's going to be in attendance at the upcoming Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. With Spain in this year's regional spotlight, there's a good possibility. I can't wait.

By the time we'd finished both our bottle and dinner, we knew we'd had enough and didn't need to hit the big pool party that was the evening's big draw. After all that goodness, even the beckoning view of hundreds of men in speedos, well-chosen swim suits and budgie smugglers wasn't enough to dissuade us from bundling up and heading back to our hotel. That never would have stopped me 10 years ago. Guess I'm getting older after all.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sandhill Malbec

I did a quick search of the blog postings and the wines I've already mentioned and I was rather surprised to see that this entry is going to be only the eighth Sandhill wine that will actually be added to The List. I suppose that eight wines from one winery is still fairly hefty but I thought we drank more Sandhill than that. Guess I've been saving them for too many special occasions.

I'll have to remedy that over the next so many months because I know we've got more than a couple more bottles hanging around the house.

718. 2001 Sandhill - Small Lots Phantom Creek Vineyard Malbec (VQA Okanagan Valley)

With time and space a premium, I won't regurgitate a lot of what I've already written about Howard Soon and Sandhill in those earlier postings I mentioned, you could always use the search function on the blog and take a look at them if you're interested. Rather, let me say that it wasn't easy to find out much about this Malbec on the net - even Sandhill's very complete website, in its section on past vintages, only starts with the 2002 vintage.

Sandhill's first vintage for any wine was 1998 and the earliest reference I could find to the Small Lots Program was the 1999 Barbera. I think this 2001 was the first bottling of Sandhill's Malbec and there were only 288 cases produced. I no doubt picked it up because I'd never seen a BC Malbec before this. It may well have been this first Malbec varietal wine ever released in the province. There may be more and more Malbec being grown in the Okanagan but the grapes are largely used in Bordeaux blends. There still aren't all that many wineries that produce a Malbec varietal wine.

Interestingly enough, at least for me, Boo's and my "adopted row" at Red Rooster is Malbec and Red Rooster and Sandhill are both owned by Peller Estates. No doubt Howard Soon and Red Rooster's personable winemaker, Karen Gillis, have had more than a couple chats about the qualities and capabilities of the Malbec grape in the Okanagan. I know that Red Rooster only started growing their Malbec to add to a Bordeaux, Meritage blend but the Malbec proved to be so good that they bottled it on its own - that's another story though.

I'm a tad surprised that it's taken us this long to open the bottle. I generally don't think of Malbec as being a wine to lay down for a long time. Further, I'd think that an early venture into the varietal - like this Sandhill - might not be the best bottle to experiment with for aging. It wasn't deliberate on my part, but I guess it's safe to say that my faith in Soon is strong enough that I figured the wine could handle it.

I'm sure that the wine likely had more fruit on both the nose and palate when it was released seven or so years ago, but at least a wine that's well-balanced when it's released has a much better chance of standing the test of time - even if it doesn't hold all its fruit. At this point in its life, this particular bottle wasn't going to take on big Argentine Malbecs, but then I doubt that was ever the intent of the winery. We thought it held its own for dinner though - even after all these years - and I'm sure that the newer vintages will be even stronger.

I'll have to look for a same year vintage of both the Sandhill and the Red Rooster and taste them together. It would be fun to see how the master and one of his protegees approach the same varietal.