Sunday, February 28, 2010

More Aussie Gold

Much to Merlot Boy's delight, The Aussies have scored another gold medal. This time in was in Women's Aerials. MB was quick to run up and change the flag flying from the balcony to the Boxing Kangaroo, but he left the celebratory wine to us - still. We had to chide him for not toasting his compatriots with a little tipple, but he still maintains that the diet and training is paramount. Back to that later.

We actually opened the bottle for a quick cocktail before heading out to dinner and a play. That much Merlot Boy could still participate in.

376. 2006 Rosedale Wines Cat Amongst the Pigeons - Cat Walk Cabernet Sauvignon (Barossa Valley - Australia)

I'd tried the Cat Amongst the Pigeons Shiraz previously (on The List at #73), so this wasn't a completely unexpected wine. I rather figured that it would be a fruit forward, big and tasty wine - and it was. Sort of out there, not to be missed - much like a sport that involves flipping multiples off of a huge ramp and landing on a hill so steep that I likely would have balked at schussing down it during the best of my skiing days.

I could have given Merlot Boy the flag but denied him the Aussie wine since Canada won another gold on Wednesday as well, but I suppose we have to take advantage of the wines from down under when we can during these Wine Olympics (if you will).

While on the topic of themed events, the Vancouver Games has also seen a crazy number of concerts, plays, dance recitals, exhibits and the like during the Cultural Olympiad. Tonight, Boo, Merlot Boy and I were taking in the only big ticket item that we could find time to fit in - Robert Lepage's "The Blue Dragon." Needing a quick bite to eat before heading to the play, we dropped in at Salt Tasting Room.

I still enjoy Salt's concept of trying plates of three cheeses, meats and/or condiments and matching them with three different wines. Gives you all sorts of taste sensations. But I think we definitely needed something a little more rib-sticking this time around. And it wasn't the Merlot Boy Diet that got in the way this time. Maybe it would have seem more substantive if we had something light before the play, say the show and then came to Salt.

Another time I guess - BUT with a full bottle of wine to add to The List. Can't be letting all these opportunities out on the town just slip by without a new bottle to include.

Known for his elaborate and innovative stagings, I've always wanted to see a Robert Lepage production. So, I suppose that, if you could only take in one show over the Cultural Olympiad, "The Blue Dragon" was one of the higher profile ones. Knowing that I don't even venture into tangible tasting notes for the wines we drink, I'm certainly not going to try and critique a theatre piece. All I'll say is that the staging (without going all Broadway musical on us) was spectacular, but the story was rather thin.

Heck, that could be a wine tasting note on its own. I may re-consider the editorial comments after all. But, for now, I'll leave it with another shot of Coal Harbour and the Olympic Rings. Look carefully and the Olympic Cauldron is in the background to the right. I didn't realize until now that the rings are normally white in colour - but they change colour whenever Canada wins a medal. Tonight, they were honouring the Women's Hockey Team and their big, gold medal win over the Americans. Now, if only the Men's team can follow suit in the days to come.

A Bit of Olympic Cheating

I wouldn't rank it up there with news of a positive drug test at the Olympics, but I am cheating a bit with today's entry on the Olympic Wine quest. Yesterday's gold medallists came from Korea, Russia, Switzerland, Austria and Canada. I'm not going to find any wine from the Russians or Swiss in any local wine shops and we've done the other three already. So, I figured I'd cheat a bit and go with a French wine. I never drank French earlier in the Games when they did win a couple gold medals, and they did win a silver medal in Women's Biathlon and a bronze in Women's Ski Cross yesterday. So, they're fairly golden and deserve the opening of a bottle.

375. 2007 Chateau Marjosse Entre Deux Mers Grand Vin de Bourdeaux (AOC Entre Deux-Mers - France)

In a bit of a coincidence, this wine has a bit of a gold medal heritage to it - not this particular wine but the driving force behind it. It turns out that Chateau Marjosse is owned by Pierre Lurton who is the estate manager of two of the superstars of the French wine industry - Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau d'Yquem. The Lurton family itself has been in the business of Bordeaux wine since 1650 and Pierre is one of 17 family members from this generation that are currently in the wine trade.

Wines from the Entre Deux-Mers appellation aren't meant to challenge the big Bordeaux boys, but the appellation is seeing more improvement in quality as the rest of the world continues to catch up with (or out-perform) France. The region is part of Bordeaux but isn't the classical Right and Left Bank regions. Rather the "two seas" that it finds itself "between," in the regional name, are the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers. Hence, the Left Bank is on the left side of the Garonne and Entre Deux-Mers and the Right Bank is to the North, above the Dordogne.

