Sunday, January 29, 2012

Quinze Roures

Seeing as how much we enjoyed the Chapel Hill Grenache from Oz the other night, we figured there'd be no harm in crossing the globe and trying a different take on a bottle of Grenache - albeit on the lighter side of the spectrum. Yet another wine has risen to the surface from boxes hidden away now that Boo has me on my No Buy Leash. This is a good thing - no?

1052. 2006 Espelt - Quinze roures (D.O. Empordà - Spain)

Another new winery and Spanish appellation to me, I don't actually recall how we came into possession of the bottle. It's likely the fact that I saw the wine was made of Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc and hoped that there might be another addition for the Wine Century Club totals. I've already added Grenache Blanc as part of my original application. So, it was much to my dismay that I've discovered that the powers that be don't consider Grenache Gris to be a unique varietal. It is only a mutation of the standard Grenache varietal.

On that note, we were left with hoping that the wine was good enough that there couldn't possibly be any grounds for disappointment. That wasn't exactly the case either.

As mentioned, I don't recall having run across Espelt previously. Turns out that the winery is relatively new and was only built in 2000 - despite the fact that the vineyard has been worked by the Espelt family for a century or so. Located in Spain's northeast corner, in Catalonia and close to both the French border and the Mediterranean, the winery quickly became the largest in the region. More than a few online articles have pointed out that the winery was practically on the doorstep of El Bulli, one of the world's most famous restaurants before it shut its doors.

Espelt grows 17 different varietals and produces an assortment of styles across the spectrum - red, white, rose, sparkling, you name it. Half their production is exported - and they're obviously hoping to crack the Vancouver market - so, I'm a little surprised they didn't present their wines at last year's Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival when Spain was the featured region.

As for the wine at hand, I very much doubt that Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc is a blend that we'll find being made in our home vineyards. If the two grapes are anything like the more common red Grenache varietal, they just need heat units to ripen that can't be reliably expected vintage after vintage - even in our southern Okanagan vineyards. There is a little bit of Grenache being grown in the Okanagan, but I don't know if a white version would command as much attention.

Not really knowing what to expect, I'm not certain if our bottle was bang on or a little off. The web seems to indicate that the wine sees some oak while being aged - and that definitely came through - but the website description of "light with slight green hues," "sweet and ripe with a lasting acidity" was far from the wine in our glass. Our wine almost had an oxidized sherry like quality and I don't know if either Boo or I would go out of our way to pick up another bottle (even if I were allowed to at present).

No new varietal and not a favourite wine - guess I'd best just assume that the bottle was past its prime and move on to the next bottle.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Different Chapel Hill

After last night's Australian Wine Appreciation Society's Gala Dinner, it just seemed natural to open an Aussie wine of our own to celebrate Australia Day. In my last post, I mentioned that we tried a couple wineries for the first time last night and that Boo and I will have to try and fit visits to a couple of them into our travels Down Under come April. Tonight's wine isn't from one of those newly discovered wineries, but it is one that I'm finally getting to enjoy - for a full bottle - for the first time.

I never did get around to blogging much about last year's Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival - likely because I spent too much time tasting wines at it - but this is one of the bottles that I picked up last year. And I've been dying to open it since that time. The Playhouse Festival can be amazing for discovering new wines and wineries and this was a definite keeper in my books. I went back to the winery table all three days of the big Festival Tastings just to make sure that I really liked their wines as much as I thought I did the first day.

Nothing changed for me. I liked them the first day - and I liked them even more by the third. The winery was new to our market and I hadn't heard of them before the Festival but Boo and I have already made contact with them to make sure that we don't miss out during our vacation.

1051. 2008 Chapel Hill Bush Vine Grenache (McLaren Vale - Australia)

I won't go into a whole routine or essay on Chapel Hill at this time - but only because I fully expect to do more than my share of coming to terms with everything that they have to tell when we're Down Under. I will say, however, that this is the style of wine that hooked me on Aussie wines in the first place - all those years ago. It's a big wine with all sorts of dark fruit coming at you - no getting around that - but it also has a lovely integration of spice and richness with the fruit. With or without food, this is a bottle that can be enjoyed by wine newbie or geek. It's got a bit of something for everyone.

This is the first of what I hope and expect will be many more Chapel Hill wines to be enjoyed at our home. Good on ya, mates!!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

G'Day to Ya!

I suppose I really should keep in mind the fact that I'm somewhat behind in my posts. I can't really afford the luxury of waxing away endlessly on an entry that isn't going to result in my being able to add another wine to The List. Tonight's annual Australia Wine Appreciation Society Gala Dinner begs a bit of a mention though.

It can be a bit of a blogging disappointment when I recount a wine dinner like tonight's. Opportunities to try some of the wines that make their way out of the AWAS Cellar can be rare, but the couple of ounces we get to savour don't seem to justify adding a full bottle to The List - as much as I'd love to. Tonight's celebration - which actually coincides with Australia Day - is no exception. The special occasion saw the association pull out an assortment of wines from "a variety of regions to demonstrate the quality of the 2002 vintage across Australia."

The evening revolved around five courses and nine wines - with the wines representing seven different wine districts. Australia may not have a specific appellation system in place but almost all the big production areas were covered - Hunter Valley, Margaret River, Yarra Valley, Clare Valley, Barossa, Coonawarra and the Limestone Coast. Some might quibble that we were missing Tasmania and McLaren Vale, but I think it might have been difficult to bring any more wines to the table - even though we'd arranged to SkyTrain home from the RiverRock Casino where it was being held.

The nine wines we enjoyed hailed from nine different wineries as well - from AWAS favourites like Wolf Blass and Peter Lehmann to some that I'd never heard of before. Prior to tonight, I can't say that I've ever tasted a wine from - or even heard of - Margan (Hunter Valley), Lengs & Cooter (Clare Valley) or Rockford (Barossa Valley). Interestingly, Boo's and my favourite wines of the night were from two of those previously unknown wineries. Boo loved the Rockford Rifle Range Cab Sauv so much that he said he'd let me off to leash to buy some - if I could find it. My favourite of the evening was the Lengs & Cooter "The Victor" Shiraz Grenache.

We might well have uncovered a couple of wineries that we somehow have to fit into our tasting regime when we head Down Under in April. As if we didn't have enough wineries already to fill three vacations.

The restaurant, Tramonto's, chefs served up some incredible courses as well - almost to the point of there being too much food. And, if big boys like Boo and I are saying that, you know no one went home hungry. Last year's Gala Dinner was held here as well, but I think they raised the bar appreciably this year. The rabbit terrine and the roasted leg of lamb were easily dishes that I'd return to order again.

