Tuesday, June 28, 2011

World Cup of White Wine - Match 2

With the World Cup of White Wine now underway here on this little Wine Odyssey and New Zealand having knocked off the Aussies in our first continental challenge, it's time to turn our glasses towards Europe and the three countries that qualified and actually have white wine for sale in the Vancouver market - France and Germany. The other two European teams that qualified for the World Cup - England, Sweden and Norway - don't exactly have a wine presence in our market - if they even have much of one back at their respective homes.

There are obviously plenty of other European countries with white wines to send to this little competition; their women's soccer teams just couldn't quite pull it out during the qualifying rounds.

Tonight, we're opening bottles from two of the classic white wine regions though. France and Germany are clearly both big guns when it comes to white wine and soccer. Indeed, the German women are two time defending World Cup champions and the World Cup tournament is being held in Germany itself.

To top it off, both teams will be playing out of Group A - along with Canada and Nigeria - in what's being termed the "Group of Death."

839. 2009 Ernest Preiss Riesling (AOC Alsace - France)

840. 2009 Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling (Qba Mosel - Germany)

Keeping in mind, I have to face a budgetary reality when picking wines for this World Cup, I didn't exactly go to a First Growth Burgundy Chardonnay when choosing the French wine. The French might have put up a star wine like that in a real competition, but, unfortunately, that contest will have to take place in someone else's glass; not mine.

I don't know if all that many people think of Riesling as their initial thought of a white French wine, but this Alsace producer was about the same price as the Dr. L. and that's got to be a consideration. French vs. German Riesling. Same vintage. Price within a dollar of each other in our market. Sounds pretty fair to me.

Even if the Dr. L. is an acknowledged "star" in our market.

We rather surprised ourselves by preferring the Alsatian Riesling. I think there was just a bit too much residual sugar on the Loosen Bros. wine. Regular visitors to this blog will probably know that I'm not opposed to a sweet undertone on my wine, but the Dr. L. wasn't so much of an undertone as a visit to the dentist waiting to happen.

Following a brief search, I couldn't find anything out about the Ernest Preiss winery. I believe this Riesling is the only "general listing" in our provincial liquor stores. There might be another varietal from the winery on local shelves but I didn't find any reference to one.

Ernest Preiss just might be a winery to watch for. My first try of one of their wines was enough to move the French directly into our World Cup of White Wine semi-final. I'm sure that ladies on the actual soccer field would be thrilled with a similar result.

As mentioned, before the real World Cup hits the semi-finals, these two countries have a round robin encounter but the game these two play is still a little ways down the road. We'll have to see if the result on the pitch is the same as our little wine match here. I have a feeling a French win on the soccer field will cause a bigger stir and be seen as more of an upset than tonight's win in the glass would ever be.

World Cup of White Wine

I think I got so wrapped up in the Canucks' recent and most excellent run in the Stanley Cup playoffs that I didn't turn my mind to other events coming up on the horizon. The drive to the finals went on for so long that I basically forgot that the Women's World Cup was nearly upon us. I was coming back from the Farmers' Market the other day and realized that I "hosted" a World Cup of Wine for the Men's World Cup a couple summers back. I figured that - in a world of chivalry and fairness - I needed to come up with something to celebrate the women. Particularly since the Canada Women's team is ranked 6th in the world heading into the World Cup.

Since the Men's World Cup of Wine was premised on red wine, it seemed like a no-brainer to come up with a Women's World Cup of Wine that features white wine. I suppose I could have gone with pink wines, but that's just a tad precious methinks.

The easy part was to come up with the concept. As is oft the case, the difficulty was in the details. I needed a format - quickly. There are only sixteen countries entering the World Cup and they don't all produce white wines - especially white wines sold in the Vancouver market. As tough as it might seem to believe, I don't think there are many - or more likely "any" - North Korean, Brazilian, Nigerian or even Swedish wines available on Vancouver shelves.

Going through the teams that made it to the World Cup, I found six countries that have white wines ready for the quaffing. As it turns out, there are two from North America (Canada and the US), two from Europe (France and Germany) and two from Oceania (Australia and New Zealand). Other great possibilities - like Chile, Argentina, Italy and South Africa - just didn't qualify for the competition.

I'm dealing with a limited number here. Six isn't even enough to go directly to the quarter finals grid. So, a little continental qualifier competition was the way to start. We'll determine a continental champion and take it from there.

First up, Oceania.

Australia vs New Zealand

Seeing as how this is only the first round, I figured I should keep the bottle price to under $20. Accordingly, I ended up opening a perennial darling of local wine scribes (the Clancy's) and a bottle that I'd picked up at the 2010 Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival when New Zealand was a featured region (along with Argentina). I don't even know if I could find the Kiwi wine in Vancouver today, but I still had it around; so, it works for me.

837. 2009 Peter Lehmann Clancy's Legendary White (South Australia)

838. 2007 Omaka Springs Riesling (Marlborough - New Zealand)

The Clancy's is a classic Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend, while the Omaka Springs is a straight Riesling varietal - despite the fact that I (along with likely everyone else) normally associate the Kiwis with Sauv Blanc.

I think the Kiwis might be hitting a new stride with Riesling. One of the most identifiable characteristics about New Zealand Sauv Blanc is the bracing acidity and that acidity can be just as prominent with the best known Aussie Rieslings (think Clare Valley). I suppose there was a distinct possibility of an overwhelming acidity with this Riesling as well. While there was still plenty of acidity on the Omaka Springs, it wasn't a dominating presence and it rather complimented the slight honeyed effect of the fruit coming through on the palate.

I think the general conclusion in wine circles is that it's tough to go wrong with a Peter Lehmann wine, particularly with its consistent entry level wines. Eminently quaffable on a summer afternoon, the Clancy's White was definitely the zestier of the two wines, but its overall profile was maybe a little more one-dimensional than the Riesling.

This wasn't a slam dunk but the Kiwis are going to take the win and move on directly to the semi-finals. I don't know that a match on the field would have yielded the same result but I'm going to give the Kiwis a 2-1 win. The one disappointment about the Omaka Springs is that there were only a thousand cases made. I doubt that there's much of a chance of finding any more around.

And, with that, our World Cup of White Wine is up and running.

