Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pinot Blanc Doubled

Tonight, I decided to do a bit of a mini tasting. To try and get a bit more of a feeling for varietal profiles and differences, we opened two bottles of Okanagan Pinot Blanc to drink side-by-side. I think both Boo and I were rather surprised by the result.

Same varietal. Same region. Same vintage. Quite different taste.

398. 2007 Sumac Ridge Black Sage Pinot Blanc (VQA Okanagan Valley)

399. 2008 Tangled Vines Pinot Blanc (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I've written previously (albeit briefly) about Canada's (and British Columbia's) first female Wine Master, Barbara Philip and her interest in Pinot Blanc in BC and about the possibility of working towards and promoting the varietal as a signature grape for the province. In obtaining her MW designation, she wrote her thesis on Pinot Blanc and just such a possibility.

A couple of years back, Barb and her husband, Iain (an expert and fixture in the Vancouver wine scene of his own right), debated the values and detractions of Pinot Blanc being BC's star on the world wine scene. The discussions revolved around how the varietal is well suited to grow in the province and how it can result in a good wine. The big issue may be, however, that the wine-buying public doesn't tend to get excited about Pinot Blanc and, as such, wineries are loathe to stake their business models on the grape when they can just as easily produce a Pinot Gris or more marketable white.

Ironically, that being one of the very reasons that BC winemakers aren't inspired to present Pinot Blanc as a signature grape for the region could be the very reason why the grape just might be able to raise the profile of the province in the world's eyes. If no other region collectively strives to produce high end Pinot Blanc, BC's ability to do so could be the ticket.

If these two wines are indication, the varietal, like Riesling, can be successfully produced in varying styles. I don't know any details about the two wineries' differences in cropping or viticulture; however, there was a big difference in their respective vinifications. Whereas Tangled Vines went with stainless steel fermentation, Sumac Ridge chose to barrel ferment and age their wine.

Boo and I both found that we preferred what we found to be a purer fruit in the Tangled Vines. Compared to the Sumac Ridge, the Tangled Vines had just a touch of sweetness on the finish that we enjoyed over the more austere Sumac Ridge. Paired with the evening's trout, both would have passed the muster if we'd opened them separately. It was interesting though to try them side by side.

Down the road, I may have to try some comparisons of BC Pinot Blanc and the other white varietals that maybe get a bit more attention on the BC wine front. Our thoughts won't carry the weight of a Wine Master, but I wouldn't mind putting some thought towards reaching a personal conclusion on the topic of a BC signature grape.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Another Piece of Deke History

It wasn't all that long ago that I trekked down the I-5 to attend the 100th Anniversary Banquet for the University of Washington's chapter of my fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon. Tonight, I had the opportunity to attend a bit of history on the opposite end of the spectrum.

The Dekes at UBC can feel a little hard done by at times when it comes to road trips. The UW chapter hasn't always been active during the last so many decades and that has meant that our closest chapters to visit have been the University of Alberta in Edmonton or UCal - Berkeley. Not exactly weekend drives.

That's hopefully changing as of tonight. I had the pleasure of attending the installation of a new chapter for the fraternity at the University of Victoria. Twenty-four young men have taken the huge step of starting up the first fraternity on the campus. The Dekes have had a strong presence at UBC for as long as I've been around, so it's exciting to imagine that there will now be an opportunity to interact with another chapter with such close proximity.

397. 2007 Barossa Valley Estate - E Minor Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

It wasn't that long ago that we enjoyed the other end of the spectrum with Barossa Valley Estate as well. Back at wine #344, Lady Di opened up a bottle of BVE's flagship E&E Black Pepper Shiraz. Besides thoroughly loving that wine, I have a bit of soft spot for BVE after having enjoyed a small group tasting - and after hours drinks later on - with their winemaker, Stuart Bourne. He's as lively and interesting a character as you'll meet. Now, he'd be a fun guy to have along on a fraternity road trip.

E Minor is more an entry level wine for BVE but it still has a richness and abundance of fruit that's worthy of attention.

Taking another look at the winery's website, I thought that its introductory paragraph was rather apropos to the evening's affair as well. "Barossa Valley Estate was formed in 1984 by 80 third and fourth generation grape growers who took control of their destiny by forming a co-operative and produce their own wine. Combining their skills and blending their grapes from across the Barossa Valley, they rode out the hard times and built for the the future."

Taking control of their future. Cooperation. Building for the future. Sound concepts when embarking on the adventure of starting a new fraternity chapter.

It was a pleasure to meet some of the young men who are taking on this great challenge. Here's hoping that their new chapter goes from strength to strength to even greater strength. I sincerely hope that these new members get as much enjoyment out of the fraternity as I have over the years.

I toast my glass to you and to the Dekes. Here's to many more shared bottles over the years.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dining Out for Life

One of my favourite charity events of the year is always Dining Out For Life. Started in 1991, Dining Out For Life now spans 55 cities throughout Canada and the United States. As their promotional materials over the years have said, "If you only dine out once this year, make it tonight" and "It's the easiest good deed you'll do this year."

For this one day of the year, over 200 restaurants in the Vancouver area donate 25% of all their food receipts to two of my favourite charities in town. The first, A Loving Spoonful (www.alovingspoonful.org) provides free, nutritious meals to men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS and the second, Friends For Life Society (www.friendsforlife.ca) is a wellness centre that provides a broad range of complementary and integrative therapies and is founded on the premise that no one should face a serious illness alone.

This year, Boo wouldn't get home from work until after 8.00. So, rather than coordinate with a large group of friends, we decided to just keep things simple and head over to The Drive. I was happy to see that there were close to a dozen participating restaurants to choose from on The Drive this year. We decided on Clove as it's been one of our favourites since we moved into the area and we haven't been there in awhile.

