Monday, May 30, 2011

A Taste of Things to Come

We've been hoping to travel Down Under again for years now. After a great deal of trepidation and continual checking on the internet, Boo and I have finally succeeded in booking tickets to Australia next Spring. Booking tickets on points can be hellish at the best of times, but trying to find flights half way around the world that weren't on a milk run and would still fit our schedule just made things that much more difficult. We'll still make more stops that I'd particularly care to, but the major bucks saved on the tickets will buy a whole lot of wine while we're down there.

Having handled that major hurdle, I thought a special bottle of Aussie wine and a couple of lamb chops would in order as a bit of a celebration.

817. 2008 Langmeil - The Fifth Wave Grenache (Barossa Valley - Australia)

Langmeil isn't a particularly well-known winery in the Vancouver market but I've been a fan ever since I encountered them at a Ronald MacDonald House fundraiser some years back. The event was being held at a fairly spectacular, waterfront home in West Van and the Langmeil wines weren't actually featured at the event's bar. Rather, the winery was taking its first stab at the local market and they simply arranged to set up a bit of a tasting station in the kitchen - where some cooking demonstrations and tastings were taking place.

We drank their Valley Floor Shiraz all night - and I've been buying it ever since.

You know it's one of the wineries that's going to the top of my "Must Visit" list for next year.

The Fifth Wave is one of the winery's premium bottlings. The grapes are grown at a single vineyard that features old bush vines that were planted back in 1953. They are dry farmed and, that combined with the age of the vines, pretty much guarantees low yields - between one and one & a half tonnes per acre. Yields like that don't tend to produce an awful lot of wine. They do, however, tend to produce intense flavours.

Actually, Boo and I were lucky enough to win this bottle (and a couple other premium Langmeil bottles) at a dinner hosted by the Australia Wine Appreciation Society. Winery principals were in town for the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival and AWAS pulled off a coup of a dinner. It sold out almost immediately and we were only able to get tickets when they fit in an extra table or two. I told you lucky, right?

As a taste of what's to come, I'm not sure that next Spring can come soon enough.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Quinta Ferreira Syrah

With a bit of sun actually on the scene and no hockey playoff action to fit into the schedule tonight, a little BBQ action sounded like a plan. Since we weren't throwing another shrimp on the bar-bee, I didn't feel any need for allegiance to an Aussie wine. We weren't too far off though - going with a BC Syrah instead of a down under Shiraz.

816. 2005 Quinta Ferreira Syrah (Okanagan Valley)

When I said that "we weren't too far off" an Aussie Shiraz, I wasn't joking. The Ferreira family, owners and winemakers at Quinta Ferreira, may be of Portugese heritage but this wine was definitely big and fruity and reminiscent of the juicy Shiraz that helped get the Aussies on the wine map. In fact, all that fruit might have been almost a bit much.

I remember we picked up this bottle a couple of years back while up in the Okanagan for the Spring Wine Festival. I'd tried some Quinta Ferreira wines - for the first time - at the big festival tasting and, since we were heading down to Oliver and the Black Sage Road area a day or so later, we made a bit of a side trip to visit them. At the time, Quinta Ferreira hadn't even opened to the public. They were hoping to reveal their tasting room within a month or so, but patriarch, John Ferreira, told us that he'd show us around a bit if he was there; so, we dropped in.

It was a short visit but he introduced us to his wife, Maria, and son, Michael, the latter being in the middle of finishing off his studies to take over winemaking duties at the new winery. We managed a few additional tastes of their wines - out of Maria's office none-the-less - and snagged a couple bottles even though they weren't really open for business.

I think I might remember why there was such big fruit on this Shiraz. John had talked of what a big year and vintage 2005 had been. They had so much Shiraz that they used the old saigneé method and bled off a lot of the juice from the crush and made a Rosé with it. I remember the story because I found it very extraordinary that a BC winery would use Shiraz for a Rosé. That circumstance likely just helped to firm up the red Shiraz.

I believe the 2005 vintage was the first Shiraz for the winery and, given that, I think they performed rather admirably with the production. I'd like to see if the more recent vintages are picking up more speed and or finesse as the vines mature and the Ferreira's discover more of the in's and out's of BC winemaking.

Inspiration & The Party At The Point

This Saturday was the University of BC Alumni Weekend and, perhaps for the first time since I graduated all those years ago, I decided to drag Boo out for a bit of visit. I'd really hoped to make the tour of the UBC Wine Library as it is described as "one of the most exclusive wine libraries in the world." The Wine Research Centre, in part, studies the aging of wines produced in BC. Unfortunately, by the time I tried to sign up, both tours were already full. Considering I tried on the first day after notice was sent out, those tours must have been among the very first events to "sell out."

As disappointing as that discovery was, I was pleased to be able to take in a tour of the UBC Farm. The Farm is one of those areas that I've known about for some time - especially since the Farm has hosted a farmer's market for the last couple of summers - but have never actually visited. I think my desire to visit was piqued even more when discussions were taking place to potentially convert the Farm into condos - like much of the surrounding university endowment lands. Although I'd never been to the site before, I knew that it was a unique part of the university.

It's next to impossible to take in everything that the Farm encompasses in only 45 minutes, but I was definitely intrigued by some of the projects taking place. A couple of those studies include the effective re-introduction of an increased native bee population and the interactive Urban Aboriginal Kitchen Garden. Our tour barely scratched the surface, but it made me all the more eager to come back and dig a little deeper (pun intended, sorry).

We were going to call it a day after the Farm; however, our shuttle bus made a stop at the UBC Botanical Garden. Despite our intended departure, we found ourselves jumping off the bus. Again, despite all my years at the campus, I'd never actually visited the Botanical Garden. I've been to the garden sale in the parking lot - just never inside the garden itself.

Just like the Farm tour, there was no way we were going to be able to take in the full garden, but we happened to stumble upon the Greenheart Canopy Walkway just as a tour was departing. I had no idea the Walkway had even been created but it was quite the experience to traverse the suspension bridgeway from platform to platform. At points, we were over 50 feet in the air and, for me, it was a unique way to see the upper layers of the coastal rainforest canopy.

Between the Farm and the Botanical Garden, I kept thinking of all the opportunities to set up shop for a picnic that were just staring us in the face. A little rest stop with a bottle of wine was truly alluring. Too bad I'd never considered the possibility in advance.

The tours did, however, motivate us to hightail it home and get to work in our own garden - because the neglect currently abounds. We managed to clean up and plant our plot in the community garden - although it certainly didn't look so lush after we'd ripped out all the volunteer forget-me-nots and laid down a straw mulch. After another couple hours of soil remediation, planting and clean up in our own yard and the boulevard, there was a definite need for some refreshment.

What could be more refreshing on a sunny afternoon than a cool glass of rosé?

815. 2009 Dominio Dostares - Tombú (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León - Spain)

This wasn't just any dime-a-dozen rosé either. It was made of 100% Prieto Picudo - a varietal that I'd certainly never heard of before. The grape is primarily grown in the province of Léon in northwestern Spain. What little I found to read about the varietal points to the fact that it was nearly extinct, but that a movement to emphasize the production of indigenous varietals has seen a revival in plantings. Domino Dostares' vineyards, however, features vines that are as old as 90 years.

Prieto Picudo is generally seen as being similar in profile to Tempranillo and is used for both blending and varietal wines. One writer, on the primarily Iberian wine blog Catavino, postured that the varietal could be seen as a Spanish Pinot Noir. Like Pinot Noir, Prieto Picudo appears to not be the easiest of grapes to grow or fully ripen. Also known for its high acidity, the varietal is also often vinified as a rosé - such as the bottle we've opened today.

Taking sips between pulling weeds and digging dirt doesn't lend itself to particularly extensive tasting notes, but I do know that it certainly hit the spot for Boo and I. I also know that this bottle brings me one step closer to making my quota for the Wine Century Club. Prieto Picudo is definitely a new varietal for my application and I think this brings me up to #94. The end is definitely in sight.