Monday, June 27, 2011

#99 - Not Wayne Gretzky Though

Boo and I were heading off to the granddaddy of all Vancouver community gardens - the Strathcona Gardens - to take a look around this afternoon. I won't say that we need a little inspiration for our own community plot in our neighbourhood but it is nice to visit and wander around and see what other folks set out to accomplish in their plots once in awhile.

The Strathcona Gardens features hundreds of community plots while our little affair has fewer than twenty, so the variety of activities is way more comprehensive. Hoping to catch a bit of excitement (even if the inspiration wasn't needed), I brought along a half bottle of wine that I thought would match the feel of the garden.

The grandeur of the garden was only matched by the excitement of the fact that this bottle was yet another new varietal to add to my Wine Century Club application. Indeed, it's number 99 (I suppose I really should go back and do a full inventory before I send in the completed application).

If I'd really been thinking, I would have opened a bottle of Canadian hockey legend, Wayne Gretzky's, wine - his being #99 and all. I don't think he produces a wine involving a varietal that I haven't blogged already though. I'll just have to figure out another way to work him into the blog.

836. 2007 Braida Giacomo Bologna Brachetto d'Acqui (DOCG Brachetto d'Acqui - Italy)

I've had a sweet spot (pun intended) for Brachetto d'Acqui ever since I first remember trying it in a flight of sparkling wines in Vegas many years ago. It's still pretty rare to find it on Vancouver wine shelves; so, I was pleased to find a bottle awhile back. I just needed an occasion to open it - and a garden stroll seemed like a fine option.

The Brachetto grape is believed to be native to the Piedmont region of Italy. Indeed, I don't think I've heard of it being grown anywhere much farther afield. It is a red grape that can be used to produce either still or sparkling wines - but it's most famous use is probably as a frizzante styled wine, usually with some residual sweetness. It's been referred to as a red equivalent of Moscato d'Asti (also from the Piedmont area) and that seems like an accurate description based on the couple of times I've tried it.

There is, apparently, a long tradition of a sweet, red wine generating from the region - to the degree that there are references, dating from Ancient Rome, to a vinum acquiense (wine of Acqui) and its sweet flavours that were a favourite with patricians of the time. Legend also has it that Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony gave the wine to Cleopatra as a gift and that she believed its flavours helped to unleash the passions of her lovers.

Its powers for "passion" continue today as it is often recommended as a perfect wine for Valentine's Day.

DOCG, or appellation, guidelines require that Brachetto d'Acqui be made from 100% of the varietal; however, those requirements also have lower minimum levels for alcohol than are generally seen with wine. Accordingly, the wine is often found with levels approaching as low as 5% alcohol. All the better to wine and dine your sweetie with - and not have them pass out once the bottle is finished. How romantic is that?!

As for the winery, Braida is a leading winery in Piedmont and is perhaps best known for pioneering production practices with the Barbera grape. During the 1980's - and parallel with the advent of the Super Tuscans - Braida began harvesting its grapes later in the season, lowering the yields in its vineyards and introducing the use of oak barriques instead of the larger oak botti that had previously been used to age local wines. All of these techniques led to a wine more complex and layered than the local Barberas that had previously been produced - and its prominence was raised to new levels.

I'm not sure if Braida Barberas are even available locally but I'd certainly be willing to give one a try given the opportunity.

In the mean time, I'll celebrate with my Brachetto and my #99. Not to mention a little more passion in our lives.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Catching Up

Boo's birthday had come about during the week and, due to his schedule at work, we didn't get the best of chances to celebrate. I therefore thought that, after the fact, we could celebrate with one of the bottles that his brother had sent up from the States. Not being a wine drinker himself, Boo's bro was quick to wonder why we'd even want any wines from the South sent up here. I think the phrase went something like, "This ain't no California you know."

He knows that Boo has a thing for Scuppernong though and this is the second of those wines that he exported our way.

835. N.V. Hinnant Family Vineyards Scuppernong (North Carolina - USA)

As mentioned, this is the second bottle of Scuppernong wine that I'm adding to The List. We opened another bottle back at Christmas, at #669 on The List. I went into the history of the Scuppernong grape and its prominence in the Carolinas at that time. So, I won't just repeat myself all over again here.

The Hinnant family appears to have started out growing Scuppernong and other table grapes for market sale - much like the other Scuppernong producer we tried, Duplin. Starting in 2003, however, the Hinnants opened the doors of their new winery. They now produce around a dozen wines - from both fruit and grapes - but the majority of the wines are produced from Muscadine grapes - of which the Scuppernong is one.

The wine is sweet and made to accompany dessert. I wouldn't say that it's as sophisticated as an icewine or a botrytis-infected wine though. It lacks that accompanying acidity to associate it with those sweet wines, but it's pleasant enough to finish dinner off with.

The Hinnant website says that, with their Scuppernong, you can "Taste the southern memories of sitting under the vines with every sip." Maybe that's what Boo likes so much about it. It reminds him of growing up in the South. Rather appropriate, I think, for a birthday toast and sip.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Little Bordeaux to Perk Up With

Admittedly, my postings have dropped off a bit since the Canucks lost that Game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals to Boston. I guess the good news about the lack of writing isn't a direct result of my falling into a deep, alcoholic funk. Likewise, it's not because I've been out golfing with the Canucks. Just been a bit busy is all.

Finishing off a couple of bottles, where that vintage is already on The List, helps a little bit as well. Turns out two bottles that we had this week are already consumed, counted and, so it would seem, simply around for the drinking. I'd already added a 2002 Golden Mile Meritage and the 2005 Golden Mile Black Arts Chardonnay at numbers 24 and 294. So, that relieves a little pressure on my catching up. Which brings me to...

834. 2005 Chateau de Parenchère (AOC Bordeaux Supérieur - France)

Encyclopedic books get written on the topic of and countless wine careers concentrate solely on Bordeaux wines; so, there's no chance I'm going to try and explain my way around this wine in anything more than a cursory way. Not that I'm cursing the wine at all.

There are 60 different appellations in the Bordeaux region - from very specific sub-regions that produce the spectacular wines that you might first think of when you hear someone mention "Bordeaux" to more generic and accessible wines. Being a Bordeaux Supérieur, the grapes for this wine can come from anywhere in the entire region, although wineries do face stricter production requirements than those making a general Bordeaux AOC wine would encounter. The wines are generally seen as being more concentrated and complex, with more structured tannins, than a generic Bordeaux.