For the last couple of years, Sumac Ridge Winery has been a major sponsor of Dining Out For Life. For the entire month of March, the winery donates $1 from every bottle of wine that they sell to the cause. I go out of my way to patronize the winery because of this generousity and I'm thrilled to have heard that Sumac Ridge's sales spike every March. We would have ordered a bottle tonight at the restaurant but Clove has a small wine list and they don't offer any Sumac Ridge.

We soldiered on with dinner though and managed to find another bottle to fill the need.

396. NV Kettle Valley Brakeman's Select (Okanagan Valley)

I find that Kettle Valley has a fairly large portfolio of wines and this is probably their easiest drinking red. It's a blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot and other selected red varietals that might be available and suit the blend. This appears to be the only non-vintage wine that Kettle Valley produces (save their fortified Starboard); so, my guess is that they're aiming for a consistent flavour profile with an entry level wine - as opposed to allowing for more vintage and seasonal variation on their bigger red wines.

I was a tad concerned that it might be too big for the Asian inspired food, but it matched surprisingly well with the duck wraps and pad thai. At least as well as we might have hoped for with a red.

For a dinner on the later side of the evening, we might have ordered a bit more than we needed, but we figured we could sacrifice ourselves for a good cause. Here's hoping that lots of other folks did as well.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Playoffs & Paralympics

It's the real deal now. Time to see how much of all that watching and following of the recent Olympic curling has sunk in. Our regular league play is now over and it's playoff time. We've actually pulled off a couple of last end wins since the Games ended - something that certainly wasn't happening before the Olympic Cauldron was lit.

Since Boo had to work and Tyrant was out of town, we had to pull in super-spare, Skippy,and darned if we didn't have maybe our best game of the year. Our opponents for the day were just having a rough time of it. Decked out in their matching mack jackets, they might have been the best dressed team in the league, but we gave them a total dressing over today. After a steal of five in the second end, the game was pretty much over - and it didn't get a whole lot better for them after that. Everyone was pretty much ready to call it a day, especially since we were going to have to play again on the next day. We don't win big like that very often though; so, we had to head upstairs to the bar for a quick drink.

Good thing that we did as well. Not so much because of the bottle of wine I picked up, but because I scored a couple of tickets to the gold medal game for Paralympic Curling that was happening just down the road later in the afternoon.

But, first the wine.

395. 2005 Okanagan Vineyards Semillon/Chardonnay (VQA Okanagan Valley)

This wouldn't normally have been a wine that would be on my radar for buying. But it's virtually the end of the season for the curling rink and the bar's stock had dwindled down to next to nothing. It was this bottle or nothing. No red. No choice. One wine - or move on to something else. Wanting to add at least one bottle to The List with the curling team as my drinking buddies, I said why not.

And, you know, there was nothing wrong with it. It was cheap and cheerful. Not a heckuva lot of complexity to it - but there was acid, fruit and a decent enough taste profile. It wasn't a chore to finish off the bottle. So, that's got to say something for it.

I can't say much more for it though. I can't find any reference to Okanagan Vineyards on the net. It's listed with the BC government liquor stores at a bargain of under $10, but I couldn't find anything else. I don't have the bottle with me; so, I can't see if there are any more clues on the back label. I might have thought that it was a "cellared in Canada" bottle of import grapes, but it is a VQA bottle and, therefore, has to be all BC-grown fruit. Again, that says something for the wine in that it has passed the tasting panel and has the panel's sign of approval.

I'll have to take a more thorough look at the bottle the next time I see one.

As mentioned, one of the other curlers at our rink had some additional tickets to the Paralympics curling final available through Ronald McDonald House. Boo had been working nights, but I coaxed him into getting up early and joining us for the game. That's the Paralympic mascot, Sumi, in the picture with me - not Boo.

The Paralympics don't seem to have captured the city's imagination as much as the Olympic Games did last month. That's most likely because, there are only two events actually being held in Vancouver - wheelchair curling and sledge hockey. The balance of the Games are being staged in Whistler. There hasn't been a fraction of the television coverage either. Here it is the final day of the curling competition, there's only a handful of events left to stage overall, and this is the first - and only - event that I will have taken in.

I was very glad for the opportunity though. I've never seen any wheelchair curling before and I should think that this is the game to see if you only get a chance to see one. The gold medal game was between Canada and South Korea. The bronze medal game was being played at the same time between Sweden and the US.

It's a "different" game from our able-bodied game. There's no sweeping of the rocks to assist in the delivery. So, you're either good from the release of the rock or you're not. There's no opportunity to try and correct a shot that might have been thrown off by a little bit.

The crowd was still as boisterous as it had been during the Olympics though - which I'm sure was quite a readjustment for these athletes. I don't think they generally see such a level of enthusiasm at any of their other games.

Both games could have gone either way. Sweden beat out the US for the bronze and it took the last rock for the Canadian team to secure its gold medal. Considering that the Canadians had been well ahead at the fourth end break, the crowd was getting rather anxious as the Koreans staged a great comeback and just barely fell short.

I was particularly happy that we came since this was the only occasion I had to actually see, in person, a gold medal given to a Canadian during either the Olympics or Paralympics. Considering Vancouver's Mayor Robertson, BC Premier Campbell and Canadian Prime Minister Harper were on hand to award the medals to the athletes, I think it's rather indicative of the stature of the event.

Good on all the athletes who participated in the Paralympics.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Ganton & Larson Surprise

For the most part, I usually open and finish off a bottle before I do any research on it and proceed to write up the blog entry. I'm finding that, sometimes, I wish I'd done my homework and discovered these informational tidbits before the bottle's been consigned to the recycle bin.

Case in point. Boo and I finished off this bottle with dinner and it's only now that I find out that it was actually named Unoaked Chardonnay of the Year at the 2007 Canadian Wine Awards. I don't know that having known this fact in advance would have changed the taste profile or our enjoyment of the wine, but I think I'd look a little more thoroughly into the characteristics of the wine to try and identify what the judges might have revelled in so much.

