Monday, January 31, 2011

Saturna Gewurtz

Boo and I may drink our fair share of BC wine. There's little doubt, however, that the vast majority of that wine comes from the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys. Every so often, we run across the opportunity taste a bottle from BC's Wine Islands.

A couple of years back, Mickey Rooney asked us to visit them at their place on Saturna Island. That little trip happened before I'd started off on this Odyssey of mine. So, unfortunately, I didn't get to do a couple of postings there - because we certainly finished off more than a couple of bottles. Indeed, we had a grand weekend that included the Island's annual Canada Day Lamb Roast. It also included a hike along the cliff top and a leisurely lunch at the island's only winery. I'd have liked to add a picture or two from the weekend, but I couldn't find any of the pictures quickly.

Tonight's bottle has somehow managed to last until now before we've gotten around to opening it. I'll say that's because we kept wanting to get Mickey Rooney over to our place so that we could knock it back with them, but it might be more reasonable to admit that we don't tend to drink a lot of Gewurtz.

717. 2007 Saturna Island Family Estate Gewurztraminer (VQA BC Gulf Islands)

This one we liked though. I remember thinking that it was our favourite of the estate's wines at the time and I was glad to see that it hadn't suffered from our delay in popping the cork. Neither too floral on the nose, nor too acidic, this was a dry fruit-laden sip that I'd easily go back to again and again.

The Gulf Islands bank a lot on their climate that they liken to the Northern Mediterrean, but they are largely limited to growing white varietals and to Pinot Noir (with a few stabs at other early ripening reds). Although during the late 1990's, when the winery was just getting started and the vineyards were still being planted, grapes used to be purchased and shipped in from the Okanagan, but all the grapes are now being grown on the estate's 60 acres.

Maybe we can find some time and persuade Mickey Rooney to have us over again and I can blog some Saturna wines property. I'll just have to look into that.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pac Rim Bonspiel - Harder! Harder!!

I've hit another one of those posts that's really more about where we were drinking the wine as opposed to the wines themselves. This weekend was the Pac Rim Curling Bonspiel and I won't try to kid you - a curling bonspiel is not likely going to be a prime spot to find fine wine. Curling has more of that beer cachet - even if it is a gay bonspiel. Caesars, maybe. Coolers, likely. But wine is more like a hard double.

That being said, it goes without saying that there's going to be plenty of booze over the weekend. I'm kinda glad that I managed to fit in as much wine as I did - particularly since our little makeshift, raggamuffin team put together a pretty darn good run at the bonspiel. I think we turned a couple heads when we managed to knock off two of the early contenders in our first two games - getting ourselves into the quarter-finals of the "A" Division. We couldn't quite pull off three straight, but that left us in fine position to party on the Saturday night and those early wins definitely called for a bottle at the club.

714. N.V. J-T Unity Cabernet Sauvignon (Bottled in Canada)

I won't pass judgment on the fact that the Unity label - wines that can be a blend of BC, Ontario and international grapes - is all that was available at the curling club. As mentioned, the fact that they have wine at all is encouraging. Plus, the fact that you can buy it at the liquor store for $10 gives the club a decent sale price that still earns it some cash.

It's certainly not going to challenge any of J-T's other VQA vintage wines on quality but it's entirely drinkable. That being said, I have read that this new Unity brand is one of the biggest seller for the provincial liquor board - especially when all you really need is something to down along with the popcorn while the "Drag in a Bag" contest is going on full force in front of you.

For the second year running, the weekend's organizers have randomly drawn three teams in the bonspiel to pick one of their players to get all dolled up and perform a lip-sync for the gathered teams. I don't know if anyone was going to challenge last year's winner, Beyonce, performing Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It), but it was still as entertaining as all hell. I'm just ever so glad that they didn't pick our team - since two of our players had magically disappeared and there's no way I would have had the slightest idea of what the words to Britney Spear's Toxic might have been.

I have to admit that I think our Britney must have been channelling Ms Spear's during one of her breakdown or rehab periods. There's no doubt that she was a lively girl, but she was, indeed, a tad "toxic." This year's winner, Margaret Ho, may not dress as skimpily as Lady Gaga but she did a bang up job on Bad Romance and she got to take the crown and sceptre all the way back to Calgary with her. I'd like to see her explaining some of the pictures to the cowboys back home.

We actually played Ms. Ho and the Calgary team the next morning and I don't know if it was because they'd won Drag in a Bag and had lost their killer instinct or because "Margaret" just couldn't see the broom through the residual blue eye shadow, but, in any event, we managed to beat them for yet another unexpected win.

Our next match didn't actually involve playing the superheroes team that came all the way from San Francisco to play but they certainly brought a lot of fun to our event.

Our win over Calgary took us to one of the divisional finals where we managed to pull off another upset to win ourselves a nice little wad of cash - enough that, if we'd put it all towards cheap, red wine, we'd have had enough to bring about more than a couple wicked hangovers the morning after. We took the money and ran though.

Playing in one of the finals did leave us rushing to get to the banquet though. What was surprising was that there was even less choice of wine at the hotel than there was at the curling club. The banquet facilities offered one red and one white. What options were there but to get one of each?

715. 2010 Trivento Pampas del Sur - Select Shiraz/Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

It's funny that this is the only red that they had available. The 2008 Pampas del Sur Select mad it to The List as well (at #254) when it was the only red wine available at the Prairie Fairy Fowl Supper a couple of years back. I guess getting gigs like this where there's lots of drinking to be done and your's is the only wine being sold does wonders for corporate sales. That'll also help make your wine one of the best selling wines in the province. Then again, there's plenty of this wine available when this export brand for Concha y Toro's presence in Argentina produces millions of litres of wine annually.

716. 2009 Castello di Gabbiano Pinot Gris (IGT Veneto - Italy)

I don't know how much wine Gabbiano produces but it also is one of the Top 20 wines sold in BC. Simple and easy on the pocketbook. I guess that's the secret.

We were in a good enough mood following the weekend that we'd have been happy with virtually any bottle of wine - plonk or not. So, to come away winners and add three wines to The List, I'd say that the weekend was quite the success.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An Australia Day Conundrum

We had nothing but gorgeous sun on this Australia Day - despite the fact that we're really still in the middle of winter. Granted there were no Aussies in sight of our Vancouver household but that doesn't stop us from flying an Aussie flag and opening a bottle of wine from Down Under to celebrate. There may not have been any footy on the TV and no Merlot Boy not to drink Merlot with, but Boo and I had a nice long toast to our friends and all things Antipodean just for the heck of it.

I grabbed a bottle of wine that's been in the wine rack for some time now and, to be honest, I have no idea how we came about it and it's not a wine that we've had before. I can't recall whether I ran across it at a tasting or at the Playhouse Wine Festival or I grabbed it just because I saw it in a bottle shop and didn't recognize it at all.

Even after having finished it off in quick order, I don't know much more than when I started - except that both Boo and I quite enjoyed it.

