Sunday, May 30, 2010

Discovering a BC Zin

It's nice when you open a bottle and it delivers more than you expected it to. We've had this bottle of Inniskillin for at least a couple of years now - having picked it up on a road trip through the Okanagan - and I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

Talk about exceeding my hopes for the night.

462. 2003 Inniskillin - Bear Cub Vineyard Zinfandel (VQA Okanagan Valley)

This bottle is fairly notable for Inniskillin for two reasons. It started out as part the winery's Single Vineyard Series and is now labeled under its Discovery Series. The Bear Cub Vineyard is part of the parent company, Vincor's, leased holdings on the Osoyoos Lake Bench and the winery gives winemaker, Sandor Mayer, enough leeway that he can experiment with varietals that aren't well known in the Okanagan. This Zin is the second vintage of what was the first Zinfandel produced in the province.

For fairly new vines in an unknown area, the wine kept plenty of its early promise and profile. There was still lots of ripe fruit on both the nose and the palate. BC desert or not, the Osoyoos area would still be considered "cool" climate by California standards and the cooler evening here give these grapes a balance that might not be as readily available with California growers.

The Inniskillin used to come in at around $30 - which isn't exactly pocketbook friendly - but, when you consider that there still isn't a lot of Zinfandel produced in BC and think of the price of nice California Zin, I'd be willing to try it again to see if it can be this good on a regular basis. I can only hope.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

House Wine Merlot

Whereas my last post appears to have been about a winery that has since disappeared, this one involves a winery and its mother corp that just keeps getting bigger and bigger - and some would say "better" as well.

461. 2007 The Magnificent Wine Co - Red Table Wine Merlot (Columbia Valley - Washington State)

The goal behind The Magnificent Wine Company was to bring "magnificent wine into people's homes at a magnificent price." Unfortunately for us Vancouverites, The Magnificent Wine Company is a Washington State winery. Once you cross the 49th Parallel and the border, our provincial government (and its monopoly on wine distribution) doesn't have the same philosophy on wine and pricing. The only thing that's magnificent about our liquor board is the amount of tax its pricing policy brings into government coffers.

Known for its savvy marketing and graphics, as well as its wine pricing, Magnificent Wine partnered with Precept Wines in 2006. Precept is the largest privately owned and the third largest wine producer in Washington State. Precept sold over 600,000 cases of wine in 2007, but very little of it included Magnificent Wine's bottles in BC. The Magnificent brand still isn't found in our provincial liquor stores, although a few of their wines - particularly "House Wine" and "Steak Red" can be found in some of the private stores. Both Red Table Wine and House Wine sell for $10 in Washington, but House Wine sells for $28 up here. Catch my drift about the magnificent tax regime?

Red Table Wine is "mostly" Merlot. I didn't see any reference to what other varietals might have been blended in for the 2007 vintage. I saw some references to 5% Syrah in a previous vintage, but I don't know if that was the same thing for this bottle.

During my trip down to Seattle in the new year, I picked up a case of mixed wines at Costco, including this bottle. At $10 (or even $15), I could see this as an easy drinking, staple wine for mid-week. If it's going to hit you for $28 up here though, I don't think it would have the same mass appeal. I'd love to give it a taste up against some of the wines that do manage to make it into our market at the $15 point. I'm not so sure that such a day will come however. Anyone got any pull with pricing at the BC Liquor Board?

Friday, May 28, 2010

A First & Last Abbey Rock?

After a hectic couple of weeks on the wine and social scene, I'm hoping to settle down for a bit and chill out at home. Maybe that will allow me a bit of a chance to keep up with the bottle count. Simple and easy - sounds good to me.

460. 2004 Abbey Rock Helmsford Shiraz/Grenache (Clare Valley - Australia)

I'm not really sure how we ended up with this bottle. I think I might have actually won it in a draw at an Australia Wine Appreciation tasting. As such, I can't say that I knew anything about this winery before we opened the bottle - and, I'm sorry to say but, I don't really know much more after the fact. There isn't much information on the internet despite the fact that all sorts of hits for selling the wine pop up. The website for the actual winery itself doesn't appear to be active any more.

I saw that Abbey Rock was established in 2001 and, at its peak, was producing 30,000 cases that included wines made with grapes sourced from a number of regions in South Australia. It might be a case of too much expansion, too quickly, however, as the almost doubling of production over a short number of years seems to have resulted in the winery being placed in "voluntary administration" and the assets being put up for sale in 2008. I didn't see any further updates of what might have happened after that.

As for the bottle at hand, it's interesting that I grabbed a Shiraz/Grenache. Seems like we've been drinking a lot of Rhone varietals and blends of late - whether they're from the Rhone or not. Clare Valley is a region located slightly north of Adelaide and is known for being able to take advantage of its higher altitude and cooler nights. The region is particularly known for its Rieslings, but being Australia, the ability to grow red varietals isn't really in question.

I love my Aussie reds but this wasn't particularly memorable. I don't know that I would have run out to buy another bottle of the same. That's likely a moot point though, if, indeed, the winery has been sold and is no more. On second thought, however, if other folks reacted the same way I did, that probably played a part in the winery's business woes.

Sounds like this might be the only Abbey Rock wine to make The List though.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Who Says You Can't Drink Red with Fish?

Mr. D. was dropping by in the afternoon, so Boo and I figured what's an extra plate on the dinner table. Particularly when, after he found out he was staying for dinner, Mr. D. stopped by Granville Island and brought along a batch of swimming scallops.

So, unexpectedly, here we are having another seafood extravaganza - only a couple of days after scallops and mussels with Elzee. Boo had already pulled out the smoker to cook some salmon. Now, it was my turn to cook up the scallops so that they wouldn't taste exactly the same as the other night. The vanilla butter was out and wine, cream and chives filled in.

458. 2008 Nk'mip Pinot Blanc (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Scallops are such a delicate flavour that we didn't want to overpower them with too big of a wine. We don't generally have a lot of white wine on hand but this bottle of Nk'mip looked to fit the bill. Enough acidity to cut through the richness of the scallops and cream, but still some prominent fruit with a touch of residual sugar.

The scallops went quickly, so we even had a bit of the Pinot Blanc to drink along with Boo's salmon.

459. 2006 Domaine de Fondreche Nadal (AOC Cotes de Ventoux)

The white wasn't going to get us through the rest of dinner though, so I figured that, since the salmon was seeing some smoke, it could handle a red with a bit more body. I wasn't familiar with Domaine de Fondreche but they came highly recommended from Marquis Wine Cellars - and I see that there are a lot of big name critics that like what the winery is doing as well.

The Nadal blend is typical Southern Rhone - Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre in 45/45/10 proportions respectively. I was happy that there was enough fruit on the palate and that the tannins and body didn't overpower the salmon. A little risky of my part, but the wine drank nicely on its own in any event.