Too late now. We simply sat back and enjoyed it with our sablefish and polished off the bottle in front of the TV. I don't think it jumped out of the glass enough for me to say, "hey there's something special about this wine." Then again, I'm not a huge Chardonnay fan either.

394. 2006 Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery - Townsend Jack Unoaked Chardonnay (VQA Okanagan Valley)

The fact that this wine was the Unoaked Chardonnay of the Year maybe shouldn't come as such a surprise on further discovery.

Perhaps the most storied Okanagan Chardonnay in BC's relatively young history in the wine business was likely the Mission Hill 1992 Chardonnay that won the Avery Trophy as Best Chardonnay in the world at the London International Wine & Spirits Competition. Many point to that trophy as being the first serious wine award won by a Canadian wine at an international competition.

To make a long story short, Ganton & Larson Prospect Winery is really a re-branding of Mission Hill's Five Vineyards series of wines. You won't find any mention of Mission Hill on the label at all, but Mission Hill owns Artisan Wines and they, in turn, produce Ganton & Larson. G&L is being marketed as a value priced line and, at under $20, it leaves the actual Mission Hill brand to concentrate on the higher-end select lot and premium blended wines.

The additional tie to that 1992 Chardonnay is that G&L's winemaker, Wade Stark, studied and honed his winemaking skills under the tutelage of John Simes, Mission Hill's head winemaker and the man behind the 1992 winner.

With the same corporate structure, same access to grapes and a common sharing of winemaking skills, why shouldn't such a pedigree lead to the ability to produce wines of note?

I suppose I just need to know a bit of this information before all the wine is gone from the glass.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Beyond The Wine Lake

I grabbed this bottle from the Best Buys shelves at Everything Wine in North Vancouver awhile back. This is not a good place for me to go while I'm still on the "No Buy Leash." Loosened or not, I feel the leash around my neck the moment I walk through the door. Such a fun place to just wander around. My problem is restraining the arm that reaches out to all the bottles singing their siren song.

393. 2006 Domaine de Fabregues - Le Coeur Rouge (AOC Coteaux du Languedoc - France)

Domaine de Fabregues is a new player on the French wine scene. The Languedoc has been involved in wine production for centuries; however, this winery was only started up in 2005 when Carine Despinasse and her husband Sebastian Pichot (already a grape grower when they met) bought the vineyard because they felt there was plenty of potential not being realized from all old vine fruit being grown there.

As such, the couple epitomizes much of what is happening in this vast wine growing area in the South of France called Coteaux du Languedoc. This appellation and some of the neighbouring regions were more known, during the 20th Century, for their over-production and cheap wines. When talking of the over-abundance of grapes and the European "wine lake," writers invariably included the Languedoc as a primary cause.

The turn of the 21st Century has seen the region in a great deal of flux. One of the larger appellations in France, it can be broken down into a number of sub-regions. As many producers in the appellation move forward with a more modern approach - including lower quantity and higher quality - many of the sub-regions are now working towards a potential graduation to being named appellations of their own.

In general, the region is now being looked to for value and wines with a profile to compete with other newly competitive wine regions around the world.

Traditionally, the region has grown varietals similar to those found in the near-by Rhone and that, no doubt, plays a part in the Domaine de Fabregues vineyards having the old vine varietals that it does. Le Coeur is a 50/50 blend of Syrah and Carignan. The latter is generally seen as a lesser varietal and the vigorous planting of the grape in Southern France played a big part in the previously mentioned "wine lake." Carignan is not generally seen as a straight varietal wine; however, with lower yields, the grape is successfully used as a blending partner primarily for Syrah and/or Grenache as its tendency to higher acidity and tannins is often used to add a rusticity and big fruit to the wine.

As the region continues to move forward in production values, we're likely to see more and more wines like Le Coeur appearing on our shelves. And that won't be a bad thing in the least.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Trim for the Babies

I think in my last post, I said that I was hoping that these post-Olympic days would allow me to catch up a bit on the blogging and slow the pace down a bit. I should have known better and foreseen that it was going to be a rather short-lived wish. Only a couple of days later and Boo and I were off for a blur of a weekend.

It was time for the Spring Pruning party at Red Rooster Winery. This is one of the two event-laden weekends that the winery promotes as part of its unique "Adopt-a-Row" program. I've talked about Adopt-A-Row before - particularly last Fall when Tyrant, Taylor and I made it up for the Harvest party - but this is the first time that Boo was actually able to fit the weekend into his work schedule.

It was tougher than I thought to get away from the work desk Friday afternoon, but we managed to make it through the Hope-Princeton passes - despite the out-of-the-blue snow warnings - to arrive in the Okanagan and the Naramata Bench in time for a Friday night reception. The evening featured an opportunity to taste all of the new wines that were going to be available in the upcoming Spring release; however, not all that many people were in attendance. I think the weather may have deterred a lot of the other "adoptive parents" from making the early arrival. That just meant that - for a couple of hungry boys - there were plenty of appetizers to go with the dozen-plus new wines being poured.

It was an early evening for us though. We still needed to check into our digs for the weekend. Our last couple of visits to Naramata have been with groups of friends and we'd arranged to rent houses. With this visit being just Boo and I, I thought I'd surprise him with a stay at the Naramata Heritage Inn. The Inn has always intrigued me and this would be a great chance to try it out. Good thing it was cozy and quiet because we pretty much hit the sack immediately to get in a good sleep before tomorrow's day in the vineyard.

At the reception, we'd heard stories about how miserable the last couple of days had been in the vineyards and how the wind had been so strong, at times, that it had forced some working crews to move to more protected locations. Not the kind of weather forecast a bunch of rookie, tourist field hands want to hear. But the morning turned out to be very agreeable. While Boo slept in, I even got the chance to have a first cup of coffee and read a bit in a morning sun on the balcony.

