Friday, April 30, 2010

Gewurz Across the Strait

Last Fall, I was saying how little I see or hear of Vancouver Island wineries. I know they're out there and I've even tried a few of them, but not nearly to the extent that I know and enjoy wines from the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys. Lately, however, I seem to be continually running across Averill Creek - one of the newer wineries in Vancouver Island's Cowichan Valley.I saw that the BC Wine Appreciation Society recently held an Averill Creek tasting. We weren't able to make it that evening though.

I then ran across them at the Playhouse Wine Festival last weekend as they were one of only fifteen BC wineries that were invited to participate this year. I just saw an article about them in the local EAT magazine. And, finally, to top it off, we were just given this bottle.

Someone must be trying to tell me something. Best get this bottle added to The List, I figure.

432. 2009 Averill Creek Gewurztraminer (Vancouver Island)

It's interesting that we're trying a Gewurz since almost every reference to them that I see involves a story about how owner, Andy Johnston, started the winery to try and achieve his dream "to make the quintessential Canadian Pinot Noir" - to the extent that he chose the Cowichan Valley and Vancouver Island location because he thought the climate as better suited to growing the "heartbreak grape" than the hotter Okanagan would be. Part of his reasoning was that Cowichan is found at the same latitude as Dijon and the Burgundy region in France - home to arguably the world's greatest Pinot Noirs.

But all the Pinot talk will have to be a story for another occasion.

Like all of Averill Creek's wines, all the grapes for the Gewurztraminer were estate grown - which is good news for Vancouver Island (where a number of wineries will "import" grapes from the Okanagan). I'm not generally the first to reach for this varietal but I thought this bottle was fine - neither overly floral, nor off-dry.

This may be my first entry involving Averill Creek, but I dare say it won't be my last.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Finca Flichman

Goodness, it seems a bit out of sorts, posting an entry that doesn't have anything to do with wine festivals or hockey. Just a plain old bottle of wine at home.

I think I like it. Bit easier. In any event...

431. 2006 Finca Flichman Oak Aged Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

Despite the proximity of the timing, this bottle actually wasn't a holdover from Argentina being the theme region at the recent Playhouse Wine Festival. It was simply a bottle that was easy to grab from the wine rack and it fit the need.

I've added a Finca Flichman Malbec to The List previously but it was a different vintage and "brand." As previously mentioned in the blog, Finca Flichman is one of the oldest and biggest brands in Argentina and they have worked on modernizing winery facilities and improving their quality in the last decade. They have a number of labels now and the winery proudly pointed out that it's been winning international awards with some of its higher end wines.

This label - despite the "Oak Aged" moniker - is still one of the winery's entry level wines. It's made to offer up fruit and approachability at a good price ($11 in BC) and to be drunk early in its life. The fact that this was a 2006 vintage is a bit surprising, but the wine didn't suffer.

Fairly popular in Vancouver, it'll see its fair share of BBQ's this summer.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Canucks Knock Out the Kings

Seeing as how I was at the Playhouse Wine Festival instead of sitting back with a bottle of La Frenz for Game 5 last Friday, I decided to try and make up for it with a double header of wine Sunday night. The fact that the Canucks were up two games to one and could close out the series left me thinking that I should bring out the big reds. The hope was that a bit of punch and body to the wine would provide that little extra to put away the Kings.

Looks like it worked. (Were it only that easy.)

429. 2004 La Frenz Reserve (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

430. 2005 La Frenz Reserve (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

Reserve is La Frenz's entry into the Bordeaux styled blends. The free thinker that he is, Jeff Martin doesn't cater to the marketing that is the "Meritage" name, but he delivers all the same.

I didn't see breakdowns of the varietals, but the labels say that Martin's Bordeaux blend is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot being the second most prominent component. It was interesting to try the two vintages side by side. I don't know that I would have recalled much of a difference had we tried them on separate occasions. While the overall profile was very similar, I think there was a touch more fruit on the nose and the palate with the 2005.

And, being the fruit-driven kind of guy that I am, I suppose it makes sense that I took a bit bigger pour of the '05 with the second glass.

Don't take me too literally on a more prominent fruit though. Neither of the bottles struck me as big, new world, fruit bomb kind of wines. They were more of smooth Sedin kind of pass than a big Alexander Edler hit (that'll test your hockey trivia).

The end result, however, was that the Canucks indeed won the game and the series. The series of La Frenz wines carried the day in their winning ways and Boo and I clearly won in that we had the chance to drink six of Jeff Martin's wines over the course of a week and a half. Seems to me that the only losers were the L.A. Kings.

Bring on the second round! Now to pick the series winery.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Volcanic B-day

Following another round of tasting at the Playhouse Festival, what I really need to do is go home for a good sleep. But it is Friday night, the Canucks won big and the Cockney Queen is hosting a bit of an impromptu party. Turns out that one of her good friends was visiting from England and has been stranded because of the volcanic ash being spewed in Iceland.

Tomorrow night was to be one of those landmark birthday parties for her back in London. The Cockney Queen's place isn't all that far from the Trade and Convention Centre, so I ventured off for a quick chorus of "Happy Birthday."

Unlike at the Festival, people at the party weren't spitting. Whoa. After two days of spending more time over a bucket than I ever did even during my university drinking days, this comes across as a novel - and welcome - idea.

I could see that a great number of bottles had already sacrificed their contents to the Icelandic volcano in the hope of getting the birthday girl home soon.

Another welcome side effect is that I get to add a bottle to The List. It seemed such a shame to not add any bottles after all the sipping at the Festival, but here's a legitimate bottle that I actually helped offer up to the volcano gods.

428. 2009 Crossroads Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough - New Zealand)

It's almost like I was back at the Festival - a New Zealand wine that I've never seen before. And, bonus, I hadn't made it to the Crossroads table yet.

Although this wine is from the Marlborough region on the South Island, the boutique winery was started and is based in Hawkes Bay on the North Island. According to its website, the winery principals were so fascinated with the success of Marlborough Sauv Blanc that they figured they should buy up some land down there and get in on the show.

With a typical New Zealand profile, the wine was an easy way to finish off the evening.

So there you have it, Kiwi wine, British birthday girl, hockey-mad Canadians and the logistical sensibilities to realize that you can't really even have a birthday if you're stranded on foreign shores because of volcanic eruptions. The conclusion - the volcano gods will have to wait another year before we can sacrifice this poor girl to the big four-oh.

