Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mexican Cooking Class

A month ago or so, I blogged a couple of wines that we finished off at our neighbour, GatuBela's, Mexican Cat Dance - her annual fundraiser. It's taken us awhile but we finally worked out a night to make use of one of the silent auction items we won at last year's party. Our winning bid had garnered us an "at home" Mexican cooking class with one of her chef friends but we hadn't been able to queue it up yet. GatuBela was getting ready to head back to Mexico for the winter; so, it was now or potentially never.

We invited Mr. D. and Tyrant to come over and join up with us for a bit of fun and frivolity - and, naturally, wine and booze. Seeing as how it was to be a Mexican cooking class, GatuBela offered to mix up her trademark Margaritas to start off the evening. After a decade of annual pilgrimages, you get to be bit a bit of star when it comes to tequila. We'd have been fools not to take her up on her offer and I'm pleased to say that, as far as guest alcohols to this blog go, GatuBela's margaritas take second place to none. Her shaking and her squeezing arm was put to great use. Good thing she'd taken in a few Boot Camp classes prior to the dinner.

The plan was to put each of the guests to work in the kitchen to assist in the preparation of one of the dishes. Some of us got off easier than others in terms of the degree of difficulty in our skills that were called upon. Mr. D., indeed, had to mix things up, but not so much that he couldn't still pose and look pretty.

Despite the guest appearance by our frenemy, tequila, we still managed to throw a couple bottles of wine into the mix. Believe me, I don't do nights of endless tequila anymore. Some memories of university days haunt me to this day.

967. 2010 Luis Felipe Edwards Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc (Chile)

Both dinner guests arrived with wine in hand, but both admitted that they'd had no luck in locating a Mexican wine despite trying. Mr. D. brought along this Chilean bottle and because he thought that "at least the winemaker still speaks Spanish." Funny that we drank Chilean last night and I commented on how Boo and I don't pop too many Chilean corks.

True to Chile's and my relationship, I don't really know this producer but the Signature Series simply shows up on the winery website as a label that they produce for specific markets. The winery now has a capacity of up to 25 million litres; so, my guess is they can put out a number of labels if they want to. I did see that this particular label only shows up in private stores in the Vancouver market and that Marquis Cellars calls it a "perfect party wine."

It certainly went nicely with our ceviche. Maybe not so well with the watermelon cup that was fashioned but, then again, who chooses a wine to go with the dishes and cutlery?

I think we might have "put" Tyrant to the most work during the "class" portion of the evening - but then we knew we could trust him, if anyone, with the empanada filling. We continually trust his taste in wine; so, why not leave the main course in his hands. That was, so long as we kept a glass of wine in his hands at the same time (I mean when the recipe wasn't there).

968. 2004 L.A. Cetto Private Reserve Nebbiolo (Valle de Guadelupe - Baja California - Mexico)

There aren't a lot of Mexican wines in our market. Then again, are there many Mexican wines in any market outside of Mexico itself? I did, however, pick up this bottle a couple of years ago at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. At the time, I thought a Mexican Nebbiolo was about as wild of a find as there was - but, you know, it tasted good at the Festival and it still tasted good here. Everyone was downright shocked at just how tasty it was. If memory serves though, this was a pretty high end bottle for the winery and it clocked in at about $30 - not exactly a throwaway price for a wine you likely know nothing about from an unlikely source.

As difficult as it might be to find Mexican wine in our market though, if you're going to find one, there's a pretty good chance that it will be an L.A. Cetto bottle. I've previously added three Mexican wines to The List (some time ago at #'s 250 and 436) and two of them were from L.A. Cetto. I think on each of those earlier occasions, I'd specifically gone out looking for the bottles - because one was for Cinqo de Mayo and the other was for a Day of the Dead celebration.

Seems we don't tend to drink a lot of Mexican wine on an everyday basis. I can tell you that, if it was all as good as this Nebbiolo, I'd be inclined to drink a lot more.

It was probably a good thing that there was only one bottle of the Nebbiolo to be had tonight though. That wine would have kept going down easily, but it was a school night and an early morning wake up call after all. Between the tequila and the wine and the tasty food, we were all in fine spirits. The test is going to be to remember what the recipes were and all the little tips that were passed along and quickly forgotten.

Anakena Ona

I suppose we don't really drink a whole lot of Chilean wines around here - and those that we do are usually one of the many "bargain" wines that have become rather prominent in the Vancouver market. I can't say that I have many premium wines from Chile waiting to be plucked our wine rack.

Admittedly, there are a few that we picked up last Fall when Boo and I stopped briefly in Santiago on our way to Argentina, but we're trying to let those age for a bit.

This all might change next Spring when the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival is going to feature Chile in its regional spotlight, but that's still months away. In the meantime, we've had tonight's bottle waiting around for a little bit and it looked like a good choice for the evening.

966. 2005 Anakena Ona Syrah (Rapel Valley - Chile)

Anakena is a label that I don't know a whole lot about but I picked up this bottle when it was prominently displayed at Everything Wine a ways back. At $26, the price is a step above most of the Chilean wines on local shelves, but I think it's still entirely reasonable for a wine that's supposed to be from one of the most lauded producers in the country.

The winery was only established in 1999; however, it appears to have tried to bypass the bulk wine market and move directly into a more premium mode - and it quickly expanded to the point that it was producing 400,000 cases a decade later. The Ona label is supposed to be the winery's top label series and it is named after the indigenous inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, the island situated at the southernmost tip of South America. I'm fairly sure they don't actually grow any grapes (at least not for making wine) that far South and, indeed, the grapes used for this wine are grown in the Rapel Valley, one of Chile's best known growing regions.