All wines falling under the actual Entre Deux-Mers appellation name are white, dry and will be limited to four varietals - Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle and Ugni Blanc. The fruit profile can vary greatly depending on the blend of the grapes but, like this wine, they tend to be fresh with high acidity. I didn't see anything "official" about the breakdown of this blend, but I did see one online site say that the mix was 85% Semillon and 15% Sauv Blanc.

One of the good things about Entre Deux-Mers wine though is that the price tends to be user-friendly when compared to many French wines in our market. This one comes in at $21.

I guess, if I had to "cheat" on our Olympian task, it might as well be for a wine that's worth the effort.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

More Surprises

Surprise #1 - We're starting off with a shot of Absolut - both literally and photographically. It's not like I'm adding a bottle of vodka to The List of our 2001 wines, but this man does not live by wine alone - and it was a good shot. It was also a way to celebrate the three gold medals that Sweden has won at the Games so far. I'm pretty darned sure that I'm not going to run across one of the few bottles of wine actually produced in Sweden, so this may be our only means of taking a hit in our Olympic quest for the Swedes.

Before I started this blog, martinis probably played a much bigger role in our libationary habits and Elzee has helped taste test more than a couple of our forays to discover yet another path to martini perfection.

Surprise #2 - Elzee likely needed a stiffer drink than a glass of wine when we shocked her with the appearance of Merlot Boy. MB had asked us to keep his arrival a surprise from her as well as Daveyboi - until he could surprise her in person. We just hadn't been able to fit in a visit with her over the past weekend. We invited her to join us for dinner and a drink with Merlot Boy's visiting buddy, Adam, and she definitely gave us the biggest whoop when "Adam" came down the stairs.

We ventured off to try a new restaurant in our our end of town that was getting a good bit of buzz - The Poor Italian Trattoria. Surprise #3 - We're drinking a BC wine at an Italian restaurant. In fact, it was the only BC red on their wine list - a list that was almost completely Italian. Don't get me wrong, I didn't have any qualms about the wine list - when eating Italian, I'd generally look to a good Italian red. It's just that I've got this little Olympic gold medal theme to deal with and the Italians simply haven't been holding up their end of the bargain. Three bronze and a silver but no gold. Since Canada won another gold in Figure Skating - Ice Dance yesterday, we'll just have enjoy another one from the home team.

374. 2007 CedarCreek Pinot Noir (VQA Okanagan Valley)

CedarCreek is well known for its Pinot Noir. It's been one of the pioneers of the varietal in the Okanagan for many a year now. When Boo and I turn to CedarCreek for Pinot though, we usually look at splurging at their Platinum label Pinot. We had a memorable bottle of that almost a decade ago and it became one of those bottles that simply resonated with us and became a priority choice. I'll have to think about grabbing their "entry" level wine a little more often as this we had no problem finishing off this bottle and the $10 price difference ($20 vs. $30) on a regular basis would allow us to buy even more.

As for being a regular at The Poor Italian, I definitely wouldn't say that I won't return. It was a great evening. The food was plenty. The service was attentive for the most part (if perhaps a bit over familiar). But it lacked any wow factor that would have won Italy its first gold medal.

Neither the dinner, nor the wine, and not even Elzee could coax a sip of wine from Merlot Boy though. We're going to have to look at changing his blog name.

Flags, Curlers and Austrians

I'm playing hookey again from work, but this time it's not for hockey. Instead, it's a curling day. We've got tickets for two draws of the curling tournament - women's in the afternoon and men's in the evening. Since we had the opportunity to enjoy the spring-like weather of these Winter Olympics, Merlot Boy and I hit the road to play like all the real tourists were doing. He decided that he'd sport his little Boxing kangaroo flag for the day. Neither one of us ever anticipated the wild attention such a little piece of green cloth and an accent would attract.

It started as we were walking by Russia House. The mascot for the 2014 Games in Sochi was greeting the line-up to get in and, lo and behold, the first of many pictures to come.

We carried on towards Granville Island and saw the original flag, that caused the flap for the IOC, as it adorned the Athletes' Village. If you think the Aussie flag is big, take a look at the Canadian Maple Leaf on the balcony to the left of Merlot Boy's head. Now, that's a flag.

One of the big attractions at the Games has been the experimental introduction of the streetcar along the "Olympic Line" to Granville Island. It's proved to be immensely popular. If only we could make it a more permanent component of Vancouver's transit system. While riding the streetcar, we had a great conversation with a group of Austrians in town to cheer on the Austrian ski-jumpers. Their mood was elevated even more when we advised them that their boys had a clear lead heading into the final round of the team jumping that morning.

When Merlot Boy and I arrived at the curling venue, that little flag caused an even greater stir. Not only did Merlot Boy meet a woman who had started a Facebook group to protest the IOC's banning of the flag, but he was interviewed by Brazilian TV. Brazilian sports commentary of curling by an Aussie. We truly are seeing it all at these Games.