Farm and Garden canopy tours. A good bout of home gardening. A glass of wine in the sun. And a new varietal for the Wine Century Club. I think that qualifies as a rather productive day.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dinner at Mr. D's

Mr. D. felt like having a bit of a belated birthday celebration for everyone - even though Boo's b-day is still a bit away. It certainly doesn't matter to me what the occasion is or was. A dinner invite is a dinner invite. And a dinner at Mr. D's has never disappointed. Tonight was no exception; however, one potentially distressing fact about this little Odyssey of our's was in full evidence tonight.

Playing a little fast and loose (very much unlike our host) with a tongue-in-cheek tone, the only way that I can be sure that the wines being opened aren't already on The List is to be in charge of choosing the wines to be opened. That can be a tad difficult when the host is providing all the wine as well as the dinner.

It turns out that two of the evening's bottles have already passed the muster. It doesn't mean that we can't still enjoy the wine - just means that I don't get to add them to The List again for a second or third time.

N.V. Greg Norman Australian Sparkling (Southeastern Australia)

I shouldn't be surprised that Mr. D. would pop the cork on a Greg Norman. I introduced him to the great value bubble back before Christmas. I know he's taken it to at least a couple of events - including Christmas dinner. As for me, I popped a cork back at #684 in the limo my sister booked to take us to the airport to head away to Cuba over the holiday season. It was good then and it was good now. My guess is that even this won't be the last time we encounter this "Shark." Too bad it's not produced as a vintage. Then I could just be on the outlook for different years to open.

813. 2009 Terra Andina Semillon Chardonnay (Central Valley - Chile)

The next bottle up was good for The List though. In fact, this is the first bottle to be added from this producer. I was a little surprised by that fact since I know I've had some of their wines before - either those bottles were downed before I started the blog or we must have just had a glass in passing, without sharing a full bottle.

That being said, I don't know a lot about the winery. Their website claims to be "an innovator within the Chilean wine industry [by] blending grapes from different valleys with different micro-climates and soil conditions." The label on this bottle states that the wine is from Chile's Central Valley and that may sound like a single valley; however, the Central Valley is Chile's most productive wine region and actually consists of four subregions - some of the most internationally recognized Chilean wine names: Maipo, Rapel, Curico and Maule.

The website doesn't refer to this blend and that leads me to guess that this wine is simply produced as an export wine. The $11 price tag would certainly seem to support the winery's wanting to take advantage of exports with an easy going, value wine.

I don't know that I'd say that there was anything that particularly stood out for me - at least not enough to make me run screaming to the liquor store to grab some more - but, as an everyday sipper, it worked just fine.

2003 Black Hills Nota Bene (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Mr. D. pulled out one of those special occasion bottles and the big gun for the evening was a 2003 Nota Bene. Mr. D. had been holding on to it for a bit and thought the bottle's age was probably creeping up to our advanced, collective years. So why not open it for a birthday dinner? It's funny that Boo and I drank the bottle of Black Hills Chardonnay last night. It wasn't "funny" - at least not for me - that this would be the second bottle of the 2003 that I'd be adding to The List. We'd already been treated to a bottle of the 2003 vintage at #483 during one of our Dinner Club outings.

And just like the Greg Norman bubble, it was good then. Still good now.

814. 2010 La Frenz Vintage Port (Okanagan Valley)

This was a great little surprise that Mr. D. served up. Love Port. La Frenz is one of my favourite wineries. Past vintages have won Gold at the Northwest Wine Summit and Silver at the All Canadian Wine Championships. This should be killer.

Drawing on his Aussie past, owner/winemaker, Jeff Martin, has fashioned his "Port" from Shiraz grapes and he's fortified it with his own "custom distilled brandy spirit." Known as a free spirit - if not an outright radical in the BC wine scene - it will be interesting to see how long he can continue to use the term "port" before the Portugese catch wind and force him to stop using that term in naming his wine. True "port" can only come from Portugal - much like true Champagne and true Burgundy can only come from their home regions.

As mentioned, I figured this wine would be right up my alley. It wasn't - at least not to the extent that I wanted it to be. Maybe it was the three wines beforehand - or maybe the pairing with the intriguing dessert. I think the dessert was called "kurtskalac" (I'm missing a couple of punctuation marks in there) and it was a traditional Transylvanian, sugar-coated, chimney-shaped pastry. (I'm sure there has to be a Dracula joke, or two, in there somewhere.)

I'm not saying that the wine was bad, but I didn't find it to be all that reminiscent of a vintage port. Flavourful enough. But a bit light in body and structure for my taste.

I'll definitely give the La Frenz another try though and I'm entirely hopeful that it'll knock my socks off at that time. But for the moment...

It was a great evening though. Having "endured" as many birthdays as I have, I don't put much stock in the big days anymore. But I'm game for a celebration like this anytime. Now, I just have to get Mr. D. to coordinate the wines a little better with The List next time.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Black Hills Chard

I've said more than a couple of times in this blog that I'm not usually one to reach for a Chardonnay. I'm hardly ABC (Anything But Chardonnay), but it just doesn't tend to hit the right notes with me as regularly as some of the other white varietals. That being said, Boo and I have quite enjoyed a couple of BC Chardy's during these playoff wine series. Both the Red Rooster and the Sandhill Small Lots had us quickly going back for more.

I figured that might bode well for pulling the cork on another BC Chard.

812. 2007 Black Hills Chardonnay (VQA Okanagan Valley)

When the topic of Black Hills wine is raised, first reference is generally made, of course, to Nota Bene - the winery's Bordeaux/Meritage blend and its cult-like status. When it comes to white wines, I think the winery is best know for its white Meritage, Alibi. The entry into producing Chardonnay was much later to come.

Indeed, this 2007 bottle is only from Black Hill's second vintage of Chardy - and, at that, only 498 cases were produced. When I saw a few bottles in one of the private wine shops, I quickly grabbed one since I hadn't tried it before and I was a fairly early fan of Senka Tennant, one of the original owners and winemaker for what was then a fledgling Black Hills. She may no longer be with the winery, but I believe the 2007 vintage was the last year for her full involvement. As winery ownership went to syndication and operations expanded, some of the winery's original lustre has worn off for me, but the winery is still in full charge of the fundamentals of good wine making. So, I expected this to be a darned good wine.

Neither Boo nor I were disappointed. Black Hills still makes a sound wine with all the right elements being there. If the praise sounds perhaps a little faint, it probably is. We both found the wine to be a bit heavy on the oak - nothing wrong with oak and Chardonnay - and this wasn't even an over-bearing oak monster, but I just found the oak to be more noticeable than I like it to be.

Most of the reviews I saw on the wine praised its sweet tropical fruits and honey, but, to be honest, I found those attributes to be more prevalent in the Red Rooster and Sandhill wines we tried. It might just be that this bottle was a 2007 and some of the early fruit has faded. That would be a shame because I doubt that I'd quickly reach for another bottle - particularly at $30 a bottle. I may just have to continue thinking of Alibi when it comes to Black Hills whites.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Painting the Town Blue with Painted Rock

You have to know that tonight's BC Wine Appreciation Society annual Gala Wine Dinner had to be something special to get me to miss a third round playoff game - especially one that could see the Canucks move on to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 17 years!! I'd bought the dinner tickets some time ago, long before it became evident that there'd be such a big hockey game on the same evening.

But such is the buzz that both Rain City Grill, a long-time favourite on the Vancouver dining scene, and Painted Rock, a new star in the BC wine world, currently have.

I haven't dined at Rain City Grill for some time now but it's always one that figures into a list of "we could always go to....." options for fine dining - especially as their emphasis on local and sustainable is clearly now being emulated by more and more of the city's restaurants.

