Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Sparkling Farewell With Miss Jaq

Once again, our beloved Miss Jaq is leaving us and heading to the other side of the globe for work; however, of all places, this time she's taken a principal's position in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. With Bahrain and Abu Dhabi already in her portfolio, the whole Middle East scenario shouldn't faze her too much. After all, Jeddah is perhaps the most liberalized city in Saudi Arabia but even she's wondering how different the extremely conservative, religious positioning of Saudi society will be from the relative Westernization of the UAE. Boo and I will have to wait to hear the stories this time around since there's no chance that two men could visit a single woman in Saudi when they aren't immediate family - not to mention the whole gay thing.

We always try to have the Annual Miss Jaq Wine Picnic. Indeed, there are more than a couple editions that have added bottles to The List on this blog; however, this summer, Charles and I had been away some and Miss Jaq's position came up so quickly, we weren't able to fit our little wine and dine extravaganza into everyone's schedule. At least we were able to do a little bubbly before our sweetie had to fly off to the dessert.

1983.  N.V. Charles Melton Sparkling Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

This time around, we could only manage a Sunday morning gathering, but there was no way that we couldn't have some sort of wine event this summer with Miss Jaq. So, Sunday morning or not, we popped the cork on some Sparkling Shiraz to remind her of what she'll largely be missing over the next so many months.

Sparkling Shiraz is a bit of a rarity - even for Boo and I - and I'm not always convinced that it's a style that's entirely necessary. But trust the Aussies to find a way to serve up a chilled, full-bodied red to battle the heat of a hot day down under. This was still fruit forward - like a big Aussie Shiraz can be - but it also had a bit more effervescence than I've tended to see other versions. Not exactly vintage Champagne but it worked just fine for the garden setting.

The winery website tells a neat story about how Graeme Melton arrived in the Barossa Valley in 1973 when he and a mate were driving across Australia and their car broke down. "There were two jobs going - one as a cellarhand at a local winery...and another pruning at a vineyard down the road. They flipped a coin - Graeme got the cellar hand job." He ended up working with and honing his skills under Peter Lehmann - who would later become a legend in the Barossa. However, "Lehmann refused to call his protegé 'Graeme,' hence 'Charlie' was born - and has stuck."

In 1984, the Charles Melton winery was established and it has since gone on to become known for its premium Rhône-style reds. Indeed, the winery doesn't even make any white wine. They now produce approximately 15.000 cases annually in total, with most of those bottles being some combination of Rhône grape varieties. While I'm not so sure that you'll find a Sparkling Shiraz produced in the Rhône, there's something to be said about Aussie ingenuity.

During the 80's when many farmers were pulling out their old Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvèdre vines under a government replacement program, Charlie was known as one of the Barossa winemakers who encouraged those farmers and vineyard manager to embrace and treasure those old vines and forego the planting of more fashionable varieties. Hence the winery's ability to showcase all their big Rhône-styled wines.

Charles Melton isn't a name that I see regularly in the Vancouver market but I'll think I might just need to keep an eye open for it.

We didn't have nearly enough time with Miss Jaq before she had to depart. We'd hoped she'd be able to join us for a late lunch or early dinner but she had to pay her respects to other friends. We carried on with our day with her in mind though, dining on mussels. Boo and I will always wax fondly about a marvellous dinner of môules-frites (mussels and fries) that we had with Miss Jaq in a quaint coastal town in Holland some years back. To this day, it seems we can't order mussels without her name coming up - and that's definitely a good thing.

1984.  2011 Larkmead - Lillie Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley - California)

Knowing that there aren't many bottles left to be added to The List before we hit the big 2001, I thought we should splurge a little and pull the cork on one the bottles we'd picked up during our drive down the West Coast to San Fran a couple of years back. With so many wineries located in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys and only a couple of days for touring, we had to rely on recommendations as to which wineries to prioritize - more than a couple of folks spoke highly of Larkmead.

Although I'd never heard of the winery before, it has quite the history. The vineyard was originally owned by Little Hitchcock Coit - the very woman that the landmark Coit Tower in San Fran was named for. The winery website doesn't provide much information but the Napa Wine Project says that "before prohibition, they were considered one of the four great wineries in Napa Valley along with Beaulieu, Inglenook (now Rubicon) and Beringer." Our tasting at the winery was very relaxed and informative, especially as our discussion covered the history of the Napa and of Lillie, the woman, as much as it did the wine.

The winery produces largely Bordeaux-styled wines and Lillie is a nod to Sauv Blanc utilized in Bordeaux whites. I'm rather unexperienced with Bordeaux whites - indeed, I don't even know if they qualify as appellation wines if they don't contain Semillon - but this was indicative as neither Sancerre, nor New Zealand. I wouldn't say that it was unique enough to merit its own category of Sauv Blanc either. We must have been swept up in the romance and stories during our tasting at the winery because the wine didn't impress us as much on this occasion. I didn't find the complexity or flavour that I expected - at least not at its rather hefty price point (>$50).

Good thing I'm a pretty happy guy with almost any chilled, white wine when it's accompanying mussels - with or without Ms. Jaq at the table.

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