Thursday, April 30, 2009

Haiku to You Too

For the last couple of years, one of the rites of spring has been the Annual Haiku Brunch thrown by the wildly talented and gracious amf.  For many years, I had always loved the building she lives in - I just didn't know she lived there.  After having seen each other for many a day during the old "Delta Sub" days at UBC over coffee and cards, we hadn't run into each other in years.  Then, bam, like a blast from the past, she waltzes back into the scene.  And to top it off, I finally get an in into that crazy apartment building.  It's like you've just stepped into a Manhattan co-op.

So, for the last three Springs, I've had the pleasure of attending the Haiku Brunch.  All of amf's gang get to swank out and share a little creative licence.  And laugh.  Lots.  It's not a stretch to say that some of the friends are more artistically inclined than others.  I am not one of the artistic ones.

However, I have to stretch the old creative writing along with all the others to "guarantee" a continued invite.  Luckily, for those not up on the literary requirements for haiku sensibilities, I only had to come up with three lines - of five, seven, and five syllables.   There was a catch this year though - a theme.  And the raison d'haiku was "advice."

Seeing as how this blog has taken up a fair bit of time lately, I decided to stick with what I've been immersed in - drinking.  So, along with the new bottle being added to The List:

35.  N.V. Martini & Rossi Prosecco (Veneto - Italy)

I threw in my simple take on sage thoughts:

red wine.  mmmmmm.  so fine.
a sudden bump.  damn.  stain - bad!
drink red?  best wear black.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Time for The Dinner Club - Chez Tyrant

For over twenty years now, in one form or another, I've been involved in The Dinner Club.  It started as a first stab at entertaining and upping our level of experimenting in the kitchen back in university days.  I'm not even sure if it's in its fourth or fifth incarnation.  Members have come and gone over the years - some have moved away from Vancouver, some split as couples and others just drifted away.  

But the concept has always been the same.  A corps of three or four couples have hosted a rotating dinner.  Whomever's hosting the dinner chooses the menu, cooks the dinner and decides if they can fit an extra person or so at the table.  We've gone all
over the map - whether it be a particular theme for the evening, a special occasion or a hodge-podge of down and dirty so that we could get soused and hit the hot tub (although the latter concept was pretty much limited to the earlier years).  The current group has been darned consistent for over a dozen years now - with the only change being the addition of this evening's host a couple years back when another long-time pair decided it was time to move on. 

The Tyrant was chef de mission tonight and he wasn't pulling any stops - likely because he thought it'd hit the blogosphere.  We've often commented on how we never keep track of the various menu's.  This may be the opportunity.   

I won't go to lengths and try to describe the menu so that you might find it in a white linen and fine crystal, A-list restaurant, even though I probably could.  The Tyrant was working with a theme based on the current 100-Mile Diet rage - with liberties.  As he put it, "there's not a single lemon or orange to be found within a thousand miles and I'm not going without citrus."

26.  2006 Red Rooster Bantam (Naramata Bench - Okanagan)

The Okanagan may not exactly be within 100 miles of Vancouver, but it's close enough to satisfy my global guilt - and satisfy by taste buds.  This is a tasty little entry level blend of not-so-common white grapes - kerner, muller thurgau, muscat and pinot auxerrois.  It was served with the hors d'oeuvres, being wild mushrooms sauteed in brandy cream, seared tuna, and spot prawns.

27.  2005 Mission Hill Quatrain (Okanagan)

This is the new big red that was recently introduced by Mission Hill.  Together with Oculus and Perpetua, it forms a trio of top shelf wines for the Kelowna winery.  Normally, this novel blend of merlot, syrah, cab sauv and cab franc would be better served later in the evening but it was being decanted on the counter and empty glasses were crying out for a fill - and it was gone - long before anyone had migrated to the dining table.  

Unintentionally, I'm sure, the magic of the "four" was carried forward by the Tyrant with his quatrain of an introductory course.

28.  2006 La Frenz Viognier (Naramata Bench - Okanagan)

When seated, we were greeted with a foursome of appetizers - home-smoked salmon maki rolls, grilled halibut, scallop & prawn ceviche, and mini crab cakes.  The viognier worked perfectly.

The main course featured a Saltspring Island chevre crusted rack of lamb and we just threw all of the remaining reds onto the table for a good old fashioned free-for-all.  They were:

29.  2000 Desert Hills Meritage (Black Sage Road - Okanagan)

30. 2006 Chateau Haut Perthus (AOC Bergerac - France)

31.  2005 Luigi Bosca Reserva Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

32.  2004 Yard Dog Red (South Australia)

33.  2006 Miguel Gascon Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

Some of the guests called the Quatrain their favourite of the night but, unfortunately, we weren't able to compare it to any of these other reds.  At the dinner table, it seemed that there was a pretty even split between the Yard Dog and the Bosca Malbec.  The Yard Dog takes "critter wines" to a whole new level - that dog is anything but cute.  It could likely take a much-loved, little yellow-tailed roo and rip it to shreds.  Rabid, maybe.  But cute, no.  Yard Dog was interesting in that it was a Bordeaux blend but with an interesting pedigree of 55% petit verdot - with the more standard cab and merlot making up the balance.  The Bosca Malbec topped the Gascon easily as well.

