Friday, November 25, 2011

A Half-Time Recount

As much as I'd like to celebrate wildly as we hit the half way point of this 2001 Bottle Wine Odyssey, being able to pull off anything on the scale of Madonna performing the Super Bowl Half-Time show is a bit beyond my party throwing abilities - legion as they might be. I could try and get Boo to dance around shirtless in the living room to Lady Gaga, but that'd be a "nipple-gate" of a whole other scale.

Nah, I'm afraid this little half time break won't be much more than a brief look at just what those first thousand bottles have been that we've polished off.

I'd hoped to do this sort of a look back a little more regularly, but, as many of you know, I'm having a hard enough time keeping up with the bottles as we finish them. Indeed, I'm around a month behind as it is now. Pleasant little reminiscences only serve to slow me down even more. I figure this one is worth it though.

Out of those first 1000 bottles, just under 600 of them were red. I guess that's a bit of a tell tale sign of what we - and our drinking buddies - tend to grab first in our quest to quench our respective thirsts. The breakdown after that was white wine (265-ish), sparkling wines (57), rosé (35), dessert (18) and fortified (12). There were some fruit wines (9) and a couple rice wines (sake) as well.

It's no shock that we generally gravitate to red wines. It's pretty much always been that way. However, I actually find it to be a little surprising that we drink twice as much red wine as we do white. One of the most interesting things I've learned since I've become more serious about wine and matching it to our food is that, even though we generally "drink red," we tend to "eat white." That, in turn has seen a bit of gravitation to lighter reds. Instead of reaching for a big Shiraz or full bodied Cab blend, I have noticed that Pinot Noir's, Gamay's and Rosés have graced our table more frequently than they used to.

Taking on this Odyssey has definitely prompted a more adventuresome impulse when it comes to grabbing a bottle off the shelf. A new wine region or a previously unheard varietal now tend to give me a bit of tingle and urge to buy. Having been placed back on Boo's "No Buy Leash," seeing those new wines can be a bit of an exercise in self discipline though. After all, seeing a wine from Mexico, Montenegro or Brazil is not an every day occurrence.

Living in Vancouver, it's no surprise that we drink more BC wines than we do from any other region. Around 400 bottles of our first 1000 were from the home province. However, the remaining wines were spread out among 26 countries (including two additional provinces - Ontario and Nova Scotia - and seven US states). After BC, the remaining top 10 sources of our wines, so far, have been:

2. Australia - 115 bottles
3. Italy - 95
4. France - 80
5. Argentina - 60
6. Spain - 49
7. California - 38
8. Portugal and Chile (tie) - 22 and
10. New Zealand - 18

Some of the more exotic sources of a bottle or two have been Brazil, Peru, China and Cuba. I'm hoping that there are many more to come in the second half of this adventure.

I won't go into the most popular varietals. You can take a look at the category labels on the side of the blog and see that the expected varietals - like Shiraz and Cab - are featured in a whole whack of postings. One of the more exciting aspects of the blog, however, has been to chart the number of varietals that we've tried. A few months back, I managed to list the 100th varietal on my Wine Century Club application and I'm now working on taking it even higher. I may not drink a lot of Trajadura, Romorantin or Moschofilero but I certainly know of them now.

Lastly, I continue to get a kick in seeing where some of the visitors to the blog hail from. Most hits are from Canada and the States, but surprisingly, Russia has just passed Germany as the third most prolific source of hits. They are followed by the UK, India, Malaysia (both being big surprises), Australia, Brazil and Argentina. Indeed, I'm advised that folks from 78 different countries have landed on the blog for at least one visit. The blog may have taken much different directions than I originally expected, but I can't say that I'd expected readers from places such as Qatar, Nepal, Malta or Brunei. There haven't been many hits from the African continent but maybe that's something I'll have to work on in the second half of the Odyssey.

All in all, I have to say, again, that the blog has been more work than I ever expected. The good thing for me is that, putting aside the time writing and researching that could be better spent, it pretty much is a labour of love. Drinking the wine is a definite benefit and I truly enjoy learning as much as I am. Hopefully, if you're reading this, you're enjoying the blog and we'll continue to cross paths as we move on to that 2001st bottle.


An Unexpected Treat

I knew, before we left for our little Southern Sojourn, that I was getting close to opening the 1000th bottle on this Wine Odyssey. Before it became apparent that this milestone was likely to happen, I'd rather envisioned reaching that point with a bit of a fanfare and some big bottles from our cellar. Naturally, the last thing I'd been worrying about on the vacation was what number bottle of wine we were opening. In the back of my mind, I was just hoping that the occasion and bottle would be fitting.

I think we met that hope.

Our day saw an early start, Desirée regaled us with her tale of frolicking dolphins as she watched the sun rise yesterday. We figured - no lounging in bed with a hefty sleep-in - we'd best join her this time since it was our final morning on the Outer Banks. Problem was, it's hard to watch the sun rise with an 80% cloud cover. All the same, we saw enough to justify the early rising. No dolphins but we did see a fisherman frolic if that's worth anything.

Following a quick clean and some hefty hugs goodbye, Desirée and Cruncher headed back to Virginia and Boo and I made a quick stop at the outlet mall. One never knows if you'll find the odd bargain prior to Black Friday or not. Never having been in the States for Black Friday, I wouldn't know if we were successful or not, but I doubt you can ever have enough Christmas-themed boxers.