Fondreche is generally seen as an example of what a new generation of French winemakers can get up to. Established 15 years ago, the winery is located in the South-Eastern Rhone in the Cotes du Ventoux section of Vaucluse departement (province). The region tends to have a bit higher elevation and a slightly cooler climate than much of the surrounding Rhone and producers, such as Fondreche, are now taking advantage of such a location to introduce a higher level of sophistication to the previously simple wines of the region. Fondreche seems to have caught the eye of the big name wine writers as providing the much sought QPR ("Quality Price Ratio") or quality for value.

Personally, I think you need to be seeking out serious wines to look at this as big QPR. At $30, it's not exactly a bargain wine. I don't know if I have the chops to discern the differences between a $30 bottle and one that costs two or three times that. Whether or not there's a big enough difference between this and a $15-$20 bottle to justify the extra bucks mid-week is a different question altogether - and I don't know that I'd answer that in the positive right now.

We had no problem finishing off the Nadal though and - since we've been talking acronyms - QPR or not, the bottle fit our "WFM" category. That's a brand new acronym on these pages - standing for "Works For Me." It also looks like I guess you can drink red with fish - at least this one.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Guanicale & Montelpulciano

Having seen them at Oyama Sausage and Granville Island for some time, I finally succumbed to the lure of trying to cook up some "gaunicale." Unsmoked pig's jowl or cheek, it's a staple of Pasta all'Amatriciana and I'd been thinking about it for too long.

So how could I serve up a plate without some Italian red to go with it? Not likely.

457. 2007 Illuminati Riparosso (DOC Montepulciano d'Abruzzo)

Made in Abbruzzi province near the Adriatic coast, Riparosso is a 100% Montepulciano varietal that has been lauded as a great buy for its price - which is about $17 in our market. I'm usually a fan of the easy drinking nature of Montepulciano wines - especially when compared to some other Italian varietals - and this one was certainly easy drinking but I can't say that it hit me as being all that memorable.

I did love, however, a fellow blogger's posting about the "high-tech gasoline pumps just inside the winery entrance where locals are encouraged to bring their jugs and fill up on white, rose or red for 0.95 to 1.40 Euros per litre." Why can't our local laws be as illuminated as that?

All considered though, I don't think you can go wrong with such a linguistically interesting night, full of Montepulciano d'Abbruzzo, Guanicale and Bucatini all'Amatriciana. It makes me want to book a quick ticket to Roma and the surrounding countryside.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Spot Prawns & Top Bottles

It's seems like forever since we've gotten together with Elzee, so we finally managed to coax her over for dinner and a movie. The deal was that it would be a "no fuss" kind of meal though.

Seeing as how it's Spot Prawn season and they're everywhere you turn in the media and in menus nowadays, we thought we'd take advantage of the fact that, for the next six weeks or so, you can buy the little critters right off the boats at the fisherman's dock down by Granville Island. The boats come in every day around 1 pm and the seafood doesn't get any fresher.

Elzee and I met for a quick trip down to the dock right around 1.00 and it's a good thing that we arrived when we did. I don't know if there was a big line up before we got there but there were only about four pounds left on the one boat that was selling and we took two of them. It would have been a big disappointment had we missed out.

There's no doubt that the little guys were fresh though. It was actually a tad unnerving to have your dinner jumping around in the bag while you were heading back to the car. We were only half joking when we commented that they'd better not be still moving when it came time to throw them in the pan.

The boat "next door" was selling swimming scallops as well (although these guys were frozen); so, we bought a bag of them to boot. Looked like we were having a veritable seafood buffet.

I'd had one wine in mind when we were thinking about the prawns and then Elzee bought along a second bottle that she figured would go match up nicely. For an impromptu dinner, this turned into one nice little spread.

455. 2008 Joie Farm Rose (Okanagan & Similkameen Valleys)

The front label bids you to "Re-think Pink" and I know a handful of folks that believe that mentioning "Joie" and " Rose" in the same sentence epitomizes Spring.

The new trademark, Joie Farm, coincided with the first year where their wines started to feature grapes harvested from the winery's own estate vines. They still purchase grapes that had previously been provided to them from about twenty small-family producers, but the vines that Heidi Noble and Michael Dinn planted in 2007 were now producing fruit that was good enough to use in their wines.

Bucking the trend that many, if not most, Okanagan wineries are following, Joie Farm has not ventured into the realm of producing big reds. Rather they limit themselves to the grape varietals of Alsace, Burgundy and Champagne and focus on aromatic whites and rose wines. This Rose is a blend of Gamay Noir, Pinor Noir and Pinot Meunier, with a smaller percentage of Pinot Gris - and it features a vibrant nose with a ton of fruit and acidity.

A favourite with local wine writers like John Schreiner and Daenna Van Mulligen, it was rated "Outstanding" last Fall by Wine Press Northwest and played a large part in that magazine's naming Joie Farm as its BC Winery of the Year.

Fresh, simply prepared shellfish and Joie Farm - you can't go wrong.

Our second bottle is equally as acclaimed.

456. 2006 Eroica Riesling (Columbia Valley - Washington State)

Eroica must be one of the most lauded wines to come out of Washington State. The Wine Advocate calls it "the finest dry Riesling I've tasted in the US." Food & Wine magazine says "this fine-edged mineral driven Riesling is simply one of the best produced in the US." Then, Eric Asimov and the New York Times named the 2007 vintage "its favourite American Riesling."

This bottle was the 2006 vintage but I'm doubt that the Times' accolades would be any different.

Named after Beethoven's Third Symphony, Eroica is the result of a partnership between legendary Mosel (Germany) producer, Dr. Loosen, and Washington State giant, Chateau Ste. Michelle. It's a composition of New and Old World sensibilities and the only thing that I don't like about the wine is that - with BC's exorbitant liquor tax system - a bottle costs $35 up here. I have no problem paying the $20US when across the border, but boy, doubling the sticker leaves me waiting for a rare border crossing.

I inevitably nab a bottle whenever we travel down the I-5 though.

In the meantime, special occasions - like fresh spot prawn dinners - present opportunities to splurge. Just thinking of sucking out those little prawn heads, and then sucking back on a glass of Eroica, leaves me yearning for more.

Quite the duo of wines and of seafood goodies I'd say.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lusty Punks & The Letter "M" - WBW69

It's time for the 69th edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday ("WBW") and I'm stretching a bit to get my submission all prepped in time. The last couple of weeks has been a bit of a whirlwind of activity. Having attended two dinner parties, a winemaker's dinner, the big Chefs For Life fundraising dinner, two Canuck playoff hockey games, two wine tasting events and the Bocuse d'Or fundraiser, Hot Chefs Cool Jazz, I feel like I'm a taking a run at supplanting CBC's local radio gadfly about town, Fred Lee. To paraphrase Fred (now, feel the squeal), it's been a run of extreme "Gala-Gala Do'ing."