Random Thoughts From a Second Day

What's a guy to do when life gets in the way of a theme-related blog series? Tonight was Game 5 of the Canucks and Kings playoff round and I should have been sitting glued to the TV - with another bottle of La Frenz - to help cheer on the boys. With the series tied a two games apiece, it's a rather pivotal game (to keep the tone somewhat understated). But it's the second day of the big Festival Tasting Room and that's a rather critical event in the "life of Bob" as well.

Not that there was a whole lot of soul searching, but I decided to try and accomplish both as best as I could - attend the Festival, wear my Canucks jersey and try to locate a TV at the event to keep up on the score. As it turned out, the Canucks won the game in a bit of a romp and, while I love the result, I don't generally find a 7-2 game to be all that riveting to watch. I guess that, if I had to miss a game, this wasn't the worst one to miss.

Besides, wearing the jersey was a piece of brilliance. There were a ton of other folks in the Tasting Room that were staying on top of the game and people felt compelled to tell me the latest score within seconds of a new goal. It was almost as if I was getting a play-by-play broadcast of the game - and I was just out of the room, getting another glass of wine, whenever there was a goal.

As for the Festival, since I didn't actually drink any single bottle this evening (although there were more than a couple that I would have been happy to sit back with and enjoy), I don't get to add another bottle to The List. Accordingly, I figured I'd just set out some random thoughts from the Festival ... so far.

- attending some of the smaller seminars or tasting events can be a whole lot more civilized and offer up wines that are nowhere to be seen in the Tasting Room.

- Who knew that a Nova Scotian winery, L'Acadie, made a sparkling wine?

- the toughest wine in the Tasting Room to get a taste of is the 2002 Louis XV Rose Extra Brut from Champagne de Venoge. But then, at $335 a bottle, it's no wonder they only open one or two bottles a day.

- I liked the fact that such a large percentage of the people in attendance were young and apparently enthusiastic about wine.

- There were only five wineries here from Portugal but I enjoyed the fact that they brought more than just Port. By all accounts, Portugese still wines are improving by leaps and bounds and I particularly liked the wines from Saven and Wine & Soul.

- I am so guilty of gravitating towards trying the higher end wines and passing by the under $20 bottles. In my defence though, it makes sense to have an idea of what you're buying if you have to shell out some major coin for a bottle. I'm okay with trying a wine - just because it looks interesting - when it's under $20, but I like some sense of background before I spend over $25.

- I just wonder how much wine gets tossed down the drain from the collective spit buckets?

- The Festival's secondary theme - Global Focus - of Rose wines was very timely and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing just how varied a winemaker's approach can be with Rose - from grape varietal to degree of (or lack thereof) residual sugar to adding bubble or not. We weren't talking White Zinfandel here.

- a little bit of celebrity never hurts any event and the attendance of actor - and winemaker - Sam Neill created all sorts of buzz for the Festival. His winery, Two Paddocks, is located in one of my "hot" regions, Central Otago in New Zealand, but I didn't run out to buy any bottles. Sorry Sam. Took his picture though.

- Finally, I'm going to have to face the reality of the fact that I'm not going to be able to visit all the wineries that I'd like to. Tomorrow's the last day and I'll just have to have a highlighted list of must-try wines. The other five hundred or so will just have to wait.

Friday, April 23, 2010

2010 Vancouver Playhouse Festival - Yippee!

So, it's the first day of the big public tastings at this year's Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival - and I'm both stoked and apprehensive. The Festival Tastings are as awe-inspiring as it gets in this town for sheer opportunity to take in and discover what the world of wine truly encompasses. As the Festival's website states, the "Festival is widely regarded as the best consumer wine show on the continent, and the International Tasting room is the heart of it. The Wine World is Here."

This is the first opportunity for the Festival to be held at the new Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre and it promises to be big. Offering a record number of 196 participating wineries, from 14 countries, pouring 761 different wines, it can all be a bit much to take it in. I've yet to find a way to visit every winery and try every wine that I REALLY WANT TO - let alone try to get to each and every one of them in the room. And, that's when I attend all three days of the festival tasting room. I can't imagine how much I'd have to pass on if I were to only attend one session.

Picking a wine producing nation to take centre stage has been a festival trademark for years now and this year's theme region is actually a double play. The Playhouse went South of the Equator and has decided to spotlight both Argentina and New Zealand - as contrasting, yet similar, wine regions.

Seeing as how Boo and I are scheduled to take a trip to Argentina this Fall, I've been looking forward to the Festival as an opportunity to discover some tips for incorporating some wine adventures into our trip and to unearth some treasures that we don't normally see, hear of or taste up here.

For the New Zealand side of the Festival Room, I'm looking to, once again, try wines that we don't normally see in our market and find out what the Kiwis do beyond the signature Sauvignon Blanc. In particular, I have a bit of jones for the Central Otago region and its Pinot Noirs. A few years back, I'd never heard of Central Otago but we tried a Pinot at a tasting and thought it was the cat's meow. The wines that we see up here in BC from that region tend to be on the pricey side of the wineshop, so I'm always on the lookout for an opportunity to try more wines from the region.

From past experience at the Festival, I know that, at least for me, having a game plan for attacking the room is great in theory, but not so realistic when it comes to implementation. A session of whites? Half reds, half whites? Just New Zealand for a couple of hours? The whole evening talking to the Argentinean wineries to get the vacation scoop? Things generally - and today was no different - end up with a haphazard zig-zag all over the place: looking for some of the big names and a rare chance to try one of the super high-end wines, acting on a tip from a fellow Festival goer or just seeing a booth with a crowd and thinking that there must be something of note that's drawing the crowd.

A bigger challenge than picking a wine to try though is remembering which wines really tickle your palate. Trying a hundred or so wines in an evening doesn't necessarily result in the clearest of recollections come the end of the evening. Taking notes amongst the crowds isn't always the easiest thing to do either, but I do try and find a way of marking up the best finds.

It seems a shame that, after hours of tasting, I don't get to add a single bottle to The List, but I did find more than a couple that I hope to add down the road. It's also hard to believe how I barely scratched the surface of all the wines that were there for the tasting! Today's most noteworthy are:

- Bodega Del Fin Del Mundo (Patagonia) and Bodegas Y Vinedos Renacer SA (Mendoza) from Argentina. They were sharing a table and the two winery reps were a pleasure to chat with. Renacer produces a wine based on the Amarones of Italy - called Enamore Perdriel, but naturally, it's not easily found in our market.

- I found myself leaning towards the whites from New Zealand - particularly the Pinot Gris from Mount Riley, the Riesling from Omaka Springs and a Viognier from Elephant Hill. There were plenty of Sauv Blancs that tweaked my interest as well, but I suppose I expected that.

- Time for the rest of the world was limited, but I did get a chance to try Panther Creek from Oregon for the first time and was especially blown away by their Freedom Hill Pinot Noir.