Our market is starting to see more and more Syrah and Shiraz coming from Chile, but it still isn't as common as the Cab Sauv or Carmenère that our market was first introduced to. The wine was definitely more refined than the regular Chilean bargains, but there's no doubt that higher end Chilean wines are starting to make there presence known in Vancouver. I think I'll wait until I can do a more comprehensive comparison at the Wine Festival before I decide if the bottle is worth the extra bucks.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Landmark for Beamer

A few weeks back, after my cousin's wedding, I mentioned that I generally attend way more landmark birthday parties than weddings nowadays. This is a prime example - as Beamer is the latest of my buds to hit 50.

Beamer and I had actually been out - starting the party early - last night. So, my goal was to behave myself as much as possible and be able to drive home. After all, I had to curl early the next morning. There were plenty of wines to choose from - and add to The List - but I stayed true to the plan and only tried a couple of the wines available.

964. 2009 Grandes Vinos y Viñedos - Beso de Vino Selección (Cariñena D.O. - Spain)

The first wine to be added was a Kiss of Wine. Beamer was told that this wine was full value for the price and he grabbed some to go along with his first alcoholic love - beer on tap. With the distinctive label that it has, I've seen the wine around but I've tended to view it as a Spanish "critter wine" - a take on all the animal-labeled, big, fruity, easy drinking, well priced wines that appeared after the success of [yellow tail].

I don't know that the critter wine description is that far off the mark, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing - and the Beso had enough "stuff" to make you think of it seriously. An 85%-15% blend of Syrah and Garnacha (Grenache), I don't think it'll become my "go to" Spanish sipper, but I won't turn my nose up at the label so easily next time I see it in a store or at a tasting.

There were plenty of old faces in the crowd during the evening. I hadn't seen some of the folks in attendance for well over a decade or more and it was fun having a chance to catch up a bit. I'm pretty sure the accompanying picture is possibly the first shot of Beamer and The Divine Miss M's wedding party since that fateful day over 15 years ago. I'm not so sure that I want to compare this photo to the ones from the wedding though. Something tells me that Miss M and Cher have aged far more gracefully than Beamer and me.

That thought, however, calls for another bottle of wine.

965. 2007 Desert Hills Syrah (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I gravitated to the Desert Hills bottle because I knew the winery had been having some recent success with their Syrah's at various competitions. I didn't find out - until I was writing this post - that the 2007 actually won the title of Top Red Wine at the 2010 BC Wine Awards. I'm not sure who threw this wine onto the bar for general consumption at the party, but they must like Beamer a lot.

I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of Desert Hills. I gravitated to them a whole lot more when I first ran across them a decade or so ago. Lately, I've found their big wines to be a bit too extracted in general. The Syrah was far more reserved; however, its herbaceousness and big acidity cried out more for a full meal than a stand up cocktail party. You don't win Best Red in BC without offering something for the palate though. Maybe I'll get a chance to try a bottle and appreciate it in a more appropriate setting.

There's nothing more appropriate at a birthday party than a rocking birthday cake though - and this one took the cake. Fashioned in the shape of a wine box and bottle, this vintage of Chateau "Beamer" had everyone in awe that the entire cake, including the box, was edible! It was almost a shame that the masterpiece had to be cut up. I think the bakers at The Willow Tree Cakery garnered a ton of fans that night. I know that I picked up a card for the next time we need a cake to impress.

It's kinda hard to believe that I've known Beamer for over 30 years now. I don't know that either one of us expected the friendship to last this long. Something tells me though that we'll share more than a couple new bottles to add to The List before either the friendship or this blog is finished - particularly if he's willing to open a few of all the wines that he received as presents. I took the liberty of looking in a handful of the gift bags and I know that I'll be more than willing to help out.

In the mean time, Happy Birthday and Welcome to 50.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I can't recall how we come about adding this bottle to our wine rack, but it appears the winery has had a bit of a rollercoaster ride of late. According to Aussie wine scribe, James Halliday, Nepenthe's founder and owner died unexpectedly in 2006. The winery was purchased the following year, only to close in 2009. The winery assets were sold, but the winery has since been re-opened and seems to have re-established itself in the Adelaide Hills region.

I certainly didn't know any of that information when I picked up the bottle.

963. 2007 Nepenthe - Tryst White (Adelaide Hills - Australia)

The 2007 vintage would have been assembled during those tumultuous years and was a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (68%), Semillon (27%) and Pinot Gris (5%). According to the website, the wine is made to be enjoyed young. Looks like we maybe waited a bit too long and I think maybe that was reflected in our rather lackadaisical response to the wine. The bottle was under screwcap; so, it theoretically should last a reasonable time, but it didn't come across as fresh as the whites we're more used to in BC. Then again, I drink way more Aussie reds than whites; so, it may just be that Aussie whites don't turn my crank quite as much.

The website also says that the name "Nepenthe" is "described by Homer in The Odyssey as an Egyptian herbal drink so powerful that it eases grief and banishes sorrow from the mind."

I'd be one of the last to categorize this little blog, "2001 Bottles - A Wine Odyssey," as a peer of the literary tome that is Homer's "Odyssey," but I think he was likely drinking something other than this particular bottle when he referred to Nepenthe. We didn't experience quite the same "power," however, the wine certainly didn't cause us any grief or sorrow either - and it did pique my interest to look for the circumstances surrounding Homer's quote.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Farewell to Mexican Lou

Over the last so many years, one of Mr. D's best friends, Mexican Lou, has become a good friend of our's as well. It was with some sadness that we heard he'd decided to move back to Mexico City for the foreseeable future. We figured we had better fit in at least one last evening before he leaves on a jet plane.

Lou has quite the green thumb and he needed to find homes for a number of his plants as he cleaned house. He and Mr. D made a surprise visit to our place when Boo and I were both at work and they completed a little guerilla gardening. It seemed completely appropriate that we share a bit of a tipple as Lou led us on a tour of our own garden and he showed us the plants that he'd left behind.

