Sunday, January 31, 2010

Washington Road Trip

As you might have gathered from our little Odyssey thus far, I don't tend to drink a lot of American wine. It's not that I don't like it. It's just that I find the tax structure up here in BC does its very best to increase the price of wines in general - and imports in particular - and, when you combine that with a normally strong US dollar, there's just not a lot of incentive to buy US wines. The ones that I tend to see up here are either pretty generic or they cost an arm and a leg.

So, we try to take advantage of any chances that we get to try out and buy some wines whenever we venture South of the 49th parallel. Since I was heading down to Seattle for a big Saturday night shindig, I took off Friday afternoon so that I could fit in the 48 hours that I needed to spend in the States in order to be able to bring the whopping allocation of TWO whole bottles of wine tax-free.

As an alternative to spending both nights in Seattle, I joined up with my Dad at his and Mom's vacation trailer at Black Mountain Ranch by Mount Baker. I'm quite positive that I can count the number of times I've been there on the fingers of one hand, but it provided an opportunity to spend a bit of time with Dad and the chance to visit a Costco that actually sells wine. Crazy stuff for this Canadian boy.

After loading up on a case or so that I could leave at Mom & Dad's for their eventual repatriation to my place, Dad and I headed back to the trailer and cracked open the first bottle.

337. 2006 Tamarack Cellars Syrah (Columbia Valley - Washington State)

I was a little disappointed - not in the wine - but in the fact that I couldn't find out much about Tamarack Cellars. The same little snippet of information seems to show up on all the websites I happened upon. It's a family run winery that's been in existence since 1998 and it produces about 11,000 cases of wine from grapes sourced from varying Washington appellations in the Columbia Valley.

I don't know enough about the Washington designations but I believe Tamarack buys grapes from vineyards across about seven sub-appellations in the Columbia Valley - probably much like how BC's Okanagan Valley is starting to see individual areas like the Naramata Bench, Black Sage Road and Golden Mile appear and try to differentiate themselves. There was no individual designation on this bottle but a list of wines on the winery's website shows that they appear to produce wines that are more regionalized than just the Columbia Valley. Those wines likely don't make it to Costco.

I liked the Syrah though. I did see one reference that said the wine saw a 7% infusion of Cab Sauv, but the wine was certainly on the New World side of the stage - lots of upfront fruit and body. And someone else must like the wines because Tamarack's website prominently shows that it was voted 2009's Winery of the Year by Wine & Spirits magazine.

The bottle was $25 at Costco, but my guess is that it would hit you well over $40 if you could find it back in BC. Hopefully, I'll get some chance to pop some more American corks during this short stay - but Dad & I left it at one for this night.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stone Boats in the Fog

336. 2007 Stoneboat Nebbia (Okanagan Valley)

Stoneboat Vineyards is yet another of the relatively new wineries that have appeared in the BC firmament over the last so many years. A family owned and run operation, the Martiniuk's started their sojourn on the Black Sage Road as fruit growers. Father, Lanny, garnered a fine reputation for both fruit and the propagation of vines in the Okanagan - particularly for some uncommon varietals that were planted for trial purposes.

In 2005, they expanded their efforts beyond just the vineyard and offered up their first vintage of wines. Despite Martiniuk's exposure to a full expanse of varietals, he focused his own vineyards on the Pinot family of grapes as he found they were best suited to the family's property. Nebbia is a white blend where the backbone of the wine is Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc but it was the Martiniuk's way of showcasing some of the old vine Gemanic varietals that had been planted many years back. So, you'll also find the more uncommon but highly aromatic profile of Kerner, Schonburger, and Muller Thurgau in the wine.

What you likely won't find is more Nebbia on the shelves of your local wine shop. It appears that the family grew tired of explaining the story behind the name of the wine. "Nebbia" is Italian for "fog" and, in the Fall, the Stoneboat vineyards experience a mist that drifts up into their old vines vineyard from the neighbouring Okanagan River. As of the 2008 vintage, the wine has been re-branded as Chorus.

I partially grabbed the bottle because the addition of the Kerner and Schonberger would give me another two varietals to add to my Wine Century Club efforts. But, for our first try of a Stoneboat wine, both Boo and I were pleasantly surprised. I'm finding that these Pinot/Germanic blends are nice fits with curries and soups with a bit of spice.

I think we'll see a bit more of the Stoneboat.

Tinhorn Creek Vertical

Hot on the heels of the Blue Mountain and Friends event, Boo and I joined up with the BC Wine Appreciation Society and their special Tinhorn Creek tasting. I think this is the first time that BCWAS has hosted such an ambitious vertical tasting. Sandra Oldfield and a few members of her team at Tinhorn Creek came down from their Golden Mile Road winery to walk us through a vertical tasting of every vintage of Cabernet Franc that they've produced since the initial bottling in 1996 - except for the 2008 and 2009 vintages which haven't been bottled yet.

Twelve wines is a fair bit to talk about but Sandra is an engaging speaker and can keep an audience captivated with interesting and witty stories - just ask her how she came to call the 1999 Cab Franc her "Jesus" wine. She's also a font of knowledge on Okanagan wine and what's happening up there.

Although Tinhorn made its early reputation with its Merlot, Sandra has been trying to sell Cab Franc as an exciting varietal - on its own - for BC for years now and she's admitted that she wondered if the wine drinking public would ever reach the same conclusion. She admitted that, throughout the years 1999 to 2005, they had monthly meetings where they battled with the logic of tearing out all their Cab Franc vines and replacing them with more popular varietals. Their persistence seems to have paid off now as the wine is proving to be a favourite at the winery's shop.

Although Cab Franc is one of the varietals that go into Bordeaux or Meritage wines, it is often cast as the poor cousin to the more robust Cab Sauv or approachable Merlot. When the Oldfields arrived in the Okanagan, just after finishing their respective Masters degrees at UC Davis, they bucked the prevailing trend of planting the most marketable vinifera vines and planted Cab Franc instead of Cab Sauv. The former ripens a bit earlier than the Cab Sauv and the Oldfieds were concerned that - even in the Southern Okanagan Valley - it can be touch and go whether the big reds will fully ripen.

There's still no guarantee that the Cab Franc will fully ripen. It is generally the last varietal picked at Tinhorn, but Sandra takes the position that the Franc is often the star in BC Meritage wines.

Sandra told us that this was the first time they'd ever done such an extensive Cab Franc varietal tasting and she was frank enough (pun intended) to say that some of the bottles were past their prime. She also provided us with a chart that compared certain aspects of the wine's production over the years. I found it interesting to see how harvest dates, tonnage per acre and bottles produced varied so much from year to year.

One thing that changed little over those twelve years though was the price. Sandra was proud to point out that - despite some of the perceptible increases in prices for BC wines lately - their Franc originally sold for $16.95 in 1996 and the 2007 vintage still sells for $17.99. An increase of $1.00 over twelve years. Talk about being consumer friendly.

I make no pretence to have a palate sophisticated enough to discern all the nuanced differences from year to year, but I do think that I would have appreciated the wines more than I did if we'd been drinking them along with dinner. I think Cab Franc, as a varietal wine, is more of a food wine than a cocktail sipper. On the whole, I enjoyed the latter vintages and, in the setting at hand, would probably reach first for the 2004. It seem a little more full bodied with discernable fruit.

Two nights of wine in a row where I haven't been able to add a bottle to The List. Can't say that evenings like this will get me to 2001 bottles any time soon; however, I think I can certainly forego a bottle or two for interesting tastings like this Tinhorn Creek and Blue Mountain's though.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Blue Mountain & Friends

Following a hiatus of a couple years, Boo and I were thrilled to be able to attend Blue Mountain and Friends - a fundraising event that, after two years, was back to celebrate Blue Mountain's current releases and to help raise over $13,000 for the BC Children's Hospital Foundation.

