Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Final Gathering for the Season

The Christmas tree was destined to come down this weekend. That left us one final opportunity to entertain with a bit of seasonal cheer in the air. Luckily, Elzee and Daveyboi were both free to pay a visit. We didn't have a chance to see either of them over the holidays; so, we counted ourselves particularly lucky to get both of them on the same night.

1338. 2007 Venturi Schulze - Brut Naturel (Vancouver Island)

Elzee hails from Vancouver Island. So, I thought it would be the perfect time to pop the cork on an Island bubbly made in the traditional Champagne method (even if it doesn't feature traditional Champagne grapes). Venturi Schulze is one of those names that I've heard about far more than I've ever been exposed to or had an opportunity to try. Being an Island winery - that produces fewer than 2000 cases (of all their wines) a year - we don't tend to see their wines in Vancouver very often.

If the Brut is representative of the quality all of their wines, I really need to try and find some more. This sparkler is made from Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Gris and Kerner grapes and shows those baked bread notes reminiscent of classic Champagne - the notes coming from time spent ageing on yeast lees (or dead yeast cells).  The wine isn't finished with a sweetened dosage - and is, therefore, bright with acidity - but it matched up nicely with the occasion at hand.  I don't often serve a bubbly as a primary wine with dinner but I thought it might just work tonight.  And it did.

Boo and I decided to serve raclette for dinner. The variety of foods and the emphasis on cheese throughout the dinner seemed to lend itself to a sparkling wine. Raclette's a novel way to sit and eat - and chat - for hours and the bubbles just added to the festive atmosphere.

I should point out that Venturi Schulze is also known for its traditional balsamic vinegar - where a 250ml bottle starts at $50. The vinegar is made from estate grown grapes as well and is aged for years in oak before it is bottled.  The owners figure they have over $1 million worth of balsamic currently in barrel. I've yet to try the balsamic, but I'm dying to get a bottle as a gift. If not mistaken, I even read about one year when they produced an icewine balsamic.  That went for a pretty penny I'm sure, but I doubt you could get much more "one-of-a-kind" than that.

1339. 2011 Woodbridge Merlot (California)

Daveyboi brought along the Woodbridge and it was a good thing since we definitely needed that second bottle of wine during dinner. Woodbridge is a second label and winery for Robert Mondavi. According to the website, after he had established his famous Napa Valley winery, Mondavi "pursued his second vision of creating delicious wines for everyday enjoyment." The region around his childhood home in Lodi fit the bill for growing grapes that could produce quality wines at more affordable price points. Coming in at under $15 in the BC government stores, "affordable" is a definite catch-word.

Mixing Elzee and Daveyboi with Merlot, talk ultimately drifted to our mutual - and much beloved - Aussie bud, Merlot Boy. We worked it out to be early afternoon in Melbourne. So, out came the phone and 20 minutes later, we needed another bottle of wine. And some dessert.

1340. N.V. Lang Vineyards - Canadian Maple Wine (BC)

Boo had made a pecan pie for the kids. So, I pulled out a dessert wine that we'd picked up some years back. Being a bit of a "novelty," we hadn't quite happened on the opportunity to open it previously. A maple syrup infused dessert wine seemed as natural a fit as there might be for pecan pie though.

Gunther Lang and his namesake Lang Vineyards was one of the first wineries to locate on the Naramata Bench and he was the first in North America to make a wine with maple syrup. Novelty or not, this is a serious wine and, at the time we visited the winery, they were making both a red and a white version of this wine. It's difficult to find exact information about our white but the best notes I could find suggest that it is a blend of Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling.

This wine was largely exported to overseas markets and was often seen front and centre in touristy souvenir shops at the Vancouver Airport. The difficulty in finding information about this older version of the wine stems primarily from the somewhat tumultuous ownership the winery has seen over the last decade. The Lang family initially sold the winery to Keith Holman in 2005 and it played a central part in the rather short-lived Holman Lang empire of seven Okanagan wineries. The Holman Lang group was placed in receivership in November 2010 and the Lang Vineyard assets were purchased by Chinese interests. In an attempt to rebuild the Lang brand, Gunther Lang was hired as a consultant and his nephew, Mike Lang, came on board as General Manager. I'll be interested to see how the winery is viewed in the years to come.

I'm sure that many a purist would turn their nose up at a wine infused with maple syrup but it suited our pie nicely. It won't become a regular tipple at our table but there could always be a suitable occasion - like the next time Merlot Boy visits from Down Under and Boo makes him a pie.

All in all, a grand evening. Quite the mix of laughs, food groups and wines. But now I need to make time to put away all the decorations. I have to admit that I'd rather sit back and open up another bottle though.

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