961. 2009 Stoneboat - Duet (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Stoneboat is one of the extra-curricular wineries that I visited last month during the BCWAS Bus Tour and the Duet is one of the bottles I tried that was more than intriguing enough to pick up. The 2009 vintage is a 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Pinotage - rather a rare bird considering how little Pinotage is grown in the Okanagan.

It turns out that Lanny Martiniuk, patriarch of the family that owns and operates Stoneboat, comes across his use of Pinotage naturally. Lanny has been in the Valley for decades now and most of that time wasn't spent making wine but, rather, was spent growing grapes and propagating vines for others at his nursery. Lanny has propagated hundreds of thousands of vines at his nursery over the years, including many experimental varietals. He originally propagated the Pinotage vines for Lake Breeze winery when they wanted to introduce the varietal to the Okanagan. Lanny has kept some plants of every variety he has ever grown and he likes growing the Pinotage for its bold, distinctive characteristics.

It was an easy sipper, well suited for our garden tour.

It didn't take much time to finish off the Stoneboat; so, we made our way to Nicli Antica, the high end Neopolitan pizza joint that's been generating a culinary buzz in Gastown (and Vancouver as a whole) since it opened earlier in the year. I've wanted to make the trek there but just haven't been able to pull it off yet. It must be doing okay because there was a 45-minute wait on a Monday night and they don't take reservations.

I think we all thought it was worth the wait. Each of the four of us chose a different topping and we ended up swapping slices with each other so that we got to try each of the versions. I'd be hard pressed to pick a favourite but the Bianca was right up there.

962. 2009 Michele Chiarlo - Le Ormé (Barbera d'Asti DOCG Superiore - Italy)

The wine list was limited and was, for all intents and purposes, all Italian. (I think there was some French bubbly but we didn't go there.) I don't drink a lot of Barbera but I find that, in general, it's a tasty and reliable varietal when it comes to Italian wines. This one didn't let us down at all.

I don't know much about Michele Chiarlo; however, I did recognize the name because his Nivole Moscato d'Asti was one of the first wines that was added to The List - way back at #34. Apparently, the winery is a standard bearer for the Piedmont region. If this Barbera is one of the winery's more easily accessible wines, I'd like to try one of the higher end wines, particularly a Barolo.

As part of a fun evening with great pizza and wine, we got a bit of a celebrity treat in that Vancouver's other "Lou," Canuck goalie Roberto Luongo walked through the front door as we were waiting for our pizza. For a brief moment, we thought he might get seated at the empty table next to us. Turns out he was only picking up six pizzas to go. We were told that he's the only person in the city that is permitted to phone in for take out. We asked our waiter if we'd ordered one of Luongo's favourites. His reply was "Oh yeah, the Bobby Lou Special - it goes between your legs" - a rather cheeky riff on armchair commentary and some questionable outings during last year's playoff run.

If nothing else, we will put it out there that Roberto cleans up a whole lot better than you might expect from all those post-game interviews.

But that sighting quickly brought about a close to our evening. We'll miss Mexican Lou. Adios muchacho. Hopefully, we'll see him back sooner than later and we won't kill his plants off too quickly.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Big Trucker Day

With all the years my cohorts and I have been adding up lately, we don't tend to worry much about forgetting birthdays. Vixen, my sis, wasn't about to let her man's b-day go unnoticed though. She put together a bit of a gathering for dinner at the local pub and followed it up with a bigger group back at her place.

Big Trucker wasn't aware of anything going down and was taken by surprise as to why so many folks had shown up at the pub. He was even more surprised when his Miami Dolphins ice cream cake arrived. Being a true fanatic about the team, he wasn't overly cooperative when it came time to cut the cake. His thoughts were that it made more sense to throw it back in the freezer and keep it for posterity. After all, getting a Dolphins cake in BC Lions country isn't likely to be a regular occurrence.

The wine list at the pub was rather lacking. So, the only bottle being added to The List was the one that I opened back at Vixen's place.

960. 2008 Terra Andina Merlot (Valle Central - Chile)

Known in our market as a good value label, I grabbed a bottle of the Terra Andina from the wine rack because I figured it would be a crowd pleaser among a mostly beer drinking crowd. And a beer drinking crowd it was. This might have been the only bottle of wine at the party and, yet, I was able to fill and re-fill my glass until it was time to head home.

Bright and fruity, it's an easy drinker and good for a stand-up affair. I'm not sure that it would have paired well with the second Dolphins birthday cake that appeared, but then I had to head off before that second cake was cut into. Two Dolphins cakes in one night. Who'd have ever figured?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Desert Hills and Snowy Tropics

Regular readers might have noticed that the posts have been rather slow in coming lately. It's not a case of our not tipping back a glass or two. Indeed, as we used to say after finishing all those university years - "I don't drink anymore. Problem is, I don't drink any less either." Life just seems to have caught up a bit with me lately - and, since the day job has nothing to do with wine and doesn't give me the luxury of time to keep up to date with the blog, I'm falling rather behind. If nothing else, all the extra-curricular activities should make for some interesting posts.

In the mean time though, I'm going to have to try some "express posting" and this double post might be a good place to start.

958. 2009 Arrowleaf - Snow Tropics Vidal (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Naturally, the first wine to be added to The List actually deserves a bit of commentary. I have to say that I'm most familiar with the Vidal grape as a varietal that is most notably used for producing many of Canada's famous ice wines - and that's how the Vidal grape showed up earlier on The List and made my Wine Century Club application. I don't see it that often as a varietal table wine - and definitely don't buy it as a regular quaff at home.

