Friday, November 28, 2014

Unusually Rare

For me, one of the most interesting parts of this Wine Odyssey has been the discovery of new varieties of grape. The world is not all Chardonnay or Cab - nor should it be. I think the fact I'm inching closer to my 200th variety on my Wine Century Club tally is a teensy indicator of my enthusiasm for discovering new grapes and wines.

Sometimes, that discovery just leads to more questions. Case in hand - or at least bottle in hand - I quickly grabbed for this bottle of Albillo varietal wine from Spain when I happened upon it. Little did I know that I still wouldn't be sure of which grape was actually used in making the wine.

1807.  2012 Bodegas Valduero - Garcia Viadero - Blanco de Albillo (Castilla y León VDT - Spain)

Although winemaking in this part of northern Spain dates back hundreds of years (if not centuries), in 1984, this family run winery was one of the first to be established in the heart of the newly created Ribera del Duero D.O. (or quality wine region). At the time, there were only about a half dozen wineries in the region; however, the region exploded on the wine scene and has played a big part of the renaissance of Spanish wine. There are now over 200 wineries in Ribero del Duero.

The regional D.O. is best known for its reds and does not, in general, permit white wines to be produced under its auspices. Most white wine produced is destined for local consumption - without D.O. designation. Ribera del Duero does have one exception and that is the indigenous Albillo grape. Even then, only Bodegas Valduero and (regional star winery) Vega Sicilia, have been given special permission to grow the grape and the wines still need to be labeled as Vino de la Terra (a lower, table wine designation) from the larger Castilla y León region.

Problem is the grape is quite rare and has never really been a highly-identified cultivar. Over the years, there have apparently been a collection of grapes with the word Albillo forming part of the name, but almost all of them have been referred to simply as Albillo. Many of those grapes no longer even appear to be in production. According to Jancis Robinson (et al)'s tome, Wine Grapes, both Albillo Mayor and Albillo Real still see limited production, are both grown in the Castilla y León region and are seemingly referred to, interchangeably, as Albillo.

Neither the label, nor the winery website, expand any further on the grape than to say that the wine is 100% Albillo. It would seem that this can be a common occurrence. In addition to Wine Grapes, I often refer to the Fringe Wine blog when it comes to unusual grape varieties and even Rob's entry on Albillo left him uncertain as to which grape he'd actually partaken in with the wine he'd sampled.

I'm counting it in my Wine Century Club tally regardless of the fact that the grape could be more accurately identified. The odds of my running into another Albillo wine are probably pretty slim. I see that only slightly more than 26,000 bottles were made of this vintage. I think I'm good to go with just calling the grape, Albillo.

As far as Spanish whites go, this was richer with bigger tree fruit and citrus coming through than I'm used to tasting. If this is what I might expect from Albillo, I suppose I should keep my eyes open for another.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hardly A Laughing Matter

Lately, and possibly even justifiably so, Boo has been on a major campaign to drink some of the older BC wines that we have in our cellar. He's tightened the "No Buy Leash" (like that's anything new) and he's determined to free up some space in our place. It's not like we're running into a lot of flawed bottles but, admittedly so, a lot of the BC wines that we've got in the cellar were made by fairly new wineries that were only learning about their Okanagan terroir and were made from pretty young vines. None of those factors are necessarily hallmarks of long-aging wines.

As such, we might be seeing a few wines - on a Tuesday night - that aren't exactly Tuesday night wines. I suppose I shouldn't complain though - especially when they show as well and taste as fine as tonight's wine did.

1806.  2006 Laughing Stock Portfolio (Okanagan Valley)

I haven't added a large number of Laughing Stock wines to The List but that's primarily because we don't have a many of them to open. Production is limited and finding the wines can be difficult unless you happen to be travelling on the Naramata Bench shortly after the wines have been released. Unlike a number of Okanagan wineries, Laughing Stock has decided to limit the number of wines that they'll make and the grape varieties that they'll work with. I think they're still limiting themselves to the two red blends - Portfolio and Blind Trust - the Syrah and a similarly limited selection of whites. And none of those wines are made in big volumes.

I think the easiest way of giving you the goods on the provenance of Laughing Stock's Portfolio is to refer you to an article written by BC wine scribe extraordinaire, John Schreiner, in which he sets out a nice little recap of Laughing Stock's first decade, especially of this flagship blend.