Painted Rock, on the other hand, is a new kid on the wine block and I've had my eye on it ever since I tasted their wines at a charity event last year. I haven't had a bottle yet so as to be able to add it to The List, but I WILL get there eventually. I have a couple Painted Rock reds in our cellar but they're big and I'm hoping to give them a bit of time.

So, like its Black Hills wine dinner at West last year, a combination of Rain City Grill and Painted Rock is a bit of a prize pairing for BCWAS. Playoff hockey or not.

Besides, isn't this the kind of situation that iPhones are made for? I figured that I could stay current with the game by checking every so often. So long as it wasn't going to be too obnoxious to the other table guests. Plus, the restaurant is located smack dab in the West End of Vancouver, where Manahattan-esque residential towers abound. I figured there'd be local honking and screaming if anything good was happening in the game.

Turns out that I wasn't even the most concerned hockey fan about the status of the game. Two of the other attendees, at a table near our's, actually wore radio ear buds throughout the dinner. Their reactions told us faster - than any update on the phone could - if anything of note happened on the ice.

As for the dinner and the wine, there was no skimping by either restaurant or winery. We enjoyed five courses and tried all but one of the wines ever produced by Painted Rock. Owner, John Skinner, couldn't serve the 2007 Cab Sauv because there is none to serve anymore. The wine won a Lieutenant Governor's Award for Excellence and the demand for it quickly depleted the limited production. John told us that there are now only 17 bottles left in the winery's cellar. Not bad for an initial release by a brand new winery.

Indeed, the Cab wasn't the only wine that won a L-G's Award, the 2007 Red Icon, a Meritage or Bordeaux-style blend, was also one of the only ten wines that were so awarded in 2010. Painted Rock was the only winery to win two awards last year - and, again, that was from its first vintage of releases.

To help get the winery off to such a good start, Skinner and company hired French consultant, Alain Sutre, to advise on the vineyard layout and initial vintages. Sutre was so impressed with the site that he asked for an extension to the contract. BC wine scribe, John Schreiner, writes that Sutre told Skinner, "I think you own the Petrus of the Okanagan." Heady words when you consider that Petrus is perennially one of the most expensive wines in the world.

I particularly liked John's story where he tells of his throwing out the idea that they produce both a Syrah and a Shiraz since he had two different clones of the varietal planted. Sutre looked at John and basically asked him if he was crazy. Sutre told him that, with wine, 1+1 do not equal 2 - rather they can equal 3 or more when blended. He felt that capitalizing on the strong points of both clones, the wine would result in a much more complex and enjoyable sip. Whether Painted Rock's Syrah proves that point or not can be debated, but the 2007 Syrah added to the winery's lustre by being the only BC wine served at the recent Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival's gala Bacchanalia Dinner - gotta be a decent feather in the cap.

Not going through tasting notes for all of the wines or the dinner courses, I will say that I think my favourite wine of the evening was the 2008 Cab Sauv. It might be that it matched wonderfully with the ribeye, but I think I'd like it in any setting. I know Elzee particularly enjoyed the Syrah with the mushroom tart.

I'd be remiss if I didn't say that Elzee and I were fortunate in being seated at a table with a young couple that I'd never met at BCWAS before. Turns out it was Russell Ball, who writes the blog Adventures in BC Wine, and his wife. Comparing blogging notes was fun - and they took my Canucks-mania in stride. Russell has written up the event as well and has discussed the wines on a far greater scale than I have. Indeed, in my rush to get to the dinner from work, I'd left my camera behind; so, I even borrowed some of his pictures for this post.

In a way, I might have been lucky that we were at the dinner tonight. The Canucks seemed destined to lose before Ryan Kesler scored a goal to tie the game with only 14 seconds left. The game was into double overtime when Kevin Bieksa and the Canucks scored a flukey goal to end the series and set the stage for the Stanley Cup Finals. I don't know if my heart could have taken the stress of watching the game live.

The taxi ride home was an interesting one though. The game ended only minutes before dinner did and we had to make our way home as all the delerious fans were partying it up in the streets - both downtown and along Broadway all the way to the Commercial Drive area.

It's almost like the Winter Olympics all over again.

Now, come on Stanley. Come to Vancouver!

A Pre-Emptive Bottle

The big Game 5 isn't until tomorrow night. The problem is that I'd previously booked a ticket to the BC Wine Appreciation Society's gala winery dinner and I'm not going to be able to watch the game. Buggah. Hopefully, the restaurant will have a TV by the bar or something. If not, I guess everyone has the occasional cross to bear.

As a precautionary measure, I figured we'd better have a "series" wine from J-T tonight. I don't want to risk jinxing the game's outcome. After all, a win will put the Canucks into the Stanley Cup Finals - a place they, and we as Canuck Nation, haven't been in 17 years.

810. 2007 Jackson-Triggs Proprietors' Grand Reserve Riesling (VQA Okanagan Valley)

In fact, I figured it likely wouldn't hurt to open a second bottle - even if it isn't another J-T. Drinking two Rieslings is sort of like trying a bit of each of the Sedin twins - even if the wines are different producers and different vintages. It's the thought that counts - isn't it? And I think a little something to celebrate the return of the twins as team leaders and - perhaps more importantly - scorers in this series is to be encouraged.

811. 2008 Orofino Riesling (VQA Similkameen Valley)

The second Riesling is a bit of a ringer to boot. Having won a Gold medal at the 2009 All Canadian Wine Championships, the 2008 is the fourth vintage of Orofino's Riesling that's been added to The List. Indeed, the 2009 is #437 on The List and was part of last year's playoff series. Despite the pedigree of that wine, the Canucks lost the game. Unfortunately, Orofino was matched up with the Chicago series last year and, as all Canucks fans know, the Blackhawks have been our nemesis for the last two sets of playoffs. That was then though. The Blackhawks have long been dispatched of this time around; so I'm figuring it's safe to throw another Orofino wine into the mix.

This little taste off was good for keeping the competitive edge for the playoffs. No? Both wines were good representatives for BC Riesling, but Boo and I each had a slight preference for the Orofino. I think it might have been the hint of residual sugar on the finish. Both were full of racy acidity, tart fruit and nice complexity. The Orofino was just a little more tasty.

Now I just have to hope that the two wines have enough of a finish to help the Canucks finish off the Sharks tomorrow.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Colossal Win

So it's time for Game 4 and the team's down in San Jose. The Sharks managed to bruise our boys a bit in the last game but we're still hopeful that the Canucks might dine on a little shark meat. Two thoughts for tonight's wine - 1) the team'll be wearing their away jerseys. They're white. So how about a white wine? 2) Canucks'll need a bit of strength and determination to pull this off. I call for muscles to match that white wine - or is that mussels? Whatever.

809. 2008 Jackson-Triggs Proprietor's Grand Reserve White Meritage (VQA Okanagan Valley)

We don't tend to see a lot of Sauvignon Blanc grown in the Okanagan. I'd say it's becoming a somewhat more common, but it's hardly a varietal that I immediately associate with the region's wineries. We see even less Semillon. So, a blend of the two isn't something I'd regularly expect to see unless it's from one of the bigger players - like J-T. I didn't see any notes online about this particular vintage. The J-T website says that the '09 vintage is 80% Sauv Blanc but I couldn't find a reference for the '08. My guess is that it's fairly close.

I'll be honest with you as well though. We don't tend to see many hockey games starting at noon either; but this one did. As much as these playoff series' bottles are linked to the games - and there was a glass of the Meritage downed during the game itself, maybe a good one at that - I did keep the better part of the bottle for dinner that night. Polishing off a bottle of wine before the afternoon was hardly half over wouldn't have been in my - or our garden's - best interest since I headed out there after the game.

I think the wine might have been a bit better as an accompaniment to the game than it was to the dinner though. There was some big acidity in the wine and it didn't quite match up to the cream, tomatoes and chipotles that the mussels were cooked in.