I grabbed a bottle of the Snow Tropics, however, when I saw that it won a Gold medal at the 2010 Northwest Wine Summit, Double Gold at the 2010 All Canadian Wine Championships and Platinum at the 2010 Wine Press Northwest Platinum Judging. Those are some hefty additions for any resumé - let alone for a wine that costs $15 at the winery.

There's little doubt that the nose belied an off-dry sweetness, but the wine still packed a nice acidity that rounded out the taste. Vidal is a hybrid grape that is primarily grown in Ontario, New York and, to an extent, here in BC in the Okanagan, largely because its thick skin helps lengthen the hang time for the fruit and makes it more suitable for cooler climate regions. The high acidity and fruitiness also makes it particularly adaptable for dessert wines and ice wines.

This bottle doesn't go as far with "the sweet" as a dessert wine but the residual sugar definitely stands out. Think about pairing it with spicy foods or just sipping it on the patio on a hot day. It won't take a batch of similar awards to prompt me to buy another vintage.

959. 2001 Desert Hills Cabernet Sauvignon (VQA Okanagan Valley)

The Desert Hills Cab didn't fare as nicely. This was likely one time that we waited too long before we opened the bottle. The wine wasn't corked but it was definitely lacking in any "ooompf" and I was rather expecting a little - as I generally find Desert Hills wines to be big and boisterous. In fact, if memory serves, I actually remember visiting the winery for the first time and having one of the Toor brothers say that there weren't pouring samples of the Cab anymore because there just wasn't enough left. However, he was so sure that we'd like the wine that he guaranteed our approval. If the wine didn't meet our expectations, he said he'd replace the bottle.

It's likely too late to say that the bottle didn't quite grab our attention. Seven years after the fact would likely be taking things a little too literally.

I do wish that we'd tried the wine so many years back though. If an owner is so proud of his wine that he'd guarantee you'd like it, there has to be something behind it. This isn't the first Desert Hills wine to be added to The List. I'm pretty sure it won't be the last either.

But now, to try and catch up on some of the downed soldiers I've yet to wax on about. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Thanksgiving Invite - Out of Nothing

Since Boo and I were up at my cousin's wedding over the Thanksgiving weekend, we figured that we'd just drive home from the Okanagan (like most of our family) on the holiday Monday and grab a simple bite to eat - and be thankful. Then, my sis, Vixen, says that she'd planned a turkey dinner anyhow for the kids and she proceeded to invite us to stop in on our way home from Vancouver.

Unexpected turkey dinner. Works for me.

In order to get to her place in time for dinner, we couldn't be overly leisurely in our drive time, but it didn't stop us from making a couple of drop-ins to wineries that we wouldn't normally get to. The Sparkling Hills Resort is located North of Kelowna and we don't generally even make it to Kelowna - let alone to any wineries to the North.

There were two wineries that I wanted to visit in Lake Country - Gray Monk and Ex Nihilo. The former is one of the first estate wineries in the province and was in the forefront of the establishment of what is now a thriving industry. The accompanying shot is of Ex Nihilo however. Where Gray Monk is an old timer by BC standards, Ex Nihilo is a relative newcomer - having only been established in 2008.

"Ex Nihilo" is Latin for "out of nothing" and the winery's initial foray into the BC wine scene seemed to create quite a stir, seemingly out of nothing. It didn't hurt their marketing efforts when they quickly became known for their connection to the Rolling Stones and their $125 sticker price for a 375ml icewine called "Sympathy For The Devil." I've yet to try that one.

As you can easily see in the photo, the winery's tasting room is very stylish and definitely enhances Ex Nihilo's marketing and brand image. Production is still limited and the number of varietals grown is reasonable as well. The winery currently offers two whites and two reds - not counting that famous icewine.

We grabbed a bottle that we thought would go nicely with Vixen's turkey and hurried back onto the highway.

957. 2010 Ex Nihilo Pinot Gris (VQA Okanagan Valley)

2010 wasn't the greatest vintage for BC wineries - at least in terms of the growing season - particularly for the red wines, but a number of the whites still seem to be coming through nicely. At $21, this wine is on the pricier end of the spectrum for Pinot Gris, but the grapes were grown in two locations (the estate vineyard in Lake Country and a more Southerly site), harvested about a month apart (mid-October vs. mid-November), inoculated with two different yeasts during fermentation and saw extended lees contact. The resulting bigger body, fruit and acidity also makes it stand out more than most BC Pinot Gris.

It worked just fine for dinner. However, as thankful as Boo and I were for dinner, we were almost as thankful for the fact that we were able to leave at a decent hour and make it home to collapse from a big weekend.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Such a Sparkling Event!

A beautiful bride. Sparkling Hills Resort. What better nom-de-ma-plume could there be for my cousin, Centreman's, now legal squeeze than Sparkle?

I could go on about the stunning setting and lovely outdoor ceremony, the several "sap boy" moments or the abundance of hockey players, firemen and lively gal pals at the wedding, but this is a wine blog (at least, primarily a wine blog). So, I'll bypass all the wedding niceties and say that I was intrigued to find out what wines had been chosen for the reception and dinner. I know that we did a whole lot of tasting before we chose the wines for our reception. As such, I like to see what other folks decide upon for big events.

I was hoping to be able to add a couple of new wines to The List and hadn't counted on being lucky enough to add four new wines.

953. N.V. Yellowglen Pink (Australia)

Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to get a shot of the bottle. The glasses kept coming out ready and filled - with nary a bottle in sight. But I did get a shot of Boo toasting his glass of Pink in the art piece that was a wooden "fur" coat.