Luckily, the Canadian women are playing in this draw. We still won't get to see the Canadian men play - even in this evening's draw. So, I'm glad we get to see at least one of our teams throw some rocks. Merlot Boy and I had some great centre sheet seats and we were immediately behind a large group of Swiss fans. They were full of song, flag and cowbell. We particularly liked one song that involved swaying backwards, forwards, side to side and up and down. Not your traditional curling cheer, but great fun. The Canadian women had a great game over the defending champion Swedes. Here's hoping.

Following the game, we met up with Boo and hiked across the street to Queen Elizabeth Park to give Merlot Boy a different view of the city - and to have a little park-side sip. Since Boo came directly from home to join us, we had him bring along a bottle of wine and glasses. Now the glasses may not have been Riedel crystal, but you do what you have to do to get around those draconian VANOC and IOC dictates.

373. 2008 Loimer Lenz Riesling (Kamptal DAC - Austria)

OK, so technically if we're to stay with our Olympic wine theme, we shouldn't be drinking this bottle today since Austria didn't win a gold medal yesterday. We could have easily gone the US or Germany route since they did win and their wines are readily available - but we haven't celebrated an Austrian medal yet and they did win the Ladies' Super-G on the Whistler slopes the day before. To top off our justification, the Austrians did win the Team Ski-Jump today. So, we're raising our glasses to our new Austrian friends from the streetcar.

There is a Loimer wine already on The List as Boo, Miss Jaq and I had a Gruner Veltliner back last summer after the Pride Parade. GV is certainly the more common varietal to be found in Vancouver if you're drinking Austrian, but 25% of Loimer's production is Riesling and it seemed like an interesting wine to check out. I didn't talk about the winery much last time - and I don't think there's room to do so here either - but the winery is located in the Kamptal region, North of Vienna, near the town of Langenlois. The Kamptal is one of the principal wine-producing regions in Austria; however, its climate profile differs somewhat from the neighbouring regions because of the moderating influence of the Danube River that flows through it. Hence, you see warm days and cool nights - much like BC's Okanagan Valley.

This Riesling was definitely big on acidity and subtle minerality, with no residual sugar of note. Or, was it just the cool weather and surroundings that we were drinking it in? Despite the sunshine, it was definitely cooling down in the late afternoon. While enjoying our wine as we wandered the gardens and park, I found it interesting to note that, like the Cape Jaffa wine we drank earlier in the week, this winery has recently transitioned to become biodynamic in its viticultural practices. Loimer started the transition in 2005, so these 2008 wines are the starting point for the vineyards to look for certification. Vancouver is touting these Olympics as the "Green Games;" so, it may be fitting that we've opened as many "green" wines as we have.

We still couldn't get Merlot Boy to join us in a drink though. It's been four full days now and he's still sticking to that diet of his. He may have lost 35 pounds since his last visit to Vancouver, but this complete avoidance of the grape while on vacation is simply unnatural.

Following the park visit and our bottle, Merlot Boy headed off to find more admirers of his flag and accent. Boo and I high-tailed it back to the curling venue for the evening Men's draw. Again, no Canadian team to be seen. Nor were there even any wild Norwegian pants to focus on. The closest thing to "all out cheering" we could find was a foursome of face-painted Brits. Yeah, I know there are only three in this picture, but one of them must have been off for another beer run. I'm quite sure that sharing a bottle of wine for The List with them could have led to some interesting stories.

This draw was pretty much at the end of the round robin part of the competition and we were watching the six teams on the bottom end of the current standings. Accordingly, there wasn't a whole lot at stake as far as medals were concerned. Aside from the Brits, none of these teams still had a legitimate chance at making the playoff round. All the same, Vancouver rarely gets to watch a curling competition of this magnitude. So, you enjoy what you can, when you can, especially since these were the last of our tickets for events at the Games. Well be sipping wine in front of the telly from now on.

Hey, that might mean that the blog entries will feature more wine and less street meanderings for a bit. Nah, doubt it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Young & Wyse

I'm getting the feeling that these posts during the Winter Games are perhaps a tad Olympics-centric. In their infinite wisdom, the Games organizers don't want us to BYO Wine to any of the sporting events. Funny, that. You can buy their beer, but there's not going to be any getting a bottle of wine past the airport-like security found at all venue entry points.

The consequence of that decision seems to that I've got lots of pictures and stories to tell, but not a whole lot of wine to report on. I figured the Olympic theme of drinking wines from countries that have won recent gold medals would be the tie-in, but I'm thinking I just might need to find a way to feature a little more grape action.