Mussels. Muscles. Sem. Sauv. What's it all matter anyhow? The Canucks scored three huge goals in a couple of minutes to bust open the game and, luckily, seal that third win. Time to bring the series home to VanCity and finish it off.

As much as I wouldn't mind any number of future J-T wines, I'd just as soon move on to the Stanley Cup Finals and a new winery.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

8th Generation Bubble

Back before Boo and I trekked off to South America last October, I'd briefly read about a first-time release of a sparkling wine by 8th Generation winery. I've quite liked the Rieslings that I've tasted from them in their short Okanagan existence; so, I was glad to find out that Village VQA Wines in Kits was able to locate and put away a bottle for me while we were gone. This proved especially fortuitous because I've since read that there were only 333 cases produced and the wine sold out in less than a month.

I figured this is as good a time as any to crack the top (since the intriguing bottle features a beer-cap crown closure rather than a cork or screw-cap).

808. 2009 8th Generation Chardonnay Frizzante (VQA Okanagan Valley)

With the name "Frizzante" and the unique bottle, I was expecting a rather Prosecco-esque wine. From what I've read, that is the style that the winery was gunning for. The wine wasn't nearly as off-dry as I'd anticipated, but that's not a bad thing at all. I just wasn't expecting it to be as dry as it was.

I've only found one reference (and it wasn't on the winery's website) to the winemaking process. Neither classic Champenoise nor Charmat - the two most common methods for producing bubbles - there is no second fermentation involved here. The winemakers retained the CO2 from the initial fermentation of the wine and then infused it back into the wine at the time of bottling. The resulting wine is, therefore, a bit fruitier on the nose and palate and the effervescence is somewhat subtler.

This isn't a wine for fans only looking for a brisk and crazy mousse, but neither does it have any yeasty or biscuity overtones that can accompany more classic bubbles.

The release of the wine certainly met with much acclaim however. Jurgen Gothe, in the Georgia Strait, named it as one of the Best Bubblies for 2010 and Nico Schuermans, celebrity chef from Vancouver's Chambar, used it to pair with his entry in the national Gold Medal Plates Competition.

We certainly approved of the wine's versatility as well. After trying to find a bottle of the Italian aperitif, Aperol, for years, a few bottles have finally shown up on local shelves. I grabbed one as soon as I saw it and re-created a little taste of Venice by mixing it with some of the Frizzante.

I think we'll be trying the Frizzante again - both on its own and in combination. It was a pretty clear winner either way.

If only I can find another bottle.

Pizza as Shark Bait

Seeing as how it was a Friday night game, we called up Elzee to see if she wanted to join us for some pizza and hockey - and a bit of wine. I don't know if it was the pizza, the hockey or the wine that lured her over, but whatever the reason, it suited me just fine - because a third person meant that I'd have to open a second bottle of wine.

Keeping up with Jackson-Triggs as the "official" wine for this Conference Final, I opted to un-cork two vintages of one of the winery's big guns. After all, being up two games to none, if the Canucks could pull off a win in San Jose, I think they'd pretty much have a stranglehold on the series. Plus, a win by the Canucks would win me the office playoff pool. There were three other colleagues left in the pool (we have to pick winners in one of a specific set of games - but we get to choose the game) but they all picked Tampa Bay to beat Boston at home. The Lightning lost that game; so, I had a chance to put it all away if the Canucks could win tonight.

806. 2004 Jackson-Triggs SunRock Meritage (VQA Okanagan Valley)

807. 2006 Jackson-Triggs SunRock Meritage (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Like our Shiraz in Game 1, both wines are from the premium, single vineyard designated SunRock series - SunRock being the actual vineyard located in the southernmost part of the Okanagan Valley. The vineyard is situated in Canada's only pocket desert as this part of the Valley is the final stretch of the Sonoran Desert that stretches from Mexico all the way to the Okanagan. The intense heat of the daily temperatures can actually be greater than those experienced in either the Napa Valley or in Bordeaux. The near-by lake presence cools the evenings, however, and that cooling effect, in turn, helps retain acidity levels in the grapes. The vineyard can, thereby, both fully ripen varietals that are otherwise marginal in BC and maintain enough acidity to properly balance the wines.

Both vintages were Bordeaux blends of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc - but the final blends differed somewhat in that the 2004 was 50% Merlot, 30% Cab Sauv and 20% Franc, the '06, on the other hand, still featured 50% Merlot but it saw the contribution of the Cab Sauv increased to 45% and the percentage of the Cab Franc reduced to just 5%. Interestingly enough, Boo preferred the '04. He usually jumps at higher Cab Sauv content, but I think he thought it was more integrated from the additional two years in the bottle. Elzee and I both enjoyed the 2006 just a bit more - likely because of the additional retention of fruit at this stage.

The difference wasn't that perceptible to us though - more like identifying or preferring Daniel to Henrick Sedin. How do you pick one twin over another? We didn't have a problem finishing either bottle though.

I see now that I was so caught up in the game and the wine that I only took the one picture through the evening - but by "caught up," I think I mean depressed. Except for a bit of a resurgence in the third period, our guys were having a tough go of it. If it weren't the playoffs, we likely would have moved on to a PVR recording of Survivor or America's Next Top Model. There was some excitement as the clock counted down - with the Canucks only one goal behind - but they couldn't score that tying goal.

Poor Elzee. When I pointed out that, the last time we had her over during the playoffs and served two wines, the Canucks lost as well. She said that could only mean that she'll just never be able to come over for another game. We'll have to find a way to talk her out of that one.

In the mean time, Game 4 is on Sunday. Hopefully, the boys can still return with that third win under their belts. I know I'll have another J-T wine waiting for the game.

Noon start or not.

This is What We Been Waiting For!!

Game 2 - Canucks 7 - Sharks 3

That's the type of score we've been waiting for - and that might have flattered San Jose a teensy bit, particularly in the third period when the home town boys scored four goals.

It's certainly not very often that we hear of a "Geordie Howe Hat Trick" being completed nowadays. Indeed, most folks likely had to have it explained - a goal, an assist and a fight in the one game, all by one player. There was one for the Canucks tonight though - and it was by a defenceman, Kevin Bieksa, none-the-less.

805. 2004 Jackson-Triggs Proprietor's Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz (VQA Okanagan Valley)

With it being Game 2, it seemed like an appropriate choice to go with a two varietal blend. I don't know if it was tonight's Cab/Shiraz blend (60/40 by the way) or Boo's skookum ribs that propelled the Canucks to their highest scoring game of this playoff season, but I like the combination.

The Proprietor's Grand Reserve label is a premium label for the winery, as was last game's single vineyard SunRock label, but these wines combine grapes from J-T's numerous vineyards. If the grapes cut it flavour-wise, they make the wine.

It's often said that, in the world of winemaking, one plus another varietal (if not more) can make for a better wine. We don't see many made-in-BC Cab/Shiraz blends. It reminds me more of an Aussie trademark blend. I'd say that it could have been a reflection of J-T's current Okanagan red winemaker, Brooke Blair, and her South Australian roots. However, at the time of this vintage, I think she had only just joined Jackson-Triggs as an assistant and the blend had been already been in production for three or four vintages. It wasn't until 2007 that she took over the reins from long-time winemaker Bruce Nicholson. So much for that theory.

It's too bad that we finished off that last bottle of Shiraz because it would have been interesting to try the straight varietal Shiraz next to this blend to see how perceptible a difference the blend might have made. Guess that will have to be saved for another time - or another game.

The immediate trick is going to see if I can pick a wine that can match up to a third win in a row over the Sharks. Here's hoping.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bring On The Sharks

Seems like we've been waiting a long time for these Western Conference Finals - whether you're looking at the week that's passed since the Canucks' last game against the Nashville Predators or going back to the 17 years it's been since the Canucks made it to the conference Finals. The week that's passed since the Nashville series has given the boys some time to recuperate and mend their injuries. That same time has given me a chance to figure out which winery should be matched up with the games in this next series.