In order to meet today's deadline, I'm going to have to jump over the last week's additions to this blog's List. I'll come back to them, but there'll have to be a temporary gap from #439 to #455 until I can get back on track.

It's a good thing that I'd turned my mind, awhile ago, to this month's WBW topic because it's not one that I could just grab a bottle from the cellar and run with. Richard Auffrey, who blogs The Passionate Foodie, has offered up the topic of the "dog strangler" grape - Mourvedre. While asking everyone to "drink a wine that contains 50% or more Mourvedre, whether a Red, Rose or Dessert wine," he has, however, requested that participants "please don't really strangle any dogs." Who knows, non-compliance may see Pamela Anderson and PETA arriving on your doorstep - now that she's been voted off of Dancing With The Stars. There might be worse things in life. You could promise to never do it again and have a make-up session (with wine, naturally).

When I was wandering around the internet, after Googling "Mourvedre," I found that much of the same information was showing up site after site. I'm guessing that most of that basic knowledge is going to show up on a number of WBW69 entries. So, hopefully without sounding the same as every other blogger, I'm going to set out some of the facts that I found to be the most interesting. A Letterman Top 10 list might be a tad long, so let's go with a Fab 5.

1) Following WBW69, everyone will likely know that our varietal-du-jour is known equally as Mourvedre, Monastrell and Mataro - largely dependent upon where the wine is being made. What I like is that Wikipedia lists over 60 names for the varietal - my faves being Drug, Estrangle-Chien (hence our host's reference to dog strangling), Bod and English Colossal. I'm particularly intrigued by "English Colossal." Like, what prompted that? I couldn't find anything further by Googling "English Colossal," but I'd love to go into a bar and order a glass - just to see what I actually end up with. Perchance, they'd return with a glass of English rugby superstar, Ben Cohen.

2) I found it interesting that, at the time the phylloxera invasion hit European vineyards in the 1860's, the varietal was nearly driven to extinction. Unlike many of the other major varietals, Mourvedre was not as easily grafted to existing rootstocks. It wasn't until after WWII that a compatible rootstock was developed. If the varietal hadn't survived in the sandy soils of Bandol (that weren't affected by the phylloxera louse), we might not be having this WBW theme.

3) Many will know that the primary regions growing the varietal are France (Mourvedre), Spain (Monastrell), Australia and California (Mataro or Mourvedre). I like the fact that it is also grown in intriguing areas like Algeria, Tunisia and Azerbaijan. I rather doubt that I'll find a wine produced from those countries in our market, but wouldn't that be a novel tasting.

4) Our own BC market is definitely not a hot bed for growing Mourvedre - most likely because the grape likes warm climate, is late-ripening and is known for irregular yields. The vines can have a good yield one year only to be followed by a poor one the next year. None of those characteristics is likely to endear the varietal to a vineyard owner looking to plant vines on expensive land in a cooler climate. I saw, however that at least a couple of BC wineries are going to experiment with a few test plantings. Road 13 has specifically stated that they feel that the changing climate trends are making it possible to ripen the grape in the Southern Okanagan. We also found out that Red Rooster had gotten their hands on some Mourvedre when we were up there in the Spring. Maybe we could market the grape as English Colossal or Bod and create a real buzz. "A buzz from BC Bod" - try and get that one past the marketing powers or the RCMP.

5) I should think that most markets are like Vancouver where the majority of bottle shops invariably offer Mourvedre in blended wines, as opposed to straight varietal wines. I love Rhone blends and that includes the Aussie moniker of GSM (for Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre/Mataro). Dependant on blend percentages, I'll see a number of SGM blends in town as well. But, I wonder why I've never seen a bottle of MSG on the shelves though?

Rather than go with a blend, I preferred to stick with a straight varietal for this WBW but I don't think I saw more than a dozen available around town - and, on the whole, they weren't bargain priced. There's Castano Hecula from Yecla (love saying that) that comes in under $15 and I bought a bottle - but, I forgot and left it at work and it'll have to wait for another night. Otherwise, prices started climbing. Due to the importance of the event, I decided to splurge on two bottles though.

453. 2008 Some Young Punks - Lust Collides - Mataro (McLaren Vale - Australia)

I've occasionally seen the wild and crazy labels from Some Young Punks in our market for a couple years now but this is the first bottle that I've opened by this South Australian threesome. Wouldn't you know that it's probably the tamest of all the labels they produce. Known first and foremost for their standout packaging that features buxom beauties, monsters, pulp fiction and comic books, I was hoping that the wine would live up to the $45 price tag. Since their first vintage in 2005, the Punks claim to be striving to "make exceptional wine with small estate charm" and they know that their irreverence with labels and names may get a prospective buyer to pick up the bottle but that the wine inside has to deliver in order to bring that buyer back.

The winery has other blends that feature Mataro but Lust Collides is one of the winery's higher end single varietal wines. The single varietal wines are biodynamic and only 131 cases of the Mataro were produced in this 2008 vintage. Whether imagined or not, I find that, like many biodynamic wines, there was a brighter and earthier fruit on the palate. I know that Mourvedre is known to often be tannic with spicey, gamey and earthy overtones, but this wine had a bright acidity kicking in with the deep fruit that I find tends to be accentuated in many organic wines.

The nose just jumped out of the glass though and that garners big points with me and, overall, the wine's components were nicely integrated. I could see myself saying yes to these Young Punks down the road.

454. 2005 Vinos Sin Ley - Monastrell M5 (D.O. Yecla - Spain)

The other wine being added to The List is one of the five 100% Monastrell wines made by the Vinos Sin-Ley collective. Translated as "Wines Without Law," Vinos Sin-Ley chooses not to be bound by the often restrictive winemaking laws that are applied in the regions throughout Spain. The collective consists of a handful of winemakers that hope to use "creative innovation" and "non-conventional methods of harvesting, fermenting, blending, ageing and labeling" to produce fruit-driven wines at value-oriented prices.

I've tried M3 in the past but have been told that M5 is often picked as the most popular by consumers. The five Monastrell wines that are currently offered are each made by a different winemaker and each features grapes from a different region. M5 is produced by Araceli Gonzalez in the D.O. Yecla. This wine also has a relatively limited production, with only 2100 cases being made.

Although, when compared to many Spanish wines, the M5 features some big fruit and easy tannins, the overall profile wasn't as appealing as the Some Young Punks. The M5 also featured an earthiness beneath the fruit, but it was more prevalent than in the Lust Collides and was probably the biggest difference between the two wines.

Both Boo and I preferred the Lust Collides, but, at $27, the M5 has a substantially lower sticker price. Still not a bargain, but definitely cheaper.