We needed to make the long drive back to Raleigh/Durham in order to catch our flight back to Vancouver the next morning. Timing for flights was such that we needed the extra night in town. So, Boo and I decided to take a stab at Priceline for the first time. We both think we scored nicely with a room at the Carolina Inn - an historic hotel at the gates of UNC - Chapel Hill. A throwback to Southern Colonial living with modern day comfort, we were totally enthralled with our short stay at the "University's Living Room."

We settled into our room, opened one of the bottles of local wine that Desirée left for us and toasted our good fortune.

1000. 2009 Rag Apple Lassie - Pinot Gris (Yadkin Valley - North Carolina)

With a rather unique, flared bottle and a distinct, cartoon-esque label, we weren't expecting much from this wine. We were pleasantly surprised following our initial knock backs. The wine - named after the owner's childhood, state Grand Champion calf - was a bona fide sip. Many of our home turf Pinot Gris from the Okanagan are rated right up with some of the best. Rag Apple Lassie maybe didn't hit those heights but I think it could stack up with a good percentage of the wines we'd find back home.

Other than just finding a bovine gracing the label and alluding to the vineyard's past as a dairy farm, a little reading tells a history of the old dairy morphing into a tobacco farm after the Vietnam War. Soon afterward though, tobacco products largely fell out of favour with the public and that, in turn, saw the possibility of a comfortable livelihood fade sharply. It was a gamble but the Hobson family wasn't about to let three generations of working the farm disappear and they planted grapes in 2000 - one of the first to do so in modern times in the Yadkin Valley. They now produce around 6500 cases of mostly classical vinifera varietals - the ones you standardly see as varietal wines in your local bottle shop. You won't see the exotic Wine Century Club varietals for sale here that were omnipresent at the other North Carolina winery we tried, Stonefield Cellars.

Having perked up a touch, Boo and I made a quick tour of the campus, saw Occupy Chapel Hill's four tent camp and wandered a bit around a campus cemetery (right up Boo's alley). I can only imagine the Halloween activities that go on here.

We took the easy route for dinner and ate at the Crossroads Dining Room in the Carolina Inn and arrived to a welcome surprise. It was "No Whining Monday" and all bottles of wine were half price in the restaurant. Yippee! I didn't know at the time that our dinner choices were marking a monumental point in this blog, but the special did allows us a little guilt-free leeway in our wine budget for the evening.

1001. 2009 Four Graces - Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley - Oregon)

We went with our server's suggestion on this bottle. I figured a Pinot Noir would be versatile enough to match up with fish and duck we'd ordered and he said that he quite enjoyed this wine. The winery's website proclaims a New World approach to capturing its terroir and there's little doubt that this was New World. It was about as bold as I'm familiar with when it comes to Pinot Noir. I don't know much about Willamette Pinot's in general (other than that they're often considered world class) but this was as big as most reds of any varietal pedigree. It wasn't a bad thing. I'm a pretty big fan of fruit jumping out of my glass and we had no problem finishing the wine, but this almost as surprising in its boldness as the Pinot Gris was in its drinkability.

The food was bold enough for the wine though. In fact, this was one of our favourite meals of the trip. Boo joyously proclaimed his catfish and jambalaya to be as good as he could wish for - and that's after he tried to figure out exactly how he was going to duplicate the prosciutto wrapped dates stuffed with blue goat cheese that we had as a starter.

There was no need for dessert whatsoever, but there's never any harm in at least looking at the menu - particularly while on vacation. It wasn't the desserts that caught my eye so much, but the dessert wines. There was a bottle that immediately perked me up. When I asked our server about it, I told him that I was quite familiar with the winery but that I didn't know that they even produced a dessert wine. He didn't know much off hand either but he went back to ask the cellar manager about it. He returned to say that they couldn't tell us much because no one could recall having sold a bottle in over 10 years at the restaurant.

At $80 a half bottle, there might have been a reason that I'd never run across it before and no one else had splurged for it. But, after all, this was "No Whining Monday" and its reduced prices. I still wasn't so inclined to pay $40 for a bottle that I knew nothing about, was old and that we certainly didn't need. It'd be our third bottle of the day and I don't do hangovers on planes - at least not well. Our server went back to talk to the manager and see if he could work something out. When he returned and said that they'd pop the cork for $25, I still had to think about it but Boo said, "Go ahead. We can always take it back to the room with us."

1002. 1998 La Spinetta - Passito Oro (Piedmont - Italy)

Boo and I had visited one of La Spinetta's three wineries when we were in Italy a few years back (before I'd started this blog unfortunately) and we've been fans of Spinetta ever since. We tend to only see their high end Barbaresco's and Barolo's (and I do mean high end) back home in Vancouver. So, we don't get much opportunity to try their wines. This would be a special occasion - worthy of reaching the half way point on this Wine Odyssey - especially since I didn't know the wine even existed.

Oro is an interesting take on a dessert wine - at least for me. It's made in a method that I haven't run across before - at least not in this particular version. Once the 100% Moscato grapes have been picked, this Mosto Parzialmente Fermentato method sees the grapes racked to partially dry in the cellar for a couple of months - much in the way Amarone grapes are handled. The grapes are only crushed after certain levels of fermentation have already occurred during the partial dehydration. One of the results is a more concentrated juice with bigger flavours. That result sounds somewhat similar to the late harvest wines we find back home, but, to my knowledge, all our concentration of the grape is done while it is still on the vine and desiccation of the grape isn't the goal of the longer hang time.