In addition to reading John Schreiner, I always find it to be great fun to read the "ticker tape" gracing Laughing Stock bottles and this vintage of the Portfolio is no exception. In addition to setting out information on wine inside, the label shows the value of highly held stocks on the day that the grapes were picked. On this particular label, Research In Motion was still selling for $133.31 a share and it had seen a rise of $4.02 that day. I'm not sure there are many more vintages showing RIM in such a good light.

Most vintages of Portfolio do, however, show that the wine skews to the Right Bank of Bordeaux-style blends. The '06 vintage was 61% Merlot, 16% each of Cab Sauv and Cab Franc, 5% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. Merlot dominant blends are common enough for the Okanagan but, if they all tasted as good as this one, I'd say keep bringing them on.

Big with generous dark fruit, this baby is still a strong buy - if you could only find any. Sadly, it was our last bottle. I'm just glad that Boo had me open it while it was still this tasty.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Finding One's Muse

1805.  2007 Muse Syrah (Vancouver Island)

I'm thinking this is probably one of the last bottles of Muse - or Chalet Estate - wines that we have around home. Boo and I no doubt picked this up at the winery the last time we visited Bella Jianna and Flyboy B at their Vancouver Island abode. Unfortunately, that was some years ago and it's pretty much a given that we won't be doing it again - at least not from our friends' happy home in Sidney. As we learned back in the summer, Jianna and B no longer live on the island. So, we likely won't be sitting on any sunny decks sipping Saanich Peninsula wines with them anymore.

I guess that fact will just make this bottle a little more memorable.

Just as Bella Jianna and Flyboy are transitioning from Vancouver Island to the Okanagan, their old neighbourhood winery was in transition when we visited and bought this wine. The old winery, Chalet Estate had been purchased and re-named as Muse in 2008. This '07 vintage would, therefore, still have been started under the watchful eye of the old owners.

Without some major changes in weather due to global warming, Vancouver Island isn't likely to become a hotbed of locally grown Syrah. It just doesn't get hot enough. Island climate is far more conducive to whites and it can be a challenge to ripen even a few of the lighter reds or hybrid grapes. Understandably, this Syrah is made from Okanagan grapes and such purchases allows Island wineries to offer a fuller portfolio of wines that can include some big reds. I'm not sure that I fully endorse that idea. I might be more inclined to focus on the capabilities of the local terroir. That being said, Chalet had produced some award winning Syrah over the years. So, regardless of the provenance, when the wine's good, it only makes sense to buy it.

I think the years of ageing may have diminished some of the brighter fruit that would have been evident earlier in this bottle's life, but the wine still had a lovely nose and it paired quite nicely with some lamb meat pies that we picked up from the Aussie Pie Guy food truck.

With Bella Jianna and Flyboy B's departure from the Island, our visits to Island wineries will no doubt be limited in the future but something tells me there'll still be a Syrah or two to be had from their new home in the Okanagan.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pink Broom. Red Wine.

Good thing Elzee and I behaved ourselves last night and simply made our ways home after the East Van Culture Crawl ended last night because getting up early enough to head out to the Pink Broom Bonspiel in the morning was enough of a task for me as it was. Arrive on time, I did, however, and it was a full day on the ice - with everything from regular play games thru doubles and on to skins games.

The thing about bonspiels - particularly funspiels like the Pink Broom - is that there's bound to be a bit of down time. Or, perhaps that should be noted as "drinking time."

I think it's safe to say that curling is generally associated with beer far more than wine and, true to form, our Raising Red team never seemed to be short of a live pitcher - not to mention the shots that seemed to appear far more often than an old codger like me is used to dealing with.  It's a miracle there weren't any spills on the ice.

Seeing as I'd been paired up with the red team, it only seemed natural to use the Pink Broom as an opportunity to add a bottle of red wine to The List. Now the Vancouver Curling Club isn't exactly known for its extensive wine list but even a limited list can, hopefully, offer up a simple sipper to warm you up after a jaunt on the ice. How about a little Malbec to the rescue?

1804.  2013 Pascual Toso Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

I'm guessing that, in addition to having a limited list, our club doesn't revise the wines all that often either since I added the 2011 vintage of Pascual Toso to The List while curling last season at our league's feature bonspiel the Pac Rim Cup.

Like last night's Malbec, I usually figure you can count on Malbec to offer up some fruit and drinkability in social situations where food isn't going to be featured prominently. This is Pascual Toso's entry level Malbec and it's been a stalwart on BC shelves for years now. The winery's association with Paul Hobbs, as consulting winemaker, has likely played a big part in their steady presence in the North American market.