Although the winery could source its grapes from anywhere in the region, Chateau de Parenchère produces its wines on an estate only basis, the estate consisting of approximately 156 acres that are located on the far eastern edge of the Bordeaux region.

The winery also produces a white wine, a rosé and a slightly more premium version of the Bordeaux Supérieur but the wine we're trying counts for more than half of the winery's total production. The wine is traditional in its approach to the varietals used, with almost equal percentages of Merlot and Cab Sauv making up the bulk of the blend. Up to 10% of the blend consists of Cab Franc (mostly) and Malbec.

We don't tend to drink a lot of French wines at our house and I don't know that this bottle did a whole lot to make us change our drinking habits. Chateau de Parenchère is consistently identified as being one of the better Bordeaux Supérieur producers out there though. The wine definitely drank better with dinner than it did on its own, but maybe that's just the whole Old World vs. New World approach. The fruit just didn't come through enough on the palate to sing out to me.

With 2005 supposedly being a marvelous vintage for Bordeaux wines, I guess I was just hoping for a little more excitement in my glass.

Or maybe I'm just still depressed over the Canucks and nothing is going to taste good for awhile.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Before and After

It's a rare opportunity to see your local sports team play for one of the biggest trophies in professional sports - and one of the toughest to win at that. Vancouver has been abuzz for weeks and months about the Canucks and how this is going to be our year. Now, with the team having been around for forty years in and still no Cup to show for all those years of effort, just like 17 years ago, it's come down to one last shot at winning the Cup.

And, as I mentioned in the last post, I wasn't even going to get to watch the whole game. Boo, my sis, Vixen, the nieces, Stargirl and Skeletor, and I are off to Oz to see Wicked. And what a "wicked" night it turned out to be!

I'm naturally a bit behind in my postings; so, no one is going to be surprised by the news that the Canucks lost the game - and lost badly. And, again, it's no surprise to say that the City of Vancouver lost an awful lot itself - in terms of its reputation as a world class city and destination.

But that wasn't the case at the start of the evening. We had the girls come by our place for the first period of the game and for some pre-show dinner. Despite the fact that Stargirl has turned "sweet sixteen," she's still not joining us in our glasses of wine. A tad surprising, I must admit, given her mother's and both her uncles' fine appreciation of the grape. Guess that still might come in time. For the time being, however, it just meant there was more wine for us to enjoy.

I wasn't sure how much of the game we'd get to watch before we had to leave, but given it was the last game of the Finals, I figured a white and a red from our series winery, Mission Hill, would be a nice way to bring things to a close.

832. 2002 Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (VQA Okanagan Valley)

833. 2009 Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Gris (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Given the nature of the evening, I'm not going into any detail about the wine except to say, "Too bad the wine was better than the game." As badly as we were all crying out for the Cup, we kind of ended up crying into our wine glasses. We managed to watch two periods of the game before we had to leave for the theatre, but the game's result was pretty much a foregone conclusion by then. Boston's shorthanded goal, making it 3-0, just before we left didn't leave us with a whole lot of hope as we hit the road. Good thing the wine had left us with a happy glow.

Boo and I had seen Wicked in NYC (in fact, I believe one of the earlier entries on the blog raved about it), but none of the girls had seen it. As much as I'd hated the fact that our tickets were on the same night as the game, it did mean that I didn't have to sit through the whole fiasco on the ice. We got to escape the sad ending to everything. In fact, we actually saw a bit of the revelry that had taken over the streets since the theatre was located right next to one of the giant screens that had been set up on a closed Georgia Street.

I mention "revelry" because the city had seen a whole lot of celebration in the streets leading up to the final game. And things didn't seem a whole lot different to us as we waited to go into the theatre. There wasn't a lot of time left in the game when we left the street for the theatre and there was no chance that the Canucks could make a comeback - but we certainly didn't know that there would be even more "wickedness" in the streets than there was on the stage.

Shortly after our show started, the now infamous Hockey Riot broke out. Indeed, before we went into the theatre, we probably weren't standing more than 20 feet from where the first truck was flipped and torched. We had no idea, however, of what was going on outside the show. Our first indication was an announcement at the intermission that the theatre was telling everyone "to stay inside for your own safety because of what was happening outside." I've never seen so many people go straight to their phones.

There were various vantage points in the lobby that gave some indication of what was going on outside - and we knew it had to be bad. We could hear the odd blast of what we assumed were tear gas canisters and we could see the smoke and fire of the two police cars that had been flipped and torched. In fact, Boo caught a picture on his cell phone. Most of the "action" must have moved on from our location though because we couldn't see a whole lot of people in the streets. My assumption is that, considering what we saw on the news afterwards, the rioters had moved over to other parts of the downtown core.

The show went on, however, and, despite rumours being bandied about before the curtain went up, we didn't have any further interruptions or indications that the problems outside were continuing. It wasn't until, at the end of the show, we were asked to remain in our seats while the theatre liaised with the police to determine our best means of escaping the bedlam, that we wondered how everything was really going to end. It was sweet to see one of the leads in the show call out to everyone in the audience, "Get home safely," as the cast finished their bows.

To make a long story short, we left the theatre in about a half and hour's time and had a very uneventful trip home on the Skytrain. We had no real idea of the gravity of the riot until we started watching it on the news when we got home.

It's enough to drive a guy to drink! There'll likely be another chance for the Canucks to win the Stanley Cup - even though it might not be as soon as next year. I'll be there when the boys hit the playoffs - with more BC wineries to showcase - but this year's was sure no Broadway happy ending.

At least the girls loved the show on the stage - if not the one in the streets.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Greek White to Help Prepare for Battle

As the Canucks prepare to go into battle tomorrow for a winner-take-all Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, I'm grabbing a last wine for a little fortitude. Maybe a bit of Greek wine will help summon some fortitude for a classic, if not mythological, win for Vancouver sports lore.

Before we get to the wine, however, I'm going to share an ad that was posted on Craig's List regarding a Canucks ticket from last week. As soon as the schedule for the Finals series was released, I'd been praying that the series wouldn't need to go to seven games to determine the winner. For three or four months now, we've had tickets to go see the touring production of the Broadway musical, Wicked, and, wouldn't you know it, our tickets are for tomorrow night - the same night as Game 7. Is that the worst of luck or what?!