On the couple of occasions that I've been able to make the adoptive parents weekends, the winery has started the day off with a discussion about working the vineyards, in general, and about pruning the vines specifically. That was no different today - although this time there was also an expanded presentation about the steps and (perhaps more importantly) the costs behind starting up a winery. Not that Boo or I had ever harboured thoughts of starting a winery before, but I left that discussion thinking that I'm more than content helping tend our one adoptive row with my one or two days a year. Wine may equal glamour on the table, but it's work and more work to get it there.

I'm guessing that there might have been a hundred or so adoptive parents at the pruning party and, if I say so myself, we made pretty good progress on finishing off the Malbec vines that are our adoptive "babies." It was hardly a daunting task and we were probably done in an hour or so.

An hour or two working in the Spring sun. Hey, sign me up. Days on end - in far less hospitable weather? Not so sure.

Once the pruning was completed, everyone moved to the winery where winemaker, Karen Gillis, entertained us with a discussion about the art of blending wines. She then offered each of the tables a hands-on opportunity to experiment with the creation of their own GSM blend, using the Rhone varietals Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. This was great fun as each table swore they had discovered that perfect blend - something that would rocket to the top of Wine Spectator's "Best of" lists.

I particularly enjoyed the activity as the Rhone varietals are a favourite of mine. But not only that, I couldn't recall ever having run across BC grown Grenache or Mourvedre. We see lots of Syrah (Shiraz) from the Southern Okanagan, but I hadn't run across any wine that had boasted any "G" or "M" to create a Rhone blend. Karen confirmed that there was very little of the two varietals available but that some growers were making an attempt - if a somewhat experimental attempt - to grow them.

Perhaps, if Boo's and my table did discover that extraordinary blend, we could use the name thrown out there by my sister - Chateauneuf-du-Poof.

Our blending exercise was followed by a catered lunch and even more wine tasting. Not bad for an hour or so's work.

There were a number of the new releases that Boo and I thoroughly enjoyed and he loosened the "No Buy Leash" just enough for me to pick up a case. We took a particular shine to the new Rose and it will be the first of the new releases to make The List as it was the only bottle that we took back to the Inn with us for immediate enjoyment.

392. 2008 Red Rooster Rose (VQA Okanagan Valley)

A touch on the off-dry side, I can see this as being a wonderful afternoon sipper during the upcoming summer. Interestingly enough, it's a 100% Cabernet Franc. I say "interesting" because Red Rooster doesn't offer a straight varietal Cab Franc wine. Thus far, they've only used it for blending. Same story that we saw with Jackson-Triggs and their Rose last year.

I don't know if Cab Franc Rose is becoming a trend for the Okanagan, but I like it. A lot. Despite some residual sugar in this wine, there was still plenty of acidity and fruit to match wonderfully with all sorts of light summer meals - be they salads, pastas or picnics of cheeses and sliced meats. Something to look forward to.

After the Red Rooster event ended, Boo and I had hoped to take in a couple of other wineries - especially since my leash had been loosened a bit. Unfortunately, it was still too early in the season and the neighbouring wineries just weren't open yet.

We still had one more opportunity to make the best of our adoptive parent role. We were lucky enough to get a reservation for the Winemaker's Dinner being held that night in the winery's art gallery on the second floor of the spacious tasting room building. We get the opportunity to attend winemaker dinners in Vancouver at different restaurants, but this was the first chance we'd had to enjoy such an occasion at the actual winery.

Red Rooster doesn't have a restaurant forming part of the winery. So, they had it catered by one of the valley's foremost chefs. It has to be tough creating a big dinner with no kitchen but I have no doubts that the menu - that included scallops, duck salad and beef - was thoroughly enjoyed by the fortunate attendees. The fact that we had the opportunity to try another eight wines - in their best setting, with food - and hear why the winery matched them to particular dishes is as good as dining out gets.

Despite the fact that we knew virtually no one at the dinner, there was a personal and festive atmosphere. The stories recounted by Karen, winery manager Blair and Rochelle ("retiring" coordinator of our motley crew of adoptive parents) were full of laughs, wit and insight into the wine business (and personal Olympic beers).

I certainly hope that Boo and I will be able to attend the Fall Harvest party. Hopefully, our pruning job of our row won't have killed all our vines.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

St. Hubertus Chasselas

After all the "involved" entries of late - Olympics, visitors, Oscars - it almost doesn't feel right to just blog a bit about a wine that Boo and I sipped on during dinner and a bit of TV. It seems as though there has to be more.

I think I'll just be thankful that I might be able to catch up a bit on all these wines and treat this more as a wine blog than a Facebook page. For now, anyhow.

The good thing is that, easy wine at home or not, I do get to add another varietal to my Wine Century Club application with this bottle.

391. 2007 St. Hubertus Chasselas (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Chasselas isn't a varietal that you see much of - even in BC's cooler climate regions. It is a white varietal that, classically, produces a delicate - if somewhat neutral - wine. As a varietal, it is seen as one that has been around for a very long time. Some sources believe it dates back to the Egyptian dynasties.

Nowadays, it is most notably grown in Switzerland, although it is also made into wine in Baden (Germany) and in the Loire (France) where it is blended with Sauvignon Blanc to make a "lesser" wine, Pouilly-sur-Loire. Chasselas is also the most commonly grown table grape in France - enough of a reason, according to Jancis Robinson (one of the world's most acclaimed wine writers), for the varietal to also be the "most despised" grape in France for wine making.

When tended properly, Chasselas can produce quality wine however. In fact, the varietal is one of the signature wines for St. Hubertus. It is probably no suprise though that the winery's owners, brothers Andy and Leo Gebert, originally hail from Switzerland. Indeed, John Schreiner, quotes them as saying that they wouldn't grow the grape if it weren't so closely identified with their homeland. They even export some of their Chasselas production to the Alps.

For the moment, Chasselas isn't too likely to become my favourite white varietal, but I'd be interested in trying another bottle to compare it with some of the other Germanic white varietals being grown in BC.