The evening sees the winery's ten wines each matched with a dish that one of Vancouver's top chefs has prepared to pair with "their" wine. Even though we thoroughly enjoyed both the variety of dishes and the wines, there are always standouts - and, for us, it probably came down to the "I Love Pig" Charcuterie presented by DB Bisto Moderne that was paired with the 2008 Gamay Noir, YEW Restaurant + Bar's Parmesan-truffle Crusted Rack of Lamb with the 2006 Striped Label Pinot Noir or the Seafood Salad served in a Scallop Shell that was served up by Provence Marinaside and matched with the Brut Gold Label.

If I were just picking the wines alone though, I think I'd have to reach first for the 2005 Brut Rose, the Striped Label Pinot or, surprisingly(?) the 2008 Pinot Blanc. Boo preferred the Alsatian Pinot Blanc from last night, but I really enjoyed the Blue Mountain.

We had more than a couple of laughs when we bumped into the CBC Radio One's effervescent Fred Lee who was in his full-on, irrepressible gad-fly about town mode. That boy is a party on his own and I can see why folks jostle to be his plus-one for the evening.

Considering how difficult it can be to see any of Blue Mountain's wines in local wine shops, it was a marvelous way to taste everything that the winery is serving up nowadays. Too bad we didn't actually get the chance to down a whole bottle. I would have dearly liked to add another bottle to The List, but it wasn't meant to happen tonight.

I was rather surprised to see that we hadn't taken many pictures that night and was even more surprised when I didn't see a single glass or bottle of wine in any of the shots.

You'll just have to believe me that there was plenty of wine flowing. You can also believe that I'll be talking more Blue Mountain down the road as well. I'm really going to have to put my mind to getting a bottle of that Brut Rose. Blue Mountain's wines, in general, can be hard enough to find, but the Rose has the smallest production of any of their wines. Makes me want it even more.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening. Hopefully, it will be back next year and we'll be able to make it. I might even try to figure out a way to justify adding a bottle to The List.

A Pinot Blanc Comparison

335. 2006 Hugel & Fils "Hugel" Pinot Blanc (Alsace AOC - France)

This post was meant to be one of those down & dirty, let's get it over and done with, speed entries. Problem is that Hugel & Fils have one of the most comprehensive winery websites that I've seen and there's plenty of interesting information that I could pass on. I'm still going to try and keep it short though because you can always go and visit the site if any of this piques your interest.

We don't drink a lot of Alsatian wines in our household even though we usually enjoy them. That could be because there aren't an awful lot of them sold in the provincial stores. That might be changing somewhat though as the region has seen big and steady changes to its winemaking throughout the 20th century. Thinking further about it, the most likely reason for that is that 80% of all wine produced in the Alsace is white and the traditional varietals grown there largely correspond to some of the best grapes to be found in our BC wines.

Indeed, I grabbed this bottle as a comparison to some of the BC Pinot Blancs that we've tried. I've mentioned previously that it's been argued, by as notable a source as Barb Phillips - BC own Wine Master, that Pinot Blanc could be the grape to put BC winemaking on the map from a global perspective. I won't go into that much more now, but Alsace is one of the few other global regions that produces Pinot Blanc on a large scale, varietal basis.

Pinot Blanc still isn't really seen as one of the star attractions on the white varietal scene. So,we often find BC Pinot Blanc wines blended with other varietals. An Alsatian Pinot Blanc is required by law, however, to be 100% straight varietal wine. That may be why this wine seemed to have a bit more acidity and a little less fruit than I often see with those BC wines. If the BC Pinot Blanc is blended, the additional grapes could flesh out the wine and make it seem a little fuller on the palate.

I digress.

The Hugel site calls this Pinot Blanc an "all purpose dry white wine" and it certainly worked for us. The Hugel brand is more of an entry level for the winery; but, entry level or not, the wine comes in at $20 and that's not exactly bargain pricing for Pinot Blanc in our market.

The wine is made exclusively from grapes that are purchased from long term, contract growers. While Hugel & Fils has their own vineyards, those grapes are used for the winery's higher end labels. The family has had a lot of time to make those contacts with growers and to hone their production as the family's wine roots in Alsace go back to 1639.

I also found it interesting that, as an indication of its prominence in the wine world, Hugel & Fils was elected to the "Primum Familiae Vini" - an association of top family owned wine companies in major world wine producing regions. The wineries forming the group are chosen by their peers and the membership is limited to no more than twelve wineries at any one time - and that's for the entire world. Pretty high praise.

My guess is that we'll see Hugel on The List again before we're done here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pacific Rim Curling Bonspiel

This is going to be one of those entries that has more to do with the event and the people than it will about the wine. But a bottle for The List is a bottle for The List.

I don't think too many folks associate curling with wine. Beer, yes - and lots of it. But it's not that often that I'd expect to sip on a Chardonnay after eight ends of rocks have been thrown. But this wasn't exactly an ordinary game.

Come to think of it, my guess is that a weekend of curling is hardly one of the initial associations one makes with a couple hundred gay men. Having signed up for a spare, "throw together" team in the annual Pac Rim Bonspiel, I was spending the pretty much the whole weekend at the curling rink and this boy no longer lives on beer alone.

Despite the fact that the new Olympic curling "stadium" is immediately next door to our old rink, I can't say that we were playing Games calibre curling. Our team ended up 1 and 2 over the weekend, but we weren't blown out in either of our two losses. Our post-game escapades were more medal-worthy however.

We played our first game on Friday night, so we didn't stick around for but one beer that evening. We were finished up by 7pm on Saturday though, so I picked up one of the bottles that were available at the bar and settled in to watch part of the next round of games.

333. 2008 Concha Y Toro Frontera Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot (Central Valley - Chile)

It won't come as any surprise that this is just a simple, easy drinking, entry level wine. Even with the club mark-up, it was still only $15. But, it certainly disappeared soon enough from the glass. And it helped set a receptive mood - at least on my part - for the evening's floor show.

The highlight of the evening's festivities saw three of bonspiel's teams nervous and surprised as they were "randomly" picked to participate - for the first time ever - in a little competition called "Drag in a Bag." Each team had to nominate one of their members to transform themselves into ravishing beauties, using the shopping bag of accoutrements that each team was lovingly presented by the one and only Bill Munroe.

Good thing each of the guys was a great sport because the laughs were full and plentiful - and not just because of the wine. What they didn't know as they got dolled up was that each contestant would also have to bring out her inner diva and channel Shania, Diana or Beyonce and perform a musical number that they randomly picked out of a hat.

All three of them could have full - and maybe even successful - drag queen careers ahead of them. Despite the fact that she might have needed a bit of a shave, the ravishing beauty in blue and her sassy rendition of Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) wowed everyone and was a clear favourite with the crowd. I didn't see her sporting her crown during Sunday's games though.

Full kudos to all three of our impromptu queens and to the organizers. There were many glasses raised to them and I'm sure they all needed more than one glass of wine after the performances.

334. 2008 Wild Horse Canyon Shiraz (Cellared in Canada)

Our team didn't quite make it to any of the finals, but I was still ready for another drink at the post-bonspiel banquet. Like last night at the curling club, tonight's wine was another entry level bottle but I did find out a few things that I didn't know about the wine behind the label. Artisan Wine produces the Wild Horse Canyon label (as well as the Rigamarole wines found earlier on The List) and it is an offshoot of Mission Hill.

