Saturday, December 18, 2010

Red Rooster Merlot

Between our fairly frequent visits to Red Rooster - that always end up with another case in the car - and the wine we annually receive from the winery as participants under their innovative "Adopt-A-Row" program, we have a fair bit of Red Rooster wine ready to pop a cork when needed. I was, therefore, a tad surprised to find that we've only opened one of their Merlots so far on The List. The 2005 vintage sits way back at #139. So, I guess there should be no problem in enjoying a bottle tonight.

675. 2007 Red Rooster Merlot (VQA Okanagan Valley)

The winery produces two Merlots; this is the approachable classic label that comes in at under $20 - their Reserve label is currently around $30. Merlot is often touted as BC's best red varietal and winemaker, Karen Gillis, has the opportunity to choose grapes from a number of vineyards across the Okanagan. Considering the fact that there are now $60-plus BC Merlots out there, she's doing well to produce a varietally correct wine that doesn't break the bank.

I think the strong point with this wine is that it is easy to drink. I generally prefer a little more structure and tannin with my Merlot, but then that pretty much requires food and this bottle could easily be a cocktail party sipper. If I'd really been thinking, I would have opened a bottle of both the Classic and the Reserve to check out the difference but I don't know if we have any of the Reserve on hand. We'll have to save that effort for another post.

In the mean time, we'll just lift our glasses and send a little seasonal toast to the gang at Red Rooster. We'll hopefully be able to make it up their for the Spring Pruning Party that's a big part of the thrill of being an adoptive parent.

Neighbourhood Christmas Dine Around

Local media is always telling us about some major publication that names Vancouver as one of the most livable cities in the world - as if we need the affirmation of something that we all already know. One of the strongest arguments that Boo and I have in making such a sweeping assertion is not the water and mountains but our incredible neighbours.

We live in a trio of duplexes that were built at the same time and, accordingly, a new little neighbourhood cadre of sorts sprang up at that time. That was a full eight years ago now and we've seen a few changes in faces and addresses, but the neighbours have always stayed a great crew. To the extent that some still hang around after they've moved on and others in neighbouring houses (not one of our duplexes) do what's necessary to join the gang.

You know you've made it into our crowd when you get invited to participate in the annual Christmas Dine Around. Back in the "early days," we started an annual tradition that's carried on for eight years now. During the holiday season, we have a "dine around" where we spend between 30 minutes and an hour (when we can keep to schedule) in each of the homes. Everyone serves up nibblies and cocktails and we all get to snoop and see what changes or renovations have occurred since last year.

Scheduling has always proved to be a bit of a task with multiple families to coordinate in December. We've normally gone with the first Sunday in December since the silly season isn't usually in full swing by then. The event is so established now, however, that the gang proposed a Saturday night - and the one just a week before Christmas. It was put out there that, if the Dine Around is a highlight of the year's social scene, it deserves a prime night - and that having it on a Saturday would let us drink longer into the early hours.

That last little bit about drinking "into the early hours" can prove to be a bit hazardous to the morning after. With seven households all serving up a variety of foods AND DRINKS, it's a wise man that watches that he doesn't mix too many martinis with wines with scotches that are followed up by specialty beer chasers. One thing the evening allows me is a chance to add more than a couple bottles to The List. I always enjoy seeing what wines other people choose to serve. Due to the sheer volume (and my desire to function the next morning), I didn't try all the wines but I did get to the five that follow.

670. 2008 Gray Monk Pinot Blanc (VQA Okanagan Valley)

A nice little way to start off the evening with Marquis and Red's oyster bar. Not being one of the original six couples, I get the feeling that they think they're still auditioning for the crew because they always have an incredible spread. I know it's just because they love cooking and entertaining, but it might be worth it to keep up the whole "auditioning" ruse.

I don't have much time to go into the wines themselves on a post like this, but I'll have to come back to Gray Monk because there are a number of interesting stories to tell about this pioneer of BC wineries. It's one of the Northernmost wineries in the province, located just above the 50th Parallel. The grapes for this Pinot Blanc are grown in both the North and South Okanagan. It was a fine match for the oysters and a fine start to the evening.