In addition to the wines and meal, I loved the moment where we were introduced to Robert McKay, one of Tramonto's sous chefs. The RiverRock is justifiably proud of Robert as he was one of the few, during last year's Vancouver Hockey Riot, that tried to stop the mob from smashing the windows of and looting the Bay's downtown store. Screaming, "Not in my city" as he valiantly stood his ground, he was severely beaten for standing up for Vancouver. I recall seeing the internet clip of him standing his ground and the ugliness of the rioters beating on him. His bravery that night still brings tears to my eyes.

The evening's wine and dinner were enough to make it memorable - whether or not I get to add a wine to The List - but being reminded of Robert's bravery was the icing on the cake. He, alone, makes the "extra effort" of this post worth it. Good on ya mate!

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Surprise for the Chinese New Year


If you thought my last post on an Aligoté wine from Ontario seemed a bit on the wild side, you're going to love this one - a sparkling wine from China! Boo and I were going to have some take-out to celebrate the arrival of Chinese New Year and the Year of the Dragon. So, I stopped by the big, provincial specialty liquor store (at 41st & Cambie) to see if they had any Chinese wines in stock. I figured, if anyone was going to have some, it would be them. Even though my only other experience with a Chinese wine (#366 on The List) wasn't all that memorable, it was a couple of years ago and I figured it's worth another shot.

I couldn't find any wines on my own but the system said that they had a few in the store; so I asked for some assistance. After receiving the most quizzical of looks, I was directed to a small selection of Chinese wines. There might have two or three others, but it was the sparkling one that caught my eye. After all, bubbles can match up with all types of food and they certainly have that air of celebration.

The upcoming year is a celebratory one for many. According to Chinese astrology, it's going to be a year for the water dragon. In addition to the 12 astrological animals, there are 5 worldly elements that, alternatively, influence a given year. The water dragon, therefore, only appears once every 60 years. It is associated with thunder, lightning and arousal and plays a strong role in governing the accumulation of wealth. It is a dragon though and that can lead to unpredictability and transformation. As water can be a relaxing influence, this water dragon is seen as being calmer than the other dragons which adds to the auspiciousness of the year.

Sound worth celebrating?

1050. N.V. Dragon Seal Sparkling Brut (Huailai Hebei - China)

Without a doubt, this bottle provided no end of surprises - much like what might be in store with this upcoming Year of the Dragon. For starters, I didn't even know that there were Chinese sparkling wines - let alone ones that are being imported into North America. Dragon Seal was the first producer of sparkling wines in China and has actually been doing so since 1988. They apparently use the méthode traditionelle, use 100% Chardonnay grapes that are organically grown and make around 5000 cases a year.

The vineyards and winery are located in Hebei region and I read on one site that they are approximately 80 miles north-west of Beijing. Dragon Seal's wines (not only the Brut) have won some international awards and were apparently the reason that China's first appellation - Huailai Hebei - was set in motion.

Although the secondary fermentation in the bottle is only for a shortened 9 month period, there is still a prominent note of toast evident on the palate. I wouldn't say that the bubble action - or mousse - offered much excitement but the wine actually hits the mouth with some pleasant fruit that leads to a tart finish. The back label says that "this wine has an unforgettable finish." Unfortunately, for me, it was the finish that didn't quite cut it. I can't put my finger on what was the problem, but there was something that didn't quite sit right as the glass emptied. It was almost as if there was a medicinal nature to the underlying flavours.

By the end of our ginger beef (which the wine didn't really match up to), I think it's fair to say that Dragon Seal Brut is better than just a novelty. It was definitely better than I'd expected, but I don't know I'd be quick to pick up a bottle for next year's Chinese New Year. It is, however, Year of the Dragon and who knows where its unpredictability could see us end up.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Uncommon Denominators - Aligoté and Niagra

Time for another addition to my Wine Century Club list of varietals. Aligoté is a French varietal that, while well established, isn't seen all that much nowadays. What's interesting to me about this wine is that it's an Ontario wine that's being opened. Despite the fact that, the last time I checked, Ontario was still part of the same country as BC, we don't see many Ontario wines out west. As of 2011, there were 147 wineries in Ontario but there are only 21 wines from the province currently listed in the provincial BC liquor branch - and half of those listings are icewines.

British Columbians, on the whole, may not be in love with all things Ontario - especially not the Maple Leafs - but I'd personally be in favour of seeing more of their wines out here.

1049. 2007 Château des Charmes Aligoté (VQA Niagra-on-the-Lake - Ontario)

If you think that there's a paucity of Ontario wines in the BC liquor system, you might also consider the fact that there are only two Aligoté varietal wines available. Château des Charmes' version is no longer one of them. Accordingly, we weren't quite sure what to make of this wine but it exceeded any expectations that we might have had.

Aligoté is actually one of the two traditional white varietals grown in Burgundy. You might have heard of that other white grape, Chardonnay, and, as a result, Aligoté - like a poor cousin or understudy - tends to find itself hidden in the background. The varietal is commonly used in making the sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne and the varietal still wine is the customary wine that is mixed with Cassis liquer in French bistros to make Kir - certainly a summertime favourite of mine.

Known for its higher acidity and slightly herbal hint on the palate, Aligoté is clearly a secondary grape in Burgundy. Its plantings constitute only about 1/8th of the traditional white varietals planted in the region. It isn't seen all that regularly out of France either - although it apparently has a presence in Eastern Europe. And at least a bit of one in Ontario as well.

The back label on our bottle says that Château des Charmes' Aligoté is the only one produced in Canada. The winery, however, has been growing the grape since 1978. Back when the Canadian wine industry was just starting to grow out of its Baby Duck days, Château des Charmes was one of the first to establish itself on the estate winery model. It also started experimenting with classic Vinifera varietals that might be able to weather the Canadian winters. Château des Charmes felt that it found a winner with the Aligoté and they've stuck with it ever since. Winemaker, Paul Bosc, finds that "Aligoté can be a chameleon by exuberantly expressing its terroir."

Bosc played an integral part in those early experiments and he has an interesting past as well. His family has winemaking roots in France and Algeria and, prior to his arrival in Canada, he was the general manager of one of the largest and most successful wineries in Algeria. Bosc, like most Frenchmen, evacuated Algeria after a seven-year civil war resulted in France giving the country its independence in 1962. Following his arrival in Canada, he had a varied career in what comprised the Canadian wine industry of the day - until he help found Château des Charmes.

