Saturday, July 23, 2011

Teddy Bear Picnic

It's coming up to "the time of my people." The Vancouver Pride Festival is just around the corner and one of the early events is the Picnic In The Park - or, as we old timers still call it, The Teddy Bear Picnic.

A stalwart tradition in the Pride calendar, it's been a "family" gathering (whatever your family may consist of) in Stanley Park that features groups of picnickers, beer garden and games galore - with the games ranging from old to new. There's the nostalgic watermelon eating and sack races mixed in with the high heel toss and drag race.

Mr. D. rang us up to see if we were going to make it down this year because he was looking to head over and meet up with Logan and Sydney. It must have been awhile since we last attended because we went to the only site we've ever known it to take place at - only to find out that the location had been moved. Thank goodness for iPhones or we'd have never found the picnic.

We almost never found parking because it was one of the first brilliantly sunny Saturday afternoons we've seen this year. Stanley Park was jammed. After three drives around the park, we lucked out in finding a spot and finally joined up with the other revellers. Boy, was it ever time for a drink!

877. 2009 Cuatro Reyes - Inspiración Pampano (D.O. Rueda - Spain)

I'd forgotten to put a white in the fridge back home, so we stopped by Marquis Cellars and grabbed a little something interesting in their cooler. It's marketed as an "ideal sipper" for picnic or park. We were combining the two and it certainly met the task. Refreshing and uncomplicated, it's the type of wine you might find as a house white at a tapas bar.

It turns out that it has a bit of an interesting pedigree and it lets me add another varietal to my list and membership with the Wine Century Club. I managed to hit the century mark a couple of weeks back but this now has me scooting along to try and reach 200. The new grape is Verdejo. I'm sure that I've tried it before but it must not have featured so prominently on its own since I haven't already added it.

The Pampano label is just one of seemingly many produced by Cuatro Reyes. Their website says that they produce 20% of wine bottled in the Rueda district. Rueda is one of those regions that has been making wine for over a thousand years, but it's only just now coming into its own and gaining some international exposure. Appellation status (D.O.) was granted in 1980 and, unlike so many regions that are modernizing for the new world of wine, it is concentrating on local stalwart grapes - instead of discarding the old varietals and replanting vineyards with nothing but international varieties.

The Verdejo grape has an especially long history in the region and isn't really that well known outside of Rueda. Verdejo can be made into a straight varietal wine; however, like this wine, it is often blended with Viura or Sauvignon Blanc. When being blended, the Verdejo must be a minimum of 50% of the content in order for the wine to be given D.O. status. The grape is often cited for its aromatic characteristic and its tendency to have some heft to its body.

The other grape used in this blend was Viura and I thought I might even be able to add a second new varietal to my WCC list. Alas, Viura is often called Macabeo and it's one of the grapes that is traditionally used in blending Spain's sparkling Cava wines. Indeed, that's how I ended up adding it to my application form some many varietals back. One of Viura's most noted qualities is its level of acidity - no doubt accounting for its common blending with the more full bodied Verdejo.

All in all, an easy drinking wine that was nicely suited to the afternoon. We could have finished off another bottle with no problem whatsoever. And that's not meant to be a comment on how "easy" some of our fellow picnickers may or may not have been. But on that note, I think it's time to just move on. No?

Return of the Giro

I was going through some of our pictures, trying to prep up a few more posts and I ran across from photos that I must have missed earlier. So, this post is somewhat out of sync when it comes to the timing, but it's only delayed by a week so I don't feel like a complete goof.

It's been a short while (perhaps a tad longer) since I've actually mounted my bike to do a bit of riding. I suppose it doesn't help that the tires have been flat for - ahem, ahem. But, I've recently been glued to the TV every morning before work, catching what I can of the Tour de France.

These wines aren't tied to the Tour; however, Vancouver and the Lower Mainland has been in the throes of BC Super Week, celebrating some of the biggest bike races to be found in the province - the Tour de White Rock, Tour de Delta, a new UBC race and "our" own Giro di Burnaby.

The Giro was started back in the summer of 2006 and was starting to gain a nice little following by 2008. Then, the world financial crisis kicked in and sponsorship rather dried up. BUT, it's back this year and I'm about as lucky as a cycling enthusiast can be because our office (and it's balcony) is located right at the Start/Finish Line. The Giro is a great opportunity for the office to gather for a grand time to watch the Men's and Women's races - and, naturally, for me to add a few more wines to The List.

874. 2008 CedarCreek Proprietor's Red (VQA Okanagan Valley)

875. 2009 CedarCreek Proprietor's Red (VQA Okanagan Valley)

It might seem a bit odd but, for some reason, I regularly get tasked with picking up the beer and wine for office events. I'd grabbed the CedarCreek as a decently priced ($15), introductory blend that would please more of the attending palates. I guess that the BC Liquor stores must be hitting the shelves with a new vintage because I just took two bottles that were next to each other and didn't even notice that they were two different vintages. I probably wouldn't have ever known except for the fact that as I opened the second bottle, I saw that one bottle was clear glass and the other was tinted. I immediately wondered if I'd grabbed two different wines.