671. 2007 Masi Campofiorin Ripasso (IGT Rosso del Veronese - Italy)

Finding out what Arty400 and Baby Mama serve up is fun because he regularly meets up with and gets wine tips from Barbara Phillips, one of Canada's few accredited Wine Masters. They didn't let us down. I'm a little surprised that this Ripasso hasn't been added to The List already since I'm always on the lookout for a fine Ripasso. It was tough not to over-indulge in the assorted gourmet pizzas and wine abounding, but it was only the second stop.

672. 2008 Quinta de Aveleda Vinho Verde (D.O.C. Vinho Verde - Portugal)

It was just as tough not to stick to the Buffalo Grass Vodka that was being sipped on at Haggis and Cupcake's place. They were last year's newest additions to the neighbourhood and we still included them this year despite their threat to serve an actual haggis last year. A sip of the vodka was interesting but I had to give the Vinho Verde its due since it allows me to add a couple new varietals to my Wine Century Club application. The winery's website says that the Vinho Verde is a blend of the "most notorious varietals of the region." "Notorious," I like that. 90% of the blend is made of Loueiro (60%) and Trajadura (30%) with the balance being Alvarinho. Adding two new varietals is a bit like being given a little Christmas present.

Not only do we get to sample such goodies as oysters on the half shell, fish tacos, pizza and stews, but we get to check out the year's renovations and seasonal decorations. Danchuk outdid himself with his collection of hanging neon balls. You'd swear the guy did decoration for a living or something.

Our biggest "discovery" for this year though was the fact that we decided to open the neighbourhood parameters even wider and "audition" the new boys across the lane. Mr. Principal and Nature Boy seem to have what it takes to keep us amused and most of us had never been in their house yet. So, it was a good chance to enjoy their company and see their house.

673. 2008 Little Yering Pinot Noir (South-East Australia)

The Pinot was the red that the boys opened to serve with their seafood curry. I didn't mind seeing the bottle at all as it brought back memories of Boo's and my visit to the Yering Station winery when we last visited Merlot Boy in Melbourne. Although the winery is in the "cool" climated Yarra Valley (doesn't that show how relative "cool" is as a descriptor) and the wine is designated as such on the label, this vintage saw 14% of the grapes sourced from the Adelaide Hills to flesh out the profile. A simple, light bodied wine, it's a far cry from the bigger fruit bomb Pinots that sometime show up from Oz, I think I might stick to Yering Station's more premium label or stay with BC or Kiwi Pinots though.

The boys had the Canucks playing big and projected at their place; so, that alone likely gets them back next year in my book.

674. N.V. Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Port (Portugal)

Boo and I drew one of the dessert stops this year. In my book, that calls for my old fave, a bread pudding that's been adapted from a New Orleans School of Cooking recipe. And just to show how well-behaved I was being on the booze front, we offered a red, a white, homemade eggnog and Port, but I only opted for the Port - even with another two bottles crying out to be added to The List.

I guess the redeeming points of that control were no hangover and another two grapes varietals to be added to the Wine Century Club - on top of the two from the Vinho Verde. Since the Graham's even calls this Port "Six Grapes," I should be able to add all six to my application list. Four of them - Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and Tinta Barroca - have already been counted, that leaves Tinta Amarela and Tinto Cao. A little unplanned Christmas present to myself.

I don't want to go on about the bread pudding but I did have two people ask for the recipe.

We had a final stop with Rock God and Shameless Hussy, but you can't visit them and go with wine. It was a little late for a martini, but I just asked the Hussy to up the juice level in one of her trademark cocktails for me. We didn't quite last through cigars and Scotch, but the Saturday staging did allow a lot more leisure in moving from home to home.

And what more could you ask for? It doesn't get much better than this. Vancouver MUST be the best place in the world to live - or is that East Vancouver?

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Scuppernong Trimming

Boo and I have finally gotten around to trimming our Christmas tree. Naturally, it only makes sense for us to have a little something to sip on between hanging baubles and balls. I figure our choice for the evening is fitting as well in that it came as part of a care package from Boo's twin in North Carolina - sort of an early Christmas present if you will.