The guy who posted the ad was in a similar situation - although he was actually going to the game.

Here's the ad:

Single Ticket Canucks Game 2 section 313 - $450 (Vancouver)

I have to sell my ticket to the Canucks game 2, section 313 row 14. Hard Copy ticket

I am unable to go because I have to go to a fucking piece of shit musical with my wife (whom I love). I had agreed to go, and since the NHL decided to make the most retarded schedule they could, I have to give up my ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals to see some piece of shit musical with some bitches singing about some crap I don't care about. It's a terrible seat, you will have a terrible time at the game, the beer tastes like crap and costs $10 each... Price is firm because I don't want to sell it.

e-mail me.

Even though I've really been looking forward to seeing the musical, I feel his pain. I don't know if he'd have made the same decision if the ticket was for Game 7.

831. 2009 Lafazanis Selection White (Regional Wine of Peloponnese - Greece)

The Selection White is pretty much an entry level wine - although we don't tend to see many, if any, higher end, white Greek wines. The wine is a blend of two Greek varietals - Roditis and Moschofilero (a 55/45 blend) - both of which are prominently grown in the Peloponnese region. It's pretty much what I've come to expect from a Greek white - on the lighter side, with prominent fruit and acidity. Not too complicated but a good match to summer weather, tzatsiki, hummous and garlicky seafood (like Boo's squid pasta).

And, there's that little extra bonus of being able to add a 98th varietal to my Wine Century Club application. Roditis was added awhile back but I don't see Moschofilero on my list yet. Just like the Canucks, it looks like I'm zeroing in on the completion of a task that I've set out there for myself. Perhaps it's a tad easier to accomplish than winning the Stanley Cup, but then I'm a little old to have any aspirations of being a professional hockey player. And, don't they always say that you should stick to what you do best. Drink different wines or play hockey - you pick. Besides, I could never skate backwards.

But, back to the wine, the Lafazanis winery is apparently found in the historical and archeological region of Nemea - not far from the ancient Temple of Hercules. Some of the sentiments accompanying this wine could come in handy for tomorrow - a little Herculean effort on the part of our Canucks might just bring the Cup to Vancouver for that elusive first time.

Not that I'll get to watch all of the game. Until then...

Misery Loves Company

In the hope that we might be celebrating the Canucks' first ever Stanley Cup win, we invited some friends and neighbours over to watch Game 6 and cheer the boys on. I'd mentioned to everyone coming that I was featuring Mission Hill wines on the blog for this series and, lo and behold, another three bottles showed up.

My hope for this series was that, if and when the Canucks won the Cup, I'd open a 3L bottle of Mission Hill Shiraz that I picked up at a fundraiser so many years back. With Mission Hill as the "series winery" and seeing as how winning the Stanley Cup would definitely be an event worthy of popping a cork like that, I thought this would be the perfect occasion.

I suppose some things never turn out the way they were meant to...

828. 2008 Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz (VQA Okanagan Valley)

829. 2007 Mission Hill SLC Syrah (VQA Okanagan Valley)

It was interesting that everyone, that brought a red wine, brought a Shiraz or a Syrah out of all the different wines that Mission Hill produces. Of course,Shiraz and Syrah are the same grape but I guess Mission Hill is large enough that it can try producing two different styles - one with its flavour profile a little more in Old World styling and the other boldly going New World - not that any of us would have determined the differing styles as we tried the two wines.

It was also intriguing that my 3L bottle was a Shiraz as well. We had a regular little theme going on here.

I have to admit that we didn't get too much into the merits of the Syrah vs. Shiraz or the Select Lot Collection vs. the Reserve wine. We simply drank away - especially since it didn't take that long for the Boston Bruins to jump out to yet another big lead. Not sure what it is about the Canucks playing in Boston these playoffs, but the Bruins sure seem to have our number when they're at home.

I think that, rather than any serious wine tasting, we were simply drinking to drown our sorrows. In some ways it was good that I had to tend to opening bottles and setting out nibblies and queueing up the BBQ because I had sunk to spewing a litany of blue streaked epithets by the time it was 4-0. I will say that Mr. Cool was ever optimistic of a comeback and, when the Canucks scored early in the third period, even I was ready to say there's always a chance of OT - especially when they came within a video review of making it 4-2 shortly thereafter.

Ultimately, the score only got worse and it became clear that the only fun to be had was going to be generated by eating and drinking and making happy with friends.

830. 2006 Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnay (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Elzee brought along our lone white wine - which was a very good thing since it matched up far better with Mimster's sushi tray than our selection of reds did. The winery called 2006 "a year to remember" and this was certainly an enjoyable wine. It's half the price of the Perpetua Chardonnay we had the other night, but I think I actually enjoyed this one even more. Perhaps the 2006 vintage did play a big part in the wine's profile because I'd mentioned in the Perpetua post that I'd remembered enjoying the earlier vintage more that the 2007 we were drinking.

Too bad there aren't more of these 2006's around for the drinking - because this wine was far more enjoyable than the game's outcome. You knew by its fullness that the wine had seen some oak and had been aged sur lie but the oak was very discreet and there was an abundance of fruit coming through the structured body. This is the kind of Chardonnay that I'd having no problem buying more often.

I'd also like to buy a few more goals for the Canucks. With tonight's loss, the series is tied at three games apiece. It all comes down to one final game. There are going to be a few prayers offered up by Vancouverites over the next couple of days.

Amidst all the prayers and supplications, I'll just need to hope that it wasn't me that brought about the loss. That 3L bottle of Mission Hill I was hoping to open had the Canucks won - well, turns out we had already drank it. Must have been some time ago because I certainly didn't write about it during the last two years that this blog's been in existence. Darned if I can remember when we opened it though. When I found the empty bottle and box, I had to wonder if someone had found it during a party and secretly knocked it back. I seriously doubt it, but maybe Boo and I just opened it, finished it off ourselves and promptly forgot having downed three litres of wine. I don't know which was more disappointing - the loss on the ice or not being able to enjoy that special bottle.