Unfortunately, that approach will have to wait for another day. Lots of pictures from today but only the one bottle of wine to report on. I took in two events today and the first was big league hockey. I scored these tickets over a year ago but had no idea who would actually be playing in it until just a couple of months ago. Turns out that, for a game that Canada wasn't playing in, this was a big one. Russia vs. the Czechs.

The sis, Vixen, joined me for the game since Boo was working (again) and it was a good one. The Ovechkin hit on Jagr was one for the ages. I was truly surprised at all the Russian and Czech fans that were in attendance. Flags, cheers, jerseys - you name it. I couldn't tell a Russian cheer from a Czech one but it was a heck of an atmosphere - and with both teams' fans and all the Canadians wearing red, the venue was a sea of red. It left us imagining what it would be like later that afternoon for the Canada/US game.

After the game, Vixen and I met up with No. 1 Daughter/Niece, Stargirl, because she and I were heading off to one of the Medal Ceremony/Concerts that night. While wandering around the streets and taking in the Olympic Cauldron again, we stopped by a young guy leafing through his belongings. I saw an official looking accreditation badge that said "UK Team" on it; so, I nudged the girls to ask if he'd agree to having his picture with them. No idea who it was, but I did see the name "Adam Pengilly." Turns out he's a silver medallist from last year's World Skeleton Championships - you know the event where the athletes go head first down an ice track at speeds that can hit 150km/hour. He didn't win a medal at these Games; however, he was only one of two athletes that were elected by the other competitors to the IOC Athletes Commission. As Vixen says, "Cute too."

You can see how crowded it was getting around the Cauldron by now as well. And this was actually one of the slower periods on the streets because it was getting close to the big hockey game and most everyone was trying to land a spot to watch the showdown. We were finding that any restaurant or bar, that had a TV of any sort in it, was full and usually had a line-up - and this was with the game still an hour or so away.

We ended up accepting an invite from Lady Di and She Who Must Be Obeyed. They were getting ready to throw together some pizzas and watch the first hockey game that REALLY mattered - so far. A quick stop to pick up some appies and a bottle of wine and we were, unexpectedly, golden.

Yesterday's gold medalists - Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, China and Korea - didn't exactly offer up the foremost wine producing nations to choose from and the liquor store closest to Lady Di's place isn't the largest in town. The result was that I went with another Canadian wine since, Jon Montgomery, our gold medalist in Men's Skeleton from the day before served up one of the moments of the Games so far. His stroll through Whistler Village and a honking chug from a pitcher of beer that was passed to him clearly needed to be celebrated.

372. 2008 Young & Wyse Merlot (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Young & Wyse is one of the newest wineries now serving up its wares in the province. Their first vintage was only released last November and it sports but two varietals - this Merlot and a Shiraz. I grabbed this bottle because Stephen Wyse, one of the driving forces behind the winery, has a bit of a pedigree with BC wine production. The Wyse family is synonymous with one of the province's "cult" wineries - Burrowing Owl - and, as a bit of intrigue, I'd heard that this winery was going to be opened under the name "Black Sheep." I see that there is a stylized black sheep on the label, but I don't know that we'll see much more about that story in print.

There still isn't a lot to be found out about this new venture, but the vineyard is located in the Osoyoos area (can't be that far from Burrowing Owl) and they are apparently preparing to release a larger number of varietals in the months to come. I'm sure we'll back to try them as well.

The wine was better than the outcome of the hockey game. It might be just as well that we had to leave before the end of the second period. Once Vixen, Stargirl and I moved on, the game started going more the Americans' way. The medal presentations were fine - although we managed to be there on an evening when no Canadians were being presented medals. To make that little point a bit worse, I had to watch that darned Apollo Ohno and the Koreans that beat out the Canadian boys last night get their medals. I'll admit that I clapped much louder for the other winners, particularly the Dutch skater from the long track. Maybe I'd have been a little more receptive if there'd been more wine to whet my whistle.

These ceremonies, in general, were featuring some pretty decent bands after the medals. Wouldn't you know that our bands had to be Canadian stalwarts from the 80's. I can't say that I was the biggest fan of either Trooper or Loverboy even back then. At least I knew most of the songs. Stargirl, who has yet to turn Sweet 16, said that she'd never heard of either one of the groups and didn't recognize a single song - even when I could sing the words. As a result, she spent a good portion of the evening texting her friends. We didn't last until the end.

No medals, no big hockey win, some aging rockers. Quite the evening, eh. Oh well, I suppose there's always tomorrow and another bottle of wine.

Curling Pants - the New Fashion Statement

Talk about lucky. When we found out that Merlot Boy would be joining us, I e-mailed some friends to see if anyone had some extra Games tickets that we might be able to score so that Merlot Boy wouldn't have to watch all of his sports in front of the TV. Tyrant not only had a spare ticket but he had three extras to one of the curling rounds. He offered them up to MB, Daveyboi and myself and we jumped at the chance - even if it meant that we had to get up and be on the road for a 9 am Saturday start at the venue.