The winery is now one of the largest producers in Ontario, making around 70,000 cases of wine a year. It is particularly well known for its white wines which are perennial winners in various competitions. They were also on the cutting edge when they became one of the first wineries in Ontario to design and build a winery with visitors clearly in mind. Back in 1994, when the new winery was built, there was no Ontario Wine Road or wine tourism in place. They've played a major role in helping establish the industry that is in full swing today.

As for the Aligoté, I mentioned that we were pleasantly surprised. The wine expressed qualities similar to unoaked Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Canadian magazine, Wine Access, has gone as far to say that this Aligoté is "one of the most overlooked whites in Niagra." Both Boo and I thought it matched particularly well with our salmon.

All in all, I've got to be pretty pleased with this bottle. I get another wine for the Wine Century Club (I think I'm now around 115 or so); we have a rare opportunity to try an Ontario wine - and we got to thoroughly enjoy our wine for the evening.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A New(ish) & Welcome Take from Argentina

Yippee, the snow has stuck around for a bit and I've finally caught up with my post for Wine Blogging Wednesday 73. Problem is that I'm still well behind on my posts and the time for WBW74 has already arrived. Nothing like posting out of sync so that, to regular readers, it looks like you've just stalled out for awhile. Sorry about that. There's no guarantee that there will even be a WBW75. If there isn't, the confusion might disappear. Regardless, I'll just have to try and keep up with the present as much as possible.

1048. 2006 Doña Paula Shiraz-Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

Despite not seeing any snow on the background Andes Mountains, one of the more pleasant surprises Boo and I came across, while we were touring Argentina in 2010, was that blended wines are far more common than we are used to seeing in the Vancouver (and likely North American) market. Straight varietal wines - primarily Malbec (no surprise there) - still make up the majority of Argentine listings in our provincial liquor board stores. Doña Paula was pretty quick to gain a favourable rep in our market for good valued, well made Malbec. So, I thought a bottle of their Shiraz-Malbec would be a pretty safe bet.

Doña Paula is still a relative newcomer on the Mendoza wine scene. The winery is part of the Claro Group - a Chilean wine investment group that also produces well known brands Viña Santa Rita and Viña Carmen among others. The Claro Group started researching possible sites in Menoza in 1990 and acquired their first vineyard in the Luján de Cuyo district in 1997. They added a Tupungato vineyard in 1998 and expanded into the Uco Valley in 2005-2007.

Doña Paula's first harvest was in 1999; however, they can now produce up to 7 million litres of wine a year. Right from the beginning, the winery started concentrating on the international market and, after only 2 years in the global market, Wine & Spirits magazine named them its Value Brand of the Year in 2004. At present, 97% of the winery's production is exported.

And that's a good thing for us - because Doña Paula is very good at capturing the whole Argentina, New World, easy drinking vibe. I still don't run across many Shiraz/Malbec blends. Both are obviously great varietals for blends, but I find that they tend to be blending with anything but each other - maybe that's because it's not a traditional French blend from Bordeaux or the Rhone.

Doña Paula looks for the spice of the Shiraz to marry nicely cherry and herb notes of their Malbec. The 60/40 blend worked for me. Being a 2006 vintage, it looks like we must have had it lying around for awhile. When I get off this No Buy Leash, I might have to look for some more.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wine Blogging Wednesday 73 - Spark

I was a late arrival to Wine Blogging Wednesday. Indeed, my first post wasn't until WBW65 and the whole collective effort seemed to lose steam shortly thereafter. (I hope it wasn't something I said!) For those of you who aren't in the know, Wine Blogging Wednesday is an 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.

After a hiatus of almost a year, The Corkdork has proposed a revival to get those juices flowing again. WBW73 was announced as "Spark" and The Corkdork urges us all to "revisit the wine that turned you on to the infinite wonder of the world of wine." One joy of Wine Blogging Wednesday is the variety of approaches that all the bloggers take. There may be one common topic, but the array of responses can astound. This time around, I'm breaking the mold myself.

I don't think I can "revisit the wine." I can, however, definitely connect with "Spark" as a theme.

Once people discover I'm a real wine fiend, I'm often asked, "What's you're favourite wine?" It can take some effort to convince them that I'm not avoiding the question when I reply that I don't really have a favourite wine. For me, the enjoyment found in a wine is more that just what's in the bottle. Rather, it's a mix of the story and romance behind the wine, the surroundings you find yourself in, the people you're sharing the wine and moment with and, of course, the liquid that's in the glass. That combination of factors is pretty much the raison d'être of my blog, but it's also the reason why I can't really pinpoint a specific wine.

As a means of answering that "What's your favourite wine" question, I'd been planning on posting a look back on five of my favourite memories where wine played a critical role in capturing the moment. My hope was that the post could show what a "favourite" wine might be for me. Today's WBW topic is a perfect opportunity. All five occasions happened before the start of this blog and, except for one exceedingly special wine, I can't even say what the specific wines were. They all show how wine plays an integral part in adding some "spark" to my life though.

Not surprisingly, one of our favourite drinking buddies, Miss Jaq, features prominently in this first reflection. Long before gay marriage was a reality in Canada, Boo and I had a commitment ceremony for friends and family. Miss Jaq was in Europe at the time and couldn't attend. She promised to make up for it with a special gift when we were scheduled to catch up with her in Amsterdam later that summer. Boy, did she deliver.

Miss Jaq treated us to an evening cruise of the Amsterdam canals. She was told that there was food and wine on the boat; so, we didn't have dinner beforehand. Little did we know that the food was a bit of processed cheese and crackers and that the wine was nothing to write home about. There was a red and a white on each table and that was all that was memorable about the wine. However, most of the tables weren't occupied and that made for a whole lot of opened wine that seemed to migrate from table to table.

We quickly got into the habit of kissing every time we passed under a bridge. If you've seen the Amsterdam canals, you know there's a bridge at the end of every block. That made for a lot of kissing - and all of those kisses were inevitably followed by a sip of wine. All the other tables quickly joined in on our bridge tradition and by the end of the cruise, we'd been drinking wine out of Miss Jaq's new designer shoes and there wasn't much wine left on any of the tables.

I guess it goes to show that you don't need a $50 bottle of wine to build a memory around.

On the other end to the scale though, there are some wines that can never be forgotten. I'd decided that my 50th birthday was going to be a low key affair - a few friends over to our place for cocktails in the garden and dinner at Pear Tree, our favourite restaurant in Vancouver. Another of our drinking buddies who's found throughout this blog, Tyrant, raided his substantial cellar to bring along his last bottle of 1982 Penfolds Grange, one of the icons of Australian wines. This wine I remember - not only because we don't often get the opportunity to drink a wine of this pedigree but because I still have the label as well. We tried a number of lovely wines that evening but the Grange stood out - even after close to 30 years in the bottle. It was as flavourful and sound as any wine you'd like to try and it still had a depth to it that very few wines can match. It's one wine that everyone at my birthday still reminisces about.