713. 2002 Barletta Shiraz (Clare Valley - Australia)

I generally start most of my internet searches for Australian wines on James Halliday's website Australian Wine Companion. I didn't see any mention of Barletta on the site. I didn't do a whole lot better just doing a regular search either. I'm not so sure that the winery still exists. I did find a reference to brothers Ben and Mario Barletta who are Adelaide retailers and there are references to wines from the early 2000's that were being produced occasionally as boutique winery affair in the Clare Valley. From what little I saw, however, it appeared to be more of a garagiste operation - where they purchased grapes and made the wine with the assistance of another winery.

That assistance appeared to be in the form of a relationship with winemaker Neil Pike who operates Pikes with his brother Andrew. It looks like there is still a partnership happening between the two sets of brothers in the form of the small Gaelic Cemetery Wines. The operation is limited to a single vineyard and to the production of approximately 500 cases of a premium Shiraz.

I don't know if this Barletta Shiraz is the pre-cursor of Gaelic Cemetery but I'd sure like to find some more or something just like it. The wine harkened back to the big, full bodied Shiraz wines that are dark, concentrated and fruit forward that helped make Australia's advance into the world's wine markets. There's no mistaking this for a "critter wine" though. Since I don't remember where we got it from, I rather doubt that it goes for the price of a critter wine either.

It looks like I might never know though. However, if this is the only bottle of Barletta I'm ever going to run across, I'm glad we did and that it made it to The List.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Kaiken was one of the wineries that we visited while we were touring Mendoza back last Fall. I had never heard of it before and likely would never have thought to stop there. The agency that coordinated our wine tours felt that it would be an interesting stop in that it showed yet another aspect of investment into the Argentine wine industry. This time, it was Chilean investors - and big name ones at that.

If we'd more than one day to visit wineries in Chile, Montes would definitely have been one of the producers that would have been on top of my wish list. We didn't get that opportunity, but, as chance would have it, Montes has crossed the Andes - much like the Patagonian goose that the new winery was named after. Kaiken is the resulting winery.

Due to the strict Canada Customs limits we faced in bringing back wine from our trip, we didn't buy any wine at Kaiken - much to our gracious host's chagrin. I note, however, from re-reading my earlier entry about touring Kaiken, that I said that "I'd definitely grab a bottle [of the Malbec] if I do see it at home." Funny that, but it didn't take long to run into some of their wines after all. Apparently, Kaiken wines have been in town for some time. I'd just never run across them before. I know that Montes has a firm footprint in the Vancouver wine scene; so, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that their Argentine operation would take a stab at our market as well.

712. 2008 Kaiken Malbec Reserva (Mendoza - Argentina)

Kaiken actually has two varietal Malbecs available - this Reserva and a premium label called Ultra. I'm pretty sure that it was the Ultra that we so enjoyed at the winery, but it was the Reserva that I've run across first in town.

While still under $20, the Kaiken is a bit more expensive than many of the entry level Argentine Malbecs that can be found in our market. The wine was big on fruit - which I'd expect, and quite enjoy - and there was an additional 5% Cab Sauv added to flesh out the profile. I think I'd like to do a bit of group tasting with some of the competitors though to try and figure out if there's enough difference to justify the extra pesos.

In the mean time, it was great to run into some product from one of the wineries we toured. I think it's always nice to have a sense of place to look back on while enjoying a wine. I'm sure we'll look back some more should I run across more of their wines.

Pacific Breeze Chard

It's not too often that a "Cellared in BC" or "Cellared in Canada" wine gets added to The List. That designation on the bottle simply means that the winery has sourced at least a portion of the grapes going into the wine from outside the province of BC. Those grapes could have come from anywhere in the world and are often seen as being the fruit of overproduction in countries like Chile. They are also often the wines you see with cute little animals on the labels.

Although none of Pacific Breeze's grapes are grown or sourced from BC, the principals behind the winery are definitely not simply buying up the seconds or leftovers from mass producers around the world. Far from it, those principals like to think of themselves as the first "garagiste" winery in Canada. They simply had no interest in buying or maintaining vineyards. They decided on a business plan that sees them buying premium grapes from contracted growers in California and Washington state. The grapes are harvested to Pacific Breezes's specifications and carefully shipped to the Lower Mainland where the New Westminster winery (which literally is a warehouse garage in a storage park) crafts small production wines.

My sis, Vixen, has friends that are big fans of the winery and we dropped in during an open house some time back. You know we were impressed ourselves when we leave with a case of wine - including some Chardonnay.

711. 2007 Pacific Breeze - Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay (Bottled in BC)

This is the first bottle to be opened from the ones we bought that day. Most of the wines we purchased were red - no surprise there - but I recall thinking, at the time, that the Chardy was nicely balanced - a nice creaminess to the wine but with lots of fruit still coming through. Unfortunately for tonight's dinner, my recollection was a little brighter than the juice in our glass this evening though.

The grapes for the wine were sourced from a noted vineyard in California's Sonoma region and, like a great many Chardonnays from the Golden State, there's been a liberal use of oak in the aging of the wine. Methinks that, after a couple of years in the bottle, the fruit has subsided more than I would have like and the oak has become a little more dominant.

We've got a tour of the winery facilities planned in the months to come. So, it will be good to taste their current Chardonnay again and see if maybe we should have just popped this cork a tad sooner.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Petales from La Rose

With our last wine documenting a snippet of a French excursion into Mendoza and Argentina, it seems only natural to follow it up with a story of the French venturing into our Okanagan backyard.

The first of its kind in Canada, 1998 saw the commencement of a joint venture between two wine powerhouses in their respective countries. Vincor was Canada's largest wine producer with such names as Jackson-Triggs, Nk'mip, Sumac Ridge and See Ya Later Ranch in its portfolio. If you know anything about BC wines, you know of Vincor wines - even if you don't recognize the corporate name. They were negotiating to bring in a French partner to look at producing a premium Bordeaux-style blend in the Okanagan.

That partner turned out to be Groupe Taillan - a superstar in French wine, with a handful of top tier estates under its control in France, including the "classified" second growth St. Julien producer Chateau Gruaud- Larose.

After locating the chosen vineyards outside of Osoyoos (hence the combined name Osoyoos-Larose) and a painstaking planting of those vineyards, the label debuted in 2001 under the firm hand of Pascal Madevan, one of the most passionate winemakers to make it to the Okanagan. Le Grand Vin was unveiled to much local press and rather glowing reviews. For a first effort, from new vines, buzz for the new kid in the valley was ripe.

710. 2004 Osoyoos Larose Petales (VQA Okanagan Valley)

A few years later, as the vines began to produce more and better grapes, there was enough fruit to release a second label - just as most of the top Bordeaux chateaux do as well. Petales is that second wine and the 2004 was its first vintage.

With a slightly different blend than its older sibling, the powers that be go to great lengths to instruct that Petales is not a lesser wine. All the vineyards and vines are tended in the same manner and to the same production levels. It's simply a fact that different barrels will have different effects on the flavour profile of the wines inside. Some of the resulting wines may not fit the needs of the master blend, but can still be used in a second bottling. Indeed, for many of us who can't afford the classified growth wines of Bordeaux, second labels from those chateaux, especially in good vintages, are often a great means of sampling some of the big names of France.

