Wednesday, March 30, 2011

WBW72- Cherry Blossoms & Earthquakes

In any given March, most thoughts of Japan popping into the minds of Vancouverites relate to cherry blossoms. Historically, the Japanese have had a wonderful influence in our city by the sea with the introduction of flowering cherry trees. Our Springs are dictated, to a large expense, by the arrival of these pretty pink flowers throughout the city.

Although the blossoms have arrived on schedule, almost all thoughts of Japan in Vancouver this Spring - like in the rest of the world - are related to the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the Japanese coast and all the ongoing catastrophic events and stories that have followed.

I would never have foreseen working the Japanese tragedy into this blog; however, I see that a special request has been made by the gang at Wine Blogging Wednesday. Richard Auffrey at The Passionate Foodie is coordinating our next adventure and has charged us with Wine Blogging Wednesday 72 - Helping Japan. To be honest, I'm still rather behind in my own wine postings and have only just caught up to WBW70. I was thinking I might need to take a break from this next instalment before folks think I'm posting nothing but Wine Blogging Wednesday's. Guess April's topic put the kaibosh on that. The lucky thing for me was that Boo and I just happened to have enjoyed a Japanese meal the other night; so I had a ready-made posting.

Now, be forewarned, I know diddley squat about Sake - other than having enjoyed my fair share of it over the years with sushi. So, I won't pretend to go into any details about this particular style or any specifics about what might make this brand particular. I wouldn't know. I'm simply taking a few notes from the company's website and from a quick Google search. Indeed, "Sake" doesn't even show up in The Oxford Companion to Wine. The Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival (which coincidentally happens this week) always includes a couple producers, however. So, I'll go with them, count it as a "wine" and give the bottle a number on The List. (Well, at least I will when I catch up with my other postings.)

761. N.V. Momokawa Organic Ginjo Junmai Sake (* Japan - OOOOPS! NOT Japan - it's Oregon, OW! See Note at bottom of post.)

The origins of rice wine aren't clear; however, there has been literary reference of the drink for centuries in Japan. In many ways its production is more similar to the brewing of beer than it is to the making of wine. With wine, alcohol is produced by the fermentation of the natural sugars in the grape juice. With Sake and beer, however, the sugars to be converted into alcohol must first be generated by the conversion of starches - whether that starch be rice or grains. That being said, the making of Sake differs from beer in that the conversion of rice starches into sugar and sugar into alcohol happens in one single step instead of two separate procedures.

Although Sake has been traditionally Japanese, the production of Sake has actually been declining in Japan since the 1970's - just as production in other global areas (including one producer in Vancouver) has been growing and as production methods have been steadily improving.

The Momokawa is indicative of some forward thinking in that the production of this Sake is certified organic all the way from the rice paddies through the brewing process - moving the product along with the green revolution, just as many wines are currently being branded as organic and biodynamic.

Regulars to this blog know that I don't dwell on tasting notes of the wines that we drink. So, I'm certainly not going to try that with the this Sake. I know that there are varying styles of Sake now available; however, suffice it to say that it seemed pretty much like most of the Sake I've knocked down in the past. There was enough of a fruitiness and slight sweetness that I had no problem finishing off my little bottle. I am glad, however, that I limited it to one bottle because, at 14.5% alcohol, she packs a bit of a punch.

Boo, on the other hand, just doesn't care for Sake. Even in restaurants, he'll always order some alternative beverage. I offered him a glass and, not surprisingly, he declined. I'd rather expected that, so I pulled out another little Japanese treat that I know he's enjoyed in the past - Shochu.

Tanaka Moonlight Premium Shochu

Seen by many as a cross between Sake and Vodka, Shochu also has a long history in Japan. Being a distilled alcohol, I'd never expected or planned to give this bottle a number and add it to The List. But, I do have a slight "problem" with this bottle - and this being a posting on Japan - in that, despite the brand name "Tanaka," this Shochu is distilled in Vietnam. I hadn't noticed the tiny print on the back label - until I took a look at it for this blog entry. I'd just assumed, back in the store, that it was Japanese.