The winery website says that the 1998 was the first vintage of this wine for La Spinetta and there isn't a lot produced - only around 4000 half bottles on average. Even with a decade of ageing, it was still a rich drink - reminiscent of apricots and sweet oranges but with still enough acidity to draw out a long finish. We took the bottle with us to the bar next door and had a relaxing finish to the evening and to our trip. Thanks to our server would seem in order for the gentle arm-twisting he performed to coax us into ordering the bottle after all. I think it was definitely worth it.

Our little trip South may be ending, but we still have half an Odyssey to go on the blog. There's no way that the occasion or the pedigree of the wine can be this extravagant for all 2001 Bottles, but it's fair to say that we're doing our best to take advantage of those occasions when they arise and that I'm certain we'll experience our fair share of great bottles and times over the thousand bottles still to come.

A Lazy Last Night

It might have only been our second night here on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but it was also our last. The good thing about November on the OBX is that things are pretty low key and mellow. From what little I saw, it looks like the area pretty much shuts down after sundown. This I can handle - particularly with a comfy couch and a glass of wine.

998. 2010 Montresor Il Veronese (Valpolicella DOC - Verona - Italy)

With last night's Amarone long gone, we opened one of that wine's little brothers - a Valpolicella. Made from the same grapes and in the same part of Italy, Valpolicella is a lighter version of the big Amarone's. And that lightness has been a bit of marketing problem for winemakers. Too often, bulk Valpolicella's were being shipped abroad and impressions have long been that the wine hasn't caught up with current day standards. As with many other Old World regions, steady and conscious efforts to modernize production has seen some marked improvement in the overall quality of Valpolicella.

Tonight's wine was no shrinking violet. If other wineries are stepping up their game like this, I could see trying another Valpolicella - as opposed to gravitating more to the bigger Ripasso's and Amarone's.

Montresor is a big player in Verona and the family's history is one filled with intrigue. I read on one site, The Wine News, that the family "fled the Touraine in the heart of the LoireValley in the 18th century after having been involved in a backroom plot to 'physically eliminate Cardinal Richelieu." The family is also mentioned in Edgar Allen Poe's tale, "The Amontillado Cask."

We spent the better part of the evening filling in the loose ends on all the intrigues surrounding Desirée's and our lives. There may not have been any plots to knock off religious leaders to tell of, but there was more than enough going on to drop the odd jaw and induce some heavy sighs and, of course, prompt a few good old belly laughs.

We were all fairly ready to make an early night of it, but I took a quick inventory of the wine we hadn't touched and there was no way that Boo and I were going to be able to bring that many bottles home with us. We knew that Desirée would offer the remaining bottles a good home - at least for a little while - but I did want to open at least one more of the locally produced bottles.

999. N.V. Stonefield Cellars - Vin de Narlé (Bottled in North Carolina)

Seeing as how this is the third Stonefield Cellars wine that I'm adding to The List, I suppose it's fair to say that I've found that there's at least a little something to North Carolina wines.

Regular readers will know that dessert wines and I are frequent friends. Finding a Port-styled wine from North Carolina just seemed like something that had to be tried.

Regardless of my being Canadian, my comprehension of la langue française is hardly what we'd call strong. Regardless of that fact, the word "Narlé" stumps me - even after a quick check in an English/French dictionary. I guess I didn't think to ask for the linguistic background when we visited the winery, but I didn't see any reference on the winery website either. I saw a couple of online comments that seem to point in the direction that owner and winemaker, Robert Wurz, was experimenting with a Port-like wine and there were early references to that "gnarly" wine. "Gnarly" became the sophisticated "Narlé" and the rest is marketing history. I'd like to know if that tale is true or merely tall but, in the meantime, we got to try something out of the ordinary for us here in Vancouver.

As far as Port-style wine go, this was fairly light bodied but there was still enough flavour in the glass that we didn't have a problem finishing the bottle. I don't know how quick I'd be to pay the asking price of $20 or so for another half bottle - but I certainly don't regret the purchase in the first place. As mentioned, I like "out of the ordinary" - almost as much as I like Port.

Water or Wine?

One of Boo's biggest hopes for the trip would be that the November weather might be just warm enough for him to not completely freeze if he took a dip in the Atlantic Ocean. Anything less than tropical would be too cold for me to leave the comfort of the beach, but he figured the 68ºF./20ºC. we were enjoying would suit his purpose to make like a porpoise. He actually lasted a lot longer in the cold ocean waters than we imagined, but Desirée and I were completely content to take pictures in the warmth of our jackets and sweatshirts.

We did, however, have a glass of a deep, dark red to try and help warm him upon his return to shore.

997. 2007 Quinta de Ventozelo - Touriga Nacional (Douro DOC - Portugal)

I'm quite intrigued by the strides being made by Portugese winemakers in the last decade. Like many, I really only looked to Portugal for my beloved Port (and maybe the odd Vinho Verde), but more and more red table wines have been showing up on bottle shop shelves and, like the surge in new Spanish wines, they're being brought in because the wine industry in the old country is modernizing and trying to capture a share of the world market.