HDR3 found it somewhat unbelievable when I asked him if he could corral some local wines from his neck of the woods. Apparently, North Carolina is not a particularly well known wine destination. There's no doubt that the good ol' boys enjoy their libations of choice. They just don't tend to open the local wine so much.

No problem trying the wine here though.

669. N.V. Duplin Scuppernong (North Carolina - US)

I didn't really know what to expect when we opened the bottle. Scuppernong isn't exactly a varietal of grape that I'm familiar with. Boo was bang on excited about the bottle though - the visions running through his head may have been of old memories growing up as opposed to sugarplums. But the sugarplum fairy definitely present as there was plenty of sweet to this off dry wine. I wouldn't say that it has nearly the complexity of a good icewine or late harvest wine from our Northern climes, but the bottle was definitely finished before the tree was.

When looking up a bit about the grape and the winery, I was quite intrigued by all the information. The Scuppernong grape is a large varietal of the Muscadine family - which itself is a different genus from the standard vitus vinerfera varietals that we generally see when drinking wines. It's often referred to as the "big white grape" and grows in small bunches of only three to five large grapes. It was named after the Scuppernong River in North Carolina and is native to the South East U.S. It's also said to be the first grape to be actively cultivated in the U.S. and there are historical references tying it to the region from the 1500's when it was found growing wild. Interestingly, in 1840, the Federal Census named North Carolina as the top wine producer in the U.S. It apparently remained as such until Prohibition was introduced. I don't think that California has anything to worry about currently though.

The Scuppernong grape is the official state fruit of North Carolina and it is mentioned in the official state toast - "...Here's to the land of the cotton bloom white, Where the scuppernong perfumes the breeze at night..." I don't know if British Columbia or Canada have official toasts, but I think I'll have to check that out. The winery's website also states that, in days past, "no plantation dinner would have been complete without this sweet wine."

Speaking of the winery, the grape may have been around for centuries, but Duplin's roots are more recent, having been started up in the 1970's. Originally, the vineyards were planted for table grapes; however, a move to wine was necessitated when the market price for table grapes plummeted by more than half. Despite some desperate years, Duplin is now the largest winery in the South and it produces around 300,000 cases of wine annually. It claims to be the largest producer of Muscadine wines in the world.

A successful evening I'd say. Boo got his Scuppernong, I got a new varietal for my Wine Century Club application and the house got a trimmed tree.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why Not Another La Frenz?

Why not, indeed?

It wasn't long ago when I wrote that I figured La Frenz likely shows up on The List as much as any other winery. I took a quick look back and, if I'm not mistaken, this will be the 16th wine to be added. Guess it's safe to say that we like this little winery.

668. 2002 La Frenz Shiraz (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

And what's not to like about their Shiraz. Owner and winemaker, Jeff Martin, is an Aussie transplant. I don't know that his genetic make-up just automatically includes DNA for making great Shiraz, but he's certainly putting up a good argument for making such a case - and not just to me. Jurgen Gothe, one of Vancouver's best known wine scribes, wrote a glowing column about a library tasting of four La Frenz Shiraz vintages he had last year. He saved the 2002 for last and said "that the '02's proof that these wines really do age long and smooth."

It was certainly smooth enough, with the flavour necessary, to accompany Boo's surprise camel fajitas. No one may walk a mile for a camel anymore, but I'd sure as heck walk a few for a bottle of this wine.

I've written before about how Jeff Martin doesn't enter but a couple of wine competitions in a year. He'll tell you that, in his opinion, there's only a few that are representative enough to make them worth entering - his regulars including the All-Canadian Wine Championships and the North-West Wine Summit. True to form, he entered the '02 Shiraz in both contests in 2004 and he came away with a silver medal in each one.

The biggest problem with La Frenz wines is that the 8000 cases or so that are made disappear almost as quickly as they become available. There's been more than one occasion when we've driven by the vineyard gate only to find a big sign proclaiming that the tasting room is closed because there's no more wine to sell.