Believe it or not, curling is not a big sport down under. Merlot Boy knew as much about it as I know about cricket - which is virtually nothing. However, he had already been made aware of the fancy pants that the Norwegian team was sporting at the Games. Add that to the fact that Merlot Boy found the Norwegian skip, Thomas Ulsrud, to be about as hot as the curling ice would allow before melting away, and you had a ready made curling fan.

Much to Merlot Boy's unabashed glee, our seats were directly behind one end of the sheet that the Norwegians were playing on. The Canadian team wasn't playing in this round, but the seats couldn't have been better in Merlot Boy's mind.

One thing that has become apparent during the Games is that the curling crowds may never be the same again. It's probably fair to say that most of the ticket holders were about as knowledgable as Merlot Boy was. I think I can fairly state that the standard etiquette of curling fans was out the door with all the cheering and national fervour that was evident. I don't think the athletes have ever run up against such fan-demonium before - and Canada wasn't even playing. I do know, however, that Merlot Boy was thrilled with the Norwegians' win and he immediately wanted to run out and try to find a pair of those pants to buy.

He didn't get a whole lot of time to go shopping though. The four of us met up with SYG for a late lunch. And then, MB and I had to make our way to our second event of the day - Short Track Speedskating. If there's any sport that's the opposite of the morning's cerebral curling, it has to be this roller derby on ice. Once again, Merlot Boy was the beneficiary of an extra ticket. This time, it was Boo's ticket that was available because he couldn't get out of his night shift at work. And, boy, did we find out what those tickets were worth. There must have been 500 or more people outside the venue trying to buy extra tickets. We easily could have scored enough to buy a pair of curling pants - in fact, we likely could have outfitted a whole team.

I think the tix were as popular as they were because all the Canucks in the crowd had great hopes for a Canadian medal that night. Although Canadians made it to the finals in both the men's and women's event, we came up short both times. There was a mass groan of frustration when, after qualifying two Canadians in a five-man final, the only athletes not to win a medal were the two Canuck boys. That darned Apollo Anton Ohno. Not to mention the two Koreans.

Needless to say, we weren't able to bring along a bottle of wine to the sporting events with us - although, personally, I can't imagine why not. Once the skating was over, it just meant that Merlot Boy and I had to hightail it downtown to meet up with Daveyboi. Little did we know that we'd have to show up on his door empty handed. Apparently the street revellers on Friday night were a tad rambunctious and, as a precautionary measure, the police, provincial and city officials thought it best to close all the bottle shops at 7.00 pm. On a Saturday night! What in the name of Ernest & Julio Gallo?!

Luckily, Daveyboi had a bottle on hand for our enjoyment. There's no doubt that I needed a glass given the day's events.

371. 2005 Peter Lehmann The Futures Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

And a nice bottle it was. Peter Lehmann and I go back a fair ways. In fact, The Futures goes back a good ways with Lehmann wines as well. The winery's first wine ever sold was "The Futures Shiraz." Back in 1980, Peter Lehmann was concerned about having enough funds in play to even ensure that the winery could have a future itself. He sold The Futures Shiraz to friends and family on a "pay now and we'll deliver in two years arrangement." It's been a cornerstone of the winery ever since.

Peter Lehmann is a mainstay with the Australian Wine Appreciation Society and, as such, he's found his way to our table on more than a couple of occasions as well. Often referred to as a baby brother to the iconic "Eight Songs" and "Stonewell" wines, the winery sees The Futures as classic Barossa Shiraz - full of dark fruit, tannin and character - to be delivered at a "less-than-iconic-wine" price. At $33, it's not an everyday wine, but it does beat $133.

Following my theme of choosing wines for yesterday's gold medal winners, we should have moved on from Australia already, but, having no opportunity to buy a bottle to celebrate Friday's winners, we had to rely on Daveyboi to save the day. To get a little trite, I suppose beggars can't be choosers - and what's a little "rule" breaking, particularly when the bottle being offered was as choice as tonight's selection.

Admittedly, I was fading fast though and we had to be up and at 'em for another day of Olympic action in the morning. So, after they caught me starting to nod off on the couch, Merlot Boy and I braved the building party in the streets and wandered home for a well-deserved night's sleep.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Oy, Oy, Oy.

During the week leading up to the Vancouver Games, one of the lead stories for a day or so was the fact that the International Olympic Committee had issued an edict to the Australian team that they could not hand their 30 metre square "Fighting Kangaroo" flag from a balcony in the Athletes' Village. Vancouverites were aghast and, en masse, took to the airwaves to proclaim their disdain for the IOC. The mayors of both Vancouver and neighbouring Surrey announced that they would fly the flag throughout their respective cities if the IOC didn't back down.