I've decided to go with Jackson-Triggs. If there's a BC winery that has a tradition of winning trophies and awards - worthy of a run to the Stanley Cup - it's J-T. Wine Access has named it Canadian Winery of the Year on four separate occasions - most recently in 2008 - and the magazine's awards haven't been around for much more than a decade.

I took a look at the wines we have in our "cellar" and we have a few Jackson-Triggs wines that should be coming into their own now. This round of the playoffs is as good a time as any to pull those corks and throw a little BC muscle into our glasses.

804. 2006 Jackson-Triggs SunRock Shiraz (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I figured I might as well start the series off with a bang. So, I retrieved a bottle of one of J-T's premium, single vineyard designated SunRock wines. I certainly knew that Shiraz has become a bit of a showcase varietal for Jackson-Triggs. Since the winery's first release of a Shiraz wine, back with the 2001 vintage - where it was named Best in Class at the Canadian Wine Awards - J-T has continued to win all sorts of awards for its Shiraz. Perhaps the most prestigious of all these prizes was when their 2004 Proprietor's Grand Reserve became the first North American wine to be awarded the Rosemount Estate Trophy for Best Shiraz/Syrah at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London, England.

That's kind of like winning the Stanley Cup of the wine world.

Tonight's bottle doesn't have quite that pedigree; however, I certainly hadn't realized, when I quickly grabbed it, that the 2006 RunRock Shiraz was named Best Red Wine of the Year at the 2008 Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards. That's got to be worthy of a toast to the Conference Finals.

I'd be the last person to pretend that I have the palate or the knowledge to know what made this the best red wine that the country produced, but I can say that it held its own in terms of structure, body and integration. All things that this Canucks team is going to have to sport in spades. I know that having glass in hand, helped get this fan through a couple of gaffes in the defensive zone that had our boys down a goal heading into the third period. I can also tell you that I would have needed more than a little wine to get over the funk that would have set in had the Canucks not pulled this game out of the fire.

The Canucks looked good overall though and the wine was clearly up to the task. Here's to one wine and one win to the good.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A BittrSweet Garden Party

Weather-wise, it's been an overly grey and wet Spring. With the seemingly ever-present April showers, May flowers should certainly be in abundance. On the other hand, I don't know what all this wet in May is going to lead to. Maybe it's just the price we have to pay for the Canucks' long run in the playoffs. Who wants to be stuck inside watching a game when it's nice outside anyhow? I'll just have to keep telling myself that.

I doubt our friends, Bittr & Sweet, had counted on the continuing wet when they announced a build your own pizza and garden party. At its worst, the evening's weather was nothing more than a slight, misty drizzle - conditions a true gardener won't have any problem with. Not to mention a true partier/drinker - something this household has never had any difficulty attracting.

I have no idea how many pizzas were cooked up during the party but Miss Alicia was definitely the key to an endless supply of thin crusts and intriguing toppings. She did her best to grab every one of the guests to direct her to unique combinations that included such items as a Mexican black corn fungus, asiago, smoked oysters and balsamic syrup. Not exactly topics that one regularly finds at your local pizza-by-the-slice.

Remembering how, the last time we attended a little affair Chez BittrSweet, the evening's events were way more entertaining than the morning after, I made a deliberate decision to avoid any refills on the martinis - regardless of how good they were - and stick to just a glass of wine here or there. There are too many pictures still floating around from the last party for my liking.

It may not make for a lot of additional wines for The List, but it certainly made for a more productive Sunday.

803. 2008 Emiliana Novas Limited Selection Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon (Colchagua Valley - Chile)

I think it's fitting that the one wine that is making it to The List is from Chile's pre-eminent winery when it comes to using organic and biodynamic practices in the vineyard. Garden party. Organic wine. Seems fitting. Indeed, Emiliana dedicates a healthy portion of its website to describing its philosophy in winemaking and how the practicalities of organic farming actually apply to the winemaking process. Their "Interactive Vineyard" on the site was an interesting scroll of what you can encounter in their vineyards and why you might discover the same.

The website did describe the farming practices to a good extent, but I didn't find an awful lot of information about the bottle of wine that we'd enjoyed. For the vintages that I did find some sort of reference, the blend is primarily Carmenere - not surprising given the varietal's prominent status in the Chilean wine world. The Novas label, as a whole, is one of a number of lines produced at the winery and it is certified organic. They produce a few more premium wines that are fully biodynamic and that garner favourable press from some big wine publications.

At $16, there's some real bang for your buck. With a full palate of dark fruit, it was approachable enough to sip on while strolling in the garden - and the body was big enough to keep you warm in the cool dampness that enveloped you if you did stroll outside.

One good thing about stepping in from outside was that there was inevitably a slice of pizza just around the corner to warm you up. When it became my turn to accessorize the toppings with Miss Alicia, I decided to stay fairly classic and went with pesto, carmelized onions, prosciutto and two cheeses. Boo, on the other hand, was a tad more eclectic - spinach, onions, mushrooms and anchovies (his favourite).

I haven't heard whether the later hours were as rambunctious as BittrSweet's last soiree or if there are as many incriminating pictures, but that's simply because Boo had endured a rough day at work and had the good sense to head home to bed before the party had a chance to kick into a higher gear.

It also meant that we had the morning after to enjoy as well.

But I'm still going to ask about the pictures.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

From One Unknown to Another

As I'm idly waiting for the Canucks' next opponent, last night's addition to my Wine Century Club application made me think "one good varietal deserves another" - even if the Valdiguie wasn't all that "good" of a varietal.

Luckily, this next varietal virgin was a lot more enjoyable.

802. 2009 Gray Monk Siegerrebe (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Unlike the Valdiguie, I've at least heard of and seen some Siegerrebe wines on the local store shelves. I can't say that I'm familiar with the grape or the resulting wine, but I have at least heard of it.

And now, I've tasted it.

And, you know, we rather enjoyed it to boot.

Siegerrebe is a cross between Gewurztraminer and Madeleine Angevine and has been called "Gewurztraminer on steroids" by one of BC's most pre-eminent wine scribes, John Schreiner. It is not, however, a commonly grown grape. Originally a Germanic varietal, there are only a handful of wineries that grow it - and many of those wineries are found in BC as even its limited prominence in Germany appears to be on the decline. Given that, you still couldn't call Siegerrebe a BC stalwart in that a 2008 BC Wine Institute study shows that the varietal accounted for less than 1% of the total white grapes grown in the province.

The primary reason that Siegerrebe is produced at Gray Monk is that it is a personal favourite of Trudy Heiss, the winery's matriarch, and the story goes that she threatened to toss her husband's clothes into the driveway if he pulled the wines that they'd planted in a trial project. Even with such a firm, spousal directive, the winery only produces 1000 cases. They've developed a bit of a cult following for the varietal though. As such, they're likely one of an extremely limited number that might make the same claim.

The project referred to was called the Becker Project and it took place in the 1970's. It saw a number of Okanagan grape growers experimentally plant a selection of primarily Germanic varietals to discover if the fruit could fully ripen in BC's cooler climate and survive the province's cold winters. Despite the fact that regional farmers now grow vinifera vines almost exclusively, back in the 70's, to do so would have been seen as pure folly. This project really was a primary force in laying the groundwork for today's BC wine industry.

Gray Monk was an enthusiastic participant in the Becker Project and, accordingly, has some of the oldest vinifera vines in the province - including their Siegerrebe.

As is my wont, I won't go into any detailed tasting profile. Suffice it to say, however, that Mr. Schreiner's definition won't find any argument in our household. Think big nose, tree fruit, acidity and some residual sugar and you'll have a good idea of what to expect.