I didn't really know any of my teammates on Team Red and five of the eight were either first- or second-year curlers. We did surprisingly well, finishing second over all. Granted, we saw a big jump in the standings when our team took all sorts of points in the final round of skins curling. There were all sorts of points up for grabs and we were on fire - one foursome took three of fours skins and the foursome I played with saved our best curling of the day for that round and we took all four skins.

I'll leave it up to you to figure out the emphasis on bonus points that can be available in a gay curling league when your team takes all four skins.

Suffice it to say, the day was a big success and I look forward to seeing how much closer I'll be to reaching the 2001st bottle on this Odyssey by the time this season's Pac Rim Cup comes along. I'll just have to watch that I don't grab another bottle of the Pascual Toso - unless the 2014 vintage is out by then.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

We Crawl v.2014

One of my favourite events in our neighbourhood is the East Side Culture Crawl - the annual visual arts festival that sees hundreds of artists on Vancouver's east side open their studios to the public over an extended weekend. This is the 17th year of the Crawl and over 450 artists are scheduled to participate over the weekend.

I always find that the Friday night is the best night to wander around the main venues - like Parker Place and ARC - because Saturday and Sunday can get downright overwhelming with the crowds (which has to be seen as a good thing), but Boo had to work. Over the years, Mr. D. has been a regular partner but he wasn't available either this year. Luckily, Elzee was free and was game. Turns out that she'd never attended the Crawl before; so, introducing her to the fun was going to be a neat way to take in the event this year.

Being an artist driven event, the Crawl certainly boasts a bohemian feel but even they can't pull off an occasion that allows you to buy a glass a wine and wander around the various studios with it. As such, we just had to bring our own to-go mug.

1803.  2011 Bodega Renacer - Punto Final Reserva Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

I figured an easy drinking, cocktail kind of wine would be the way to go and, since it was a dark and wet kind of night, I went with a bolder bottle. I was introduced to Renacer at the Vancouver International Wine Festival four or five years ago and I was quite glad to see them attend again this year as it allowed me to pick up their Reserve Malbec. Their regular Malbec is regularly found on our government liquor store shelves but the Reserva isn't seen so often.

This was a big mouthful of dark fruit and it was quite structured; so, it wasn't like Elzee and I were chugging it back - despite the size of our coffee mugs cum wine glasses. Chances are our glasses didn't offer up the best nuances that the nose might normally offer but it definitely helped with the flow of the evening.

Good thing that we only had the one bottle. Who knows what I might have been tempted to buy had the pursestrings been lubricated that little bit more. I quite liked the blue and black piece by @Carla_Tak in the bottom left of the collage above but it was a fairly large piece and Boo and I have run out of wall space. It was interesting that the wine photo was taken with another, smaller piece by Carla that I'd picked up a few years back on the Crawl.

Elzee quite enjoyed herself and said that she'd be more than willing to attend in the years to come - regardless of whether I bring the wine or not.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

#BCWineChat - Try Something New

Seems like I can barely make time to get the odd blog post out, let alone find time to play with everyone on Twitter or social media as much as I might like to. Once in awhile though, I'm able to join the Twitterverse for a BCWineChat on Wednesday nights. This week's topic was a live tasting tweet-up where participants were urged to find a bottle of BC wine that they've never tried before.

Given the high percentage of BC wines that we open in our household, trying a new producer can be a bit of task - even with the proliferation of new wineries that continually seem to be popping up.

I happened to have a bottle that I'd been waiting to try since picking it up following the BC Wine Appreciation Society's Bus Tour last year.

1802.  2012 Lariana Cellars Viognier (Okanagan Valley VQA)

This Viognier was the first release from Lariana Cellars, a boutique winery that has the privilege of calling itself the Okanagan's southernmost winery. Their property is found right at the Canada-U.S. border. Indeed, in trying to reach the winery, you have to be careful that you make the turn and avoid heading into the States.

I was looking forward to trying this Viognier because everything I'd read or heard about Lariana had been very complimentary.

The winery is operated by Carol and Dan Scott and half their 10-acre property still remains a lakeside campground. Carol Scott's family had owned the campground since the 1960's and Ms. Scott's father had also been involved in a vineyard a little further up the valley on Black Sage Road. When the Scott's took over the campground property, the current vineyard was a fruit orchard. In 2007, the fruit trees were replaced with grapevines and, after a couple of years of selling their grapes to other wineries, they decided to take the plunge and produce their own wines.