Sure enough the IOC decided better than to take on both the Aussies and the host city. However, the damage had been done. The story went international - particularly down under - and many a Vancouver home, including our's, found a boxing kangaroo flag to fly.

Shortly after that, Boo and I received a call from out of the blue. With all the extra publicity the flag flap was getting in Melbourne, our buddy, Merlot Boy, rang us up to see if we could put him up if he could find a last minute flight. Seems he couldn't handle the thought of watching the Games on the telly when he'd intimately know so many of the locations from his numerous visits.

Well, gosh darn, if he didn't do it!! Couldn't arrange things to get here until the first week of the Games was almost over, but he arrived in time to take in the final ten days and see "his second home" at its winter best.

He arrived on the Thursday and, wouldn't you know it, his arrival coincided with Australian, Torah Bright, winning a gold medal in Women's Snowboard Half-Pipe. Feeling magnanimous, I told Merlot Boy that we'd fly the Fighting Roo flag at our place until we'd replace it with the Canadian Maple Leaf when we won our next gold medal. How could the next wine be anything but Australian?

369. 2002 Cape Jaffa Shiraz (Limestone Coast - Australia)

Since Merlot Boy is still not drinking as part of his new diet regime, it doesn't matter one wit that this is a Shiraz and not a Merlot. I first ran across Cape Jaffa at an Australia Wine Appreciation Society tasting a couple of years back. Derek and Anna Hooper, principals and winemakers for Cape Jaffa, came to introduce their wines to the Vancouver area and I was captivated with both the wines and the winery's commitment to biodynamic production.

Cape Jaffa was the first fully certified biodynamic vineyard on the Limestone Coast (300 km south of Adelaide) and one of only four in South Australia. The region is consider cool climate Australian and the Hooper's are steadfast in holding that their "holistic approach" of no artificial fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides or pesticides results a closer definition of the relationship between vine, vineyard and the wine that results.

It doesn't take much imagination to taste a stronger earthiness to the flavours in the wine. If it takes the tying of vineyard operations to the phases of the moon and intriguing fertilizing concoctions to create a wine of such intensity, I think it might be worthy of more investigation.

Our little Aussie celebration actually continued into the next day as well because Merlot boy had asked Boo and I to keep his arrival a surprise from our mutual friends - including Daveyboi, Mr. D and Elzee. Daveyboi was out of town on the Thursday arrival, so we forced our way into his place to start the weekend. It took a bit of convincing because, all this time, we were referring to Merlot Boy as "an Aussie friend" of his, Adam, that was coming to town. All Daveyboi knew was that Merlot Boy had asked us to give Adam a bit of guidance and to play tour guide if he asked. I told Daveyboi that this was our only chance to get together with Adam and go out for dinner. There simply was no saying "no."

When Daveyboi opened his apartment door and saw Merlot Boy grinning there, he just stood stunned. He truly needed a glass of our next bottle to get over the shock.

370. 2006 Wits End Free Settler & The Convict Shiraz/Grenache (South Australia)

I couldn't find as much information about this wine on the net. It's hard to forget the name though; so, I
know that I've seen it at a couple of parties over the last couple of years. Turns out, Wits End is the marketing name that Chalk Hill winery uses for its wines in North America.

Like Cape Jaffa, Chalk Hill is located south of Adelaide in South Australia; however, Chalk Hill is only 60 km away. While Chalk Hill has yet to go the organic or biodynamic route of Cape Jaffa, it still boasts a commitment to the environment. The winery has associated itself with and donates partial proceeds to Greening Australia, an organization committed to protecting and resoring the health, diversity and productivity of unique Australian landscapes.

Not even the thrill of a gold medal, the laugh of surprising Daveyboi, nor the healthy nature of both of these wines was enough to get Merlot boy to join in with us on a sip.
For the moment, he was satisfied with being here and taking in the sights - including the Vectoral Elevation lights from Daveyboi's balcony. The big question was how much longer could he hold out?

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.......

Friday, February 19, 2010

Vonn-couver Olympics

So, we're a few days into the Games now and, I'll admit, the US athletes are putting on an impressive show. I suppose it only stands to reason that it time to open a big American wine to celebrate their great start and, in particular, Lindsey Vonn's gold medal in the Women's Downhill. It's one of the signature events of the Winter Olympics and she's touted as possibly winning five medals at these Games - and all of them could be gold.

As mentioned previously in this blog, Boo and I don't have a lot of American wine in our cellar. The exchange rate on our dollar hasn't always been that kind and there's always the problem of our liquor taxes up here once any bottle crosses the border. That being said, we've had this one for awhile and we'd been told that it's a treat waiting to happen.