Further, I think the Gray Monk might have even matched up better with a second round of spot prawns than the other night's Riesling did. Not bad at all.

It also gets me that one step further to the Wine Century Club dictates.

Valdiguie? What's That You Say?

While waiting for the next round of the playoffs, I thought I'd try a varietal that I'd run across and had never heard of before. Valdiguie is red grape primarily grown in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France; however, tonight's wine is from Californian producer, J. Lohr.

The Valgiduie varietal was commercially propagated in France in 1874 but its actual origin is unclear. It has apparently been grown in California for some years as "Napa Gamay" as Californian growers believed it to be Gamay Noir. It was only around 1980, when researchers at U.C. Davis determined that the grape had been previously mis-identified, that steps started to be taken to correctly label the wines being produced. The name "Napa Gamay" was only banned in the U.S. in 1999 and use of the name "Gamay Beaujolais" was finally prohibited in the U.S. in 2007.

801. 2009 J. Lohr Wildflower Valdiguie (Monterey County - California)

J. Lohr is one of the few wineries that produces a 100% varietal wine from Valdiguie grapes. Their earlier assumption that they were working with Gamay is evident from the winery's use of carbonic maceration in the production of this wine. The procedure differs from standard fermentation in that whole clusters of grapes are placed in a fermenter, that is rich is carbon dioxide, before the grapes are pressed and where the gas rich environment causes the grape juice to start to ferment while it is still in the actual grape skins. It is only after that initial fermentation, which can last a couple of weeks, that the grapes are pressed and the resulting juice is then used to produce the wine.

One of the most notable effects of the procedure is that the wines produced are standardly fruitier and lower in tannins and they often referred to as candy-like (bubble-gum is one note used that can regularly be found). Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau wines are the wines most commonly associated with the procedure.

J. Lohr only used carbonic maceration on 15% of the grapes destined for this vintage; however, both Boo and I noticed the overt fruitiness of the wine - before I later read
that the procedure had been used. Neither one of us found the resulting profile to be that enjoyable and our first impression was that we wouldn't spend much time going out of our way to find any more Valdiguie wines. Even having learned of the carbonic maceration, I don't know that I'd quickly reach for another bottle.

It might not be that easy to find more straight varietal wines though - even if we'd wanted to. The grape isn't grown much for winemaking purposes. The vine's high productivity isn't seen to lend itself to the making of quality wine and there aren't too many growers willing to spend the additional effort needed for green harvesting the abundant growth. In southern France the grapes are often used to manufacture commercial alcohol.

I'm not going to worry too much about finding more of the wine though. The best thing about finding the bottle was that I get to add another varietal to my application for the Wine Century Club. I think this means I'm getting close with 92 varietals under my belt. It's probably not the best of signs when that's the best thing that I can say about a wine.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A New Season...That Doesn't Involve Hockey

It may not capture quite the same city-wide excitement of the Stanley Cup playoffs but, for many, the arrival of the spot prawn season hits all the same notes when it comes to the Vancouver food scene. There's an opening weekend festival, line-ups at the fishing docks, special menus at scores of restaurants and plenty of finger licking good shellfish.

Count me in!

As this post happens to hit another milestone in this Wine Odyssey, it's fitting that we enjoy our first spot prawns of the season with one of our favourites BC wines.

800. 2009 La Frenz Riesling (Naramata Bench - VQA Okanagan Valley)

After having tasted a whole array of BC wines, the La Frenz Riesling was one of the wines that Boo and I served at our wedding/tenth anniversary party a couple of summers back. (I know, how do you have a wedding and a 10-year anniversary at the same party - but that will have to remain a complicated story for another day.) So, it's not hard to understand that this wine has been a tasty treat for us for some time.

I'm glad to say that the 2009 vintage is still up to par - and is a worthy bottle to serve up as #800 on The List and as a pairing for the spot prawns Boo picked up at Granville Island earlier today. A little olive oil, garlic and a splash of Riesling - both in the pan and in the glass - and we were set.

One of the hallmarks of Jeff Martin's Riesling is that he leaves a touch of residual sugar to counterbalance the natural acidity that standardly shines through with the varietal. This slightly off-dry note can disagree with many but I particularly enjoy it and it came to good use with the sweetness of the spot prawns. Without that "touch of honey," the acidity might have been a bit much for the delicacy of the prawns.

A little more of both please...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Predators Finally Become Prey

Music City USA. Game 6. Canucks. Predators.

Please boys! Get it over with tonight! Talk about a city-wide mantra.

I'm not sure that my heart could handle another Game 7. After all, I'm not quite as young as I used to be and there's no need to put my aging ticker at risk.

In the hope that it might prove to be another secret weapon, I also went to the "Power of Trevor" (as in Linden) and decided it was time to wear my #16 jersey for the game.

799. 2007 Sandhill Small Lots Sangiovese (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Knowing that we'd likely need a big game from Roberto Luongo tonight, I figured I might as well pull out a Sandhill wine that might play a bit to his Italian heritage. The Small Lots Sangiovese should fit the bill nicely.

This Sangiovese is a little bigger than the typical Italian Chianti's we tend to see in the Vancouver market. Not being constrained by Italian wine laws, Sandhill's winemaker, Howard Soon, is able to fill out the wine with a small addition (6%) of Barbera (a varietal not generally found in Tuscany where the Sangiovese grape is best known in Italy).

It's a one-of-a-kind wine in Canada as Sandhill's Small Lots is still thought to be the only commercially produced VQA Sangiovese in Canada - and there were only 430 cases produced in the 2007 vintage. I was hoping that the uniqueness of the wine would also match up with the feeling that this vintage of the Canucks is one unlike the others. Hit the sports pages and you continually see columnists and fans saying that this is one of the deepest - if not the deepest ever - Canucks team in terms of talent, that it's a more mature and balanced team than we've seen in the past and that this is as good of a chance as the Canucks have ever had to hoist the Stanley Cup.

Luckily, both the wine and the Canucks were up to the evening's task. It was a 2-1 win for our boys and now the city gets to wait a bit to see when the next battle - the Conference Finals - will start up and whether it will be against the San Jose Sharks or the Detroit Red Wings. As the local wags have been contemplating - does anyone have a preference for serving up fish or wings for the next course?

Good job done by both the Canucks and by the Sandhill wines featured for this series. Guess I need to determine which BC winery I want to match up to that next round of games.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Double the Disappointment

It's Hockey Night in Vancouver and the town is all a-twitter with the possibility that the Canucks can put away the Nashville Predators for good. Being a Saturday night, there's a good chance that the biggest street celebration since the Olympics could well carry on into the early hours of the morning. In fact, the ever-more-famous "Green Men," have even co-opted Carrie Underwood to sport a Canucks jersey to the game even though her husband, Mike Fisher, plays for the other guys.

Given the auspicious occasion, the evening's Sandhill contribution to the series and to The List is actually a double play - but I'm going to one of the winery's most regularly acclaimed varietals - Syrah. Here's hoping that two closely related Sandhill wines can bring out the best of our team's twins - Daniel and Henrick.

797. 2005 Sandhill Syrah (VQA Okanagan Valley)

798. 2005 Sandhill Small Lots Syrah (VQA Okanagan Valley)

This is the first time that I've opened a regular label Sandhill wine and tried it side by side with a Small Lots bottle from the same vintage. The $15 difference in price ($20 vs $35) is sufficient enough that I'd like to see if we can identify that much of a difference in the glass.

The Small Lots Program has produced a couple of vintages already but this is the first Syrah to be released under the regular Sandhill label. As with all of Howard Soon's wines, both Syrah's are single vineyard wines but, while the regular label grapes are grown on the Sandhill Estate vineyard, fruit for the Small Lots wine is grown not far down Black Sage Road on the Phantom Creek vineyard. Wine Access Magazine recently named Phantom Creek as one of the "Top 10 Single Vineyards Around the World." As acclaimed as that vineyard might be, Richard Cleave, the owner and grower of Phantom Creek, supervises both his own vineyard and the Sandhill Estate vineyard. So, the grapes from both vineyards have a similar pedigree.

