Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lady Di Does Dinner

Jackpot!! It was time for Lady Di and She Who Must Be Obeyed to host the Dinner Club and wow us with their culinary talents. The Lady invited a few extra guests in addition to the regular four couples. After all, if you're already cooking for eight, what's another four?

What it meant for The List though was that there was a bona fide plethora of wines in the evening's line-up. Between opening cocktails and the multiple courses, there was a full dozen wines being served through the evening. It's a good thing that the evening carried on for hours and there was plenty of cool white wine to help with the warm weather.

Taking full advantage of that weather and the fact that their building has a wonderful common garden patio, Lady Di found a way to seat us outside in a most delightful setting. There was even a small musical interlude of a little Simon & Garfunkle (for those old enough to remember) as two of the guests found sage, rosemary and thyme right behind their seats in the garden. I'm sure there might have been some parsley there as well had we searched a little longer.

I'm fairly certain that I was the only guest that tried all 12 wines being poured. I just felt compelled to try every wine if I was going to mention it in the blog and add it to The List. It certainly helped that I was in charge of the corkscrew and delivery of open bottles. I think there was only one or two that almost missed my glass. Let's just say that my good friend, Mr. Tylenol was of some assistance the next morning.

I will add that it's a good thing I'm not presenting tasting notes in this forum because that would have been ever so distracting and, more than likely, a futile exercise as the numbers got a bit higher. However, we did a fine job on the wines and Lady Di and She Who Must did a marvelous job on the menu.

The evening's first wines were served up with three appetizers of seared tuna, a bruschetta of bocconcini and fresh green pea spread and potato latkes with smoked salmon.

124. 2007 8th Generation Pinot Rose (Okanagan)

125. 2008 Blasted Church Mixed Blessings (VQA Okanagan) (Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Ehrenfelser)

126. NV Gazela Vinho Verde (DOC Vinho Verde - Portugal)

The remaining wines for the evening appeared as needed with courses of prawn ceviche, tortilla soup, roasted beet and goat cheese salad, and prosciutto wrapped chicken. The only thing missing was a little gnocchi on the side.

127. 2008 Stag's Hollow Sauvignon Blanc (Okanagan)

128. 2008 Wild Goose Gewurztraminer (VQA Okanagan)

129. 2008 Wild Goose Mystic River Gewurztraminer (VQA Okanagan)

130. 2007 Poggio Vignoso (Chianti DOC - Italy)

131. 2006 Riccisoli Brolio (Chianti Classico DOCG - Itlay)

132. 2005 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot (Columbia Valley - Washington)

133. 2007 Chateau de Sancerre (Sancerre AOC) (Sauvignon Blanc)

134. 2005 Francois Crochet Le Chene Marchand (Sancerre AOC) (Sauvignon Blanc)

135. 2004 Blackwood Lane Alliance (Okanagan) (Mertitage blend - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc)

I think my favourite wine of the evening was the Domaine Francois Crochet Sancerre. It came highly recommended from Marquis Wine Cellars and it lived up to the praise. I didn't find much information about the winery on the net, but "Le Chene Marchand" refers to the vineyard where the grapes were grown. Apparently it's quite the prestigious vineyard in the southern part of the Sancerre and is located on a well-exposed hillside that allows plenty of afternoon sun to fully ripen the grapes. The soil in the area is a more chalky terroir that imparts a different taste and mouthfeel to the wine than the more flinty soils found a little further north.

Sancerre white wine means Sauvignon Blanc and we just found that it was was lovely, refined Sauvignon Blanc that had plenty of integrated body, acidity and fruit but wasn't as overtly green or in-your-face as you can find with some of the better known New Zealand counterparts.

At $40 a bottle though, I don't think this is going to be a regular white on our table regardless of how much we liked it. This will have to remain a special occasion wine - like when the Lady Di entertains.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Un Peu Plus de Vin S'il Vous Plais

Tyrant was back in town and we got together for a bit of a splash 'n nosh. The heat's just kept on coming, so we just kept up with the rose. Two in a week. Must be summer.

122. 2007 Domaine du Joncier Le Rose (AOC Lirac - France)

I couldn't find anything about this winery specifically. Sometimes even internet technology isn't enough.

The Lirac region is a neighbour of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the South-East part of France and is also known primarily for its red wines. Rose composes about 15% of total production and will be a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault when it has an AOC designation.

After a quick cocktail, the plan was to head out for a bite to eat and none of us had been to Au Petit Chavignol, the cheese and wine bar that was opened back in the Spring by our favourite cheese gals, Alice and Allison Spurrell. Located next door to the new store for Les Amis du Fromages, I'd been wanting to go for some time. Cheese and wine - that is just so up my alley!!

123. 2006 Domaine le Pallus - Les Pensees de Pallus (AOC Chinon)

I could lie and say that this wine was Boo's choice because he mis-read the menu and got all excited about a wine that referred to a "phallus" in its name. But I won't.

Truth is, we'd never heard of this producer but one of the foodie points I learned from les dames Spurrell is that a majority of cheeses tend to match up with white wines better than they do with reds. So, we decided to keep our red on the lighter side and opted for the Cabernet Franc that is Chinon.

Seeing as how Mlles. Spurrell have been featured annually at a wine and cheese tasting for the Australian Wine Appreciation Society, it only makes sense that the wines on their menu would match nicely with their menu items. We quite enjoyed the Pallus.

I found out a bit about this family estate winery from the Eastern end of the Loire Valley. The current winemaker, Bertrand Sourdais was learning his licks with apprenticeships in France, Chile and Spain when he planned his return to take his father's place when son pere decided to retire. With his foreign experience in hand, he looked to improve on some the Loire's traditional approaches to winemaking and to Cab Franc. The vineyards are biodynamicly tended and M. Sourdais uses extended maceration (the steeping of crushed juice with the skins and grape solids to extract additional colour, tannin and flavour during the fermentation process) and aging to produce a better wine.

Les Pensees de Pallus is the winery's higher end wine which is nice to see because we usually find ourselves drinking the entry level wines from most French regions due to the cost. This was reasonable for restaurant prices. I'd look for it again.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Moon and The Stars

121. 2001 Pirramimma Shiraz (McLaren Vale - Australia)

We're back to Oz and the "heart" of modern day Shiraz.

The name, Pirramimma, is an aboriginal phrase meaning "the moon and the stars." Currently in its third generation of family winemakers, Pirramimma is a family owned and operated winery and has been so since 1892 - making it one of the oldest wineries in Australia. This is a well-received wine (by both the press and ourselves) and is 100% shiraz from 30-plus year old vines.

Maybe not as well-known as the Barossa as a wine region, McLaren Vale is located about 35km south of Adelaide. It is, however, well-known for its shiraz production. The Shiraz varietal accounts for about half of the area's total crush.

Pachyderms and Cherries

In this instance, life truly can be a bowl of cherries. We were given a batch of Okanagan cherries and, my goodness, are they easy to keep munching on.