Tyrant served up an incredible dessert that was a combination of layered crab apple wine and cassis jello (both wines from Elephant Island in Naramata) and that was followed with an assortment of Vancouver Island and Gulf Island cheeses.  Both were accompanied by what little red was left on the table and by our night cap:

34.  1994 Michele Chiarlo Moscato d'Asti Nivole (Piedmont - Italy)

I'm a sucker for dessert wines, ports and stickies.  This wasn't my favourite but it was still very fresh for a 1994 and it was a nice way to end the evening.

Lady Di and She Who Must Be Obeyed are up next.  Can't wait!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fine Dining in Sapperton

Boo and I actually don't get out to dine with friends nearly as much as I might like to. His schedule can get kind of crazy with shift work. But, we finally worked out a night to visit Trixi at her home in Sapperton. We nearly never made it though because Boo was called in to work an overtime shift that night. Luckily, he managed to put them off until 11.30, so we got in a bit of an evening with Trixi and friend Belle - or if you catch them together, Trixi-Belle.

Managed to fit in another two bottles for The List as well.

24. 2006 Sterling Vintner's Collection Chardonnay (Central Coast - California)

Sterling is a venerable winery in Napa but this is more of an entry level wine and the grapes are sourced from more coastal vineyards. Though not nearly as complex as the chardonnays that were poured the other night at the AWAS tasting, this wine is a simple sipper and, for a non-chardonnay drinker, it wasn't bad at all. It was clearly not an oak-bomb that I often associate with California chardy's.

25. 2007 Errazuriz Wild Ferment Pinot Noir (Casablanca Valley - Chile)

This is the first opening of a bottle from this year's Playhouse Festival purchases. I initially tried this wine a couple of years ago at the Playhouse but I don't think you can buy it locally. At least I've never seen it on the shelves. At the time, I thought the whole use of wild yeast in the fermentation process was quite novel. Turns out, Errazuriz is more on the cutting edge of the marketing process than in vinification circles. With this wine, the winery promotes fermenting with native yeasts, found naturally on the grape skins, as they provide more distinctive and complex aromas and flavours. With the whole trend towards organic and biodynamic winemaking, natural yeasts also play on a more natural and less interventionist process in the winery. One point Errazuriz.

The use of wild, natural yeasts is far more common than I would have expected though. It's just that most winemakers aren't advertising the types of yeast they use right on the bottle - wild, natural, crazy or not. Comparing notes, the possibility of more complex wines - that better show the terroir of the vineyard - may be a reality of native yeasts; however, the most common argument for commercial yeasts seems to be that they allow more control of the fermentation process and help prevent the risk of a failed fermentation. Risk is not a term that is positively received in most wineries. Proponents from both sides of the yeast debate will generally agree that the work in the vineyard is still going to play a much larger role in determining the end result of a wine than yeast ever will though.

How the wild ferment affected this pinot is beyond me, but I do know that the wine impressed me enough that it was one of only a dozen that I actually bought at the Festival. Considering that it took no effort on our parts to finish two bottles of wine during our short time with Trixi-Belle, it might have been a good thing that we had to leave early so that Boo could go to work.

Sweepin' Out the Bues

24. 2002 Golden Mile Meritage (Okanagan, Golden Mile)

The timing of this wine didn't quite work as far as my concept of drinking a Golden Mile wine during the first round Canuck games goes. The series was won a couple of nights ago, but I didn't get the chance to celebrate that win "properly." While it's great that the Canucks are through to the next round, I was rather enjoying the Golden Mile wines. I, therefore, decided that we'd have at least one more since it might be a week away before we rejoin the BC Team, BC Wine theme with a new winery.

This vintage was a blend of equal parts of merlot and cab franc (39% each) with the balance being cab sauv. You'll note that this is yet another label for the same winery, but this purple and gold version didn't last long (hmmmm...). I believe the 2002 vintage was the first for the Luckhurst family after they bought the already-named winery. The new label was a harbinger of the new ownership and a tip of the hat to the castle-designed winery building.

The wine was much better than the label might lead you to believe. Their labels improved and the wine continues to impress.

In general, I think most would say that the jury is still out the longevity of BC wines, but this bottle was still wonderfully fresh with a nose that still jumped right out at you. The palate also boasted plenty of fruit with balanced tannins and acidity still present. It may still only be six years old - but my guess is that this is a great indication of the aging potential we can look forward to with good BC reds.

In a way, I'm a tad disappointed that the St. Louis series didn't go a couple more games so that we could open some more Golden Mile. Four doesn't quite seem enough.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Fuss About Fuzion

Our next wine on The List could easily have been brought to our Wine Boyz night that provided the very first posting here - it was a night of wines no one had tried or heard of before. Just how many of us would put up their hands for having tried a chenin blanc/torrontes blend? You'd likely win if you bet that very few people would even know that torrontes is anything but a poorly spelled "something-or-other" from Toronto. Chances are that torrontes is going to become far more common - whether its drinkers realize it or not.

#23. 2008 Zuccardi Family Fuzion (White) (Argentina)

It was The Guru (from my sister, Vixen's, tasting last weekend) that recommended this wine. Not because it's incredibly complex or superior, but because it's a great bang for your buck. There aren't many wines available for under a ten-spot in the BC liquor stores - and even fewer that are good drinking. But this one is both and who doesn't look for a good sipper at an even better price. Recession or not, a wine that delivers more than its price point is a good wine. This bottle will likely grace a good number of summer patios.