All things being equal, I would have expected the Small Lots Syrah to outshine the Sandhill, but I actually preferred the standard label. It may have come down to storage of the bottles though. For me, there was a distinct note on the Small Lots - both on the nose and palate - that hinted at cork taint. Boo is normally the one with the more attuned sense of smell and he didn't notice it. Indeed, the wine wasn't fully corked and we finished off the bottle in due course, but I definitely don't think it was meant to be there. On the other hand, the Sandhill was big and full of fruit.

Accordingly, I think I'd have to give the "win" to the regular label Syrah. Whether that qualifies as an upset or not, I don't rightly know. But I was a bit disappointed with the Small Lots.

As I was with the game. Bringing out the "twinned" wines wasn't enough to propel our boys to a win. The hockey twins have yet to find a way to inflict some real damage on the Predators - and, whether the Nashville players are underdogs or not, with a 4-3 win, the Predators put a hold on any VanCity street celebrations for at least awhile longer.

It'll be back to Nashville for a sixth game. Guess I'll need to pick out another Sandhill wine for that game. I suppose there are worse things in life.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Hockey Hoedown Continues

It's Game 4 with the Predators as the Round 2 Hockey Hoedown continues in Nashville - and it's a huge one. A win tonight and the Canucks return home to Vancouver with a 3-1 lead in games. A loss sees the teams tied at two games apiece and it's a whole new, best-of-three series.

Considering that the Canucks have gone to overtime for four of their last five games, it doesn't take much to realize that there's a bit of pressure at play. As such, I figured I'd bring out one of Howard Soon's newest big guns at Sandhill. The winery has produced a Chardonnay under their regular, white label since day one. The 2008 vintage, however, saw Soon release a new first - a single block Chardy as part of the Small Lots Program.

I'd opened Red Rooster's Chardonnay (recently named one of the world's top ten Chardonnay's in this year's Chardonnay du Monde in France) for Game 7 with the Blackhawks and we won that game. So, why not bring out another Chardy? After all, Howard Soon has played mentor to Karen Gillis, Red Rooster's winemaker, for some years now. I'm thinking he likely has a few tricks up his sleeve for his own Chardonnay.

796. 2008 Sandhill Small Lots Chardonnay (VQA Okanagan Valley)

All of Sandhill's wines are single vineyard, but sourcing these grapes from just a single block, Block B11, in the Sandhill Estate vineyard, that takes Soon's concept of terroir to an even more intimate level. Located at the northern end of the Sandhill vineyard, this block is nestled against a 400 foot granite cliff - providing a very particular dimension to growing conditions and approaches. Weather-wise, the 2008 vintage was challenging in many aspects for BC growers, but the fruit from this block stood out so much from the vineyard's other Chardonnay plantings that Soon felt it merited a separate bottling.

There were only 132 cases of the wine produced - and that's a real shame because we couldn't get enough of it. And we're not real Chardonnay drinkers. It successfully captured so many of the notes that can make or break a Chardonnay - there was definite oak, but it was nicely integrated and definitely didn't dominate; good body being evident but still having a refreshing acidity and fruitiness that was very appealing. This is a Chardonnay that I could easily return to.

It would have been interesting to try this bottle side by side with the other night's "world beating" Red Rooster. Different vintages and different price points - but both well-received by the wine writing world.

I don't know that the wine had anything to do with the Canucks' big 4-2 win for the night, but I liked both the wine and the game result.

Now, if we can only put away the Predators a little quicker than it took to knock out the Hawks.

May The Fourth Be With You

No playoff game between the Canucks and Predators tonight - which is probably a good thing for my sanity - the anxiety that's been accompanying the Canucks in these playoffs is enough to drive a guy to drink.

On the flip side, there was a great bit of frivolity around the office when I heard on the radio that today, May 4, is the unofficial International Stars Wars Day. Think about it. I had quite the kick letting everyone know and exclaiming "May the Fourth be with you."

795. 2006 Forbidden Fruit Cabernet Sauvignon (Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys)

I was trying to think of a wine that might be somewhat appropriate for the Star Wars theme. It was the label on the Forbidden Fruit Earth Series wine that won me over.

I'd tried the Earth Series Sauvignon Blanc and added it to The List so many months back (at #666). At that time, I talked about the winery's straying from its acclaimed fruit wine base and the foray into grape wines. So I won't repeat myself again here - except to say that the Earth Series of wines envisions the growing of grapes with "low impact and sustainable farming practices" and that a portion of wine sales goes to the David Suzuki Foundation and its environmental efforts to sustain life on earth.

Luke, Hans and Leia - not to mention Yoda - would be proud.

Unlike with its fruit wines, Forbidden Fruit doesn't grow all of the grapes for these wines. Rather, they source the fruit from like-minded growers in the Similkameen and the neighbouring Okanagan Valley. Unfortunately, I can't say that it was a Cab that hit the right notes for me. Nor did it do so for Boo and he's the bigger Cab fan in our household. I think we both just found it to be a little thin, without much fruit on the palate.

As much as I admire the winery's environmental outlook and approach to the production of this wine, I'm far more likely to reach for one of Forbidden Fruit's tree fruit wines before I grab the Cab again.

I do, however, have a new holiday to look forward to now.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Taking it to Nashville

As much as I may feel and little bruised and battered by yesterday's federal election, I'm likely still in better condition than most of the Canucks. After seven rough games with the Blackhawks, the Predators aren't exactly playing cooperative by rolling over and letting our boys breeze through the new series.

Having split the first two games in Vancouver, the teams have moved on to Music City USA for Games 3 and 4 in Nashville. In the mean time, it was a no-brainer for tonight's game wine. Game 3, Sandhill Small Lots Three.

794. 2001 Sandhill Small Lots Three (VQA Okanagan Falls)

The wines for the first games, One and Two, were basically Bordeaux or Meritage blends. Three goes a different route - a bit of a take on a Super Tuscan. Winemaker, Howard Soon, has overseen the planting of two traditional Italian varietals at the Burrowing Owl/Sandhill Estate vineyard - Sangiovese and Barbera - and blended them at 50% and 30% respectively. He's then completed and filled out the wine with equal portions of Cab Sauv and Merlot. While the addition of the Cab and Merlot is quite indicative of the so-called Super Tuscans, the blending of Sangiovese and Barbera is highly uncharacteristic of Italian winemaking - as the former is the primary grape of Tuscany, while Barbera is mostly grown in Piedmont.

This 2001 vintage was the first release of Three and it is believed to be the first commercial release of a wine involving either Sangiovese or Barbera by a Canadian winery. In keeping with his approach of showcasing the specific vineyard (all Sandhill wines are single vineyard designated), Soon has also looked to innovative practices in BC to try and best express the characteristics of the fruit. Knowing he was the only winemaker using these Italian varietals, he introduced the utilization of a yeast strain that is particular to the Sangiovese grapes that are used for making Brunello - one of the big guns of Tuscany.

As part of the Small Lots Program, only 398 cases of the wine was made. So, we were lucky to still have a bottle laying around. I'm not sure that ten years of aging was suspected when we bought the bottle, but I'm glad to say the wine didn't seem to suffer.

I am glad, however, to be finally opening all these lovely old Sandhill wines. It might have taken the Canucks finally getting past Chicago in the playoffs, but matching Sandhill to a playoff series has been a goal of mine since this Odyssey has been around. Now, if only the team could figure out a way to get the puck past the Predator's goalie, Pekka Rinne.

The boys pulled out a second win in the series tonight - but it did take OT and a power play at that. I'm definitely finding that I'm needing these wines to calm my nerves during all these cliff-hanger games.