Australian Shiraz's have definitely played a big role in sparking my interest in wine, but while the next wine was enjoyed in Australia, if memory serves, it was a Tasmanian Pinot Noir. Back in 2002, Boo and I were lucky enough to fit in a short visit to Tasmania and perhaps our most memorable activity there was a day trip to Wineglass Bay. It was mid-week during the Australian spring and the Tassie tourist highlight wasn't all that busy - particularly once you got past the initial viewpoint. We only ran across one other pair of hikers that were willing to make the hour long trek from the viewpoint to the actual beach - and that was on our way back from the beach.

We took along a picnic lunch and had virtually the entire beach to ourselves. There was a small group of folks at the other end of the beach but they were still maybe a kilometre away from us. What more could you ask for? Your own private beach, a picnic and the aptly named Wineglass Bay. Any number of wines would have fit the occasion and provided a "spark."

Next up is another once in a lifetime sip with Miss Jaq. Boo and I visited her when she was working in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and we took a bit of weekend excursion with her to Liwa, an oasis town on the edge of the Saudi Arabian border, the Empty Quarter and the Arabian Desert. A little sparkling French Champagne (does it really matter which one?), endless dunes that hit heights of over 300 metres, a desert sunset and one of your best friends. That's what memories are made of.

My final "spark" involves twinkling lights as opposed to sparkling wine. Rome is the scene for this memory and, again, I couldn't hazard a guess as to the wine we enjoyed. I know it would have been Italian - after all, "When in Rome..." - but it could have been any red from anywhere in the country. Our hotel was located on the Aventine - one of the Seven Hills of Rome - and there was a deliciously named park, the Giardino deli Aranci (the Orange Garden) only a block or two away. The park offered a glorious panoramic view of the city centre and the Vatican, but it was decidedly quiet for Rome and we sat on the cliffside wall and toasted La Dolce Vita as the sun set and the city lights appeared.

And there you have it. No single "spark." I apologize for that, but life is, hopefully, full of memorable sparks - and, for me, there's often a glass of wine involved. I rather think it would be a little sad to only have "a favourite wine." After all, this blog is all about discovering the endless appeal of and approaches to wine. I might not have tried an actual bottle of wine to add to The List, but here's to having all sorts of favourite wines.

Hearty thanks to The Corkdork for coordinating another gathering of Wine Blogging Wednesday. I'm rather hyped about this potential start of a new run. To all the other bloggers and blog visitors out there, "May the spark be with you!" I hope to see you at WBW74.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Red For A Snowy Day

All in all, it's been a pretty tame winter in these parts. There hasn't been much of the white stuff that makes "The Great White North" white - at least not in Vancouver proper. But we got a bit of a dusting today and, to me, that cries out for a bowl of hot French onion soup and a nice red from the south of France to go with it. The snow likely won't stay that long but one should never look past an excuse to turn on the fireplace and let the food and wine take you away for a bit.

I don't recall how we came about tonight's bottle but I probably should have Googled it a bit before we'd finished it off. For once, it was actually rather easy to find a variety of sources of information about a foreign winery. Indeed, I thought the winery had a pretty cutting edge website itself. I rather enjoyed some of their takes on the wines they produce - like, "rough and ready, unretouched, perhaps a bit shocking - sums up in its way our philosophy of wine: southern, languedocien, free"- and about the region they call home: "a land of vines, rocks and rugby, where you don't put on airs and graces."

With a site like that, it probably makes sense that the man behind the winery, Marc Valette, has been called "indisputably the leader of the avant-garde in Saint Chinian." Valette participated in his first vintage in 1992 and he set out on his own with Canet-Valette in 1999, but family members have been winemakers for at least three generations.

1047. 2007 Canet-Valette - Antonyme (AOC Saint-Chinian - France)

Saint-Chinian is a subregion in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France along the Mediterranean. The winery produces four wines that feature different blends of the classical grapes in the region. A certified organic wine that is neither filtered nor fined, it had a big, enticing nose but I didn't find that the wine was quite as expressive in the mouth. There was a New World bent to the palate but the flavours were still reined in enough that there wouldn't be any confusing it for a fruit bomb. I suppose that could actually be a good thing, but the wine's delivery in taste didn't quite live up to the expectations of the nose.

The label didn't say what varietals were in the wine; so, Boo and I simply knew that it was from Saint-Chinian - not a region I'm familiar with, although I rather thought that it was in the south. Boo thought the wine reminded him of Cab Sauv. I thought it more likely involved Grenache. Turns out that neither one of was right in that it was an equal blend of Mourvèdre and Cinsault.

Another interesting point that popped up while I was Googling the wine was that I saw the 2005 vintage didn't fare too well at the Olympic Wine Challenge that was hosted by four of the wine societies in Vancouver just before the 2010 Olympics. Each of the BC, Aussie, American and French groups entered three red wines for a blind tasting by a joint meeting of their members - the Canet-Valette finished 11th of 12 wines. Check out the full results of that tasting for an interesting read. We were actually at that tasting but I don't recall my reaction at the time. I might have some notes and my rankings for the evening somewhere but Lord only knows where they might be.

I likely won't be so quick to make a quick return to this wine the next time that we encounter a snowy day, but I'd still be willing to try another of the Canet-Valette's wines. As mentioned, they seem to be at the forefront of a new wave of southern French wines. That's got to be worth keeping tabs on.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Robin's Return

My last entry to the blog saw a new winery - and a not so familiar Fraser Valley wine - added to The List. Tonight I'm adding another BC winery to The List for the first time; however, this one hails from the Similkameen Valley - the little brother sort of neighbour to the Okanagan Valley and only 30 minutes away from some of the most celebrated vineyards gracing the southern reaches of the Okanagan.

Back in September, the BC Wine Appreciation Society's annual Bus Tour took a day trip over to visit some of the up-and-coming wineries in the region. Tonight's wine is one of the first I picked up on that trip to actually be opened. With the No Buy Leash now firmly secured around my neck, we're likely to see more and more making it to The List in the foreseeable future.

1046. 2008 Robin Ridge - Robin's Return (Similkameen Valley)

Robin Ridge wasn't a winery that I knew much about until we made that visit with the bus tour. Owner and winemaker, Tim Cotterill, greeted our swarthy gang for an early Sunday morning service of our own. Our visit was about as down-to-earth as you'll find at a winery. This is definitely a family-run operation - to the extent that the kids were all helping out due to our larger than usual group.