They've found an interesting way to address the whole "cellared in Canada" issue - where the wines are assembled and cellared in Canada but the bulk of the grapes and wine can be sourced from any region in the world. Wild Horse has fashioned a "West Coast Appellation" that consists of grapes sourced from BC, Washington state and California. I couldn't find a breakdown of the percentages from each region, but my guess would be that this wine is primarily from California as BC and Washington Shiraz grapes tend to be on the expensive side and this wine is still sold in BC at $13. In fact, it is apparently the third best selling brand, in the $10-$13 category, in BC after Australia's Lindemans and that other little Aussie wine [yellow tail].

It might not have been as fruity as last night's impromptu drag show, but some might see that as a good thing. For $13, I can see some value there though. It won't be a regular purchase of mine but I wouldn't go out of my way to avoid it either.

It had been a number of years since I'd participated in the bonspiel. Having had as much fun as I did, I'll hope to be able to fit it in next year as well. Maybe if we can manage a second win in 2011, we'll add even more bottles to The List in celebration. Bargain wine or not though, I think I'll do my best to avoid being volunteered for the 2nd annual Drag in a Bag pageant should they have it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Curling Cocktails

Lately, it seems like we've been opening a number of bottles and adding them to The List thanks to invites to the Tyrant's. I'm sure that there must be incredible prestige (tee hee) when anyone finds themselves mentioned in this blog, but I don't think that Tyrant is making a conscious effort to score the biggest number of "Drinking Buddy" points. I'll have to do a tally of just who we sip wine with and see who our "luscious" (sic, and pun intended) friends are.

Far be it from me to turn down an invite for another evening of wine and friends - particularly when I've mentioned that Tyrant is the commensurate host. Tonight's soiree was being held in honour of some of Tyrant's friends who had flown in from Toronto for our club's big curling bonspiel on the weekend. Tyrant took advantage of the opportunity to also invite the team that he was going to play with and our regular team members.

The intent was to have a couple of glasses of wine and then maybe move on for dinner, but Tyrant had enough food to feed five or six teams, let alone our two and a half. We just nibbled and noshed our way until dinner was no longer necessary.

As always the wine was varied:

330. 2006 Grao Vasco Red (Dao DOC - Portugal)

Still red wines from Portugal aren't always that easy to find in Vancouver, although we're tending to see a larger choice of wines with each passing year. Unlike many of the wines showing up on our shelves that are higher end (and higher priced), this bottle is entry level priced at $10. I suppose that, with such a bargain price, it shouldn't be too surprising that this winery is operated as part of the Sogrape group which is the largest wine producer is Portugal.

The wine is a blend of the varietals most common to the Dao region. They might be common there but I dare say that few folks, in our neck of the woods, have heard of Jaen, Alfrocherio, Tinta Pinheira, Touriga Nacional or Tinta Roriz. The taste profile isn't your basic Merlot either. However, it is a decent way to introduce one's self to some different varietals and areas.

331. 2007 Ganton & Larson Prospect Winery Haynes Barn Merlot/Cabernet (VQA Okanagan Valley)

It was interesting that the boys from Ontario picked out this wine to bring to the table. Ganton & Larson Prospect is a fairly new label on the BC wine scene. People see it around but they don't seem to know much about it. Chances are, the story will become a bit more commonly known. G&L is actually a mid-range offshoot of Mission Hill. As I understand it, the flagship winery is going to limit its brand to its higher end wines - Oculus, Perpetua, Compendium and some of their select lot wines. G&L is one of the separate brands that is being positioned to take over from Mission Hill's Five Vineyards level.

Each of the G&L wines is named after a historical place, figure, animal or item from the Okanagan. Haynes Barn is a landmark building on a former homestead of a prominent landowner and cattle rancher in the Oliver area. Each label also features a piece of art, by a local artist, commemorating the label's namesake.

332. 2006 Bodegas La Milagrosa Milcampos Tempranillo (Ribera del Duero DO)

Tyrant proffered yet another reasonably priced Spanish wine that truly did deliver. I think this was my favourite wine of the evening and a full varietal Tempranillo isn't often the first bottle that I'd reach for.

The wine is produced in the Ribera del Duero region which is located on Spain's northern plateau. The primary red grape is the Tempranillo and the area is becoming more and more of a showcase area for Spanish wines - after Rioja and Priorat. It had plenty of body, fruit and, at $18, it was well worth the price.

There were more bottles opened during the course of the evening but I limited my partaking to these three. It was a work night after all and I didn't want to be at a disadvantage come our first game the next day. After all, I have a slight suspicion that the evening was a bit of a veiled attempt to try and sabotage the Toronto team by ensuring that they wouldn't be at their best. Ply 'em with wine and hope that a hangover inhibits their collective delivery of the rocks. I suppose anything goes with these East/West rivalries.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Wine Olympics (Guerilla, that is)

They might have been flying in the face of VANOC marketing guidelines, but Vancouver wine history was made the other night when four of the local wine societies got together to host the Vancouver Wine Olympics. Knowing how VANOC (the Olympic Organizing Committee) doesn't take so kindly to the unauthorized use of the "O" word, we all had to be sworn to secrecy and silence during the course of the evening. No one wanted to be shut down for guerilla marketing before we'd even had the chance to sample the wines.

I'm not exactly sure that the local populace has been ecstatic in its embrace of the Games. For the longest time, you'd be hard-pressed to think that the upcoming Winter Olympics were going to create any excitement in VanCity at all. However, that didn't stop the members of the BC, Australia, American and French wine societies from jumping at the chance to buy the less than 100 tickets available for this special tasting.

The concept was that each of the four societies would chose three red wines - all had to be currently available in town and had to cost less than $40. All wines would then be served up blind to a cross mixture of all four societies and ranked. The top three wines (and their respective society) - as chosen by the participants - would be awarded gold, silver and bronze medals.

Each society was only allotted 22 tickets and all of them were sold out within a day. So no one group had an advantage in numbers and no one in attendance knew which wines were which when they were poured.

After some time for tasting and table discussion, everyone was asked to rank the 12 wines from 1 - 12 (or at least 1 - 10, with three 10's). It was very evident at our table that there were some wines that were clearly enjoyed and others that met with some rather nasty reactions.

I was actually surprised a bit by the fact that I wasn't more blown away by the wines in general. At $40 a bottle, I thought that each of the societies could have come up with some rockin' wines. There were definitely some that I thoroughly enjoyed, but some of them just didn't seem to live up to the occasion.

I do have to admit that, secretly, I was praying that the BC wines didn't finish dead last as a group.

Once the tasting was done and the scores were tallied, there was one big surprise (cum embarrassment?) when, in our own little "Bottleshock" moment, the "bottom" three wines were all presented by the French society. Either they chose wines that matched up much better with food or the wines being imported from France don't really match the Vancouver palate - particularly when you see that they presented a Bordeaux, a St. Chinian and a Rhone as their wines, which would normally right up my alley (or palate).

The top three wines were evenly split between the three remaining societies. Australia took the gold, the US (read California) took silver and the BC home team took bronze.

Those three wines were:

Gold - 2007 St. Halletts Blackwell Shiraz

Silver - 2006 Starmont Merryvale Napa Cabernet Suvignon

Bronze - 2007 Seven Stones Similkameen Meritage

We were told that the Blackwell was a clear winner - by 140 votes - while numbers two, three, four and five were only separated by 7 votes - pretty much a dead heat amongst 88+ voters.

For interest sake, I'll note that the Blackwell was my first choice but Boo's 7th. Whereas we both ranked the Starmont Merrydale as our second picks. Both of us also pegged the number 4 overall wine, the 2006 Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Ridge Shiraz (Australia) as our third fave.

Boo's overall fave didn't fare so well. He picked the 2007 Margaret River Ringbolt Cab Sauv whereas the group ranked it as ninth overall. He only ranked the Blackwell as his 7th pick.

