Sunday, December 30, 2012

Next of Kin Cab

1332.  2007 Xanadu - Next of Kin Cabernet Sauvignon (Margaret River - Australia)

No turkey leftovers around this year; so, we're right back into some bigger reds. Since Margaret River is particularly well known for its Cab Sauv's, I grabbed this bottle of Next of Kin. Xanadu releases a range of premium Cab wines under its namesake label. Unfortunately, for us tonight, I didn't have a bottle of Xanadu.  Rather, I had a Next of Kin wine and that range is made and priced more for early consumption. Sometimes, you just have to go with what you have though. Admittedly, love of all things Margaret River aside, the Next of Kin didn't exactly fill our glasses with anything that whisked us off with marvellous memories of Western Australia.

Xanadu was established in 1977 but, as James Halliday has noted, it has recently seen some restructuring as "over-ambitious expansion and...increasingly tight trading conditions" led to a takeover in 2005 by the Rathbone family - the crew that controls well known wineries Yering Station, Mount Langi Ghiran and Parker Estate.  Those wineries are located, respectively, in the Yarra Valley, Grampians and Coonawarra. Accordingly, the family saw an expansion into Margaret River as a natural fit in terms of adding a new region to their stable.

All in, Xanadu produces approximately 70,000 cases annually. I'd quite like to try the main label but I might pass on the Next of Kin next time around. Nothing wrong with the wine. It just didn't inspire and that's - perhaps unrealistically - something I've come to expect from Margaret River wines.

Our market hasn't traditionally seen much in the way of Margaret River wines, especially not commercial, introductory level wines from the region. The few wines we see have generally been good ambassadors for the region and, as such, I've tended to grab a bottle or two whenever I've seen them. I may just need to exercise a little more caution in the future and keep more of an eye open for the wine's provenance before I grab it now.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Mickey Rooney Christmas

Boo and I consider ourselves lucky boys to have Mickey and Rooney as friends. We can always count on Rooney to call us up and say, "It's been too long. It's time we got together again." Whether the occasion calls for a wander around her incredible garden or it's to dress up for one of her famous Halloween parties, fun times and great chats are guaranteed with the two of them.

Rooney wanted to try and figure out an evening where we could get together over the holidays - but finding a common evening was a lot more difficult than we might have hoped. Between previously booked engagements and Boo's tasking work schedule, we found that there was only one night that might work - even then, we could only get started after 8pm since Boo was working days at the hospital. With a promise of decorations, a real fire and homemade bread, Rooney didn't have to coax us too much despite the late start on a school night.

I know from past get togethers that Rooney likes her white wines. So, I thought I'd bring along something a little different for us - an Okanagan Chardonnay.

1330.  2010 La Stella Leggiero (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Anyone who regularly visits the blog will know that it's obvious that we drink a heckuva lot of Okanagan wine. So, what's so different about tonight's bottle? Simple. It's Chardonnay. I'm far from being a member of the ABC Club ("Anything But Chardonnay") but the BC whites in our glasses just tend to be more on the lines of Riesling, Pinot Gris or blends. I'd run across this unoaked Chardy from La Stella while visiting the winery just prior to the 2011 BC Wine Appreciation Wine Tour and it definitely struck my fancy.

In line with the winery's inspiration to bring a little dolce vita to the Okanagan, the wine is stylized after the Italian cool climate Chardonnays of the Alto Adige in the North. Most of La Stella's wines are named after musical expressions as a means of capturing the wine's personality and, as a musical term, "Leggiero" means "light and delicate." Accordingly, the Chardy sees no oak in a bid to accentuate the fruit and minerality of the source vineyard.

The grapes for Leggiero are purchased from neighbouring vineyards as the winery's vineyards do not have any Chardonnay planted currently. Only 330 cases of the 2010 vintage were made - which is a bit of shame since this is the only bottle that I have. Rooney and I would both eagerly fill our glasses over and over again.

1331.  2005 Domaine  de la Charbonnière - Vacqueyras (Vacqueyras AOC - Rhône - France)

The second wine was chosen as a red to match up with Rooney's promised Ribolitta soup. The soup might be Tuscan influenced, whereas the wine is from the Rhône Valley in France, but I figured there wouldn't be any complaints about the approachable Grenache/Syrah profile - and there weren't.

The winery's website is "under construction;" so, I couldn't find much information about them from them. However, I did see one webcast interview with their "new" winemaker, Veronique Maret. A different site stated that the domaine has been in the Maret family since 1912. Veronique and her sister will be the fourth generation of the family to be involved with the winery.

Vacqueyras is one of the Côtes du Rhône villages that was elevated from that general classification to its own appellation because of consistent quality.  The family's holdings span Châteauneuf du Pape, Vacqueyras and the general Côtes du Rhône designation. Accordingly, they produce a range of wines  under the banner of the respective appellations, with the Vacqueyras falling in the middle of the range price-wise.  We picked this one up for $30; whereas the CdP cuvée runs closer to $45 in our market.

Being a 2005, the Vacqueyras was produced by Maret père, prior to Veronique's return to the winery as winemaker, but the wine still had a youthful, fruit forward profile - one that might be more associated with younger winemakers than with the previous generation. Like the Leggiero, it's a profile that I'd be more than willing to return to though.

So, two good friends and two good wines. What more can you ask for as a little seasonal activity? Mickey and Rooney can call us up to put on a neighbourhood "show" anytime.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Turkey Wines

Of course, the title "Turkey Wines" refers to the wine we drank with our Christmas turkey - not wines that were made in Turkey, although I would like to try some of those one day.  But, I digress.

Forgetting one's camera at home on a big family event day like Christmas isn't supposed to happen.  But, I suppose sh*t really does happen - at least it did to us today.  Hence, there won't be any "idyllic family by the tree" shots or extravagant "Grampa slicing the roast turkey" photos this year.  Just a couple of blurry iPhone clicks that are hardly worth the effort.

Ah well, we shall persevere.

As tradition would have it, my sis, Vixen, hosted dinner.  She's got the kids; so, the day's largely about them anyhow - even though those kids are rather grown up now.  The oldest, Stargirl, is 18 and our start to dinner was delayed this year because she was the one working during the day.  Generally, it's Boo's hospital shifts that mess us up but he actually had the day off this year and. luckily so, because it turned out he was particularly happy to be there to open his presents from Vixen and the kids.  It's funny how much they've come to know his little sic-fi leanings, but he was tickled pink with his VIP pass to The Hobbit and his USS Enterprise pizza cutter.  To the extent that he quickly announced that the Enterprise was so special, it was never going to cut an actual pizza.

Sci-Fi geek or not, I suppose I have to allow him his Star Trek nerdiness.  After all, he lets me obsess about wine, as much as I do, without complaint - that is, except when he goes on about how I regularly get carried away with the purchasing of said wine.

I just have to be quick to respond to any of his whines by pointing out that all that purchasing helps put us in a position of always having bottles ready to bring along for dinner when needed.