As we were taken through a tasting of his wines, we were regaled with some interesting stories - including the fact that Tim arrived at winemaking through a somewhat surreptitious route. The family arrived in the Similkameen after Tim decided that the boom and bust of construction wasn't the be all and end all of his life's plans. They purchased the old hay farm thinking that growing grapes for sale might be a reasonable means of making a living and being able to continue working outdoors. Opening a winery was not the original intent - at least not as far as Tim's wife was concerned. Growing the grapes for sale, however, led to a little bit of winemaking for the family - and to some nice praise - and that, in turn, led to a decision to make a go of producing wine for sale.

That fateful decision was made approximately five years ago and Robin Ridge now produces about 1500 cases. I found it interesting to hear Tim say that he can't really see a bigger production down the road. Thus far, he thinks one of the biggest lessons he's learned is that, in order to maintain any sort of success in the wine business, you either need to stay small or you have to become one of the big boys. He doesn't really see a way to find success in the middle ground.

I grabbed a bottle of the Robin's Return in particular because it's features yet another varietal that I couldn't recall having run across before - and that's another check mark on my Wine Century Club list. Robin's Return is a blend of approximately 40% Pinot Noir and 60% of the hitherto untasted Rougeon. Rougeon is a hybrid grape that was developed in France as part of program originated by Albert Seibel, a French physician and viticulturist, in the late 1800's and early 20th Century. Seibel and his company produced over 16,000 new hybrids and nearly 500 of them were being commercially grown at some point in time. Rougeon is also known as the romantic "Seibel 5898."

The grape isn't grown much nowadays and it is likely best known in the North-East US; however, there are still some pockets of vines to be found elsewhere. The grape was first introduced in BC during the 1960's and 70's when a newly developing industry was experimenting with hybrids in an effort to add some additional quality to local blends. (Back then, growing more classical Vinifera varietals was pretty much unheard of because no one felt those vines could survive the cold winters.) As late as the 1990's, Rougeon was still being produced - and even made into a varietal wine by Calona - however, the provincial government sponsored vine pull in the 80's saw most of the Okanagan's Rougeon torn out and replaced by today's Vinifera vines.

Indeed, Tim said that he inherited a block of Rougeon but that even he has since ripped out that last small block. I'm not sure that anyone else is still growing it for production but this may be be the last bottle that I'll add to The List that contains any Rougeon.

Will it really be that much of a loss? Probably not in today's wine world. You might be able to use some Rougeon in a blend - after all, it is known for its deep red colour - but it's not likely to sell for big bucks on its own and, with the price of land in the Okanagan and Similkameen, most growers are going to change over to more lucrative varietals. Just like Robin Ridge did.

The blend started off quite light and cheerful, but it actually had a bit of oomph (that's a technical term) on the long finish. The flavour profile, however, was different enough that you had to really think through your reaction to the wine. Finishing off the bottle was no problem but I think I'll think of the blend as more of a novelty than a go to.

Interesting all the same and I'll happily return to try some more of this Similkameen start up.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Locally, Zweigelt

Lately, I run into Neck of the Woods winery at various tastings around town. As is the case for most new wineries, getting your name and your wine out there is a major part of the battle. Neck of the Woods took its place as the fourth winery in the Fraser Valley (less than an hour out of Vancouver proper) back in 2008 when the current owners purchased the old Glenugie Winery after the owner at the time unexpectedly passed away. The re-branding has been a continuing process in that the labels have already changed and that you'll no longer even find this wine - it appears that the name has been changed to a proprietary one, "Paradiso." I guess "Zweigelt" just brokers far too many dumbfounded questions.

1045. 2008 Neck of the Woods Zweigelt (VQA Fraser Valley)

Of course, regular readers of this blog know that Zweigelt is a varietal that is the most planted red grape in Austria. Yes, Austria - not Australia. It's a grape that likes cool climates and the Fraser Valley offers that up in spades. Vancouverites are still coming to grips with the fact that wine can actually be made just outside city limits, but the majority of those wines are white. That makes a fair bit of sense considering that the Fraser Valley weather is similar to those bastions of white wine - Germany and the Loire Valley in France.

Zweigelt is likely one of the few reds that can make a real go of it in the Fraser Valley. That is, "make a go of it," IF you can get the consumer past the varietal name "Zweigelt."

Whether or not the consumer can pronounce the name of the grape - by the way, it's "ts-VYE-gelt" - doesn't matter a whole lot if the wine doesn't taste good enough to make you buy a second bottle. Despite the fact that the vines providing the fruit for this wine are 20 years old and there was a "splash" of Okanagan Merlot added to the wine to flesh it out, I don't know that I was convinced.

With the whole, "Think Globally, Drink Locally" thing going on, I like the fact that I'm not going to get much more local than this bottle. However, despite a nice start on the nose, I wasn't so enthralled once I raised the glass to mouth. The wine was nicer with food - I'll give it that - but the basic profile hardly offered up much complexity. There was a bit of a savoury finish but that might have been the Okanagan Merlot kicking in.

I think this 2008 vintage was only $13. In our Vancouver market, that's definitely on the lower end of the scale. All the same, I think I'd be a little quicker to grab an Aussie or Argentine critter wine. The fact that the current price of the Paradiso version sells for $18 leaves me even a little less inclined to grab a second bottle.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Award Winning Neighbours

In the cause of brevity and catching up, I'm going to add the next two wines to The List on the same post. They might not have been opened on the same night but they are neighbours on the Naramata Bench and both appear regularly in this blog.

1043. 2005 La Frenz Merlot (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

La Frenz is definitely one of our favourite "Go To" wineries. Consistent quality is a hallmark for La Frenz, but that being said, I think we might have been better off had we "gone to" this bottle a little while ago. Boo's tightening of the "No Buy Leash" is going to see our opening more bottles like this - ones that have seen a bit of ageing - and maybe that's a good thing. As much as I enjoy La Frenz on the whole, I think the integration of fruit, acidity and structure that we're used to with their wines had passed us by with this bottle.

On the other hand, our slight disappointment in the wine might just show how little Boo and I know when it comes to fine wine. The 2005 Merlot won Gold at the All Canadian Wine Championships and won "Best Wine of Show" and "Best Red Wine" at the 2007 Northwest Wine Summit. Awards don't get much bigger than that for BC wines.

What the heck do I know anyhow? Guess it's a good thing that we have one more bottle to give it another go.