I don't think I've ever tried this easy sipping, fruity sparkler prior to the wedding. I see that Yellowglen promotes itself as Australia's "#1 sparkling wine brand" and, as part of the omnipresent Aussie juggernaut, Fosters Group, I maybe see how Pink (and its mate, Yellow) are the biggest selling bubblies Down Under. It's definitely entry level - as opposed to vintage - bubbly but it's priced well and is made from the classic Champagne varietals, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. An interesting choice, but I can see how it perfectly suited the reception and Sparkle's pink-themed wedding.

The dinner tables all featured red, white and rosé wines - so that all tastes could be covered - and so that I'd get three more bottles to add to The List.

954. 2010 Quails' Gate Rosé (VQA Okanagan Valley)

It was nice to see that a Rosé had been included in the wine choices. Rosé wines can be a tough enough sell in downtown Vancouver - let alone with the rough and tumble interior guys. Quails' Gate produces a nice, dry version though - made, largely, from Gamay Noir (90%) with some Pinot Noir filling in the balance. Nice and dry, the bottle was quickly emptied at our table.

The remaining two wines were special bottlings for the Sparkling Hills Resort by Bounty Cellars. The Resort had teamed up with Swarovski Crystal for the design of the resort and Swarovski is found throughout the hotel and spa. They've even connected with a local winemaker for a pair of house brand wines that are called Crystal. Naturally, all the labels sport small Swarovski crystals on them.

955. 2008 Bounty Cellars - Crystal Gewurztraminer (Okanagan Valley)

956. N.V. Bounty Cellars - Crystal Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot (Okanagan Valley)

These are the first Bounty Cellars wines that I've added to The List. I have seen their products around but I've never actually had a bottle. Bounty's is an interesting story. They work much in the way of a French wine négociant where the company buys wines and grapes from other producers and growers from BC, Washington state and elsewhere and then puts out a finished product.

They also fill a particular niche in that they specialize in private labels for their wines - just as we see with the Crystal label. Most wineries won't get involved with private labels unless there is a large, minimum order; however, Bounty will apparently produce a wine for individual customers for as few as two cases of wine. John Schreiner has reported that the company created more than three hundred private labels in the winery's first three years of existence. He also states that the "private label niche accounted for about 60 percent of the revenues" in 2007.

To be honest, we were all far more caught up in the wedding to pay an inordinate amount of attention to tasting and thinking wine.

I've been to a great many weddings over the years, but Boo and I don't take in many nowadays. Most of our friends are long past married (or divorced). I certainly go to a lot more wine events than I do weddings. So, it was nice to see the younger folk kicking up their heels and having a great time.

I know that there have been more than a couple weddings that I've been to where the joy of the occasion was not only on the happy couple's face but more than matched by the guests. This one actually stands out for me though. I am sometimes reminded of my Mom raising her hands in the air to sing along with "It's Raining Men" and our reception, but I'm glad to say that there were some equally memorable moments here.

Cheers - and our very best wishes - to the happy couple.

A Much Welcomed Spa Day

For me, one of the best parts of taking a bit of a break is that you can often just get up when you want to. No alarms. No deadlines. Just a case of getting up when it feels right.

This is the scene that I woke up to. I suppose having a fully windowed wall to the resort room can have its benefits.

There wasn't much chance that Boo was getting up any time soon. So, I took a bit of a tour of the spa facilities that were open prior to brunch - and happened upon my cousin, Centreman, our groom du jour, who was taking in the pool and hot tub with a couple of his groomsmen. I didn't get an immediate response when I asked if they ever made it to bed last night, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt (but hoped that he could at least take a nap before the ceremony).

Following brunch, Boo and I took a bit of tour on the trails surrounding the resort. We noted more than a couple of locations - with incredible views - that would be perfect for a picnic or for cocktails and a bottle of wine. The trouble was always going to be finding any time to take advantage of those great spots.

The wedding was an afternoon ceremony out on the resort deck and there was a bit of a break between the ceremony and the reception. Just enough time, as it turned out, to take in the series of steam and sauna rooms - and an extremely cold ice wall - to try and relax a bit. And, then, to grab a bit of wine.

We chose to just relax in our room - instead of heading outside to one of those wonderful viewpoints though. Sometimes, ease and comfort just make a little more sense.

952. 2009 Sandhill Pinot Blanc (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Part of the delay in arriving on time yesterday afternoon was a quick stop at the Sandhill tasting room. Despite all the Sandhill wines that have made in onto The List, I've never been to the Sandhill operation itself. The tasting room and wine shop are located in downtown Kelowna. So, there was no rural vineyard setting. It was, however, an upscale affair - befitting of one of the province's premier wineries.

I usually find that, with Sandhill, we gravitate to the Small Lots Program wines. The Pinot Blanc doesn't fall into the Small Lots category, but I quite enjoyed the sample we tried at the tasting room and grabbed a bottle for immediate consumption. There are BC wine savants, including Wine Master Barb Phillips, that think Pinot Blanc could be a signature varietal to help put BC on the global map. Howard Soon, Sandhill's winemaker, has certainly found a way to take the somewhat unheralded varietal and make the Pinot Blanc fruit shine through - even while exposing the wine to limited oak and lees aging.

As enjoyable as the wine and our break were, we needed to make haste and join back up with the wedding party. I was definitely interested in seeing what wines were going to be featured at the reception.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Wedding Prep

Having only been up in the Okanagan a couple of weeks ago, it's a rare occasion for me to find myself here again so soon after the last trip. Much to Boo's relief, this trip isn't purely wine-based - except to the extent that we'll no doubt enjoy some wine at my cousin's wedding.

Well, that and the fact that I'm going to have to stop in at least a couple of wineries seeing as how we're up at the Sparkling Hill Resort, found north of Kelowna at Predator Ridge. I don't recall ever having been up in this neck of the woods before and I figure you have to take advantage of an opportunity to visit a new winery when it's presented - even if that visit brings the possibility of buying a bottle or two of wine when you're on a "No buy Leash."