Too bad the first bottle was already empty since I didn't get a chance to do a little side-by-side tasting. The 2009 vintage must be really new because I don't even see any literature about it on the net yet. I assume that it is a largely Merlot/Pinot Noir blend - just like the 2008 - but I can't be sure. It definitely won't be similar to the old workhorse "Proprietary Red" that was a stalwart in the winery's line up twenty years ago - when that wine was largely based on the hybrid grapes that had been the bulk of Okanagan plantings prior to the 1980's.

The wine seemed popular enough. The levels on the CedarCreek at the end of the night were lower than on any of the other wines served.

876. 2009 Angove's - Nine Vines Tempranillo Shiraz (South Australia)

By the time the women's race had finished. I'd finished my go at the CedarCreek and moved on to trying the Angove's. If CedarCreek is one of BC's bigger producers at around 40,000 cases, compare that to Angove's estimated output of 1.5 million cases. Angove's is one of Australia's largest, privately owned wineries; however, it is noted as exemplifying the balance of large scale production without compromising basic quality. Reliable and well-priced - that's an understanding that's comparable to CedarCreek's Proprietary Red.

With its vast production, Angove's has, understandably, a good number of different labels and varietals/blends available. This bottle is a newer entry into the market as Tempranillo is only starting to get a foothold in Aussie wine production. This rather unusual blending with Shiraz just goes to show the willingness of some Aussie producers to embrace the new and see how it can work with or accentuate the tried and true.

Not a tasting note to be seen, however, as I was far more caught up in the races and in making sure that the natives weren't getting too restless. I may not have been in charge of the actual grilling, but I did have to try and keep on top of buns and meat and condiments, etc., etc., etc. There didn't seem to be any problems with the wine as I snuck the odd sip here and there.

As for the races, the weather this week hadn't been the best, but we were lucky that the rain held off until after the end of the men's race. I don't know how successful the races would have been had the streets been soaked - not to mention how annoying a continual watering down of my wine glass would have been.

Hopefully, the race's Phoenix-like revival was as successful in the organizers' view as it was from the spectators'. I, for one, will definitely be at the Finish line next year - glass in hand. I may not be able, realistically, to make it over and sip wines while watching the Tour de France, but this is decent enough substitution.

BTW, we did have some white wines available as well, but I just didn't get around to trying any of them. I may not have had to worry about drinking and riding myself, but it was still a "school" night and I needed to get back to my desk - without the BBQ and beverages - early the next morning.

A New Ensemble with Elzee

One of our regular - and favourite - drinking buddies on our Wine Odyssey is the lovely and talented Elzee. I'm not so sure that I should be advertising this but she's just returned from the most marvelous birthday celebration in Paris. We'd offered to head up to the Okanagan for the weekend with her, but that was pretty lame when an offer to spend a week in the City of Light presented itself.

Now that she's back, we needed to revel in all the details and dig a little to see if there was any dirt to unearth. I'd made a reservation at Ensemble, the new entry on the Vancouver dining scene but couldn't get anything before 8.30. Accordingly, we asked Elzee to join us for a little tipple before dinner.

872. 2004 Tantalus Blanc de Noir Brut (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I thought some bubble might be appropriate to celebrate Elzee's return and to belatedly toast her birthday. Prior to her leaving, I'd tried to arrange, with a mutual friend, for a bouquet of flowers and a bottle to be waiting for Elzee on her arrival in Gai Paris. I'd only been able to leave a message with our friend; so, I wasn't even sure that she'd received the surprise until she got back to Vancouver. She assured us she had and that she'd even kept the bottle so that we could open it together and add it to The List. Thoughtful gal, that Elzee.

As for this wine, I was surprised when I first read, last Fall, that Tantalus was going to release a sparkling wine. I've tried and enjoyed some their Rieslings since the old Pinot Reach winery was purchased and re-branded with a change in emphasis. I couldn't recall any previous mention of bubble - and was a little taken when I saw that it was going to be a 2004 vintage.

Made in the méthode traditionelle from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, we really enjoyed it as an opener for the evening. Boo isn't the biggest fan of sparklers because he finds the biscuity tones that often prevail aren't to his taste. That wasn't the case with the Tantalus though. While the evidence of yeast and lees was definite, there was more fruit on the palate than many true Champagnes. Small problem though in that there wasn't a whole lot made and I read on one site that this was the only vintage of Blanc de Noir made so far.

We finished the Brut in just enough time to head downtown to Ensemble. This is the new restaurant opened by Dale MacKay - the recent winner of Top Chef Canada. We had watched the series and were rooting for MacKay and his local roots but we weren't sure he could make it to the finals as his skills in the kitchen definitely seemed to lend themselves to high end dining and not the often frivolous challenges that the show demanded.

He managed to stick around through all the eliminations and wow the judges in the penultimate dinner challenge. We were hoping that he could do a little magic for us as well. We decided to share and sample a number of smaller plates so that we could try as many different tastes as possible. Knowing that the dishes were going all over the map, we picked an Aussie GSM, hopping that it would be subdued enough not to overpower everything. That and a couple designer cocktails to help us through the lighter dishes.