1044. 2010 Red Rooster Pinot Blanc (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Red Rooster's home estate vineyard and winery is located less than a mile down the road from La Frenz and, as often noted in this blog, winemaker, Karen Gillis, and team have been raising the bar year after year of late. Karen's had a banner year of awards herself in 2011. Her Chardonnay was named one of the top five in the world at the Chardonnay du Monde competition in France; the Pinot Noir won Best New World Pinot in California; her Syrah was named Best Red at the 2011 BC Wine Awards and a recent Meritage won one of eleven Lieutenant Governor's Wine Awards given last summer.

The Pinot Blanc hasn't garnered huge press and hardware yet; but, boy, were Boo and I ever pleasantly surprised when we opened this bottle! As participants in the Adopt-A-Row program, we receive a mixed case of wine every year and this year's case recently arrived. (Thankfully, it doesn't contravene the No Buy Leash.) We simply grabbed the Pinot Blanc as an easy weeknight wine. I could easily have opened a second bottle right then and there.

Most folks go right past Pinot Blanc on the wine shelves. It generally doesn't tend to stir much in the way of flavourful emotions. This bottle proves that such a statement doesn't have to be the case. I know that Barbara Philip, Canada's first female Master of Wine, feels that Pinot Blanc could be the best choice of a varietal for the Okanagan Valley to adopt as a signature grape and help the region make a splash on the world wine scene - much along the lines that Sauvignon Blanc became synonymous with New Zealand.

This is a prime example of a wine that can turn heads. It did just that for us. With its partial exposure to a bit of French oak and 6 months of ageing on its lees, the wine was rich and complex in a way that I don't usually associate with Pinot Blanc. There was plenty of Okanagan tree fruit front and centre and a real nice, but bracing, acidity and citrus note on the finish.

A $17 price tag isn't going to hurt at all either.

I'm going to look forward to another bottle of this one.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cab From the Creek

As Boo and I start to gear up for our trip Down Under in April, I'm finding that it's easy to grab some of the Aussie bottles that we have laying around to seek a little inspiration for the planning process.

1042. 2006 Jacob's Creek Cabernet Sauvignon (SE Australia)

Considering the fact that 1) we love drinking a lot of Aussie wine and 2) Jacob's Creek is one of Australia's (and the world's) largest wine producers and brands, we don't drink much of their wine. I think I've only added two Jacob's Creek bottles to the thousand-plus wines on The List so far - and both of them were premium labels - the Steingarten Riesling at #316 and a Centenary Hill Shiraz at #720.

I suppose it's somewhat interesting that it's taken this long to open one of the winery's entry level bottles - particularly since the winery website states that, "The philosophy of Jacob's Creek is to offer a range of wines that suit all occasions." I think, like many, I don't tend to buy a lot of the big brand bottles to take home and cellar. There's not a lot of value in ageing an entry level wine and who needs to buy for the immediate future when you can pretty much count on the fact that the label is almost always going to be on the bottle shop shelves.

Even if we don't drink a lot of Jacob's Creek, there's no doubt that it's now an iconic Australian brand. Indeed, Jacob's Creek was at the forefront of the Aussie invasion of wine shelves around the world and it has quite a history to tell. I wasn't aware that Jacob's Creek became the Barossa Valley's first commercial vineyard - when Johann Gramp purchased 30 hectares of land and planted two hectares with vines on the banks of Jacob's Creek.

I'm not exactly sure why we still have a 2006 vintage of a $13 bottle of wine still hanging around. It must have been hidden away in a box somewhere or another. I'm glad to say that the extra time didn't hurt the wine at all. I see that Jacob's Creek is now looking to offer another option to this historical brand level where the wines don't look to waver from the consumer profile - these classic labels sourced wine from throughout the country and aimed to consistently deliver a known sip. A new moderately priced regional label is now hitting the shelves in an attempt to take a little more advantage of and to increase regional branding and vintage variation. There's little doubt, however, that you'll still be able to find this fruit forward Cab for years to come.

It's a good price point to know.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


One of the Okanagan wineries - or should I say two - that I've been wanting to learn more about are LaStella and Le Vieux Pin, sister wineries that started up around five years ago. Although I've tried some of their wines at various tastings, I've only added one bottle from either winery to The List so far (Le Vieux Pin's entry level white blend, Petit Blanc at #778). Until now.

Back in September, I finally joined up with the BC Wine Appreciation Society's annual Bus Tour and, during one of the extra days I managed to fit in, I made it a priority to drop in to the two wineries. Both LaStella and Le Vieux Pin are boutique operations - each producing only 3000 to 3500 cases of wine. The Salem family is the driving force behind both of the wineries and the wineries are located more-or-less just down the road from each other. Le Vieux Pin is on the Black Sage Road and LaStella is just below the Golden Mile on the shore of Lake Osoyoos.

One looks to produce wines in more of a French style, while the other looks to Italy for inspiration. I think you can determine which is which.

With their various vineyards being found on the northern tip of the Sonoran Desert, the annual rainfall averages around 8 inches a year. LaStella still chooses to primarily dry farm its established vines. This results in production levels that can be substantially less than those of the neighbouring vineyards. The yield for LaStella icon wine, Maestoso, is under one ton of grapes an acre. I generally think a winery is aiming for high quality, low cropped fruit when they look at two to three tons an acre. That's LaStella's average yield.

Intensely farmed grapes, not surprisingly, lend themselves to the creation of more powerful wines. But, fewer grapes also means a lower volume of finished wine which, itself, results in higher prices. Hence, the primary reason it's taken awhile to get around to adding some LaStella to The List. $35 for a "premium" wine is pretty standard for BC pricing, but it makes it a little more difficult to pop a cork on a Tuesday night - particularly when that premium wine is the winery's entry level red. No one says that passion comes cheap though.

1041. 2008 La Stella Fortissimo (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Intense Merlot wines are the stars at LaStella but the winery is capitalizing on the lure of La Dolce Vita with a homegrown version of a Super Tuscan. Equal portions of Merlot and Cab Sauv (at 42% each) are blended with 8% each of Cab Franc and Sangiovese Grosso. This is the first vintage that the Sangiovese is included as part of the blend - but that's simply because that most Tuscan of grapes was planted after the winery purchased its vineyards and the vines are only just starting to yield fruit that is ready to be made into wine.

Vintages of Fortissimo to come may see a higher percentage of Sangiovese as the vines mature; however, there are many who think that the viability of growing Sangiovese in the Okanagan is tenuous at best. The length of the Okanagan growing season is questioned when one considers the varietal's need for a later harvest date if it's going to fully ripen. Perhaps the folks at LaStella are thinking that a little more global warming might come in handy. The winery has stated that it isn't their intent to produce a 100% varietal Sangiovese wine though. Rather, the starting premise is to use the higher acidity and structure of the Sangiovese to frame the Merlot and to add another level of complexity to the wine.