1327.  2008 Red Rooster Reserve Gewürztraminer (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I'm not generally the biggest Gewurz fan around but I have no problem wrapping my tongue around Red Rooster's Reserve - particularly with pre-dinner cheeses and with Christmas turkey and its myriad of trimmings.  We got to enjoy the wine with food, but this has been a palate pleaser with or without an accompanying nibble.  I doubt that the Vancouver Magazine judges were enjoying it with roast gobbler and they still named this Gewurz as one of 2010's Best BC Wines.

Beyond Gewurz, I always think of Pinot Noir as another "go to" wine for matching with turkey and fond memories forced me to grab this next bottle when I saw it on a local shelf.  Only problem is that I forgot to take a picture of the bottle during dinner.  Too much seasonal excitement I suppose.

1328.  2009 Del Fin del Mundo Reserva Pinot Noir (Patagonia - Argentina)

I was quite pleased to find the Del Fin del Mundo Pinot locally because Boo and I quite enjoyed quaffing some back on our final night in Buenos Aires a few years back.  I'd discovered the winery during the 2010 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival (as it then was) but we weren't going to be able to make our way down to Patagonia to visit the winery.  Del Fin del Mundo, however, had opened a happening restaurant in B.A. to highlight their wines and the region's cuisine. The folks at Experiencia Del Fin del Mundo treated us royally and we had one of our most enjoyable meals during the whole trip. Unfortunately, we were well past being able to fit a couple more bottles into our luggage for the trip home.  So we couldn't bring any more of their wines home with us.  This was the first time I'd run across the Pinot Noir in Vancouver.

Patagonia is hardly the wine region that immediately pops into most people's heads when they think of Argentine wines, but Del Fin del Mundo is one of the wineries leading the way to try and make just those thoughts more de rigeur.  Being located much more to the cooler climes of the South, Patagonia is gaining a particular reputation for Pinot Noir.  It's definitely on the New World end of the Pinot scale - bigger and bolder than many Pinots in our market, but the bottle quickly disappeared into glass after glass.

Turned out that we had an extra Christmas "treat" and a Guest Alcohol to the blog when Big Trucker brought out a specialty cask of Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey that he and Vixen had run across during their wanderings in Washington State.  That "beautiful" golden bottle is one of Jim Beam's specialty decanters that were first introduced in 1955.  This particular beauty was purchased by the original buyer (and was recently discovered as part of an estate) in 1972 for $21.  These liquor decanters became an popular limited edition item for Jim Beam and the concept actually became quite popular with other liquor producers as well.  By the 70's, up to 20 distillers were producing similar decanters.  Jim Beam was one of the few companies that owned their own china factory however.  All in all, over a thousand different decanters have been made over the years in all styles - from classic cars and wildlife to sport and politics - and there are all sorts of web pages and sales dedicated to them.

Big Trucker's bottle featured 172-month old bourbon back in '72; so, add the 40 years since then and this was some fairly well-aged hooch.  Not my regular cuppa, but I figured I'd best take advantage of a pretty rare opportunity.

1329.  2008 Rustic Roots Iced Orin (Similkameen Valley)

Our last bottle of the evening was served up with Boo's pies.  He'd made his Mom's trademark pecan pie, as well as an apple pie (for the benefit of the kids).  As Southern' as it may sound, bourbon and pecan pie isn't necessarily everyone's first choice for dessert; so, I'd planned ahead and brought along the Iced Orin apple wine, thinking it would be a perfect match to Boo's apple pie.

Having had the Forbidden Fruit Bliss fortified white cherry last night, we figured why not continue with a Similkameen fruit wines and moved on to a wine from just a few miles down Hwy 3.

Now operating a fifth generation farm, the Harker family helped settle the Similkameen Valley back in 1888 and the family has been selling produce from their 30 acres of organic farmland for many a year.  Finally Troy and Sara Harker decided it was time to make some wine with some of all that fruit they'd been growing and had at their disposal.  The Iced Orin has turned out to be a highly commended wine for them.  Indeed, Radio & TV personality and wine show host, Terry David Mulligan, has sung the wine's praises many a time over the air.

Made from certified organic Sweet Orin apples, there isn't a lot of it.  Only 200 cases was made of the 2008 vintage and I was happy to see some of it in Rustic Roots' tasting room awhile back when I had stopped in on the way back from the Okanagan.  There was no doubt that it was about the best match imaginable for homemade apple pie.

After a day of prepping and fussing, it was also a sweet and tasty way to bring a close to another Christmas.  Hopefully, here's to many more.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Treats

As busy as I've been over this holiday season, this Christmas was destined to be different.  With Mom's passing over the summer, this would be our first without her sharing the good times.  Christmas day has traditionally been spent at Vixen's place; so, I figured it'd be nice to have Christmas Eve at our place.

This was just the sort of gathering I'd been waiting for so that I could pop the cork on a bottle of - of all things - English bubble.  Dad's cousin and his wife - Phil and Liz - had come to visit back in the summer and I'd asked them to find and bring along a bottle.  I've read a few stories about English sparkling wines and how they're becoming surprisingly good and I figured I'd never run across a bottle in our market.  We would have popped the cork while Phil and Liz were in town but we were rather occupied with Mom's illness at the time.

Christmas would be the perfect time to toast both Mom and our English benefactors.

1325.  N.V. Chapel Down Reserve Vintage Brut (England)

I'm sure that many, if not most, North American wine drinkers' first reaction to hearing of an English wine is that it must be just a novelty item.  That's probably not that much different of a reaction from what many American or Australian consumers would think if you were to bring up the topic of Canadian wine.  Just as Canadian producers have made amazing strides over the last couple decades, there are now over 400 commercial vineyards and 124 wineries in the UK and some of those wines are garnering some serious buzz.

Like Canada, England's weather is stereotypically seen as being too cold and wet to grow grapes capable of becoming a decent wine. While that might be a somewhat realistic starting point, that doesn't mean that some regions in the South of England aren't suitable for growing grapes that prefer cooler climates.  Global climate change is certainly seen as a possible influence for the years to come as well.  English farmers may not be able to grow -  or at least not consistently ripen - some of the bigger and better known grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz or Merlot, but other (and perhaps less recognizable) varietals can make a decent go of it.

Indeed, the limestone soils found in the South of England are seen as being similar in terroir to France's Champagne region itself.  Accordingly, much of English winemaking has tended towards the production of sparkling wines since achieving full ripeness may not be quite as critical to the success of a wine as it is with still, table wines.

One bottle of English bubble and a little online research certainly isn't going to render me an expert in English wines; so, I'll leave my recap at that but there still is the wine.

I gather that Chapel Hill is a well known - and respected - brand in England.  Their website mentions that the Vintage Reserve Brut was awarded a Silver Medal at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in 2012.  The site doesn't go into much detail about the wine itself.  It does, however, confirm that the wine is made using the same méthode traditionelle as is used in making true Champagne.  The wine sees second fermentation in the bottle and, according to the site, the "house style" sees extended ageing of the wine on its lees (or spent yeast cells) to promote that classic toasty note to the wine.  I'll attest to their success on that note.  There was a definite, and pleasant, yeastiness to the nose.