Portugese table wines generally didn't make it to North America because they were simple, cheap wines made for the home market, but a desire on the producers' part to sell globally and a distinct improvement in the wine being made has seen a big change. In general, Portugese table wines are still on the affordable side of the pricing scale and that fact, together with an increasing interest in the wine drinking public to try wines made from grapes they've never heard of, has helped lead to this ever increasing availability of wines.

I don't think I've seen Quinta de Ventozelo in the Vancouver market but it is a relatively new brand. Historical papers show that the quinta itself goes back to the early 1800's; however, up until a change in ownership in 1999, the quinta's grapes and wines were all sold in bulk to other producers - some of which played roles in award winning Ports. The new owners decided to draw on the quinta's tradition and success and start to market and sell Port and still wines under its own brand name.

I've had a few postings about wines that included Touriga Nacional but not many that feature a strictly varietal wine. The grape is one of the most prominent varietals used in making Port and is one of the best known grapes in Portugal as far as varietal wines go. Quinta de Ventozelo is located in the Douro region - perhaps the most famous wine region in Portugal as it is known as the home of Port production. The combination of Douro, table wine and Touriga Nacional is one that is bound to pique my interest currently. I doubt Joe Wine Buyer will ever recognize a Touriga Nacional before a Merlot, Cab Sauv or Shiraz, but I think we'll see a lot more attention given to wines like this in the years to come.

It doesn't hurt that the wine hits the mark with nice body, fruit and structure.

But, with Boo's swim all finished and our glasses now empty, it was time to head back to the beach house.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Kill Devil Hills, Sand & Bubbles

I'm one of those guys that feel that celebrations and bubbles make a brilliant friendship. Our catching up with Desirée is certainly a celebration; so, it only made sense to bring along a bottle of sparkling fun.

Desirée has long loved bringing her kids down to the Outer Banks for family vacations and one of her favourite spots is Jockey's Ridge, the tallest natural sand dune on the East Coast. The acceptance of a suggested hike on the dunes was a no brainer. We might not have taken advantage of the possibility of sandboarding or handgliding, but then none of the folks that gravitated to those activities brought along a bottle of French fizz with them - at least not that we saw.

The concept of sipping bubbly on giant sand dunes is not a new one to Boo and I. One of my favourite wine memories is popping open a bottle of Champagne to watch the sun set from the top of a giant sand dune outside the oasis town of Liwa on the edge of the Arabian Desert. The dunes weren't quite as big here, but, at the same time, the penalties aren't probably as harsh if you're caught with your wine out in the sand in North Carolina as it would be in the Muslim, non-drinking world of Abu Dhabi.

996. N.V. Louis Bouillot - Perle d'Aurore Rosé Brut (Crèmant de Bourgogne AOC - France)

Many of you will know that it's illegal to call a sparkling wine "Champagne" if the wine isn't actually made in the small French region of Champagne - even if the wine is made using the same process called méthode traditionelle. That illegal bit even goes for sparkling wines made in other parts of France. Many other world regions have tried to overcome the inability to use the "C" word by creating their own sparkling wine brand. There's "Cava" in Spain, "Prosecco" in Italy and "Crémant" in much of the rest of France.

Louis Bouillot is a new producer to me; however, the company has been making sparkling wines since 1877. They currently produce 13 different Burgundy Crémants and 2 Cuvées de France (the difference being that the grapes for the latter designation can be sourced from regions outside of Burgundy).

This Brut Rosé is a blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Gamay Noir, the two traditional red grapes of Burgundy. The winemakers allow a short maceration of the crushed juice on the skins to get the brilliant hue. Following that, the wine is made in the méthode traditionelle with additional ageing on the lees (or spent yeast cells produced as the wine ages) to impart a more complex and intense flavour.

In general, a really great thing about Crémant wines is that you can get Champagne quality wine at a fraction of the price. The wine was a great perk for having hiked through the sand for about a half hour or so. Sitting back in the sand, the early fruit, followed by bright acidity on the finish was a lot more refreshing than the bottled water we'd been drinking up to that point. I didn't find the mousse or degree of bubbles in the wine to be that exciting but the occasion was another one for the books.

Other than the seasonal hurricanes, sand dunes and a memorial for the Wright Brothers and their Kitty Hawk flights, the Outer Banks is maybe best known for its trademark lighthouses. We didn't have time for the hour's drive down to the largest of the lighthouses, Cape Hatteras, but the twenty minutes to the Bodie Island lighthouse seemed reasonable. Having already polished off a bottle of bubbles before noon (it is a vacation after all), it's probably just as well that we weren't able to climb the lighthouse.

We did, however, decide that a little lunch was in order and, after a bit of a nature walk through the lighthouse's surrounding marsh, we dropped in to catch crabs at Dirty Dick's. A touch on the naughty side - and totally touristy - but having some crab while visiting OBX was high on Boo's and my wish list.

A little more relaxing than traversing New Orleans or treading carefully with family, I could get use to this.


When I found out that Boo and I would be spending a bit of time in North Carolina, I got in touch with an old family friend, Desirée, who had moved to Virginia from Canada almost twenty years ago. Her mom and mine went to high school together (a few years ago) in the Kootenays and the respective families have stayed in touch all that time. Boo and I finally got on the road from Greensboro and committed ourselves to five or so hours of freeway driving to the Outer Banks on the Atlantic coast where Desirée arranged for all of us to rent a beach house for the weekend.