Monday, March 8, 2010

And the Winner is...

It's the Oscars and Boo was going to have to work until the Awards ceremony was pretty much over, so I put out a last-minute call to see if Elzee and/or Mr. D wanted to come over and watch the show and have some dinner. I don't know if it was the lure of the red carpet and starpower on the big screen or their imagining the aroma of camel kabobs that convinced them, but they both showed.

The pundits had it pretty much determined that it was going to be a show-down between Avatar and The Hurt Locker. We'd seen the former but not the latter. I had no idea what kind of dinner one would serve up on Navi. Plus, I didn't have any blue food colouring. So, the menu was planned more in honour of The Hurt Locker.

I may not have seen the movie but I knew that it was a story about Iraq. They eat camel in Iraq. We still have some camel steaks in the freezer. Hurt Locker it is. Add a little tsatziki, hummous, olives, spanakopita and cheese salad and we had a veritable Mediterranean/Middle Eastern dinner.

389. 2008 Rocky Creek Pinot Gris (VQA Vancouver Island)

I knew nothing about Rocky Creek before this wine. We don't see a lot of wines from the Island over here on the Mainland, but it was one of the few Island wines that I saw for sale (that wasn't at a winery) last October when Boo and I were visiting Bella Jianna in Sidney for Thanksgiving. The little sticker on the bottle said that it won gold at the All Canadian Wine Awards though, so we figured it'd be a good grab.

BC wine writer emeritus, John Schreiner, says that there's unlikely any other BC winery that has been established in the same manner as Rocky Creek. Owners, Mark and Linda Holford, hail from the oil industry and I quite like her recollection that they transitioned from "corporate suits to gumboots."

That's not the unique aspect of their roots though - there's currently a lot of Alberta money in the BC wine business. Rather, the Holfords started producing their wine in the basement of their former home - without the aid of having a vineyard to their name. They took the term "garagiste" to a new extreme. They didn't even have a garage. That's all changed with their acquisition of a Cowichan Bay vineyard and winery, but it was an interesting start.

I don't know if Pinot Gris has the allure of the Oscars, but the appies really called for a white. Tsatziki and hummous just don't seem to match up that well with any reds that I had handy. I'm not sure that I saw what made it a gold medal winner and I don't know that I'd run right out to buy it again. Totally drinkable, but it didn't exactly stand out for me. Then again, not many wines stand out with tsatziki, do they?

390. 2004 Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Merlot (California)

Elzee brought this along to go with the camel. Yes, I did feel that I had to warn the guests in advance of the menu. And didn't her wit shine right on through? What better wine to serve at an Oscar event than a wine made by none other than a Best Director winner himself? Bringing Coppola to the biggest movie night of the year. Genius.

And, you know, I thought the wine delivered way more punch than I'd expected. I've tried some Coppola wines at various tastings over the years, but I don't recall ever having left the evening with big memories of the Coppola wines. While this wine may not channel The Godfather or Apocalype Now, the Diamond line is meant to be a fruit forward wine, with character, at an affordable price. I saw one promotional quote that said "think fifties supper club with oversized booths, hearty food and lots of ambiance." I can handle that.

The grapes are sourced from different appellations and is 90% Merlot with a bit of Syrah and Petit Verdot (6% and 4% respectively) thrown in to add some richness and colour. I liked the fact that the web site puts out the characteristics that the winemakers find developing in the different grapes - Napa for the bright fruit; Sonoma for acidity and balance; and Monterey County for concentration.

The Hurt Locker may have been the big winner in LA, but I think the Merlot proved the favourite in our household.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Last Supper

As if it wasn't enough that the Olympics have left Vancouver, tonight's our final night with Merlot Boy before he genuflects to and jumps aboard the the almighty Qantas bird that will fly him home to Melbourne. Our last supper found MB, Boo, Daveyboi and I headed to Takis Taverna for a little bargain Greek on Davie Street.

OK, it may not be Mykonos, Santorini or even Mount Olympus, but we're celebrating the games that were Vancouver 2010. The Olympics had just ended and, after all, they did start in Greece. Well, maybe not the Winter ones, but we do love our calamari, tsatziki and lamb regardless.

I can't say that I regularly drink Greek wine - unless we're out chowing down on souvlaki - but I kind of like the simplicity of some of the Greek whites that we find in our market. Daveyboi and Boo will always pick red over white but they were talking martinis while we were looking at the menus. So, I went for a new wine (to me) that was neither Boutari nor Demestica.

388. Tsantali Blanc (Greece)

I'd have never known but Tsantali has been making wine and distilling ouzo for over 100 years and it is currently the largest wine producer in Greece. It's numerous wines are exported to 35 countries and the label refers to this bottle as a "Mediterranean Wine." Your guess may be better than mine as to what that means exactly, but I was expecting an everyday, white table wine and it delivered. If it's Greece's largest producer, it must make some higher end wines as well. This won't be one of them; but for $13 (at the BCLD) for a full litre, I don't have a problem with its simplicity.

The Blanc is a blend of two indigenous Greek varietals - Roditis and Zoumiatis. The former, I've heard of. The latter could have been the Greek god of fast sports cars for I know. It does mean, however, that I get to add another two varietals to my Wine Century Club application. That, in itself, makes this a fine wine.

Fine wine or not, Merlot Boy still played coy when it came to sipping back on the grape. I think even he was surprised that he's lasted the whole vacation without a drink - particularly with all the celebrating that was going on around him. It was a party of Olympic proportions but he stayed true to the NMMBD - No Merlot Merlot Boy Diet.

If he keeps this up for much longer, we may have to start calling him Twiggy the next time we see him. He's talking about meeting up with Boo and I when we head to Argentina this Fall. If he doesn't promise to join in for the full-deal Malbec Adventure; however, we may have to re-think our invitation.