A hallmark of English bubble is supposed to be a higher note of fruit on the palate than a traditional Champagne will see.  While there was a bit of green apple or similar tree fruit, I wouldn't say that it was prominent.  What was noticeable was the high acidity.  That might recede a bit with a little more ageing but it actually helped out our cause as it was served with a rich tourtière and the acid cut through the fat in the ground meat and the crust.

I tried searching a little bit to find out what grapes were used in making the Chapel Down Brut but I only saw some general reference to grapes that the estate vineyards grow.  I did find one reference to the wine's provenance when Jamie Goode - the noted English writer behind jamie goode's wine blog and Wine Anorak - stated that the Vintage Reserve Brut was a blend of Rivaner, Reichensteiner and Pinot Noir.  That post was written back in 2008 though; so, it's possible that the make-up of the wine has changed over the years.  I'd like to confirm that blend though because, if it's correct, I believe I get to add two new varietals to my Wine Century Club tally.  (Editor's Note:  I heard from the good folks at Chapel Down and they advise that the varieties used are Pinot Noir 49%, Chardonnay 33%, Pinot blanc 10% and Pinot Meunier 8% - no Rivaner or Reichensteiner this time around for the Wine Century Club, I guess.)

Previously untried varietals or not, popping the cork on the Chapel Down was a nice way to help celebrate the season and to toast Mom's memory.  While Dad and Big Trucker moved on to beer, Vixen, Boo and I stuck with the bubble while watching a little Christmas cinema.  There was a bit of discussion as to which movie to watch but Team Love Actually won out over Team It's A Wonderful Life.  Surprisingly, even Dad was chuckling throughout the movie.

I made bread pudding to finish off our evening as it's become a bit of seasonal tradition around here and we wouldn't need any for Christmas dinner since Vixen had talked Boo into make a couple pies.

1326.  N.V. Forbidden Fruit - Bliss - Fortified White Cherry (Similkameen Valley)

Being a special evening, I figured I'd pull out a special wine to accompany the bread pudding.  It was going to need some sweetness to it to match up with the pudding; so, I thought we could try a fortified wine from Forbidden Fruit.  The English bubble might be rare in our market but this bottle of Bliss is rare in any market.  Being a fortified white cherry fruit wine that isn't made every year and is only made in small batches when it is made, you're not going to run across it easily.  Indeed, owner/winemaker, Steve Venables, says that he doesn't know of any other winery that even tries to make a similar wine.

Bliss is made from 100 percent estate grown, organic Rainer white cherries.  The Rainer cherry apparently has a unique taste for a cherry and that uniqueness carries through to the wine.  Interestingly, the wine sees some young oak and Steve likens the final taste to brandy or cognac.  Admittedly, the taste wasn't entirely expected but it easily met acceptance as even the oldest niece, Stargirl, finished off a small glass and she's only just starting to experiment with wine when we get together.

At just under $30 for 200ml, Bliss is pretty much as expensive as icewine - but then again, there is that whole "rare" aspect to this bottle as well.  I couldn't pass it up when I saw it for sale at the winery and I'm glad we got to try it.

As Bliss-ful as the evening might have been, everyone needed to get home to bed before Santa was set to come.  There was a busy day in store and we'd managed to fit in a couple of interesting bottles as it was.  Can't say that there was any wine left to go with Santa's cookies though.  I wasn't too concerned though.  Knowing how naughty I've been with staying current with the blog this year, I'm not so sure Santa was going to be leaving me any wine anyhow.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lamb Bonne Femme

Considering we live less than an hour from the Washington State border, you might think that I'd be more familiar with Washington State wines.  I truly wish that I were, but such is not the case.  Most of the wines that make it across the border seem to be large brand productions and I have this deep-seated aversion to paying up to twice as much for a wine just because it crosses an international border.

Accordingly, my adventures in Washington wines tend to be limited to our visits State-side - which are few and far between - and the odd bottle that I've managed to bring back with me from those rare trips.

Unless, of course, a friend gifts us with a bottle as is the case with our current pour.

1324.  2008 Zero One Vintners - The Wild Sky Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley - Washington State)

Of course, my having to start with a limited knowledge of Washington wineries isn't ideal but, then, things don't get much better when the almighty "Google" doesn't deliver a wad of sites or information about the wine or winery.  I did garner that Zero One is a virtual winery and that it is relatively new to the Washington wine scene.  Indeed, this 2008 Cab is only the third vintage of Cab.

Thomas and Kristin Vogele are the powers that make up Zero One and they source their grapes from various growers in the state.  The wines are then made at a custom crush facility with a consulting winemaker, Gordy Hill.  This vintage of the wine is 95% Cab Sauv; however, there are small amounts of Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot (3%, 1% and 1% respectively) added to round out the blend.

I grabbed the bottle from the wine rack thinking that it might go nicely with the lamb stew we were having for dinner - particularly since a good whack of the bottle was going into the stewpot - one of our best stews ever according to Boo.  I'm not sure how much of the credit goes to the wine but I'm kinda wishing I'd kept more of the bottle to sip on while eating the stew.  Boo too.  That boy does like his Cabs.

In addition to its stew-enhancing capabilities, what's not to like about the fact that a portion of all sales from the wine are donated to Leave No Trace, "an educational, apolitical, non-profit organization dedicated to the responsible enjoyment and active stewardship of the outdoors by all people worldwide."  Zero One Vintner's partnership with the organization assists that part of the Wild Sky Wilderness area found in the Western Cascade Range in the state.

I often wonder why we don't see more Washington State wines on our side of the border but I think a big part of the answer is that, just like at home in BC, a good number of the wineries are boutique operations and they just don't have the product to export it.  A case in point is that only 709 cases of the '08 The Wild Sky were even made.  It's hard to market wine that just isn't there to market.

Too bad, that.  Guess I'll just have to take my opportunities to try Washington wines whenever they arise.  And, you know I will.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mayan Apocalypse or Night On The Town?

Wasn't sure whether I'd still be around to write this post or not.  What with the Mayan Apocalypse being predicted and all.  But here I am - and happy to be so, I might add.

Never one to let an end of the world threat get in the way of a good party, Tyrant continued to schedule his annual Winter Solstice party for December 21.  As his invite astutely stated, "End of the World you say? Well then I'd better have another glass of wine."  The thought was that if we were all going to go up in a big poof, we might as well be having fun with friends, drinking fine wines and nibbling on an endless supply of tasty treats.  Heaven may have its allure for many, but I'd say this party was a pretty good stab at "heaven on earth."

And for once, the soirée fell on a weekend night!  The good news was that I wasn't going to be obligated to play nice, limit myself to a couple of drinks and head home to be ready for work in the morning.  The bad news was that, if the world didn't really come to an end, I still had a lot of Christmas to plan for.