The drive was pretty monotonous for about the first three-quarters. Nothing but highways and interchanges. But, as we started getting closer to the coast and through a more rural lifestyle, the scenery was far more bucolic. On the final stretches before we hit the Atlantic, I started seeing farmer's fields and a huge smile crossed my face when I realized I was seeing cotton fields for the first time. It must have been during, or just after, harvest time because most of the fields were pretty much barren as we drove by, but there was no mistaking those white puffball-laden stalks when we saw a field that hadn't been picked. I was certainly thrilled when an opportunity presented itself where we could stop on the highway and get a real shot.

Shortly after the cotton fields, we hit the causeways that took us out the Outer Banks and it wasn't much further until we arrived in the interestingly named township of Kill Devil Hills. Desirée and Cruncher had arrived earlier in the day and had already started to set up house. That meant there was a much appreciated glass of wine just waiting to be tasted as soon as we put down our bags.

994. 2010 Casa Sant'Orsola - Dolcetto D'Alba (Dolcetto D'Alba DOC - Piedmont - Italy)

Casa Sant'Orsola is one of the brands operated by Fratelli Martini and has been in operation since 1947 when two Martini brothers, Secondo and Luigi, started up in the Langhe region of Piedmont. Now making wine under six different brands in most regions of the country, the Dolcetto goes back to the brothers' origins - Dolcetto being one of the most widely grown grapes in Piedmont.

Dolcetto is generally seen as a varietal that most major producers treat as an "early to market" wine. While the big Barolo's and Barbaresco's are perhaps better known wines from the region, they require minimum ageing before they can be released for sale. Wineries can keep the cash flow moving with the Dolcetto as it is considered a light, easy drinking wine that is meant to be drunk within a year or two of being released.

An easy drinker was just what we needed. The beach was only two blocks away from our new home. So, we filled our glasses and moseyed on down for a bit of a hike before the sun went down. Boo and I had met up and visited briefly with Desirée in Virginia once before when we weren't far away in Washington DC. We'd made a quick drive through the Outer Banks on that trip on our way to Raleigh (before HDR3 had moved to the Carolinas), but we didn't get a real chance to take in the beach or stay at all. This was a treat.

Things got even better when Desirée announced that she'd gone grocery shopping and was fixin' up some short ribs for dinner. She figured the food would be better than the tourist trap restaurants; the wine would be cheaper; and we wouldn't have to worry about making it home to bed. I think she was remembering our last visit where we finished off lord only knows how many bottles of Sangre de Toro. We joked about cheap red wine and bull's blood for years after that.

995. 2007 Stonefield Cellars Barrel X (North Carolina)

We'd picked up another couple of bottles at Stonefield Cellars when Boo and I were in Greensboro. We figured they'd be good for the weekend. I'd asked Desirée to see if she could bring down a couple Virginia wines with her when she came and her response was, "Why would you want me to? I may not know much about wine, but I know I don't touch Virginia wines." Somehow it just seemed right to pay a little homage the local product. We might have been a long way from Rome, but I figured we should still make like locals.

The Barrel X is a small batch production for Stonefield - there's only a single puncheon (or barrel that generally holds a little over 300 litres) - of Syrah, Barbera and Mourvèdre. Those aren't exactly varietals that I'd expect from a somewhat cooler climate region and that may be why the wine seemed a little green and acidic compared to the other reds that we drank that night. It tasted bigger and better at the winery, but I suppose that might be because we'd been comparing it to a lot of whites and lighter reds in the tasting room.

After posting our earlier visit to Stonefield Cellars, I was asked about the number of wineries in North Carolina. I took another quick look and saw that there are now over 100 wineries in the state - a four-fold increase over the last decade. North Carolina, as a state, is now the 9th biggest producer in the US. The situation actually sounds quite similar to the size and growth that BC wineries are seeing back home - our's is a new industry in the greater scheme of things as well. So, it will be interesting to see how North Carolina fares in the coming years.

996. (?..ndo) Amarone (Amarone della Valpolicella DOC - Italy)

I guess I'd better not go on vacation while I'm still counting bottles. I thought I was doing really well taking notes and photos of the bottles we enjoyed but it appears that this is the only picture I took of this bottle and it doesn't show enough of the label to see the name of the producer. I can make out the letters "NDO" but I couldn't find any producers that have a name with a similar ending. Oh well, the picture's there, we did drink the wine with Desirée's short ribs and I'm counting it.

Too bad I can't look up anything further on the wine. I can't say that we splurge on Amarone's all that often. We picked up the bottle to bring along as a treat - as opposed to a bottle of Sangre de Toro (which would have been hilariously funny) - since Desirée has mentioned that Amarone is a favourite of Cruncher's. We hadn't met Cruncher before since he wasn't on the scene when we last saw Desirée back in the 90's. I kinda thought he'd be my sort of peeps - even before I met him - when she mentioned the Amarone though.

Looking forward to the rest of the weekend? You bet.

Churrascaria, You Don't Say

So, it's our last night in Greensboro and we wanted to take Boo's brothers (plus 1 wife and 1 son - not each, just the only ones that were around) for dinner. HDR3, being the local bro, thought it would be fun to visit a Brazilian steakhouse - or churrascaria. None of us had been to one before - and we did have Carolina BBQ earlier. Game on.