I could see going back to both producers; however, I think I'd like to do a comparison tasting of as many of the M-series as I could find if I were to try the Vinos Sin-Ley again. And I think my first return to Some Young Punks would be to try one of their blends like Passion Has Red Lips or The Squid's Fist. We'd have to come up with an event worthy of the rocking labels though.

With all being said and done, I think it's important to note, however, that both wines went "perfectly" with the cookies that were delivered by the neighbouring kids. Young Miss got an Easy Bake Oven for her eighth birthday on the weekend and Boo and I were among the first recipients of her baking largesse. Who knew that they still made those things? But, nothing says lovin' like something from the Easy Bake Oven.

Thanks to The Passionate Foodie for coordinating this month's edition. I'll look forward to seeing all the various approaches to this up and coming varietal.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chefs For Life

This has definitely been a big week for top notch food and wine. If the assembled offerings at Hot Chefs Cool Jazz wasn't enough to pack on the pounds and spread some charitable bucks, then the Chefs for Life fundraising dinner could certainly put the cherry on your Sunday evening.

Chefs for Life is an annual fundraiser for The Vancouver Friends for Life Society. Boo and I were invited to the last dinner and enjoyed it so much, we called up some connections to try and finagle some of the highly sought after tickets. We were lucky enough to rope in four tickets and, together with Mr. D and Vixen, we formed up a table with Tyrant - since he's been a regular at the event for years.

The highly anticipated twelve course sit-down dinner was being hosted at William Tse's Goldfish Pacific Kitchen in Yaletown and you could tell the level of evening that was to be enjoyed when it kicked off with a Veuve Clicquot Champagne reception.

As if the talent the other night wasn't enough, the four chefs behind tonight's hors d'oeuvres reads like a who's who on the Vancouver culinary scene - Vikram Vij (Vij's), Robert Belcham (Refuel), Frank Pabst (Blue Water Cafe) and Ernst Dorfler (Five Sails Restaurant).

I thought that the Smoked Salmon Terrine with Canadian Sturgeon Caviar was particularly striking, but I have to say that, had I been able to sit down with an entire plate of the Spring Vegetable and Fine Herb Ravioli, it likely would have left me satisfied for the whole evening. If that's a regular dish at the Five Sails, I need to get there soon. On the other hand, Boo was more than willing to nibble on as much of Vij's Masala Spiced Steak Tartare as he could.

We both managed to carry on to the dinner table though. We'd have been crazy to stop at the tasty appies or to start dieting tonight. This was not going to be a night for the Merlot Boy No Merlot Diet.

Even though this is a wine blog, I think I'll just carry on with a little food-centric focus and set out the courses as described -

- Crab Cake in a Pea Puree Garnished with Lemon Confit from Wayne Martin at Crave

- Hopefully, having recovered from his front and centre stint at Hot Chefs Cool Jazz, Scott Jaeger of The Pear Tree served up Warm BC Spot Prawn Gel with Butter Poached Spot Prawns and Celeriac Puree

- the one and only Tojo delivered a Panko Crusted Edamame and Vegetable Cake, Garnished with Shiso and Micro Greens with Tonkatsu Sauce

- a Pan Roasted Sablefish with Scallop Sashimi and Tapenade of Black Bean and Fire Roasted Tomato-Pineapple Jam was host chef, William Tse's, plate - and it wowed our table

- next up was Quail with Wild Arugula and Snails in Sauce Diable from James Walt of Whistler's Araxi

Thankfully, they split the dinner into two distinct halves - not only to give us a bit of a rest but to make some nice cash on the "Finer Things in Life" live and silent auctions. There was some serious coin being bandied about for some big wines, some bigger vacations and general, all around luxury.

I don't even want to think of how big of a hole Boo and I would have dug for ourselves had all of our bids been winners. Yet, a Vancouver/New York Table Hopping Dine Around with celebrity Chef Daniel Boulud is worth a few sheckels in my book.

The auction was followed by three final courses -

- Roasted Veal Loin with Morel Mushrooms, White Beans, Flan and Veal Jus was served up by Dale Mackay of Lumiere

- another big hit at our table was the 72-Hour (that's right 72 hours) Braised Shortrib and Pickled Daikon, with Salad of Asian Pear and Watercress presented by David Hawksworth and his soon-to-be opened eponymous restaurant Hawksworth at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. This must be part of the reason why West became the sensation that it was while he was there.

- finally, Melissa Craig and Dominic Fortin of Whistler and the Bearfoot Bistro served up a Slow Cooked Pink lady Apple Cake with Three Textures of Quebec Foie Gras and Chocolate Ganache. We all were at a bit of a loss in locating the foie gras though - intrigued as we were that it was being incorporated into a dessert.

We should all have such problems, but, if there was going to be a problem this evening, it was that, yet again, it was destined to be a shame that I wasn't going to get to add a bottle of wine to The List since we were simply being served glasses with each course. There wasn't a bottle to be found at our table. Like a super hero though, just after the live auction finished, Tyrant came to the rescue and coaxed event organizer, Kim Osborne, to drop off a bottle that we had no trouble polishing off.

452. 2005 Pacific Breeze Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon (Bottled in BC)

It was such a coincidence that Kim proffered up a bottle of Pacific Breeze - after Boo, Vixen and I had enjoyed their wines so much last week at the Maple Ridge Golf Club tasting. Vixen immediately texted the Guru to let him know just where we were and what we were drinking.

The bottle clearly states that this is a wine made in New Westminster, BC, from California grapes, but, to me, this shouldn't be viewed in the same light as the mass produced, "Cellared in Canada" wines that create such a stir among BC producers. The boys at Pacific Breeze may not use locally grown grapes but they don't try to hide that fact.

And, boy, are these good grapes.

It was a long evening though and, being a school night, we made a fairly hasty exit and waddled home - determined not to eat for the week to come.

A superb evening. Here's hoping that Friends for Life raised some big bucks to assist them with their providing the marvelous services that they do.

Take Note - It's a Night in the Library

I think I mentioned how disappointing it was the other night, at the BC Wine Appreciation Black Hills wine dinner, that my self-imposed "rules" didn't allow me to add a bottle to The List since our table didn't actually get to enjoy an entire bottle.

Well, fancy this, but I was able to more than make up for that problem when Beamer and The Divine Miss M came over for a BBQ. I'd been looking for an excuse to open a bit of a series of vintage Black Hills Nota Bene to do a bit of comparative tasting and I'd had Beamer in mind for that occasion - particularly since he offered to bring along a bottle that he still had in store.

To top that off though, he also brought along a bottle to start off the evening.