All in all, I think it was a fun evening. I hope they try another tasting - maybe with white wines. The unfortunate part about it is that I don't get to add a bottle to The List since it was only a tasting. I know that I will be grabbing a couple of these bottles down the road.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Snow Day - Wine Blog Wednesday #65

The other week, while surfing the net for tasty bits of info for the blog, I ran across a reference to "Wine Blogging Wednesday" (or "WBW" for short). Now, I vaguely recall having seen such a reference once or twice previously but I never followed up on what it was all about. This time, I took a couple extra minutes to check out the concept.

Having been conceived over five years ago by a New York blogger, Lenn Thompson, as a monthly, virtual event, it's simple enough. As this month's host - Michelle of blog "My Wine Education" at - has recapped, "people interested in wine, the world over, would coalesce each month around a single theme." Everyone submits their postings or e-mail comments to the coordinator, which are then coordinated and shared. This month is WBW#65 and it's hard to believe that it took me so long to discover it.

Michelle is starting off the new decade with the theme of "Snow Day!" Being a home grown Canuck in the True North Strong and Free, you'd think that this theme would be a natural, a no-brainer, a slam-dunk so to speak. Guess we'll see.

In a way, I hate to fall back on such a cultural cliche but, being Canadian, how can I not just go with the GREAT WHITE NORTH. I'm just going to put aside my curling broom for the moment (which I really do have) and sit myself down to ponder snow and wine.

Ironically, out here in Vancouver, the headlines for the past week have been the LACK of snow. Perhaps the "Great WET North" is the more appropriate moniker for our town nowadays. The big news has been whether organizers will be able to keep enough of the accumulated base on the local hills to successfully host the Winter Olympics next month. Other than for one or two days at Christmas, it's not too often that, as a city, we find ourselves collectively hoping for colder weather and for the white stuff to fall. Over the next couple of weeks though, there might be the odd snow dance being performed around here.

It's a good thing that we had a cold November and there was a good build up of a snow base in the mountains, because I was actually driving around this weekend past
with the top down on the car. Compare that to these shots of last year's winter when, at times, we had more snow than anyone could remember.

But, this is a wine blog - not a weather report - so let's get to it and add another bottle to The List (since that's what I do here) and do a little deconstruction of the phrase "Great White North."

339. 2005 Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Sparkling Riesling Icewine (VQA OkanaganValley)

There are a number of reasons I chose this wine - least of which is that it only seems fitting to feature a bottle of icewine for a wintery topic like snow.

To start, the "North" component of this posting is rather self-evident. How could I do anything but head North of the Canada/U.S. border and the 49th parallel? Done.

"Great" might be a little more subjective, but it certainly doesn't hurt that the production of icewine may still be seen as Canada's biggest strength on the international wine stage. I also figured that Jackson-Triggs would be an appropriate choice. While some might balk at describing J-T as a "Great" winery, it is certainly one of the few Canadian wineries to consistently garner attention both nationally and internationally. It has been named "Best Canadian winery" 19 times in competitions over the last nine years. The fact that Jackson-Triggs is a corporate sponsor of the upcoming Winter Olympics also seemed fitting.

To capture the essence of "White," I'm going with perhaps my favourite white varietal - Riesling. I've blogged previously about one of Vancouver's best known wine commentators, Mark Davidson, and paraphrased his well-worked statement that he tells his students: "By the end of this course, you will come to understand and appreciate Riesling. If you don't, you will not only fail this course - but in life as well."

There you have it, - Great - White - and, North - all encompassed in a single bottle (and a half-bottle at that). But what hopeful expectations for a bottle!

Icewine, in itself, is rare enough, but a sparkling icewine is that much rarer of a bird - much like a snowy day in L.A. or Sydney. I didn't see how much wine was produced with this vintage, but it isn't produced every year and there were only 101 cases of the most recent vintage in 2007.

In 2005, the grapes were harvested on December 7 while the temperature was a balmy -11 C degrees. That's 12 F degrees for the Americans amongst us. The grapes were then pressed immediately upon arrival at the winery to prevent any of the water in the grapes from thawing. Following an initial fermentation, the juice was re-inoculated with yeast for a secondary fermentation in a sealed, stainless cuvee-close.

To be honest though, I'm not so sure where the "sparkle" was in the icewine. If the bottle hadn't told us that this was a "sparkling" wine, I doubt that I would have noticed much of a difference from a more standard icewine. I will say that there was a very slight effervescence in the mouth-feel which might have lightened up the unctuousness I often find with an icewine, but there was certainly no mousse along the lines of a Champagne or even a Cava - which is more what I had hoped for.

I wouldn't exactly call the marketing a snow-job - the wine had a deep, golden hue and a rich, full body that screamed honey and ripe tree fruit and a finish that lasted forever. There was also just enough acidity to counterpoint the sweetness. It's just that, when I reach for sparkling, I'm big on bubbles going crazy in my mouth and that wasn't happening here - although I think the idea of it still intrigues me.

All the same, the wine was hardly out of place with the creme brulee we matched it to and I can just imagine tasting it along with some foie gras. When it comes in at $60 a half-bottle, however, this is definitely a special occasion wine - at least for this household. Then again, what could be more special than a very first posting for Wine Blogging Wednesday? I'm thinking I'll have a few most WBW postings under my belt though before we head back to the sparkling icewine though.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Osborne Solaz

This is one of those wines that we knew nothing about when we ordered it at a restaurant. We were grabbing a quick bite to eat with Mr. D. before hitting a movie and the wine was reasonably priced and sounded interesting. I'm not familiar with this sort of a blend. I don't if it's becoming more common or has been so all along.

We never expected it to be out of this world - after all, under $30 in a Vancouver restaurant doesn't get you too much. It turns out, however, that it's a nice little burger wine, but, more than that, there was a whole lot of interesting story behind the winery.

328. 2006 Osborne Solaz Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon (Tierra de Castilla - Spain)

In this case, it's not the wine that offers up the story but, rather, it's the history behind the winery, the label and its marketing history. Grupo Osborne has been producing wines in Spain for over 200 years and is best known for its sherries and brandy. But the real story, for me, was the tale of the Osborne bull.

The company started placing the bull on their labels in 1956 and, as part of their marketing plan, they placed large "bullboards" along the Spanish roadways. The first bull was erected in 1957 and there were over 500 in place by 1964. The bulls eventually evolved into metal structures, 40 feet in height, and it almost became a local right of passage for the young to climb a bull, while others decorated the bulls or painted them.

In 1988, however, the Spanish government passed a law to forbid advertising that was visible from the public highways. As decrees to remove the bullboards were being made and enforced, a movement that crossed all aspects of the cultural spectrum started to try and "Save the Bull."

By this time, the bull had become almost synonymous with Spain. Spanish flags emblazoned with the bull are stalwarts at football (soccer) games, t-shirts are found everywhere, as are stickers, keyrings and the like. In 1997, the movement saw the Spanish Supreme Court declare that the Osborne Bull had become part of the Spanish landscape and order that it could remain.

There are currently 90 Bulls still found in Spain and the bull is arguably the best known trademark in the country.

As for the wine, we were in no hurry to finish it off and we lost track of time a tad and ended up missing the movie that we were intending to see. We arrived at the theatre about five minutes prior to the start and it was sold out. So, rather than wait three hours until the second show or just pick another movie, we decided to just walk Mr. D home and make a little stop in at Marquis Wine Cellar. They didn't carry the Solaz but that didn't stop us from buying another couple of Spanish wines that will eventually end up on The List as well.