For most of us, if Argentina means anything at all in the world of wine, it means malbec - and, as a matter of fact, there is a red Fuzion that is a malbec/syrah blend. But, torrontes is apparently far and away the most highly planted white wine grape in the country. It's also the known as the only grape that is indigenous to Argentina. Known for its aromatics and fruitiness, it's sometimes compared to viognier (which has been an "It" grape on the white scene for some time now). Blending it with chenin blanc worked nicely here since the chenin is better known for its body and acidity, but also its neutrality on the palate.

Fuzion, both white and red, are new additions to the BC liquor stores and I did a quick Google on them. I was surprised to read that the red version has become the number one selling wine in both Quebec and Ontario. Move over critter wines; there's a new kid on the block.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Great Chardonnay Challenge

Talk about your dilemmas. I'd booked a ticket for the Australia Wine Appreciation Society's Great Chardonnay Challenge long before the dates had been set for the Canucks' playoff games. Sure enough, the fourth game against St. Louis - the game that could clinch the series for the Canucks - had to fall on the tasting night. There wasn't much of a choice considering the evening on tap but at least I was able to fit in the first two periods of the game before running off to the tasting. Tied game that it was at the time!!

This was the fourth in a biennial series of "world challenges" that AWAS has put on. It all started with a riesling tasting six years ago and it continued with a shiraz and a cabernet challenge. This year, AWAS had organized "7 premium wines from Australia" to be pitted against "7 top wines from the rest of the world" in a blind tasting. The ROW wines were actually a six-pack though because the Italian challenger was a non-starter as the bottle had been compromised, oxidized or something else more insidious.

The Aussie wines hailed from Adelaide Hills (3), Hunter Valley (2), Yarra Valley and Margaret River, while the ROW challengers were comprised of Sonoma, Russian River, Chablis, Burgundy, Argentina and the Okanagan bottles. Scattered amongst the wines were some veritable icons like Penfolds Yattarna, Leeuwin Estates Art Series and two Premier Cru wines. We were advised that, without doubt, this was the "highest calibre line-up" that had ever been put together for an AWAS challenge.

Now, to be straight up, I don't drink a lot of chardonnay. I'm not exactly ABC ("Anything But Chardonnay") but I don't run for it at tastings or at the liquor store. So, I'm hardly a judge on what a stellar chardonnay should taste like, but those in attendance that do know their chardonnay were quite effusive in their compliments while the wines were being discussed.

Since, I didn't sit down and enjoy a whole bottle, once again, I don't get to chalk anything up onto the list (and I might add that this seems to be happening far too much). However, it was interesting to note that, when the overall "scores" from the evening's challenge were announced, the top four wines and three of the four least favourites were all from Oz. The ROW wines pretty much filled the ranks from 5 through 11.

No one gasped in shock when the favourite wine of the night was announced as the 2005 Leeuwin Estate Art Series from the Margaret River region. In fact, we were told that it was quite "far and away" the highest ranked wine. I was intrigued that the Leeuwin Estates had been my first choice during the tasting as well. The Art Series is a wine that I've heard about and never tried - despite the fact that I have a bit of a "thing" going on with Margaret River. Never been Perth-side in Australia, but it's definitely on the Must Visit List. I'd been introduced to some of the region's wines when I first visited down under in 1996 and I couldn't get enough. They're not the easiest wines to find in Vancouver, so that just made them even more alluring.

On the other hand, it might just have been quite the surprise (or a great thrill, depending on how you look at it) that the top choice of the ROW wines - and number 5 for the whole line-up - was the 2006 Mission Hills Perpetua. It was the wine's first vintage and it was the most reasonably priced wine of the evening. Whereas the Art Series clocked in at $110 (not that it can be found in Vancouver), the Perpetua is readily found at $33. My "vote" likely didn't hurt Mission Hill's ranking in that I quite enjoyed the wine and marked it as second on my ballot.

I don't know if I'll be reaching any faster for the chardonnay after the evening, but I'm not devastated that I missed the second half of the game. It took overtime, but the boys won - even though I didn't down another bottle for the Golden Mile. I'll make it up though.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Nota Bene - Not So Bene

This weekend saw the release of the 2007 vintage for Black Hills' big hitting Nota Bene.  This wine has been a "must have" for many since it's first release - which I believe was in 1999.  To me, if the are such creatures as "cult wines" for BC, this has to be one of them.  It sells out basically as soon as it becomes available.  It was reported last year that the 2006 vintage of 3300 cases sold out in 47 minutes.

I don't know the past weekend's time frame but I do see that this year's production is also sold out already.

We didn't buy any this year - despite being poised to do.  The reason?  The price this year was $53 and, frankly, I don't know if it's worth it when your only choice is to buy it by the case.  We might have split a case with others, but there wasn't much interest once that price was made public.  As one buddy put it, "I think some of the Okanagan producers are just getting a little too cocky."  He figured that, for 50 bones, he could buy some "rockin' Spanish wines."

I've seen that the new syndicate owners have publicly said that they feel that Nota Bene was being sold at a "discount" in comparison to its peers.  What I didn't see was what they consider Nota Bene's peers to be.  There aren't many Okanagan producers hitting the half century mark - but I can think of a number of wines with which I'd gladly fill my wine glass for half that price - whether or not they're from BC.

Despite our take, they obviously still have that "cult" factor going for them since they sold out again and so quickly.  

Nostalgically though, I remember we had just finished dropping into the Burrowing Owl Winery just down the road and we shortly thereafter drove by this quonset hut that had a winery sign on it.  We dropped in and immediately thought that we'd stumbled onto something.  The winery was brand new and we were buying some of their first wine.  We've bought some of every vintage since then.  I think I'll come to miss not having at least a couple bottles of the 2007 around. 