This initial release of Petales featured a Merlot backbone (60%) with the balance of the blend split between the four remaining Bordeaux varietals - Cabernet Sauvignon (25%), Malbec (6%), Cab Franc (4%) and Petit Verdot (4%).

I'm a little surprised that I've taken this long to add bottle of Petales to The List. For me, at most tastings, the Petales actually comes across as the more approachable of the two wines and at $25, I think it's very reasonably priced, particularly when compared to any number of similar wines from the Okanagan.

I think we might just have waited a bit long too open this bottle. I've generally recalled and enjoyed a more prominent fruit presence in the Petales than I noticed in this bottle and the winery does say that - unlike Le Grand Vin which almost needs some extra time in the bottle - Petales is pretty much ready to drink right away. Even if this bottle didn't impart wild eruptions of joy, I do know this won't be the last bottle of Osoyoos Larose, whether it will be a second wine or a grand one. It matters not.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Clos de los Siete & The Flying Winemaker

We've already tasted - and I've already added to The List - two vintages of this wine. The 2008 was added back during our Wine Boyz World Cup tasting (#474) and the 2007 was knocked back during the 2010 Aussie Rules Football Final (#602). Both of those bottles were opened more as part of an event though and, consequently, I didn't really spend any time writing about the winery in my posts. This time, the wine is all on its own; so, I suppose it's time to look a little deeper into the winery.

When Boo and I were in Argentina last Fall, I was amazed by the myriad of historical ties between Mendoza, wine and Italian immigrants. It seemed like, every which way we turned, there was more Italian heritage staring us in the face - much of it well over 100 years old. This next wine is not an example of those historical ties; rather, the wine is a product of a whole new approach to Argentine wine - but one that is becoming evermore present.

709. 2003 Clos de los Siete (Mendoza - Argentina)

Clos de los Siete is the result of multi-million venture involving world renowned - and controversial - "flying winemaker" Michel Rolland. Rolland is one of the wine world's most influential personalities. As a consultant to over 100 wineries in 13 different countries (including Canada), Rolland epitomizes the globalization of wine. He's known for a decidedly New World signature style of big fruit and heavy oak and Clos de los Siete was conceived of as a vehicle for personal involvement in the burgeoning Argentine world of wine.

The project originally started as a gathering of Rolland and six other French producers. Indeed, the winery's name refers to the "vineyards of the seven" and, in addition to Rolland, his partners included a Rotschild and the family behind Champagne powerhouse Piper Heidseck. Money seemed to be no object as there's been talk of over $60 million of investment. The unique concept behind the joint venture was that each of the seven partners would have separate sections in the vineyards and their own distinct winery - with their own winemakers and viticulturists - however, one half of the production would go to a "collective" winery, Clos de los Siete, where Rolland would create the branded wine for world-wide consumption.

Two of those original investors seem to have abandoned the project as only five of the planned seven wineries have set up shop; however, things have definitely kept moving ahead. The vineyards are geared towards quality production and low yields so that the resulting wine would be a quality bottling; however, at a million and a half bottles being produced annually, it can hardly be seen as an artisanal project.

Whereas there are plenty of old vines in Mendoza, the planting of the winery's vineyards was all from scratch and only started in 1999. With the first vintage having been released was in 2002, this 2004 is still early indication of what the winery might ultimately be capable of. As you might expect with an Argentine blend, Malbec is the backbone of the wine and accounts for half of the blend. The remaining varietals used are Merlot (30%), Cab Sauv and Syrah (10% each).

Despite all the press and the hoopla surrounding the wine - it continually gets glowing reports and rankings in the wine press - it's never seemed to live up to my expectations. And it didn't tonight either. It's certainly not a bad wine; it just doesn't make me holler for a refill - like now. I'm sure we'll see more bottles at our table in the years to come as it's a favourite for people to bring to dinner parties as a guest, but I'll have to experience a few more "wow" moments before I commit to regularly stocking it in our cellar.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Riesling Out of Nothing

Seems like we're starting the new year off with a batch of BC wines. Tonight's going to add both another BC wine and a new BC winery to The List.

708. 2006 Ex Nihilo Riesling (Okanagan Valley)

Ex Nihilo is a relatively new entrant onto the BC wine scene. The winery was some time in the making and was finally set up in 2008, but this 2006 vintage was an initial foray into the world of winemaking when Jeff and Decoa Harder worked out an arrangement with a neighbouring winery to purchase some grapes and make an initial stab at producing some wine. That first vintage consisted of 100 cases of Merlot and 600 cases of this Riesling.

It's hard to make a big splash when you don't have a physical winery and your total production is 700 cases. It is not, however, difficult to gain instant notoriety when you offer up a wine or two sporting an association with THE Rolling Stones and then follow it up with a Gold medal or two at the prestigious Riesling du Monde competition.

It's almost like something of note can appear "out of nothing." I've used the quotes on "out of nothing" because that's the translation of the Latin phrase "Ex Nihilo." An interesting working on the winery's name.

Now granted, it was the 2007 Riesling that won the first Gold medal and that wine was apparently made in quite a different style than this 2006 (as perhaps Riesling is easily wont to do). The Stones are forever though - and that association garnered the new winery a whole lot of local press. The story goes that Jeff Harder was attending a dinner in L.A. that was related to a Rolling Stones concert and they were served a wine sporting the Stones iconic logo. The light bulb went on and, after four years of intense negotiations, a limited release Okanagan Icewine called Sympathy For The Devil, that prominently displays those well-known lips and tongue, was released and history was made.

There's also a red blend made from Napa Valley grapes that is marketed as Satisfaction, but that's yet another story and I need to get back to the Riesling.

From what I've found on the net, the Riesling seems to bring about some pretty strong reactions - from Gold medals at big competitions to online reviews that offer little, if any, positive feedback. Boo and I fell somewhere in the middle. We were hardly reaching for the Pepcid, but nothing about the wine stood out for me as being extraordinary. I could easily think of more than a couple of other BC Rieslings that I'd reach for before the Ex Nihilo.

That being said, I am a Riesling kind of guy and, if this bottle wasn't that indicative of the winery's current product, it won't take much to get me to open another bottle down the road.

On top of that though, I do want to say that I think Decoa Harder's marketing background really shows through with a stellar label. As much as a wine is ultimately judged by the juice inside the bottle, an intriguing label can coax more than a couple folks to pick up the bottle in the first place. For me at least, this label is a glowing success. We'll see if the next Ex Nihilo wine I try impresses me as much.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

J-T Meritage

After last night's stellar Burrowing Owl, the dictates of Boo's "No Buy Leash" resulted in my grabbing another older BC wine from a box at the bottom of our "cellar." A 2001 BC wine has got to be almost as old a vintage as we have nowadays.