873. 2007 Kaesler - Stonehorse Shiraz/Grenache/Mourvèdre (Barossa Valley - Australia)

Despite Boo's and my years with the Australian Wine Appreciation Society, I'm familiar more with the name Kaesler than I am with their wines. Indeed, it's taken 870 wines to be added to The List before a Kaesler wine makes its debut here.

It might not surprise you, after reading the last comment that we enjoyed this wine as well. Barossa red wines aren't necessarily known for their subtlety; however, this Aussie take on Chateauneuf-du-Pape was full and forward without being overwhelming with the fruit or the tannins. We felt it matched up nicely to the dishes that we'd ordered.

Those dishes covered a good range as well. Our plates ranged from Linda's foie gras parfait - perhaps a little reminiscent of her recent Parisian dining? - to cornmeal crusted scallops, pork belly, black cod with Thai broth (one of Chef MacKay's winning recipes from Top Chef) and beef shin served with some of the best fries Boo remembers the pleasure of eating. We didn't leave a whole lot left on any of the plates.

We didn't take the accompanying photo of Chef MacKay (I copied it from the restaurant website and is credited to Judy Chee), but he did (rather unexpectedly to us) emerge from the kitchen and he chatted to the table next to us for some time.

I was hardly going to be shameless enough to ask to have a picture taken with him so that we could blog him with a bottle of wine. We may have been taking more than a couple of food porn shots but asking Mackay to saunter over was too much for a shrinking violet like me.

I'm not about to venture into the world of food and restaurant criticism, but I think its safe to say that all of the dishes were intricate and fanciful. There were a couple favourites and one or two that might not be ordered again. I don't tend to get out to dine as much as I might like to; so, I don't see us getting back here in the very near future or becoming regulars, but I'd have no problem endorsing Ensemble as a good little spot to try - particularly with a sweet ending like a pineapple soufflé.

An all around great evening. We might need to celebrate birthdays a little more regularly.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Golden Mile Zin

I was listening to a past episode Terry David Mulligan's radio broadcast/webcast, The Tasting Room, and the whole show was dedicated to his visit to the ZAP Zinfandel Festival in San Francisco. Hearing everyone wax on about the evolution of Zinfandel, from "Dago Red" to the exciting varietal that it is nowadays, just motivated me to grab a bottle from the racks at home.

Surprise, it's actually a BC Zin and not from California, but I think even TDM would have readily welcomed it into his glass.

871. 2005 Golden Mile - Luckhurst Family Vineyards Zinfandel (VQA Okanagan Valley)

There isn't much Zinfandel grown in BC and maybe only a handful of wineries actually produce a varietal wine. In 2010, the total production of Zin comprised about 0.2% of the overall value of red wine grapes in BC - just behind the limited amounts of Merlot and Gamay Noir grapes that are held back for the production of Ice Wine and slightly ahead of those huge favourites, Chancellor and Dunkelfelder.

Inevitably, I should think all of the Zin is grown in the very South of the Okanagan Valley - around the Golden Mile, Black Sage Road or the limited acreage South of Osoyoos - where the heat units are the highest in the province and the ability to ensure sufficient ripening of the grapes might be the most consistent.

It doesn't mean that the grape can't be grown successfully though. This particular vintage even won a gold medal at the 2007 Grand Harvest Awards held in California. - home of Zinfandel nowadays. Grand Harvest is an interesting competition in that it has a twist wherein judges taste wine by region (at the time, they don't know the region being tasted) and they pursue the identification of an excellence in regional typicity that could be considered terroir.

You likely wouldn't confuse this Zin for most of the Big California Zins that are predominant in the market. It isn't nearly as fruitfully in your face - although the alcohol was still pretty high at 14.5%. We really enjoyed the wine however. We found it to have a nice balance overall and tasty ripe, dark fruit.

You likely won't be able to find it anymore though. Firstly, Golden Mile Cellars is no longer around in name. In a "magnanimous" move, the winery morphed into Road 13 a couple of years back. An act that allowed the immediate region to start marketing that part of the Okanagan Valley, itself, as the Golden Mile. Secondly, Road 13 has changed its winemaker this past year and, as part of a new outlook, they are emphasizing blends as opposed to individual varietal wines. They'll still be using all the Zin they can get their hands on - it likely just won't be sold as straight Zinfandel.

So, there were two vintages of Golden Mile Zinfandel made (2005 and 2006) and one vintage of Road 13 (2007) so far. If the following vintages were as tasty as this 2005 was, that might just be an unimaginable shame. Luckily, I think we still have another bottle hanging around.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Seven Stones Hit Rosé

With the possibility of summer weather actually kicking in, I find it's good to have a few rosé wines hanging around - especially when Boo's roasted a chicken and used some of the garden's remaining rhubarb and strawberries to make a compote. Rosé wines still seem to be a poor cousin in the wine world - at least in North America. That may result from the poor rap that is associated with the style because of the hey-day of White Zinfandel in the past. But any guy secure enough to man up to enjoying rosé wine can tell you that you can find as many different rosé styles and taste profiles as you can find wineries that make them.