With wines like this, it's not hard to understand why. There may be a lot of La Frenz on The List already, but I can pretty much guarantee that there will be many more to come.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Alrighty, this post is for another BC wine. It might, however, be one that isn't likely going to be a regular addition to The List. Not because we didn't enjoy the wine - far from it. It's just that there are only two wineries to be found in the Kootenays and I don't know that I've ever seen wines from either one of them in Vancouver - or even the Okanagan for that matter.

Back in the summer, when we were visiting Boo's mom at Sparrowhawk in the Slocan Valley, we wandered over to the local general store/mini mart. It just also happens to act as an outlet for the provincial liquor board. Lo and behold, what do I find on the cash counter, along with the penny candy and assorted sundries, but a bottle of "local" wine. How could I say no? After all, this whole blogging adventure is meant to discover what's out there and have some fun with wine.

667. 2007 Skimmerhorn Marechal Foch (Creston Valley - BC)

Now, Skimmerhorn isn't really all that local. The Creston Valley is a couple hours and an entire mountain pass away. There is one closer winery in the Trail area, but there aren't exactly a bunch of other wineries in this part of the province; so, it can be considered about as "local" as they get. The Creston Valley has a long history of agriculture and tree fruit, but wine grapes is something new. On the other hand, Creston has been long known as the home of the Columbia Brewery and Kokanee Beer, but commercial wine is a whole other thing.

Wine scribe, John Schreiner, has written that the Hoag family, owners and proprietors of Skimmerhorn, have 20 years experience in apples, cherries and other fruit trees, but they found that market prices for apples weren't meeting production costs in this 21st Century. Although they considered the possibility of starting a cidery, the Hoags felt that it might be a more fortuitous outcome to give grape growing and wine a go. So, in 2003, they started replacing their fruit trees with grapevines.

Realizing that the region only has a short, intense growing season, they needed to focus on earlier-ripening varietals. Along with Pinot Noir and whites like Pinot Gris, Ortega and Gewurzt, they planted Marechal Foch - the little known French hybrid grape that still has a bit of a life in BC.

They also knew that they were going to need a consulting winemaker to get them off the ground. Believing that it might be difficult to locate an Okanagan winemaker to help just when those winemakers would be at their busiest time of year back in the Okanagan, the Hoags looked to the Southern Hemisphere and found a Kiwi, Mark Rattray, who agreed to oversee the first three vintages and consult thereafter.

This 2007 vintage was their first and we were nicely surprised by the wine. It was much fuller than we'd expected and had a pleasant nose and taste. I've read that the quality of Marechal Foch fruit can be highly dependant on the age of the vines. Considering that these vines couldn't be more than four to five years old, I'd be happy to come back and try another vintage as the vines become more established.

I'm not so sure that we'll run into those wines that often, if at all, though. The winery only makes 3000 cases and that production is popular throughout the region. We just don't see it down in the Vancouver market and, unfortunately, we likely won't be up in that neighbourhood in the foreseeable future. Boo's mom has since moved away from the Kootenays and our visits up there may be no more. That summer visit was unknowingly my last and, because of that fact, I'm throwing in a gratuitous Christmas photo of Mom Mary's beloved Sparrowhawk from a couple years back. It's one of my favourite seasonal shots and I figure Skimmerhorn earned it.

Here's wishing them good luck at establishing a whole new wine region for the province.

A New Take on Forbidden Fruit

Considering the fact that BC's major wine producing area, the Okanagan Valley, has historically been more centred on tree fruit than grapes, it seems only natural that there would be a few wineries trying their hand at fruit wines. Together with Elephant Island, Forbidden Fruit is probably foremost among those wineries that appear to be succeeding. Indeed, past posts to this Odyssey blog have seen plum and pear wines from Forbidden Fruit added to The List.

Despite the reference to the Okanagan's history as a fruit basket, Forbidden Fruit has been practicing its organic farming in the neighbouring Similkameen Valley - and it's been doing so for over 30 years now. The farm was actually one of the first to qualify under BC's organic certification program and even that was 25 years ago.

Thing is, this time around, I'm working with a different take on Forbidden Fruit. The winery has been winning awards for its fruit wines for years now, but for the past couple of vintages, they've introduced their "Earth Series." Using Similkameen and Okanagan grapes from vineyards that utilize low impact and sustainable farming practices, they now offer two varietal wines.

