Monday, October 5, 2009

Opening the Gate

Opening the Gate - Quails' Gate that is.

As it turned out - completely co-incidentally - we ended up opening a bottle from Quails' Gate on two successive nights (even though there might have been a couple of nights without wine in between).

Quails' Gate is another of the "larger" wineries that are located in the Kelowna area. Boo and I just never seem to make it that far North when we head to the Okanagan, so we don't drink a lot of their wine - even though we're familiar with the winery and we usually have a bottle or two in our "cellar."

The Quails' Gate story began with the three Stewart brothers arriving in the Okanagan from Ireland in 1908. They quickly established themselves in agriculture; however, growing vinifera grapes and making fine wine was unknown to the Valley at that time. The brothers' livelihoods revolved primarily around tree fruit.

A generation or two later, the family started planting, reputably, the first Pinot Noir vines in the Okanagan and the winery was founded in 1989. Quails' Gate now produces about 50,000 cases a year and that makes it one of BC's biggest producers - particularly for a family owned winery.

209. 2006 Quails' Gate Dry Riesling (VQA Okanagan)

Many of the grapes used for this Riesling come from 25 year old vines - these are old vines by BC standards. And the wine is full of racy acidity.

I love the fact that the Okanagan is now producing some very fine Riesling fruit. As in the rest of the world, our Rieslings can cover the full spectrum of completely bone-dry and citrusy to hints of off-dry sweetness. I find this wine to be in the former camp - which is not a bad thing - but it's not necessarily my favourite style profile.

210. 2002 Quails' Gate Old Vines Foch Reserve ( VQA Okanagan)

The Old Vines Foch, on the other hand, has long been a favourite of Boo's.

Marechal Foch is not a varietal that you'll see much when you head into your local liquor store. It is a hybrid varietal that was popular in the early years of wine production in Canada and the Northern US (largely New York state) because it is an early ripening varietal that has good hardiness through the colder winter months.

It is thought to have a similar profile to Pinot Noir which may have played a role in its introduction to the Okanagan and it remains perhaps the only hybrid grape that is consistently used to make a varietal wine in BC. There are, however, only a handful of wineries that produce such a varietal wine. Quails' Gate's is perhaps the best-known and about 7% of the winery's production involves Foch. They actually produce three different versions of Marechal Foch - their Old Vines Foch, a Reserve and a fortified wine.

Most of the varietal wines we see in the stores nowadays are vinifera varietals and the Marechal Foch grape "suffers" a bit from its hybrid heritage. Who reaches for Foch in a world of Merlot, Shiraz and Cab? I think we'll continue to reach for it though - as long as Quails' Gate continues to put such consistent effort into their bottle.

Farm Boyz - A Guest Appearance

I haven't had a request for a guest appearance before. Isn't this exciting?! The fact that the guest blogger is Boo (the S.O.) doesn't diminish the novelty - but it might lead to the realization that he at least reads this blog enough that he's not altogether uninterested (except of course, when my blogtime takes away from house chores - which is far too often). Too bad the bottle won't count on The List since I couldn't participate.

Take it away Boo...

Autumn is my favourite time of the year, partially because that is the time for which all the hard labours bear fruit. In this case literally - as I play farm boy to help my mom with her apple and pear harvest. Mom lives in the West Kootenays which is about 750 km East of Vancouver. The drive there is spectacular, even in the winter when the drive can add a few grey hairs going through the mountain passes. One of those passes actually skirts the Southern end of B.C.'s largest wine region. If the timing is good, I can usually pick up a decent bottle to bring home.

Mom's place is pretty remote , I sometimes think it is a fairy tale place. There
are so many wild animals who seem to enjoy the property as much as we do. She has Cougars (rarely seen), Bears (often seen ), Deer (always seen), Elk (rarely seen), as well as a plethora of smaller animals. Eagles are also a common sight and there are so many other species of birds that are not commonplace, it makes the bird guide pages all utilized.

Mr. D . has gone with me two to three times a year for the past 10 of 12 years. Some people believe Mr. D. to be my other half, I just say he is my brother. We both share the appreciation of a good wine but sometimes we differ on what we want with dinner at the end of the day.

After picking the apples , they have to be washed. Mr. D . engineered a contraption that made it easier and allowed the water to drain after the wash.

In the rural areas of B.C. there are Government liquor stores scattered about. however the selection can leave something to be desired. Mr. D. had sampled this wine: " Angus" 'The Bull'. It is a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the Southeastern region of Australia. This wine was designed to accompany red meats. However, apples and pears were in larger numbers and hence pork was the meal paired. This wine had intense purple hues which promised a fruity characteristic. We found this to be of a medium body and firm tannins with some nuances of cedar. Not exactly a perfect pairing - but the wine tasted better by itself .