449. 2009 Laughing Stock Viognier (Okanagan Valley)

This is the inaugural release of a Laughing Stock Viognier. It's a new varietal that the winery is working with from grapes that are grown on its Osoyoos vineyard. Continuing to play on their stock market persona, the wine is part of its "Small Cap" program that looks to "explore smaller market plays to take advantage of unique characteristics of select lots...or simply the need for adventure."

Only 150 cases of the wine was made and Beamer managed to get his hands on some. Being a first attempt at the varietal, it will be interesting to see if their approach to vinifying the wine changes with time. The winery used a blend of stainless steel tanks and four months in previously used French oak for the aging process. It'll be worth keeping an eye open for future vintages since Sandhill's 2008 Viognier was made from fruit grown near by and it was chosen as the Canadian White Wine of the year for 2009 by the Canadian Wine Awards.

These Laughing Stock vines were young - at only three years of age - so the base grapes will likely see noticeable changes over the next so many years, but the winery states that it was very pleased with the ripeness of the fruit given a shortened growing season in 2009. There was plenty of mouth feel and a decent dose of fruit on the nose and the palate. Coming in at $26, that's fairly comparable for the BC Viogniers that I've seen. So, all in all, I'd say that it was a pretty decent first showing.

We lucked out with the weather and got to enjoy the Viognier out in the garden. But, one bottle didn't last all that long and, who's kidding who, the real reason for the night was to jump into a whole bunch of Nota Bene. As one of the original, and still reigning, BC cult wines, this Bordeaux or Meritage blend, indeed, causes BC wine lovers to look up and "take note." In fact, Beamer took a picture of the wines on his iPhone to send a text to Miss M's wine-drinkin' bro' and say, "Take a look at what we're drinking right now!"

Beamer brought along the bottle of 2004 that he still had and I tried to complement it by opening a bottle of 1999 and another of 2006. We'd hoped that three different vintages would give us an appropriate look at how the wine had developed over the years.

450. 1999 Black Hills Nota Bene (Okanagan Valley)

2004 Black Hills Nota Bene (Okanagan Valley) ('04 vintage already added to The List at #312)

451. 2006 Black Hills Nota Bene (Okanagan Valley)

The '99 vintage was the first year that Nota Bene was produced and the buzz it created, right out of the starting blocks, was the stuff of legends. As I've written in this blog previously, Boo and I just happened to drive by the old quonset hut winery one afternoon and stopped in for a look-see. We didn't even know if there was any wine available. This was our last bottle from that initial visit and I was actually a tad concerned that the bottle might not have any life left in it. There can't be that many of them still around.

Back at the turn of the century, there was no real coin given to the aging qualities of BC wine and we took a bit of a chance laying it down for as long as we did. That's partially why I was looking for an opportunity to try a tasting like this. Luckily for us, the wine was still fine. You could tell that it had some age on it. The colour was certainly more of a garnet than the deep purple of the two newer wines and there wasn't a heckuva lot of fruit left. Nor were the tannins or acidity that notable, but it was still a nicely structured wine and there was enough complexity to the flavours that you could savour and enjoy it.

Nowadays, the winery is quick to point out that Nota Bene is Cab Sauvignon dominant - unlike the majority of Okanagan Bordeaux blends that are Merlot driven. The 1999, however, was actually 64% Merlot with 26% Cab Sauv and 10% Cab Franc. The '04 was 46% Cab Sauv, 36% Merlot and 18% Cab Franc and the '06 was a similar blend of 47% Sauv, 37% Merlot and 16% Franc.

The '99 was even Boo's favourite of the evening - not too surprising since he appears to be particularly drawn to more Old World-y, rustic wines.

It was the 2006 that caught the most kudos from the rest of us. It was pretty much a consensus that the latest vintage still featured the most fruit on its profile and that seemed to be the deciding factor for us. This is still no Aussie or California fruit bomb, but there was enough black fruit in the 2006 to make it noticeably different. The 2004 seemed a bit tired - featuring neither the complexity of the 1999, nor the more upfront taste of the 2006. If I was told that I'd have to pay $60-plus for a bottle, I'd likely pass on the 2004 - not that you could buy a bottle at that price today.

In fact, shortly after the BBQ, I saw a marketing e-mail from Black Hills that was offering a boxed collection of all ten vintages of Nota Bene for $2,000. You can do the math as well as I can - and I don't know how much the wooden box would go for - but I'm just glad that we still have seven of the ten vintages in our cellar.

I'll be honest. None of us cried out in joy over any of the evening's wines. Some times, we just sit back and say, "We need to get another bottle of that!" That didn't happen tonight. It was great to try the wines and make a special occasion of the evening, but I'm not going to start proselytizing to get everyone to join the "Cult of Nota Bene." I'm not exactly sure why I feel kind of guilty saying this, but considering the variety of wines that are available nowadays - for appreciably less than $60 a bottle - our cellar may be looking to some other "star" BC wines to fill the racks in days to come.

We've still got some vintages of Nota Bene to add to The List - and they will make it - but for the time being, "cult wine" or not, just tell Reverend Jones that I'm not drinking the kool-aid.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hot Chefs Cool Jazz VI

Alas, yet another evening where's there's an abundance of wine but there's no bottle to add to The List. Tonight was Hot Chefs Cool Jazz VI, a fundraiser for Ryan Stone, the hot young chef who, with his culinary teammates, is going to represent Canada and compete against 23 other countries in the 2011 Bocuse d'Or - the equivalent of the cooking world's Olympics. To quote Ryan, "this competition [is] the creme de la creme, the best chefs in the world competing for the highest honour in the culinary world."

Over two dozen of the top chefs in our region participated in tonight's event and each offered up a small plate to arouse your taste buds. As everyone wandered the new Trade and Convention Centre and took in the spectacular view of Coal Harbour, Stanley Park and the North Shore mountains, you could graze your way through the hall and feast your senses on the dishes being prepared by the likes of Chefs Robert Clark (C Restaurant), Jeremie Bastien (Boneta), Vikram Vij (Vij's) and Quang Dang (Diva at The Met).

That small list of top chefs didn't even profile the three chefs in attendance that have previously represented Canada at the Bocuse d'Or - Chris Mills (2001), David Wong (2009) and, our household's favourite, Scott Jaeger of The Pear Tree (2007).

The variety of tastes and the skill behind all the dishes was staggering. It's a rare occasion when you can sample as many different first class plates, all at once, as you could this evening. I won't go into all the gastronomic pleasures that were available but, rest assured, I tried my utmost to patronize each of the restaurant stations - sometimes twice. They were that good.

There were a few dishes, however, that stood out for me - even among such incredible offerings. Among my favourites for the night were:

- the fresh Spot Prawn Shooter offered up by Justin Ault and Tomoki Yamasaki of Hapa Izakaya. It's spot prawn season and the raw local delicacy was served on a skewer with a shot glass of hot spot prawn dashi. You then "cooked" the prawn for as long as you desired in the broth, ate the prawn and shot back the broth. Simple and perfect.