Oh well, the drink is still native to Japan and promotional materials for the product online refer to it as a "Japanese-style" drink. Typically distilled from barley, sweet potato or rice, the Moonlight uses a grain base and has a clean, fragrant taste that has a mild hint of sweetness. Served on the rocks, it's a different take on a vodka martini. The only other time we'd tried it, it was served neat in a sushi restaurant in NYC. I believe that bottle was distilled from sweet potato because it had that distinct flavour and prompted me to look for an elusive bottle back home here.

Once seen as the Japanese equivalent of moonshine, Shochu has seen a big boost in popularity in the last decade - both in Japan and abroad - and it has even led to a shortage of sweet potatoes. Apparently, the drink has become trendy among young, hip Japanese drinkers, particularly women, as it is seen as stronger than wine or beer but weaker than spirits. Its resurgence in popularity is sometimes seen as stemming from a claim by Japan's oldest living man, allegedly 120 years of age at the time, whereby he proclaimed the healthy benefits of Shochu and revealed that he made it a part of his daily dietary regime.

We won't be drinking either Shochu or Sake on such a regular basis; however, there's little doubt that they pair up nicely with Japanese inspired cuisine.

As a final request to this month's WBW bloggers, Richard has requested that we add a link to the Canadian Red Cross (or American Red Cross as the case may be) as an easy prompt for all of our readers to make a donation - large or small - to help out with the humanitarian aid efforts continuing in Japan. If every one of us donates even the costs of one bottle of wine - or Sake - to the cause, it's bound to make some difference.

My thanks to everyone participating in WBW72's aid drive and to The Passionate Foodie for hosting this month's theme. Here's hoping that next year's cherry blossoms will find Japan in much safer, happier and healthier state of being.

* Editor's Note - After I'd finished my entry for WBW72, this month's host, Richard Auffrey, wrote me back and politely let me know that this Sake is made in Oregon. Sure enough, when I actually looked at the bottle, my face went a brighter shade of pink/red than the cherry blossoms. Such embarrassment - an American Sake and a Vietnamese Shochu. I suppose I am going to have to read all labels like I read wine labels. I shall now retreat to atone for my shame and contemplate hari kiri.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Township 7 syrah

760. 2004 Township 7 Syrah (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Another rushed entry (but I think I'm almost to the point where I can catch up in the next little bit) and I'll have to really try and give this bottle some more attention because it had a lot more life to it than I'd expected for a 2004. Really ripe, big fruit and it held up until now.

Happy Bob. Happy Boo.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pear Tree

Another post that I'm having to just throw out here because I'm so far behind. Lady Di, She Who Must Be Obeyed and Bittr & Sweetz joined Boo & I for a wonderful dinner at The Pear Tree to celebrate Dining Out For Life this year.

If I'm ever going to show my face before Scott & Stephanie Jaeger, at the restaurant again (and I most definitely will), I'll need to come back and do the evening justice.

758. 2006 Paritua Pinot Noir (Central Otago - New Zealand)

759. 2009 Mollydooker - The Boxer Shiraz (South Australia)

There was a bottle of 2007 Marichel Syrah (Okanagan Valley) as well but it has already been added to The List at #239. So, at least I don't have to feel as bad about not going into that bottle as well.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


I probably need to write a tad more about this evening than I'm going to have time to for the moment. Between the costumes, cupcakes and a wine named Fetish, you could get some ideas. Don't worry, nothing outlandish - it was just a little Purim Party for the neighbourhood - not that I knew what a Purim party was before tonight.

757. 2006 Fetish Wines - The Watcher Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

Frenched Salmon

Looks like Spring has almost sprung - at least for today. Seems like a good time for the first outside BBQ of the season.

756. 2008 Domaine de La Renaudie - Cuvee Albert Deuis (AOC Touraine - France)

A little unexpected for a Loire grape, this wine is actually based on Malbec - or Cot - as it's called there in France. Unlike the Argentine Malbecs that we've become used to, this was still really earthy in its profile. That might have made it suitable for a day spent partially in the garden and it's certainly right up Boo's favoured profile on the palate, but I think I still prefer my Malbec to be more fruit forward.

We may have started it off with the BBQ salmon, but it matched up way better with the runny brie that we had for dessert.

Bring on the sun.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Different Take on Northern Rhones - WBW71

It would seem that I had a jones for Rhone varietals - particularly the reds - long before I ever knew what they were. Even thirty some odd years ago when I'd just started buying wine (I started at a very young age), I remember thinking that $5 Cotes du Rhone was the wine to grab if I wanted to look for a special event wine.