Politically Up the Creek?

Being the opinionated gent that I am, I've found myself in one or two politically heated morasses over the years. Accordingly, I do my best to try and hold my tongue when discussions start heading off in that direction - particularly if there's been a fair bit of wine flowing. I find it's best to just agree to disagree.

I don't think the following picture is doing much to disguise my reaction to the Conservative majority government that was elected tonight though - especially since I should confirm that it's not the wine that's leaving a sour taste in my mouth.

793. 2003 Tinhorn Creek Merlot (VQA Okanagan Valley)

There was no particular reason for grabbing the Tinhorn Creek tonight. Had I been trying to soften the election results - which were rather predictable - I'd likely have reached for the vodka. After all, if life hands you lemons, go grab the vodka.

I can sense that I'm not going to easily get out of the quagmire I'm creating for myself here. A simple discussion about Tinhorn or the Merlot seems rather out of sorts - and trying to reconcile the wine with some witty, political repartee (like a middle-of-the-road, popular drink) is a bit far fetched. So, I think I'll simply leave the posting as it is. After all, there are some Tinhorn Creeks wines already added to The List and you could always look back at those entries for a little more info on winemaker, Sandra Oldfield, and the winery.

In the meantime, I have a feeling that I might be opening a few more bottles of wine to address the Canadian political situation over the next four years.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Tropical Treat

It may still be hockey (playoff) season, but VanCity is still aching for actual Spring-like weather. The cold and wet (or even cool and damp) that we've been experiencing is getting tiresome.

So, a gorgeous Spring day, like the one we woke up to today, is entirely celebratory. Even the garden seemed to be that much happier and brighter. I'd been waiting for the right opportunity to open tonight's wine and this seemed like a perfect occasion. Earlier in the year, I'd read about - of all things - a sparkling wine made in Hawaii. It got a very favourable review and, yes, you guessed it, it's made from pineapples. One of my colleagues as work, Sumo, was taking a short vacation at Waikiki; so I asked her to try and pick me up a bottle. She wasn't able to find the sparkling wine anywhere but she did find the following bottle.

I have a classic recipe for a curry that features prawns and pineapple. What better dish could there be for a pineapple wine?

792. Tedeschi Vineyards Maui Blanc (Hawaii)

Tedeschi is also known as "Maui's Winery" and is the island's only commercial winery. The folks behind the winery began planting grape vines at the Ulupalakua ranch in 1974 and they now grow six varietals - little known Carnelian, Syrah, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Malbec and Viognier. During the initial years, however, while they were waiting for the grapevines to mature to the point of producing wine-ready grapes, a decision was made to develop a sparkling wine made from the plantation's plentiful pineapples. Although there was only a small amount of the wine made, it proved to be so popular with the public that the winery continued to produce the wine and decided to pursue a still pineapple wine as well.

For the first couple of decades, Tedeschi partnered with the Maui Pineapple Company to buy juice from its pineapple operations. When that company's production assets were sold in 2009, the winery bought the juicing equipment and moved it to the winery where they now crush the pineapples right on site.

I was really happy to find that the wine is made in a dry style. There is a bit of residual sugar on the palate but there's actually a nice acidity that keeps the wine fresh without seeming off-dry. That touch of sweetness goes nicely with the heat of the curry and, well, the pineapple-y-ness of the wine just matches as nicely as you'd want with the pineapple in the dish. You can definitely identify the taste of the tropical fruit on the palate but it isn't as dominant as you might expect. It's definitely not just pineapple juice with a kick. You won't be mistaking a glass of this for a Mai Tai anytime soon.

Now, I figure it's a fairly sure bet that this wine will never make it to the local bottle shop but I really wouldn't be opposed to having another bottle - particularly on a hot summer afternoon. Hey, wait, Sumo actually did bring back a second bottle - and that one's infused with a bit of passionfruit. Guess we'll be heading back to the Islands after all.

Now, we just need to see about some sun and heat on a more regular basis.

Double Vintage, Double Overtime, Double Heartache

Playoff hockey. Saturday night. It seemed only natural to invite a couple of the boys over for a BBQ and the game. Little did we know that it would be such a night.

With a one game lead in the series following Thursday night's win, everyone knew that it was likely going to be a tight series. But, the mood was upbeat. The Canucks were definitely going to have to figure out a way to get the puck behind Pekke Rinne on a regular basis, but this tight? Really?!

Of course, we had no idea what kind of an evening - or game - it was going to be when we got started on our second Sandhill wine for the series. Seeing as how we were four for dinner, I knew one bottle wasn't going to cut it. I, therefore, thought I could make it all happen by digging out two vintages of Sandhill Two. Little did I know.

789. 2000 Sandhill - Burrowing Owl Vineyard Two (VQA Okanagan Valley)

790. 2004 Sandhill - Sandhill Estate Vineyard Two (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Like the Small Lots One Boo and I had during Game 1, Two is a Bordeaux or Meritage style blend - but, whereas One was Cab Sauv dominant with a bit of Petit Verdot and Malbec thrown in for good measure - Two is perhaps a little more representative of a standard approach to a BC Meritage. The percentages change from vintage to vintage but the blend is traditionally Cab Sauv, Merlot and Cab Franc.

Indeed, there wasn't much difference in the mix between these two vintages. The 2000 was 65/27/8 and the 2004 was 67/25/8. There was a fairly marked difference between the two bottles but that difference would have been based on the additional four years aging that the 2000 saw - not a difference of 2% in the varietals. The 2004 had bigger fruit and was a bit bolder in mouthfeel - not to say that the 2000 didn't make up for the more subdued palate by being a bit smoother in its integration.

I think true of most palates, Mr. D., Mexican Lou and I preferred the newer, fruitier wine a bit, while Boo went for the more subdued integration of the 2000. Boo was pretty definitive in his preference for the other night's One over these wines as well. He's somewhat predictable in his leaning towards Cab, Cab and more Cab.

Another difference between the One and Two's is that the fruit was sourced from different vineyards. All of Howard Soon, Sandhill's winemaker's, wines are from single vineyards. He introduced the single vineyard concept of stressing the terroir of the Okanagan's vineyards to BC winemaking. Fruit for One is sourced from the Phantom Creek vineyard, while the grapes for Two are grown on Sandhill's estate vineyards. Even though the two vineyards are located within miles of each other, Soon feels that the integrity of the terroir needs to be respected and separate wines blended. It would be truly interesting to taste side by side glasses of the Cab Sauv grown from the two different vineyards to see if there is much of discernible difference to the more unsophisticated palates sported by this pilgrim and the general wine buying public.

Regardless of blending or terroir, we'd finished off both bottles by the time the Predators scored to tie the game at one goal apiece - with about a minute to go in regulation time - and force overtime. I don't know why the Canucks seem determined to make things difficult for themselves in these playoffs. This is the second time that they've had to go to OT because their opponents scored with next to no time left to go.

That's up to the team to work on though. In the meantime, we needed to work on another wine for the OT.

791. 2007 Sandhill Sauvignon Blanc (VQA Okanagan Valley)

The shot of the boys holding their Sauv Blanc was obviously before nashville scored their winning goal in the second period of overtime.

Bugger. Oh, that's directed toward the game's result, not the wine. Although the Sauv Blanc is part of the Sandhill regular label series, you can always expect - and we got - a wine that is a true varietal expression. We don't tend to drink a bunch of BC Sauv Blanc, but this is the kind that we do like - more subdued in its profile than the over-the-top grassiness of many New Zealand Sauv Blancs. It's a ways away from a Sancerre, but it was going down easily all the same.

At least much easier than the play of the game.

This could be a long series! I don't know if I can take another 7-gamer. Guess we'll have to see what happens in the next two games in Nashville. You know we'll have some Sandhill waiting.