120. 2004 Elephant Island Orchard Wines - Cherry (Naramata Bench - Okanagan)

Going down just as easily is this next wine to be added to The List. Long before the Naramata Bench became noted as one of the premier winemaking locations in the Okanagan, most of the vineyards used to be home to fruit trees - particularly cherries.

Elephant Island found a way to get into the wine business but stay based on the fruit orchard. Many have been told the story about the origin of the winery's name - part of which stems from the fact that the family patriarch looked at the original investment in the orchard as a "white elephant."

Their website beckons you to "expect the unexpected" and we were thoroughly surprised and pleased with how the 2004 had stood up to some aging. We thought we might have waited a bit long to open our bottle - since we don't tend to reach for a fruit wine right away when creating dinner - but the wine still had nice full structure and lots of cherry flavour and nose.

Owners, Del & Miranda Halladay, combine classic winemaking technique with more unconventional fruit as their base and they're having great success at overcoming most people's initial questioning nature of fruit wines in general. The winery was asked to participate in the BC Regional Theme concept of this spring's Vancouver Playhouse Festival - right along side with the big boys and girls. They've even been mentioned in a feature on the Okanagan Valley in a past Wine Spectator magazine article - no small praise in itself.

Loving cherries as much as we do, I suppose it only makes sense that a cherry wine could be so enjoyable. I suspect we'll see more fruit wines being served at our table down the line.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Another BCWAS Hit Event

The BC Wine Appreciation Society had its summer BBQ and really outdid itself this time around in my mind. A wonderful location and perfect weather. An Incredible spread cooked up by past-President and perpetual personality Tim. A full assortment of Poplar Grove wines for tasting. And winemaker Ian Sutherland leading a small-group vertical tasting of three vintages of the winery's flagship Legacy.

What more could you ask for?

Well, other than the fact that I don't get to add another bottle to The List. Darn these tastings where I'm not really enjoying my way through a particular bottle or bottles of wine.

I don't think that many would argue against Poplar Grove's being identified as one of the Okanagan's premier wineries over the years. With a major expansion and the debut of an introductory "Monster" line of wines, it will be interesting to see if the standards are maintained. Every indication that we had from the current wines poured would seem to say that everything remains on course.

Interesting and personable, Mr. Sutherland added another dimension to the wine in the glass and how it got there.

My particular favourites were a Shiraz (that naturally isn't available as a current vintage) and the 2003 Legacy. I'll hope for and look ahead to the occasion when I can actually enjoy a bottle and add it to The List.

Bottle Hopping

My days of cutting a swath through a parade of parties in a single week are so far behind me, it's a rare occasion that I'd even try to fit two into one night. But here we are - taking a true test of social stamina.

Like a great many of the sipping partners I have that grace these postings, Camper and I were buds back in university days. Despite the annual Christmas e-mail exchange exclaiming that we need to try and get together in the upcoming year, it just doesn't seem to materialize as often as we'd like. It's generally a tallying of years - rather than months or weeks - between visits.

When I ran across her name and number in a directory at work the other week, I gave her a quick call. Voicemail only. But, when she got the message the next week, it did lead to an impromptu, and last-minute, invitation to dinner as Camper had invited another couple from that old gang over for a BBQ. Boo was working and I'd already committed to a party that night, but I figured that the opportunity doesn't pop up that often; I'd better try and fit in at least an hour or two or regret it as a "whaddya mean you're too old to fit two parties into one night" kind of moment.

118. 2008 See Ya Later Ranch Nelly Rose (VQA Okanagan)

Plus, there was bound to be some wine around and, lately, I'm not one to toss a vinous opportunity out lightly. As you might guess by the advanced nighttime lighting of this bottle shot, there were so many laughs and memories that my best intentions to leave by 8.00 turned into a "gosh, it's 9.30 already" run out the door.

Just as last night's Wine Boyz went summer, I figured a rose would hit the spot. I hadn't seen this wine from SYL before and I can't help but note the marketing choice to call their rose "Nelly."

The label says that the wine is named after one of the winery's originator's favourite dogs. C'mon. There may well have been a puppy named "Nelly," but this has to have been a conscious choice. Pink/magenta label. Rose wine. Nelly. I don't know if SYL is marketing the wine to and during the Vancouver Pride Festival, but they likely should be. It all reminds me of Kim Crawford's rose, Pansy. They come right out on the label and say that the wine is specially made for the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras.

This Nelly is a blend of Gamay Noir, Cabernet Franc and Gewurtztraminer. An interesting blend if there ever was one. For a rose, it had a lot of colour and heft to it, but Camper and I managed to do a good job on that bottle.

It was tough to leave, but there was another soiree to attend. The second event was a group 40th birthday party for a couple of our neighbours. Since there were three celebrants, I suppose it was a 120th b-day party.

The shin-dig was well under way by the time I arrived and it was evident that the wine had been flowing freely before my arrival. The red was pretty much done and there was one part glass of a rose to be had. So, I spent some time with the white.

119. 2007 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough - New Zealand)

New Zealand. Sauvignon Blanc. It's one of the most identifiable combinations in the world of wine. I won't try to add anything to the topic.

It was great to see that the party featured its own concert by Karen Lee Batten, the now-country crooner that was a finalist on Canadian Idol in 2003. What a wonderful surprise and treat! There was some singing. A bit of dancing. I'll toast that kind of party favour any time.

I'm going to assume that the music and wine choices were courtesy of our Illuminare Gal and not Sham-A-Lama. The latter is a beer, scotch and cigar kinda guy. I had to move on (to bed, not another party) as the scotch and smokes started making their appearance. But I heard that one spousal neighbour went to retrieve a wayward husband from Sham-A-Lama's wicked grasp around 3.30. I think I used to last that long into the night (or morning as it may be). Happy Birthday to the young'uns.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wine Boyz Go Gris

Mr. D. offered up his apartment for a Wine Boyz (and Grrrl) night and, given the heat wave Van City has been experiencing, he decided that the theme would be cool and white. As the refresher du jour, he asked us all to bring along a Pinot Gris - or for the more Italian of us, Pinot Grigio.

Most of the gang in attendance were avowed red wine aficionados and, in fact, most Wine Boyz nights are red-based affairs. We didn't know quite what to expect but we were looking forward to the reactions.

With five folks in attendance, we have five new wines to add to The List:

113. 2006 Domaine Mersiol Pinot Gris (Alsace - France)

114. 2007 Kim Crawford Boyszone Pinot Gris (Marlborough - New Zealand)

115. 2008 Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio (DOC Valdadige - Trentino-Alte Adige - Italy)

116. 2008 Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris (Golden Mile - VQA Okanagan)

117. 2008 [yellow tail] Pinot Grigio (South Eastern Australia)

At a couple of the most recent tastings, we've had duplicate bottles brought by chance - when the themes were much broader. So it was a surprise that we had five different nations represented this evening. Quite the wide spectrum for comparison.

Even more surprising was the fact that our reactions were quite similar across the board. Although all five bottles would be gone in a heartbeat at a patio party, the top two faves and the least popular of the night were very clear.