Many years later, when I'd graduated from homebrew to decent wines, the primary wine of choice was inevitably an Aussie Shiraz.

Even today, despite the fact that I lead a far more balanced life of wine, I still find myself reaching for Rhone varietals - be they called Syrah, Shiraz, Grenache, Garnacha, Mourvedre, Monastrell, even Mataro - or blends thereof. Accordingly, I was pleased to see this month's Wine Blogging Wednesday topic as suggested by Tim Elliott at Winecast. "Rhones Not From the Rhone" is something that I can really wrap my tongue around - despite the fact that participating in WBW71 is going to confuse the addition of wines to The List (the raison d'etre for this blog) even more, seeing as how I haven't even caught up to the wines we've finished prior to WBW70.

It will be worth it though as Boo and I probably have more Shiraz and/or Syrah in our "cellar" than any other single varietal and, if you add in all the new Mourvedre or Grenache wines showing up on the shelves - not to mention the blends - I could stay a happy man for some time on a desert island.

I figured we'd invite the lovely and talented Elzee over for dinner and pop a couple corks. It's particularly nice that I can work another two Okanagan Valley wines into WBW.

Most people probably think hot climate when they muse about Rhone varietals and I doubt many of those folks think Canada's Great White North as being up to that climate call. It's with great personal pleasure, however, that I can say the Okanagan is proving to be a fine source of Syrah. Our weather may not push quite enough heat units to ever be a force when it comes to Grenache or Mourvedre - although just this weekend I did try a pre-release sample of the first GSM to ever be produced in BC (Red Rooster's Golden Egg - watch for it in postings to come) - but Syrah is another thing. Indeed, it is now the fourth most planted red varietal in BC.

The Okanagan's ability to produce a fine Syrah was likely best advertised by the fact that, back in 2006, it was the region's Jackson-Triggs 2004 Proprietor's Grand Reserve that won the Rosemount Estate Trophy for the best Shiraz/Syrah at the prestigious London International Wine & Spirits Competition. It was the first time that a North American Syrah won the trophy that had previously been monopolized by Australian and South African wineries. The rumour around these parts was that the judges had gone into the competition thinking they'd award an Aussie producer that was pulling back on some of the aggressive, big fruit that the Aussies had made their name on. Funny thing was that the wine they picked as displaying that blend of Old and New World was actually from Canada.

Unfortunately, I don't have any of that wine hanging around. As soon as the trophy was awarded, that vintage disappeared from any shelves I ever perused. I do, however, have the following:

754. 2006 Church & State - Coyote Bowl Syrah (VQA Okanagan Valley)

This wine may not have won the Rosemount Trophy but it didn't do too badly on its own. In 2009, it won Double Gold at the Wine Press NorthWest annual competition and was awarded an elusive Lieutenant Governor's Wine Award - one of only twelve wines to be chosen in any given year out of all the wine produced in BC. Both dense and intense, with a gorgeous bouquet, it was nicely balanced, without being over the top on any front.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by the pedigree of the wine. Bill Dyer, the ex-Napa and long time Okanagan winemaker and consultant, had joined up with the team at Church & State in 2004 and he was now showing his firm hand in the rebuilding of the winery. Anyone familiar with BC wine will recognize his name as being the winemaker that helped establish Burrowing Owl as one of the early cult wineries (such as we may have them) in the province.

As is the case with many other wine regions, Viognier is becoming a bit of a favourite in the Okanagan. It is now the seventh most planted white varietal in the province and production is increasing with every passing year. There were a couple of BC prize-winning Viogniers that I could have opened, but I thought I'd go in a different direction and try the only Okanagan wine that I know of that features two of the other stalwart white Rhone varietals.

755. 2009 Twisted Tree Rousanne/Marsanne (VQA Okanagan Valley)

When Twisted Tree replanted the old tree fruit farm with vines, they wanted to take a stab at growing varietals that weren't so common in the Valley. In addition to Tempranillo and Tannat, they planted the three principal white Rhone grapes - despite the fact that very few of their future customers would have ever heard of Rousanne or Marsanne. Indeed, even though I've heard of the two grapes, I can't say as I have much of an experience with or knowledge of them. None of our dinner gang knew what to expect. So, I actually pulled out Jancis Robinson and the Oxford Companion to Wine and read aloud during our initial sips.