It was a grand couple of weeks and having him just drop in, unexpectantly, like he did made it even more fun. Besides it's not too often that we get to, first-handedly, lord it over him that Canada is out-medalling the Aussies at the big games. That's worth giving up a spare bedroom any time.

Cheeky boy that he is though, he got his own back by leaving a Norway t-shirt and pennant for us as a parting gift. I believe that he'll be dreaming of Thomas Ulsrud and his Norwegian curling team pants for many nights to come. Til the next time...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Olympic Hangover

So, it's the Monday after the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games have ended. After all the years of waiting for the Games to arrive, it's going to be hard to believe that we may never see another event like this come to Vancouver - at least not in the rest of my life time. I experienced the summer of a lifetime when Expo86 thrilled the city, but we had the whole summer to experience the times and try to fit everything in. These Games were only 17 days and they really did play a huge part in my daily routine. Lord knows it's been a task to try and find any time for blogging.

The media spent a good part of today attempting to encapsulate the highs (of which there were many) and the lows. It seems that the common denominator among all the commentators was that there was a sense of Canadian pride that previously seemed untapped. Everywhere you turned, someone was sporting a Canada t-shirt, hat, scarf or the ubiquitous red mittens. It amazes me that there were over 3 million pairs of the mittens sold and that you can't find a pair to buy in any store in the city. Craziness - of the best sort.

I know that I barely scratched the surface of everything the city had to offer - and I was truly trying. There's definitely going to be some withdrawal symptoms, but I think Vancouver and Canada can hold its collective head high.

I definitely had some fun trying to come up with wines to enjoy in keeping with my theme of drinking a bottle from a country that had won a gold medal the previous day. There were a couple challenges - particularly given the fact that a lot of the countries that excel at winter sports don't necessarily have the best climates for winemaking.

There were 19 countries that won gold medals here and we managed to drink wines from 8 of them - Canada, United States, Australia, Austria, Germany, Italy, France, China and Korea. The 11 countries that I couldn't find wines for aren't really all that surprising. Somehow, I just don't see a huge local market for any of them - Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Poland, Belarus, Slovakia and Great Britain. I know that they all probably have wine industries, but their collective athletic prowess is more noticeable here than their vinicultural successes.

I did have wines in the wings from Croatia and Japan, but neither of them could muster more than a silver. I'll add those wines to The List down the road since I already have them.

As a last nod to Vancouver's Games, I think it's fitting that I open a final bottle from Canada and celebrate the record 14 gold medals that Canadians won. Indeed, I'll make it a wine from one of the official wineries of the Games. The fact that this winery has been named Canadian Winery of the Year no less than 18 times in various Canadian and international wine competitions justifiably gives it some gold medal stature of its own.

387. 2003 Jackson-Triggs - SunRock Vineyard Merlot (VQA Okanagan Valley)

The 2003 vintage saw the introduction of Jackson-Trigg's new single vineyard collection. The winery felt that the fruit coming off this vineyard, located on sun-drenched slopes above Osoyoos, was worthy of a special designation bottling. Along with a few other varietals such as Shiraz, Cab Sauv and Chardonnay, limited amounts of wine from the SunRock Vineyard were released. There were only 250 cases of the Merlot.

I haven't actually been buying an awful lot of straight varietal Merlot from BC lately. That's rather interesting because I think the Okanagan can do a great job with Merlot. The SunRock displayed a great nose, complexity and structure, and I'd definitely be buying more BC Merlots if they were all as good as this one. I suppose that, at $30, it should be good though.

So, on a happy wine note, I'll reluctantly say goodbye to the Games. I may be alone in this sentiment, but I'm going to miss the excitement that was Vancouver 2010. My guess is that I'm not the only one though. I suppose, I'd best get back and dedicate a little more time to this Olympian task of my own though. Only another 1604 bottles to go as we go for our own gold.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Gold Medal Hockey

Alright now. It's the Olympic moment the country's been waiting for. The Men's Gold Medal Hockey Game.

There might even be the odd American who's anxious for this match as well. The media's been playing up how the US was choked when Canada won gold in both Men's and Women's Hockey at the Salt Lake City Games and how they wanted to get some of their own back now that everything's on Canadian soil - or ice as the case may be.

The Canadian gals came through the other night and won their Gold. The True North Strong and Free would be holding its collective breath until the end of this all-too-important game - especially since the US already beat us during the qualifying games and Ryan Kesler, one of our own Vancouver Canucks who's playing for the Americans, was quoted as saying that he "hates the Canadians." Quite a stage has been set.

Daveyboi offered to host a brunch to watch the game at his place - and a lovely offer it was - particularly since it meant I didn't have to immediately finish cleaning up after last night's little soiree.

385. NV Il Follo Prosecco Extra Dry VSAQ (DOC Prosecco di Valdobbiadene - Veneto - Italy)

Hockey may scream "beer," but, in my book, brunch calls out more for bubble than suds. And, in keeping with the Olympic theme of drinking wines from countries that won a gold medal on the previous day, I'm happy to say that we're drinking Prosecco because Italy finally won its first gold medal of these Games in Men's Slalom.

We brought the sparkling wine along in order to immerse ourselves in mimosas, but I actually thought that it was nice enough to drink it on its own - sans the orange juice.

To be honest, this was the type of game where you had to decide between just drinking glass after glass to quell the anxiety and staying so engrossed in the game that you don't drink much at all. I chose the latter as it was still early in the day and we were going to have to make it through the evening and the Closing Ceremonies.

We were sitting comfortably through the first two periods. Being up 2-0 is encouraging and there was plenty of yelling off all the neighbouring balconies and in the streets but the game wasn't over yet. When that turncoat, Kesler, made it 2-1 before the end of the second period, I definitely went for another glass of Prosecco. And then, the killer - a tying goal with seconds to spare in the final period. How could it come down to sudden-death overtime?!