It wasn't that long ago that everyone would hold their collective breath when opening a 10-year old BC wine. We were never sure that it would have the capability of aging that long. I doubt anyone would be so brash as to say that you can lay down all BC wines and expect them to last or improve at all with any substantial aging - but it's definitely been shown that the potential is there.

707. 2001 Jackson-Triggs Proprietors' Reserve Meritage (VQA Okanagan Valley)

After learning the surprising pedigree of last night's wine, it was equally as unexpected to find out that this Meritage had fared pretty well for itself on the award circuit as well. Unlike the Syrah, it didn't win Canadian Red Wine of the Year, however, it turns out that it was a finalist for that award and only lost out to J-T's Grand Reserve Meritage. Same wine, just ramped up a notch.

Maybe there was a reason I laid it down in the first place.

As Jackson-Trigg's Okanagan winery only started up in 1998, the 2001 vintage was one of their first attempts at a Meritage blend. During these early years, the wine was crafted from equal portions of Cab Sauv and Merlot (40% each) with Cab Franc making up the 20% balance.

Personally, I don't think the wine aged quite as well as last night's Syrah did. The back label talks of "intense" raspberry, chocolate and mint, but I think the "intensity" had diminished over the years. Nothing wrong with the wine, but it didn't jump out and grab us in the manner that you might expect of one of the best wines of the year.

I know there'll be more J-T wines that do achieve that "jump out and grab us" status. An operation doesn't get named "Canadian winery of the year" in as many competitions as Jackson-Triggs does if doesn't have that calibre of wine to pour. The question is "do we have one of those bottles in our cellar?"

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Burrowing Owl Classic

On the whole, it's been a fairly mild winter for we folks in VanCity; however, today was a snow day. So, I figured that called for a little comfort food and nice, big and hearty red to warm our cold and wet soles - you'll note that's "soles" and not "souls." We were merely hiking around in the white stuff; it's not like our spirits had been frozen or drained or anything as serious as that.

Any excuse to raid the cellar though.

One of the side "benefits" to having been placed on a "No Buy Leash" by Boo is that, sometimes, I have no choice but to grab what can only be thought of as a special occasion bottle. Reaching into the Burrowing Owl "library" isn't a normal affair around here, but a nice fireside sip has to be one of life's little pleasures. We've already added the 2002 vintage of this wine to The List (at #358) and the 2005 vintage was one of the earliest wines to be added at #39. But, if I have to try and "clear out" some of our older wines, so be it.

706. 2003 Burrowing Owl Syrah (VQA Okanagan Valley)

It didn't take many sips to understand why this wine won some serious Canadian wine awards. As is usual around here, I didn't actually realize the pedigree of the wine until I took a look on the internet after we'd finished the bottle. It turns out that this vintage was not only presented with one of twelve exclusive Lieutenant Governor's Wine Awards in 2005 - perhaps the most prestigious award given in British Columbia - but it also won a Gold medal and was named Red Wine of the Year at the 2006 Canadian Wine Awards.

The 2003 was still only the fourth vintage of Syrah produced by Burrowing Owl, but it was abundantly clear that their vineyards were capable of producing some stellar fruit. At this time, the winemaking was still under the direction and tutelage of Bill Dyer, an all-star in the BC winemaking pantheon. There have been a number of changes at the helm since Dyer left Burrowing Owl not too long after this vintage, but the winery has wisely stayed with his basic approach to making wine.

I've always said that I'm not the guy you turn to if you want exuberant and overflowing descriptions of a wine, but even I'm comfortable in saying that this was a beautifully balanced wine, with plenty of dark - but NOT over-the-top - fruit. Comfort food doesn't necessarily need to be treated with care when it comes to wine, but this Syrah elevated every bite of our meatloaf with a special treat.

This is clearly one of the reasons why Burrowing Owl leapt to such prominence in the BC wine world right from the get-go.

I'm going to have to check and see if I've managed to store any additional bottles of this beauty because, snow day or not, I'd look forward to some more. Please.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Seven Stones Chard

I must be pulling wines from a particular box because, without a determined theme or my even noticing a trend, the last three wines that I've opened are all from Boo's and my drive through parts of the Similkameen and Okanagan Valleys on our way to Boo's mom's place in the Kootenays last summer. We only made quick, run and gun stops at five wineries and the last three wines were all picked up at those stops - Forbidden Fruit, Twisted Tree and, now, Seven Stones.

During our last couple of trips from the Kootenays, we'd noticed a new winery sign while driving Highway 3 between Cawston and Osoyoos. We'd never passed by when the winery was open however. This time it was. And lucky for us because - despite being on a tight schedule for time - we had a delightful little visit with one of the owners, Vivianne Hanson. She was a gracious host and was full of thoroughly entertaining stories about setting up the vineyard and winery. She and her husband, George, may have only opened the winery in 2007, but there a full slate of tales from the years leading up to the initial 2005 vintage.

705. 2008 Seven Stones Speaking Rock Chardonnay (Similkameen Valley)

It's interesting, for me anyhow, that this first bottle of Seven Stones to be added to The List is a white. Of the nine wines currently produced at the winery, this is the only white and, while we left with a full case (so much for Boo's "No Buy Leash"), we certainly focused on the reds as well.

I like the fact that the Hanson's utilize both limited oak and sur lies treatments for their aging and fermentation of the Chardonnay, but I found the wine to be a bit bold for my tastes. It may have been the meal pairing but I think a grilled chicken breast should have matched up nicely. A second glass, without food, didn't move me any differently.

That wasn't how I'd remembered our tasting at the winery itself. So, I was a little saddened that I didn't enjoy it as much. It won't be the last time we'll try the wine though because Seven Stones is definitely off to go great start.

I'm going to look forward to opening one of the reds that we bought though. Hopefully, I'll be able to gush a little more after those sips.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Twisted Tempranillo

According to the back label on this bottle, the name for Twisted Tree winery comes from the "weathered, gnarly cherry trees" that the new winery owners, Chris and Beata Tolley, found on the property when they bought the old fruit farm. Without knowing that fact, I might have thought that it's kind of "twisted" to find out that the winery is even producing this wine.

704. 2008 Twisted Tree Tempranillo (Okanagan Valley)

To continue on a bit from the naming of the winery, when the Tolley's uprooted most of those "twisted trees," they decided NOT to plant the same varietals that most of the other Okanagan wineries were laying out in their vineyards. They figured that there was already enough Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. It didn't mean that they wouldn't make those wines, particularly in the interim years while they waited for their own vines to mature, it just meant that they'd source the more common grapes from other producers in the Valley.

So, instead of planting more of the varietals that we might think of as now becoming traditional to the Okanagan, they planted Tempranillo, Carmenere, Tannat and the white Rhone varietals Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. Although Viognier is making quite a name for itself in the Okanagan, you'd be hard pressed to find more than a handful of other wineries devoting their lands to the other varietals - let alone producing varietal wines with them. Part of the effort was to see how well suited the new varietals might be to the lands.

They appear to be taking rather well.