- Thorn-Clarke Wines, from the Barossa, also served up a wicked line-up - topped off by the Milton Park Shiraz and their flagship Shiraz, William Randall.

One of my favourite aspects of the Festival is the on-site liquor store. Most of the wines being poured in the Tasting Room are available for sale and many of them just aren't available otherwise in the city. The wines that can only be found at the Festival are identified with a big, blue dot and it's amazing how quickly some of them sell out! I find myself in the store at least a couple times a day to see if there are any bottles of a particular find available. It cuts into my tasting time, but sometimes a bit of pain in the present is worth the future pleasures.

I'm also "off" the No Buy Leash for the weekend. I know it's really only loosened a bit and is never far away, but Boo will be a major participant in the bottles to come, so I'm not too worried about a case or two, here or there.

Quite the start, but there's still plenty to go for come tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Maybe a White Will Change Things Up

Admittedly, the Canucks are down a game to the Kings. So, what does a sporting team do when things just don't seem to be going their way? They change things up a bit. That's what I'm going to try with our wines for this series. We've been drinking all reds so far in this first round of the NHL playoffs and things haven't exactly gone convincingly in the Canucks' direction.

Maybe it's time for a white - and, boy, do we have one.

427. 2006 La Frenz Chardonnay (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

I'm not the biggest Chardonnay drinker. I'm not exactly ABC (Anything But Chardonnay), but it's not my "go to" white.

I could, however, drink this La Frenz - bottle after bottle after bottle.
The winery refers to this wine as having a "peaches and cream style" and I just know that I love it. Great fruit, full body and oak that's integrated and not over-powering.

I don't know if going white was the reason or not, but the Canucks (in their white jerseys) scored a stellar come-from-behind win to tie up the series. Now it's back to Vancouver where the boys can try and take the series lead again.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Game 3 - California Dreaming

One thing I always figure I can count on is a good bottle of La Frenz Shiraz. Wish I could say the same for a Canucks game. The wine hit the spot. Our team did not. It wasn't like the Canucks stunk the joint out (although I think we can officially say that the street is wondering where Luongo's mojo and the Canuck's penalty killing have gone), but they lost it and now they're down two games to one and they have a bit more work to do to win this series.

426. 2006 La Frenz Shiraz (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

At least the wine again helped sooth some frayed nerves. Maybe La Frenz and Shiraz go hand in hand, not only because owner and winemaker, Jeff Martin, is a transplanted Aussie, but because he also cut his chops working with McWilliams, one of the best known houses Down Under. If you're ever going to get some exposure to the Shiraz varietal, Oz has got to be one of the best places to do so.

Too bad, but I don't think Martin plays hockey.

I'm just one of many that's glad he's seen fit to stay with us Canucks for all the time that he has - having set roots in the Okanagan in 1994. There's no doubt that, in what still might be termed a fledgling BC wine industry, his experience counts - much like it does in the playoffs. In fact, Martin realized during this 2006 bottling that - counting his stints in both hemispheres - he was completing his 36th vintage.

VanCity had hoped for a better start to this California jaunt, but conspiracy theories aside, perhaps we should just see about sending some La Frenz wines to NHL headquarters and buy off the scoundrels that judged Daniel Sedin's goal to have been "kicked" in. Give me another glass of wine, puh-leeze!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Post-Game Libation

As mentioned in the previous post, we were being feted last night by our Dinner Club and the Tyrant's reincarnation of Julia Child and, as such, we had to miss drinking our bottle of this round's La Frenz during the Canucks game. It's great that the dinner was as good as it was since our guys lost to the Kings in overtime. A bottle of La Frenz might not have been enough to smooth out the disappointment.

425. 2006 La Frenz Merlot (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

To drown those post-game sorrows, Boo and I had our La Frenz as a post-game libation - the next day however.

The 2006 vintage wasn't the multi-award winner that Jeff Martin's Merlot has been in the past, but it still packs a punch though. Indeed, holding back punches is not something that Martin is known for - in his wines or in his comments about the wine industry in general and in BC.

You'll note that none of his wines have a VQA designation - not that there's a person that would try to deny that the wines would attain the designation without question. Martin just doesn't see the VQA symbol as necessary - particularly when he doesn't seem to have any problem selling out year after year.

The wine certainly wasn't as disappointing as an overtime loss in the playoffs. The nose on this Merlot was bright and inviting (like an early Canucks lead) but the flavours on the palate just didn't seem to match the vibrancy of the nose.

Won't stop me from going back for game 3 or for more La Frenz though.

A Vintage Dinner Club

For the time being, this is going to be an abbreviated posting. I'm somewhat pressed for time and this entry is going to be one that will take both time and thought. Add, to that, the fact that I still have to make arrangements to get a more extensive array of photos since Boo's camera battery ran out of juice five shots into the evening.

I did, in the mean time, however, want to at least add the wines from this big night to The List. It's a grand assortment - unlike almost any evening I think I've had the pleasure of participating in.

It all started with Tyrant sending out a request for wines to be brought to the next instalment of our Dinner Club. It was his turn to host - but all he asked of the four couples joining in was two Champagnes and two "interesting French whites." Knowing that four bottles wouldn't suffice with this crowd, he confided that he had the reds covered. What we didn't know was that he was using our dinner as an opportunity to open a number of his old Bordeaux bottles that were starting to hit their "best before" dates.

Lucky us.

I'll hopefully get some pictures and expand on the evening shortly, but suffice it to say that Tyrant was channelling his "inner Julia Child" for the faithful. And the wines lived up to the occasion.

416. NV Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut Cuis 1er Cru (AOC Champagne - France)

417. NV Duval-Leroy Brut - Collection Paris (AOC Champagne - France)

418. 2005 Domaine Weinbach Reserve Muscat (AOC Alsace - France)

419. 2007 Domaine Christian Moreau - Cuvee Buy Moreau (AOC Chablis 1er Cru Vaillon - France)

420. 1982 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillon (AOC St. Julien - France)

421. 1982 Chateau Gruaud Larose Grand Cru Classe (AOC St. Julien - France)

422. 1986 Chateau Gruaud Larose Grand Cru Classe (AOC St. Julien - France)

423. 1986 Chateau Cos d'Estournel Grand Cru Classe (AOC St. Estephe - France)

424. 1977 Dow's Silver Jubilee Vintage Port (Portugal)

Considering that the Canucks were playing Game 2 of their playoff series with LA, Boo and I should have been simply sipping away on a bottle of LaFrenz. I think even die-hard Canuck fans would have a difficult time passing up this line-up though. I do have to admit that one of the other guests, Axel, and I had to excuse ourselves from the table on a number of occasions to "go to the bathroom." The phrase didn't fool anyone, but it was code for "I'm going to go and check on the score" since, coincidentally, you had to pass the television room while headed to a bathroom.