In any event, I'd like to forget tonight's game but I'm keeping the faith. If it takes a Game 7 to win the Cup, so be it!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bacchus - A Varietal Fit For A God

It would seem that the NHL has decided to give us the weekend off as far as games in the Stanley Cup Final go. So, the Mission Hill wines for the series will have to wait until Monday's game, but I'm not going the weekend without any wine. So, I figured I might as well stay on a somewhat "competitive" note and open a bottle that will give me another varietal in my quest to conquer the Wine Century Club application.

I'm going to have to go back and tweak the list (which can be seen as one of the side page or panel options) and make sure that everything is copasetic but a quick glance looks like, by adding tonight's varietal, I'm now at 97.

827. 2009 Domaine de Chaberton Bacchus (VQA Fraser Valley)

I'd recently added a Domaine de Chaberton wine to The List (#783) back at Easter and was surprised to learn as much as I did about the winery's history as one of the oldest and largest wineries in the province. I'd heard about them for years but had never really patronized their wines. During that bit of research, I'd seen that the winery considers Bacchus to be its signature grape. It seemed like a no-brainer to grab a bottle and give it a try.

Back in the 1980's, when the original folks behind Domaine de Chaberton started setting the groundwork for the first winery in the Fraser Valley, they planted an assortment of vines to see which, if any, would flourish. Knowing that the Valley, located just 45 minutes outside of Vancouver doesn't exactly boast the growing season and heat of the Okanagan, that selection included primarily Germanic whites. Bacchus was one of the varietals that quickly established itself and, indeed, some of the winery's Bacchus vines are now 30 years old - placing them among some of the oldest grape vines in the province.

Named after the Roman god of wine, the varietal was developed in the 1930's at a German grape research institute and was created by taking a Sylvaner x Riesling cross and crossing that with the Müller-Thurgau varietal. Once the offspring received varietal protection, it was made available for general cultivation in the 1970's. Known to ripen early and have expressive fruit, it is sometimes seen as a possible replacement for Riesling in regions where the latter doesn't fully ripen on a reliable basis. It is not know for its high acidity, however, which can be less than ideal for making varietal white wines.

Accordingly, growing Bacchus has largely remained centred in Germany but, even there, the varietal is often used for blending and, in 2006, only constituted around 2% of all plantings in the country. Considering the varietal's low profile on the wine shelf, it might be somewhat surprising to learn that a 2010 BC Wine Institute study shows Bacchus to be the 8th most planted white varietal in the province - also constituting about 2% of provincial production.

Domaine de Chaberton actually produces two versions of its Bacchus - its standard label, slightly off-dry bottle, that we tried and a dry version (that I didn't see in the store where I found this bottle). We didn't have a whole lot of spice or heat to our butter chicken but the touch of sweetness and big fruit went well with the richness of the dinner and would match nicely with spicy Asian cuisine.

I'd have no problem reaching for another bottle. In fact, at $14.50 a bottle, it's quite a nice little find when looking for a wine with this flavour profile.

Game 5 - A Clutch Game If There Ever Was One

Two rather nasty games in Boston. Just as soon put them out of my mind, thank you very kindly. Don't even bother to ask what time it is? 12 past Luongo got tired rather quickly over the last couple of days. But we're back in VanCity and the whole city is hoping that the real Canucks show up tonight. I don't think anyone would give our guys much of a chance if they go back to Boston for Game 6 being down 3 games to 2.

I'm out of the big gun, Mission Hill Legacy Series wines now, but I'll just have to hope that tonight's wine will have enough ooompf (a very technical wine term) to propel the Canucks to a big win. I wouldn't say that it's exactly lacking in pedigree. Ryan Kesler may be on the canucks' second line, but I don't think anyone would argue that he's not top tier quality.

825. 2006 Mission Hill Select Lot Collection Merlot (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Having mentioned its "pedigree," I suppose I should point out that this wine won a Gold Medal at the 2010 All Canadian Wine Championships. And, despite being a 2006 vintage, I think this is still the current release for the SLC Merlot. Nice of the winery to age the wine for us as long as they have. A "gold medal" may be more appropriate for hockey at the Olympics, but I think the whole idea of being the best at your game is a pretty good call for the Canucks at tonight's game.

The SLC label may not be part of the Legacy Series but it is still considered a premium wine for Mission Hill. I don't know for certain, but I believe the grapes chosen for this wine are easily of the calibre used in the Legacy wines; however, these grapes can come from more than just the single vineyard used in that series.

I can see - and taste - why the wine did as well as it did at the 2010 competition. We haven't necessarily been drinking a lot of 100% varietal Merlot from BC of late - but this has a profile that could clearly convince me to try more if all BC Merlots were this good.

Rich and well structured, it's big for a BC Merlot, but it doesn't over-power you with its fruit or any other component. The winemaking team showed some restraint in trying to extract every last iota from the grapes - and I'm grateful for it.

Too bad that, at $40 a bottle, I'll pretty much have to keep it to special occasions - like a Stanley Cup playoff game - to reach for one.

Other than having had a fine bottle of wine, I'm more than happy to say that the bottle did it's job and the Canucks pulled off a 1-0 win. Vancouver is a happy town and the team now has two chances to win one game AND the Stanley Cup.

In fact, I was so enthralled that I opened another bottle that I'd been keeping on hand to celebrate this third win. (it just took a little longer to be opened than I'd hoped.)

826. 2005 Mission Hill Reserve Late Harvest Riesling (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Considering what a sucker I am for dessert wines, ports and stickies, we don't tend to drink many of them. I guess it's easy to buy a bottle and end up putting it away with all the other "special occasion" wines that never seem to get opened. Good thing a third win in the Stanley Cup Finals is about as "special" an occasion as there can be - especially when you consider that the Canucks have only ever done that once before in their existence and that was 17 years ago. I guess I can admit that I was old enough to be drinking at that time; I don't, however, think I was drinking wines of this calibre.

Despite being a Late Harvest wine, the grapes for this wine weren't harvested until February 2, 2006. If the winery left the grapes on the vine for that length of time, my guess would have to be that the principals just didn't feel that the remaining winter weather was going to get cold enough to dip to the requisite temperatures needed to qualify for icewine. Otherwise, why would you wait that long? Our gain though - since icewine can standardly be double the price of a late harvest wine.