Twisted Tree released its first vintage of Tempranillo in 2007 and, at that, they were the first Okanagan winery to release the varietal. As such, this 2008 vintage is still only the second release of Rioja's - and perhaps Spain's - most famous grape. Yet, new to the scene or not, it turned more than a few heads, earning a Double Gold Medal at the 2010 All Canadian Wine Championships.

The most unfortunate aspect to the wine is that there were only 240 cases produced. I say "unfortunate" because Boo and I were nicely surprised when we opened it. It was more of a New World take on Tempranillo, having more fruit and freshness than a more traditional Rioja bottle would likely have, but we had no idea what to expect and we were very happy.

I'm not so enthralled with the $30 price tag though - particularly when compared to the many superb "value for the price" wines coming out of Spain - but I don't regret it in the least for a new look at the Okanagan.

One thing I would like to do is try a blind tasting of the wine with a selection of Spanish Tempranillos. That would certainly be interesting and worth another posting.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Another Forbidden Fruit

Hey Eve. Ready for another little Forbidden Fruit? We've done some Pear and some Plum, what else is there in that bag of tricks of your's?

Adam, if I've told you once, I've told you Lord how many times. The next one to try is the Apple.

703. N.V. Forbidden Fruit Adam's Apple (Similkameen Valley)

Having recently opened one of the winery's new(ish) grape wines (the Sauv Blanc at #666), I thought it might be worth going back to one of the fruit wines that they are better known for. We were having shrimp and pineapple fried rice and I figured it could handle a fruitier wine - like truly fruitier. The Adam's Apple is actually a blend of six different varieties of apple - all of which are organically grown in the Similkameen Valley. It is also one of only three fruit wines that Forbidden Fruit makes as table wines that tend to a dry finish.

I found it interesting that this was a non-vintage bottling. I seem to recall their table wines as being vintage in the past. I'm not sure what the story is with this bottling.

I must admit, however, that when it comes to me and apples, nothing beats the apple juice that Boo's Mom used to press every Fall. You certainly know that this wine is more than reminiscent of apples, but it wasn't as fresh and sweet as pure juice, nor was it as tangy as hard cider. I think, for me, the winery's strength still lies with its dessert wines.

This might just be one apple that may not tempt me enough to get me into more trouble than I generally find myself in now.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A. Rich Pinot

It's not too often that we have an Oregon wine on hand to sample. I know that I've droned on, in the past, about how I find American wines just get priced out of the Vancouver market once they cross the border into Canada - unless they're bulk producers. For that reason, we thoroughly enjoy the opportunity, every so often, to open one of the few bottles that we manage to bring back across the 49th Parallel on those rare occasions that we adventure South of the border.

702. 2002 Andrew Rich Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley - Oregon)

Since I know so little about specific American wineries, I generally ask someone at one of the bigger stores to suggest a couple wines that they feel are from the area and are particularly special. This was one of the bottles that was suggested while Boo and I were in Seattle a couple years back. We figured there must be something to the tip if a Washington state shop was recommending an Oregon wine on their home turf.

I always think of Pinot as a classic match for duck and this one really fit the bill (no pun intended). It was a bit juicier than we tend to see in BC Pinot Noir but that could have a bit to do with Andrew Rich's background at Boony Doon and his love of big Rhone wines. The '02 vintage was still early enough in his migration from California to Oregon for him to find much in the way of Rhone vines that were producing good fruit. His earlier years saw more of a focus on Oregon's normal star - Pinot.

2002 was supposed to be a good vintage for Oregon. I don't know about that, but we loved the wine and the bottle disappeared far too quickly. Too bad I don't think it's all that available up here. Another trip to the States might be in order.

Nk'mip Chardonnay - Qwam Qwmt At That.

So, I guess it's now time to start zipping through a few postings. That way, I'll at least feel like I'm off to a good start with the recently resolved goal of catching up with wines gone by.

701. 2004 Nk'mip Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I might actually be able to make a quick(er) go of this posting - not because of the wine but - because I'm not going to do much research or talk much about the Nk'mip winery. I've already added about 5 or 6 Nk'mip wines to The List, including one of the very first wines we enjoyed (#9). So, there's bound to be a bit of information that's already been passed on about North America's first aboriginal-owned winery.

As you can see by the deep colour of the wine, we may have waited a tad too long before we opened this bottle. We're definitely finding that many BC reds are proving to be age-worthy. Perhaps it's a little too soon to hope for the same from the whites - even when they are oaked.

I seem to recall far more fruit and balance on this wine when we bought it at the winery so many years back. I'm not much of a Chardy drinker and this bottle didn't do anything to convince me to run to Chardonnay a whole lot more - but I won't hold it against the folks at Nk'mip. I think I did the wine a dis-service by waiting this long.

I'm sure that there'll be more to come down the road though.


So, now that I'm hitting 2011 and a new milestone number on The List, perhaps a hopeful resolution should be taken on. A goal to catch up on the blog postings and to try to stay more up-to-date - than I've been able to thus far with this Odyssey - sounds promising (even if it's somewhat ambitious). However, if I'm going to have any chance at all - and I've got a ways to go - I'd best get on with it.

700. 2004 Fontanafredda Barbaresco (DOCG Barbaresco - Piedmont - Italy)

When I chose this wine for dinner, I didn't realize that it would be the #700 wine on this quest to hit 2001 Bottles. I kinda think these century marks deserve a bit of a celebration. So, it's fitting that I grabbed a Barbaresco because we don't get to try them very often - and, when we do, it always brings back memories of our second "honeymoon" which included some wine times up in Piedmont.

We didn't get the chance to tour or taste at many wineries while in Italy and Fontanafredda wasn't one of the ones that we did visit. I found that it's a bit of an effort to set tastings up in Italy. Plenty of wine. That's without doubt, but it's not quite the same as visiting the Okanagan or Napa. I know there's bound to be a way to fit in a lot more than we managed, but we'll have to look at setting up more of a co-ordinated tour - like we recently did in Mendoza and Argentina - should we ever make it back to Bella Italia.

Fontanafredda is a major player in the Langhe and Piedmont. They have over 170 acres of their own vineyards; plus, they have hundreds of farmers growing grapes for them on consignment as well. Their Barbaresco vineyards surround the eleven towns just to the North-East of Alba and the grape of choice for Barbaresco is Nebbiolo. Actually, it's the only grape that can be used in making Barbaresco under classification regulations.

Barbaresco is often referred to as the baby brother of the renowned Italian Barolo wine since Barolo is also made from the Nebbiolo grape in a neighbouring district. In fact, a large number of wineries produce both wines. Although the two districts are only short miles apart, the grapes tend to ripen slightly earlier in the Barbaresco region and this can allow a shorter fermentation period. The resulting wine generally has softer tannins which make it more approachable, and earlier than a Barolo, after bottling. Barbaresco regulations also have more lenient minimum aging requirements before the wines can be sold.

More approachable than a Barolo or not, I'm not sure that we were overwhelmed by the wine. The profile was perhaps a little too Old World for our palates. It was well-matched with the pasta, but it didn't quite drink as nicely on its own once the food was gone.