The Canucks lost in overtime, but our team certainly won with this evening. For now, I'll simply say that Julia would have been proud of Tyrant. And I got to add some pretty stellar wines to The List - although you can see just how exhausting all this hard work is on an old-timer like me.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Burn The Floor

I managed to talk Boo into going to see Burn The Floor, the travelling Broadway show based on latin ballroom dance. It was one of the shows that I would love to have seen when we had that quick trip to NYC last year, but it wasn't in the cards. Being a sucker for those reality dance shows on TV, it was a natural for me when I saw it was coming for a short run in Vancouver.

Seeing as how it was just down the street, we went for dinner at Sanafir. Turns out we ate too much, likely drank too much and almost missed the start of the show when we lost track of time.

Sanafir features foods that are inspired by cuisines found along the ancient Silk Road. The dishes encompass Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Asian. With flavours jumping all over the place, I thought a white - maybe even with a touch of residual sugar - might match the expected spices.

414. NV Sokol Blosser Evolution - Lucky Edition (Willamette Valley - Oregon)

I'd never heard of Evolution before but the bartender said it was aimed at the Conundrum market. I remember having Conundrum once (before I'd started this blog and The List) and I recalled it as being a bit too far on the off-dry side for the occasion, but the bartender said he generally sees a second bottle go to all the tables that order one. I took him at his word.

Sokol Blosser has a history of being one of the pioneering wineries in Oregon's Willamette Valley and I saw that one writer referred to Evolution as the winery's "cash cow." The wine is a blend of nine varietals - Muller-Thurgau, White Riesling , Semillon, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Muscat Canelli, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner. The percentages of each varietal aren't released however.

Part of their reasoning relates to another interesting twist that the winery takes with this wine. Each release is announced as an "edition" rather than with a vintage year. The profile of the wine is always undergoing an evolution and, as such, the percentages are continually changing. In yet another twist, this is the "Lucky Edition" because Sokol Blosser didn't want to tempt the fates and superstitions surrounding the number 13. This is the thirteenth edition of the wine, so they've turned the tables and confirmed that this wine is based on good luck.

Wine maker, Russ Rosner, is quoted on the website as saying that, "in over 20 years of winemaking, this is by far the hardest wine I've had to make. It's like mixing 9 different colours of paint and trying to end up with a rainbow instead of a muddy brown."

I was pleasantly surprised with the bottle. While it did entertain bright fruit and a bit of residual sugar - that went well with the spices - it was still balanced with nice acidity. For $24 in the liquor store (not the restaurant), I think it is a pretty lucky find.

In fact, the bottle disappeared rather too quickly. We weren't half-way through our tasting menu before it was all gone. I wouldn't have had a problem ordering a second bottle, but I'm always thinking of The List and couldn't turn down the opportunity of adding a second bottle this evening.

415. Castillo de Monseran Old Vines Garnacha (DO Carinena - Spain)

Since we had progressed to the meat dishes, I ordered a bottle of Spanish Grenache. It wasn't exactly the bottle that I thought I'd ordered, but this turned out to be a good thing. I know that Castillo de Monseran is a well-known bargain wine in our market. This is the winery's higher priced (if $14 in the bottle shop can be considered a premium price) wine based on fruit from 50-80 year old vines and sees a bit of oak barrel aging.

Carinena is a town in North-East Spain that lends its name to both the surrounding appellation region and to the Carignan grape. Ironically, the region might be better known for Grenache - or Garnacha as its known there. Carinena is frequently cited as the birthplace of the Grenache varietal. It's only after it was established here that the grape migrated to its better known home in Rhone and the South of France. The regional wines from Carinena were relatively unknown until the 1980's as their wine was often used to blend with wines from the more established Rioja region.

I was particularly intrigued by the city's long-standing tradition of circulating wine through town fountains on occasion during the Fall wine festival. The tradition stems from 1585 when the ruling monarch, King Philip II, visited the town and the fountain was set to spout wine in his honour.

Expecting big fruit, this wine delivered. Lots of passion to get us in mood for all the Latin bump and grind that was to follow on the dancefloor. As mentioned, we lost track of time and had to hightail it down to street to make it in time for the curtain. I even had to leave a generous glass of my wine behind. Even for me, those last couple sips weren't worth missing a pulsing Rhumba or Tango.

My guess is that Boo and I will have to stick with the wine drinking as opposed to taking up some of the moves we saw on the dancefloor.

Wine Blogging Wednesday 68 - Got Gamay?

After having taken five years to actually discover and participate in my first Wine Blogging Wednesday ("WBW"), I'm a tad disappointed that it's taken me another three months to get my act in gear for a sophomore entry. Guess the Vancouver Olympics - and the inevitable catch-up period that followed - left me a bit behind the eight ball. I'm glad to be back to give it another whirl though.

This month's topic is being hosted by Frank Morgan of Drink What You Like and he'd like to see what everyone has to say about the Gamay Noir grape. He admits to a bit of "fetish" for the "often overlooked and underestimated" grape. How could I say "no" to joining in on a fellow blogger's fetish?

I don't know if she'd classify it as a fetish, but I did recall that the Lady Di has a thing going on with Gamay. So, it seemed like a perfect opportunity for Boo and I to invite her and She Who Must Be Obeyed over for dinner. My thought was to have a little catch-up time with the girls, compare a couple of Gamays from different areas and both participate again in WBW and make a couple of additions to The List.

Unlike some of the best known varietals like Merlot or Shiraz, the Gamay Noir grape is not a grape that we tend to see produced worldwide. Known for its high acidity and somewhat fragile profile, it tends to be produced as a straight varietal and isn't noted as a popular blending grape. There are a couple of strongholds - most notably in the Beaujolais and Loire regions of France. However, it is being introduced and vinified in Australia and Oregon now as well. It is also grown in both of Canada's major wine regions - Ontario and BC.

With that in mind, I figured I'd contrast a Beaujolais with a homegrown BC wine and see how they compared. The Lady Di didn't need to but she brought along a bottle of her own. We were going to taste everything blind, but I thought I'd just take a quick check of her wine. Good thing I did because, against all odds, she brought along the same Beaujolais that I had picked up. Luckily, I'd grabbed a couple possible choices and substituted a second bottle so that we could compare a trio.

Since she's a non-drinker - a rarity among my crowd - we asked She Who Must Be Obeyed to decant and number each of the wines so that none of us tasting would know which wine was which.