Austere to off-dry, light salmon or brilliant pink in colour and made from any number of single varietals to blends, what you can find in your glass can often be quite an unexpected surprise.

This wine was one of those surprises. And a pleasant, if unexpected, one at that.

870. 2009 Seven Stones - Speaking Rock Pinot Rosé (Similkameen Valley - BC)

We picked this bottle up last summer when we passed by the Seven Stones winery while driving through the Similkameen Valley on our way back from the Kootenays. We must have liked it enough to buy some when we tried it at the winery's tasting bar, but, to be honest, I'd completely forgotten about it.

The label notes that owner/winemaker George Hanson has gone for a style reminiscent of Provence and the South of France. He might want to revise that and proclaim that he's captured the Southern Similkameen. We enjoyed the bright acidity and minerality that helped make the wine so refreshing. I'm hardly ever one to wax on the prominence of a particular fruit on the nose or the palate but, in this case, it was like the wine had just been blending with strawberries and rhubarb. Those fruits just jumped out of the glass and onto the tongue.

It was a perfect match to dinner and we were disappointed with how quickly the bottle disappeared. Too bad they only made 200 cases. It's one I'd eagerly reach for again.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Japanese Gals, Canadian Wine

The soccer's over. The white wine sipping is done. The winners are being announced and there'll be nothing left but the tears - whether they be tears of joy, of dashed dreams or of even bewilderment.

Unfortunately, unlike last year's Men's World Cup of soccer, I didn't organize a neighbourhood gathering to watch the big final and participate in a drink off. Popping corks on a Sunday afternoon is no problem - particularly when you consider some of my friends. Sunday morning, just after breakfast however, is a bit of a different event. I might have been able to pull off some sparkling wines and Mimosas, but that kind of defeats the whole white wine taste-off.

Accordingly, it was just Boo and I and the corks weren't popped until overtime kicked in - just so that I could know that this post's wines were at least sampled during the final match in Germany.

As mentioned in previous blog posts, the two soccer finalists don't match up with our two World Cup of White Wine finalists. We have the US and Japan on the pitch, but it was Kiwi and Canuck wines going at it in the glass.

New Zealand

The Kiwis made it to the wine final with a Sauvignon Blanc knocking out an American Chardonnay. The Canadians won took a little revenge out on the French for a loss on the soccer field when an Similkameen Valley Pinot Gris knocked off a French Viognier. With Boo having put me back on the "No Buy Leash," I had to pull a couple of wines from our cellar - which isn't exactly chock-a-block full of white wine. In a real wine competition, I don't know if these would have been the first wines reached for by the combatants - but, hey, this blog is supposed to be about the fun and frolic involved with wine isn't it.

868. 2008 Rabbit Ranch Pinot Gris (Central Otago - New Zealand)

869. 2008 La Frenz Chardonnay (Naramata Bench)

The soccer matched was one filled with huge swings of momentum going back and forth. At times, it seemed like the American gals had the trophy shipped half way back to the States. Then, the Japanese would pull out a secret hari-kiri move that put them back right in the game. Even with last minute heroics by the Japanese to tie the game and force overtime, it was looking good for the US gals when they scored first. It wasn't sudden death OT, however, and the Japanese girls persevered to tie the game again and send it into penalty kicks - where they totally out-did the Americans 3-1. The final score shows as 3-2 and the Japanese win their first World Cup ever.

Our tasting was somewhat the same. Neither wine completely overwhelmed the other. We tried glasses on their own, with food, with dessert and on their own again (the day after even) - and you could easily think that one was slightly better than the other with one sip and, then, the other would taste slightly better the next.

We've previously had (and added to The List) both the 2006 and 2009 vintages of the La Frenz and winemaker, Jeff Martin's, proclaimed peaches and cream style is a usual favourite. The 2008 vintage won Gold at 2009 All Canadian Wine Championships and Silver at the 2009 Northwest Wine Summit; so, it should have simply wowed us. I can't say that it hit those heights with me though - perhaps I just found a little more oak on this year's wine. Not "oak monster" levels, but a bit more than I like for the level of acidity.

I don't know so much about the heritage of the Rabbit Ranch; however, it was another of the wines that I picked up at last year's Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival when New Zealand was one of the featured regions. The winery's website imbues a great sense of humour and whimsy though. It proclaims that this Pinot Gris is the "Energizer Bunny's favourite tipple" and the label states that the wine is "not tested on animals."

The minerality evident on this wine rather bit into me like the oak did on the Chardy. It wasn't a fault in the wine. It was simply a strong focal point on the wine that is going to agree with you or, maybe, not so much.

As I mentioned, both wines had their strong points and picking a favourite was a tough choice - our choice changed a couple of times. In the end, think we'll say that this tasting, like the game, was tied after regulation time and went to penalty kicks. I decided that the determinative factor might as well be - "If you can only buy another bottle of one of these wines, which one would you choose?"

