Saturday, January 1, 2011

Christmas Dinner at Elzee's

It seems like we haven't been able to get together with Elzee for eons. First, it was Boo and I off in South America and, then, the day before we got back, she left for an adventure down under in Oz. Now, we're into all the holiday season events. I don't know if we've ever gone this long without a little get together.

In a determined effort to fit something in prior to Christmas, Elzee invited us over for dinner. Her cooking is always a treat, but she told us she'd picked up a new cook book in Australia and she wanted to try out a few new recipes on us. Between bites of her delicious cooking and sips from a couple of notable wines, we all had plenty of stories to tell from the Southern Hemisphere.

676. 2006 Quails' Gate - Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir VQA Okanagan Valley)

Elzee had this bottle of one of BC's premiere Pinot Noirs and we thought it would match wonderfully with her rich mushroom soup. Although Quails' Gate is one of, what I'd call, the big guys in BC wine, Boo and I don't tend to drink much of their wine. I think it's largely because we don't make it up to the Kelowna-based wineries much and, therefore, we don't end up with their wines in the trunk of the car. We might have to take the turn that leads North to Kelowna again soon.

The Stewart family was one of the province's pioneering families when it comes to wine. The three Stewart brothers arrived in the Okanagan Valley from Ireland during the first decade of the 1900's and the following years saw their progression from horticulture to agriculture to wine. The family believes that the second (Okanagan) generation of Stewarts were the first to successfully plant Pinot Noir in Canada in 1975.

Ever since the winery was launched in 1989, there has been an emphasis on Pinot Noir. Despite having a portfolio that includes over a dozen varietals, around one-fifth of all production is directed towards the "heartbreak grape." According to wine writer, John Schreiner, the winery has seven clones of Pinot planted and all of those vines are located at the winery's vineyard at the base of Mt. Boucherie, an extinct volcano.

As a nod to the prominence of Pinot here, current winemaker, Grant Stanley, was recruited from one of the better known New Zealand producers, Ata Rangi. Unlike many winemakers in the Okanagan that go for a lighter Pinot, Stanley's approach to the varietal is to bring out a more robust and extractive wine. He uses longer skin contact and some wild yeast fermentation in a deliberate quest for structure and aging capability.

The Stewart Family Reserve is the premium of two Pinot Noirs that are produced here. The same viticultural practices are used for growing all the Pinot grapes but, after the initial fermentation, Stanley identifies what he feels are the best barrels and about 20% of the wine makes it to the Reserve label. He must be doing something right as this vintage won Gold at the All Canadian Wine Championships and Double Gold at the San Francisco International Wine Championships.

677. 2001 Salvalai - Vejo Amarone (DOC Amarone della Valpolicella - Italy)

Considering the fact that we hadn't seen Elzee for so long and it was the holiday season, it seemed like a good reason to free a bottle of Amarone from the "cellar." With her Italian heritage, it seemed a natural fit. "Vejo" refers to the single vineyard where the grapes are grown in the area outside Verona. The classic Amarone grapes - Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara - are used and I love just saying the names of the grapes, almost as much as drinking the wine.

Once the grapes are harvested in the Fall, they are laid out in a single layer in crates that are then stored in a drying shed until the end of January. During that time, the grapes have partially raisinated and have lost 30-40% of their weight. The grapes are then pressed, with the resulting juice being far more concentrated in sugars and flavour.

Following another three years of aging, the resulting wine is full and rich and, unfortunately, on the pricier end of most budgets. This bottle clocks in at about $60. As mentioned, it's nice to have for those special occasions - like Elzee's cooking - but we won't be drinking it every week. As much as I might like to.

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