Thinking that we likely would all still be around come Saturday morning, I played it safe - even if I was one of the last to leave.  As always, Tyrant served up a full array of wines at the Solstice party but I only worked my way through a trio of the wines being poured.

1321.  2010 Marichel - Estate Viognier (VQA Okanagan Valley)

The fact that Tyrant opened a case of Marichel wines was a good indicator of his largesse - or his fear that the end of the world really might be nigh.  Marichel is the Naramata Bench winery that only produces wines made from two Rhône varietals - Syrah and Viognier - and they've never made more than a thousand cases in total.  I rather like their website blurb regarding their philosophy on winemaking. They don't try to mimic Rhône producers (or any others for that matter) and state that, "Much as we love them all, we don't make a Côte-Rôtie Syrah, a Barossa Shiraz, or a Viognier from Condrieu.  And while we adore Cold Heaven Viognier from California, Tarawara Shiraz from Yarra Valley, and Hermitage Syrah from the Rhône... they've all been done.  Instead we make wine that is singularly, identifiably from the Okanagan Valley.  Not only do we make no apologies for that, we exult in it."

There were only 90 cases of the 2010 Estate Viognier made and I was heartily recommending it to anyone making their way for a white wine - particularly when Tyrant, an avid fisherman, always has a superb spread of salmon and other treats from the sea.

The Solstice party has been a regular addition to my December calendar for years now and it's often the only chance I have to meet up with a lot of these folks during the holiday season. With some guests travelling hefty distances and making overnight visits into town, it can sometimes even be the only time I'll see certain acquaintances all year.  To emphasize the party's allure, this year, Jeaux and Matinder delayed a flight to the Caribbean long enough so that they wouldn't miss out on the evening's pleasures.  Attending the party trumped an extra day on Antiguan beaches.

Boo, on the other hand, had to work a night shift and miss the party this year.  Seems the hospital didn't give much credence to the end of the world and made Boo work his shift anyhow.  After being asked where he was for the umpteenth time, I finally texted him to say that I was getting tired of people asking about him and suggested that he just tell the administration that he'd contracted a Mayan flu and needed to leave.  He didn't think much of the idea, but he did text back a photo that I could show to anyone that asked after him.

Meanwhile, back at Tyrant's, those in attendance were all smiles - especially Desmond and the Divine Miss M as they modelled one of the evening's wines.

1322.  2010 Tribunal Red (Sonoma - California)

I hadn't run across this wine previously and I had to look it up afterwards.  Turns out it's a California blend and was picked as one of Vancouver Magazine's Best Red Wines of 2012 and was also named No. 5 on Wine Access magazine's Top 20 Bargain Wines.

It was hard finding out much more information about the wine with a simple Google search however.  There's plenty of hits that pop up but no real info on an actual winery or the wine itself.  I think it's pretty safe to say that most fingers point to this being a "vanity" label for Trader Joe's in the States.  It's proved to be so successful that they must have deemed it worthwhile to cross the border into Canada as well.  There's a rumour that the wine was styled after a well known California wine called The Prisoner and even that The Prisoner's winemaker, David Phinney, has been involved in the making of Tribunal but I didn't see anything formal backing that up that concept.  Indeed, if anything, any one connected to The Prisoner or to David Phinney denied his involvement.

It appears that the wine contains a little bit of everything and that the blend has changed a bit from year to year.  One site states that the current vintage contains Petit Sirah, Merlot, Syrah, Dolcetto, Sangiovese and a "secret" grape. Other sites have mentioned Cab Franc, Grenache, Barbera and Primitivo (or Zinfandel).  In any event, it was a big, bold wine and was a very popular choice among Tyrant's guests.

1323.  2007 Monmousseau Cuvée J.M. Brut (Touraine AOC - Loire - France)

The final wine that I concentrated on was the bubbly - another label that I wasn't familiar with.  Monmousseau has a history in the wine business of over 125 years and they produce primarily sparkling wines (80% of their total production has bubbles).  Back at the start of the 20th Century, a member of the Monmousseau family identified the fact that their region of Touraine, in the Loire Valley, had great similarities to the terroir of the Champagne region.  Accordingly they began to make sparkling wines using the Méthode Traditionelle and quickly garnered a name for themselves.  They remain one of the principal producers in Touraine.

The Cuvée J.M. Brut is made with the Chenin Blanc grape - different from real Champagne - but it sees second fermentation in the bottle which is in line with the traditional method for making Champagne. I liked the fact that the wine allows the fruit to show through and, while I wouldn't call the wine off-dry in any sense, there was a definite ease to the palate.  I could have started with this wine a whole lot earlier in the evening and carried on with it for some time.  It doesn't hurt that it costs about a third of real Champagne either ($19 in Vancouver).

As mentioned, the world didn't meet its demise, Mayan prophesies or not, but the best news about that is that we get to do this all over again next year when Tyrant will be back to a plain, old Winter Solstice party.  I can't wait.

Some Christmas Lights from Tyrant's Balcony

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Festive Dinner at Mr. D's

All I can say is that, if it weren't the holiday season, there's no way I would have accepted a dinner invite for the fourth night in a row.  The stamina needed to keep schedules like that, unfortunately, is long behind me.  But accept we did and Mr. D. certainly knows "festive."

Mr. D. also tends to know a number of the same wines that we do. When visiting him, I often have to realize that I won't be able to add all of the wine we drink to The List.  We'll have often already polished off a bottle of whatever's being served.  It's no bother; whether it's because we gave him the bottle in the first place or whether we introduced him to the wine previously, I just have to realize that there's always the possibility that I'll have to drink away without the benefit of moving closer to that 2001 bottle goal.  Sheesh!

Seeing the labels being poured at dinner, I was thinking I might go 0 for 3 on the evening since all are regulars in our glasses.  I was quite surprised to see that two of the bottles are actually vintages that haven't already been added to The List.  Gotta like that.

1319.  2009 Tantalus Riesling (VQA Okanagan Valley)

It wouldn't have mattered one iota if I'd already added the 2009 Tantalus Riesling to The List because I'll drink any vintage of this wine, anytime, anywhere - List or no List.  It's one of my favourite BC Rieslings and I'm not the only one.  When I needed to bring a bottle across the border to Portland for pouring at the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference, I chose this bottle as being a great ambassador for the BC wine industry. Funny thing was that another BC blogger, Luke Whittall of Wine Country BC, brought the same bottle.

Sharing a Christmas toast with Mr. D., and having Logan join us as well, would have been a treat in itself but having dinner thrown in was a bonus - and having the chance to take in the seasonal lights of the city from Mr. D's West End view was even better.

1320.  2005 Black Hills - Nota Bene (Okanagan Valley)

If my being able to add the '09 Tantalus was a pleasant surprise, adding the main course's Nota Bene was more of a shock.  I almost didn't go back and check The List for this vintage because the iconic BC red has probably seen as many vintages added to The List as any other wine.  I found that six vintages - '99, '01, '02, '03, '04 and '06 - are already there, but the 2005 appears to still be fair game.