Sandhill - 2009 Canadian Winery of the Year

Howard Soon and Sandhill winery recently pulled off what has to be seen as a stunning coup in the Canadian wine industry. Sandhill was not only named the top winery in Canada at the Canadian Wine Awards, but Howard and crew took home the trophies for overall Top Red Wine and overall Top White Wine - not an easy feat considering the tasting panel works their way through over a thousand wines in reaching their choices for awards.

I've made a number of stops at Sandhill previously on this little Wine Odyssey that we've got going here - and I think I've made it clear that Sandhill is one of my local favourites - so I won't go into any real recap of what Mr. Soon and the winery's focus and objectives are. Syrah is definitely one of their strongpoints when it comes to filling my wineglass however.

327. 2006 Sandhill Small Lots Phantom Creek Vineyard Syrah (VQA Okanagan Valley)

It was the 2007 Small Lots Syrah that won the Red Wine of the Year trophy that I mentioned earlier, so I figured it would be a treat to open one of the 2006 bottles since I had a couple handy. It might not have been Red Wine of the Year, but it still won a silver medal at the 2008 Canadian Wine Awards (that year it was Jackson-Triggs that took the gold).

The Small Lots designation is fairly self-explanatory. It is the winery's experimental program where grapes may be sourced from specific blocks in the vineyard or it might be a look at new varietals that the winery feels may have potential or it might simply be that a single barrel or two stand out from all the others in the cellar and Mr. Soon feels that their unique quality merits separate bottling. In any event, there are never a lot of bottles available - as can be seen with this wine, there were only 403 cases of the Small Lots Syrah produced from 2006.

John Schreiner wrote that the spring rains in 2006 were plentiful and encouraged a big fruit set for Sandhill's Syrah plantings. Seeing that Syrah is a naturally vigorous varietal, veteran grower and owner of the Phantom Creek vineyard, Richard Cleave, found it necessary to green harvest (or cut back) 40% of the unripened grapes in order to avoid an overproduction that would result in a less intense wine.

It's debatable whether I'd go so far as to join in with one veteran wine scribe who wrote "there is a vivacious sweetness to the flavours that is downright sexy." However, there was no problem in finishing off this bottle quickly. I'll look forward to trying out the 2007 in due course.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Langmeil 3 Gardens

It didn't take that long to head back for another bottle of Langmeil. I guess I just enjoyed the Grenache so much on New Year's Eve that it was worth reaching for another bottle from these guys.

326. 2002 Langmeil Three Gardens (Barossa - Australia)

Most of the Langmeil that we have on hand is the Valley Floor Shiraz but I'd picked up this Three Gardens some time ago to give one of the winery's other products a try. This "traditional" Rhone blend isn't generally made for its aging potential (like some of their bigger Shiraz's and Cabs), but we've had this bottle for some years now and it lasted just fine for us.

The back labels tells a brief story about the old Barossa vignerons calling their vineyard the "Garden" and the grapes for this wine is sourced from three of the winery's vineyards in the region. Hence the name.

The blend was 46% Shiraz, 44% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre. Aussie winemakers can often been found making such a blend and, depending on the percentages, will call their wine a GSM, an SGM or whatever combination is applicable. Although I don't think you'd normally see a wine sold over here as an MSG - unless the winery just decides not to use the abbreviation in its marketing.

Considering that the Shiraz grapes used are those that would otherwise be headed for our beloved Valley Floor, I guess it should be no surprise that we enjoyed this bottle as much as we did. Balance, structure and fruit forward. If that's the kind of wine you like, you could well like Langmeil as much as I do.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Villa Antinori & The Super Tuscans

Mr. D. was over in the afternoon as Boo and he putzed around, so we twisted his arm to stay for dinner and catch a movie. Unfortunately for him, nothing too special - just frozen lasagna and a cheese plate. I was supposed to pick up the salad home on the way home from work, but I guess I was in such a hurry to open another bottle that I forgot.

As for the movie, much to Boo's dismay, Mr. D. picked Harry Potter over the new Star Trek DVD. I don't think Boo will ever understand how anyone could choose anything other than Star Trek, but I guess it CAN happen.

Whether tonight's wine is magical enough to channel Dumbledore is questionable, but there certainly is a bit of a tale to go with it.

325. 2005 Villa Antinori Toscana (IGT Toscana - Italy)

There have been a couple of Super Tuscans to make The List already but I haven't really made any reference to the story behind the wine. Seeing as how Antinori was one of the innovators that basically forced the Italian wine industry to re-invent their appellation system, maybe this is a good time to do so.

A bit of history first, the Antinori family has been in the winemaking profession for 26 generations, dating back to 1385 when Giovanni di Piero Antinori registered with the Florentine Guild of Winemakers. They established a history of a wine family and empire that grew to include some of the most prestigious estates in Tuscany - and they have since expanded into Piedmont, Southern Italy and even California.

As for the Super Tuscan, it is basically a wine of Tuscan origin that features grapes that are not indigenous to Tuscany and would not, therefore, qualify, under Tuscan DOC standards, in the production of Chianti - Tuscany's most famous wine. Those international grapes - primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah/Shiraz - were used by innovative Tuscan winemakers to blend with the traditional Sangiovese grape to make, what they felt was, a more rounded and flavourful wine. The Italian wine industry had to respond when these Super Tuscans, despite being labelled as Vino di Tavola or table wine, created more buzz and started to sell for values far in excess of the sanctioned Chiantis.

By creating a whole new category of IGT wines (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) or wines that are typical of a specific region, the new designation allowed these, often premium, wines to be sold under a more appropriate quality level. The Super Tuscans still don't qualify as Chianti, but at least the wine industry didn't have to deal with table wines being sold for over $100 a bottle.

Antinori was in the forefront of the development of the Super Tuscan. They started blending Bourdeaux varietals into their Chiantis back in 1924. They currently produce two of the biggest names in the category - Tignanello and Solaia. Arguably, it was the international interest in the 1971 Tig that forced the Italian wine industry to introduce the far-reaching changes in their rules that resulted in the IGT designation.

This Toscana isn't meant to be spoken of in the same company of Tignanello and Solaia, but it is indicative of how the Super Tuscan concept is now found at all levels of the Tuscan wine scene. The 2005 is a representative blend found in a couple vintages of this wine - 55% Sangiovese, 25% Cab Sauv, 15% Merlot and 5% Syrah - and the Villa Antinori wines are all estate-grown and vinified.

Not being a regular drinker of or a huge fan of Chianti, I can appreciate how the blending of the additional grapes fills out the often lighter flavour profile of Sangiovese. I'm not sure that I'd run back to the Toscana too quickly at $25 a bottle though.

Desert Hills Gamay Noir

As I'm posting this wine, I can't locate a photo that I'd usually have taken to accompany the breezy prose. When popping the cork, I remember wondering if we'd maybe had a bottle of this vintage previously. Could be I just figured I didn't need a picture because it was already on The List.

Oh well, we haven't had it before, so you'll just have to imagine a "split-level" label with black, gold and copper - and a tree and a bird. Pretty descriptive, eh. Then again, you could go all the way back to one of the early posts and wine #29 to see another label from the same winery.

324. 2007 Desert Hills Estate Winery Gamay (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Desert Hills is one of those wineries that first gained a bit of prominence - not necessarily because of their wines but - because of its location. It certainly didn't hurt a fledgling winery to be an immediate neighbour of two of the province's most sought after vintners. Both Burrowing Owl and Black Hills are mere minutes away on Black Sage Road and, if you're in the vicinity, it only makes sense to drop by and see what's brewing. It's hard not to conclude that it was a worthwhile effort.

I know that was our experience when we first happened on Desert Hills while making a pilgrimage to Burrowing Owl.