In looking into the wine a bit, I saw that the Scott's had engaged the gathered wisdom that is Senka Tenant - one of the originators of Black Hills and one of BC's most iconic wines, Nota Bene, and the current operator of TerraVista Cellars. I've long been a fans of Senka's wines. So, that only added to the cachet of Lariana. Added to that, as mentioned, the release of 2012 Viognier was met with great response and the exuberance continued for the 2013 vintage where one local scribe, Daenna Van Mulligan (The Wine Diva), declared that it was "most likely British Columbia's best Viognier."

With all that going for the wine, I was looking forward to giving the wine a go with #BCWineChat. The introduction of Lariana to the evening's Twitter discussion certainly seemed to echo the enthusiasm otherwise displayed. Only problem was that the wine, at least for me, just didn't deliver on all that zeal. It might have been the bottle that I had, but I didn't notice all the vibrant aromas and flavours that I'd been reading about. If I hadn't known what the wine was, I doubt that I'd even thought of Viognier as a possibility - and I tend to find Viognier to be quite a distinctive varietal.

The good news was that Boo really enjoyed the wine, vibrant or not - and that will likely mean we'll give Lariana another go should I run across some of their limited production again.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

An "Eye-Cathcing" Red

1801.  N.V. Eye Chart Wines - Red Wine Blend (California)

This was a leftover from Vixen's birthday party last night and I didn't really know anything about it. I'll admit that, with this "eye-catching" label (sorry, I stole the pun from a fact sheet on the wine), I was expecting this to be a basic, brand wine with tons of fruit and residual sugar to catch that non-wine-drinking market and mimic critter wines while leaving the critters off the label. It was much tastier.

Eye Chart is a "second collaboration" between Joel Gott and Dave Phinney, a couple of California winemakers that are known for side projects that involve regions from around the world. From what I can gather, there's a relationship with Trinchero Family Estates as well, Trinchero being the folks behind The Show wines that have done well in the Vancouver market and Phinney founded Orin Swift Cellars, producers of The Prisoner - another popular label.

This project is quite the mixed bag of all things Californian. The Red Wine Blend features Cab Sauv, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Merlot that is sourced from Napa, Sonoma, Lodi and Mendocino. Being a non-vintage wine, the flavour profile should be a consistent one. So, if you like it - it's still big and fruit forward - you should always be able to go back, grab a bottle and not notice much different.

A bit more than many of the critter wines (it rings in at around $20-25 around here), it will be interesting to see if it continues to show up at other parties as we near the holiday season.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Two, Two Landmarks In One

As you'll note if you scroll down the blog through the more recent posts, I've taken some literary licence and jumped over a bunch of bottles that make up this 2001 Bottle quest. I promise you all the "missing" bottles were opened - and finished. I've just decided to try and stay a little more current AND flesh out those missing posts when I get a chance.

Part of the reason for doing so, was that I'd kind of lost track of what number I was at in my tally. A little sleuthing revealed that another landmark in the blog's tally had come and gone without me knowing it. Luckily, my #1800 bottle was befitting of that landmark number but I'm sure I was only so fortuitous because we were celebrating a landmark that night - my little sis, Vixen, was turning (ahem) 39+ (again) and we had a little surprise soirée for the young lass.

Despite the fact that she'd had a the biggest party of her life a couple of months back when she got married, she wanted a big party for her birthday. I told her that she shouldn't look to me because she'd exhausted that account when she "demanded" that we throw her a Jack & Jill shower before the wedding. She was so mopey though that I told her, if no one else threw her a party, I'd have her and Big Trucker over for dinner. Since we'd been talking about the possibility of have her friends, The Guru (as in wine) and Bride of Frank-n-Wine, over as well, she arranged for them to attend when it became apparent that there wasn't going to be any other party.

The only "problem" with the surprise plan was that Vixen was expecting a big dinner and hadn't eaten all day. Luckily, since we have neither the space nor the budget to throw a dinner party for two dozen folks, we were ready to keep a sufficient array of hors d'oeuvres going through the evening. Otherwise, Vixen was going to be a helluva hooched little sister. And, at her age, the morning after recoveries aren't as quick as they used to be. With all the kitchen and hosting duties, I didn't have time to drink all that many wines during the party - despite the large number of corks that were pulled.