Both Boo and I went with the Chardonnay. Japan wins the soccer trophy but the Okanagan pulls off a "World Cup" of its own. The better part of the world may not know much about Canadian wines - and Okanagan wines in particular - but those of us with regular access to them certainly know that a lot of them are mighty fine. "Winning" this World Cup may not be quite as prestigious as the one our soccer gals were striving for, but a win is a win - and I'll take the amusement that goes with adding more wines to The List as a win as well.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Wine Tasting to Match the Soccer Pitch

So, our second World Cup of White Wine semi-final sees the "home" team up against the French. Ironically, this is another wine match-up involving France that mirrors an actual game that took place at the World Cup in Germany. The game between these two "teams," however, was back in the Round Robin matches and the French women ran roughshod over the Canadian gals - with that loss sounding the death knell for the Canadians at the tournament. Despite great hopes, there'll be no semi-finals on the soccer pitch for the Canadians at the real World Cup though.


Good thing we're trying tonight's wine blind. Otherwise, I might need to find favour with the Canadian wine just to extract a teensy bit of revenge on the French. Not that I'd stoop to such lengths on such an important occasion.

866. 2009 Orofino Pinot Gris (Similkameen Valley)

867. 2008 Paul Mas Viognier (Vin de Pays d'Oc - France)

It was likely a good thing that we had the means of identifying the two wines, after they'd been poured blind, because I didn't find either of them to be overly demonstrative of their respective varietals. The Pinot Gris was more fruity than I would have expected and the Viognier was just plain out flat.

Pinot Gris is often touted as possibly being BC's signature white grape. I can't say that the Orofino pulled that off with this vintage though.

The Orofino still featured a more layered profile - both on the nose and the palate - so I'm going to give a 1-0 win to Canada. But like the team's performance on the field, I might have hoped for more. Now to the finals.

The First Semi-Final

It's been a week since I orchestrated a taste-off to coincide with the Women's World Cup. As the matches on the soccer pitch are reaching their final stages, I guess I'd best get on with my little World Cup of White Wine. The final four teams competing in Germany have been determined and, not so surprisingly, the four nations still battling on the field don't exactly match the four fighting it out in our wine glasses.

The semi-finalists in Germany are Japan, Sweden, France and the US. Two of those countries - Japan and Sweden - didn't even make it to my competition as their efforts on the soccer pitch far outstrip their prowess with white wines. The French filles may have pulled off a squeaker of a win in Germany, but they didn't quite measure up as successfully in our little taste taste. That leaves the US as the only country to win both on the field and in the wine glass - and, just as they had to win a second chance tasting in these pages, the American gals barely got past Brazil in overtime on the field. But it's now time that the US steps up to take on New Zealand in my little World Cup.

United States
New Zealand

Seeing as we're now contesting the semi-finals, I grabbed wines that feature varietals that each of the two countries may well be best known for. I'm not familiar with either of the wineries; so, the tasting was bound to be interesting.

864. 2007 Milbrandt Vineyards - The Estates - Evergreen Chardonnay (Columbia Valley - Washington)

865. 2008 ARA - Composite Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough - New Zealand)

If memory serves, I think I picked up the Kiwi wine at the 2010 Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival - where New Zealand was one of the featured regions. I think the wine can be purchased in Vancouver normally though as I've noticed the distinctive label in various stores in the past. As for the Washington wine, I likely picked that up while South of the border as I don't tend to buy many American wines at home.

The ARA Savvy is one of the resulting wines from an adventurous project in the Marlborough region of New Zealand's South island. I'm not going to go into any detail at this time, but I'll mention that this was a region-specific project that was started on acreage many felt could never be used successfully for grape production due to a perennial danger of frost. An interesting report on the winery can be found in Tom Cannavan's article at the Wine-pages site. Suffice it to say that I'm going to be on the look out for another one of their wines to try.

Washington State's Milbrandt Wineyards has some history to its story as well. The family had been farming in Oregon and Washington for decades when they decided to start planting their farmland with grapes in 1997. They've been selling their grapes to dozens of wineries - including some of their Riesling grapes to Chateau Ste. Michelle's for its Eroica (one of my favourite Rieslings) - but decided to open their own winery in 2005. Milbrandt has three label ranges and The Estates is their middle tier, sourcing fruit from only their own vineyards.

Interesting pedigrees for both wineries; however, there was no difficulty in picking a "winner" in this match. For me, the Sauv Blanc was a full head and shoulders above the Chard. Picking a Kiwi Sav Blanc always has a potential of drinking huge, green acids, but this one was far more restrained. I liked it a lot. On the other hand, the Chardy just didn't do it for me as much. Maybe in a different circumstance or against another Chardonnay, but not this time.

I'd say it was a 2-0 win for the Kiwis and they're on to the final. The American gals may have played their way to the final on the soccer pitch, but they didn't quite pull it off here. Now to pick the second finalist.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Raspberries and Black Noble

Everyone - in particular, the gardeners amongst us - has been complaining about the lack of summer weather in Vancouver. Everything green seems to be weeks behind a normal growing season. The "Bummer Summer" doesn't seem to have had an evil effect on our garden raspberries though.

We're enjoying our best crop ever and Boo harvested our current bounty today.