Black Hills has generally been fairly consistent with the component percentages going into their Meritage/Bordeaux blend.  I'm not sure of the year that the winery started incorporating additional varietals but, up until 2007, the blend was Cab Sauv and Merlot forming the backbone of the wine with about 15-20% Cab Franc being added to the mix.

Mr. D. did just what he was supposed to - serve it up with a baron of beef.  The only "complaint" - if you want to call it that - was that Mr. D. had decided to use his vintage crystal and the glasses were way too tiny. The non-existent bowls were filled with a couple of sips.  How's a boy to ever knock back a healthy portion of Nota Bene when a continual filling of the glass just leaves you looking like a lush?  I try hard to avoid that label.  Not that there's anything wrong with being a lush - except maybe when you're writing a wine blog.

N.V. La Frenz Tawny (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

Mr. D. served up a perfect end to the evening as well.  I may not be able to add the Non-Vintage La Frenz Tawny to The List - for what would have been the fourth or fifth time - but I sure was able to enjoy it with D's crepe and Nutella torte.  Both beautifully complemented the other.  Year after year, Tawny pulls in top award after top award - and I know that winemaker, Jeff Martin, only enters a couple of competitions, ones that he feels are there for the top flight competition.

There's no question in my mind how the Tawny continues to impress - but then, I'm a bit of a sucker for port-style wines, aren't I?

I had to beg out early and drag Boo home since all these nights out were catching up with me and I still had to work in the morning.  It was a treat of an evening though and we saw a line-up of veritable all-star wines on the BC scene.  Lucky us!

A final treat for the evening was the fact that we got an even better look at what will hopefully become an annual star of the Vancouver Christmas scene.  This is the first time that the big tree on top of the English Bay tower was been lit up, all ablaze in white.  I think it's a grand beacon for the season and I hope to run across it as often, in the years to come, as I run across of all the evening's wines.

Monday, December 17, 2012

But I Thought You Don't Cook?

The lovely and talented Miss Jaq is renowned for many things - but I don't think cooking is necessarily one of them.  Having spent years in the UAE (where everyone eats out or orders in), she hasn't had nearly as much practice as those of us that, boringly, stayed behind in Vancouver and were forced to learn to cook and fend for ourselves. That's why an invite for "Dinner at Miss Jaq's New Digs" was a special Christmas gift this year.  The invite was particularly special because this is her first "home" (temporary or not) in Vancouver in years and we got a chance to revisit all of the glorious carpets that she brought home with her.  Indeed, Miss Jaq is the reason Boo has become the "carpet queen" that he is.

If I think back, Miss Jaq and I were still in university (or just out) the last time she invited me over so that she could cook dinner - and I won't give any further information on how long ago that might have been because a true gentleman never discusses a lady's age.  However, she whipped up spaghetti if memory serves - and she's sworn that she'll never try serving me spaghetti again for as long as she lives.

As it turns out, she was out all day and didn't have time to cook.  So, it was determined that Indian take out was the way to go.

She did have wine waiting though.

1317.  2008 Marquis Philips Cabernet Sauvignon (McLaren Vale - Australia)

I found it funny that she opened a bottle of Marquis Philips.  I don't know a whole lot of their wines but I've generally quite enjoyed them.  Before I said anything about the wine though, I asked Boo if he liked it - which he did - because the Marquis in Marquis Philips is the same Marquis behind Mollydooker.  Despite our visit to Mollydooker when we were in McLaren Vale last Spring, Boo isn't a big fan.  The Marquis Philips brand is no longer associated with Sparky and Sarah as it was at the centre of a large legal dispute between partners but it used to be at the forefront of the Aussie invasion.

Following the law suit, the Marquis Philips brand was taken over by R Wines - a partnership between American wine importer Dan Philips and Australian winemaker Chris Ringland but that arrangement also went south when a receivership reared its head in 2010.  I don't know the whole story or the end result but there are still plenty of brands, under the R Wines banner, available today.

This is meant to be a big and ballsy wine - and it is.  And it gave us something to talk about as the bottle's contents quickly disappeared.

1318.  2012 Sula Vineyards - Dindori Reserve Viognier (India)

Knowing that we were going to take the Indian route on the food front, I thought it made complete sense to bring along a bottle I just happened to run across recently in the provincial liquor stores.  An Indian wine!  I think there's only one varietal available and that's this Viognier.

India is definitely not a country that immediately pops into mind when thinking of premium wine producing regions.  I don't even believe there's much of a culture revolving around the drinking of wine in the country up until now.  I understand, though, that the country is seeing a bit of a seismic shift in its approach to wine (much like we continually hear about China).

The subcontinent isn't exactly awash in vineyards but there is a nascent industry there now and, while you've likely never heard of the Nashik region, it is the fertile area that is home to most of the production so far.  The region is home to around 35 wineries nowadays.  Sula is the major producer there, and when looking it up online, I noticed on a couple of sites that Sula produces around two-thirds of the wine in the Indian market.

Novelty or not, their wines have been featured in Vij's, home to perhaps Vancouver's most famous Indian foods.  I rather doubt that a restauranteur as famous as Vikram Vij would bring in a wine purely for its background story.  My guess is that, like us, he found the wine quite palatable and a nice match to the flavours that run rampant in Indian cuisine.  I'd still classify the wine as fairly simple but it was no "over-the-top," floral Viognier bomb and that was nice.  There was enough fruit on the palate to mesh nicely with the spice of the food and the acidity wasn't so prominent that it was rendered metallic by those spices.

I'd consider ordering it again if I saw it in an Indian restaurant around town - or if I was eating Indian take-out at Miss Jaq's.

By the way, that spaghetti from years ago wasn't nearly as bad as she still makes it out to be.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Most Seasonal Dinner Club

For the second year running, our little Dinner Club gang has arranged to go with a holiday season dinner.  I guess last year's turkey confit was enough of a serve that everyone wasn't scared off by another Christmas dinner.  This year's feast falls to Lady Di and She Who Must Be Obeyed and, rather than stuff another turkey to throw our way, they decided to stuff us à la your fictional Italian grandmother instead.

As usual, there are so many wines and culinary treats involved that I won't be able to do justice to either.  I can start by saying that I'm not saying that we all must be getting older, but every one of us left overly stuffed and we didn't come close to finishing off all the wine.  There were at least two bottles that weren't even opened.  It wasn't all that long ago that such a finish to the evening wouldn't have been fathomable - well, at least not unopened wine bottles.

1309.  N.V. Emotivo Prosecco (Prosecco D.O.C. - Italy)

I've got to love the fact that, every time I turn around, there seems to be a new Prosecco appearing on the local shelves.  Since all the Proseccos I run across are non-vintage, I only get to add an individual brand label once to The List - even if the same bottles are starting to show up more regularly at friends' places.  This is a first time for the Emotivo and it was served up with the girls' selection of crostini - Sherry Marinated Sardines, Sweet Pea Pesto and Olive Tapenade.