- Hamid Saliman, of The Apron at the Westin Wall Centre Vancouver Airport, served a delicious duo of beef tartar & crisp beef tendon and "puffed" foie gras with date puree and rose water jelly. He tried to explain the process of creating the "puffed" foie gras to me but it's not going to be something that this kid can try at home. If this is a dish that he serves up at the restaurant, I may need to head out the airport - whether we're flying anywhere or not.

- when tasting the Guinness Braised Angus Short Rib prepared by Jason Lloyd and the Terminal City Club, I immediately thought of poor Boo since he wasn't able to attend due to another darned shift at work. I also immediately went back to eat another - on Boo's behalf, of course. This dish was so right up his alley. If I could have stuck an extra plate into my pocket to take home to him, I would have.

- there was no skimping on the dessert side either; Scott Jaeger served up a marvelously rich Chocolate Ganache with Salted Caramel and Chocolate Orange Sorbet. My hero.

Of course, none of the dishes I raved about match the pictures, but such is the life of a simple blogger. I was more concerned with eating the food than taking pictures of it, especially when mixing it up with hundreds of other folk.

As mentioned, there was plenty of wine to match with the food. Vincor was a major sponsor of the event and they served up wines from Sumac Ridge, See Ya Later Ranch, Jackson-Triggs, Nk'mip Cellars and Osoyoos Larose. To assist any culinary neophytes in attendance, the wines were neatly divided into little bars that featured "bubbles," "crisp," "fruity," "luscious," "juicy" and "bold." Each of the restaurant stations also suggested a wine style that would best match their dish. I may not get to add a bottle to The List from tonight's "gala gala do," but all of these wineries feature prominently in this blog and most of the wines served up will make it onto The List - if they weren't there already.

And, finally, even if it doesn't get added to The List immediately, I will be adding one wine from tonight down the road. I picked up a bottle of Foxtrot Pinot Noir in the silent auction and I'm really looking forward to matching that up with some inspiring concoction of my own.

Here's hoping that the evening was as successful of an event for Ryan and his Bocuse d'Or team as it was for all the guests. Best of luck in the competition. I'll be cheering you on.

Game 6 Big Letdown

OK. Game 6. Canucks and Blackhawks - Conference Semi-Finals. Second year in a row. Down three games to two (again) - but we're at home and we couldn't possible lose three home games in a row.

And, here I'm given three tickets to the game by The Mayor. Not the real mayor of the city, but, in my books, The Mayor deserves the key to any city that I'm involved with. He was going to be out of town and (for some reason completely unknown to me) he offered me the chance to go to one of the biggest games of the year.

Now, I realize that I'm not going to be able to drink another bottle of Orofino during the game. Funny, but GM Place seems to frown on BYO bottles. Do I pass up on the chance for another one of John Weber's fine wines? Silly question. That's what pre- and post-game libations at home are for. So, I'm game.

When watching games at home, I generally get goosebumps when Mark Donnelly lets the crowd take over the singing of "O Canada." Being a part of it at a playoff game is even better.

I won't go on for long about the game because there wasn't much positive to be said. The first period ended in a scoreless tie, but it was pretty much downhill from there. As grateful as I was for the tickets, it might just have been more enjoyable drinking and drowning my sorrows at home.

The game ended with the Canucks going down 5-1. This was one weird series. Each game saw a different team being dominant and winning, for the most part, a one-sided game. I can only imagine the excitement that might have been had both teams shown up to the same game on a consistent basis.

What was really irksome and only dug the knife in a little deeper (and twisted it for good measure) was the fact that it was one year to the day that the Blackhawks knocked the Canucks out of the playoff last year as well. Looks like we have a bit of a rivalry building here. So much for the Calgary Flames being the most hated team in Vancouver.

448. 2006 Orofino Red Bridge Red (Similkameen Valley)

Good thing tonight's wine didn't let us down like the team did. We took a quick sip before heading off to the game and then we soothed our furrowed brows upon getting home. A 100% Merlot wine, this is the type of Merlot that confirms that great Merlot wines can be grown and made in BC. Maybe the Canucks should have had a glass or two before the game because Orofino certainly delivered. In fact, this vintage won a gold medal at the 2008 All Canadian Wine Championships.

Long-suffering or not, we Canuck fans are going to have to wait another year for our gold medal, the Stanley Cup. In the mean time, pass me another bottle of the Orofino please.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

BCWAS Black Hills Dinner

This evening must have been one of the most anticipated events that the BC Wine Appreciation Society has ever hosted. For the last couple of weeks, if I bumped into anyone that had any association with BCWAS, I was asked if I was going to the Black Hills dinner.

Indeed I was - and I, too, was looking forward to it immensely. West is one of those names that continually tops "Best of..." lists for Vancouver restaurants. I've given gift certificates to the restaurant previously, but I've never actually eaten there myself. Boo, unfortunately, had to work and still wasn't going to be able to attend and see what all the fuss is about.

I wasn't about to pass on the opportunity though. This sounded like a great chance to try out the restaurant and to get a thorough tasting of what Black Hills is up to at this time. As far as winemaker's dinners go, this sounded about as good as it gets.

As I've written in the past, Boo and I were lucky to run across the old Black Hills quonset hut winery pretty much right after it opened. We were just driving by, having visited nearby Burrowing Owl. At that time, we had no idea that Black Hills would become just as iconic of a fixture on the BC wine scene as Burrowing Owl already was. In fact, in some aspects Black Hills may have overtaken its neighbour as Nota Bene has far more of a cult status than any one particular Burrowing Owl wine.

Things have changed a lot since those early days. There's been the syndication of ownership that has capitalized on the celebrity of investor and actor Jason Priestly and there's a big, new winery. I have to admit that my fondness for the old winery has dimmed somewhat over the last so many years. Like many others, I used to sit at the computer and order a case of Nota Bene immediately upon release. You had to. Word had it that the 2006 vintage sold out in 47 minutes. We still have a good assortment of Nota Bene in our cellar, but in some ways, the bloom is off my rose. Nowadays, I hum and haw whether I want to pick up a bottle or two. I saw a bottle available for $65 the other week and passed. I still might reach out if I see another but it sure isn't the automatic purchase that it once was.

Tonight, I was hoping that having a glass of each of the winery's offerings, matched with some leading edge Vancouver cuisine, would help give me a better understanding of just how I'm going to approach the winery in the future.

