Sunday, June 6, 2010

Caribou For Two

While rummaging around in our small freezer, Boo ran across a surprise package - a "leftover" from our shopping spree in Yellowknife last year. While not quite as exotic as camel or kangaroo, caribou still isn't exactly a staple meat on Vancouver dinner tables. It was high time for us to throw the steaks on the grill.

Seeing as how this was a bit of special occasion, I figured we could do a bit of a two bottle comparison as well - and the two wines were as different as all get up. I grabbed one to start off as a marinade base; the other's - just like the caribou's - time had come.

464. 2005 Crane Lake Petite Sirah (California)

Although I should think that we will never experience the American phenomenon that is Two-Buck Chuck, we still hear about it up here. The Crane Lake wine is not exactly Two-Buck Chuck but it is made by the same parent company - Bronco Wine Co. Bronco's head honcho, Fred Franzia, has been quoted as saying that no wine is worth more than $10. Guess he'd have a hard time drinking any wine in our fair province - where finding a bottle for under $10, that is worth drinking, can be a major task.

This bottle was given to Boo as a gift and I like the fact that it prompted a bit of research in a number of directions. Although, according to its website, Crane Lake may be one of the most highly sought brands in Cameroon and West Africa, I don't think I've ever seen it in the BC marketplace.

I don't see Petit Sirah produced as a varietal wine very often and I don't know of any being grown in BC. In fact, this is the first bottle that I'm adding to The List and it's resulting in my being able to add another varietal to my quest of joining the Wine Century Club.

Due to its name, many folks confuse it with Syrah or Shiraz. It is a very different grape however. Originating in Southern France - where it is known as Durif - it is a cross between the Syrah grape and a little known varietal called Peloursin. Nowadays, it is rarely grown in France as the grape can be both vigorous and difficult. It is known for liking particular growing conditions and isn't particularly admired for its resulting wine. California and Australia are the primary regions to find plantings of the varietal but the grapes are mostly used for blending as the deep colour, strong tannins and spicy, dark fruit characteristics can be valued in fleshing out other varietals. It is often blended with Zinfandel in California wines.

The grape is seeing some revival as a varietal wine though. If cropped at lower levels, in favourable conditions, many feel that the resulting wine is worthy of single varietal status. Indeed, there is a California group dedicated to Petit Sirah - PS I Love You.

I don't know if the Crane Lake would be one of that group's prime candidates for adoration; it is being produced as a bulk wine after all. Keep in mind that the Franzia family has the capability of producing 230 million litres of wine annually - not all of it Petit Sirah obviously. I don't think there was any mistaking its simplicity of this wine and the tannins certainly weren't what I'd expected. But, the bottle was entirely drinkable and the caribou didn't seem to mind being marinated in it.

465. 2001 Nichol Vineyard Syrah (Okanagan Valley)

Nichol is definitely on the other side of the production coin. The entire BC wine industry only produced slightly more than 15 million litres in 2008. Compare that to the Franzia family's production. With this 2001 vintage, Nichol was producing between only 700 and 1200 cases - of all their varietals combined.

This is actually the third vintage of Nichol Syrah that I've added to The List. The 2000 wine is #93 and the 2003 is found at #321. We've generally had a couple bottle of these older vintages as Nichol Vineyard was one of the first Naramata Bench wineries that we stumbled upon. The fact that they were one of the few BC wineries producing a Syrah only made it that much more appealing to Boo and I. Indeed, as I've mentioned previously in this blog, in 1993, Alex and Kathleen Nichol were the first vineyard owners to plant Syrah in Canada - much to the surprise and disbelief of most in the newly emerging BC wine industry. At that time, not many thought that Syrah could be successfully grown in BC's cooler climate. Little did they know that the grape would become one of the most important varietals in the Okanagan Valley.

Nichol has always used 100% Naramata fruit and its current production, under new owner Ross Hackworth, is still only maxing out at 3500 cases.

We weren't sure about the aging capabilities of a BC red, but I'm happy to say that the Syrah was still tasting mighty fine. It's far more nuanced than a big Aussie Shiraz - or even a Two-Buck Chuck clone - but there was still enough tannin and fruit remaining to match up to the caribou.

BTW, the caribou was very tasty. Not as game-y as I might have expected. Next up from the freezer? I can only wait to see.

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