There was one additional bonus to the wine though. It seems that I haven't actually added a Nebbiolo wine to my Wine Century Club application yet. I know I've had them before, because they're on The List, but I must have missed adding to the WCC list. I think that's got me either at or close to 90 varietals. I think it's safe to say that I could resolve to hit my century mark this year.

At least that could be one resolution I'd be willing to follow up on at the end of the year.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Movie Night

It seems like it's been quite some time since we took in a movie - like it was last year or something. How will we ever be able to make our upcoming Oscar Pool picks if we haven't seen any of the year's big flicks? In an effort to remedy that at least a teensy bit, Boo, Elzee and I are heading off to see The Black Swan tonight.

We thought we'd grab a quick dinner before the movie though. None of us had been to Maenam to check out one of the hottest Thai restaurants in town. Since it's only a couple of blocks away from the theatre, we decided to give it a try. It was almost an attempt in vain because, even though it was only 6.00 pm, we took the last table in the restaurant.

I don't tend to eat a lot of Thai food - even though Pad Thai and I could be the very best of friends. So, I don't pretend to be a pro at pairing a wine to chosen dishes. I generally fall back on local wisdom that you can usually rely on a Riesling with a lot of Asian cuisine, especially if there's a bit of a bite or curry involved. After a brief discussion with our server, we chose the bottle that offered more of a hint of residual sugar over the crisp acidity that was featured in the other wines available.

699. 2009 Balthasar Ress - Hattenheimer Schutzenaus Riesling Kabinett (QmP Rheingau - Germany)

It's easy to tell, by looking at the labels and captions accompanying The List, that we don't tend to drink a lot of German wines. I should be a bit surprised by that when I consider how much I love a good Riesling. I guess it stems from the fact that we generally have some BC Riesling on hand at home and that I really don't know much about German wine. Case in point - I know that this label is supposed to tell me a whole lot about the wine in the bottle, but it's pretty much all Greek (or, more correctly, German) to me.

The winery website advises that Balthasar Ress is one of the large family owned and managed wineries in the famous Rheingau region. Now that the fifth generation of the family is at the helm, it's not hard to believe that they have access to some of the finest vineyards in the region.

Indeed, Germany has a tradition of identifying "classified" vineyards - traditional vineyards of superior quality that have displayed distinct characteristics over the years. This wine is part of Balthasar Ress's series of classified single vineyard series - their mid-range label - with Hattenheimer Schutzenhaus being the vineyard providing these grapes. I'm not so sure I would have figured that out on my own.

The VDP and QmP designations on the bottle indicate that the winery has met with regional standards in quality, vineyard maintenance and cellar practices.

As for the wine, we easily could have gone through another bottle if the start of the movie hadn't been imminent. It was perhaps a touch sweeter than I had been looking for, but that just meant that the curry could handle a touch more heat. I'm not so sure that it meant that Boo was supposed to straight up eat the chilies that adorned the plate though. He's been known to do sillier things though.

There's no doubt, however, that the wine was sweeter than the movie. Natalie Portman may win the Oscar but this was hardly a light and fluffy, date night, kind of movie. Still, a pretty good way to pass an evening though, I'd say.

A New Year's Dinner with Mr. D.

If memory serves me right, I started last year off with a bit of a run in a quest to start that inevitable new year's resolution to keep the pounds off. This year, I didn't even pretend. I just stuck it out at home and then started eating the rich stuff. Mr. D. knew that Boo had to work again tonight and, since he was already having Big Logan and Syd over for dinner, he asked me to tag along.

Dinner and another couple wines for The List. Seems like a good start to a new year to me.

697. N.V. Martini Asti (DOCG Asti - Italy)

Admit it, you're probably a lot like me. If someone were to bring along a bottle Asti Spumonte to your place, you'd probably wonder what possessed them. Do they know nothing about wine? I tended to think of Asti as one of those high school wines that you snuck to a party - along with Baby Duck and Lonesome Charlie or the Lemon Gin. A couple years back, however, I was challenged to give Martini Asti another chance. Thing is, we tasted it blind and the consensus was that there was nothing wrong with it at all - for what it is. A bright, sweet(er) bit of bubble.

It appears that, with all the modernization and changes in the world of wine, the Martini & Rossi company realized that they needed to up their game and, as a result, their biggest, and best known, wine can be taken more seriously nowadays. I still doubt that it will ever challenge its sparkling brethren like Champagne, Cava or even Prosecco, but it will definitely have its place.

Certainly, it's taken seriously enough by the Italian wine cognoscente. The region is designated a D.O.C.G - an even higher quality ranking than the standard D.O.C. Asti is named after the town that is the centre of the region where the wine is made and its floral, fruity characteristics come from the Moscato Bianco grape.

What else can I say? Not much since I brought it.

698. 2009 Finca Los Primos Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

Our second bottle for the evening was one that's seen a different vintage already added to The List (some time ago at #215).

Finca Los Primos is produced by Valentin Bianchi in the San Rafael Valley in Mendoza. Chances are that Boo and I passed by within spitting distance of the winery when we were in Mendoza back in October, but we didn't have any chance to visit - and, to be honest, I don't even know which part of Mendoza was called San Rafael. Since we weren't driving ourselves anywhere, I just found all the different sub-regions to be a tad confusing. One just blended right into the next. Oh well, maybe if we get back there some day.

The Finca Los Primos brand was created and designed specifically for the Canadian market by Bianchi's importers, the Delf Group. They must be doing something right with it because this Malbec is one of the - if not the - best selling Argentine Malbecs in BC. At $11, the price probably doesn't hurt. The popularity of this Malbec in the market is highlighted in that, on both occasions when the wine has been added to The List, it was brought to a dinner party by one of the guests.

As much as a resolution to get invited to dinner more often this year - so that I can add more bottles to The List and finish this task of a blog challenge - seems like a good idea, I think I might be better off, in the long run, to put the running shoes back on and hit the pavement. Something tells me the wine might win if push comes to shove though.

New Year's Eve

Here I am back from the Rum-soaked beaches of Cuba, only to find myself right back at it on the wine-laden shores of Vancouver. Jeaux must have been at least partially correct, all those years ago in New Orleans, when she called me "Evil Bob" throughout Mardi Gras. I'm seeing no rest now that I'm back; ergo, does that make me "wicked?"

Our plane arrived at the airport after midnight. It was off to work this morning. And, now, it's off to meet up with some of the boys for New Year's Eve. Perhaps the "wickedness" stems from the fact that I'm heading out on the town without Boo - after just returning from a week in Cuba without him. I don't think I can be faulted though. It's not my fault if he has to work on New Year's Eve and he wouldn't want to stay home all alone - especially since Tyrant has arranged reservations for dinner at a new-ish wine bar in town and we're going to start it off at his place to whet our whistles and get prepped for the evening to come.