We were all pleasantly surprised with the wine. The vines are still young - only in their fifth leaf for this vintage - but they were already producing a nice full wine with plenty of stone fruit and minerality. I saw that 12% of the wine was aged for four months in American oak and, although you could notice the oak, it was nicely integrated. Thankfully, for my taste, there was no hint of an overpowering oak monster making an appearance.

The only problem with the wine is that there were only 387 cases of it made. Good thing no one knows what to make of it because I think there is still some available if you look hard enough.

Thanks to Tim for a fun topic. I'll look forward to seeing where everyone else gets their Rhone on.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Riesling & Butter Chicken

753. 2009 Red Rooster Riesling (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Adoptive Pruning

Wouldn't you know it, we head up to Naramata for the Red Rooster Adopt-a-Row Pruning Party and the one wine that I add to The List isn't even a Red Rooster wine. I'll have to come back and explain myself, but we certainly had our share of Red Rooster over the weekend.

752. 2008 Stoneboat Pinotage (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Camel pasta

751. 2007 Alkoomi Shiraz/Viognier (Frankland River - Australia)

I can't believe that I'm having to skim past the one as well. I don't even know if I've added a Frankland River wine to The List before. I love the Margaret River area around Perth in Western Australia. I'd love to see and learn more about its neighbour.

Blasted Church or Lent?

Again, such pressure to catch up, publish or die.

750. 2005 Blasted Church Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!

749. 2009 LaFrenz - Alexandria (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

- bit sweeter than I'd expected, fuller with a long finish - almost dessert like. Good thing there was some spice in our Mardi Gras Jambalaya; the off-dry aspect was tempered somewhat.

- another one to add to the Wine Century Club.

I'll have to come back (hardy har har, he says) to go into this wine a little bit more, but I'm being pressured to move on.

I'm Still Here. Honestly.

A couple of regular readers - yes, I guess there are at least one or two - have asked why I haven't posted anything since Wine Blogging Wednesday 70. Indeed, the wording was more like, "What, are you on the wagon? I'm tired of seeing nothing recent; why don't you get your act in gear and post something?" Well, actually, I have been posting away. It's just that all the entries had been started before my toast to WBW70 and, accordingly, they show up with an earlier "publishing date."

I just felt it was more important to participate in Wine Blogging Wednesday than it was to wait until I caught up with everything.

As a result, it means that, until I get around to posting a post-Feb. 16 wine, (and I still have about another 25-30 wines to go), you have to scroll down past WBW70 and its Spanish tribute.

If it's any consolation, I think WBW70 turned out to be a triumphant re-appearance of an old friend. 45 bloggers participated - from 11 different countries - and 62 wines were tasted and reported on. I highly recommend anyone, who is interested in Spanish wines, check out the fine recap prepared by the host blog, Catavino, and the various postings for the participating bloggers.

My next problem, of course, is going to be that a call has been put out for WBW71 and it's a neat topic as well: Rhone Varietals, But Not From the Rhone. I better do some serious catching up or no one will ever thinking I'm posting anything new.

Best get to it, I guess. Later...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Naughty Popes and Wild Geese

In an effort to do a little catch-up, I'm just going to briefly add two wines that we had mid-week at home. No time to try and find any deep, dark and juicy info - this time.

747. 2006 Donatella Cinelli Colombini - Leone Rosso (IGT Tuscany - Italy)

With a rampant red lion being featured on the label ("Red Lion" being the translation of "Leone Rosso"), this should be a natural fit for an old time Deke like me. I may not fit most of the shirts, featuring the Deke Lion, that I used to have back in university days, but at least I can have some rampant lion in my glass.

This is a Super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Merlot from a fairly new winery - at least by Italian standards. Set up in 1998, both the proprietor and the vineyards have long pedigrees in Tuscan lore. Donatella Cinelli Colombini was born into and worked for many years in her family's Brunello estate before she set out to create her own winery. She's also been in the forefront of the "wine tourism movement" in Italy and has used the history of her two wineries to great advantage.

Leone Rosso is made at the Fattoria del Cole winery in the Chianti region and the property's storied history involves a 12th Century hermitage, a rumoured love affair involving a future Pope and the owner's wife, heretics, excommunication and confiscation and that doesn't even cover the re-emergence of the lands as a famous hunting lodge for the rich and famous - including the Emperor of Austria (who was rumoured to womanize to great extent on the estate). Makes you want to just tour the lands and pop a cork.