BCWAS had arranged for Glenn Fawcett, one of the Directors and Partners of Black Hills to attend the dinner and to talk to the assembled guests about the winery and its outlooks and aspirations. I mentioned that this was a "winemaker's dinner" earlier in the post. Mr Fawcett isn't the winemaker and, accordingly, I think his presentation came across as a tad managerial. For the most part, his discussion of the wines consisted of reading the winemaker's notes. Forgive me, but I could have read those notes myself. I would have liked some hands-on discussion of the "why, how and what" was involved in the making of the wines. It's fair that he needs to tailor his discussion points to the general knowledge of the crowd and to the matters that he's most familiar with. All the same, I found this to be more of a corporate board room presentation. Bring me the passion that the winemaker brings to the table any day.

Now that my peanut gallery commentary is out of the way, we had the opportunity to enjoy a five-course meal and nine wines. The first two courses saw a goat cheese and celery "cannelloni" paired with the winery's 2008 Alibi, which is a classic Sauvignon/ Semillon blend. I still enjoy the Alibi, but, once again, I don't go the whole case route any more and it can be difficult to find individual bottles and the thought of a $35 BC white causes me to pause and think about adding it to my buy list.

The second course was trout served with the 2008 Chardonnay. Unlike last night's Orofino Chardonnay, I found this wine to be a bit heavy handed on the oak for my tastes. It's not that the oak was overpowering, but it was far more noticeable and that's just not my preference when I have a choice.

The third course was smoked squab and it was accompanied by the '07 and '08 vintages of the single varietal Carmenere. Black Hills had originally planted their Carmenere simply to add to the Bordeaux blend that is the flagship Nota Bene; however, they felt that the fruit was so distinctive that they've bottled a small amount on its own for a number of years now. Single bottles are very difficult to come by and tonight's glasses were the biggest pours I've ever had of the wine. I really want to like this wine - particularly since I believe it's the only Carmenere vinified as a straight varietal in BC - but it just doesn't seem to capture my imagination. Perhaps that might be different if we were to sit down with an entire bottle at dinner and see it evolve over an evening.

My guess is that, for most of the guests, the star course of the evening was the lamb entree, served with a three year vertical of Nota Bene. Although I don't think it was the lamb that had people clamouring for tickets. For most, Nota Bene is the raison d'etre for Black Hills. Nota Bene is Black Hills and Black Hills is Nota Bene. Latin for "take note," Nota Bene has always been a Cab Sauv-dominant Bordeaux blend. Given that Okanagan climate doesn't readily guarantee fully ripened Cab on an annual basis, that can be a bit of a risk. Consensus is that the winery consistently pulls it off, year after year however.

The opportunity to try the '06, '07 and '08 vintages side by side was novel opportunity - and reaction at our table was somewhat mixed. Although I didn't find enormous variation between the wines, each wine was the favourite of at least one of the dinner guests at our table. I was a bit surprised in that I found the 2008 to be the most approachable despite the fact that it had only been recently released. I had heard that the '08 vintage was supposed to be very drinkable right from the start and I definitely found it to be so. I don't know if this flowed as a result of a new direction from a new winemaker or whether it was simply vintage variation. Questions like that weren't posed to Mr. Fawcett though.

The evening was topped off with two pours of the winery's late harvest wine Sequentia. I don't think every table was lucky enough to taste both vintages, but we were sitting right by the bar and we had the opportunity to try both the 2000 and 2002 vintages. Sequentia is rarely produced - primarily because it uses the same grapes as does Alibi and there just aren't enough grapes to go around. I don't know if the winery has even produced any since 2002 and I'm sure that haven't seen a bottle for sale for years. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the wines had aged as well as they did - still lots of honeyed fruit and acid.

Overall, I thought the dinner was a great success. There was some grumbling at our table about how the chef seemed to be more concerned about molecular gastronomy and foams and schmears than about portion size, but I was fully sated - and it was a tasting menu after all. Yet, there might have been a bit of truth to the comment, from one of the guests at our table, about how the dessert was the biggest course of the night.

I suppose it's tough to have the status and press of a Black Hills or a West. Being placed on a pedestal, like both restaurant and winery have been, can result in expectations that may not be easily met by all patrons. I look at both as being firmly ensconced in the "splurge" category and, ultimately, the value for money question inevitably raises its head.

I truly enjoyed the evening, but (and there's often a "but") I don't know that I'd return quickly to West for another dinner. And, what's more, I'm no closer to deciding whether I love the Black Hills wines and truly feel that they're worth their current prices or whether I'm just getting sucked up in the hype and history of the cult. It's clear to me that Nota Bene is hardly grape koolaid, but I think I may have fallen off the bandwagon. I'll look forward to events like this and I'll never turn down a glass from Black Hills, but all this talk of "investment syndicates," "next level expansion" and new price structuring leaves me thinking its become all a little too corporate.

And, to boot, I don't even get to add a bottle to The List since we didn't actually enjoy a full bottle at our table. The other guests tried convincing me that, collectively, we'd easily finished off a couple of bottles - but "rules" are rules, even when they're mine to make and break. I've got some future plans for the Nota Bene waiting for me at home though.

Great Chardonnay - Whuppass Game

This whole Canucks-Blackhawks series is a head scratcher. One team has been dominant in every game - and, despite a grand start in Game 1 by the Canucks, it's generally been Chicago getting the best outing. Down three games to one and playing in the Windy City, not many people were giving the Canucks much of a chance. You just couldn't tell which team was going to show up.

This could very well have been the last game in the series and that would mean our run of Orofino wines would have to come to an end for now. If it was to be the Canucks' last game of the season, I was really glad to to get my hands on this bottle for tonight's battle.

447. 2008 Orofino Chardonnay (Similkameen Valley)

Chardonnay. My way.

The 2008 vintage consisted of only 300 cases. Such a shame because this is a wine that makes me think I need to drink more Chardonnay. To say that this wine takes the middle road would be a disservice, but, for me, it really captures some of the most notable characteristics that can exist on the extremes of the Chardonnay profile.

Not afraid of using oak, John Weber's used a steady hand and managed to incorporate a richness and creamy mouthfeel while still maintaining bright (almost) tropical fruit. This is no oak monster. Nor is it all acid and fruit. This is a balance that made me sad when the last glass was poured.

I didn't see any reference to the oak being used on the wine. In the past, John has ventured where few have gone before. He's used Canadian oak barrels with a couple of vintages - as opposed to French or American oak. There aren't a lot of Canadian barrels out there; so, I'd be interested in hearing if he's still using the Canuck wood and what prompted the decision to keep using it or to stop.

But, what was (maybe) even better than the wine, was the fact that the Canucks found the same balance on the ice and stormed into the madhouse that is United Center and took it to the Hawks. With a 4-1 win, is that a glimmer of hope I see emanating from the Canucks bandwagon? We can only pray that the same Canucks team shows up in Vancouver for Game 6 - but it also means that we'll be adding at least one more Orofino wine to The List before the hockey season is over.