From our first visit, we understood that Desert Hills was a very hands-on, family operated winery. The folks running the tasting room were as friendly as you'll ever meet and they kept introducing us to so-and-so's little girl or mentioning the other brother that was off doing such-and-such. I also remember that one of the Toor brothers (I'm not sure which one) was so proud of his Cabernet that he guaranteed that we'd like the bottle or he'd refund our money.

That was many bottles ago.

For most, Desert Hills is best known for its love of producing big, lusty reds. The Gamay is the lightest of their red wines and it might be my favourite of their wines. I like the fact that I don't need a big hunk of protein to tame every sip. This is still a Gamay that offers up more ooomph than most though.

If memory serves this was an early favourite of Lady Di's (that's Lady Di of the blog and not the Royal one - although the princess might have liked this wine as well).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Worthy of a New Carafe

As a bit of a Christmas present (splurge) for ourselves, Boo and I picked up a decanter that I've loved since I first saw it at the Riedel exhibit at last year's Playhouse Wine Festival. Hand-blown, with a black stripe running along one side, it's more a piece of art than a carafe. The niggling, little problem that prevented us from buying it earlier was always the cost. Then, lo and behold, of all places, we found it at Costco - with a substantially reduced ticket on it.

I wanted to wait until we were going to open a big wine that would be "worthy" of decanting in it. Since it was time to make a small extra payment on our mortgage, I figured we deserved a bit of treat.

323. 1999 Tahbilk Reserve Shiraz (Nagambie Lakes - Australia)

We've had this bottle for a couple of years and I didn't really know what to expect. Tahbilk is neither a winery that I commonly see up here, nor one that I particularly know anything about. I do recall that we originally bought the wine after having a bottle of Tahbilk Marsanne when dining out with Beamer and The Divine Miss M. At the time, none of knew what Marsanne was, but we liked it and I figured that the winery was worth an extra shot.

Having surprised myself - after the fact - with a couple of recent bottles, I actually looked up this bottle before popping the cork. I almost didn't open it because of what I read - primarily that both the winery and Aussie writer, James Halliday, said that the bottle likely has another decade, or more, of good years to go. I took a chance anyhow.

It was completely worthy of the Riedel! It was everything that I love in Australian Shiraz - great dark fruit, well-balanced tannins and acid and a brilliant nose - but it was nicely refined and far from over the top. This bottle had a bonus kick to it - a wonderful finish just went on and on. I don't know how much more it would have improved with more years, but I couldn't get enough. Unfortunately, it'll have to be enough for some time. At $65, it will have to remain a special occasion night.

However, beyond serving up a delightful bottle, the winery is really interesting as well. It's located in the Nagambie Lakes district in central Victoria state, about 120 km North of Melbourne. Not a district that I think I've heard of before and I certainly don't generally think of Victoria winemaking when it comes to Shiraz.

The winery dates back to 1860 and it still produces a flagship Shiraz that is made exclusively from vines that were planted back in that initial year. This Reserve is made from fruit grown in blocks where the vines were planting in 1927, 1933 and 1936. Old Vines by any standard, but a relative youngster compared to the 1860 wine.

Tahbilk is known for its distinct wines and the winery posits that part of the reason is that Nagambie Lakes is the only winemaking region in Australia where its climate is "dramatically influenced by inland water mass." The vineyard features river flats, permanent backwaters and creeks. In 2005, the winery also introduced a Wetlands & Wildlife Preserve and has been noted with an Australian National Trust classification.

There were a number of other informative facts about the winery, but I think I'll leave it on the note that Tahbilk is also one of Australia's First Families of Wine - a group of "twelve iconic, family-owned wineries that came together with a strong commitment to promote Australian wine both at home and abroad.

I hope to run across a lot more Tahbilk in the days and years to come. In fact, should we ever get another chance to visit Merlot Boy down under, I'd like to check into a little side trip.

Tangled Vines

The last time that I added a Tangled Vines wine to The List, I was disappointed because I didn't think the bottle was in the best of conditions and I wasn't able to gush exuberantly in the manner that I would have liked and hoped to.

Not so this time. Their second bottle on The List is a keeper.

322. 2008 Tangled Vines Three Blancs (VQA Okanagan)

This was a fairly new release for the winery and I saw them (for the first time, I think) in one of the VQA shops that I make it into every so often. Seeing it, I thought I'd give it whirl since the "No buy Leash" had been loosened a touch.

This vintage is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer (the latter replacing the Muscat of the '07 blending). I was rather pleasantly surprised to find that the wine was a touch off-dry. I seem to remember that winemaker, Craig McKenzie, is a big fan of bright acidity on his wines. There was still enough acidity to set off the sweet, but that hint of sweet allowed us to add a bit of spice to the evening's dinner.

I don't know the breakdown of the varietal percentages, but I'm pretty sure that I'm noticing more Pinot Blanc/Pinot Gris blends being tried by BC winemakers. There might just be something to that.

We'll look forward to trying Three Blancs again, if only because (as the label says) "Blancs have more fun."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Nichol Syrah

321. 2003 Nichol Vineyard Syrah Reservare (Naramata - Okanagan)

This is the fifth bottle that we've opened and added to The List from Nichol - and our second Syrah (the first was the 2000 back at #93). So, considering the fact that I'm still well behind on my posts, I'm not going to go into anything further about the winery at this time or about Nichol's history and approach with Syrah. It is probably worth mentioning, however, that this vintage won a silver medal at the Northwest Wine Summit - one of the more prestigious wine competitions that a number of BC wineries enter.

I will also say that starting this blog has motivated me to pull more bottles out of the boxes in the closet. It's nice to finally start to open a number of these bottles that we bought some years ago - particularly since a great number of them are BC bottles and, on the whole, they're holding up just fine.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Missed Resolutions

I think I may have to make a resolution that, in 2010, I'm going to look up a bit more on the wines I'm about to open - rather than check them out after they're empty and the taste has long lost that lingering feeling.

For the second night in a row, I'm thinking I make an "ooops" by not going to the net before reaching for the corkscrew. When I grabbed this bottle, I couldn't remember anything special about it and I simply thought it would fit the dinner plans.

And then I find out why I bought it in the first place...

320. 2004 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva (D.O. Rioja - Spain)

I'd completely forgotten that I ran out to specifically pick up a bottle because this was voted the Best in Show for the 2010 Vancouver Magazine Best Value Wine Awards. Out of the 800 wines reviewed by the panel of judges that included a large cross section of the city's best-known names in wine, the Beronia topped the Best Medium Red category and was then chosen best of the bunch.

Rather than really working our way through the wine and trying to identify the strengths that were pointed out by the judges, Boo and I simply sat back sipping on it while plonked in front of the TV. Instead of looking for the unabashedly Old World style to the wine and the complex flavours of "plums, raspberries, vanilla, coconut," we just sipped away - without thinking that anything really jumped out us as strikingly good.

I may just be too much of a New World kind of guy, but I preferred the other two Spanish wines I was introduced to last month - the Can Blau at Tyrant's and the Sabor Real at the neighbours' progressive dinner.

I'm learning more about the flavours of Tempranillo (matched with Mazuelo and Graciano in this bottle), but it's not quite displacing my Barossa Shiraz yet.

I wonder if I subconsciously would have needed to like it that much more had I found the magazine website or made a note about the wine before we opened it?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Tri-Centennial Notes & a New Task

I've got to admit that, at times, I look at the number of wines that have made it to The List and I wonder what the heck I've gotten myself into. It's going to take awhile to hit 2001 Bottles. Ain't it?!

With all the holiday festivities, hitting the 300 mark sort of snuck up on me. However, I guess it was rather fitting that we opened #300 at our Christmas Dinner. I just didn't fully realize it at the time. I knew we were close but I wasn't aware of the actual bottle at the time. Hence, we didn't have any fanfare or celebratory photo.