The Domaine Mersiol Alsace was the clear "winner" with 4 of 5 first place votes (with the remaining vote being a second place). Although it's not always the case, this winner was also the most expensive of the lot. Elzee actually broke the under $25 rule. This was a $29 bottle that she found on sale for $27. When the clerk heard the reason for the purchase, she discounted the price a bit more because she thought we needed to try it. Elzee can "cheat" whenever she wants if we get to enjoy the wine as much as we did. The wine had a touch of residual sweetness and that might have been the winning factor. Rather expensive for a summer patio sipper, but I can think of any number of other reasons to grab a bottle.

Almost as clear cut was the Kim Crawford Boyszone. Wine Boyz. Boyszone. It just made sense to bring this bottle along. I guess the fact that it was a solid second choice proves the point.

Unfortunately for Davey Boi, his [yellow tail] took all five last place votes. This was a bit intriguing considering the amount of slagging [yellow tail] wines seem to take in the wine world nowadays. It should be pointed out that it was the cheapest wine by probably a good $5 though.

Maybe this was an evening of you get what you pay for.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pinot Perfection?

No doubt a "perfect pinot" would normally be seen to be a Burgundy Grand Cru - no doubt worth well over our fortnightly wine budget, if not more. So why not look at a blend of three of BC's highly regarded varietals?

112. 2005 See Ya Later Ranch Pinot 3 (VQA - Okanagan)

Of course, referring to this wine as "perfection" isn't likely to be taken as anything more than hyperbole (and then some), but it was a fine little wine for summer drinking and a chicken caesar salad.

It's a blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir in almost equal proportions and it's not exactly a commonly seen blend in the major production areas around the world. It does, however, take grapes that BC is becoming known for and produces a wine that tries to give a little more with its sum than it might by its individual parts.

It'd be interesting to try all three grapes as straight varietals and then sip on this as a blend. And it'd be a quick way to add a number of bottles to The List all at once.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Two in the Bush

Sorry about the kitschy photo but the wine kinda created its own photo-op.

111. 2005 Bird in Hand Winery - Two in the Bush Merlot Cabernet (Adelaide Hills - Australia)

I don't have too much to say about tonight's wine - other than the fact that this was a very nice and reasonably-priced bottle. It was around $20 when I picked it up a couple of years back at the Playhouse Wine Festival. I see that it is listed now with the provincial stores at $23.00. Not the cheapest bottle of wine for a Tuesday night, but there was plenty to like about it.

Bird in Hand is a fairly new winery in the "emerging wine region" of Adelaide Hills. The area had an early start in the mid-1800's in grape-growing; however various contributory forces (including "neo-prohibitionists") resulted in the disappearance or removal of all vines in the area by the 1930's. Viticulture restarted in the 1970's and has seen some well-received wines being produced.

The Adelaide Hills are not far out of the city limits; however, its geography is largely a maze of valleys that results in considerable climatic differences that defy a generalization of wine production in the area. It's considered a definite cool-climate region for Australia though and each hillside may be best-suited for a completely different varietal than the next.

Two in the Bush is the entry level of three that the winery produces - the premium label being Bird in Hand and the specialty level being called Nest Egg. If this 65%Merlot, 35% Cab blend is the winery's entry level, I'd love to try out Bird in Hand. One can only hope that a Bird in Hand is worth two Two in the Bush bottles.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Kiss of the Spider Woman

I was chatting to Beamer the other day and, as soon as I learned he'd just returned from the Okanagan with four cases of wine, I remembered that I really needed to drop by and pick up the pie plate we'd forgotten at their place last month.

I tried out my best feigned protest of "Well I suppose I could stay for one glass or so," when he suggested he open a bottle of one of his new finds. I don't think he was fooled, but he opened the bottle anyhow.

110. 2006 Black Widow Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon (Naramata Bench - Okanagan)

Although I have seen their road side entry sign driving along the highway, I can't say that I've heard or seen much of the winery. No doubt it has to do with the fact that Black Widow is a fairly new entry on the Bench, having opened its doors in 2005. Production is still small at maybe 1500 cases - totally expected for a small, single vineyard estate - making it pretty hard to find when it's any good. This is their big red, being a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cab, and those reds tend to go pretty quickly along the Bench.

I also didn't know that the black widow spider is quite abundant in the Southern Okanagan since they favour desert regions. I was also unaware that their venom is 15 times more potent than that of its desert neighbour the rattlesnake. Good thing the spiders are shy little gals.

At 14.9% alcohol, this is getting up there, but I don't think the potency is as venomous as its namesake. Might want to watch yourself, but you should survive. The flavours of the wine are intensified by the fact the Merlot/Cab is unfiltered at bottling.

With this as an introductory taste of the winery, I'd keep my eye out for future wines - particularly if Beamer is buying. To top the visit off, the Divine Miss M not only returned our pie pan but returned it filled with a cherry pie - with fruit also straight back from the Okanagan. Gotta love it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Something to Crow About

109. 2001 Red Rooster Meritage (VQA - Naramata Bench - Okanagan)

As we try and work our way through some of the wines that we've held on to for awhile, I ran across this somewhat older vintage of Red Rooster. I don't know if it relates to the change in ownership a couple of years back, but I can't find any reference to past vintages on the winery's website.

There is no reference on the bottle to the composition of the wine, but I'm presuming that the grapes used in the 2001 were sourced from the old vineyard - at the opposite end of the Naramata Bench from where the current winery is located. At that time, they wouldn't have had the Malbec grapes that they currently grow as part of the Adopt-A-Row program. So, I'd guess that that this is a Merlot/Cab Sauv blend with maybe a touch of Cab Franc (but I don't even know if the winery grew any of the franc back in those days).

In any event, as a fairly early entry in the Okanagan Meritage stakes, it's held up pretty well. If the wines have continued to improve (as is often touted in the press), I think the later vintages should be welcome additions to The List.

The Last Century

Well, I suppose that it's really the First Century that's behind us - not the "last." In any event, I thought that I'd recap the wines that made up the first 100 on The List. I thought it might be interesting to see if any trends are starting to show up.

The first fact that caught me unawares is that the first 100 wines was actually 101. There were two #24's. I'm not inclined to go back and re-number all the posts, so there'll just have to be a bonus wine. I'll just blame it on the fact that I was still learning the ropes on how to keep up with the numbers on the blog. It does NOT have anything to do with the fact that, after all the wine, I had simply forgotten how to count past 20.

I can't say that there are trends to the bottles we sipped from, but it seems pretty clear to me that we're experiencing a good, if not wide, range of wines. Out of the first 100 (101) wines, there were 78 different wineries represented. That number likely would have been a bit higher except for the fact that Burrowing Owl and Golden Mile (now Road 13) accounted for 11 wines between the two of them - simply because I dedicated a round of the Canucks' run in the Stanley Cup playoffs to each winery.

It's probably not that much of a surprise to see that a big majority, 41 bottles, were produced in BC. In general, BC residents are rather well-known for their loyalty to local producers. It certainly doesn't hurt that we're making some darn good wine nowadays as well. I was rather surprised, however, to see that the next largest region/country was Italy with 13 wines. I've never really thought we drank all that much Italian wine, but we've clearly gravitated there - either because of the visit last fall or the fact that it matches well with our eating habits. I was equally surprised to see that we drank more French than Aussie wines - although not by much, 11 bottles to 10. In the past, I pretty much always reached for an Aussie bottle if we weren't drinking local that night.