Not only that. He even decided to accentuate the positive and make a pie for us to dig into as well. Such an occasion called for an equally special wine to accompany the taste treat. We have a bit of a stockpile of dessert wines; so, it seemed like a no-brainer to reach for a bottle that's been there waiting for a chance like this.

863. N.V. De Bortoli Black Noble (New South Wales - Australia)

Looking at this wine, you'd be hard pressed to guess that it hails from white grapes and Australia. The Aussies have quite a history with "stickies" and fortified wines as many wineries started with that style of wine when the Australian wine industry was getting established.

Black Noble is a pretty unique wine all on its own though. One of De Bortoli's most lauded wines is its Noble One - a Botrytised Semillon somewhat stylized on a French Sauternes. With this wine, the De Botoli's take some of that late harvest Noble One and add a couple of bonus steps. They both fortify it and age it in a solera-like, fractional blending system. The Black Noble sees an average aging process of eight years in oak.

The end result is an unctuous, deep wine that is regularly commented on as displaying overtones of coffee and toffee - two of Boo's favourite flavours. With notes like that, it was just desserts all around.

I'll have to hope that we get another harvest of berries - to see what other surprises might be in store.

A Sicilian Surprise

It was to be a simple dinner - a "spaghetti night" on the home front - however, Boo did say that, in his humble opinion, the sauce was one of his best ever. I figured that called for a nice Italian wine and I grabbed one that we'd been given as a gift a little while back. It turned out that Boo's sauce was definitely a good one and the wine turned out to be up to the task.

862. 2005 Feudo Montoni Nero d'Avola (IGT Sicily - Italy)

I can't say that I know much about Sicilian wines - especially ones that clock in at $50-plus - but this Nero d'Avola is apparently one of particular note. It's a single vineyard wine and the Vrucara vineyard has an interesting history. Having first been planted in the 16th Century, the wines produced from the fruit were prized almost from the start as Andrea Bacci, the Vatican court's official sommelier of the time wrote about the wine in his "De naturali Vinorum Historia." One site says that the wine is still served at the Vatican.

The Vrucara vineyard is located in the Sicilian hills where it is largely surrounded by grain fields and livestock farming and has been for centuries. The relative isolation has served the winery well though. Vrucara is now known for its particular clone of Nero d'Avola, having a distinct identity that has been preserved, without genetic mutation, for all these years. The isolation of the vineyard even protected it from the Phyloxera louse that devastated the vineyards of Europe in the 19th Century.

The vineyard is only 5 hectares in size though and the vines have an average age of 90 to 120 years. As a result, Vrucara doesn't deliver a whole lot of fruit. In a good year, the winery can produce maybe 3,000 bottles.

Not knowing enough about Nero d'Avola as a varietal, I can't say how representative or how uncharacteristically different the wine was. I can say that there was a balance and drinkability that I don't always find with Old World and Italian wines. The wine's feet were firmly planted in those Old World, Sicilian soils but there was a modernity to it that certainly suited our palates.

I was caught yet again, however, learning more about the wine AFTER we'd finished it. It would have been nice to have a better sense of the wine while drinking it. A future task - if ever there was one.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Front Runners BBQ

For whatever reason, I haven't been joining in with the Vancouver Front Runners and their bi-weekly runs much lately. In fact, I think it's more than fair to say that it's been years since I made regular appearances. Whether it's because I'm spending too much time sitting at the computer blogging or because I'm just getting too old, fat and lazy to make an effort (or maybe somewhere in the middle of the two), I need to put on the old shorts and runners a whole lot more and join in.

I didn't make the group run this morning, but I did join in on the gang's summer BBQ. Rozie hosted a bang-up event with an endless spread of tasty treats. I can't recall having been to a kosher BBQ before but it felt and tasted like any other BBQ I'd ever been to. I'm pretty sure that the wine I brought along wasn't kosher but I'm pretty sure it didn't matter.

861. 2006 Azul Portugal Ribatejo (D.O. Ribatejo - Portugal)

What did work out well for me is that, in my rush out the door, I hadn't realized that I grabbed a bottle that's going to help get me started on my second century of varietals - mere days after having completed the first century and my application to the Wine Century Club.

The Azul Ribatejo is a blend of the Castelão and Tricadeira grapes - both of which are common to the Ribatejo district. I couldn't find out much about Azul as a producer; however, it appears to be part of the large food and beverage producer, Saven, in Portugal. Their website for wine is currently under construction. So, I couldn't get much information from the producer itself.

The Ribatejo appellation certainly isn't the best known wine region in the country. It continues to struggle to forge an identity in wine for itself; however, it is the second largest wine region in the country. It just happens to be known as much, if not more, for horse and cattle raising - particularly animals used for riding and battling in the bullfighting ring. According to one national website, Ribatejo appellation law permits a "dizzying array of wine grape varieties."

It would appear that I'm able to start my second century of varietals by adding Castelão as #101. It's known to have robust tannins early in its life, but to mellow nicely with age into a wine featuring red fruit and spice on the palate. It is also known in some regions as Periquita. Either way, it's a new varietal for my list.