I took a bit of a look back over The List to see just what we've been drinking and it's no surprise that we've opened way more local BC bottles than we have of any other region. We popped 125 BC corks, with the next closest region being Australia at 43. We've finished off bottles from 15 countries so far and the others that have seen ten or more are Italy (33 - which is a bit of a surprise to me), France (25), Spain (14 - thanks in part to the Tyrant's fondness for new wave Spain), US (14 as well, with 11 of those coming from California), and Argentina (12).

Of the 300 bottles, 171 have been red, 98 white, 9 sparkling, 7 rose, 6 fruit, 5 dessert or icewine and 4 fortified.

We drink a lot of blended wines, but out of the straight varietal wines we've shared, the most visited grapes have been Shiraz (26), Merlot (18), Pinot Noir (13), Cab Sauv (12) and Malbec (8) among the reds, with the most quaffed whites being Riesling (19), Pinot Gris (18), Chardonnay (10 - a bit of a surprise for us since we don't usually reach for a Chardy), Sauvignon Blanc (9) and Viognier (6).

With this recap being at hand, I came across an intriguing website the other day for the Wine Century Club. To become a member, all (he snickers as he writes "all") you have to do is drink 100 different varietals during your wine adventures. The website states that only 3% of the people that download a checklist actually send back a completed application. Having taken a look at their checklist, we've obviously hit a lot of the more popular - and most available - varietals, but I couldn't help thinking that, following a reading of their list, I've never heard of a number of the grapes listed.

It might be quite the task - but definitely a fun one to take on. The one saving grace is that the requirements allow you to count a varietal when it is included in a blend. I wonder if it would even be possible to drink 100 grapes as strict varietal wines. How often can you expect to come across a wine made of 100% Macabeo or Muller Thurgau?

I'm only going to count varietals that have appeared in wines on the List, but I was able to count approximately 65 varietals already. The remaining 35 will no doubt be a lot tougher to locate. With 1701 more bottles to add to The List though, I figure we should be able to accomplish the challenge.

Looks like 2010 should be a good year for a glass of wine or two.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Garden of Stones

319. 2006 Jacob's Creek Steingarten Riesling (Barossa - Australia)

This is yet another bottle where I found out a lot more about it than I knew before - but after we'd opened and finished it. I was quite surprised to find out that Jacob's Creek is one of the largest wine producers in the world. However, that may just play a bit of a role in why I can't say that we drink much of their wine.

I found at least a couple of articles on the web that referred to the fact that many wine writers tend to either simply ignore or to lump Jacob's Creek wines with other "brand wines" - like [yellow tail]. One of those making the comment was John Halliday and he also says he thinks those writers underestimate the quality of the wine produced by Jacob's Creek. He gives the winery, as a whole, a rating of five stars - his highest.

He also gives the Steingarten Riesling a stellar rating. The last five vintages have received scores of 90 points or more. The 2006 is the current vintage and was scored at 94. He also commented that it could cellar successfully until 2016. Maybe we opened it a bit early. I won't worry too much about it though. I tend to like my Rieslings on the fresh side (as opposed to the aged wines showing hints of gasoline and the like).

This bottle was definitely on the crisp side with tons of citrus. While I can appreciate the minerality and big lime, I tend to gravitate more to Germany and Alsace - or to BC - where there might be a bit more emphasis on subtler stone fruit and maybe even a touch of residual sugar.

Although this is a premium wine for Jacob's Creek and "Steingarten" refers to a particular, higher altitude, vineyard that was planted by the winery in the 1960's, this is not a single vineyard wine. Rather, the winery states that the grapes going into the wine are indicative of the flavour profile found with the Steingarten vines and fruit.

If memory serves correctly, I picked this bottle up at the Playhouse Wine Festival last year. So, I certainly thought enough of it at that point. Then again, when buying at the Festival, I generally reach for bottles that can't be found in Vancouver at other times of the year. At $36 though, I think I'd have to think about grabbing another bottle if I found it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fat Ass Five

Boo and I might have spent New Year's Day, yesterday, in a rather non-traditional way - shopping for carpets - but there is a tradition in Vancouver that can knock you back substantially more than a hefty Visa bill.

The Fat Ass Fifty.

It's a run that meanders through the streets of Vancouver every New Year's Day. The "Fifty" refers to the kilometres being run. I'm not quite sure what the "Fat Ass" refers to, because you won't find many of those aforementioned body parts on any of the runners taking part.

As you might have gathered, neither Boo nor I partook in the run. This'd be a life-long non-starter for Boo. On the other hand, I did consider it - to the point of packing my running gear on New Year's Eve. A particularly nasty rain storm and a late New Year's Eve put the kaibosh on that run - but that was also over a decade and maybe 30 pounds ago.

We've been receiving some rather extraordinary e-mails lately from Merlot Boy, down under. Seems that, after he finished his visit to our fair shores back in September, he's gone on the wagon and stepped up his own running and training - resulting in a loss of 25 pounds. Personally, I'm not sure I've ever heard of an Aussie that doesn't drink - at least not for three months straight, but he swears by it. He's so hyped by all this that he's gearing up for another half marathon and toying with the idea of his first full marathon.

Now, I can hardly give up drinking - this goal of 2001 bottles is taking long enough as it is - but being buoyed by Merlot Boy's success, I did go for a bit of a jog (not exactly going fast enough to call it a run nowadays). I'll call it the Fat Ass Five. It might have been a bit off on the "five" part. I went somewhat further than 5 km but I know it wasn't 5 miles. I know, however, that I got the "Fat Ass" part pretty much down pat.

318. 2005 Blasted Church Merlot (VQA Okanagan)

To toast Merlot Boy's success and to celebrate my first run of this Olympic year, we pulled the cork on one of the wines that Boo and I served at our anniversary reception a couple summers back. I keep thinking that I'll do a post about the wines that we chose, but it won't happen with this wine. I think there might be one or two left that aren't on The List yet.

I was glad to see that the wine had held up for another year. Four years is hardly a long cellar life, but it wasn't that long ago that you wouldn't even think of laying a BC wine down in a cellar. Plus, there was still plenty of life left to the Blasted Church.

Just like there are still plenty of miles - hopefully - left to both Merlot Boy's and my running.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Year. New Debt.

I don't know if it was one of Boo's resolutions for 2010, but he's certainly started the new year off by making his best contribution towards spending the country's way out of the recession.

While at the dinner party last night, Axel made the "mistake" (at least it was one for my pocketbook) of saying that he and the English Doc were heading down to a "close out sale" of one of the Oriental carpet shops in Gastown. For a carpet queen like Boo, that's like a new dealer in town offering introductory new prices to a crack addict.

As you can see, he wears his carpets with pride and this one is a beauty. It's just that this is the first time we've picked up a fine Persian silk at Vancouver prices. We'd been lucky enough to pick up some incredible rugs while visiting Miss Jaq in the UAE, but those rugs were at much nicer prices (even after duty and all).

Suffice it to say that he's not allowed to complain about me buying any new wines for some time to come. The "No Buy Leash" has been noticeably loosened.

317. 2002 Renwood Old Vine Zinfandel (Amador County - California)

Now, normally the silk carpets and vicinity are no wine zones - to the extent that they occasionally get rolled up if we know that guests intend to fully indulge in vino veritas. Just the thought of trying to remove a stain from a Qum or a Kashan is the stuff of nightmares. And pity the poor person that caused the spill!

We risked the photo though - just to show how we spent January 1 this year (and I supposed I really do mean "spent").

The bottle labelling describes this wine as "Ripe & Fleshy, Sexy & So Sophisticated." I'm not sure whether that was referring to the wine or to how Boo felt wrapped in his new baby - but I won't take that image any further.