The break down of the types wines didn't catch me off guard at all. We drank 57 reds, 34 whites, 1 rose, 3 sparkling wines and 4 dessert wines. A couple of years back, the percentage of red wines likely would have been higher, but as I learned more about matching wines with food, I figured out that we used to "drink red, but eat white." We don't get caught up in the old, hard and fast rule of "red with meat, white with fish." But a good match between the style of wine and type of food really can enhance your enjoyment of both.

The final component of The List that I checked out was that we drank a good number of blended reds - 8 different blends (from Bordeaux/Meritage to GSM and Super Tuscans) representing 22 bottles. No surprise there. I'm a big fan of taking the best attributes of each varietal and matching them with other grapes to make a "better" whole. When not blended, we drank 15 different straight red varietals and 13 whites. The most common single red varietals were cab sauv (7), followed by syrah/shiraz and pinot noir (6 each). I hadn't expected that since I almost always look first to shiraz.

The breakdown of white varietals wasn't quite so distinct. We drank 5 pinot gris, followed by 4 rieslings. I was maybe caught a tad unawares in that we only had 6 white blends out of the first century.

But, perhaps the bigger surprise was how quickly we made it to 100. No doubt a big help in that aspect was the odd 5 to 8 wines in a single evening at dinner parties or tastings. They add up quickly. It might not take 5 to 10 years to reach our 2001 after all.

All in all, it's an interesting start - only another 1900 bottles or so to go.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Rare Bird

Elzee joined us for a last-minute dinner invite. Just a little steak on the barbee but we were feeling a tad buoyant about the fact that we had actually harvested some zucchini from our community garden plot this year. I've tried growing zucchini for a couple years - because it's supposedly prolific, easy and low maintenance - but I'd yet to succeed with harvesting any veggies. For whatever reason, this year's totally different and I figured some ratatouille was a natural.

107. 2005 Pelee Island Winery Shiraz Cabernet (Ontario)

We don't see much Ontario wine for sale in BC - just another example of ridiculously regulated provincial liquor restrictions. We can find wines from all over the world, but wines from the same country? What are you crazy?!

Elzee finds herself in The Centre of The Universe (that is Toronto) every so often with her job and she brought this wine back with her. We were ever so glad that she did. We all quite enjoyed it.

Not knowing anything about the winery, I took a bit of a surf and found out that it's Canada's southernmost winery - quite a bit below the 49th parallel, at 42 degrees. With that location, it might seem natural that it could grow nice shiraz grapes. Although Pelee Island does produce a large variety of wines, many of them VQA, it turns out that the Shiraz component of this wine is actually imported (although I couldn't find out from where) and the back label of the bottle says "Shiraz (Petite Sirah) Cabernet blend." The last time I checked, Petite Sirah is a completely different varietal from Shiraz. Not only was the wine not all sourced from Ontario, but it wasn't even the varietal expected. Those Ontarians! Next thing you know, they'll be selling the Maple Leafs as Stanley Cup champions.

Good thing we liked the wine.

108. NV Seppelt Rutherglen Tokay DP37 (Rutherglen - Australia)

We were totally decadent when it came to the desserts. I'd already made up some creme brulee since I thought it might be interesting to try and infuse it with some of the lavender growing in the garden (it was). Then, Elzee brought along her world-famous (among our friends) lemon tart.

That just meant we had to have them both!!

We treated ourselves to an equally decadent dessert wine. The Oxford Companion to Wine exclaims that "Liquer Tokay is one of Australia's great gifts to the world." Tokay is described as "sumptuously hedonistic dark, sweet, alcoholic liquid..." that is made from the Muscadelle grape (which is traditionally called Tokay down under). The grapes are semi-raisined on the vine, then partially fermented and fortified with grape spirit before undergoing an unusual wood-ageing program that seems to incorporate aspects of sherry's solera system and Madeira's heat and oxidation.

Seppelt is an historic winery in the Barossa region; however, Tokay's centre of production is Rutherglen - a hot north-west corner of the state of Victoria. Seppelt has a full range of fortified wines and I'm willing to bet that there isn't a single one that I wouldn't fall for immediately.

This is the life.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Tuscan Reminder

When we went to Italy last fall, we were a little surprised in that you pretty much needed to make appointments in advance to visit the wineries. It's not like BC's Okanagan where you pick a route and just drive along hitting as many wineries as you like. We only managed to visit three wineries in Italy, however, all three stops included tours of the facilities and a multiple tasting.

Altesino was one of those three visits. I'd never heard of Altesino previously, but the hosts at our B&B (La Portagoia which, by the way, is a most wonderful place to stay for a taste of Tuscany) suggested it and made the reservations for us and another couple staying at the B&B. It was a pleasant visit with lunch and a tasting of about 6 or 7 wines.

Boo and I unfortunately ran into the Canadian conundrum though: how to decide what wines, if any, to bring back with us. We were limited to two wines each - unless you're willing to pay all your money (that you don't have after the vacation) to the government in customs taxes - but that's another topic. We stopped ourselves at one red and dessert from this stop. We didn't bring this bottle home with us - but imagine our surprise when we saw some Altesino wines, including this one, at our neighbourhood government liquor store.

106. 2006 Altesino Bianco Toscano (IGT - Tuscany - Italy)

Altesino winery is located just outside, to the North-East, of the hillside town of Montalcino and has been producing well-received wines for years. It is particularly known for its Brunellos - the star wine of the region. Accordingly, the majority of their vineyards are planted with the Sangiovese Grosso grape which is used for the Brunellos and the Rosso di Montalcinos.

The winery does grow some international grapes as well to blend with the local, traditional grapes to produce some higher end Super Tuscans and some more accessible IGT wines like the one we were drinking this night.

The Bianco Toscana is a non-traditional blend of Chardonnay, Vermentino and Viognier. Guess which one is the local grape.

Throw in some pasta and a garden dinner and it's almost like heading back into the Tuscan hills for another visit. Were it only that easy!! I'll definitely keep an eye open for other Altesino wines that have made it to our market.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Rabbits, Breezes & Rigamaroles

I'm falling behind again on my postings. Either I'm too excited about the prospect of blogging and adding more wines to The List or, just maybe, we drink a lot. Nah, must be the excitement of blogging. Regardless, I'm going to pull another catch-up posting and put a series of nights at home in one entry. Nothing overly exciting about the evenings, the food or even the company (not that Boo isn't exciting company enough - but we were watching TV as well). But you do get three for the price of one:

103. 2005 Rock Rabbit Sauvignon Blanc (Central Coast - California)

Apparently inspired by their friends "down under" (at least according to their web site), the folks at Rock Rabbit have come out with their own "critter" wine. However, I think the inspiration was supposed to come more from the style of wine more than the colourful labels and names.