692. 2007 Gray Monk Odyssey Brut - (VQA Okanagan)

I think it's entirely appropriate to sample a wine called "Odyssey" for this blog, given the name. In fact, it's a bit of a surprise that it's taken this long. I guess I was just waiting for an appropriate occasion and if New Year's Eve isn't appropriate enough for bubbles, I don't know what time would be. I figured it would be particularly nice to try the '07 Odyssey since it was awarded one of only eleven Lieutenant Governor's Wine Awards presented in BC this year. As one of the Heiss family members was quoted, this award puts us in "pretty elite company."

There's a number of quite nice sparklers being produced in BC nowadays but I think this is the first time that I've tried the Gray Monk. It's made in the classic Methode Champenoise, although the blend would never be authorized in the Champagne appellation proper. The winemaker worked with a mix of Riesling, Chardonnay Musque and Pinot Blanc and fashioned a wine that covers a lot of bases - crisp and tart, with a fruity nose and a touch of residual sugar, while still showing a nice roundness that reminds you of fresh baking without being overly yeasty.

Tyrant had some other bottles open, but I knew there'd be plenty of wine to come. So, I just stuck to a bit of bubble until we headed off for dinner.

NV Mionetto Prosecco di Valdobbiadene (Prosecco IGT - Veneto - Italy)

The restaurant, Cibo, started us off with another glass of bubbly to pair with an oyster on the half shell. Too bad I've already added this Mionetto to The List (back at #286) and under my "rules," being Non-Vintage, it doesn't get a second number. I preferred the Odyssey to the Prosecco - even though they are completely different in the style of wines - but it was interesting to taste the contrast in the varying approaches to the production of sparkling wines.

693. 2008 Terredora Falanghina (IGT Falanghina Campania - Italy)

Not a varietal - or even an area - that I see often. I suppose it makes some sense that it might be featured in a wine bar with a decidedly Italian bent to it. The winery is located in the Southern half of Italy, in between Rome and Naples, not far from the Amalfi Coast. It was paired with a buffalo mozzarella, polenta and olive salad. The bottle didn't go very far between all of us and I wouldn't mind trying some more to get a better appreciation of what the varietal has to offer.

694. 2008 Cooralook Pinot Noir (Victoria - Australia)

The mushroom risotto was being paired with Pinot Noir and I can see that - Pinot can often feature an earthy, mushroom-y-ness - but I was a little surprised to find out that the Pinot in the glass was from Australia. Those aren't descriptors that I generally think of with Aussie reds - even Pinots. And, to be honest, this one didn't really hint much on that front, but I like seeing more wines coming from the state of Victoria - mostly because that where our favourite Aussie import, Merlot Boy (the person, not a wine brand name), is from.

I'm not familiar with the Cooralook, but it's located outside of Melbourne and this wine is sourced from vineyards in two of the local regions - the Mornington Peninsula and the Strathbogie Ranges (I've never heard of the latter to my recollection). Seems like we'll start the New Year off with a couple of wines and regions to look into further.

695. 2008 Cantele Cenobio Salice Salentino (DOC Salice Salentino- Italy)

My cioppino was meant to be paired with a Pinot Grigio but I asked for a red instead - and the Cenobio was delivered. A blend of Negroamaro and Malvasia Nero varietals, it also hails from a region that I don't know a whole lot about. Puglia is, maybe, best described as the heel that helps form the "boot" that is Italy. Salento is the "high heel" part. Interesting that they chose this as a wine to replace a white. I generally think of Southern Italy as producing big, strong reds.

I don't recall leaving any wine in my glass though. So, it must have gone along well enough. Come to think of it, however, I don't think there were any full glasses at our table the entire night. As well behaved as we were, the wine just kept disappearing as quickly as it appeared. My guess is that it must have been Alvin Chipmunk since he joined us while visiting from Hong Kong. It's always the ones on vacation that raise a ruckus.

696. N.V. Lustau East India Solera Sherry (Jerez - Spain)

Dessert was paired with a dessert sherry - again, something that I wasn't all that familiar with. It was far from the sweet cream sherry that everyone's stereotypical gramma used to enjoy as her daily tipple. This was a blend of two separately aged sherries - an amontillado and a Pedro Jiminez (that uses partially raisined grapes as its base).

It was a bit of a surprise as well and, in conjunction with another glass of Prosecco at midnight, a nice way to nightcap the evening. We'd talked about maybe heading back to Tyrant's and cracking a bottle of Port or something equally delicious, but old age seems to be catching up with us and we all decided to just wander through the young'uns partying in the downtown streets and make our way home.

A fun little way to bring in 2011 though. Here's hoping that there are plenty more opportunities to keep adding bottles to The List.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Adios Muchacos

With one last day in Cuba, I pretty much decided to play it slow and easy - having a few laughs and a few last mojitos with some of my newest muchachos.

I held no illusions of youth-driven, all-inclusive resort, Club Med-like activities while at Varadero. After all, there are limits as to just how over-the-top one wants to be while travelling with 30-odd relatives and family friends. I certainly didn't want to be remembered as the one that had a few too many at the family reunion.

It's rather difficult, however, not to meet up with some fun-loving folk - particularly when hanging with my little sis, Vixen, and her gal pals. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting up with the compact Irish lass, Martini, that they met up with at the pool. "Martini" might be a bit of a misplaced nickname since she doesn't drink at all, but she's got enough blarney and spark to drive a few leprechauns wild. With any luck we'll have a few more opportunities to catch up with her over the years.

I think the Pool Boys would be game for some future activities as well - having taken a bit of fancy to Martini themselves. The Pool Boys were just that - once I'd identified my pool-side bar and my prime relaxation spot, they rather commandeered the bar. For a couple of days, there was just no getting a drink without them involving you completely in their banter and games. I think I might have actually been that young and boisterous at one point in my life, but, at this stage, I had to discreetly throw as many shooters over my shoulder and into the pool as I threw down the gullet. I still have to laugh at their antics. Good thing I wasn't going to be at the resort for New Year's Eve. Surviving the evening might have proved a little more difficult than it would have otherwise.

The biggest "laugh" of the day, however, came at dinner over our last bottle of wine on the trip - not that the wine had anything to do with that chuckle.

691. 2008 Nichol Vineyard - September Ranch Pinot Gris (VQA Okanagan Valley)

This was the last of the bottles that I'd brought along with me and I took it to the family dinner we were gather for in the Italian restaurant. I won't go into the wine or winery much here because this isn't the first time that Nichol or their Pinot Gris have made The List. It does, however, bear a brief reminder that this Pinot Gris is one of the very few that I've come across where the winemaker leaves the freshly pressed juice in contact with the skins for up to 24 hours or so. It gives the resulting wine an almost coppery or orange tone which is both unique and enjoyable.

But the laugh of the day was courtesy of my nephew, Kam. He has high functioning autism but his social graces can sometimes be tested. He was going along great all dinner - until he heard some particular music over the restaurant system. Smack dab in the middle of our pastas, he burst into song. But not just any old song. He performed his own karaoke - and operatic - version of Verdi's La Donna e Mobile.