666. 2008 Forbidden Fruit Earth Series Sauvignon Blanc (BC)

Maybe it just flows from the "unfortunate" aspect of being associated with the "number of the beast" but this wasn't our favourite wine from Forbidden Fruit. I've seen that the Earth Series has garnered a couple of awards, but it just didn't hit the right spots with us - even for a Sauv Blanc. The varietal is about as distinctive as it gets but neither Boo nor I found this bottle to have any of those distinctive characteristics in a favourable way.

Maybe it was because we paired it with a crab risotto. Who knows? I just don't see us picking up a bottle any time soon.

There is a redeeming feature about the wine, however, and that is that the winery uses this series to raise funds for various projects that address "sustainable life on Earth." An early recipient has been the David Suzuki Foundation. It didn't make the wine taste any better, but it is a nice point to focus on.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

It's A C&C Christmas

Did I mention in the last posts that the party season has arrived? If I didn't, I should have because this is like the third Christmas party this week. Hopefully (and I rather mean it), things are going to slow down soon. It's great to be able to continually add new bottles to The List, but I can't seem to find any time to actually blog them.

Oh well, no chance of missing the office party - particularly since I've been tasked with putting together some seasonal tunes for the evening. A task, I might add, that I took quite seriously (at 11 p.m. last night). But, as tempting as it might have been, I did not add "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas" to the playlist. I do love that song.

Our party this year was held at one of the local French bistros. So, it's not too surprising that all the wines were French. The wines for the evening were four in number - two whites and two reds. I never did get to the whites. It may not have been a work night, but I still had to behave. All those stories about too much at the office party can prove to be somewhat embarrassing. Best to stay away from that in my humble opinion.

664. 2009 Domaine Gayda Three Winds Syrah (Vins de Pays d'Oc - France)

665. 2008 Maison Maurel Vedeau Les Cepages Pinot Noir (Vins de Pays d'Oc - France)

I couldn't find much information on either wine; so, it might make just as much sense to serve up a mini-post on Vins de Pays d'Oc seeing as both bottles were from the that part of France. Quality wines in France are largely regulated by the appellation - or Appellation d'Origine Controllee - system. Vins de Pays wines, or "country wines," primarily find themselves in a middle ground between AOC wines and generic table wines. The VdP system allows wineries to produce wines that can be distinguished as being made from particular varietals and from a specific region; however, they neither have to comply with strict appellation rules, nor designate their wines as basic vin de table.

There are five traditional Vins de Pays regions in France and, as such, the wines produced are still associated with particular areas; however, the regions covered are much larger than standard AOC districts and are, in fact, often broken down into smaller VdP districts. The Vins de Pays d'Oc is a good example in that the region encompasses the entire Languedoc-Roussillon, which itself contains over 30 separate AOC appellations.

An immediate example of the more lenient VdP regulations is that the Maison Maurel Vedeau wine couldn't have been marketed as anything other than a table wine since the AOC rules don't allow the production of Pinot Noir in the Languedoc-Rousillon appellations. Similarly, the labelling practices are also far less regulated. Typical AOC wines would never be labeled - like these two wines - as Syrah or Pinot Noir.

Originally, Vins de Pays wines were generally seen as inferior to AOC wines; however, the last couple decades have seen producers recognizing that they need to make make a higher quality wine to meet world expectations and the burgeoning competition coming from newer regions. Those producers have also recognized that most New World winemakers and most of the global market have taken to identifying wine by varietal - not by its place of origin. Not many of today's consumers know that red wines from Burgundy will be either Pinot Noir or Gamay Noir - let alone that the Cote d'Or is home to many of Burgundy's most famous vineyards.

The flip side of Burgundian restrictions is that, nowadays, there are thirty or more varietals being grown in Languedoc-Rousillon. It's, therefore, pretty much imperative that the wineries have the VdP freedom to label their wines by varietal - especially since over half of the region's wines are produced for export.