Rock Rabbit only produces two wines - a Shiraz and this Sauvignon Blanc. Styled on the renowned New Zealand sauv blancs, this winsome bunny is supposedly "everything that California Chardonnay is not." Sourced from vineyards in the cooler (for California) Central Valley around Monterey and Santa Barbara, it's Pinot Gris with a 9% splash of Gewurztraminer to heighten the aromatics of the wine. I don't think I'm familiar with that addition.

104. 2004 Lake Breeze Seven Poplars Merlot (VQA - Okanagan)

Couldn't an awful lot on the net about this particular bottle - although I did see that it won a bronze medal at the 2007 all-Canadian Wine Championships.

Lake Breeze is one of the longer standing wineries on the Naramata Bench; however, their production is still on the smaller scale, producing about 9,000 cases a year total. The Seven Poplars range is their premium level of wines. The winery started out probably being better known for their white wines (and for the fact that their South African founder planted some Pinotage vines to bring a little bit of his Cape home with him), but they are expanding into the red varietals more as the years pass.

The winery has 17 acres under operation but I couldn't find out if all of the grapes for the Merlot were estate-grown.

105. 2007 Rigamarole Red (VQA - Okanagan)

Launched as part of the Artisan Wine Company portfolio, Rigamarole is one of the labels produced under the Mission Hill umbrella. Introduced as a different approach at reaching the wine-drinking public, this line is based perhaps as much on the eye-catching label marketing as on the promotion of the wine itself. Bottled with a variety of labels for each of the four wines produced, our Red featured the "dancing rhino."

I don't know if this qualifies it as yet another entry into the "critter wine" category, but the labels certainly are intriguing. No doubt the concept is get Joe Public to buy the first bottle because of the label and hope that the product convinces him to buy another bottle (maybe the one with the elephant eating soup next time).

The wine is a rather unique blend of Merlot, Cab, Gamay and Pinot Noir and, marketing effort or not, it does carry VQA certification. There are certainly less enjoyable wines in the demographic out there. I'll likely go back looking for the elephant at some point.

We don't tend to drink a lot of Lake Breeze's wines on a regular basis, but I think both Boo and I liked the Merlot the best out of the three wines on this post. I guess it's not too out of line then that it clocked in at the highest price point. The current vintage lists at $25. The Rigamarole was under $15 which brings it more in line with a Tuesday night wine - at least for us.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Bitch of a Wine

Vixen and the kiddies came by for a little BBQ and alfresco dining. Vancouver City Hall has decided to close off a portion of Commercial Drive to car traffic every Sunday for the summer, so we took a little wander down the Drive to see what was shaking. What I found out was that the girls have interesting fashion senses and can be veritable pains - to put it mildly. Teenagers, arrrgh!

I don't know about Vixen, but upon the return home, I needed a drink.

101. N/V Broadbent Vinho Verde (DOC Vinho Verde - Portugal)

This was another of the wines I picked up at this year's Vancouver Playhouse Festival. Just a little something nice and refreshing for the patio and warm weather.

The winery owner, Bartholomew Broadbent, attended this March as well and the Festival Program refers to him as one of the world's most foremost authorities on Port and Madeira - to the extent that Decanter Magazine named him one of the fifty most influential people in the world of wine.

Vinho Verde is about as far away from Port as you can get. The most popular white wine in Portugal, the "Verde" (or green) in the name refers to the fact that the wine is made to be drunk young and fresh - that and the fact that many will advise that there is a faint, lime green colour to the wine. An injection of CO2 into the wine also gives it a light spritz, adding to the allure as a heat quencher. The low alcohol content also helps it to go down that much easier.

If you need a wine to challenge your exposure to grape varietals, this is one for you as well. The primary varietals used by Broadbent are Loureiro, Trajadura and Pederna. If you can identify them, you're way ahead of me.

VV (as it can be called) doesn't have that prominent of a presence in Vancouver. In fact, this Broadbent isn't a wine carried by the provincial stores - although they do have four or five listings to try. While looking the wine up on the net, a number of comments were made that it's a perfect accompaniment to Caesar salad. I may just have to give that a go next time. Vixen and the kids had to settle for potato salad.

102. 2007 R Wines Bitch Grenache (South Australia)

Now, anyone that knows my sister, knows that this wine was made with her in mind. In a good way, naturally. To prove the point, as soon as she walked in the door and saw it sitting on the table she exclaimed "You've got my wine!" Having picked it up specifically with her in mind, you have to know that the provocative name (at least for wine) had to have its market so pre-determined that it was destined to succeed so long as the contents were even somewhat palatable.

The funny thing is that we quite liked it. I generally find Grenache-based wines to be very enjoyable and this one carried on the tradition. I was rather surprised, after the fact, to find out that the wine is actually rather well-reviewed by no less an authority than Robert Parker himself. I doubt he stooped to the point of calling it "bitchin'," but he has labeled it a good buy on more than one occasion.

Sourced from grapes in South Eastern Australia, including the Barossa, this is a 100% Grenache wine which I don't think is all that common for Oz. I generally see it blended in a Rhone-style wine with Shiraz and Mourvedre (the ubiquitous GSM - or any combination those letters).

In spite of a bit of an over the top marketing play, R Wines will be worth looking into down the road. The Aussies may have changed the face of wine marketing with the critter wines. One can only imagine what's next.

Summer's First Picnic

I see we're hitting our first century mark on our quest. Given the recent summer weather, what better excuse could there be for a picnic? I'd hoped to kick off the picnic season with a spread in Central Park while in NYC but the opportunity didn't present itself. English Bay has to be as good an alternative as any.

99. 2001 E.Guigal Saint-Joseph Rouge (AOC Saint-Joseph - Rhone - France)

We recently sipped the Cote du Rhone Villages on the Brooklyn Bridge. Well, this wine is one step higher on the appellation hierarchy in France. The Rhone, as a whole, is one of the most important wine producing areas in France; however, it is further divided into distinct sub-regions. It starts with a simple North and South. The Northern Rhone is the home of Syrah when it comes to red wine. The South certainly features Syrah in its reds but is equally home to Grenache and Mourvedre.

I didn't know this when I picked out the bottle, but E.Guigal is the largest producer of red wine in the Northern Rhone. So, we're talking a lot of Syrah here. Saint-Joseph is one of the notable sub-regions - although not having quite as high a profile as Cote Rotie or Hermitage. E.Guigal produces some of the most coveted red wines in the world. In 2005, some of its single vineyard wines took on some of the top Syrah/Shiraz wines from Australia and the world in Adelaide and it came out on top at that competition.

This wine wasn't one of the star wines at the competition, but it is seen as a strong wine for the increasingly popular Saint-Joseph appellation and is 100% Syrah made sources from 20-30 year old vines. Perhaps it was a little too Old World-ly in its profile but I would have just as soon had another bottle of the CedarCreek that we drank the other night.

100. 2005 Schloss Reinhartshausen Erbacher Schlossberg Riesling Auslese (QmP Rheingau - Germany)

Just as I was surprised to find out about E.Guigal's might as a producer, it turns out that Schloss Reinharstshausen is the largest privately owned wine estate in the Rheingau. seems like I pulled out some of the big guns for our first century without even knowing it.