368. 2004 Mark Ryan Dead Horse (Columbia Valley - Washington State)

Knowing very little about Washington State wines, I knew even less - let's say nothing - about Mark Ryan Winery when we picked up this bottle on a trip to Seattle a couple of years back. Boo and I simply went into one of the specialty wine shops in town and told them that we could only take four bottles home with us and still avoid the duty taxes. We asked them to pick four local wines that we NEED to try. This was one of them and, at $45US, we were holding out for and hoping for something special.

I learned, after a bit of surfing, that Mark Ryan is a boutique Washington winery that produces a number of highly anticipated wines. Perhaps the most sought are the two Bordeaux blends - Dead Horse is considered the winery's Left Bank Bordeaux as it is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon based (52%) with this vintage's balance being 24% Cab Franc, 17% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot.

The winery obviously gets a bit of a kick in coming up with names for all of its proprietary names. Dead Horse was chosen because all of the grapes were grown in the Red Mountain region on one the state's most prestigious vineyards - Ciel du Cheval - and that can be roughly translated to "horse heaven."

The winery has made it clear though, on occasion, to be sure and promote the fact that "No horses were hurt during the production of this wine & it was tested on humans."

We thought it lived up to its pedigree - a real thoroughbred of a wine. Lots of body, balance and fruit. Just what we like to see in our gold medal champions.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

German Pinot

Yesterday was my day for playing hookey for hockey. In my previous post, I mentioned that Boo, my Dad and I caught a bit of hockey fever at Molson's Canada Hockey House - along with a couple thousand beer-swilling young'uns. While we were sipping suds instead of fine wine, it was Germany's day to take two gold medals - in Women's Biathlon and Women's Luge. So, for today's wine, we'll head off to one of the best-known wine-producing regions in the world - the Mosel.

367. 2007 Selbach-Oster Pinot Blanc (Qualitatswein - Germany)

Funny thing about this choice of bottles is that it's a Pinot Blanc. While at work, I figured that, this evening, we'd open a German bottle and that I wouldn't have to go to a bottle shop since I knew I had at least a bottle or two of German wine at home. I just assumed we'd be drinking Riesling. We must have finished off any German Rielslings that we might have had in the cellar previously because it turned out that this is the only bottle of German wine that we had. Funnily enough, I'd picked it up recently because we'd been opening a few Pinot Blancs lately and I wasn't at all familiar with German PB.

So this may not be the most representative of German wines, but it still "counts" for both The List and as a wine to celebrate Germany's gold medals.

I have no idea how this bottle even ended up over here in BC, although Selbach-Oster is a well-known producer with a great track record for Riesling, their website says that only 2% of their production is Pinot Blanc. The family may have been in the wine business since 1660 and they may own some excellent vineyard sites in a famed region, but their portfolio consists almost entirely of Riesling - through the grape's varying levels of ripeness and the winery's various properties.

There's not much written about their Pinot Blanc (at least not that I could find) but it's definitely full of tangy acidity - it actually seemed more like a Clare Valley Riesling (from Australia) to me than a Pinot Blanc from BC. It would be interesting to hear how the winery came to plant this small amount of the varietal.

I wonder what the German gold medallists would have thought had I served this up as their victory wine?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chinese Gold

With the Vancouver Winter Games in full swing now, we're settling into our own Olympian task of drinking bottles of wine from countries that won gold medals the previous day. After a couple of false starts, Boo and I managed to find a morning where we could head down to - and actually get in - the Canadian Mint pavilion to see and hold the medals first hand.

It truly was fascinating. The story behind the production and technology of the medals was captivating and the medals are strikingly beautiful. There were a number of firsts involved in the creation of the medals - such as the undulating shape - that posed enough hurdles and challenges to the production team that you're left with the thought that the team deserves their own award of merit.

While the accomplishment of and memory of winning a medal at the Olympics must live with an athlete forever, these medals will hopefully prove to be a physical reminder of the beauty, dedication and hard work behind that victory. The medals themselves should be seen as pieces of art and I loved the fact that each medal is, in fact, a small portion of a larger piece of art. If it were possible for one athlete to win every gold medal available at the Winter Games, he or she could piece them all together to re-create Corinne Hunt's West Coast aboriginal representation of the orca.

These Olympic wanderings didn't allow for the sipping of wine, but our bottle today - yet. Later on though, we had a bottle lined up that was chosen to honour the Chinese Pairs Figure Skating couples that won both the gold and silver medals yesterday.

366. 2005 Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon (China)

Finding a Chinese wine - even in Vancouver and its large Chinese population- isn't necessarily the easiest thing to do. Although I'd seen Great Wall represented at the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival in years past, I only found this bottle at the provincial Signature shop at Cambie and 41st. In reading up a bit about this wine, I was quite enthralled with the whole topic of Chinese wine. I could go on for awhile with facts that I found interesting, but time won't allow that here.