As much as there was a fair bit of red wine enjoyed at the party, I can safely say that we didn't spend the evening discussing appellation requirements or changes in the French winemaking scene. Rather, it was more of a chance to see folks all "dolled up" and talking about upcoming seasonal plans. The opportunity to leave the office behind was great fun - even if this year didn't involve any Bollywood dancing with the annual "turning the lightbulb and patting the dog." Must have been the guy in charge of the music.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Deke Xmas Bash

One thing I do know, despite what seems like an awful lot of wine being consumed for this Odyssey and blog, is that I sure can't drink like I used to in the old university days. All it takes is one evening with some of the Dekes and I'm quickly reminded of days of yore - and of all the beer, dacquiris, shots and other concoctions that have passed under those bridges.

Tonight was the fraternity's Alumni Christmas Party and it's a whole lot easier to behave and get home at a reasonable hour nowadays. Not that the opportunity to keep going 'til the wee hours isn't an always-available option. A couple bottles of wine at the table and I'm still good to go the next morning. It is funny, however, how the same old stories of the old days at the Deke House continue to amuse.

662. 2008 Blue Mountain Pinot Noir (Okanagan Valley)

I picked the first to be served up at the table and I decided to go with perhaps the first of the BC "cult" wines to arrive on the scene. Blue Mountain Pinot Noir was a definite announcement to the world that there was hope for BC wines beyond the old Baby Ducks and Lonesome Charlies. We haven't had the opportunity to visit the winery for years now but I still try some of the wines every now and then - when they're, rarely, found in a bottle shop or, more likely, in a restaurant setting.

Pinot Noir has always been the primary focus of Blue Mountain and their take on the varietal is more Burgundian than many of their Okanagan neighbours. The Mavety family has planted six clones from Burgundy Pinot in their vineyards, with another two clones having been planted specifically for sparkling wines. They produce two levels of Pinot Noir - the cream label that we're having here and a striped label that is more of a reserve wine.

I'm not sure that we currently have any Blue Mountain at home. I'm going to have to remedy that.

The Blue Mountain certainly helped get the conversation flowing at our table. Naturally, I didn't even get around to taking a photo of our little group, but I did manage one shot of a neighbouring table - if only because they started asking about the blog and I remembered that I needed a couple of shots. I figure if I feature them and say nice things about them, maybe they might invite Boo and I over to sample what they've got stocked in their cellars.

663. 2006 Sebastiani Zinfandel (Sonoma Country - California)

Care to hazard a guess as to who chose our second wine? It's a Zin and that often means (at least in this blog) that there's a good chance that Beamer is in the vicinity - and that's certainly the case at hand. He decided to go with the Sebastiani - one of those names in California winemaking that seem to have been around forever. Part of that reason may be that the winery was established over a century ago. Indeed, it was the only winery in Sonoma County to continue operations throughout Prohibition as it produced sacramental and medicinal wines during that period.

After a couple of generational transitions in ownership and operations, Sebastiani was producing 8 million cases of year during the 1980's - under their own label and the Turner Road label - although much of that production was bulk wine made from Central Valley grapes. With the turn of the 21st Century, the family sold Turner Road and re-focused the Sebastiani label on higher quality wines - a fact that, in itself, may have played a part in the sale of the winery to new owners in 2008.

The wine at hand is a blend of fruit sourced from three of Sonoma County's sub-appellations - Dry Creek, Alexander and Russian River. The goal is to take advantage of the strong points that each of the sub-regions can bring to the table - such as ripeness, level of tannin or acidity levels. The Zin blend is then complimented by the addition of small amounts of Petite Sirah and Syrah to add a bit more spice. One interesting point about the wine is that Sebastiani uses some Hungarian - as well as French - oak to age the wine. We always hear about French and/or American oak, but I can't say that I can name anyone else (off the top of my head) that uses Hungarian barrels. I'm going to have to look up what flavour profile differences are expected from Hungarian oak.

Zin is pretty tasty in most circumstances, but throw a bottle on the table with a bunch of Dekes and, odds are, it's not going to last long - best behaviour on a holiday season work night or not. Despite loving every opportunity to add another bottle to The List, I'm rather glad we kept the total down a bit tonight.

Now, to sampling some of the wines in those cellars...