I remember hearing that there's a group of California wineries that produce bang up Zin's and they all start with the letter "R." My guess is that Renwood must be one of them, because as over the top as the labelling might have been, it was a very tasty wine. Not exactly inexpensive - $37 when we bought it a few years ago - but full bodied and full of ripe black fruit. I always hope for a little something extravagant with a bottle of that price and I think this delivered.

(No doubt, this is a good example of the BC tax system when it comes to importing wine. I see that the 2005 vintage of this wine is listed on the winery website at $18US. It's currently listed with the BCLD at $32. I know the Canadian dollar was suffering a few years back but how can there be such a difference in price? Crazy! No wonder our household drinks so little US wine - particularly if Boo wants to buy another carpet down the road.)

But, after all, a new silk carpet has to be an occasion for a nice bottle.

That, and the fact that we needed something with a bit of personality to match up with our more traditional New Year's Day activity. Being the good Southern boy that he is, Boo is always one for his black-eyed peas and cornbread come January 1 and the new year's dinner table. There was a bit of a bite to this year's batch, so the spiciness of the wine wasn't completely out of sync.

A new carpet, Southern vittles, a fine wine and a loosened "leash," what more can a guy ask for to start a new year?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy New Year!

If I were twenty years younger and this outlet was Facebook - rather than a wine blog -I'd likely be recounting a wild New Year's Eve party with a thousand other revellers at a big circuit dance party. Been there. Done that. As a rule, it takes far too long today to recover from the more-than-likely hangover.

I'm still not quite to the point of watching Dick Clark (or I guess it's Ryan Seacrest nowadays) on TV - with the time zone differential so we can watch midnight at 9pm PST - and head off to bed. For the last so many years, we've generally put together a gang of friends and had a dinner party.

This year, we were lucky when Tyrant offered to host the dinner. The idea was to keep things toned down and make it a "simple" potluck with each person bringing along a ready-made course. So much for the simplicity of the dishes! From wild mushroom soup, through duck breast salad, to individual beef wellington's with foie gras and duxelles, this was a mighty fine potluck.

I'm very happy to report that the wines were also plentiful and delicious. The evening provided a nice addition of very enjoyable wines to The List.

307. 2007 Prunotto Moscato D'Asti (DOCG Moscato D'Asti - Piedmont - Italy)

We opened the evening with a glass of sweetness to off-set the heat of the spiced olives, chipotle-infused goat cheese and spot prawn bruschetta hors d'oeuvres that were presented.

I've posted Prunotto previously, but I've only seen their red wines available in BC - and there aren't many of those to be found. The ones that can be found are usually accompanied by higher price tags. At $24, I think this is a lovely start to saying goodbye to the year.

Mr. D. was delayed in joining us in that he was only scheduled to return to town from an unexpected jaunt to the snowy Prairies that are Saskatchewan. His flight was delayed - how unexpected - in Calgary. We stalled a bit with a couple more wines to give him time to arrive.

308. 2008 Wolf Blass Yellow Label Chardonnay (South Australia)

309. 2008 Arrowleaf Solstice Gewurztraminer (VQA Okanagan)

Arrowleaf isn't a winery that I gravitate to but I was surprised by the Gewurz. I was even more surprised when I found out that it was one of the younger guests that brought the wine and he said that Gewurz is his favourite varietal. I don't run across to many people that say that.

Eventually, we had to sit down to the first course - with or without Mr. D.

310. 2001 Kettle Valley Foxtrot Pinot Noir (Naramata - Okanagan)

We anticipated that the earthiness of the Pinot would match up with the wild mushroom soup that Axel and the English Doc brought and, by George, it did. Luckily for me, Mr. D. still hadn't arrived. It was our first red and I'd over-poured a bit on the glasses and was short one glass. Normally that empty would have had to be mine, but, although he didn't realize it, the ever-gracious Mr. D. donated his glass to me. We did save him soup though.

This bottle was pulled from Tyrant's cellar and I was quite intrigued. Boo and I have previously had a bottle of Foxtrot Vineyards Pinot Noir while dining in Whistler and it was recommended to us as one of BC's new premium producers. It's a new winery though - only having started up in 2007. We're thinking that the old owners of the vineyard used to sell their grapes to Kettle Valley and they, in turn, identified this wine with a single vineyard designation. No wonder the new owners looked to capitalize on the Foxtrot name.

Mr. D finally arrived and started working on his duck salad, but that was going to take a bit of time. So, we forced ourselves to take a bit of a break and work on another bottle.

311. 2006 CedarCreek Estate Select Meritage (VQA Okanagan)

A traditional Bordeaux blend, using the five standard varietals. This vintage saw a higher percentage of Merlot to Cab Sauv (51% to 36%), with the balance made up of Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

312. 2004 Black Hills Nota Bene (Black Sage Road - Okanagan)

Next up was another BC Meritage blend that Mr. D offered up with his duck. If I'd been a smarter boy, I'd have saved a bit of the CedarCreek to compare to the Nota Bene. But, I wasn't. The salad course was rather delayed and the CedarCreek just kept going down too easily. Unlike the CedarCreek, Nota Bene is known more for its being anchored by Cab Sauv (46% with this vintage), which is then followed by Merlot (38%). The remaining 18% is straight Cab Franc. Considering the cult status of this wine in BC, it was a treat to share it for the evening.

313. 2001 Langmeil Fifth Wave Grenache (Barossa Valley - Australia)

314. 1993 Rosemount Estate Balmoral (McLaren Vale - Australia)

The next two wines just kept cranking up the standard for the evening. Langmeil is a favourite producer of mine but we generally know them for their Syrah. This was an interesting departure.

The Balmoral is a flagship wine for Rosemount. One of Australia's big names in wine, James Halliday, rated this vintage a 94 and he said that it should best be opened by 2005, but we found it to still be completely memorable.

Both of these wines deserve individual posts of their own but time and space here dictate that I'll just say that both wines just felt like the next step to happiness.

Tyrant's Beef Wellington was as good as it can get at a potluck dinner. The taste alone was superb but when you throw in his Julia Child impersonation as he was wrapping the pastry - priceless. The pictures of the Tyrant Julia would have added an interesting twist to this posting, but he wasn't sporting a wine glass in those shots and they weren't necessarily as flattering as he contorted his face for the full effect. Meryl and Ackroyd would both have been proud.

We had just enough time to settle a bit and sort out our New Year's finery of hats, beads and noisemakers. At the stroke of midnight, we popped the cork and enjoyed some of the street sounds from the balcony while making some noise of our own. We also noticed that the Olympic rings in Coal Harbour gave us a show of changing colours to celebrate the arrival of the Olympic year.

315. Moet et Chandon Brut Imperial (AOC Champagne - France)

Another stroke of luck for us is that Tyrant had some Moet left over from his Winter Solstice soiree. Naturally, I'd grabbed a sip the other week, but I didn't think I'd done the bottle enough justice to add it to The List. No such problem tonight.

The only problem was not spilling a drop while dancing away to Cher and Lady Gaga.

316. 2005 Mission Hill S.L.C. Riesling Icewine (VQA - Okanagan)

There was one last bottle that we had to give its due though. Elzee had brought along an Icewine to go along with (as Tyrant terms it) her world famous lemon tart.

It also was as good as ever - both the tart and the Icewine.

There wasn't much room or desire to dive into the cheese course though. Most of the cheese came home with Boo and I since Tyrant was still nursing more than enough leftovers from the Solstice party to keep a household of mice happy. He didn't need to add to that cache.

All in all, it was a fantastic evening of great food, wonderful wines and good friends. What a way to end one year and start another. Here's hoping that 2010 is full of such moments.