On a different front, La Stella looks to engage the wine drinker with names that evoke the romance of the wine in the bottle. There are no simple "Merlot's" or "Meritage's;" the wines are named after Italian musical notes. Fortissimo was chosen to capture the boisterous nature of the Super Tuscan wine.

In my desire to try some LaStella, I might have opened this bottle a little bit early as it could easily handle some ageing. I think, with a year or two, all the components might integrate a little more cohesively, but that's where big, old meatballs and tomato sauce can assist the present day. And a boy can only wait so long.

As a definite tip of the hat to the wine and winery, Fortissimo was chosen as the "mystery wine" at the 2011 Canadian Culinary Championships for the opening night competition that saw the eight Gold Medal Plates winners from across the country be given an unlabelled, anonymous bottle of wine and $500 to shop and prepare a dish (for 350 folks) to pair up with the wine. Chef Jeremy Charles from Raymonds in St. John's, Newfoundland, won this challenge by assembling a "composition of creamy polenta, finely chopped bittersweet rapini with lemon, chili and garlic nuances, braised beef short rib, a potato ravioli topped with tomato concassé and a dab of a profound, almost offaly jus."

Thoughts of Tuscany, music, Okanagan sun, great food. What more can you ask of from a glass of wine? I'm going to look forward to some more LaStella down the road.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Picpoul de Pinet

The last bottle to be added to The List resulted in a bit of chat on a classic French wine - even though the wine we drank hailed from the Okanagan Valley in BC. I don't know how "classic" this next wine is, but it is definitely a French wine that goes back centuries - even if most folks have likely never heard of it before.

Picpoul's novelty in the Vancouver market seemed to garner the wine a fair allocation of press when it first arrived at the provincial liquor stores last summer - particularly when it showed up with a reasonable $14 price tag. I know I grabbed it as a new addition to my assortment of Wine Century Club varietals, but I see that it's pleasing some palates as well. It was chosen as one of Vancouver Magazine's "Best Light White Wines" for the 2012 Wine Awards.

1040. 2010 Ormaine - Picpoul de Pinet (AOP Coteaux du Languedoc - France)

Picpoul Blanc is one of three Picpoul varietals - the other two being Picpoul Noir and Gris - and it is primarily grown in the Rhone and Languedoc regions. It is largely used for blending in the Rhone; however, the Pinet region of the Languedoc is known for producing a 100% wine like the one we're trying. Pinet is a small region located next to the Mediterranean Gulf of Lyon on the Thau Lagoon; yet, it's the largest white wine district in the largely "red zone" known as Languedoc.

More than a couple sites online say that "Picpoul" translates as "lip-stinger." I'm not so sure I see the literal connection there but the grape varietal is known for its high acidity, hence its "stinging" attribute. As mentioned, the grape has been grown for centuries in the Languedoc; however, it fell out of favour somewhat when the French had to pull out vast swaths of vines due to the country's famous phylloxera outbreak in the 19th Century - mostly because the wine wasn't seen as being as sophisticated as other white varietals and because it was more susceptible to fungal diseases than many other vines.

Indeed, wines made from Picpoul were so pedestrian in their profiles that, in more recent times, a good percentage of the region's fruit was destined to be used in the production of Vermouth. Well known Vermouth artisan, Noilly Prat, is located nearby and the herbal fortification of the wine meant that the basic quality of the wine wasn't nearly as important as it would be for a varietal wine. Demand for Vermouth has dropped in modern times however, and that drop has forced winemakers to improve the quality of their wines.

Ormarine is the largest grower cooperative in the region and it dominates production. One site even stated that the cooperative makes approximately 45% of the appellation's wine. Ormarine does make a number of wines but the black label - or Carte Noir - is the main brand.

I was somewhat taken aback when I saw this wine sported an AOP designation. I couldn't remember having seen it previously. AOP stands for Appellation d'Origine Protégée or the Europe-wide equivalent of the French national-level AOC system.

Marketed in a striking bottle, I could see this as an alternative to a tart Pinot Gris. Most sites particularly recommend serving it with oysters and shellfish. I don't know about drinking it with mermen, but this one one was still hanging around from the Christmas decorations. Should I run across a live version, I'll have to remember to offer him a little Picpoul.

In the mean time, I get to start off the new year with another new varietal. I can go with that.

Monday, January 2, 2012

O Joie! A PTG.

For me, tonight's wine is quite an intriguing wine for having come out of the Okanagan. Not that you could never find it being made elsewhere. But it plays homage to a heritage that is actually a take on a classic Burgundian wine - and is a neat indication of a route that is eminently possible in the Okanagan.

1039. 2009 JoieFarm PTG (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

PTG is an abbreviation for the little known Burgundy blend, Passetoutgrain. Burgundy may best be known as the home of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but there are a couple of other wines that still fall under appellation dictates. The Passetoutgrain is an AOC of its own and, while most Burgundy wines are primarily produced from single varietals, the PTG must be a blend - although it can be a blend from fruit grown anywhere in the entire Burgundy region.

JoieFarm's version is 63% Pinot Noir blended with 37% Gamay Noir and the grapes are sourced from five different vineyards on the Naramata Bench. This version veers from the more traditional Burgundy wines in that it is heavy on the Pinot Noir. In Burgundy, the roles are usually reversed as the Gamay grape is less expensive and the PTG is produced primarily as an easy drinker, made for early, casual drinking. I would hardly call this PTG a "casual" wine though. It's a serious player that offers up some bright Okanagan fruit from the Pinot Noir and accents it with some spicier notes from the Gamay.

The Burgundy version is also allowed to contain Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris; however, those white varietals must encompass no more than 15% of the blend. Interestingly, JoieFarm has access to Chardonnay and Pinot Gris as well but the varietals haven't made it into the PTG - at least not yet.

We picked up this bottle after tasting the wine some months back at Chef Meets Grape. Both Boo and I marked it down as one of our favourites from the evening. Too bad it's not the easiest wine to find. Fewer than a thousand cases were made; so, I'm glad I happened upon a bottle when we were in the Okanagan for the Red Rooster Adopt-A-Row weekend.

Discussions have it that 2009 wasn't the kindest vintage for BC's big red wines. Finding a few more lighter reds might make up for the vintage - if they're anything like this. I rather think the bottle started us off on a great note for 2012.