But that's a problem for down the road. For the moment, we only needed to settle into the rather plush surroundings. Sparkling Hill is a "wellness resort and spa" and is inspired by Swarovski crystal. Upon checking in, I was somewhat apprehensive when told that our room was on Floor -01. I know we didn't take the most expensive suite, but I never would have expected to be in the basement. Who has "negative" floor room numbers? Thankfully, it turned out that there was no need for concern. The hotel is built partially into the side of a cliff top and, as such, even some of the residential floors are found below the lobby floor.

Boo would have liked to just flop out in the room, but we'd arrived a bit later than planned due to a bit of forgetfulness. Accordingly, I needed to catch up with my parents, my sis, Vixen, and her paramour, Big Trucker. We found them at the Predator Ridge Club House but they'd been there for some time already and the folks were just about to head off to get ready for dinner. Luckily, Vixen is never one to say "no" to another cocktail - and I needed one.

950. 2009 Meyer Family Vineyards Rosé (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I don't know a ton about Meyer Family Vineyard - after all, they still produce less than 3000 cases and have only been around since 2008 - but what I do know generally revolves around their production of well-received Chardonnay. I knew they had a Rosé and thought it'd be a good afternoon sipper when I saw it on the club house's wine list. The bottle label didn't say much and the winery website has moved on to the 2010 vintage, so I haven't found a lot of information on the Rosé but I did see one mention of the 2009 vintage being Gamay Noir. Whether that's 100% Gamay or a blend, I couldn't tell you. I suppose, however, that Gamay would make some sense since the bulk of Meyer's production is based on Burgundy varietals.

We couldn't tempt Big Trucker away from his Black Russian, but I don't think it was only because the wine was pink. Maybe he's just not much of wine drinker. That'll likely see some change if he continues to hook up with Boo and I at these events.

We made good work on the Meyer - even without Trucker's assistance. But we needed to make our way back up to Sparkling Hill to start thinking dinner.

The family members that were staying at the Predator Ridge Golf Course never made it up to dinner. So, we joined my aunt and uncle, some of the wedding party and a few of the other wedding guests at Sparkling Hills's restaurant, Peak Fine. Naturally, that's when the camera decided to act up; so, no pictures relating to the dishes or the wine - even though it was a thoroughly enjoyable dinner.

Only one of our dinner companions joined with us for wine. So, there's just the one bottle to be added to The List. We'd only just met our new wine buddy as she was a family friend of my aunt's but she was game to try whatever we ordered. She did mention, however, that she didn't particularly like Merlot.

951. 2009 Laughing Stock Blind Trust (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I went with the Blind Trust - even though I knew that, as a BC Meritage, there was likely going to be a good percentage of Merlot in the blend. A blend with Merlot in it can be quite a different wine from a straight varietal and I know that Laughing Stock is reliably tasty. One of the fun aspects of this wine is that the winery doesn't tell you up front what the blend is.

As with all of Laughing Stock's wines, they like to incorporate aspects of the stocks, bonds and financial investing into their marketing of their wines. The winery's website advises that "a blind trust is a financial trust in which the executors have full discretion over the assets, and the trust beneficiaries have no knowledge of the holdings of the trust. In this case, our Blind Trust is a wine in which the winemaker has full discretion over the blend so you'll just have to trust us."

Once you've opened the bottle, you can discover the actual blend by removing the foil wrapping. We did just that - after our new drinking buddy had proclaimed that she loved the wine - and found out that 70% of this blend was Merlot. The remaining components were 22% Cab Sauv and 8% Malbec. She was rather shocked and said that she'll definitely have to re-think her stance on Merlot.

Taking a look back through the blog, I'm a little surprised that this is the first Blind Trust Red that I've added to The List. There's a Blind Trust White from a couple of summers ago, but this is the first red. I think we'll need to look at adding some more.

However, with another bottle behind us, it was time to rest up for the upcoming big day of spa and wedding activities.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Heart of a Canuck

Oh yeah. It's that logo again. It's time for the new NHL season to start and "Heart of a Canuck" is the team theme for the year. With the Canucks' drive for Vancouver's first Stanley Cup (as the Canucks anyhow) falling only ONE game short, there hasn't been a whole lot of down time since that fateful loss and "scuffle" that followed.

The water coolers around town haven't been abuzz with tonight's first game of the season as much as you might expect though. Don't get me wrong, the talk is all about the Canucks, but it's not about the game. Rather, the big stir is all about the nude photo of city favourite Ryan Kesler that's going to be featured in the upcoming ESPN Magazine's body issue. How they managed to morph/Photoshop Kes' head onto my body, I'll never know, but we had to gently nudge a couple folks at the office away from making the shot their default screensaver.

Unfortunately, the team was sporting far less-revealing uniforms when they hit the ice tonight. After all, this isn't Aussie Rules Football. But the new season still calls for a notable BC wine to start it off.

949. 2006 Alderlea Reserve Pinot Noir (Vancouver Island)

As I believe I've mentioned in other posts, we don't see Alderlea wine over here on the Mainland much. The winery's production is less than 2000 cases annually; so, they tend to keep all of it on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. The few times I've tried Alderlea wines, I've quite liked them though. It was an easy decision, therefore, to grab this bottle when I saw it on Salt Spring Island - despite the hefty little mark up the bottle shop was taking.

Being a bit of a special bottle, I thought it'd be a good choice to celebrate the new season. When I noted that the label art was pretty much a perfect match to the background in Kesler's photo, I knew it was the right choice.

Even with the similarities in staging the label and photo background, however, the powers in charge couldn't have been thinking only about this blog. Despite Kesler's being nude, I don't seen any Pinot. (Sorry, I couldn't resist the pun.)