There are still the older vintages that will make the list however.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Another Step on the Golden Mile

I tell ya, I'm liking this round of the playoffs. The 'Nucks are now up three games to none on the Blues and we get four more chances to win one game.

I wore the jersey around town yesterday and it was really quite amazing how much good will it generated. The smiles and friendly comments were continuous.

I think the happenstance that brought home just how poignant the city's love affair with the team is was when I was coming out of a store on Commercial Drive and a young man (young to me anyways - he was likely in his mid-20's) gave a big thumb's up. He was noticeably disabled but he was sporting his own Canucks jersey and his walker was decked out in Canucks' paraphernalia and flags. It was visibly difficult for him to speak but he dearly wanted to say how much he liked my jersey and that we were both on the same page. We parted with fingers crossed for the games in St. Louis. I'm completely positive that he's one happy fan tonight.

Tonight's wine was another step along the Golden Mile or, rather, Road 13 as it is now known.

#22. 2007 Road 13 Honest John's White (Okanagan - Golden Mile)

This is the winery's entry level white blend - being largely ehrenfelser and sauvignon blanc (with a "hint of viognier" as the winery puts it). Ehrenfelser is neither that common, nor well-known, of a grape in the Okanagan; however, it is being noticed in a few prominent winery portfolios - such as Cedar Creek and Joie - either in blend or as a straight varietal.

The winemaker, Michael Bartier, says that "this is the Okanagan in a glass." He'd know better than I, but I do like the reined in acidity with plenty of tree fruit.

I'm not sure how many more bottles of Golden Mile/Road 13 we'll see in this series, but I'd say we're off to a great start on all fronts - hockey and wine.

BTW - today's Sun Run 10k went pretty well. I didn't notice last night's wine tasting in the least. I ran a personal worst, but it was still under an hour. I'm going to blame the time on my lost training due to a broken rib in February - not the fact that I was forced to work my way through so many wines last night.

Another Tasting - How can I not add a number?

Vixen (the little sister) is hoping to graduate from the bottle of Baby Duck that she gave me for my last birthday.  And she hosted a wine tasting/seminar last night - inviting a group that ranged all over the map in wine knowledge.  From those who might have happily joined her in the Baby Duck, through those who enjoy drinking a bottle and can talk about it (but might not have a whole lot of knowledge or understanding of what is involved in creating the wine), to a couple of folks who intimately know their way around the local liquor store.

The Vixen arranged for a couple friends of her's to put together the tasting, present a whirlwind tour through the world of wine and, generally, have one of them play the role of Guru for the night.  The discussion was designed primarily as a mean of scratching the surface of the myriad topics that could be delved into.  That's a tough job.  He was basically taking a good portion of what you might find in a four to six week, first level wine course and cramming it into a couple of hours.  We touched on styles, varieties, regions, viticulture and vinification and managed to fit in four flights of wide-ranging wines as well.  And, like all good spiritual guides (pun intended), our Guru knows his stuff.

I enjoyed the fact that, early on, he confessed that his credentials largely flow from the fact that he just loves wine. Loves drinking it.  Loves learning about it.  Loves visiting the places where it's made and, particularly, loves meeting the people that make it.  My kind of guy.  

However, he did warn everyone present that such passion can have a definite drawback.  I won't say exactly how large his cellar is but suffice it to say that there are zeros involved - both numerically and monetarily.  If I had his cellar, I'd be much happier about my own "2001 Bottle" project.  I wouldn't have to make nearly as many trips to the store.

Despite the fact that I knew most of the basic information the Guru was presenting, there were still interesting and new tidbits and personal stories that can only come from hearing someone else's experiences.  I always find it intriguing to see how different people attack a wide topic - such as an introduction to wine - and to see what conversation points they bring to the table.  In fact, seeing what wines our Guru was actually going to bring to the table was one of the parts of the evening I was most looking forward to.

Because we really were just taking tasting portions and because I was "behaving myself" since the Sun Run 10k was to follow the morning after, I'm not counting any of the bottles in my count; however, the four flights were fun in their contrast and I think there were easily a couple that we tried that I'd be more than game to actually finish off on another occasion.  

We started with some bubbles, a Cremant de Bourgogne, followed by the first of four flights of three wines:  a German riesling,  a Kiwi sauvignon blanc and an Okanagan Rhone blend - viognier/roussane.  The second flight was all chardonnay - Chilean, BC (made with California grapes) and California (Napa).  Flight #3 was an Okanagan pinot noir, a Washington state merlot and a California (North Coast) cab.  Our final flight consisted of a California zinfandel, an Aussie shiraz and an Argentine malbec.  Is that diverse enough for you?

Even though this was the end of our tasting, the Guru had an extra treat in store for his disciples.  He dug into his cellar and brought along:

#21.  1995 Chateau Charlemagne Canon Fronsac (Bordeaux)

What can I say?  I'm going to include this wine in the bottle count simply because I did drink a full glass and a bit and because I don't expect many opportunities to try cellared wines such as this.  It's not the type of wine that you can just go into the liquor store and pick up a bottle.  1995 is thought of as a decent vintage for Bordeaux and the wine was still drinking fine - albeit more nuanced in its profile than the bottles we were trying in the tasting. A big shout out to the Guru for sharing.