Wine Boyz - A New Year's Eve Edition

Poor Boo. He got scheduled to work New Year's Eve - after having to work Christmas Day as well. And for the second year running, I'd have work a little to find a means to a kiss at midnight. Luckily, Skipper stepped into the breach and suggested that he host a special edition of Wine Boyz - Ringing in the New Year. GQ was going to be in town and they needed an excuse to show off the new dining room light fixture.

Our concept for Wine Boyz is that everyone brings a wine according to a pre-announced theme but they keep the wine literally under wrap (in a paper bag) so that we can have an innocent bystander pour the wines into a carafe and no one knows what wine they're tasting. Some of our regular attendees were going to be out of town but it's been almost a year since our last Wine Boyz tasting, so we decided to go with it anyhow. To top it off, Skipper thought that New Year's Eve called for a lifting of the traditional $25 cap on the bottle price. A "big" night called for even bigger wines.

Seeing as how Skipper and GQ had a Italian treat hanging around from their visit a couple years back, he thought Tuscan Reds would make for a great theme. We ran into a bit of problem in that one of intended guests only drinks white wine. So, the compromise was five Tuscan reds and three BC whites.

N.V. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin (AOC Champagne - France)

Is there any better way to start off New Year's Eve off than with a bit of bubble? Skipper wisely decided to open the real Champagne while we were still sober enough to truly enjoy it. The Veuve was non-vintage and it had already been added to The List (at #385) when we were celebrating the Canadian Men's Hockey Team's 2010 Olympic win; so. we started the evening off with a wine that doesn't even make The List. But, celebrations like gold medals and new years are few and far between, so I think this pointed us in the right direction for a pretty decent evening of our own.

After blind tasting each of the wines - with and without nibblies - the Wine Boyz (and Grrrlz) all rank the wines from favourite to least. Then we count up the points and low score wins. Although all three of our whites went in different directions, there was very little to choose between them. After one sip, you'd like #2. With another, you'd move on to #3. I think the fact that all three wines scored within 2 points of the others confirms that.

1031. 2010 Ganton & Larson Prospect Winery - Ogopogo's Lair Pinot Grigio (VQA Okanagan Valley)(13 points)

1032. 2010 Road 13 Stemwinder (VQA Okanagan Valley)(14 points)

1033. 2010 Orofino Riesling (Similkameen Valley - BC)(15 points)

Ganton & Larson walked away with the win, but I think it'd be easy to call this a statistical tie - given a margin of error for the number of glasses consumed. If memory serves (which might be a questionable issue), each of the three wines got at least one first place vote.

There's more of a variance in the scores for the red wines. I find myself at a bit of disadvantage when writing this entry. By the end of the evening's fun, it didn't even dawn on me to bring my tasting notes home with me. Skipper, being the fastidious cleaner that he is, had tossed the notes by the next morning. So, I can't elucidate on how I responded to each of the wines - except that I know my favourite of the evening went completely against the grain of all the other Wineboyz.

1034. 2008 Gianni Brunelli Rosso di Montalcino (DOC Rossi di Montalcino - Tuscany - Italy)(13 points)

1035. 2005 Fanti Tenuta San Filippo - Rosso di Montalcino (DOC Rosso di Montalcino - Tuscany - Italy)(14 points)

Another statistical tie if you ask me. One different vote and the order could be completely askew. I'd brought along the Fanti Tenuta so it's in my best interest to push that position - not that I knew anything about the wine or the producer beforehand, but bragging rights for the top pick go a long way with this crew.

I enjoyed the fact that there was a bit of variance in the type of wines that were tasted. All of the reds were Tuscan but there were four different styles and sub-regions represented. It's even more interesting to me that the two Rosso di Montalcino's - or Baby Brunello's - were the general favourites.

1036. 2007 Ruffino Riserva Ducale Riserva (DOC Chianti Classico - Tuscany - Italy)(18 points)

1037. 2008 Tenuta Sette Ponti - Crognolo (IGT - Tuscany - Italy)(21 points)

1038. 2007 Poliziano Mandrone di Lohsa Rosso (IGT Maremma - Tuscany - Italy)(26 points)

I also find it interesting that the two Super Tuscans were the gang's least favourite wines. The Tenuta Sette Ponti and the Poliziano were the two wines that made use of grapes that were not traditionally allowed in Tuscan wines (hence the IGT designation). The Crognolo is Sangiovese/Merlot blend and the Mandrone di Lohsa is predominantly Cab Sauv with additions of Alicante, Petit Verdot and Carignan.

My personal pick of the night was the Poliziano; however, every other person ranked it as their least favourite. I find that somewhat ironic that Skipper announced that it was the most expensive wine of the night (by at least $20). Just goes to show - no, not that I have the most sophisticated palate - that price doesn't mean everything when it comes to pleasing the masses. The good news for me was that I got to drink as much of the bottle as I liked. While the others scrambled for the other wines, I got to sip away on the big gun all to myself.

The fact that I get to add the Alicante varietal to my Wine Century Club list is an added bonus. Perhaps I subconsciously knew that the wine was blended with a new grape and, as a result, my pleasure zone was just tweaked into a higher gear.

NV. Bastianich Flor Prosecco (Veneto - Italy)

When midnight finally rolled around, the cork was popped on another bottle of bubbly. Again, it was a non-vintage bottle that has already been added to The List (#409). So, we ended the evening's wines like we started - with a bottle that doesn't help me get any further to my goal of 2001 different bottles.

That might have been the end of opening new bottles but it certainly wasn't an end to the evening's festivities. And, despite what you might think about the accompanying picture, things didn't get nearly as out of hand as it might appear. The picture was staged, honestly - whether you care to believe it or not - indeed, GQ doesn't even really like white wine that much. So, he'd never guzzle it like that.

Skipper's home has a sizeable deck with a lovely view of False Creek and the downtown Vancouver core - and it became an impromptu dancefloor that beckoned two different sets of neighbours. A bloody freezing dancefloor, no doubt, but a dancefloor all the same. And what's a little chill on New Year's Eve? I will point out that there were some pictures of the skyline without the squiggly lines. I just chose this shot for artistic merit - as we tried to determine how to get a shot without a tripod. It wasn't just the wine. Scout's honour.
All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable start to 2012. New Year's Day was perhaps a little more challenging, but I just have to face it that there are going to be a few occasions where I'll have to sacrifice myself a bit to ensure that this little Wine Odyssey reaches a conclusion. Big thanks to Skipper and GQ for playing such a big part in helping out with that quest.

I suppose it's a no-brainer that I should set a resolution to keep more up-to-date with my postings. I'll give that a whirl - but it's a good thing I don't actually make resolutions anymore.

Happy Happy for the upcoming year! Here's to an abundance of great wines in 2012!