Back to the wine though, owner and winemaker, Roger Dosman, is known for his early experimentation with different varietals and production methods. The Cowichan Valley wasn't exactly a wine region of note when he started planting his vineyard in 1994. He's overseen the introduction and replacement of a number of varietals - much like how the coach and general manager of a hockey team have to mix up players and lines in an attempt to get the team to click. As an example of his innovation, Pinot Noir after all isn't the easiest of varietals to work with, Roger has taken to "tenting" the vines for a couple of weeks at the start of the growing season and that seems to have helped with the ripening of the temperamental Pinot.

I have no idea if that tenting played any part in the resulting vintage of this wine but the wine definitely had more dark fruit on the palate than I would have expected for an island wine. Had I been tasting the wine blind, I'm not entirely sure that I would have even identified it as a Pinot.

The wine fair somewhat better than the team did tonight. The game had its good points, particularly in that the Canucks came back from behind against a strong Penguins team - but all that effort was only to lose in a shootout.

As I heard the other day on the radio, "There are two seasons in Vancouver - Summer and Hockey." Seems like Summer's over. It's going to be hard to follow up on last year's stellar campaign. Hopefully, this year won't drive me to drink. At least not more than I already do. After all, I do have to finish off this blog.

A Threesome of Tangled Red Vines

From Craig's home to our's. I'd previously mentioned that I made an extra-curricular stop, during this Fall's BC Wine Appreciation Society Bus Tour, at Tangled Vines winery outside Okanagan Falls. Luckily, winemaker, Craig McKenzie, was in the house at the time and we had a nice chat while tasting his full line-up.

Craig and I were hardly best buds during university days, but he did live next door at our rival fraternity's house. So, I knew his big personality and aptitude to party. If I recall the post-university story correctly, the "three guys and a girl" that make up the winery's partners, including Craig, all worked and became friends at Vancouver's Bridges restaurant. Following a wine vacation in the Okanagan, the four made that leap of faith and purchased a boutique winery that became Tangled Vines. Since Craig had at least spent some time working in the Australian wine industry, he got the job of winemaker and vineyard manager.

Tangled Vines has now been around for five vintages. Its production, however, is still very limited and they only make about 1000 cases a year.

The estate vineyards are almost exclusively planted with white varietals; so, naturally, I picked up a red while visiting.

948. 2009 Tangled Vines 3 Reds (Okanagan Valley)

3 Reds is Tangled Vines' first red blend and the 2009 version saw a 60/20/20 blend of Merlot, Cab Sauv and Syrah. Craig was saying, though, that he might not be making a whole lot more of the 3 Reds down the road. Top notch red grapes, at reasonable prices, haven't exactly been aplenty in the Okanagan with the last couple of less-than-stellar growing seasons. As such, not having access to your own vineyard fruit can lead to unfavourable economics as you have to cover the going rate for a limited grape supply.

Guess that means I'll have to enjoy the red while it's still around.

I keep saying - and I truly hope to be able to really pull it off - that I'd love to head up to OK Falls for a weekend and give a helping hand to Craig when he needs it. I figure I'm a pretty conscientious pruner or picker. Throw in some laughs and a bottle of wine and I'm thinking it sounds pretty good.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

2011 Aussie Rules Grand Final

We've had a few e-mails going back and forth lately with Merlot Boy and Sheila, our resident Melbourne buds, because their city was coming to a standstill for the annual party that is the Aussie Rules Football Grand Final. Last weekend, everyone except Boo was in fine spirits as (what we North Americans would call) the Semi-Finals were played and our three teams were still in the hunt. That is, if you could say that Sheila even has a team. She's more of a "footy widow" when it comes to the playoffs, but I suppose she inherits the Collingwood Magpies as her team since the men in her life live for the Pies.

Merlot Boy's Hawthorn Hawks and my West Coast Eagles were still alive as well but only the Pies made it through to the Grand Final. The Pies walloped my Eagles but Hawthorn had an unfortunate loss in the last stages of their game - and that loss dashed poor Merlot Boy's hopes and dreams for the season. The Eagles hadn't really been expected to make it that far anyhow; so, I was still fine. Besides, I don't know if I could have completely invested myself in the Grand Final outcome after this Spring's Game 7 Canucks loss in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Invested in the Grand Final result or not, this was a grand opportunity for a nice, big Aussie wine to match up with the nice, big Aussie blokes on the oval pitch.

947. 2003 Elderton - Ashmead Family Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

We chose to pull a Barossa Shiraz from the wine rack and we didn't regret it in the least. My love of the over-the-top fruit bombs coming to us from Down Under has waned somewhat; however, the nose, fruit and balance of the Elderton was delicious.

This Elderton is the baby brother to their icon wine, the Command Shiraz, but I think it was fine sibling. It's not often that we can afford icon wines; so, finding a really nice second label is a bonus.

Thank goodness for the wine because the Grand Final was a blowout - unlike last year's tie game. And the win wasn't even for Sheila's Pies. The Geelong Cats had crushed the Pies long before the final whistle blew. We did see perhaps the funniest commercial I've seen in a long time at half time though. Carlton Draft did a play on the operatic classic, Puccini's Nessun Dorma, with slow motion shots of footy players while the soundtrack regaled the joys of men in "shorts so tight."

I wish I could find it on the net to post here because we were gobsmacked when we figured out what they were singing about. I did find Carlton Draft's advert on a similar vein though and it's apparently a big award winner. It's worth a view and the Elderton's well worth a pour.

A Dinner Club for Faves

It doesn't actually seem like it's been all that long since the last Dinner club gathering but, here we are, feeling all Fall and getting the call from Lady Di and She Who Must Be Obeyed to feast and taste our way through another addition.