During this Finals series and all the Mission Hill wines, I've mentioned a couple of the winery's fine showings in international competitions. There's no doubt that BC produces some of the finest late harvest and icewines in the world. Tasting this, it's easy to see why. If, like me, you can drink glass after glass of full, fruity, sweet, aromatic wines that kick back with a nice brace of acidity, this bottle won't disappoint. You'll just need to find that "special occasion" because at $30 a half-bottle, the wine just disappears a little too quickly from my glass to make it a regular occurrence.

Hopefully, I don't have to wait for another third win in a finals series before I open another.

Now, the task will be to pick a wine that's, hopefully, good enough to drink from the Stanley Cup. One more win will do it!! Keep those cheers loud!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pulling Out A Big Gun Chardy

I think it's fair to say that no one, not even me, thought that the Canucks would sweep the Bruins and win the Stanley Cup in four games. Wildest dreams, maybe. But "thought?" Nah. We knew that the first two games had been close in Vancouver but, with Vancouver winning both games, the hope of a split in Boston and a marvelous 3-1 lead was pretty appealing.

Game 3's blow out wasn't exactly something that had been contemplated. But everyone was gunning for the fact that tonight's Game 4 was going to see the real Canucks hit the ice and give the Bruins - and their rabid fans - a spirited run for their money. Or so the hope was.

824. 2007 Mission Hill Perpetua Chardonnay (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Knowing the importance of this game and that, being an away game, the Canucks would be playing in their white jerseys, I thought it'd be appropriate to bring out a bottle of Mission Hill's top white - their Perpetua Chardonnay and its one-of-a-kind packaging, with the embossed, metal label.

Mission Hill's 1992 Chardonnay probably did as much as any one wine to bring BC winemaking to the world's attention. The winery's new, at the time, winemaker, John Simes, had just arrived and he convinced owner, Anthony von Mandl, that some of the newly-harvested fruit was so good that it would be worth it to separate those grapes and give them the royal treatment. The chosen grapes were used in the 1992 Grand Reserve Chardonnay and it went on to win Top Chardonnay at the 1994 International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. When the judges were advised of the winner, they were taken with such surprise that a re-tasting was held to make sure that a mistake hadn't been made. It was the first serious international wine award given to a BC wine - or Canadian wine period - and it set the wheels in motion for another level of seriousness in BC winemaking.

Perpetua is a spiritual offspring of that 1992 vintage. The wine is part of the Legacy Series and is the only white wine to be produced and marketed at that level. The fruit is all sourced from a single vineyard south of Osoyoos, right at the Canada-US border. It is one of the first estate vineyards established by Mission Hill and they planted three Chardonnay clones on the site.

Befitting of its premium stature, you know that this Perpetua has seen enough oak to lend itself to the wine's structure. The good thing (for me) is that the oak is restrained - noticeable but not overpowering. About a quarter of the wine is aged, sur lie, in new French oak for about 8 months. The rest of the juice is aged in stainless steel to maintain the fruit that is indicative of the BC terroir.

This 2007 vintage is only the second to be released. I recall the wine first coming to my attention when we tried the 2006 at an Australian Wine Appreciation Society Chardonnay Challenge tasting - where it finished near the top of 15 wines that included the likes of Australian icon, Leeuwin Estate Artist Series. I was one of the participants that ranked the Perpetua near the top; however, I remember that vintage as having a more enjoyable presence that this 2007. I guess it all comes down to the vintage and the circumstances where you're tasting the wine.

Our circumstances were anything but favourable for this bottle. The Canucks had another nasty outing, being shut out 4-0. Canuck goalie, Roberto Luongo, was even pulled, having let 12 goals get past him in the past two games in Boston. That fact led to the joke of the day being: "What time is it in Boston? 12 past Luongo." Ouch.

Not even the Perpetua could save this game.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Bona Fide Shellacking

Okay, I'll give you that both of the first two games between the Canucks and Bruins were tight. I think it's safe to say that everyone expected the same to be true when the series moved to Boston for Games 3 and 4 - particularly the way that Tim Thomas, the Boston goalie, was playing. It is, after all, the Stanley Cup Finals.

CBC Radio's local afternoon show, On The Coast with Stephen Quinn, hosted a contest to take the title of a movie, book or play and mash it up with the Canucks-Boston series. And, indeed, as a tip of the hat to Thomas' performances in goal, my entry was to take "The Importance of Being Earnest" and turn it into "The Importance of Beating Thomas." Not a winner, I'm afraid. I did get some chuckles and nods from some of my more literary friends but Boo just went "Huh?" I did like my neighbour, Baby Mama's entry, "When Henrik Met Salo," though.

It's just as well that I didn't win because the prize involved special seats to view Game 3 in the outdoor viewing zone that's been set up at CBC Plaza. Not only would we not have been able to bring along a bottle of Mission Hill, but it was one helluva stinker of a game. The Canucks lost 8-1: one of the most lopsided games in a Cup Finals series ever.

I don't know that I'd have wanted to stick around for the whole game - especially without a drink in hand!

823. 2009 Mission Hill Reserve Riesling (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I can't remember having tried a bottle of Mission Hill Riesling before. I generally have a selection of BC Rieslings on hand at any one time and Mission Hill's version hasn't made it to the annual purchase list yet. I tend to think of big reds when it comes to Mission Hill because of all the effort they put into their iconic wines - Oculus, Quatrain and Compendium (although I haven't had a bottle of the latter yet).

The Riesling was nice in that it had some striking acidity but there was still enough fruit coming through to make it easy enough to sip without food. I think it trended towards acidity rather than any residual sugar though - and I think I'm coming to the conclusion that my favourite Rieslings have to feature at least a smidgen of sweet - even if it's simply accomplished by a lighter touch of acidity on the finish.

I do know that the Riesling was still a whole lot nicer than the outcome of the game was. I'm certainly glad that we were at home for the game so that I could pour another glass to lessen the disappointment. Hopefully, the Canucks will show up for Game 4.

Italian Day on The Drive

Have I exclaimed recently on this blog that "I LOVE MY NEIGHBOURHOOD!"?