The entire restaurant went silent as our family wondered what to do. Sometimes trying to coax Kam to stop can create a bigger scene than the event that started it. To our surprise, our decision was made for us. The head waiter came out from the back and joined right in with Kam. The two of them finished the aria and its sustained final notes to a good deal of applause.

All I could do was wonder and ask, "How the heck does Kam know the lyrics to Italian opera?!" Turns out, the aria has been featured on Sesame Street during a performance of "Pigoletto" and our big guy often learns movie and television scenes that he likes by rote. The resort didn't offer to sign Kam up to a performance contract but he pulled off a task that I doubt you could ever successfully dare me to try - bottle of wine or not.

But, with the final night's fun well under way, it was almost time to face the reality of the flight home tomorrow. There was one last morning walk along the beach but there likely won't be any more Cuban wine in my foreseeable future.

Wrapping Things Up in Cuba

One of my favourite pastimes, when abroad, is to visit markets and see what is available when shopping locally. While in Havana, I wandered across a large supermarket and naturally took a look inside. There wasn't much chance that I'd ever confuse it with a Whole Foods or a Capers but the mercado seemed to be pretty well stocked. Very few of the brands were recognizable but the basic products were extensive - to the point that there was even a freezer section of frozen turkeys. The prices even seemed to be fairly comparable to those at home - with the big exception that those prices are hardly comparable when your monthly salary is only a fraction of the wages back home. Some things aren't really all that relative after all.

I did find a little booze section though and, in amongst all the rum and liquors, there were some wines - mostly European or Chilean. No Australian, South African or Canadian wines were to be found and there were definitely no American bottles on the shelves. There was one little section of Cuban wines though. The thought of Cuban wine had never really crossed my mind; so, this was pleasantly unexpected. Given the exorbitant price of wine back in Vancouver, the fairly standard price of around $5 for these Cuban wines didn't lend itself to great hopes for the wines being sold. I really had no choice in the matter though. I had to get one.

On a shelf a little further along, I found another Cuban wine that was twice the price of the other bottles. Same winery but twice the price. For $10, it seemed a gimme to go for the "reserve" bottle. And why not open it at the first chance? After all, I don't think I'll take it home with me. If I'm only allowed one bottle, it might as well be a aged Rum. As luck would have it, the return trip from Havana arrived at the resort in Varadero right around dinner time.

687. 2005 Castillo del Wajay Tinta Reserva (Cuba)

Wine isn't all that incorporated into Cuban culture. General consensus is that it's just too expensive for the average Cuban. A Cuban-made wine is even more foreign. When I asked the waiter to open the bottle of Cuban wine that I'd found, he questioned whether we seriously wanted to drink it. In the last decade, however, it turns out that there have been two joint ventures created to set up vineyards and wineries in the Caribbean nation. One venture involves Spanish backers and experts, the other, Italian. At first, the wines were made with imported juice and I gather many of the cheaper wines are still produced that way. There are wines now, though, that are being made with grapes only grown on the island.

It's not easy finding out much about the companies or the wines, but Castillo del Wajay is one of the brands produced by Bodegas del Caribe - the venture involving Spanish interests - and its wines feature all Cuban fruit. The story goes that the partners brought in approximately 20 varietals to grow in test vineyards and they feel that they've identified several grapes that can successfully acclimatize to Caribbean conditions.

I'm not sure if I should be surprised or not, given the Spanish involvement in the winery, but the Tinta Reserva is primarily made of Tempranillo. What's more, I've had far worse wines than this. Maybe it was just the low expectations for a Cuban wine, but I found it quite palatable. It was perhaps a bit fruitier than most Spanish Tempranillos I'm used to, but there was a nice, basic structure and I'd have no problem trying it again if I ever saw a bottle for sale back home. Who'd a thunk it?

The next wine was all about location. I had to have at least one bottle next to the Caribbean. No chance of a romantic little sunset sip with Boo on this trip. So, I grabbed my sis, Vixen, my Dad and Vixen's gal pal, Lola, and we hit the beach. Not exactly the sunniest of occasions, but with this crowd, the wine wouldn't last long anyhow.

688. 2009 Strut Risque Rose (VQA Okanagan)

Obviously, this was one of the bottles that I'd brought along with me. The chances of finding an Okanagan wine for sale in Cuba is pretty far-fetched I'd say. I didn't even grab this wine because it was anything extraordinary; I just figured a Rose might come in handy on a Caribbean afternoon. Indeed, I can't say that I'd fall for the obvious marketing ploys behind this wine. "The Wine with Legs" bit might appeal to Vixen though. Rather, this was the bottle that I won at the Pink Broom curling bonspiel for being named Miss Congeniality. Pink Wine. Pink Broom. I'm sure you get it.

Made with Gamay Noir, Riesling, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, there's a fair bit of fruit going on here. There was still enough acidity to make it a reasonable sip though. It's okay for drinking at the beach. I might stick to the Cuban Tempranillo when it comes to dinner though.

Speaking of dinner, we were scheduled to dine in the French restaurant tonight. So, I grabbed another of the bottles that I'd brought along. In fact, I grabbed this bottle while passing through the Duty Free shops at the Toronto Airport. We don't see much in the way of Ontario wines in BC, so I thought this might be a great chance to grab one. Not that duty-free shops necessarily have the best wines available.

689. 2009 Trius Merlot (VQA Niagra Peninsula)

Although I've seen this winery name in various Canadian wine magazines, I know nothing about it. I grabbed it at the Airport precisely for that reason. The other wines were the big names that even have Okanagan counterparts. Although it is associated with Hillebrand winery, I believe Trius is strictly situated in Ontario. Trius' claim to fame appears to be its Bordeaux blends and its sparkling wine but they have a line of straight varietal wines as well.

At under $20, it was a decent enough wine, but my guess is that this doesn't represent the best that Ontario has to offer. I don't know that I'd grab a bottle if it showed up on BC shelves. Not when compared to BC Merlots. Between our glasses and some of the cousins that paid a visit from the neighbouring table, the bottle didn't last long though. We needed to ask for more wine from the waitress. Surprisingly, she even left the bottle with us at the table. So, I was able to get a shot and find out a little bit of info for the blog.

690. Senorio de la Antigua Tinto (Cuba)

Unfortunately, the emphasis has to be on "a little bit of info" with this wine. I couldn't find much reference at all to the winery, even after the fact. I see that the wine is "made for" Bodegas del Caribe, the same company that makes the Cuban grown wine we tasted last night, but I think this may be one of the wines that is made from imported juice. The back label says that the varietals used are Mencia, Prieto Picudo and Garnacha (Grenache). I couldn't find any reference to any of these grapes being successfully grown on the island.

No matter. We actually thought this wine was rather enjoyable. In fact, most of us preferred it to the Ontario Merlot. Not something that Ontario winemakers would likely want to hear. No doubt they'd just blame it on BC prejudice against Ontario wines.

So, after havin'a bit of a "wine free" trip to Havana (pardon the pun), I've made up a bit for it with four quick wines. Only one more day in Cuba though - and that may just have to be a mojito by the pool kind of day.