The endless supply of red meat just cried out for a bit of red wine. I saw an Argentine blend on the wine list and thought "Argentina's right next to Brazil, this has got to go well." I'd never heard of Tikal before but it sounded like an easy blend.

992. 2009 Tikal Patriota (Mendoza - Argentina)

Turns out that Tikal is a project of Ernesto Catena - son of Nicolás Catena Zapata, one of the best known names in the world of Argentine wine. Tikal is the name of Ernesto's son and it is meant to be a bold, new world winery that plays to one's passions. The Patriota is a 60/40 blend of Bonarda and Malbec - the two red varietals that have been at the core of Argentina's wine tradition. The wine is meant to be a tribute to that tradition and to Catena's passion for Mendoza and Argentina.

With a steady supply of beef, pork, lamb and chicken, there was plenty of meat to wash the wine down with. The servers just kept a'coming and there was no way that I could even give every choice of meat a try - and I did try. HDR3 was the hands down winner on filling the plate but I think we all gave the restaurant a pretty good run for its money. With all that meat, however, our Tikal was finished early enough that the decision had to be made about a second bottle. As much as we liked the easy drinking Tikal, we decided to take a risk on a second bottle that I discovered on the wine list.

993. Miolo Lote 43 (Vale de Vinhedos - Brazil)

Yup, that's right - a Brazilian wine. I'm pretty sure I've never seen a Brazilian wine before - although I have heard that wine is made and is abundant. At $40, it was the most expensive South American wine on the list. That's got to be a bit of a cause for reflection. I asked our server what he knew about the wine and he couldn't say much at all. He offered to go ask the manager and came back to say that, understandably, they don't sell a lot because of the price point. However, he was able to say that, once ordered, people seemed to enjoy it and that no one had ever sent back a bottle. Sounded like a decent gamble to me.

Miolo is a large volume producer in Brazil and is apparently quite popular. I did a quick Google search on "best Brazilian wine" and Miolo showed up on each of the search results. The winery and vineyards are located in the south of Brazil, in the Vale de Vinhedos or the Valley of Vineyards - the only region that has a certificate of geographic designation for wine.

Most folks associate Brazil with Portugal when it comes to European tradition but the region in question saw a lot of Italian colonization. Indeed, I read that there are over 25 million Brazilians of Italian descent and that Brazil is home to the largest community of the Italian diaspora. The Miolo family started cultivating grapes in the valley as early as 1897; however, they only started making their own wines in 1990. They quickly grew to the point that they produce 4 million litres of red, white and sparkling wine annually.

The Lot 43 is the winery's icon wine and it's a Cab Sauv/Merlot 50/50 blend. We were pleasantly surprised that it tasted as good as it did. Most references to Brazilian wine say that the Brazilians should stick to Brahma beer and Caipirinhas, but the Miolo family has brought in world famous, French consultant Michel Rolland and it would appear that he's had some beneficial influence. Nice, up front fruit and structure to the wine but I'm not sure I'd lay it down for plenty of ageing. A Brazilian wine was a neat novelty though.

The evening's end came too quickly - even if we couldn't have eaten any more meat. It was soon time to start the goodbyes because Dan-o was back to Florida first thing in the morning and Boo and I had to make our way out to the Atlantic coast for a final weekend to the vacation. The three days that we did get with the family was lovely way to catch up with everything that was happening.

Cheers to that.

A Little Traminette with that Pulled Pork?

It seemed like Boo and I had hardly arrived in Greensboro and here we were down to our last full day already. Talk about never having enough time.

Our timing dilemma meant that it was now or never for finding us a bit of BBQ before we had to move on. HDR3, the local bro', went through the various options that were available. Not being from the South, I certainly didn't realize that different regions have different BBQ styles. In fact, this part of North Carolina alone has two separate styles - Lexington and Eastern.

We decided upon Prissy Polly's Pig Pickin' Barbecue because it offers both styles at the same restaurant.

Boo asked his mom if she wanted to join us and she looked at him as if he were crazy. It took no further explanation to know that she was coming with us regardless of whether we were offering. Younger bro', Dan-o, joined in on the road trip as well. It took a bit of determination to make our way through the menu and all the options but we managed to come up with an assortment of plates that, not only covered the required pulled pork, but resulted in an array of sides that ranged from fried okra, hushpuppies and fried squash to slaw, baked beans and collards.

I think you might refer to this as being "mighty fine dining" as opposed to "fine dining." All the same, I know we all left fully sated.

We took Mom Mary home after lunch and the boys said some teary goodbyes after a bit of an extended visit.

Turns out we weren't far away from one of the wineries that have started to appear in the area; so, I managed to coax the boys into taking a bit of a side trip by offering to buy them a drink.

I'd read a tiny bit about the wine industry that was developing in North Carolina but I didn't think that we'd realistically get a chance to visit one. Time truly was that tight. With Stonefield Cellars being no more than 15 minutes away though, the opportunity suddenly presented itself.