I certainly would have expected to add the Tricadeira as #102, but this varietal is also known as Tinta Amarela. And, lo and behold, a quick look shows that I'd already added it to my application due to its presence in a Six Grapes Port. I don't think I would have remembered that varietal on my own, but it makes sense since Tricadeira is largely used to blend in Port because of its rich blackberry overtones.

The two of them together worked well for the garden and BBQ setting. It was fine for sipping at the start of the event - neither too bold nor tannic - and what little was left went well with the food.

Now, I just have to get motivated and head out on a run.

One aspect of making group runs, on a regular basis, I do like, however, is the likely bonus of being able to drink a little more wine without any guilt because of all the calories I'll be burning.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Last Chance Qualifier

I'm finding that holding a World Cup of White Wine can be a tad difficult when there are only six countries, participating in the actual Women's World Cup, that produce white wines that are easily available in our local market. It is allowing me to be rather inventive in how I approach the taste-offs however.

Last week, I pitted the two countries, from each of North America, Europe and Oceania. That produced continental champions in Canada, France and New Zealand, but it left me with only three semi-finalists. In order to name a fourth participant in the semi-finals, I've decided to have a back door entry for one of last week's losing teams.

That means we're tasting wines from Germany, the US and Australia in order to pick one more country to move on in this little wine tournament. With the US and Australia maybe being known more for their reds, I might have headed into this tasting thinking that the Germans have a bit of an edge. That might seem even more appropriate with the World Cup being held in Germany and the German women being among favourites to win the Cup and their third championship in a row.

858. 2008 Export Union Piesporter Treppchen Riesling (QbA Mosel - Germany)

I couldn't find out a whole lot about this producer. I gather it must be a collective, or négotiant, that buys up fruit and produces wine - in this case for export. The wine was being featured by our provincial Liquor Distribution Board as a great buy for the summer. Generally, I'm a big Riesling fan, but I think this was a bit one dimensional in its profile - and that profile was definitely on the off-dry side of things. I think the German's home advantage might have just disappeared.

859. 2006 Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay (California)

The Grand Reserve is a blend of grapes from a series of estate vineyards and varying growing conditions. Since we don't drink a whole lot of Californian wine, I don't know my Californian appellations very well, but the fruit for this wine comes from two of the state's cooler coastal regions - Monterey and Santa Barbara. I found that, for a Californian Chardy, there was a good amount of ripe fruit but I still found that there was more oak on the finish than I particularly enjoy.

860. 2008 Yalumba Y Series Viognier (South Australia)

Many writers credit Yalumba - and Jane Ferrari in particular - for re-invigourating Viognier's presence and profile in the wine world. Yalumba now produces four Viognier wines with the Y Series being more of an entry level, fruit-driven line. To the buying public, Viognier is likely opened fewer times than Chardonnays or Rieslings and, when compared to the other two varietals tonight, that unfamiliarity was perhaps understandable as the Viognier was somewhat underwhelming on both the nose and the palate - a bit surprising in itself.

I think it's fair to say that all three wines had something going for them; however, at the same time, none of the three had either Boo or I saying that we definitely need to go out and grab some more.

But we need a winner and, for the purpose of picking a "team" to move on in the World Cup, we decided that it going to be the US and Kendall-Jackson's Chardonnay. The American girls are expected to put up a good show in Germany. I guess the white wine counterparts live to see another day in our little competition as well.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Century is Made!

I've mentioned the Wine Century Club a number of times on this blog. I hadn't heard of the group prior to starting, but, as soon as I learned about it, I set my mind to making it an exciting part of 2001 Bottles - A Wine Odyssey. The concept is simple enough - keep trying new wines, new regions and new varietals and keep track of the different varietals you've tried. Once you've tried 100 different varietals, you can apply to become a member. The club's website say that "of the thousands of applications downloaded, less than 3% are completed."

I'm thrilled to say that I'm now free to send in my application.

Knowing that I was only a varietal or so away from being able to complete my application, I thought it would be a good idea to go over the wines that I've noted on the application form and compare them to ones that I've listed on the Blog Page that I'm also using to keep track (located off on the side panel). In going through those lists, it would seem that there are a few glaring absences.

I'm not entirely sure why I hadn't made a note of Cabernet Franc yet. It would have been one of the varietals that I could have added first to my application. I'm thinking that I must have realized that I could just add it at any time. Knowing that, I might as well hold out for the chance that someone might give us a bottle of something spectacular like a Chateau Cheval Blanc - perhaps the world's most famous wine that focuses on Cab Franc - so that I could add a special wine in my application. The Cheval Blanc doesn't seem to have arrived. So, I'd best go with what I've got - granted, it's not a bad substitute for the big gun Bordeaux. And it's substantially cheaper.

857. 2003 Poplar Grove Benchmark Cabernet Franc (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

Being North of the 49th Parallel, successfully ripening some of the big red varietals can be a task. Merlot may still be the most widely planted red varietal in BC and many growers may not even attempt the later-ripening Cab Sauv, but more than a few wine professionals in the province think that Cabernet Franc has a real future in the region. The varietal is still grown primarily for blending, but more and more wineries are starting to produce a varietal wine and, IMHO, this is one of the best.