We sampled each of them both before and during dinner and, somewhat surprisingly, came to some very similar conclusions - particularly since Boo and I are known to have regularly differing favourites. I usually think of Beaujolais as being very approachable and easy drinking on its own. Eric Asimov in his New York Times column has written that the best Beaujolais wines "combine density of flavour with lightness of body." I don't know if our wines lived up to that profile though. None of us sang praises of incredible noses or bright fruit and all three of us found each of the wines to have long acidic finishes that went much better with the food than on their own.

Before revealing our wines, I'll mention that it turns out that our French wines represented two of the ten Beaujolais Crus - Fleurie and Cote de Brouilly. Knowing that Beaujolais can be dominated by large producers, both Lady Di and I tried to locate smaller, family run wineries that were still generally considered top notch producers in the area. Both wines came highly recommended in the Vancouver market.

In another surprise for the evening, all three of us chose the same wine as our favourite. We thought that all three were similar in structure and overall profile - a light to medium body with red berry fruit coming through with a bunch of pucker to finish. The determining factor for all of us though was that the fruit shone through more brightly with one wine. The wines, in order of overall preference, were:

411. 2008 Orofino Gamay (Similkameen Valley)

Yet another surprise. The BC wine was a clear choice over the two Cru Beaujolais. Gamay still isn't a big name varietal in BC. Indeed, Orofino only made 70 cases of this vintage. It would seem, however, that the varietal might have a bit of future in the region. I've written a bit about Orofino previously and I really believe that John and Virginia Weber are off to a great start. Located in the Similkameen and living in the shadow of the more famous Okanagan, this only builds on my hope that the new region sees even greater exposure to what they're capable of. Their website describes their approach to the Gamay as being all about the fruit and a softness on the palate. They must have succeeded as we all identified a more prominent fruit with the Orofino.

412. 2007 Chateau Thivin Cote de Brouilly - Les Sept Vignes (AOC Cote de Brouilly - France)

413. 2007 Domaine du Vissoux Fleurie - Les Garants (AOC Fleurie - France)

We didn't find too much of a discernable difference as to preference between the two French wines. The Lady and I had a slight preference for the Cote de Brouilly, while Boo picked the Fleurie as his second choice.

Both wineries offer a selection of Beaujolais wines - from different region-wide Cru to single vineyard labels. We, coincidentally, tried a different approach from the two producers. The Fleurie was a single vineyard while the Cote de Brouilly was a blend from Chateau Thivin's seven plots in the region.

Generally speaking, Domaine de Vissoux is supposed to be fashioned to be slightly more fruit forward in its approach than most Beaujolais wines and its single vineyard Fleuries have been called among the best in the appellation. Les Garants is apparently one of the most revered. Robert Parker even gave this particular vintage a 91 score. As mentioned though, we didn't notice the fruit so much - especially compared to the Orofino.

Both Lady Di and I were advised by respective wine merchants that Chateau Thivin is regarded as one of the best and most consistent estates in Beaujolais. Although this wine is a blend from seven different vineyards, each of those plots are noted by the owners for its own unique qualities and the fruit from each vineyard is vinified separately before blended.

The pricing on all the wines was very similar. All were in the $25-$28 range which makes them a little pricey for a supposed easy drinking, mid-week, patio wine (but remember where I am and BC's high tax regime).

Thanks to Frank and his choice of topics for getting me back into the WBW game. All in all, I don't know that I'm quite ready to join Frank in his elevation of Gamay to fetish level, but I will keep an eye out for some further opportunities to try it - particularly for some additional BC takes on the grape.

Les Playoffs et La Frenz

It seemed to take forever, but the NHL playoffs are finally upon us - and there's both a vibrant hope (and trepidation, at least in this household) that the Canucks can give VanCity a long and exciting ride. General consensus in the media is that the Stanley Cup is truly up for grabs this year, with any number of teams having a legitimate chance. It might be a kiss of death, but the Canucks have even been mentioned as possibly making it out of the western Conference. There's a lot of hockey to be won before a parade route needs to be determined - 16 wins to be exact - but, with Olympic memories still beating strong, a string of wins would set the city afire.

I digress. This is supposedly a wine blog, so I'll leave hockey commentary - like can Luongo get his mojo back or will the injuries to the defence corps be too much to overcome - to the sports pages and jock-talk shows. Like last year, however, I'm going to nominate a BC winery to champion each series that the Canucks play in and we'll open a different wine for each of the games.

Some of BC's best to bring out the best in our boys.

Last year, I opened the playoffs with Golden Mile/Road 13 for round one and followed that up with Burrowing Owl for the conference semi-finals. Had the Canucks beat Chicago, La Frenz was going to get the nod for the Western finals. Hated those upstart Blackhawks for depriving us of both more hockey and the La Frenz. So, I'll think we'll just pick up from where we left off a year ago.

My biggest hurdle to overcome in choosing La Frenz for this series is that I've already added seven of their wines to The List. That means that I'm going to have to be careful that I don't grab a bottle that I've previously blogged (like I mistakenly did last week). La Frenz is one of our favourites, so we have a bit of their wine cellared but it's not an endless supply should the series get dragged out.

410. 2005 La Frenz Montage (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

Boo and I were first introduced to La Frenz when we ordered a bottle of Montage a number of years back while vacationing in the Okanagan. We've been fans of Jeff and Niva Martin ever since.

I generally think of the Montage as an introductory red blend for the winery. The varietals involved have changed over the years and I haven't seen any report as to how each vintage's grapes and percentages are chosen, but the 2005 is a blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet (although the breakdown wasn't shown on the bottle). It's not what I'd a common mix and more recent vintages appear to have replaced the Pinot with Shiraz.

Especially since this is just the start of a new series, I kinda hate to say that this wasn't my favourite La Frenz wine. To be fair though, I don't think you can expect a winemaker's every wine from every vintage to knock your socks off. My guess is that this year's blend featured a majority of Pinot. The acidity and body just didn't say Merlot or Cab to me and I don't know that the purpose behind this blend met with my tastes.

In the same vein, I can't say that the hockey team delivered a stellar performance either. At least the Canucks managed to eke out an overtime win though. Here's hoping that a few more games and a few more wines will return my sense of balance to the universe. Strong Canuck wins and yummy La Frenz wines.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Bubbly Birthday

Jeaux and I go back a long ways. So, to some extent, it grieves me to see her hit one of those landmark birthdays. It just reminds me of how old I'm getting! A gentleman would never divulge a lady's true age, so I'll just leave you with the knowledge that we've been pals for well over half the years she's been making everyone smile - and we're into decades of friendship.