I always know that a Dinner Club outing is going to be an evening of great food and fun - as well as a prime source for adding a whack of bottles to The List. Tonight was no exception.

937. 2009 Mission Hill Reserve Viognier (VQA Okanagan Valley)

2009 Elephant Island - Pink Elephant (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

Our chefs for the evening greeted up with a couple of wines and a a couple of hors d'oeuvres. Chick Pea Crostini & Parsnip Pancakes with Crème Fraîche and Smoked Salmon. Knowing that this would be a very full evening, I took advantage of the fact that the Pink Elephant bubble made an appearance at our last Dinner club when we made our first road trip and visited the Tyrant on Salt Spring Island. Having already added the 2009 vintage to The List, I simply nodded my glass at the bubble and stuck to the Mission Hill Viognier.

The Lady has been a fan of Viognier since it first started gathering momentum as a more easily accessible varietal. Viognier can be a bit of a hit and miss for me - probably because, like Riesling, it can be made in a number of different styles and I'm not necessarily attracted to the heavily bodied and perfumed ones. The Mission Hill was hardly over-the-top though and I found it was an easy start to the evening, especially with the crostini that I had to force myself to stop hoovering.

938. 2007 Church & State - Hollenbach Family Vineyard Pinot Noir (VQA - Okanagan Valley)

As can often be the case with the inevitable bounty at our Dinner Club, I didn't get a picture of the Pinot Noir. Guess I just zeroed in on the Crab Gyoza and missed the bottle. Crab. Gyoza. Two of my favourite things. Together. A little wine to go with the course goes without saying, but I suppose some things are just a little more important than remembering to take a picture. You can see the glass of Pinot in the top, left hand corner of the gyoza picture though.

939. 2009 Sonoma-Cutrer - Russian River Ranches Sonoma Coast Chardonnay (California)

By the time we hit a soup course, Lady Di had recounted the story of their menu's "theme." All of the evening's courses were favourite recipes of their's that they have "stolen" from friends and made their own. Our Cape Breton Clam Chowda, from one of Lady Di's many aunts, was one that she grew up with. We were told that it's the chunks of cod added to the soup that made it more uniquely Cape Breton.

I was just about to write that a nice Chardonnay was a perfect match for a clam chowder and I thought I'd take a look at the Sonoma-Cutrer web page for this Chardy since I'm not familiar with the winery. Wouldn't you know that, immediately under the blurb on the wine, there's a recipe for Corn and Clam Chowder. What more can I say about the Lady's sense of pairing?

Next up was our venture into some bigger reds. The Lady had advised three of the guests that their task was to bring a Nebbiolo. We were the beneficiaries of a real range.

940. 2009 Produttori del Barbaresco Nebbiolo (Langhe DOC - Piedmont - Italy)

941. 2008 La Spinetta - Langhe Nebbiolo (Langhe DOC - Piedmont - Italy)

942. 2006 Azienda Vitivinicola La Collina dei Re - (Barolo DOCG - Piedmont - Italy)

The acidity of the dressing and tomatoes in our Heirloom Tomato Tarte with Beet and Haricots Salad was expected to match up nicely with the Italian star varietal. That it did - although it didn't hurt that the wines lived up to their billing. It was a surprise to see the La Spinetta bottle - given the fact that Boo and I have quite the jones for La Spinetta and we weren't the ones to bring it. Although technically, as a Langhe Nebbiolo, the La Spinetta is a "lesser" wine than the Barolo, it was a gem and more than a few of the diners (including me) picked it as the favourite of the night.

I hadn't run across the other producers but Produttori del Barbaresco is an association of growers that only produces Nebbiolo wines. The Langhe Nebbiolo is their entry level wine, the remaining wines all being Barbaresco's of various pedigree. The Collina dei Re remains a mystery to me as I couldn't find out much about it - other than its $30 price tag is about as reasonable as it gets for a Barolo in our market.

For the next course, a Steak & Mushroom Pie, we crossed the French/Italian border and moved on to a couple Bordeaux - and a BC Bordeaux blend.

943. 1998 Chateau Bel Orme - Tronquoy de Lalande - St. Seurin de Cadourne en Médoc Cru Bourgeois (AOC Haut Médoc - France)

944. 2005 Chateau Tertre de Belvès (AOC Côtes de Castillon - France)

945. 2003 Therapy Meritage (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

This is an example of why we're particularly lucky to have the Tyrant as one of our companions. He brought along the 1998 Médoc. I feel for him, having to work his way through his cellar now that a healthy selection of his wines are at a point of definitely being ready to quaff. Both of the French wines were decidedly French (okay, Old World); so, the Therapy wine fared rather well with its bigger emphasis on fruit.

There was little doubt that some damage had been done by this point. I'm not even sure that special guest, Bittr, even made it to dessert. The leather chair directly behind his dinner seat was a little too inviting as he did his best imitation of a sleeping angel.
But dessert there was - a Pumpkin Cheesecake with English Toffee none-the-less.

946. 1998 D'Arenberg - Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon (McLaren Vale - Australia)

Not exactly a natural match for red wine, there wasn't another bottle scheduled for this course, which was probably a good thing. Tyrant, however, had brought along another cellar special and there was little chance that we weren't going to take advantage of that bottle. The least successful pairing of the evening, who cared? We knew it wouldn't be and I just finished off the tasty cake and, then, moved on to the wine as we wound up the evening with conversation.

And a group shot.

It might not as easy to see the collection of bottles in this shot as it is in the normal Dinner Club line up of dead soldiers, but this was a little more fun.

A grand evening was had by all and I love the fact that I get to add a whole ten bottles to The List. That's the good news, the (perhaps) not so good news is that more than a couple of us paid for all that wine Sunday morning - that and the fact that Boo and I are next up as Dinner Club hosts. Let the planning begin.