I will say that China appears to be posed to became the largest consumer of wine in the world. Although historical references to wine date back to ancient times, the modern production of wine in China started in the 1980's. Average consumption in the country is still less than half a bottle a year, but the economic boom that China has experienced, from 2000 onwards, has resulted in a huge increase of disposable income for many - and wine sales have been a major beneficiary.

A few large companies dominate the domestic production of wine in the country and COFCO's Great Wall is one of them. The company offers 100 different products, including dry to sweet and fortified to sparkling and distilled. Great Wall has the highest value of exports of any Chinese winery and was the exclusive provider of wine to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 - kind of fitting when you consider the nature of this blog entry.

Great Wall has even been served to President Obama during a political state dinner.

My guess is that it wasn't this bottle though. Trying the Great Wall Cab was more of a curiosity than a "must." The wine didn't offer any real structure or complexity, but that being said, even though we didn't finish off the bottle that night, we didn't pour it down the sink either. I don't think it's out of line to say the quality of the Chinese skaters far out-scored the taste of the wine.

I will admit, however, that our glass of the Great Wall helped finish off the night - after our share of beer at the Molson Canadian Hockey House. Our palates may have been a tad impaired after the suds, but not enough that we couldn't get a true first impression of the wine.

Interestingly, while Boo, my Dad, and I were walking over to Hockey House, we wandered past Russia House and we noticed a bit of a crowd amassing around some official vehicles. Turns out it was the Russian pairs skaters that finished fourth to the Chinese.

Hockey House was both a shrine to hockey and to beer. I don't even know if there was a glass (let alone a bottle) of wine to be found. I wouldn't have expected anything less with Molson's at the helm, but I'm going include a couple of pictures just because it gives a bit of an insight of how the city has caught Olympic Fever. We saw Vancouver's own Maelle Ricker win a gold medal inWomen's Snowboard Cross and the thousand or two folks at this overgrown beer garden went wild.

But not even that excitement could hold a candle to the craziness that accompanied the Canadian Men's 8-0 win over Norway over at the hockey rink. No one was kidding themselves about Norway being a hockey power, but that didn't matter to the folks in a sea of red. I've never seen so many Canada jerseys, shirts or hats in one place. If you weren't wearing red, you could pretty well be assured that the person next to you was.

Dad, Boo and I headed home pretty much as soon as the game was over - although I know that the party was going to rock for many hours to come. I turned to them and said that, if you added up our three ages, I doubted you could find another three people on site that had a higher collective age.

I think I used to be that young once. It was at least a couple of years ago though. It was time to head out, especially since there was a bottle of Chinese wine calling out for us at home.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

1st Canadian Gold on Home Soil

After some nervous navel-gazing and national angst, we Canadians got to celebrate the fact that we are no longer the only nation to have hosted an Olympic Games and never won a gold medal on home soil. Everyone "knew" that it would only be a matter of time before one of our athletes would win in Vancouver, but when our first medals were a silver and a bronze (marvelous feats in themselves), there was still this cloud of anxiety that we needed to be relieved of - the sooner the better.

Alexandre Bilodeau's gold medal in the Men's Moguls Sunday night was just the tonic that the country needed to really get the party started. Despite the fact that France won two gold medals and Germany won another that day, for me, it was a no-brainer that tonight's wine was going to be Canadian.

365. 2006 Meyer Family Tribute Series - Emily Carr - Chardonnay (Naramata Bench - BC)

Meyer Family Vineyards is another of the next generation of Okanagan boutique wineries. It seems like it's been a whirlwind for the Meyer's over the last few years. They started with the purchase of a small vineyard on the Naramata Bench in 2006 and had their Chardonnays made at another of the Okanagan's wineries. That led to the purchase of a "bankrupt" winery in Okanagan Falls and the hiring of a winemaker in 2008.

Quite the fast pace - particularly when their first vintages were lauded as the "best dry white wines that I have ever tasted from Canada" by noted European wine writer and consultant, Steven Spurrier.

The Naramata Bench is only 3 1/2 acres big; so, it doesn't produce an awful lot of fruit. With the 2006 vintage, only 515 cases of this Tribute Series Chardonnay was produced. With each vintage, the winery intends to celebrate the accomplishments of a Western Canadian. This bottling is dedicated to Emily Carr and I understand that the next two vintages were named for Bill Reid and Steve Yzerman.

It only seems fitting that we opened this bottle to celebrate Alexandre Bilodeau's gold medal performance. Maybe the Meyer's should consider naming the 2009 vintage after him. Hopefully, we'll get the chance to drink a lot more Canadian wines in tribute of our athletes' medal performances.