Over those years, there have been some pretty spectacular memories - Toronto, New Orleans, university escapades. Some of the best times have involved hefty, hefty fines, dacquiri bashes, impromptu opera in the kitchen and Mel Gibson's nipples (but back in his cuter, less controversial, days). And, truly, I suppose it's a wonderful thing that "What happens in N'Awlins, Stays in N'Awlins."

But tonights it's the Kits Yacht Club and a night of bubbly. I don't know if it was on purpose, but Jeaux's drink of choice for the evening was Prosecco - and it matches her sparkly and bubbly personality perfectly.

Not only did we eat, laugh, dance to old disco and enjoy the Vancouver skyline, but I get to add another three bottles to The List.

407. NV Graham Beck Brut Rose (South Africa)

The first wine of the night wasn't even a Prosecco, but I was lucky enough to be standing right by Jeaux when they popped the cork on a bottle of Cap Classique. Prosecco or Spanish Cava is often the wine of choice when your budget doesn't quite fit an evening's worth of classic Champagne, but this South African sparkler is known as another great stand-in. One of Jeaux's many friends had the where-with-all to bring it along.

I've never had Graham Beck before, but it's a neat coincidence that I was just trying to find some Cap Classique - to no avail - last month. And apparently this is a good one to find. Made in the same method as classic Champagne, England's wine goddess, Jancis Robinson, has said that Graham Beck is "virtually South African for fine fizz." One of its claims to fame is that the Brut (not this Rose) was served at the installation of Nelson Mandela as South African President.

The winery website says that the Rose is a blend of 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir grapes and is sourced from three of the winery's different regional holdings in Robertson, Franschhoek and Stellanbosch. The winery itself is located outside the city of Robertson in the Western Cape. Graham Beck isn't quite as old as Jeaux, it was only started in 1983, but I hope it's around for many years to come because I'll definitely keep my eye open for more of this Classique. I couldn't find the actual cost of the bottle but I see that the Brut is $25. I should think that a Rose might be a bit more expensive, but it doesn't take too much imagination to see the bargain compared to Champagne prices.

408. NV Nino Franco Rustico (DOC Prosecco di Valdobbiadene - Veneto - Italy)

For Boo's and my contribution to the Prosecco bar, I brought along the Rustico. This is another wine that I'd never heard of; however, I figured there'd be quite a selection of the regular Prosecco's that can be found in VanCity, so I Googled "Best Prosecco Vancouver" and I saw a couple postings with folks talking about Nino Franco. I was rather pleased to find a bottle at our local provincial shop.

I was even more pleased to taste what was inside the bottle. Creamy and slightly sweet, this is definitely a Prosecco that I would return to again and again. I saw on the winery website that they have a number of different wines - including single vineyard Prosecco, which is something I don't think I've seen before. I don't think that our government stores carry the other labels, but if they're as good as this $25 bottle, I'd definitely give them a try.

409. NV. Bastianich Flor Prosecco (Veneto - Italy)

The final bottle that I was intimate with this evening was a new label to our market. A veritable youngster by Italian winery standards - it was established in 1997 - Bastianich is a "relatively small producer." It appears that only 1000 cases of Flor is produced; so, it's a tad surprising that you can find it in our market. But, here it is.

The "Bastianich" in the winery name is Joeseph Bastianich who is the "more silent" business partner of celebrity Iron Chef and restauranteur, Mario Batali. Bastianich started up the winery with his mother to fulfill a lifetime dream. Although the winery follows the appellation rules in making their Prosecco, the winery is located outside of the boundaries set for the Prosecco di Valdobbiadene DOC, so we don't see such labelling on the bottle.

Maybe it was because I was eating birthday cake by the time we got around to tasting this bottle, but I didn't find that I like it quite as much as I did the Rustico. The Flor seemed a little sweeter, not quite as rich and maybe a little more "populist" - like it was made for a real mainstream market - but it was still worthy of toasting Jeaux's big day.

No doubt, celebrating one of our birthdays in years past might have meant more beer than wine or tequila over Prosecco, but, then, we used to be able to recover from hard nights a whole lot easier that we can nowadays. I'm just happy that we're still having as much fun as we are and that there'll hopefully be plenty more toasts to each other down the road.

Happy Happy!

Wine Islands - What?

Tonight was to be an easy night at home with some grilled chicken and some TV. So, I figured a lighter red might be the route. Once again, it wasn't until after the bottle was long gone that I found out anything about the wine that I'd picked.

The bottle's label had no indication of its source except to say that it was from "The Wine Islands." It also referred to "Glenorah-Koksilah" but that meant nothing to me. Seeing that it was a blend of Gamay Noir and Marechal Foch, I figured it was a Canadian wine, but I really thought it was an Ontario wine when I opened it. Nothing sounded familiar to me and I have a pretty good idea of BC wineries - especially when I'm buying their wines.

Lo and behold, in this case, "The Wine Islands" are Vancouver Island and surrounds and this is a small winery in the Cowichan Valley. Funny thing is, I don't even remember picking up the bottle. I wonder if it was a leftover from a party. Once in awhile (maybe a blue moon or something similarly rare), there is a bottle or two left after a get-together. Who knows?

406. Godfrey Brownell - William Maltman's Double Red (Cowichan Valley - Vancouver Island)

Even after a quick review of the winery website and a read of John Schreiner's Wineries of British Columbia, I can't claim to know much about this wine. I get a feeling that the owner, David Godfrey, may be a bit of character. His was a circuitous route to Cowichan - Saskatchewan to Ontario to Vancouver Island - but Godfrey is the only winery owner in BC to have won a Governor General's Award for Fiction (Canada's biggest literary awards).

I do like the fact that he described the Valley's weather as an "unusual climate area - a rain-shadow rain forest." Sounds pretty cool climate to me.

This blend is apparently the winery's most popular red wine. I couldn't find a reference to the blend for this vintage; however, the website did say that the 2002/2003 Double Red was 70% Foch and 30% Gamay.

I've mentioned before that we don't see a lot of Island wines over here on the Mainland and the wines that we do see are more often than not white varietals. I'm just not sure that the "rain forest" is up to producing fully ripe reds. The wine was palatable with our meal, but we found this to be a tad acidic without the food. Not necessarily a wine that a fruit-lover like me would run back to quickly.

I did like the fact, however, that we got to try yet another Island wine and check out a blend that we don't see very often. And, perchance we meet again, I shall know from whence the wine hath come.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wild Goose Merlot

There hasn't been a whole lot of TGIF cocktails lately around the office. Guess most folks are just happy that another week has gone by and they're ready to get on with the weekend. Maybe the longer days and the nicer weather has lightened the mood, but the last month or so has seen at least a couple quick "week-caps." The primary gist, however, has been to round up an assortment of specialty beers and have a bit of a tasting.