I can't say that this is my favourite Prosecco.  I prefer a touch of sweet on this type of wine and this one was pretty much bone dry.  I think it matched nicely with the sardine but I think I'd add some Aperol and turn it into a Spritz if I were to run across it again.

1310.  2010 Azienda Vitivinicola Marianna - Dedicato a Marianna - Greco di Tufo (Greco di Tufo DOCG - Campania - Italy) 

The ladies delivered Stracciatella soup as Il Primo and it was served up with our only still white wine of the evening.  The Marianna wine hails from the town of Irpinia, found at the base of the Apennine Mountains in the Campania region of Italy, not far from Naples.  Greco di Tufo isn't the most commonly found varietal on local shelves; so, kudos to the ladies for finding an interesting match for their tasty soup.

I have to give props to Lady Di for religiously checking the blog before she picks up wines to serve when she knows that I'm coming over.  But, I'm going to praise her even more for making a homemade pasta course of Butternut Squash Ravioli with a Mushroom Ragout and Shaved Black Truffle.  I've never tried making pasta myself and I'm not so sure that I ever will when it's so easy to pick up freshly made pasta in our neighbourhood.  But, I'm ever so willing to chow down on someone else's efforts - especially when laden with mushrooms, a personal fave.

By the time the pasta was before us, we'd dived, full bore, into the first of the reds - and started with a threesome of lighter wines that were full Sangiovese wines or blends that prominently featured the Sangiovese varietal.

1311.  2008 Grifone Riserva (Chianti DOCG - Tuscany - Italy)

1312.  2005 Consorzio Produttori Vini di Velletri - Terre dei Volsci Riserva (Velletri D.O.P. - Lazio/Latium - Italy)

I'm not sure which of the Dinner Club members brought the Velletri but I'm thanking them for the early Christmas present.  It's a blend of Merlot, Sangiovese, Cesanese d'Affile and Montepulciano - and I haven't added the Cesanese grape to my Wine Century Club varietal tally yet.  Merry Merry to me.

1313.  2009 Vigne a Porrona - Montecucco Sangiovese (Montecucco D.O.C. - Tuscany - Italy)

After a bit of a break on the feast, it was time to move on to a little more bombast - both on the plate and in the glass.

1314.  1992 Renato Ratti - Rocche Marcenasco Barolo (Barolo DOCG - Piedmont - Italy)

If there was a "star" wine for the evening, it had to be this one.  Tyrant heard that we were in for the Italian theme and he figured there had to be something in that cellar of his that would befit the occasion.  He managed to find a little old Barolo that he thought might be suitable.  He was clear to say that he couldn't guarantee the provenance of the 20 year old wine but we were all highly anticipating the opportunity to try a bottle that only Tyrant likely could have delivered.  Admittedly, there was some concern when the cork started to disintegrate before it was halfway out of the bottle but, luckily, the wine itself was fully intact.

Tyrant is likely the only member of the Dinner Club that has the ability to regularly open older vintage wines like this.  Accordingly, the subtleties of the ageing and the layers of notes that are more characteristic of older wines might have been lost somewhat on palates more attuned to modern fruit forward wines but we were all grateful for Tyrant's largesse.

The Barolo was saved for the girls' main course of Osso Buco with Asiago Garlic Polenta and it was poured along with a couple other heavy hitters.

1315.  2006 La Spinetta - Langhe Nebbiolo (Langhe Nebbiolo D.O.C. - Piedmont - Italy)

1316.  2007 Tenuta De Angelis - Anghelos (Marche Rosso IGT - Italy)

Funnily enough, even Tyrant proclaimed that the La Spinetta might have been his favourite wine of the evening.  A simpler version of the Barolo, the Langhe Nebbiolo is made from the same grape in the same Italian province but the vines are younger and the ageing process is much shorter as this wine is released 16 months after harvest instead of four years later like with the Barolo.  Boo and I were lucky enough to visit the La Spinetta winery back in 2008.  We weren't able to bring home nearly as many wines as we would have like to; so, we're happy to run across opportunities to find and enjoy the occasional drop of Spinetta's typically high end wines.

The Anghelos was no slouch of a wine either.  A blend of Cab Sauv, Montelpulciano and Sangiovese, the wine hails from Marche and was called a "velvety bombshell...(from) on the back-of-the-knee of Italy's boot" when Vancouver Magazine named it as 2011's Top Red Wine in its annual Wine Awards.

Not a bad collection of wines for the evening, I'd say.

I'm not exactly sure why but I note that we didn't have any pictures Lady Di's Il Dolce course.  The lack of pics must have been that there weren't any new wines served up because it sure wasn't because of the dessert itself.  The duo of Meyers Lemon Panna Cotta and Chocolate Barrolla Crème Cup were delicious and over the top.  Stuffed or not, I could have kept eating that Panna Cotta until Christmas had come and gone.

Ultimately, the evening, like all good things, needed to come to an end.  We waddled out into the night, all a-twinkle with Christmas lights, and bid "Buon Natale" to our hostesses and Dinner Club buds.  The next dinner date isn't scheduled until May and Boo and I are up.  That gives us some months to come up with a menu and to lose some of the pounds that we put on tonight.  Something tells me that I'm going to have to play the "I think it's time to pull things back a bit again" card.  Lord knows I don't want to have to try and top tonight's trip to Little Italy.  But, on that happy note, it's time to get some more of my own seasonal preparations into gear.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Aussie Wines for the Office Party

The office Christmas Party has arrived and it's always good for a couple of additions to The List.  Dinner was in Vancouver's West End; so, Boo and I made a bit of side trip on the way to the restaurant to take in a quick look at our favourite massively lit tree at English Bay.  One day, we'll have to take a bottle with us so that I can use the view under the display as a blog location.  That's to be another time though because we were running a little behind for the office do.

I was chatting to The Boss a couple of days beforehand to talk possible wine choices and he mentioned, afterward, that he basically had fun just picking and grabbing an assortment of bottles that he thought looked interesting.  I was looking forward to seeing his choices since I certainly know that browsing for a case of wines ranks highly on my scale of enjoyable activities.

It's amusing that he went with primarily Aussie choices since we were dining at an Italian restaurant but there's no doubt that The Boss grabbed a mixed bag.  In some instances, he only bought single bottles and, accordingly, there were a couple of interesting bottles that were already finished off by the time we arrived.  I settled in with sipping from a bottle of something old and another of something new.

1307.  2011 Wirra Wirra Scrubby Rise Shiraz - Cabernet Sauvignon - Petit Verdot (Adelaide - South Australia)

The Scrubby Rise is the "something old" bottle.  Scrubby Rise (and the slightly more expensive Church Block) have long been on my radar as great sips at a good price.  I'm actually rather shocked to see that this is the first Wirra Wirra wine to be added to The List.  I must have a fair number of W2 bottles in the "cellar" because I know they've ended up in my shopping basket on many an occasion.  Boo and I even visited the winery during our short visit to McLaren Vale back in the Spring.  It's definitely time for a bottle to be added.