This estate has a storied history, royalty, the last German Emperor and all, and currently includes a 5-star hotel in amongst the estate vineyards. Grapes have been cultivated in those vineyards since 1337.

There's no doubt that German wine labels can be as confusing as any labels out there, but the Erbacher Schlossberg refers to the vineyard itself as many vineyards in Germany have a pedigree of their own and are highly recognizable. This is the primary vineyard for the winery and is known as producing a grape showing "classic" Riesling characteristics.

The reference to Auslese relates to the style of wine and the fact that the grapes should remain on the vine until a specific degree of sugar has accumulated in them such that the sugar won't be entirely converted into alcohol during the fermentation process. Auslese wines, therefore, are generally sweeter and associated with dessert wines.

Being the sucker that I am for dessert wines, this was a perfect fit (as accidental as it was) as the No. 100 wine on The List. For future reference, they go perfectly with sunset views - beach, picnic or otherwise.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Celebrating Canada Day

Since it was Canada Day, it only seemed fitting to pull out the barbee and throw on a couple of burgers to chow down on with a bottle of one of the country's best. If that sounds a tad American, it must be Boo's upbringing.

The burgers were really thrown together because he had to head off to work and we needed something quick and easy. They did go with the wine however.

98. 2005 CedarCreek Estate Select Syrah (VQA - Okanagan)

Previously, we generally felt that CedarCreek's best foot forward had been its Pinot Noir. We just knew that we'd end up shelling out the extra bucks to pick up their Platinum Pinot. That may have changed with the arrival of this Syrah in their portfolio.

In only its third vintage of Syrah, this was declared Canada's Red Wine of the Year by Wine Access magazine in 2007. Since only 989 cases of the wine was made, we're feeling pretty good about having a small stash.

I don't generally go into tasting notes with the blog since I'm more about the wines, people and occasions shared in reaching our goal, but this one might merit an exception. When announcing the Red Wine of the Year award, Wine Access stated that "the judges marveled at the deep fruit, complexity, seemless richness and elegance of this wine."

For me, I just worry about keeping enough in my glass. It's a progessively sad thing as the bottle nears empty. However, it must have been so much worse for Boo since he had head off for work after only one glass, leaving me with the remainder of the bottle. (Being the nice guy that I am though, I left some for him - perhaps reluctantly, but it was still there the next day all the same.)

Although CedarCreek's winery is located in Kelowna, the grapes for this wine were sourced from their single vineyard down by Osooyoos. Seeing as how the Southern end of the Okanagan Valley is the Northern end of the Sonora Desert (continuing all the way up from the Baja Peninsula), there's plenty of sun and warmth to ripen the syrah grapes.

If future vintages hit this level of wow, we'll be looking forward to trying them and adding them to The List.

More Latin Heat

Following last night's tastes from South of the border, we found ourselves dining on similar flavours for the second night in a row when we were invited for dinner with the Mud Babes.

Dr. Dirt and I go back many a year, having cut many a rug and downed more than a few cooling libations during days at the Deke House. She just kept on with the university life a tad longer and got her doctorate in soil sciences/geography - giving a whole new meaning to the term "dirty blonde." Through the years, we'll see a fair bit of each other and then it'll go for a stretch where our paths just don't seem to cross. No matter how long in between meetings, I always know that our's is a friendship that just picks up where it left off. Adding to that, we seem to have independently solidified the reason to stay friends when we each found that the other had graduated to wine as the drink of choice.

Another welcome addition to the friendship was the introduction of Isotopos, a fiery latina that Dr. Dirt met while working in Colombia. The dinner was a celebration of the fact that Isotopos had just finished defending her doctoral paper in water sciences.

Dirt. Water. You should understand the reference to "Mud Babes" now.

Isotopos was the chef de cuisine and she treated us to an earthier menu than the evening before. She cooked up some of her favourites dishes from the home table back in Colombia. And was it good!! Ceviche, fried plaintain, meatballs, guacamole. Yumm. Luckily, the wines were just as tasty.

96. 2003 Evans & Tate The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Margaret River - Australia)

Here, we're talking the Margaret River that I love so much. Dr. Dirt and I had both run to buy some of this E&T when we tasted it at the 2008 Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival. It seemed like a no-brainer to bring along a bottle and finally open it with them. No muddy taste on this palate though. I've talked some about E&T on a previous entry, so I won't go on about it or Margaret River. I'm just glad I still have a couple of bottles of this for the future - even if they're the same vintage and won't be "eligible" as "unique" additions to The List.

97. 2003 Bodega Weinert Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

Since it didn't take long to finish off the cab, Dr. Dirt proposed a couple further options and we decided to go with the Malbec. I'd never heard of Bodega Weinert before and
I didn't quite know what to expect as the name didn't exactly sound like a common name on the Pampas.

A little surfing on the net after the fact kept the surprises coming. Although Weinert is not one of the biggest producers in Argentina, it has been called "the best producer in Argentina." The people behind the winery are "almost legends for their quality." Even Robert Parker (love him or hate him) has been quoted as saying that "Bodega Weinert is producing South America's greatest red wines - the qualitative equals of the best in the world." Heady praise, indeed.

This evening's wine wasn't the winery's flagship that earns the greatest platitudes, but it definitely showed why Argentina is seen as the starting point for all things "Malbec." This wine made it easy to understand why Malbec is called the raison d'etre for Mendoza.

Although Bodega Weinert's first commercial vintage was in 1976, the winery itself dates from the 1800's. The Weinert family, Brazilian immigrants of German stock, bought the old, dilapidated winery in the 1970's and immediately started on a renovation and modernization that moved it to the forefront of Argentine winemaking. This was a time long before the Argentine had started to hit the export shelves of the world and many of the locals thought that the new owners were loco.

I should have asked Dr. Dirt where she found the bottle because no Weinert wines show as listings with the government liquor stores. Hopefully, the winery's presence will be felt at next year's Playhouse Festival since Argentina is one of the two featured regions.

As if to cap off the fine food and wine, we were treated to a huge rainbow. With this shot from the balcony, you can see that it's a double rainbow. What you can't see is that it was a full arc - we could see an entire semi-circle of colour.

A great evening all around.

Cobre, Carmenere & Tapas

Boo and I went out for dinner with Elzee to Cobre for yet another celebration of Boo's b-day. Unlike him though, we didn't bring a camera to document the evening. So, I think this might be the first bottle to be added to The List without a picture - of either the actual bottle or location/drinking buddies. We actually do have a picture that was taken on Boo's cell phone, but we never use it for that purpose and he doesn't know how to download it at all. Who knows, it could get added to this post somewhere down the line; however, for the meantime, I'll just settle for a download from the web.

95. 2006 Viu Manent Reserve Carmenere (DO Colchaugau Valley - Chile)

Cobre restaurant promotes itself as serving Nuevo Latino cuisine, featuring the flavours of Argentina, Cuba, Brazil and Mexico. They use the adjectives "passion, exuberance, sultriness and joy" to define the dishes and atmosphere. How could we orded anything but a South American wine?