Over the Easter long weekend, The Boss took a bit of a jaunt up to the Okanagan and he brought back a couple of bottles of wine from Wild Goose with him. Good Boss. He noted that I'd already added one of the bottles (the 2008 Gewurztraminer) to The List, but a second bottle was ripe for the opening. The gang still brought out an assortment of brews to sample but I took the wine opportunity when it was presented.

405. 2007 Wild Goose Merlot Reserve (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I was meant to post an entry about a BC Wine Appreciation Society tasting with Wild Goose Vineyards back in December '09, but the holiday season kind of got the best of me - particularly since I don't allow myself to add a bottle to The List while at tastings. I may still try to get back to posting that night, but the big news that Roland Kruger announced to the assembled gang was that their winery was named the 2009 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest. A regional winery of the year is chosen in each of Idaho, BC, Washington and Oregon and then an overall winner is chosen for the Pacific Northwest.

The Kruger family was justifiably proud of this accolade.

I think most people, me included, generally think of white wines when Wild Goose is mentioned in conversation - in particular, their Gewurztraminer and Riesling. The winery does, however, produce a Merlot and a Pinot Noir. The Boss's bottle was the more limited Reserve bottling. Aged a little longer in new French oak, the Merlot Reserve still didn't jump out of the glass for me. There was no hesitation when it came to refilling the glass but, at $25, I think I'd prefer to stick to the Wild Goose whites.

Not a bad start to the weekend though.

You Say "Ripasso"...

I've mentioned a couple of times in my little Wine Odyssey that I have a bit of jones about ripasso wines. It's not necessarily that they always knock my socks off - they don't - but I love the concept behind the production method. And the thought of potentially finding a baby brother to Amarone wines - that doesn't tax the pocketbook quite as much - is extremely appealing.

Tonight's wine may be just the ticket.

404. 2006 Zenato Ripassa (Valpolicella DOC Superiore - Italy)

Ripasso wines are a relatively new addition to the world of wine. Italian producer, Masi, is credited with being the first to commercially market a ripasso and that was only in the early 1980's. Indeed, Ripasso della Valpolicella only received its own DOC designation in 2009. The premise behind a ripasso wine is that, once the fermentation of the dried grapes is completed with a winery's Amarone wines, Valpollicella wine is then "re-passed" or added to the pomace of the Amarone grapes for a period of extended maceration. Pomace is the solid remains of grapes after they have been pressed and it will consist of skins, pulp, seeds and stems.

Introducing the Valpolicella wine to the Amarone pomace initiates a second fermentation, the desired result being a slightly increased alcohol content, deeper colour and higher concentrations of flavour and aroma. Voila, a wine that's bigger than a Valpolicella but not as rich, complex - or expensive to make - as an Amarone.

That is, when it works. Me, I suppose I'm really just looking for a poor man's Amarone. I want the rich, full bodied wines that hint of a Port's deep flavours - and I don't know that you can regularly expect that from just a "re-passing through some old grape leftovers. The majority of the flavour profile from the original grapes will have been drawn out in the Amarone. And, if all you're really incorporating from the pomace is more tannins (potentially bitter ones at that), the added components to the Ripasso may not be that profile that I'm looking for.

This one did work though.

At $33, it's still not an everyday price point, but it beats the $60-plus that is Amarone.

The Valpolicella region is in the Veneto, above Venice. I could so picture myself smack in the middle of any number of scenarios that would involve Venice (or the countryside), mouth-watering nibbles and a bottle of this wine.
Tonight, was simply a bit of lasagna and the wiles of Survivor, but, Oh, the imagination abounds.

This is the first bottle of wine I've tried from Zenato. I certainly hope that it won't be the last.

For the time being anyhow, when you say "Ripasso," I'll say "Ripassa."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Bonnet Parade

*Warning* Social Drinking Alert

Nothing really behind the "warning." I just realized, as I was setting up this post, that this one's really more about the event than the wine. Not that a lot of these posts aren't about the social aspect, but this one particularly features a bunch of gratuitous photos and not a lot of info on the wines.

Who really cares though? Surprisingly, this is the Year One anniversary of my first post for 2001 Bottles - A Wine Odyssey; I'm adding another two bottles to The List; and it's Easter. Social Drinking - seems like a given.

Family dinners at Easter have been around forever with our gang; however, a couple of years back, we tried a new activity that immediately morphed into a much anticipated tradition.

The making of the Easter Bonnet.

Everyone that comes to dinner is encouraged to join in the fun and construct a paper plate Easter Bonnet. They only have to be wearable for the briefest of picture opportunities but wit and adventure are highly admired.

Personally, I find that a glass or two of wine really helps to get the creative juices flowing.

402. 2008 Montes Cherub Rose of Syrah (D.O. Colchagua Valley - Chile)

If pink isn't appropriate for an Easter dinner, what is? It also didn't hurt that I've seen a number of higher end Montes wines hitting the Vancouver market and was wanting to try them. I hadn't enjoyed that possibility yet, but I thought this would be a great way to get started - both on the bonnet and on giving Montes a go.

The winery's website says that they decided to make their Rose from 100% Syrah grapes to allow for vivid colour and a bigger structure for a rose. These grapes are harvested from the winery's coastal vineyards, where the cooler temperatures allow for a longer ripening period which, in turn, allows the fruit flavours to fully develop but also helps maintain good acidity which goes a long way in a rose. The colour was vivid. No doubt about that and there was plenty of bright red berry fruit on the palate.

They also refer to Cherub as a "Vin d'Une Nuit." I hadn't heard the phrase before but it refers to the process of leaving the juice in contact with the skins for just one night of cold maceration.

All of the Montes wines seem to feature an angel on their respective labels. I'm not sure if the smile on my Mom's face was an effort to match the look of the cherub on the label, but the wine might have played a part in putting the smile there and it certainly matched nicely with the flowers in her tiara.

I don't know that I'd return to this Cherub over some of the other roses I've tried over the past year, but it disappeared quickly enough with this crowd.

As you can see with the evening's two favourite bonnets, the design components have advanced quite a bit after only three years. We even found that we were "forced" to introduce a rule whereby everyone is only allowed to bring along one unique item from the outside to feature on their chapeau. Voila, an Easter egg wreath and a stuffed bunny played prominent roles in the creation of a couple veritable works of art.

403. 2007 The Lucky Country Shiraz (Barossa Valley/McLaren Vale - Australia)

I won't go so far as to say the The Lucky Country is a "veritable work of art," but, once again, I was surprised to learn - after the bottle was long finished - that there was more to the wine than met the eye.