But he wasn't done with us yet.   The Guru had one last surprise - a bottle of his buddy's home-made merlot.  We're not talking the local U-Brew though.  Our winemaker went from garagiste to one of the winemakers at the new Pacific Breeze Winery based in New Westminster.  I don't think there's much doubt that this was the best "home-made" wine I've tried.

All in all, a fun evening.

Further Along the Golden Mile

#20. 2005 Golden Mile Cellars Pinot Noir (Okanagan - Golden Mile)

Since I decided that I'd look to a BC wine for each of the Canuck playoff games, I also thought it might be interesting to follow an individual winery during each series. Hopefully, we can see lot of wine and wineries added to the list. This decision brought out another Golden Mile bottle. This was quite a contrast to the Kiwi pinot that we opened the other night. Both Boo and I much preferred this bottle. It wasn't as light and fruity and everything seemed a little more in balance. There was still noticeable fruit but I found it closer to a mix of old and new world - which is definitely a good thing in my books (and mouth).

And to top that off, another good wine led to another win for the boys. I know we're off to play in St. Louis now and their home crowd, but I'm a lot happier going there up two games to none.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Hint of Kiwi?

#19. 2004 Shingle Peak Pinot Noir (Marlborough - New Zealand)

I've had a couple Kiwi pinots that have set my juices flowing. This wasn't one of them. It certainly wasn't a bad wine. It had a vibrant nose and there was lots of fruit on the palate but I don't know that it did much to represent what New Zealand can do with pinots.

Light and fruity, it'd go down easy sitting out on the patio but there's lots of competition for that market. And despite spring maybe being sprung in Vancouver (finally), I wouldn't say that we've hit al fresco dining or picnic weather yet.

Guess we'll have to drink a little further through New Zealand for that "wow factor."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Canucks' Playoffs and the Golden Mile

So, if you hadn't noticed so many posts back, I'm a bit of Canucks fan and, you know what, considering the fact that Boo is a transplanted southren' good ol' boy, he's coming along to this whole Canadian hockey thing.

With our boys on that elusive quest for the Stanley Cup, I figured why not stick with that whole BC team, BC wine theme. And, even though it might seem too "stretchy" and "out there," I thought - what the hey - Golden Mile seems an appropriate metaphor to start with.

Hence, it's game 1, round 1, and we're serving up :

#18. 2006 Golden Mile Old Vines Chenin Blanc (Okanagan)

Chenin blanc is a varietal that I'm always interested in tasting and, at 40 years old, the winery's chenin blanc vines are some of the oldest of any vines in the Okanagan. Considering the fact that you don't see many wines of this varietal coming from BC, there's got to be an interesting story behind that. But I'm not the one to be able to tell it. You'll have to look further afield to find further enlightenment on that one.

I do know, however, that Golden Mile has gone through a lot of changes over the last so many years - new owners, new winemaker, new labels. In fact, you can't even find a current bottle of Golden Mile wine in the stores right now since they changed their name to Road 13 this year. After plenty of discussion, "Golden Mile" is now going to be used as the name for marketing that whole stretch of wineries below Oliver. One can only surmise that a concentrated marketing effort (along the lines of the Naramata Bench) will only help raise the profile of a number of very nice wineries located on the old golden mile.

Should the Canucks win the Cup, maybe they can have a victory parade along the "Golden Mile" to celebrate. I'm sure there must be more than a few fans in that part of the province. But, in the mean time, we're off to a good start on the golden mile with this wine.

PS. The boys did win Game 1 with a 2-1 score over the St. Louis Blues. You gotta believe that BC wine has got a thing or two over anything coming out of Missouri!!

Steak on the Barbee

We took advantage of the full-on spring weather and broke out the barbee on Tuesday and nothing calls out for a nice, big red than a steak on the BBQ.  Can it be that spring has really sprung?  We chose another South African cab to go with the steaks since the cab served at our recent Wine Boyz evening was a bit of a hit.

#17 - 2005 Graceland Cabernet Sauvignon (Stellenbosch - South Africa) 

We'd actually taken a bottle of this wine to a dinner party the other month but it was corked.  We got it replaced at the liquor store but the replacement likely came from the same shipment, so I thought we should drink it earlier on the off chance that this one might be bad as well.

Well, the wine was fine.  Better than fine, in fact.  South Africa isn't the first wine producing region I think of with cab, but maybe we need to think of it a bit more.

I read that Graceland doesn't filter or fine its wine and that may have added to the intensity of the aroma and flavour, but I wouldn't hesitate to reach for this bottle again - despite the earlier bad experience.

The picture added to this post doesn't do justice to the stylish packaging of this wine.  The bottle features a copy of Jean Baptiste Regnault's 3 Graces painting that hangs in the Louvre.  I'm not one that is often motivated to buy because of the look of a bottle - and wasn't here - but this wine is as classy as the label.

Another fact about the winery that's interesting is that the winery "learned" that you don't go up against the memory of Elvis while State-side.  You won't find this bottle or any other varietal by the winery under this name in the US.  "Graceland" will be nothing other than the place that Elvis lived and died - unless you licence the name - and it was already taken.  Does anyone know if Elvis was even a wine-drinking kind of guy?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Bonnet Parade

Boo, Skeletor and I joined up with the rest of the family and near-family at Vixen's (my baby sis) for Easter Dinner.  A highlight of the event is the ever-competitive making of the Easter bonnet.  Although we've only been making bonnets for a couple of years old now, it appears that a full-blown tradition is under way - even if there are a few non-believers.  This year's bonnets were pure vintage and more extravagant than ever - with multiple layers, fruity cut-outs and nuances like sliding baby chicks.  It's like Project Runway meets Ascot, except you're limited to paper plates and kid's arts and crafts tools of the trade.