During our lengthy visit with Tasting Room manager, Michelle, (lucky for us that no one else showed up while we were there) we were advised that Stonefield recently celebrated its 5th anniversary and it seems to be creating a bit of niche for itself in the area. The estate vineyard is only 1.5 acres but they make around 20 different grape wines and another couple fruit wines - production, however, is still limited to about 2000 cases. They grow a dozen varietals at their estate vineyard and they bring in grapes (maybe 50-60%) from other growers - all within 40 miles of their location. A few of the varietals included in that list are a godsend to someone wanting to build up their Wine Century Club tasting list. I can't say that I recall running across Canadice, Cayuga, Niagra or Symphony before. Most of those intriguing varietals go into blends and aren't made into single varietal wines though.

991. 2006 Stonefield Cellars - Traminette (Virginia - US)

One of the unexpected varietals is made into a varietal wine, however, and that's the one we asked Michelle to open for us out on the winery patio. The Traminette grapes must be one of the varietals that is sourced from another vineyard because I notice that the appellation area on the bottle is shown as Virginia. We weren't far from the state line, but I wouldn't have guessed that our first North Carolina wine on the trip was actually made from Virginia grapes. Oh well.

The Traminette grape is a relatively new varietal. It was created in 1965 at the University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign when the Gewurztraminer grape was crossed with an American/French hybrid grape called Johannes Seyve 23.416 by French biochemist, (you guessed it) Johannes Seyve. Seyve's intent was apparently to produce a large table grape that exhibited the flavours of a Gewurztraminer. There was a bonus, however, when the new cross was found to have qualities that were quite suitable to making a nice wine as well. Production of the grape seems to be limited primarily to the US, but its cold hardiness might make it a candidate for BC too. Who knows, we may well see BC Traminette down the road.

Stonefield's Traminette is made in an off-dry style but it was certainly a decent enough sip and I could see quaffing some down with a plate of pulled pork, especially if there's a bit of bite to the seasoning.

In the meantime, I'm a happy guy in that I not only got to visit a North Carolina winery but I get another varietal to add to my Wine Century Club list.

Sort of an American Thanksgiving

Despite living our lives awash in American media, one of the things we get used to in Canada is that we celebrate Thanksgiving a month earlier than folks do in the US. Accordingly, it didn't feel like anything out of the ordinary for us to have a Thanksgiving dinner a week before everyone else in the States would be loading up on turkey. There was no way that Boo wanted to experience the airport chaos that is American Thanksgiving; so, our little, mini-family reunion was timed so that we'd be able to make our way back across the 49th Parallel just in time to beat the rush - although it also meant we'd miss Black Friday, but that's another story.

Cuzzin' K and Coke came over from Raleigh and Boo's younger brother, Dan-o, was able to make it up from Florida so that we could all share dinner with Mom Mary.

Mom Mary's move back to and transition to the States hasn't been the easiest of journeys and Boo was apprehensive of how everything would transpire as the whole gang gathered. Seems like he needn't have overly worried. Family, food and wine can help immensely.

If there was one problem encountered though, it was that Boo discovered that our iPad is the perfect vehicle for Angry Birds. Talk about distractions.

987. N.V. Conte Priola Rosso (Medium Sweet) (Italy)

This was a bottle that HDR3, the default ale-drinker, had picked up. I have to admit that the "Medium Sweet Red Wine" that was most notable on the label had me wondering a bit; being a non-vintage wine didn't help ease my concern either. There wasn't much else on the label and I can't find any mention of a winery online, but the label does refer to L.P. Fossalta di Piave which is a small town north of Venice. I'd expected some sugary pop-like drink reminiscent of the Rich Red's and Ruby Red's of yore. It wasn't half as sweet as I'd expected and we didn't have to secretly serve it to the unwitting. I'll likely remain wary of such labels down the road, but I suppose it shows you can't judge a wine solely by the label.

988. 2010 S. Andrea in Colle Il Rosso (IGT Rosso Tuscany - Italy)

Again, this isn't an easy wine to find information about online. There's a bit more on the label this time around though and it is both a vintage and a classified (IGT) wine. Again, the most telling information on the label was that the name S. Andrea in Colle seems to refer to another small town and area outside of Florence. I suspect the wine is produced by a collective of growers in the region. Unlike the last wine, at least this label confirmed that the wine is made of Sangiovese - which would make sense for Tuscany.

One additional note on the label is that the wine is an "Alfio Moriconi Selection." I might not have been able to find anything about the winery, but Mr. Moriconi is a consulting buyer of European wines for the Total Wine chain. Accordingly, the bottle might be one made specifically for sale by Total Wine in the US.

Again, the wine was more than suitable for our purposes. I think the wine was meant to be approachable as an introductory wine for the newer consumer that is willing to try varietals that aren't as well-known as Cabernet or Merlot. Boo and Mom Mary had both had a bit - and they're still smiling - so it couldn't have been that bad.

Turkey and all the trimmings turned to pumpkin pie and cherry cobbler and that brought even more smiles to all those gathered.

989. 2009 Radius Merlot (Washington State)

Who'd have thunk it, but I couldn't easily find out anything about this wine either. Being from Washington State, I figured there'd be a winery website - but not one that I could find and the Washington wine industry has some pretty extensive websites. That likely means that this is a consumer brand wine - much like the two Italians.

Good thing I wasn't expected to know anything about the wines at dinner. Folks were definitely more concerned with everyone else's news and with how Mom Mary's move was working out. Those conversations carried on for some time; so, naturally, we needed to pull out another bottle of wine.

