Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The 2011 Miss Jaq Wine Picnic

I was thinking there must be some sort of a witty title involving "Stock" and "Rock" but then realized that, nah, this was a rare Miss Jaq event and she deserves the headline. MJ and I were chatting the other day and we realized that her departure was imminent and we hadn't arranged the annual wine picnic yet. Neither one of us could conceive of it not being held. Luckily, we were able to work out the one night where everyone was available and we set the date in stone.

The picnic is our gift to her for being such a wonderful gal and friend. We work out the nibblies and wine details, while her job is to pick a location. This year she opted to stay on the North Shore and to partake in a little ramble in Ambleside and Dundarave. It's not often that Boo and I get a chance to take in the West Van Seawall; so, we were thrilled when the weather decided to cooperate.

Living in Abu Dhabi (a Muslim country), can prove a tad difficult when it comes to wine. Although you can buy alcoholic drinks at Western hotels, Miss Jaq tells us that you need to obtain a government licence before you are able to buy anything for home consumption at one of the few liquor stores that actually exist - and, even then, the selection is limited. I fully remember her distinct instructions that we needed to buy the maximum number of bottles that we were allowed at the Dubai Airport the last time we visited.

Accordingly, we like to pick some nice wines when we're with her - and I'm rather certain that there aren't any BC wines accessible over there.

898. 2008 Laughing Stock Chardonnay (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I know that Miss Jaq is partial to her Chardonnay. So, I figured a bottle of Laughing Stock would be a welcome pour. It shouldn't be a surprise to any regular readers here that I'm not much of fan when it comes to heavily oaked Chardy's.

Although Laughing Stock's Chardonnay certainly sees its share of oak, I'll readily admit that this is not a case of the "oak monster" proclaiming its dominance. A healthy 70% of the wine is barrel fermented and then aged in French oak; however, I think they've handled their integration of oak nicely. It likely stems, in part, from the fact that the winery has introduced the use of oak puncheons instead of the more standardized oak barrique barrels. Because the puncheon is about twice the size of a barrique, the wine's continual exposure to the oak is moderated. The actual fermenting of the wine in oak - rather than simple ageing in oak - is generally seen as resulting in a better integration of the oak as well.

The good news was that Miss Jaq declared the wine a successful introductory bottle to our Oyama Sausage patés and Moonstruck and Salt Spring Island cheeses. We had to be rather circumspect with our glasses since we were out in the open, but those glasses didn't stay full for long anyhow.

899. 2007 Painted Rock Syrah (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I was particularly looking forward to the picnic's second bottle. This is the first Painted Rock wine that I've added to The List - not that I haven't wanted to. I managed to snag a few bottles of the winery's limited production, but they're known to have some heft to them and I wanted to give them a bit of time to age.

The relatively new winery on the BC scene has been pulling in accolades since it released its first wines in 2009. Indeed, I read that, at the 2009 Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, Painted Rock was named Best New Winery of the Year. It followed up that win by garnering two Lieutentant Governor's Wine Awards in 2010 (the only winery to do so that year) - for its initial release of Cabernet Sauvignon and Red Icon Meritage blend.

This Spring, I was lucky to attend the BC Wine Appreciation Society's annual Gala Dinner that brought the wines of Painted Rock and the culinary treats of Rain City Grill together. I've already written about that dinner; so, I'll try not to repeat myself here, but I remember particularly liking one story about the Syrah that owner, John Skinner, told the assembled diners.

He recounted that the winery has planted two Syrah clones in the vineyard. Being new to winemaking, John asked his consultant, flying Frenchman, Alain Sutre (who also consults for big name BC wineries Burrowing Owl and Osoyoos Larose), if they should consider using the two clones to make two differently styled wines - one New World and one Old World. We all chuckled when John said that Sutre's response was to basically question Skinner's sanity. He was told, in no uncertain terms, that blending the two Syrah clones would capitalize on the strong points of each and create a more complex and layered wine. To do otherwise would be foolhardy.

They seem to have resolved that discussion successfully. Sutre still consults for Painted Rock even though his original contract has expired. We were told that he specifically asked to stay on because he wanted to be involved in capitalizing on the opportunities being placed before the new operation. Sutre told John that he feels the winery's terroir has the potential to create wines to rival some of the best in the world.

He might be on to something. This 2007 Syrah was the only wine from BC to be served at this Spring's Bacchanalia Dinner - the centrepiece event and prime fundraiser for the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. Not a bad gig for your first vintage.

We didn't have the finest of crystal glasses to fully enjoy the nuances on the wine's nose, but I think it's fair to say that our location and company was a sufficient compromise. The wine in our little picnic glasses, was dark and full with plenty of fruit and spice. Unfortunately, the bottle was long gone by the time we moved from our grassy perch to the beach to watch the sunset and dig into the cherry pie that Boo slaved in the kitchen to make for Miss Jaq.

It was hard to believe that this was going to be our visit with Miss Jaq for this summer. Her visits come and go so quickly - and she's in such demand - that there's never enough time to get fully caught up and enjoy each other's company. It's a good thing that she looks forward to the annual wine picnic as much as we do. At least we know that there'll always be one great chance to connect.

Too bad we have to wait another year before we can do it again.

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