In between kitchen and bar duty, overhearing conversations on Botox and everyone telling stories on how close folks had come to giving away the surprise element of the evening, I did manage to return to my glass enough to try these four wines:

1797.  2008 Desert Hills Cabernet Merlot (VQA Okanagan Valley)

A number of Desert Hills wines have been added to The List over the years. Having Burrowing Owl and Black Hills as neighbours on the Black Sage Bench, they see their share of visitors at the winery and that's how we first ran across them all those years ago. This was a bottle brought by one of the party guests though.

I often find Black Hills' big reds to be a tad on the over-ripe side of things - all sorts of huge, dark fruit that I can find to be a bit stewed - but this blend was a little more subdued than their more premium Meritage blend, Mirage. Boo was more than happy to find a little more wine still in the bottle when he went to refill his glass.

1798.  2009 Giesen Marlborough Pinot Noir (Marlborough - New Zealand) 

The Guru brought this Pinot along (from his voluminous collection) and I think he might have discovered Giesen the same way that I did - at the Vancouver International Wine Festival a couple of years back. I think they've gained a bit of a foothold in the local market with their good value entry level wines. I don't get to sit back and sip with The Guru very often but I'm always intrigued to see what wine he brings along whenever we do get the chance. Interesting to see that he earmarked Giesen as well. - particularly since he's quite the pinotphile.

For some unfathomable reason, a lot of Vixen's gifts involved alcohol. Perhaps, in an odd way, she does take after her big bro. I know she was taken with the bottle of Marilyn Merlot that Boo and I gave her. Vixen has long had a jones for Marilyn Monroe. This was a perfect way to indulge two of her Vixen's great loves. I'm hoping she's going to open it when I'm around and can add it to The List.

Just prior to the slide show, gifts and cake, however, I presented Vixen with another special gift - and we immediately popped the cork - plastic though it was. Funny thing was that Vixen knew what it was before she'd even opened the gift bag.

1799.  N.V. Andrès Baby Duck (Canada)

As defined by Urban Dictionary: "cheap wine...younger kids drink it now for recreation. Older folks can't believe it's still around."

You would be correct if you raised your eyebrows, and thought this doesn't seem like a bottle that a supposed wine lover would celebrate with, when you saw a bottle of Baby Duck being added to The List. This particular bottle was given to me by Vixen when I turned (ahem) 39+ as a joke (I think). Surprisingly, we weren't quick to pop the cork. As I kept having to dust the bottle as time passed, I decided I might as well keep it and give it back to Vixen on her birthday.

Not many bottles of Baby Duck are aged for six years before they're opened. So, this is a very special bottle and, I feel, deserves to be on The List - even if it isn't as high falutin' as some other that have been added. I don't think, however, that Baby Duck is supposed to be as tawny coloured as this one was. Isn't it normally pinkish or something like that? In any event, there weren't many takers but Vixen and I toasted each other and then we added some Aperol and Orangiata to make a sort of Spritzer. It wasn't exactly the same as relaxing on a Venetian piazza, but it was tolerable enough that my niece, Stargirl, and her roommate, Five of Seven, each had a glass as well.

Baby Duck. Go figure. I'm just glad that it wasn't my #1800 bottle added to The List. Can you imagine the shame? As fortune would have it, #1800 was a pretty special bottle - but in a different manner from the Baby Duck being "special." Worthy of being a landmark number on The List, I'd say.

1800.  N.V. G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut (Champagne AOC - France)

We were pretty much down to immediate family by the time we popped the cork on the Mumm's. Vixen had brought this, thinking we might toast her b-day during dinner, and who were we to deny her that pleasure? I don't think you need me to tell you that the Cordon Rouge was head-and-shoulders better than the Baby Duck.

As tasty as the Mumm's was - and as fun as the gift opening and the slide show of Vixen's (ahem) years, the biggest screams of the night emanated from the kitchen when Vixen tried on Elzee's shoes - only to discover that they not only fit but that they were Manolo Blaniks. After watching countless seasons of Sex & The City, even I know that this is a big thing for gals that love shoes. Vixen certainly qualifies for that. I don't think, however, that Elzee agreed to loan them out - and I know she definitely wore them home that night.

All the same, Vixen was thrilled with her party and I'm pretty stoked to find out that (even if we didn't know it at the time) we celebrated another landmark number in the Odyssey with a stellar bottle of wine.

I'm going to keep much better track as the last landmark numbers approach so that I can give them their proper due. Now, I just have to find a way that I can keep a promise to stay ahead with my writing the actual blog posts. Given past history, that might not be as easy. Here's hoping.