East Van and The Drive may not be the toniest of VanCity's neighbourhoods but, in my book, it's got more than enough character to make up for that perceived "shortcoming." Today's a prime example of The Drive at its best. For the second year running, the city and The Drive have shut down about a mile of Commercial to traffic to try and revive the old tradition that was shut down twenty years ago.

The street becomes awash in countless folks strolling along, taking in all the food stalls and cultural activities. And, fortunately, Mother nature decided to award us with stellar weather - unlike last year's torrential downpour. There's a certain cachet in listening to opera under an umbrella, but it's way livelier to groove away to all sorts of impromptu street dancing and deejays blasting everything from underground club and Italian folk songs to Jamaican dub reggae.

Of course, there was no avoiding the ubiquitous signs of the Canucks and the playoff run - even though The Drive might be more associated with the various "ethnic" celebrations that erupt after big wins on the international soccer scene. We particularly enjoyed the street hockey game pitting stilted bruisers against one of the smallest goalies you'll ever see in your life. Not that she understood the slightest thing about what was happening, she earned a shutout during the time that we watched.

We strolled over to the celebration during the late afternoon and, as much as the Italian sausages, pizza and grilled sardines kept calling out to Boo and I, the attendant line ups didn't look nearly as appetizing and we decided to just mosey on home and whip up a little bit of Italy ourselves. Plus, it meant that I could grab a nice bottle of Italian wine to savour through the evening.

822. 2001 Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (DOCG Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - Italy)

I didn't really know anything about Carpineto and, to be honest, I don't even recall how we came about adding this bottle to the cellar. I do, however, know that I generally find Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to be among my favourite Italian wines - maybe that's because the term "Nobile" seems to come from the fact that, in the past, the wine's production was reserved exclusively for the aristocratic, noble families of the town. I also love the way that it trips off the tongue. It just sounds delicious.

And, lucky for us, it tasted that way as well. Made from the Sangiovese clone, Prugnolo Gentile, I found the wine to have a bigger mouthfeel and a lower acidity than we tend to find in the Chiantis that are available locally.

After a bit of research, I now see that the Carpineto winery was only founded in 1967 in Tuscany. That makes it a bit of a youngster in a region where some wineries have been in production for centuries. The folks behind Carpineto wanted to try and take a bit of a different take on winemaking in Tuscany. They started off by helping to introduce modernized viticultural and production practises in the hope of exceeding some of the historical production standards in the region.

It seems to be working - at least with this wine - as it was a wonderful way to cap off Italian Day.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Hockey & B-Day's

If you've been reading any of the recent posts, you may well conclude that there's nothing going on lately but sitting back with some wine while we watch yet another playoff hockey game. Actually that's more-or-less true, but I won't complain because it's pretty much a requirement if you have the slightest hope in seeing the Canucks finally win the Stanley Cup.

There a few things, however, that continue to come along - even if they "conflict" with hockey. One of those inevitable events is getting older and tonight, in addition to the hockey game that ended around 8pm, we're going to drop into the neighbours' for a bit of a birthday get-together for Arty400.

I always like seeing what wine Arty400 and Baby Mama are serving up. I've run across a couple nice finds there - particularly since Arty400 has a little friendship going with Barb Phillip, Vancouver's resident Wine Master.

821. 2009 Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Syrah-Shiraz (California)

I don't know if this wine was a recommendation of Barb's or not, but it was a good little find because I doubt it's one that I would have gravitated to on my own. I've tried a few Coppola wines at tastings over the years, but I can't recall ever having bought any. Indeed, upon checking my program, it seems the winery was serving this very wine at the recent Vancouver Playhouse WineFestival. I didn't even get around to trying it.

Part of the Coppola Diamond Collection of mid-range wines, I don't know the reasoning for calling it a Syrah-Shiraz. To the uninitiated, it might appear to be a blend of two varietals - when, indeed, Syrah and Shiraz varietals are the same grape. Maybe it's meant to be an indication that the winemaker, Corey Beck, is looking to bridge the whole New World/Old World look at producing this varietal. If that's the intent, the addition of 20% Petite Sirah to heighten "depth and structure" is an interesting means to doing so.

But b-days are more about ensuring the birthday boy knows just how old he's getting. They're not (generally) meant for dissecting wines.

Now, Arty400 - unlike certain people - isn't nearly as, naturally, caught up in the whole playoff scene. It was interesting to see that even he couldn't have a birthday completely devoid of hockey. One of his presents was a set of pins of the twins - Canucks Daniel and Henrik (in the picture in front of the wine bottle). I'd never seen those before and they seemed entirely appropriate for a wine that featured two names for the same grape.

What the pins and twins did prompt was Baby Mama to remind us all about - and find on Youtube - the NHL commercial of the stag party featuring the "myth" of Swedish Twins from a few years back. A good laugh.

And, as if to enforce the notion that there was no avoiding hockey for the moment - whether you wanted to or not - even Arty400's kids had taken to taping a poster to the front door. Albeit, it was a cute take on the ubiquitous "Go Canucks Go." Their "Coconuts Go!" sign was one for the ages.

I should be so witty.

Now, That's Overtime!

Now that the first game -and the first win - is behind the Canucks, there's been a huge sigh of relief in VanCity. There's even been a bit of opportunity for levity.

Amongst the cartoons, songs and videos, I think my favourite has been the YouTube posting A Boston Bruins Fan in Vancouver. It's been posted by Greg the Bruins Fan who, to quote the Province newspaper, "describes himself as a typical Boston Bruins fan who loves his mother, hates B.S. and thinks the Vancouver Canucks suck and have no chance at winning the Stanley Cup. He also likes to swear. Lots."

After being talked about for a day or two all over Vancouver media, it became evident that "Greg" is actually Vancouver stand-up comic, Andrew Barber. Regardless, it hit the spot and more than a couple funnybones.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention what's become one of my favourite parts of Canuck home games: the singing of the national anthem. Over the last so many years, Mark Donnelly has created a totemic experience - one that continually gets me all gushy. If you haven't seen him perform, he sings the first four lines of the Canadian anthem and, then, he just spreads his arms and leaves it to the stadium crowd to sing their hearts out for the next two verses when he joins back in to finish the anthem with a little operatic flourish. I don't think I ever hear an anthem sung with such conviction and enthusiasm by a sports crowd - anywhere else. I find it's even better than when the Olympics crowds spontaneously burst into song on Vancouver streets last year. And that's tough to beat!