Luckily, "Sid the Kid" Crosby scored what might become one of the most famous goals in Canadian hockey lore, resulting in a 3-2 gold and the city - and country - went crazy. Thankfully, it wasn't the Americans that scored that OT goal. I don't know how well-behaved the thousands crowding downtown streets would have been.

We were also very lucky in that there just happened to be an extra bottle of bubbly left over from New Year's Eve. We now got the chance to celebrate this win in real style.

386. NV Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut (Champagne AOC - France)

Since the grand Champagne houses are usually judged by their non-vintage brut Champagnes, I only get one kick at adding their primary wines to The List. It's not often that we'll drink a true Champagne - and vintage bottles are even less likely to make The List - so, it's nice that Veuve is making The List on such a conspicuous occasion. The golden yellow label just seems to go so well with the gold medal that we Canadians get to savour now.

We could tell, from the buzz that was starting to emanate from the streets below, that downtown would soon be awash of celebrants. So, once the Veuve was finished, Merlot Boy and I decided to head on home. We knew that we were going to have to travel through Ground Zero of the celebrations and we thought it might be better to get an early start - before things got a little out of hand.

The game couldn't have been over for more than half an hour and the streets were jammed with cars honking away, people yelling and screaming, and high fives coming at you from almost every other person.

As you might guess from the accompanying pictures, there was no shortage of happy, rabid fans. From the corner of Robson and Burrard, Merlot Boy and I just watched the neverending stream of people wandering past - decked out in all their regalia and Canadiana. It was a scene unlike any that I think has ever been seen before in Vancouver.

I'd have been happy to sit on the side of the street with another bottle of wine to watch the celebrations, but it didn't take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out that such a plan would have been one of the few activities that wouldn't have met with any approval from all the police that were out in full force. I can only guess what was going through the police officers' minds. There was a lot of afternoon and evening to go and the party had just begun.

As Merlot Boy and I made our way back to The Drive via Skytrain, it was amazing just how many people were on their way downtown to join in. There were line-ups, out the Skytrain station - something I've never seen at Commercial Drive before - and there didn't appear to be any end in sight.

It was a great way to end the actual competition.

Canadian Rocks are golden

So, it's the final weekend of the Vancouver 2010 Games. The downtown streets are jammed with people wearing red, white and black and, you know, everyone is in a pretty darned good mood. Any concerns about Vancouverites not taking up the cause and joining in with the party has long passed - particularly since the Canadian team has been on a bit of a roll with the medal count of late. Yippee.

I don't think I'm overstating anything when I say that the marquis event at these Games - at least now that Canada will be playing - is the Men's Hockey gold medal game. But, that's tomorrow. Today is the Men's Curling final and Boo and I are greatly invested in that game as well. The Canadian Women's team lost their chance at a gold medal last night on two final shots. Heartbreaker. So, today's game will, hopefully, have a happier ending.

We decided to have a bit of a party to watch the big game since Merlot Boy is in town. It'd be a chance for some friends, who hadn't caught up with him yet, to eat, drink and be merry while our Canadians and the Norwegians play "harder" and try to finesse their rocks. Merlot Boy is playing coy, but we really think that his loyalties lie with the checkered pants of his cute Norwegian skip. He'd best not be too vocal about it around here though.

It also just happened that tonight is "Open That Bottle Night." The concept is the brainchild of the former wine columnists for the Wall Street Journal, John Becher and Dorothy Gaiter. In 2000, they wrote on the topic of how many folks have one or more special bottles of wine hidden away in a closet or cellar - waiting for just that special occasion to open it. Somehow that extraordinary occasion often takes longer than expected and many of those special bottles, unfortunately, go off. Becher and Gaiter urged everyone to make an exceptional event out of nothing - make the wine the centrepiece of the event - open that bottle, with or without friends, just for the thrill and the memory of it.

We let everyone coming to the party know that this would be a perfect opportunity for them to open that bottle with us. I was getting giddy with the thought of the bottles that could potentially be added to The List.

The guest list and their enjoyment of the grape ranged from Tyrant and his fabulous cellar to my sis, Vixen, who generally finishes off any bottles that are in her house within hours of them arriving there. The assortment of wines went all over the map. But, we also had to pace ourselves because the curling game started at 3.00 pm and Boo wouldn't be getting home from work until around 8.00.

Because of that last point, I didn't drink every wine that graced our counter. I don't even have pictures of all the bottles that were finished off, but I do confess that I at least indulged myself of part of all the wines being added to The List.

379. 2006 R Wines Boarding Pass Shiraz (South Australia)

From the same folks that bring us Bitch Grenache and Evil Cab Sauv, I had to take a second look when Mr. Cool opened this bottle. The packaging was such that I thought that it might have been a home-brew, but the label is made to look like a boarding pass. I think R Wines makes fine , tasty entry levels wines - and they have an incredible sense of humour and marketing savvy. Staying in theme with this Boarding Pass, they even have a higher end wine that they call "First Class." It's like a quick flight Down Under - very appropriate given Merlot Boy's impromptu visit here.

380. 2005 Kettle Valley Rock Oven Red (Okanagan Valley)

381. 2005 Laughing Stock Vineyards Portfolio (OkanaganValley)

These two were opened to keep in with our Olympic theme of honouring wine-producing countries that won gold medals the previous day. Our kids won two - so, why not hail our champions with two of the big blends coming off the Naramata Bench.

Kettle Valley has generally been known for its love of big, extracted (if not necessarily the most finessed) wines and their Rock Oven Red is a Cab/Shiraz blend that delivers. I don't think there was any deliberate thought to the fact that the name evokes the rocks from the curling ice and the red that everyone was wearing in support of the team. Who'd have been that calculated?

Laughing Stock came out of the blocks with guns blazing in 2003 and their Portfolio Meritage almost immediately became one of the most collectible wines from the Okanagan Valley. The 2005 vintage features all five of the Bordeaux varietals with Merlot forming the backbone at 59%.