The bottle states that the wine is from the "Adelaide region."  I'm not familiar with Adelaide as a named production area but maybe, in their current efforts to emphasize regional Aussie wines, marketers are using "Adelaide" as a more comprehensive region when grapes are sourced from more than one of the smaller zones.  The grapes going into Scrubby Rise hail from both the McLaren Vale and Fleurieu areas but maybe "Adelaide Region" is thought to be more of a premium appellation than South Australia would be.

Doesn't matter to me.  Website notes refer to the wine as a "twist on an Australian classic - Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon."  Petit Verdot is a classic Bordeaux blender and Wirra Wirra's winemakers look to PV to "take this wine to another level, with its vibrant colour and rich fragrance."  As you might expect, the wine is big with lots of ripe, dark fruit.  But, being from regions that are slightly cooler than the Barossa, there is more restraint on those flavours than many of the similarly priced easy drinking Aussie wines.  At $15 (in the Vancouver market), it's an easy choice for all sorts of  parties.

1308.  2010 Henry's Drive Vignerons - Morse Code Shiraz (Padthaway - Australia)

The Morse Code Shiraz, on the other hand, was new to me.  I've seen it on some local shelves but I can't say that I've ever tried it.  Turns out that Morse Code is one of a number of brands that are produced by Henry's Drive.  They are one of a handful of wineries that are working to establish a regional name for Padthaway.  Found to the North of Coonawarra, Padthaway is a sub-region of the Limestone Coast; however, the area has largely been monopolized by bigger, commercial wine producers and doesn't have nearly the name recognition of neighbouring wine areas.

Henry's Drive is relatively new on the scene, having been established in 1998.  Despite its recent heritage, the diversity of labels sees the winery producing around 150,000 cases annually - large by BC standards but hardly the volume of the big Aussie brands.  As with the Wirra Wirra, the fruit on the Morse Code is still front and centre; however, it's more subtle than most economical brands from the Barossa.  For $14, this is another wine that punches above it weight.

The good news was that, Italian inspired cuisine or not, the wines went over nicely.  The bad news, such as it might be, was that I was feeling rather under the weather and, so, I didn't try any other wines.  In fact, I was one of the first to leave the evening's activities and that's a bit of a first in itself.  Pacing, especially during the holiday season, is critical though - and there are plenty more opportunities scheduled to add bottles to The List before the year is out.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Buller Tawny

1306.  N.V. Buller - Victoria Tawny (Rutherglen - Victoria - Australia)

Having just enjoyed the Buller Fine Old Muscat during our Neighbours' Dine Around, I brought out the Victoria Tawny that I had on hand since we were serving up a cheese course of our own over the holidays.

Both wines are known for their rich flavours awash in raisin and spice.  The Rutherglen region is particularly famous for the long-continued production of these types of fortified wines.  The primary difference between our Tawny and the Fine Old Muscat is that the wines used in blending the latter have been aged in oak for longer periods of time than the wines for the Tawny.  For the Tawny, the winemakers utilize "younger material to produce consistency of style and quality."  Our current bottle is generally made from a five- to six-year solera system, whereas the Fine Old line will see close to, if not, twice the ageing.  Consequently, the Victoria Tawny isn't quite as complex as the Fine Old wines but, then again, it's generally found at half the price.  I didn't see any specific reference on the web site but the Muscat is likely made from that single varietal of grape.  Again, nothing formal at the winery site, but I did see one reference that the Tawny, on the other hand, is made from a number of different grapes, including Shiraz.

The Buller winery saw its start back in the 1920's and is now in its fourth generation of being a family-owned operation.  It has earned a reputation for its fortified wines over the years (hence the back to back fortifieds we've enjoyed); however, I see that it also produces table wines under the Buller name and under a few additional brand names.  With the introduction of more wine types and brands, the winery has seen a big increase in overall production over the last so many years. All that additional production may be leading to some major changes afoot though as current headlines in Australia are reporting that the winery has just seen company directors appoint financial administrators to survey operations and report to creditors.

I'll be interested to hear how the company fares in the months to come.  Hopefully, Buller and its fortified wines will still be found on local shelves for many more years. If it helps their financials, I could promise to buy another couple bottles.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Seasonal Neighbours' Dine Around

It's now been almost ten years since Boo and I moved into the neighbourhood and one of the constant joys of living where we do is the Neighbourhood Dine Around.  The back story is that six new homes were built at the same time and all six were moved into within a few months of each other.  There was obviously some common ground between all the new neighbours and we were ever so lucky that we all enjoyed each other's company.

We started up the first dine around after we'd all had a year to both settle in and to start adding those individual touches to our homes. All the homes started out pretty much as carbon copies of the same plan.  So, a 45-minute visit to each home for drinks and nibblies allowed for a bit of a snoop as well as some seasonal cheer.

Well that original six-some has seen some changes.  After last summer, we were down to two of the original six couples; however, the replacements have continued to fit right in.  Indeed, we saw two new couples move into the hood this year.  And, then, there's been a bit of an expansion to the guest list to boot.  It started with the addition of Big Red and The Marquis and their house as it shared a fence line with Rock God and Shameless Hussy.  Then Mr. Principled and Nature Boy moved in across the lane and we figured it wasn't too much of a trek to include them as well.  Finally, this is the first year that we're including Irish John - even though he's been one of the chattiest neighbours on the street for years.

Our little seasonal mingler even made it into the Globe and Mail newspaper last month as an article on neighbourhoods.

With a diverse array of foods and cocktails, we're just a little concerned that we've outgrown the coziness of the original event.  Nine homes in one night takes some concerted effort.  And some self-pacing.  That's why I don't have nine different wines to add to The List after the evening - even though there was an assortment of bottles well in excess of what I managed to sip away on.

We started with an oyster bar at one of the new couples on the block.  They went all out on the menu and "obviously" didn't check the blog first to make sure that they were serving a wine that hadn't made it to The List already.  Their Adriano Adami Dei Casel Extra Dry Prosecco (Valdobbiandene Prosecco Superiore DOCG - Veneto - Italy) was a lovely match to the oysters but it's a non-vintage and was added back at #1185 at another neighbourhood party.  I'll have to fill them in a little more before next year's event.

1300.  2010 Les Vins Bonhomme - el petit bonhomme (Jumilla D.O. - Spain)

So, the first wine of the night to be added to The List also has the distinction of hitting another landmark century mark on this Odyssey - #1300!  The wine is getting all sorts of good press locally as a marvellously valued and tasty wine. It's made by ex-Montréal native Nathalie Bonhomme in collaboration with well known, Spanish winery Bodegas Juan Gil.  It's a take on a Spanish GSM, likely explaining heavier use of the M - being Monastrell (the local name for Mourvèdre) - and lighter take on the Garnacha (Grenache) and Syrah.