But, believe it or not, there's Game 2 and another Mission Hill wine to contend with. Tonight, knowing the importance of this game, I'm trotting out two of biggest, big guns.

819. 2000 Mission Hill Oculus (VQA Okanagan Valley)

820. 2005 Mission Hill Oculus (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Oculus is Mission Hill's iconic and signature Meritage or Bordeaux inspired red wine. If Game 1's Quatrain is part of the winery's Legacy Series, the success of Oculus prepared the road for the creation of the Legacy Series. Since its introduction in 1997, Oculus has garnered heaps of praise - from far and wide - as one of "Canada's best red wines." Even noted British wine writer, Jancis Robinson, has opined that the "good news is that Canada does now make some truly world class wine - and not just their famous Icewine."

Seeing as how this was Game 2, I thought two vintages might be the way to go - and it would let us do a bit of a comparison. Both are classic blends of Bordeaux varietals; however, the blends have changed over the years. The 2000 was made of three grapes - Cab Sauv (55%), Merlot (30%) and Cab Franc (15%) - while the 2005 had added a fourth varietal into the mix and re-jigged the percentages: merlot (42%), Cab Sauv (27%), Cab Franc (20%) and Petit Verdot (10%).

The cork was a tad suspect on the 2000 but, luckily, the wine was still fine. It was showing some signs of age, but it was still full bodied and balanced. I might have expected Boo to like this vintage more because of the higher Cab Sauv content, but, like me, he actually preferred the 2005. Typically, for me, it was the fruit being more evident on the palate that swayed me.

Having endured another close game between the two teams, the Canucks managing to score mere seconds into Overtime made the wines even sweeter - not that I mean that in an off-dry sense.

The fact that, at $80 a bottle, Oculus now costs about the price of a cheap Canucks ticket (not during the playoffs though), we don't get the chance to open a bottle often at our place. Having opened two bottles tonight (although granted the earlier vintages didn't cost as much), I'm sure as heck glad that the Canucks pulled out the win.

It would seem that one of our neighbours (ones that we haven't met yet) did some celebrating of their own during the game. Shortly after it ended, a firetruck and an ambulance showed up on our block as first responders. Guess there'd been an accident involving a rather exuberant fan. I took advantage of the situation to take a shot of the one of our local firetrucks. They've been sporting Canucks flag off the back of the truck during the playoffs.

I told you the city is pretty much all on the bandwagon right now - and being up two games to nil in the Final is as exciting as it gets!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mission: Possible

We're here! The Stanley Cup Finals! It doesn't get any bigger than this for hockey fans and Canucks Nation has locked into the mania full force. I guess it shouldn't be that surprising. The Canucks have never actually won the Cup in its 40 year history and it's even been 17 years since the team has made it this far in the playoffs and had a chance to bring home the big prize. The fact that the Canucks are playing one of the original six NHL teams has only brought the furor to greater heights.

Go anywhere in town and you'll see Canucks jerseys, t-shirts, banners, car flags and everything else in between. And you know that I'm just as "guilty" as the rest of them. We've been flying the flag since April and the flag prompted my favourite moment of fan recognition this weekend. I was out putzing in the garden and I could hear a little girl continually repeating "Go Canucks Go!" There's been a lot of that lately. But, the tiny voice just kept going and going with the same phrase. Turns out she was out for a walk with her parents and she couldn't have been any older than two or three. As they strolled by our place, I mentioned to her folks that "I guess that's a pretty good phrase to know nowadays if you can't say a whole lot." Her mom said that the little gal's pre-school has been teaching everyone about the Canucks and the excitement they're causing. When she saw our flag, from about a block away, the words just came flowing out. And, as if just on queue, the little sweetheart pointed to our flag and chimed "Go Canucks Go!" and kept on for another dozen times or so as they continued down the sidewalk.

But, it's a new series and that means I need to match up another winery to this round. Boo and I have a few bottles of some decent Mission Hill wines in our cellar and it's probably about time that we opened a few of them. It only makes sense that I throw a couple of BC's big gun wines out there as the Canucks try to finish off their own mission - winning the Stanley Cup!

818. 2007 Mission Hill - Quatrain VQA Okanagan Valley)

I don't think I'd raise too many eyebrows by saying that winemaking in BC doesn't get much bigger than the Mission Hill Family Estate winery. The winery can boast everything from it's spectacular setting and physical winery - that attracts upwards of 150,000 visitors a year - to its Terrace restaurant that, a few years ago, was named one of the Top 5 winery restaurants in the world, to the fact that the winery has 24 estate vineyards throughout the different regions of the Okanagan which help lead them to an enviable position where they can access fruit to produce an array of wines that ranges from big-styled Bordeaux or Rhone-based varietals to more finessed white or Pinot Noirs and even ice-wines. And that's not even commenting on the unquestionable quality of the wines that they produced.

The Quatrain that we opened tonight is part of Mission Hill's Legacy Series of wines - the website proclaims them to be "rare and limited" wines that the winery hopes "showcase the finest of everything at Mission Hill Family Estate."

Like the four line poem or stanza that the wine is named after, Quatrain is a blend of four varietals - Merlot, Syrah, Cab Franc and Cab Sauv (42%, 24%, 19% and 15% respectively for this vintage) - looking to capture the best characteristics of each of the four grapes, be it fruit, structure, spice, whatever.

The Legacy series is a fairly recent addition to the Mission Hill portfolio. I think the 2005 vintage was the very first for Quatrain - and it's been perhaps my favourite of the high end Mission Hill wines since that initial introduction. At $45 a bottle, it's not the least expensive bottle in the store, but there's no doubt that there's a lot of punch being packed into that bottle.

I think that's just what we need to start off the Stanley Cup Finals although I do have to admit that there wasn't any wine left in our bottle by the time the Canucks finally scored against Boston. I was pretty much resigned to the fact that we were going to have to head into overtime when Raffi Torres scored with only 18.5 seconds left on the clock. Good thing too. My anxiety levels were so high, I definitely would have needed some more wine for overtime. The wine left in my glass wasn't going to last long and there wasn't any more Quatrain to be found in the house.

Something tells me it's going to take the best that the Canucks have to win this series. I'll do my part by delivering the wine.