The next night, we tried a bottle of Red Rooster Bantam. This wine is already on The List and it is a blend of four grapes: Muller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer. That is a mouthful for names. Muller-Thurgau is a cross of a Riesling and Sylvaner. Nonetheless, this little Bantam provided a light body with fruity aromas.

After the washing of the apples it is time to press. Mr. T . and son J. designed a nifty pressing apparatus. Up to 5 tons pressure. Beats a hand crank to press. The finished result is done after sterilizing the bottles and decanting. Voila ! Organic apple juice. Just one thing to remember. Drink it or freeze it because in a few days you could have hard apple jack instead of juice. Either way this makes for a great martini mix.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

To The Reef and Down Under

Bit of a full night here. We recently got the news that Skipper was moving back to VanCity from the Centre of the Universe - not that he's going to curl with us this year though. And GQ was going to be in town for the weekend. So we made plans to head out to The Drive for dinner.

I'd always seen The Reef and its Main Street location. Always thought it would be good to go, but never did make it. Now that a sister restaurant's been on The Drive for awhile, we figured it was finally time to pay a visit.

207. 2007 Castello di Gabbiano Pinot Gris (Venezie IGT - Italy)

Gabbiano winery is actually located in the Chianti region in Tuscany, but the grapes for this wine were sourced from three districts north of Venice - Trentino, Veneto & Fruili-Venezia-Giulia. This region is well-known as one of Italy's foremost cool climate regions and, therefore, the production of whites is much more prevalent than in the much warmer Tuscan sun.

This is a simple and drinkable white. I suppose it's the sort of wine that one should expect to find in a Caribbean restaurant that sells way more of their rum-based cocktails than they likely ever will of wine. It was hardly an extensive wine list. But then, I think our's might have been the only bottle on a table in the pretty much full restaurant. Not a lot a wine being sold here.

In fact, you can see that even we succumbed to the lure of the Reef Rum Punch that was on sale. But, it just goes to show the extent to which my dining habits are now driven by this blog. No way was I giving up another night out without a bottle to add to The List.

A much bigger disappointment than the limited wine list was the fact that the restaurant was out of one its signature dishes - the plantain fries. Turns out the plantain guy just didn't deliver that day. Bummer.

BTW, the accompanying pics aren't quite at the same level as most that I post. That's because it didn't dawn on me to bring along a camera and these were the first pictures that Boo tried taking from his new toy, his iPhone. We have a ways to go to master the phone I suppose.

208. 2006 ring-bolt Cabernet Sauvignon (Margaret River - Australia)

Following dinner at The Reef, we hightailed it back home to catch the Grand Final of the Aussie Rules football season. Skipper and GQ had ever seen a game before. So, it was time for a little proselytizing - not usually that hard of a sell given the steady action, short shorts and biceps.

Neither Boo, nor I, had much invested in the two teams playing. Our respective teams had long been left in the season's dust. But the game was featuring the number one and two teams from the regular season. And the game truly lived up to the "Grand" aspect of the game's moniker. It was a close game to the end - although I'm the only one of the four that made it to the end, seeing as how the game was live - Aussie time - and didn't finish up until well past midnight.

Oh yeah, there was a bottle of wine as well. Normally, I'm a huge fan of the Margaret River. But, this bottle just didn't fit the occasion. We needed an Aussie wine - given the nature of the game - but we probably would have been better served by one of the more fruit-driven shiraz that Oz is so well-known for. This wine is more refined and is better with food. The fact was we'd long finished off the goat curry and needed a little something that was a simple quaff - maybe even more like the Gabbiano.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Rushing in the New

Another long-term entry on my Fall calendar is Rush at the Deke House. Having spent my fair share of years on university campus, I found that the most complete way to enjoy all aspects of campus life - be it social, sport, charitable and even housing - was through the fraternity. And mine was, and still is, Delta Kappa Epsilon.

Fall isn't only the busiest time of year for vineyards and wineries, it is at the fraternity house as well. It's when the chapter opens its doors to prospective members and "rushes" all those interested in finding out what the house and Greek system is all about.

For a number of years, Tyrant has offered up his gem of a condo for a meet and greet with some of the prospective members. A mix of alumni, current or active members and the new "rushees," this evening allows the new guys to meet some of the old fraternity brothers and see how the Deke House can have a lasting event on lives and friendships.

I don't recall a whole lot of wine being drunk during my campus days. I'd have to say that beer was the overwhelming beverage of choice. But there was certainly wine to be had this evening. And despite my behaving - since it was a "school" night for me - I still managed to partake in three bottles while another oldie (but goodie), Desmond (as in TuTu), and I tried to regale the rushees with grand memories from years past. We certainly re-lived more than a couple of laughs that night, but those tales will have to wait for another time.