When drinking Chile, why not take a gamble with the "national" grape, Carmenere. One of the original Bordeaux grapes, you rarely see it in a bordeaux wine anymore. When the phylloxera plague hit France in the 1860's, it appears to have hit the Carmenere vines particularly hard. The varietal was barely, if at all, replanted. In fact it is often referred to as having been thought of as extinct.

Turns out that, when noblemen of the 1800's attempted to set up vineyards in Chile along the lines of the Bordeaux estates, a good number of Carmenere rootstocks and vines were part of the package. For the next century, however, the grapes were thought to be Merlot due to similarities in appearance and profile. Seems that people knew there were subtle differences but the vines were grown and blended as Merlot.

It wasn't until the 1990's that studies showed that the vines were, indeed, the "lost" Bordeaux varietal. From that time, the vines have been identified in the vineyards and being grown with regard to the varietal's different requirements.

Viu Manent is one of the vineyards that benefitted from the re-discovery of Carmenere. The winery celebrated its 70th year in the wine business in 2005 and it has played an instrumental role in developing the wine industry and wine tourism in Chile - specifically the Colchaugua Valley.

Chile has clearly the largest Carmenere plantings in the world - and is seen as a source to reintroduce the varietal to its homeland in France and around the world. Although Viu Manent is described as being perhaps Chile's pre-eminent producer of Malbec, it is one of the producers that has grown to export Carmenere worldwide.

The grape is certainly seeing its popularity grow among wine drinkers as more producers are being introduced. Not exactly ubiquitous yet, our government stores list about two dozen bottles, either as straight varietals or blends featuring Carmenere as a central component. Currently, every one of the listings is from Chile.

It's a good thing that this blog isn't based on given tasting notes because I'm not so sure that I'd add much here to the fact that it tasted fine with our food. We'd had a few celebratory cocktails of the non-wine persuasion beforehand. We're always game for a little latin flare though.

Friday, July 10, 2009


No superstar Justin Timberlake didn't show up at one of the Society's tastings - although he likely would have enjoyed it.

This J-T is still a superstar though - Canadian winery Jackson Triggs. J-T is proud to be able to say that they've been named Top Canadian Winery 19 times in competitions both at home and abroad. It is the current trophy holder for the International Wine and Spirit Competition held in London, England, and for the Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards. No other winery in Canada can boast such a record.

It was certainly a coup that BCWAS was graced with a visit from the winemaker that now manages all the Okanagan red wine production (as well as playing a hand in the production of all premium wines at the facility). Not only did the young Aussie transplant offer up a wide-ranging tasting of ten wines but she talked us through the wines and their production.

There's no better source to find out about a particular wine than to talk directly to the person that makes it. Humble enough to give great credit to the actual growers in the vineyards, she was a fount of knowledge - from general facts about the winery to information on the number of fermenters used for the red wines and the number of clones and rootstocks used on the various varietals (for the wine geeks in the audience).

For a young woman, she packs a fine pedigree. Having grown up in a winemaking hotspot - South Australia - she's honed her skills in Australia, Spain, Chile and now Canada. It was enjoyable to put such a personable face to the winery and to hear her talk about how her friends back in Oz have a hard time believing that the wines she brings back were made in the Great White North. "Go on. You don't really mean they grow shiraz in Canada" (or something similar to that effect).

It should also impress the folks at home down under that she gets to pad her resume with the fact that the first J-T vintage she assisted on was honoured with the Rosemount Trophy for Best Shiraz/Syrah in the world at the 2006 round of the aforementioned London competition. Unfortunately, that won't be a wine that makes it onto The List since it was a 2004 and was sold out before it was even available - such is the magic that awards like the Rosemount can do for you. I have had a glass of it at a BCWAS dinner but finding a full bottle wasn't in the realm of my possible.

There will be plenty of other Jackson Triggs to make The List though. Boo promptly loosened the "No Buy Leash" long enough for me to buy a case after the tasting.

With tastings the level of this one and a couple other recent ones, the BCWAS has upped its profile and will hopefully continue to engage the stars of the BC wine scene.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More Orofino Please

Hard to believe that our first Orofino wine on The List was 82 bottles ago already. We must be having fun - because time is sure flying by.

94. 2006 Orofino Pinot Noir ( Similkameen - BC)

The Similkameen Valley has been the home to fruit and vegetables for over a century - not so much for grapes. And definitely not the vinifera grape varietal so prominent now throughout the Okanagan. The 5.5 acre vineyard that is Orofino was planted in 1989 and, with that pedigree of 20 years, is home to many of the Similkameen's oldest vines.

Many might think that the Similkameen isn't the ideal site for growing pinot noir - it's just too hot in summer months and too cold in the winters as the river doesn't offer as much of the moderating effect of the larger lakes in the Okanagan. The straw bale construction of the winery itself may help with the temperature extremes for the folks and the wines post-crushing, but it won't do much to help in the vineyard. One of the original plantings at Orofino, though, was the pinot noir and for a finicky varietal, the vines seem to have weathered the Valley well.

A testament to the vineyard management, Orofino's Pinot Noir features only estate grown grapes - a blend of those original vines and some newer plantings.

We pretty much just expect that, when we open a bottle of their wine, we're going to enjoy it. We certainly found that to be the case with this one.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Canada's First Syrah

93. 2000 Nichol Vineyard Syrah (Naramata Bench - Okanagan)

Nichol is one of the Okanagan wineries that was in the forefront of moving BC wine to the next level back in the 90's. It hasn't been one that we usually get a lot of chance to try as they've always had a limited production as might be expected from a small, private estate.

Alex & Kathleen Nichol, the original owners of the winery, were, in 1990, the first growers in Canada to plant the syrah grape. Although many thought they were crazy at the time, their studies told them that degree days on their land were on par with (if not in excess of) Bordeaux and the Rhone. Syrah/Shiraz is now one of the most popular grapes grown in the Okanagan.

Original in their varietal plantings, they also used a unique pruning and training method which involves a "V" formation to provide a different approach to exposure to the sun.

Although the current owner operator, Ross Hackworth, purchased the winery in 2004, he and the Nichol's maintained a two-year transition to allow and ensure that the standards introduced by the Nichol's could be better understood and incorporated by Mr. Hackworth in his first full-on venture into wine. Although he spent a number of his formative years growing up in Naramata, that was long before the area became marketed as the "Naramata Bench." He spent his youth working in his family's orchard, not learning the tricks of the world of BC wine.

The particular vintage we opened carried quite a pedigree with it. In 2004, it won a gold medal in the NorthWest Wine Summit. There are so many wine competitions nowadays that I tend to look at claims of medal-winning wines with a jaundiced eye; however, the Summit is one of the few that I put a fair bit of stock in. The wine was also selected to be listed by the Ontario Liquor Board at their Vintages Specialty Store. Considering how rare it is to find a BC wine for sale in Ontario (and vice-versa), that in itself is an accomplishment.