Not being a huge fan, in general, of Chianti, the Merlot fleshed out the wine and there was no problem finishing off the bottle along with our spaghetti and meatballs.

748. 2007 Wild Goose - Stoney Slope Riesling (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Wild Goose may not have quite as rambunctious a history as to include Popes and Emperors, but they do have quite an accomplished story when it comes to white wines in BC. I can't say that Boo and I drink much Wild Goose and that's likely a shame. I suppose it's because it's often quite difficult to get your hands on their prized Gewurztraminers and Rieslings - and the fact that we don't tend to drink much Gewurtz in any event.

We grabbed this bottle after a BC Wine Appreciation Society tasting that featured the winery. The winery then went on to be named Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest in 2009. Quite the accomplishment!

I think I might need to grab a few more bottles.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Getting Over the Hump

Boo announced that he ran across a roast that he was going to cook up for dinner. He also said that he thought it was the last of the quarter side of camel that he (mistakenly) bought a couple of years back. More than a couple of the postings on this blog have addressed various dinners involving that venerable beast of burden - but he thought we were finally getting over the hump (so to speak).

Known for his creativity in the kitchen - many a time, I'll come home to a "Boo Surprise" - but he figured he'd stay pretty close to a "Camel Bourguignon" recipe. At least as much as he can stay to a recipe where you're substituting camel for beef.

He thought it'd be nice to invite Mr. D. to join us for dinner. I know, there are those of you that question the "generousity" of inviting someone over for camel. Mr. D's had it before though and he's managed to keep things together after those other occasions. Seeing as how he was joining us, I figured I'd pull out a bottle that Mr. D. gave us awhile back - particularly since it was an Aussie bottle and our camel was originally wandering the deserts of the Australian Outback (or wherever commercial camel meat is raised Down Under).

745. 2001 McWilliam's of Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon (Coonawarra - Australia)

McWilliam's is a long time producer in Australia and they're pretty well known in our market for their introductory line, J.J. McWilliam's. Over the years, they've acquired a number of other wineries down under and they now produce wines on a regional basis throughout the country. I find it a bit difficult, at times, to keep straight how and by whom their wines are being produced though.

Case in point. This Cab out of the Coonawarra, a region to the South of Adelaide, was released under the McWilliam's of Coonawarra label but I don't think it only existed for more than a couple of vintages. Originally, in 1990, McWilliam's purchased a half share in the Brand's winery and its prime Laira Vineyard - one of the most distinguished in the region, if not the country. Shortly thereafter, in 1994, they purchased the remaining half of Brand.

The connection to the renowned vineyard was maintained in that this 2001 label refers to "Brand's Laira Vineyards." Today, McWilliam's has a separate label altogether, called Brand's of Coonawarra, and my guess is that's how we'd find later vintages of this wine. It doesn't take all that much to confuse me, but I thought brand recognition is one of the holy grails of marketing.

Good thing the wine was a good one - there wasn't nearly enough for the three of us. It was as if it was produced specifically to pair with camel. I don't see that on their website though.

746. 2000 Silver Sage Merlot Dessert Wine (Okanagan Valley)

As much as I love dessert wines, we don't tend to open them much at home. This seemed like a good occasion. If you can't open one with guests, odds are there aren't going to be many at all in your future. We must have had this one around for some time - a 2000 vintage makes it one of the oldest wines in our cellar.

We don't drink much Silver Sage wine; however, located on Black Sage Road, it certainly produces some of the more creative wines out there. Their two best known wines aren't simple dry, table wines. Not in the least. They're a sage infused Gewurztraminer and a dessert wine - called The Flame - that has a chili pepper in each bottle. The "Sage Grand Reserve" has been called Canada's answer to Retsina. I think it's safe to say that no one else is producing similar wines in the Okanagan.

This Merlot is fortified with raspberry wine and it certainly came through on the palate. Chocolate with berries seemed about as natural a pairing as there could be, but the wine had lost a lot of the original freshness of the Merlot and it seemed a little tired and flat. I suppose we waited too long to open it; so, I won't write off the wine, but I don't know if I'd've walked a mile for it. The camel. Yes. The Silver Sage. Likely not.