Poplar Grove was one of the first Okanagan wineries to cotton on to the potential of Cab Franc as a single varietal. I don't think you would have found too many varietal wines being produced back in 2003 and, even with his early enthusiasm for the varietal, winemaker Ian Sutherland only made 320 cases of this Benchmark wine.

Luckily for us, the wine was still fresh and packed a good punch for a round of Memphis Blues take-out BBQ. 2003 was great vintage for the Okanagan and these vines were cropped at a mere one ton per acre (compared to other vineyards with yields of four tons per acre). The wine showed the complexity that is possible with Cab Franc and it was wonderful way to add the 100th varietal to my application form.

Now to start working on hitting 200 varietals.

Salt Spring Winery Tour

Despite the fact that, once again, I'm falling behind on my postings, it would be rather remiss of me not to post at least a little bit about our tour of the wineries that have set up shop on Salt Spring Island. As temperate as the Gulf Islands may be by Canadian weather standards, they're still trying to find a true footing in the wine world. The islands definitely don't receive the summer's heat that the Okanagan does - after all the Southern Okanagan Valley is actually a desert - however, the more temperate winters generally don't put the vines at risk either and the growing season, albeit short, seems to work nicely with a variety of white grapes and some early ripening reds. A number of island wineries are working with Pinot Noir as it seems adaptable to the island climate and, with a bit of luck in the weather, can ripen well enough to produce some nice wine.

Given our short stay on the Island, it was a bit of a whirlwind wine tour. There are now three wineries on the island and we stopped at two of them after making a pick-up of Dinner Club guests at one of the ferry docks and we fit in a quick visit to the third on our own way back to catch a ferry home.

The two "more established" wineries, Garry Oaks and Salt Spring, are located almost side-by-side in the aptly named Burgoyne Valley. Both wineries have put significant energy into growing Pinot Noir; so, I found it amusing that they're found in a valley named after the most famous Pinot Noir region in the world, Burgundy. It seems that the Valley was named Burgoyne long before anyone had though to set up a vineyard though. Whomever named the valley must have been a bit of a visionary.

We didn't have the time to try and make arrangements for a full on tour of either of the wineries, but we naturally had sufficient opportunity to visit both tasting rooms and give the wines a proper tasting. Since we ended up buying at least a couple of bottles from all of the wineries, I think I'll save any real information on the wineries until we try one of their wines and add it to The List. I'll just have to try and open those bottles sooner than later.

The very short wanders that we managed in the estate vineyards showed that the grapes are definitely being affected by the slow start to our summer this year. The vines are two to three weeks behind where they'd normally be at this point in the growing season. You can barely make out the clusters on the vines - and, remember, the grapes shown in the picture are early ripening varietals.

We did get to take in the beautiful setting of the Burgoyne Valley and one of the shots above shows one of the larger Garry Oaks that still remain in the valley and in the vineyard and that acted as the namesake for the first winery to set up shop on Salt Spring. Even as the elder statesman on the island, Garry Oaks was only founded in 1999 though.

Neighbouring Salt Spring Vineyards started up a few years later in 2003 and has already seen a change in ownership. Boo and I had a marvelous chat and tasting in the Salt Spring tasting room - and, no doubt, that chat was so enjoyable largely becuase we'd lucked out in sharing our time with one of the owners, Joanne McIntyre. She walked us through a larger than usual number of wines and never made us feel that we were taking up too much of her time with all the questions. She was personable enough - and the wines were enjoyable enough - that Boo even loosened the "No Buy Leash" enough to pick up close to a full case of different bottles.

Salt Spring's setting was incredible and I'll definitely look to make our next visit more of an event. The winery is doing some interesting work with experimental varietals and I'd love to learn more about what's involved and what differences in both approach and flavour profile might be expected.

A relaxing picnic in the area around the winery sounds rather appealing as well. We'll just have to see if we can wrangle another visit to Tyrant's when the weather might be reliable enough to cooperate.

None of the three wineries has a big production. Salt Spring is about the largest, but even they only produce around 2500 cases. Garry Oaks puts out about 1700 (but that included some wine made from grapes sourced from the Okanagan and that practice is about to stop apparently) and the newest player on the island block is still under 1500 cases.

That third winery is Mistaken Identity and it's found just North of the town of Ganges. Having opened in 2008, they're starting off with an eye to BC's ever-increasing view to natural foods. The estate vineyards are being operated on an organic basis and, as such, the owners have opted for varietal plantings that are "optimally suited to a west coast temperate climate." Once you finish the Chardonnay, the remaining varietals offer some novel names that will likely raise a few eyebrows with most wine drinkers. When's the last time you knocked back some Madeleine Angevine, Reichensteiner or Agria? I don't think those varietals are even on my application to the Wine Century Club and I'm at #99. Mistaken Identity could come in handy down the road.

For, supposedly, just a quick post, I seem to be a bit long on the length. I'll leave it at this, but I'll look forward to looking a bit deeper into all three wineries as the various wine we picked up get opened.