382. NV La Fiole du Pape Pere Anselme (AOC Chateauneuf-du-Pape - France)

I can't believe that I didn't get a shot of this bottle for the blog with Bittr & Sweet. It's such a unique package - down to the fake cellar dust. Luckily, it's one of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape's that sees the highest sales in the world. It's all over the web; so finding a picture of the bottle was no task. I find it interesting that Pere Anselme is sold as a non-vintage wine. Their idea is to keep a continual blend of vintages as they become available to keep the flavour profile the same year after year. The wine is predominantly Grenache-based; however, the Pere Anselme isn't as fruit forward as many of the newer fruitier Chateauneuf-du-Poofs that my sister accusing us of having a hankering for.

383. 1997 Elderton Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

Without fail, the Tyrant came through with another oldie, but goodie, from his cellar. Unlike the rest of us, he was actually buying wines back when this 1997 was readily available and laying them down. Consequently, he's at the point where he needs to drink some of these older vintages before they're past their prime. He needs more Drink That Bottle Nights in his life (and we're just the guys to help him out of his predicament). Since he was actually at the Gold Medal Curling match, it was great that he came by afterwards and brought some big guns to boot. Although most online sites think that this wine was at its peak a couple of years back, it still had plenty of verve for our liking - still lots of fruit and complexity.

384. 2004 Chateau du Trignon Sablet (AOC Cotes-du-Rhone Villages - France)

Lady Di was in her full pin glory. That girl had more pieces of Olympic metal that anyone I know, outside of the folks on the street selling and trading pins as a living. She'd clearly stayed passionate about her pin collecting throughout the Games and she was thrilled to see our own little pin-queen, Boo's, jaw drop when he saw her all decked out.

When not collecting pins nowadays, she's been on a bit of a French bistro cooking jag and we benefited - not only from her stove-top contributions to the dinner - but to another bottle from the Rhone. Sablet is a village in the Southern Rhone and this CDR Villages bottle is a bit of a "baby" Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Had we paid a little more attention to the bottles that had arrived, we could have tasted it at the same time as the Pere Anselme. Alas, mon frere, there was no Pere left - anywhere - to compare it with.

The game was hardly a walkover for the Canadian rink. Merlot Boy's favourite pants put up a grand effort, but the gold stays with us Canucks. We'll just have to wait and see if I've picked up any of the stellar shot-making or strategies by osmosis as our curling league starts up again next week.

Great game. Great wine. Great friends. This is what this blog is meant to be all about.

Nail Biting Time

So, it's Hockey Night in Canada (break out in the old theme now if you know it). Tonight's wines were picked to celebrate yesterday's gold medal by the Women's Hockey team and we're drinking them during the Men's semi-final game against the Slovaks. I don't think that anyone expected us to have to beat Russia in the quarter-finals to get this far, but things don't seem quite as bleak as they might have after the loss to the US last weekend.

It's Friday night and this city - if not the country - is going to be glued to the TV set. This is going to be one heckuva introduction of Canadian hockey madness to our visiting Aussie, Merlot Boy. His countrymen are rabid for their rugby, footy, swimming and any other sport you can think of, but I don't know if even they can match this country's addiction to and love of hockey.

Big times call for big wines. So, I've trotted out two of BC's top guns as we enjoy the game and a BBQ at Daveyboi's.

377. 2003 Nk'mip Qwam Qwmt Meritage (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I took a quick look at The List and the wines that we've had so far and I'm a bit surprised that this is only the fourth bottle that we've opened from Nk'mip. I know we have a fair bit in our cellar; so, I suppose I'll just have to reach for it a little more often.

I'm not going to go into much about the winery because I've talked a bit about it in the past and I'll find a bottle to wax more eloquently about when there's nothing else going on. I will add here, though, that the Qwam Qwmt label is given to Nk'mip's premium wines as it stands for and translates to "Achieving Excellence" in the native band's Okanagan language.

The winemaker, Randy Picton's, notes online say that the wine is 55% Cab Sauv and 45% Merlot; however, the label says that it's a 50/50 blend. No big difference there and I likely wouldn't be able to tell the difference if I was served any sort of combinations. But, I know that the bottle lasted no time whatsoever.

378. 2004 Poplar Grove Merlot (Okanagan Valley)

Our second bottle is much like the Nk'mip; I've already blogged a couple of Poplar Grove wines, but not as many I might have thought that I would have by now - and no Merlot. Poplar Grove is a favourite for the cellar and this is only the fourth or fifth wine being added to The List. I pulled this one out specifically to try and entice our own Merlot Boy to join us for at least a bit of a sip.

Still no deal. There's no way the old Merlot Boy would have made it through a vacation this long on soy milk and water alone. The disappearance of 35 pounds wouldn't even be a big enough of draw for me to give up wine while half way around the world. We've started to refer to his infamous diet as the "DRD." The first "DR" being his real life initials - not some reference to the fact that the diet was endorsed by big name doctor. Since no real names show up in the blog, we can't really call it the DRD; so, I suppose I should henceforth speak of the MBD - or Merlot Boy Diet.

That doesn't quite seem right either though since there's clearly no Merlot forming part of this diet. Perhaps I'll just have to go with the NMMBD or No Merlot Merlot Boy Diet. After all the Aussies are great at reducing phrases and names down to initials. Furthermore, I think it's appropriate that this diet would clearly leave me "numbed" from the lack of wine!

At least MB is still a lot of fun to be around. He'll just never know what he missed with this Merlot. This one came in at $40; so, we don't see it in our glass all that often. It takes a special occasion like this. But it was worth it. Much to our delight - and the delight of all the other folks yelling from the balconies and honking their car horns - the Canadian boys held on to win their semi. It'll be a Canada-US rematch for the gold on Sunday and you know we'll be there - although, unfortunately, not at the hockey rink itself. The couple of grand that tickets are going for can buy a lot of wine for the days to come.