Turns out that The Lucky Country - much like Cherub - is an entry level wine for a high end producer. You won't find any mention of Two Hands on this bottle and The Lucky Country isn't to be found anywhere on Two Hands' website, but a good number of internet references point to the winery as being the producer. Two Hands is known as a premium winery that strives to highlight regional characteristics - particularly the diversity in Shiraz - with its small batch wines. I've only had one of their wines (see #147) but we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Unlike Two Hands' single region and single vineyard wines, The Lucky Country is a blend of Shiraz grapes from vineyards across the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. Plus, it's sold at a fraction of the price of wines featuring the Two Hands label.

We were having too much fun with the bonnets to really pay that much attention to the wine profile. So, I guess I'll just have to grab another bottle down the road and give it another once over. I'd like to check the pedigree of this wine out against some other bottles in the same $20 range.

For the gang at hand, it wasn't too much of a surprise that the piece de resistance for the dinner was a birthday cake. Vixen and Skeletor worked a little magic and a whole lot more imagination into the dinner, I knew that my youngest niece was into baking but I didn't know that (with her mom's help) she had already graduated to fondant. And I definitely hadn't expected a cake in the shape of a wine bottle. It's not a bottle that we can officially add to The List but I think I can get away with an honourary addition -

403A. 19-something or other Bobby's Bunny Bubbles (VQ Chocolate - Port Coquitlam)

With an abundant taste of chocolate and grape fondant, a perfect way to end the evening and celebrate Year One of this blog.

Now to start planning next year's bonnet.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Croatian Kastelet

One of the neat aspects of this little Wine Odyssey, is that I am making conscious efforts to explore more and more distant regions and to try and expose myself to an even greater understanding of just how diverse the world of wine really is.

I picked up tonight's bottle back before the Winter Olympics came to town. I tried to find wines from as many countries as I could that were potential gold medal winners. I can't say that I've ever tried a Croatian wine before, but I didn't get to pop the cork during the Games since the best the country's athletes could garner was two silver and one bronze medal - just shy of that gold medal criteria that I'd set.

That just meant that the bottle was still available to try now that the Games are behind us.

401. 2006 Dalmacijavino Kastelet Red (Croatia)

I couldn't find out a whole lot about this wine - not that I'm all that surprised by the fact. I was, however, rather surprised that the wine was even available at the government liquor store. My guess is that Vancouver's Croatian community has created a demand for the wine and this is one of the more prominent wines available for export.

Dalmacijavino does have a small web page but it doesn't have an English version, so you have to rely on your computer's Croatian to English translation capabilities. It gives a bit of an idea of the content but I did get a chuckle out of one of the translated paragraphs - "Dalmacijavino has its own, technially equipped modern cellars for wine production and the nursing homes, also boast a large capacity is the vineyard." I couldn't help but wonder if the wine is being made for the residents of the nursing homes or whether those residents help cover their room and board costs by working in the fields.

I did find out in general though that Croatia is the 21st largest wine-producing nation in the world. Its wineries produce over three times as much wine as Canada's do. I suppose that shouldn't be that much of a surprise since it is a Mediterranean country. The country still has to move forward more to thoroughly modernize its wine production though. Throughout the not-too-distant communist years, production was based more on quantity than quality, but some change is being seen as there is some interest in investing new monies in the industry.

The country produces mostly white wines - almost two to one when compared to the red wines like the one we're drinking tonight - and there are two major regions, the Mediterranean coast and the more continental interior. The red varietals are largely grown on the coast, particularly on the Dalmatian peninsula.

The label on the bottle states that Kastelet is made from the Plavac Mali grape - another new varietal to add to my Wine Century Club application. The grape is the most common varietal grown along the Dalmatian coast and it is apparently noted for some similarity to Zinfandel. Recent research at UC Davis has identified, through DNA fingerprinting, that Zin is one of the parents behind the cross that became Plavac Mali. I don't think that I would have guessed Zinfandel if I'd been tasting the wine blind though.

Coming in at $11 at the Liquor Store, it certainly has an agreeable price point. Unfortunately, for me, the information I found out about the production of wine in Croatia was more interesting than the wine was tasty. We managed to finish off the bottle, but I doubt I'd pick up another bottle - even if the country's athletes win that gold medal at the next games.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Fairview Cellars & A New Century Mark

With all the changes that have occurred in BC winemaking over the last decade, it's not that surprising that there isn't necessarily all that known about a good percentage of the current wineries in the province. A few of those wineries have garnered a bit of a reputation and/or persona though and, IMHO, Fairview Cellars is one of them.

Not a lot of wine is produced by Fairview and its owner and winemaker, Bill Eggert. I've seen a few notes put the number at between 2000 and 3000 cases a year. For the most part, all that wine is red - and pretty big reds at that. The vast majority of his wines involve Cab Sauv, Merlot and Cab Franc - those being the varietals that he first planted in his vineyard in 1993, after he'd bought the property just off the Fairview Mountain Golf Course on the Golden Mile in the Southern Okanagan.

I'll just always remember that on one of my first trips up to the Okanagan, a couple of the wineries I visited said that I should drop in at Fairview. One of the other wineries even went so far as to say that they felt that Mr. Eggert is "a winemaker's winemaker." I'm sure he's been called a number of other things over the years. In fact, after having been referred to as a "madcap winemaker" in a newspaper article, he renamed one of his wines "Madcap Red."

Despite having travelled the Golden Mile a number of times, I've never actually made it to Fairview Cellars. Not that I haven't tried on a couple of occasions. Not known for any big directional signs, you pretty much have to know exactly where you're going if you want to find the winery. I obviously haven't known. Mr. Eggert apparently likes it that way. I don't know if he likes that I, personally, couldn't find his place or just that he's generally just too busy in the vineyard working to have time to greet a lot of guests to a tasting room.

The wines are known to be worth the effort to find however.

400. 2003 Fairview Cellars Cabernet Merlot (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I've had this bottle in our "cellar" for at least couple of years now and I couldn't find the breakdown of the blend. The label, however, confirms that both Cabernets, Sauvignon and Franc, are blended with the Merlot.

As with most Fairview Cellars wines that I've tried over the years, I found this to be an extracted wine with lots of heft and finish. The label referred to it as "medium-bodied," but I don't know of too many BC wineries that can regularly offer up this much ripeness on their Cab-based wines.

I pulled this wine out for dinner without realizing that it would be taking a rather auspicious number on The List. Having reached number 400 (of the 2001 that I need), I'm rather pleased with the choice.