But with all family gatherings (at least our's), it doesn't hurt to get the creative juices going with some wine.  On occasion, you can get those juices flowing to reach your muse, but it still might not be enough to get the 6 foot 7 inch frame of a dinner guest to model his Easter egg bedazzled bra.  Victoria's Secret may not be worried yet, but you know Heidi Klum may have pulled off quite a festive look in it.  We'll have to invite her next year.

But back to the wines.  We're adding another three to the list:

#14.  2006 Red Rooster Pinot Blanc (Naramata Bench, Okanagan) 

Winner of a bronze medal at the 2007 Canadian Wine Awards.

#15.  2005 Lang Vineyards Grand Pinot Red (Naramata Bench, Okanagan)

An interesting, light bodied blend of lemberger, pinot noir and pinot meunier.

#16.  2007  Township 7  Sauvignon Blanc (Naramata Bench, Okanagan and Fraser Valley)

There was a chance of another addition; however, I don't think anyone actually drank any of Esmeralda's homemade 2002 vintage blackberry wine.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Just One of Many Searches

I have this thing about finding a ripasso - one that's ripe with flavour and won't break the bank. It's a rare occasion that we might share a bottle of amarone; so, the thought of a wine that at least incorporates some aspect of the ever-romantic amarone intrigues me. When it comes down to it though, the process of re-passing a young valpolicella wine through the drained, but unpressed skins and lees of the amarone may add body and colour but it might be wishful thinking on my part to hope that the wine would see much of an increased fruit presence on the palate.

It would be interesting to try a tasting of one winery's valpolicella, ripasso and amarone side by side to check out the differences.

#13. 2003 Pasqua Sagramoso Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore (DOC - Italy)

Our lovely model presenting tonight's wine, Melissa, was also sous-chef in the kitchen. Since the menu was pasta with "secret ingredient sauce" (where all three of us got to pick a favourite ingredient for the sauce), it made sense to go Italian. And, I think this one paid off. Nose, fruit and body - it worked. I wouldn't have any hesitation giving it another sip at the table.

I would be remiss if I didn't give word on Melissa's couture - the skeletor-like hoody. It's her favourite and, believe it or not, when we were standing in the line for Monsters vs. Aliens later in the evening, the young boy directly behind us was wearing the same coat. Who knew that you can dress for Halloween every day of the year now. I need to get out more!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

No Buy Leash

I picked up the case of wine that I bought at the Playhouse Wine Festival the other week. I love the fact that the BC Liquor Store runs an on-site store at the festival for a good number of the wines being poured.   And, it's almost as good that you can get your purchases sent to the closest provincial store to you - rather than having to try and lug them home with you on transit after a night of tasting.

The only real problem with all this shopping variety and convenience is that the Significant Other has "dictated" that we already have too much wine at home.  As much as I think there's always got to be room for good wine, he might have a point - particularly when we had to spend a good part of yesterday cleaning wine boxes out of the guest bedroom so that my niece could actually sleep in a bed during her sleepover.  I suppose it only helps his cause that the spare bathtub was already full of even more wine boxes.  (But, in my defence, the wine was only there because that shower hadn't been working and was just sitting empty.)

In any event, the end result is that I've been saddled with the "No Buy Leash."  Granted it's not a full choke and it doesn't always work.  Sometimes I can break away a little on my own - or I might even be granted a limited run or release for special occasions. Like the Festival.  

Although Boo might have a hard time believing it, I do try to exercise some self-discipline and rein myself in.  And, it's not like he doesn't get some benefit from the "cellar."

I mean, be honest, when you think about it, limiting yourself to only one case is pretty darned good - especially when there are over a thousand wines to choose from and I only reach for bottles that normally can't be found for sale in the system.  

Once I got the case home though, it was fun to open the box and find a couple surprise bottles that I'd already forgotten about.  It seems I used my brief off-leash release to add a couple Aussie cabs, a couple sparklers, some more Italian, a hard to find BC boutique wine, a Chilean pinot and an Argentine varietal that would have been good for the last Wine Boyz tasting since I'd never heard of the grape before.  

But they'll all have to wait for the time being.  I have no doubt that all will appear in due course though.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Strawbale Winery

Having been more thoroughly introduced to Tantalus Winery the other night by BCWAS, I thought it might be nice to go back and try a wine from a winery we also met at a BCWAS tasting a couple of years ago. We enjoyed Orofino's wines right from the start and I think it's a great indication of what's possible in the "new" Similkameen Valley region.

Conveniently for us, the winery is located along the route we drive to visit Boo's mom in the Kootenays. We, therefore, consistently try to fit in a visit when we're passing by - if they aren't sold out of wine already. Being a smaller producer, selling out is generally a given.

The wines have always been enough to keep people coming back, but part of the initial allure to draw you into the winery is the fact that, in 2004/2005, it was Canada's first winery built with straw bales. The thick bales are extremely energy efficient, helping to keep the winery cool in the hot desert summers and to retain heat in the winters. The thick bale walls allow the winery to keep a more constant temperature in the barrel room. This fact particularly caught Boo's interest because he'd been looking into building a house with straw bales in the past.