We got this wine as part of a "Best of the Bench" specialty collection - a unique wooden case that contained each member's "best" effort. The Naramata Bench Vintners' Association was started in 2004 as a collective effort by ten of the local wineries to try and raise the profile of the area. I don't think that anyone can argue that they didn't succeed. Other than the Okanagan region as a whole, I think the Naramata Bench is perhaps the best known wine "term" for BC. The Bench might have the highest concentration of wineries in the province and many of the producers are known for high quality. The original ten has multiplied every year and its profile continues to grow.

Many, if not most, of the orchards from Ross Hackworth's youth may have been replace by grape vineyards, but it's hard not to love the Bench.

The Barbera Diet

Having thoroughly enjoyed the La Spinetta Barbera D'Asti the other night in New York, we thought it only made sense to give a local version a pour as well.

Having seen this "advertisement," there was no question.

I'd rather thought that my university days were still haunting me and I was paying for them by having to sport a "beer belly." I can't say that I drink much brunello, but it sure looks like it's a close relative (although I do wish to point out that the top picture in the ad is NOT me).

As previously mentioned, I'm a fan of Howard Soon at Sandhill Estate Vineyard. I'm particularly fond of his Small Lots Program. Mr. Soon is quoted on the winery website as stating that "our Small Lots Program provides a glimpse into our wine future, capturing the essence of small batches of promising new varietals."

Barbera is one of those varietals.

92. 2004 Sandhill Small Lots Barbera (VQA - Okanagan)

Sandhill is one of the very few Okanagan growers, if not the only one, that is taking a chance with Barbera and Italian varietals. I don't know if things have changed in the last couple of years, but when Sandhill first started producing their Barbera, it was the only straight Barbera being made in Canada.

There still isn't a whole lot of it to go around. This vintage only saw 297 cases produced - a pretty good indication that the varietal is still an experiment for the winery.

As with all of Sandhill's wines, this is has single vineyard designation and these grapes are grown on the estate vineyard. There is only one small block of Barbera grown (the winery website has an interesting map that shows the various blocks and the grapes grown) and it is one of the hottest spots in the vineyard - next to a cliff. The accumulative heat from the nearby cliff rock assists in the ripening process. The ripeness of the grapes definitely showed through in this bottle.

I haven't had a chance to call the number in the "ad" yet, but I'm not so sure that the pasta we served with the Barbera is necessarily going to help get rid of our Brunello bellies. I sure hope that Howard Soon finds some more acreage for planting Barbera though because I could easily add this wine as a regular staple to my diet.

Friday, July 3, 2009

It's Time to Test

Despite having celebrated Boo's birthday a couple of days early at Ouest to finish off the NYC jaunt, there's not much chance I could let the actual b-day slip by without something of an event back home. Even if it was just a dinner at home, I did break out one of those special occasion wines. There may not have been any candles or extravagant courses of exotic fare as we flopped out in front of the TV but at least he got to drink well.

90. 2001 Tinhorn Creek Oldfield's Collection Merlot - Cork Closure (VQA - Okanagan)

91. 2001 Tinhorn Creek Oldfield's Collection Merlot - Stelvin Screwcap Closure (VQA - Okanagan)

In 2004, partially in celebration of 10 years of production, Sandra Oldfield and the crew at Tinhorn Creek released their first premium level wine. And to top it off, they introduced it with a bit of flair - they offered an option of a two-pack in which they served up the same wine, but with a twist. One bottle was finished with the traditional cork and the second was closed with a Stelvin screwcap. The idea was to ready the BC public for buying premium red wines with a screwcap and to give patrons an opportunity to try the same wine, side-by-side, and see if and how they aged differently.

We figured it was time to give it a go and see if there was a marked difference. With all the general conjecture about screwcap wines having greater potential to age with more vibrancy, I was expecting the screwcap bottle to offer up a lot more fruit and leave me proclaiming that all wines should forego the cork.

Now, neither Boo nor I considered our palates to be sophisticated beyond your basic "Mmmm, tastes pretty red to me." (I jest; we're not that bad.) However, neither one of us noticed a sufficient enough difference in the two wines to pick a clear favourite. My take would be that the fruit on the nose was perhaps a bit more vigorous with the screwcap wine and there was more of an earthiness to the palate with the cork closure. But, all the same, neither one offered up a lot of fruit.

When push came to shove, we both thought that the screwcap wine was a slight favourite, but neither one was substantially different. Even on the second night, I had to really think it through when Boo gave me a glass of each and asked me to identify which wine was which. I got it right but I was surprised on how little difference there was.

It might have been that we'd held on to the wines a bit longer than we should have when it comes to the retention of fruit on the profile, but my guess is that waiting to find such a difference was part of the scheme and the expectations. I don't think I could say there a marked improvement in the wine due to the closure, but I should think that the switch over to screwcap would be deemed a success if the winery could prevent the loss of 2-10% of their bottles to cork taint.

Happy Happy Boo.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Go Ouest Young Man

For our last night in Manhattan, we decided to head out on the town and have an early celebration dinner for Boo's upcoming birthday. Since the Wicked show was my b-day present, I figured it would only be fair to take him out for a wicked dinner. With recommendations from both Berra Yogi and Chowhound, we decided to stick with our Upper West Side neighbourhood and headed to Ouest.

Interestingly enough, one of Vancouver's perpetually top rated restaurants started its life as "Ouest." It's subsequently changed its star chef and its name to "West." We have yet to make it there, so this Ouest seemed a perfect fit. Despite the lackadaisical service, the evening was a fine way to finish off the vacation. We had a lovely corner table; the food was thoroughly tasty and the wine was nothing short of perfect for the evening.

89. 2006 La Spinetta Ca di Pian (Barbera d'Asti DOC)

La Spinetta was another of the wineries that we went to visit while in Italy last year. I didn't really read any further on the restaurant's wine list once I saw that it was available. Our ability to buy La Spinetta is limited in Vancouver - largely because most of the bottles that you can find are well over $100 a pop. Ca di Pian is far more reasonable and I haven't ever seen it in Vancouver.

The wine is 100% barbera and the 1985 vintage was the first red wine that La Spinetta produced. It is also the red wine with the highest production for La Spinetta among it Piedmont wines.

I hadn't actually heard anything specific about La Spinetta prior to our visit to Piedmont. I vaguely remember seeing the distinctive label on the high end shelves of one of the local private stores, but it became a choice to visit when one of the shop's staff recommended it as a "don't miss" winery when thinking of appointments to make. We're glad we took him up on the suggestion.

It turns out that La Spinetta is one of the top producers in Italy. It is one of only two wineries to have received three stars in Italy's top wine journal, Gambero Rosso. The other winery is the legendary Angelo Gaja.

I mentioned that I remembered seeing the distinctive label previously. The primary label features an old woodcut drawing of a rhino and our tour guide mentioned that the question that she gets asked the most is "what's the history behind the rhino on the label?" Both she and the web site state that the unspectacular truth is that the winery's founder, Giorgio Rivetti, has always had a great admiration for the Albrecht Durer drawing. The story behind the drawing is perhaps more exciting but that's for another time.

The wine was lovely. The dinner was worthy of a birthday. And we had a plane to catch in the morning.

I hope we can find more of this wine at home!!