I don't think that K-Pop and Baby Mama had necessarily intended on matching it with the latkes and applesauce but I could have cared less.  I was only disappointed in the fact that I had to check my sipping on the easy sipper since we still had more six stops to take in.

Those stops kept up the varied approach to the treats.  I tried a bitters and soda for the first time with Cupcake and Haggis, tried a comparison to Boo's homemade eggnog and quite enjoyed the pulled pork sandwiches and great cheese spreads that were served up at those stops.  Of course, there was the milk stout and multitude of brews being poured as we paid a first visit Irish John's place and his "man cave."  I think it was a common conclusion amongst the gang that Irish John has the best view of the city of all our places.  And we're holding him to his offer to host a man cave party in the near future.  I was quite intrigued to hear that the milk stout is made just down the road from us at 49th Parallel brewery.  The hood continues to grow more interesting.

1301.  2007 Hillside Estate Reserve Merlot (Okanagan Valley)

1302.  2008 Hillside Estate Reserve Merlot (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

I don't know how interesting most folks found the mini-library pouring of the Hillside Merlot but it seemed like a fun thing to try since we happened to have both the '07 and '08 vintages handy.  Hillside has been around for some years now but it's not a winery that we patronize all that much.  They did a tasting with the BC Wine Appreciation Society this year and we really enjoyed a couple of their small lot Merlots.

I didn't get my hands on any of the small lot wines but it was nice to serve up the two rather distinctly different takes on the "same" wine.  The 2007 was made from grapes grown in the warmer Oliver region of the Okanagan while the 2008 wine only used grapes from the Naramata Bench - where the winery is located.  I'm not sure about the 2008 wine, but only 400 cases were made of the 2007.  We don't try these comparison tastings very often but it just went to show how common vintage variations can be with smaller, non-brand producers.

It seemed that the slightly fruitier profile on the 2008 was a bit more popular though - if you're taking notes.

1303.  N.V. See Ya Later Ranch - SYL Brut (VQA Okanagan Valley)

We even had a bit of participation from one of our former neighbours.  The Marquis wasn't able to attend our gathering this year, but he sent a couple bottles of the SYL Brut all the same.  This is a BC bubbly that I'm not that familiar with.  It's a very traditional take on bubbly though with toasty brioche notes that are very reminiscent of real deal Champagne.  It was even just named as one of local writer, Anthony Gismondi's, top choices for reasonably priced sparklers for the holiday season.

Our final stop of the night was a bona fide tawny-fest.  Rock God and Shameless Hussy served up an early Christmas present with three different fortified tawny ports.  This is my kind of nightcap; however, you have to remember that, by now, we'd been at the Dine Around for five hours-plus.  Accordingly, I did a quick tasting of each of the wines but I chose to play the good boy and only fully partake in two of the bottles.

1304.  Niepoort Colheita 1995 (Douro - Portugal)

1305.  N.V. Buller Fine Old Muscat (Rutherglen - Victoria - Australia)

Again, I found it interesting to try different approaches to very similar wines.  Both wines are considered tawnies - as opposed to ruby ports.  Tawnies are standardly aged for many years (10+ years in both of these instances) in oak casks unlike the rubies that are bottled much earlier in the ageing process to preserve the deeper colouring and fruitier profile on the wine.  One of differences in the approaches in the two wines at hand is that the Colheita is a more rare-ish, vintage dated tawny port.  Most tawnies are wines that blend in new vintages to end up with a consistent non-vintage profile but the Colheita features fruit just from the 1995 vintage.  Another difference is that the Aussie wine is made from 100% Muscat but the Portugese wine, like most Ports, features a variety of grapes including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinto Cão, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Amarela, Sousão and Tinta Roriz (and some unnamed others).

I love the fact that two of the named varietals in the Colheita have yet to be added to my tally for the Wine Century Club.  So, that early present from the Hussy was all the more special.  Tinta Francisca and Sousão become grapes #145 and 146.  Season's greetings to that!

As for the third tawny served up, I'll just have to go back to the Taylor Fladgate on another occasion.  As you might easily imagine, we had long become rather tired neighbours and our numbers were diminishing with every passing stop.  For the hardy stalwarts, every oversized couch or chair just seemed to call out as a practical - if not entirely comfy - resting spot.  And you have to know that overflowing chair capacity often leads to unexpected consequences - like spilled drinks - and those consequences are best avoided because you know we'll be doing it all over again next year.  And you don't necessarily want to be the neighbourhood story during the intervening months - especially with the looming possibility of being written up in the papers.

Good thing we have such accommodating and good-drinking neighbours.  I'm pretty much guaranteed a grand entry for the blog every holiday season.  Merry Merry!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Annual Christmas Cookie Fest

For me, if there's one event that's the confirmation that the holiday season has truly arrived, it's Jeaux and Matinder's annual Christmas Cookie Fest.

The baking extravaganza is traditionally held on the opening weekend of December and I can pretty much count on it, like clockwork, to herald the start of the party season.  If you hadn't guessed from the name of the soirée, this is the identifiable start to all the Christmas pounds to come.  Jeaux plans the party details, as only she can, while Matinder spends three weeks (or longer) baking the wildest assortment of cookies and treats that you'll ever find outside of a bakery.  Shortbreads, biscotti, savouries and gingerbread numbering in the hundreds (if not thousands) - you name it and it's likely there.

And, as if you couldn't eat enough sweets to last until the New Year's diet kicks in, they insist that every guest put together a "to go" goodie bag.

1299.  2008 Bodegas San Dionisio - Mainetes Petit Verdot (Jumilla D.O. - Spain)

I doubt the variety of libations could ever be as extravagant as the cookie count, but I found an intriguing tipple to wash down all the baking. The evening's bottle of choice was a Spanish Petit Verdot - a combination that I don't recall having seen before.  I don't see a lot of easily found information on the producer but Bodegas San Dionisio appears to be a cooperative in the Jumilla region of Spain.  If the brief reference I found is correct, there are approximately 700 members in the collective and, together, they manage 6500 hectares of vineyards and grow an assortment of grapes that are then produced under a variety of labels.

The Mainetes line produces this 100% Petit Verdot, the grape being a fairly new introduction to the region.  I think it's fair to say that P.V. isn't the likeliest match for baked goods, especially since this is a gutsy version.  All the same, there was enough typically Spanish, dark fruit on the palate that it was fine for standing, chatting and sipping.

It didn't take long, however, for our Mr. Bill gingerbread boy to let out a trademark "Oh No" (for those old enough to remember those old SNL days) to remind us that Boo and I still had to decorate our tree tonight in preparation for the assortment of neighbours that were scheduled to drop by the following night.

So, with cookies in hand, we ventured into the suddenly Christmas-like evening - knowing that this was just the start of all the seasonal calories, and sips, to come.