# 12. 2003 Orofino Red Bridge Red (Similkameen)

We managed to keep a bottle of this merlot/cabernet franc blend hidden for awhile. Having just notice that the winery was about to offer its newest vintages, I figured its time had come. Boy, did the nose just jump out and grab us. New vintage, eh? Anyone want to go in on a case with us?

No New Number, But a Great Tasting

Boo and I attended a BC Wine Appreciation Society tasting on Wednesday night.  The Society is feeling a bit of buzz after all the exposure - both to the Society and to BC wines - at the recent Playhouse Wine Festival and IMHO the Society has lately been seeing better interaction and participation with more of the wineries and personalities in BC wine.  The tastings continue to become more and more interesting.

Since I wasn't specifically involved in finishing off a bottle of wine this night, I'm not going to count any of the wines in the 2001 bottle count.  There are definitely a couple that will make it to the list down the road though.

Wednesday night's tasting saw a visit from Jane Hatch, Sales Coordinator, for Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna.  I'll start by saying that I know of Tantalus and have heard very good things about their riesling, but I don't think that I've ever actually  had more than a fleeting swirl and spit at a big tasting event.  I've also read that Jancis Robinson, one of the most-revered names in the wine biz, declared an earlier vintage of Tantalus as the "creme de la creme... of Canada.  Seriously good."  So, I was really looking forward to this tasting.  I think it lived up to expectations.

The winery poured three wines (two rieslings and a pinot noir) blindly with three additional rieslings and four pinots that hailed from areas well-known for producing riesling and pinot (at comparable price points - we didn't taste their pinot against a grand cru burgundy; this time).  The idea was to show how BC wines (and Tantalus' efforts in particular) fit into the greater scheme of, perhaps, more established areas.  

Also participating in the presentation and discussion was Mark Davidson, one of my favourite wine commentators in Vancouver.  Knowledgeable and witty, he's always good to keep you interested in the activities.  Having professed my penchant for riesling just a couple posts ago, I had to chuckle when he advised the tasting that he always tells his wine classes that "by the end of the course, you will understand riesling.  If you don't, you will fail the class - and in life."

I'm not going into all sorts of tasting notes and comparisons - because we leave that to the experts, don't we.  But, I will say that I'm very sure that Jane (if I might be so bold) must have been pleased when a show of hands clearly declared her 2008 Riesling and 2007 Old Vines Riesling as the two favourites among the crowd.  The other rieslings were from the Aussie hot beds for riesling - Clare and Eden Valleys - and from Alsace. BCWAS didn't pair the wines with a German riesling as many BC producers, including Tantalus, produce a different style of wine - more acid and citrus notes, less residual sugar.    This is not your momma's old Blue Nun-ish idea of riesling from when you were growing up.

The Tantalus pinot noir didn't wow as many of the participants when they were asked to indicate their favourite red of the night.  That honour was more divided between two California (Sonoma) and  New Zealand wines.  I liked the fact that Jane refreshingly admitted that  their pinot still has a ways to go and that they are introducing new clonal varieties to the vineyard that should allow them to start altering the profile of their wine as the new fruit becomes more established.

We don't tend to make it up to the Kelowna wineries on the rare occasions that we get to tour a bit in the Okanagan, but I would definitely like to pay Tantalus a visit to see the new winery.  I was excited to hear that all their grapes are estate-grown and that they practice organic and sustainable viticulture.  They are a relatively new winery in BC, having opened its doors in 2004.  The vineyard itself, however, is one of the oldest, continuously producing vineyards in the province, dating back to 1927.  

If the winery is capable of this much in such a short existence, I'd keep a serious eye on them to see where they go in the years to come. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Canucks 4 Flames 1

We're down to the last couple of regular season games for our Canucks and tonight was a huge game for all us die-hard fans to see if the boys could come through in a crunch situation.  Can there be a more hated rival for the local lads to play for a preferred playoff position?  Not likely.

And they came through!!  Big time!!  The Division isn't won yet though.  The Canucks and Flames are now tied for points with two games left, but you gotta have faith!!

We did forego perhaps the more traditional hockey beverage - beer - during the game tonight for our #11 bottle, but it seemed to work.  Maybe it can be a new habit for all the superstitious types out there.  It was, after all, a BC wine.  How could an Alberta team top that?!

#11  2007 Lake Breeze - Pinot Gris (Okanagan)

In fact, there was a bit of effervescence to the wine - not exactly expected for a still, white wine - but that's been a bit of a trademark of this vintage.  Maybe that's what gave the Canucks that extra buzz tonight.

Bring on the playoffs!!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Some Dinners Just Deserve Two Wines

Since Boo and I recently returned from a quick trip to Yellowknife to visit a couple of cool chicks (and they're not "cool" just because of the -28C degree weather), it only made sense that we'd be looking for an early opportunity to pull out the BBQ for the caribou steaks we brought home with us.  It didn't take too long.

First off, we don't normally dine like this at home.  It just so happened that Sunday night was a special dinner Chez Chasbob (The "chas" part being Boo, being The Significant Other, and "bob" being your's truly, of course).  It was a combination of early  birthday celebration and hitting another "milestone" in paying down the mortgage. We like to treat ourselves to a little flamboyance every time we hit a bunch of zero's on the mortgage balance.