Charity Dinner

For the last so many years, the firm where I work has had an annual silent auction as a charitable fundraising activity. The donated items go all over the map - from bottles of fine Scotch to a girls' night of cocktails and nails to throwing a pie in the face of a co-worker. Much to Boo's great delight (yeah, right), I've donated a wine dinner for four at our place. It's proved popular on the bidding front and we finally managed to find an evening that would work for last year's high bidders.

It just happened that The Boss inched up the bid one last time and ended up winning. He said that he was going to leave it to the next bidder to win - but that bidder didn't show up in time. So he was stuck with us. I warned him during the week leading up, though, that I was going to have to behave myself since the company was entering a team in the Sun Run the next morning and - whether he was going to show or not - I had to be able to at least make it to the start line. Accomplishing that feat might mean hustling him out the door before he was ready to hit the road. Forewarned is fore-armed, I figure.

A couple of days before dinner, he advised me that he was bringing along some wine. I told him that the prize included wine with dinner, but he was adamant that he had already picked some out. They have a place up in the Okanagan that's only about a mile from the nearest winery; so, I figured he was bringing along some Blasted Church or wine from a neighbouring vineyard.

Turned out that he and Bosswoman thought it'd be more fun to head to one of the specialty shops in town and find some wine that I might not have run across before. Boss knows about this blog and made it a bit of an evening's fun and a challenge for the wine clerk. He did a good job; I tell you. We opened one of the bottles he brought as our first of the evening.

441. 2006 Firriato Harmonium Nero d'Avola (IGT Sicily - Italy)

I wasn't quite sure what we were going to get when I opened the bottle. I generally think of Nero d'Avola as a Southern Italian grape that is used in entry level wines. This was no entry level wine. That's for sure. There was lots of fruit and structure and it's given a whole new appreciation for what is possible with Nero d'Avola. It wasn't too much of a surprise that it sells for $50 a pop in VanCity. All the same, it was one of the favourite wines of the evening.

The weather was totally cooperative and unexpectedly nice, so Bosswoman, The Duke and Duchess all thought we could do appies in the garden. I grabbed the Sicilian red since we were serving up peppered pecorino cheese drizzled with truffle honey and were taking advantage of the occasion by pulling out the salt block and "grilling" thinly sliced lamb and quail eggs. How can you go wrong with al fresco steak and eggs?

Once the temperature started getting a bit nippy without coats, we moved inside and the first course was a favourite of mine - Soupe aux Moules - a Provencal mussell soup made with plenty of wine and saffron. When I think Provence, I think Rose.

442. 2008 Domaine de La Renaudie Perle de Rosee (AOC Touraine - France)

This Rose isn't actually from Provence but I'd picked it up with an assortment of Rose wines for the upcoming summer season. Not only did the wine go wonderfully with the soup, but it turns out that I get to add another varietal to my list for the Wine Century Club. The wine is made from the Pinot d'Anuis varietal - one that I'm definitely not very familiar with. Wikipedia says that the varietal was a favourite of Henry Plantagenet (England's King Henry III); so, I suppose it's sensical that we were serving it to a Duke and Duchess.

443. 2008 Fairview Cellars Sauvignon Blanc (VQA Okanagan Valley)

We stuck a little closer to home with the next wine, but the fact that it's from the Okanagan doesn't necessarily mean that it's an easy find. I was actually quite surprised to see a bottle on the shelf at Everything Wine (one of my favourite places to pass an hour or two); so, I just grabbed it.

Bill Eggert of Fairview Cellars is known for his big reds, but, for the last couple of years, he's been offered a small amount of Sauvignon Blanc that he's blended with an even smaller amount of Semillon to produce his "oyster wine." We didn't serve it up with seafood, but we did match it up with another classic pairing - goat cheese - which formed the base of the sabayon cream that we served on the asparagus.

So far, so good.

444. 2002 Cedar Creek Platinum Reserve Pinot Noir (VQA Okanagan)

The main course was duck confit; so, I pulled out one of our favourite local Pinot Noirs - the Cedar Creek Platinum. Boo doesn't often reach for Pinot Noir when he has a choice, but he immediately fell for this wine when we first tried it a couple of years ago. When available (the winery doesn't necessarily produce the Platinum wine every year), I think it usually clocks in around $40. As such, it's a special occasion wine - as befitting an evening like tonight - and a bargain when compared to top flight Pinot Noir from around the world (not that I want to encourage the folks at CedarCreek need to rethink their pricing).

We finished this bottle off rather quickly, however, so I grabbed another from the wine that Boss had brought along.

445. 2006 Frescobaldi - Tenuta di Castelgiocondo - Lamaione (IGT Tuscany - Italy)

Good Boss. I think we could have cellared this bottle for some time to mellow it out some, but, after having polished off four bottles already, I can't say that I paid a whole lot of attention to what I was about to open. Again, The Boss succeeded in bringing along a wine that I wasn't familiar with. I will be now.

Lamaoine is a Frescobaldi Super Tuscan from the Castelgiocondo vineyards and winery. Located in the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG region, it's a wine made with 100% Merlot. Since it's not a Sangiovese varietal wine, it therefore, has to be an IGT wine and can't be denoted as a traditional wine for the Montalcino or even Tuscany region. It doesn't matter that this wine was rated given a 95 point score by Wine Spectator. Technically, it is not a traditional appellation wine and is labelled with the "lesser" IGT designation.

A single vineyard Merlot, Lamaione is said to be the first of its kind to be produced in Montalcino and was only started well after the Frescobaldi family purchased the old "Happy Castle" in 1989. Legend has it that the old estate is where the Mona Lisa was painted and, hence, the castle's name was born. It's bottles like this that made this dinner and our home into a happy castle.

446. NV (Series 122) Seppelt Para Aged Tawny (Australia)

A star from the land of "stickies." I've been waiting to serve up this bottle for some time now. I figured that this was a great occasion, especially when matching it with Elzee's famous Torte di Mele con Pinoli e Uvetta (Apple Torte with Pinenuts and Raisins) and a cheese plate.

An SGM blend (Shiraz, Grenache & Mataro/Mourvedre) - unctuous, luscious, rich - call it what you may, Seppelt is a (if not "the") personification of Aussie fortified wines. However, that "is" might be a "was." In the mid-2000's, Seppelt was sold to the Fosters group and they, in turn, sold the collection of fortified wines to Kilkanoon. Fosters kept the name "Seppelt" though. So, you won't find any new series of this wine beyond Series 226. There is a Para Tawny being made but it's now produced by Seppeltsfield.

Luckily, I didn't have to shoo The Boss out the door in order to get the needed sleep before the big race. Bosswoman did a pretty good job of doing that herself. All in all, I think the dinner was a grand affair - hopefully, worthy of a high bidder. I figure it was a pretty darned good collection of both folk and wine. If nothing else, it's a great addition of six wines to The List.