204. 2005 Pedro Pergolas Old Vines Tempranillo Crianza (Spain)

This was one of the active members' wines that were brought for the evening. No doubt the reasonable price tag of about $11 formed a large part in that decision. The wine itself is from the central part of Spain and tempranillo is the traditional varietal in the region. "Crianza" refers to the amount of ageing that the wine has received and Crianza is one of the most common designations. It means that it was seen a minimum of two years ageing, with at least six months of that time spent in oak. As nice as the price is, I don't see it becoming the house special at our place. The Deke House, maybe. But not quite mine.

Tyrant wasn't about to be left completely to the bargain necessities of cash-strapped university students though. Just like I found at the wedding reception of a couple posts ago, if you know the right part of the room, you just might find a wine that's a little more sophisticated.

205. 2007 ZumeK Sol Huarpe Malbec (Argentina)

Tyrant is seemingly all things Spanish nowadays. Argentina may not be quite continental Europe, but the locals at least habla espagnol. I didn't find out a whole lot about this producer or wine but the reference to "Huarpe" in the name is apparently a nod to the indigenous tribe in the area and "Sol" is nothing more than the sun - which is in good supply in the region. This is a 100% Malbec and I briefly read that the winery was started in 1995 as a boutique winery to try and capitalize on the ever-growing popularity of Malbec. This wine might require a bit of a special occasion for a student's budget at $22 - but at least that's hitting mid-range wine for Argentina.

206. 2004 Castell del Remei - Gotim Bru (Coster del Segre DO - Spain)

I found even less about this wine, other than you can find it for sale all over the internet. The closest I could find to a translation of the name "Gotim Bru" was that it could be Norwegian for Gotim Bridge. Go figure. A Norwegian name for a Spanish wine? And what does the bridge have to do with things? Who knows? This would be the toughest wine to hit a student's budget at $24, but it's still pretty reasonable for us graduates (the employed ones, that is).

The Gotim Bru is a blend of 50% Tempranillo, 20% Cab Sauv, 20% Merlot and 10% Garnacha (Grenache). Quite the interesting mix and it was my favourite for the night. Problem was that it was the third wine I tried for the night and not even I was willing to have my arm twisted for a second glass. Maybe on another occasion.

Not sure how long that night carried on for. But me, I had to rush off to bed.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

2009 Vancouver AIDS Walk

The Vancouver AIDS Walk has long been a regular fixture on my Fall calendar. For most of you reading this blog, where you already know me personally, you likely know that my little brother, Ron, died of AIDS many years back. In fact, it's hard to believe that it's been 15 years already. The Walk reminds me every year of just how devastating AIDS can be to those suffering and to their family and friends.

The Vancouver Walk may no longer have the cachet of one of the big, must attend, events for the gay community. It may not draw the crowds that it once did, when it seemed like a continuation of the night before at The Gandydancer or Odyssey - but the need for resources to fund services and research continues unabated.

I understand that the amount of funds raised was significantly down this year; however, I'd like to thank the many friends and colleagues that sponsored me this time around. We raised just under $3,000 - the largest amount that I've ever raised thus far.

As you can tell from the pictures, it was a gorgeous Fall day in VanCity and it would be impossible not to understand why tourists flock to the Seawall to walk, run and ride to see Vancouver scenery at its best.

Boo and Mr. D. weren't able to walk this year as they were out of town at Boo's mom's property, playing "farm boyz." But, luckily, Elzee was a more than willing companion. Following the big Walk, we re-traced our steps a bit and visited my brother's memorial bench - which is right on the Walk route, by Lost Lagoon at the entrance to Stanley Park. It seemed like a perfect occasion to pull a cork and lift a glass in Ronnie's memory.

Hence the reason I'm actually including this post in the blog.

203. 2006 Glaetzer Wallace (Barossa Valley - Australia)

Glaetzer is one of the more prominent names in Barossa winemaking. Father, Colin, has been in the business for over thirty years and was involved in the creation of one of the iconic Aussie bottles, E&E Black Pepper Shiraz. Son, Ben, is the new turk that took over the family winery and is known for his big, Barossa reds.

Wallace is a Shiraz/Grenache blend (70/30), made of grapes sourced from the well-known Ebenezer sub-region.

The smart looking label is a combination of the Celtic cross, thistle and Celtic knot pattern and celebrates the Wallace heritage of Ben's mother.

I think it's fair to say that "big" is an operative word for describing the wine as well - at least in this setting. Elzee and I both thought that, as nice as the wine was, it was hardly an afternoon sipper on a sunny day. We need to come back to another bottle on a rainy evening with a big rack of lamb on the barbee. And we no doubt will.

Cheers Ron.
PS. The port-a-pottie isn't normally one of the more notable features on view from the bench.