But before we hit the steak, it just so happened that there was a bit of servuga caviar still hanging around in the freezer from last summer's wedding/anniversary shin-dig. Who knew you could freeze caviar?!  Just another little piece of trivia that Boo can spit out every now and then.  So, this was a two-wine night (and, no, we didn't finish off both bottles - it is a "school night " after all), but the servuga was served up with:

9.  2007  Nk'mip Riesling (Okanagan)

I'm finding that, lately, riesling is turning out to be my "go to" white of choice and it's a great thing that BC is producing some very nice ones.  Nk'mip is definitely one of them.  Too bad they've been so hard to find except at the winery.

The caribou was then accompanied by:

10.  2003 Mission Hill Oculus (Okanagan)

Mission Hill's flagship Bordeaux style.  I read on one site that superstar consultant, Michel Rolland, and the winery team worked and tasted their way through 140 blends before settling on the '03 combination of merlot (47%), cab sauv (25%), cab franc (20%) and petit verdot (8%).  It's too bad that the current vintage is selling for $80 a bottle.  Boo loved it and I think we still have a bit more caribou in the freezer.

I think I'll  end this post with another shot from the NWT.  It's a shot of the ice road that we drove on over a section of Great Slave Lake.  Don't all the cracks in the ice leave you feeling wonderfully secure about driving on the road?

Dinner at Sanafir

I've been wanting to go to Sanafir for some time now but it remains a popular destination and we always seem to leave it too late before we try for a reservation. Boo (the significant other), the lovely and talented Elzee and I finally managed to coordinate a visit.  Love the different take on tapas - each central food item is served as a three-way.  The menu strives to highlight flavours found on the old Silk Route and the decor reminded Boo and I of our visit to the Emirates and Oman.  

Since we were tasting Mediterranean, Indian and Asian takes on calamari, lamb, pork and arctic char, there wasn't any one particular wine that was going to match all the styles.  So we didn't try to.  We just went with a wine that jumped out to me on the list.  It worked just fine.

# 8. 2005 Prunotto - Mompertone (DOC Monferrato - Italy) - a barbera/syrah blend.

I say "jumped out" because Prunotto was one of my favourite discoveries at the 2008 Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival when Italy was the featured country.  I can't say that I've ever spent much time with Italian wines in the past - except for the fact that I've always loved the way that "Montelpuciano d'Abbruzzo" flows off the tongue when you say it.  Things changed a little bit last fall when Boo and I did the second honeymoon thing in Italy. We made sure that Prunotto, located just outside of Alba, was one of the wineries we managed to visit during our brief stint in Piedmont.

This was a shot from our tour of the winery.  Who knows if any of this will make it to the next bottle of Prunotto that we get to try.  Hopefully, there'll be plenty more to come down the road.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

...And We're Off...

I've been wanting to find a fun, and hopefully, interesting way to keep track of our adventures in wine for some time now. I've been toying with blogging as being the means of reaching that end. Being the computer-challenged chap that I am, the odd thought about taking a stab at a blog is about as far as anything has progressed so far. The Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival and its myriad of bottles last week made it just that much clearer that, the longer I delayed, the more opportunities I was missing out on.

So, today's the day and I get to start with a bang!! I'm adding our first seven bottles in the count.

For a couple of years now, every so often, a group of us gets together for a blind tasting of wines to try and discover some new faves or find out a bit more about a particular wine or wine-producing area. I've been calling it our "Wine Boyz" nights since there was a four-man cadre that formed the backbone of the tastings. We've had tastings of Bordeaux blends, BC whites, Aussie reds, grenache and so on.

Last night's theme was totally new - everyone was to bring a wine that was either a varietal they'd never tried or heard of before or was from an area that they'd never really thought of as a wine-producing region. We were hoping for some really different wines to show up and, you know, we pretty much did. I don't know that any of them would necessarily have been choices that I would readily have reached for to take home from the liquor store.

But we had to laugh when - out of all the wines in the world there were to choose from - two people brought the same wine. Both of them truly took the theme to heart - it was the tannat grape and the wine was from Uruguay. They both may well have chosen the only Uruguayan wine available for sale in the city and tannat is hardly a varietal that many could talk about. But what made it even crazier was that one of the bottles was corked!! And it was our neighbours that brought the corked bottle - after they'd brought a corked bottle to the last tasting. What are the odds!! Are they storing their wine along with the dirty diapers they currently have gracing their home?

In any event, the first wines on our road to 2001 are:

1. 2007 Woop Woop - Verdelho (Australia)

2. 2006 Arndorfer - Gruner Veltliner (Austria)

3. 2006 Domaine De L'Ecu - Gros-Plant du Pays Nantais - Melon de Bourogne (Loire)

4. 2007 Domaine du Tariquet - Sauvignon (blanc) (Vin de Pays des Cotes de Gascogne)

5. 2005 KWV Cathedral Cellar - Cabernet Sauvignon (South Africa)

6. 2007 Cantina Santa maria La Palma Alghero Le Bombarde - Cannonau di Sardegna (DOC Sardegna - Italy)

7. 2007 Pisano - Reserve Tannat (Uruguay)

Despite the hope of discovering a new varietal that just jumped up and said "buy me, drink me, love me," it was the more recognizable South African cab and the French sauvignon blanc that proved to be the favourites among the gang. 4 of 7 picked the sauv blanc as the top white (although I picked the Gruner Veltliner) and 6 of 7 picked the cab as their fave red. No one picked the tannat as their favourite and 4 of us said it was the least enjoyable. With the whites, 4 of us announced the Nantais as nasty.

Here's hoping that there's lots to be enjoyed in the remaining 1994 bottles to be imbibed!