990. 2010 Adolph Mueller Piesporter Michelsberg Riesling Spätlese (Prädikatswein - Mosel - Germany)

Surprise, I couldn't find a website for this producer either but, luckily, German wine labels can tell you a fair bit about the wine inside - if you can ever figure out how to read them. "Prädikatswein" is a qualification that the industry uses to identify wines of superior quality. "Piesporter Michelsberg" is the collective of vineyards forming the area from where the grapes were grown in the bigger Mosel region. "Spätlese" is often translated as meaning "late harvest;" so, it's not surprising to find a fair whack of residual sugar in this wine.

That being said, I can't say as I know anything else about the wine or winery. We were drinking it on its own but I think the sweetness might have been a little less prominent if we'd opened it to drink along with dessert. As it was, it was more like a dessert in itself - which isn't necessarily the worst thing that can happen while on vacation.

I must be away from home because it's not too often that I don't know something about any of the wineries or can't find out something about the wine since it's being sold in our market. Not so much today. But then, trying wines that I wouldn't normally see or try or know anything about is a central part of this Odyssey.

And who we're drinking the wine with is another primary tenet of the blog. So, this is a special entry seeing as how far everyone had travelled to get together. If that wasn't reason for giving some thanks, I don't know what is.

From N'Awlins to Tarheel Country

It appears we're going to start off our visit to North Carolina much as we ended our stop in New Orleans - with a beer. I suppose it only makes sense - particularly in the South - that man does not live on wine alone. Even when that man writes a wine blog.

We didn't arrive in Greensboro until late afternoon but Boo's two brothers surprised us by greeting us at the airport (and directing me to the nearest shop with a decent wine selection). By the time we'd checked in and made our way to his brother's home, we learned that Boo's twin, HDR3, had stopped by one of his local faves, the Liberty Tap Room, to pick up a little brown jug of one of their ales to go. I know the jug had a particular name, but darned if I can remember it. I do remember, however, that you can just take the bottle back to the brew pub and they'll refill it for you. I like that kind of customer care.

One activity on my wish list for the trip was to take in some southern BBQ. I don't know that I'd expected it so quickly and to be home cooking but, being the good ol' boy that he is, HDR3 lit up the flames and started us off with some fine grilling. Slow smoked, pulled pork was still on the horizon, but you won't catch me saying, "No thanks," to a nice slab of beef.

And a big, red wine to go with it.

986. 2008 Edmeades Mendocino County Zinfandel (Mendocino County - California)

There's little doubt that, when I'm State-side, I'm going to take the opportunity to grab some California Zin since there aren't any of those nasty Canadian duties and taxes that magically appear as soon as the same wines cross the border into Canada. Edmeades isn't a winery that I'm familiar with - even with all the California Wine Fairs and tastings that come through Vancouver. Edmeades is apparently one of the first wineries to set up shop in the Anderson Valley, above Sonoma. When they started planting grapes in the early 1960's, they were the first modern-day grape growers in the Valley and most of their neighbours thought it was pure folly.

That folly seems to have proved viable and the winery is still going strong (although it changed hands in 1988). Edmeades now specializes in single vineyard Zinfandels; however, this Mendocino County wine is a blend of grapes from the collection of vineyards that the winery sources from. It also features small proportions of Syrah and Petit Syrah to round out the wine.

The brothers had plenty to catch up on and the talk continued for awhile but tomorrow was to be the big get together and they'd be bringing Mom Mary over for dinner - the first time that Boo has seen her since she moved away from the Kootenays and Canada a little over a year ago. That called for a relatively early wrap up to the evening and a good night's sleep.

I Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans

Having said good-bye to Merlot Boy and Margarita this morning, it was now Boo's and my final night in the Big Easy. And our plan was to not worry so much about the "big," but to look to and accentuate the "easy."

Kelly, our Southern Belle of a hostess at the Royal Barracks Guest House, paid a final visit with Sugah and graciously helped us finish off what little wine and Grey Goose we hadn't succeeded in polishing off - either on our own or with MB and Marg. The girl has some capital "S" stories to tell and she gave us a tour of the guest rooms that we hadn't seen since each of them has a different decor and theme.

It won't be a hard sell for us to stay at Royal Barracks again should we be lucky enough to make it back to New Orleans again.

As mentioned, Boo and I were taking it easy on the evening's activities and we decided to try Coop's, one of the local haunts, since both Kelly and our Aussie pair highly recommended it. Its popularity certainly didn't come into question. There was healthy line-up to get in and the waitress seem to be in endless demand. The little shot of food porn was to document the most delicious jambalaya we'd run across on our journey. You can also see that we passed on the wine tonight - as the choice was pretty slim and we didn't really need a full bottle - but the photo accidentally shows a Guest Alcohol that we should grace on these pages.

There were more than a couple bottles and pints of beer quaffed back during the trip. After all, we were less than a block away from Bourbon Street where beer is just another word for breakfast, but we were travelling with Aussies as well. I needn't say more about that correlation to beer. I think that in almost all the circumstances where a beer was in order, it was inevitably an Abita - a local, small batch, craft brewer. The brewery offered up a comprehensive array of beers and ales that seemed to be readily available all around town - the choice was expansive enough that you were generally best served by trying to match a brew to your meal, same as you do with wine.

I don't know if Abita ever makes it across the border into BC but I'd definitely keep an eye open for it.

There was only one other stop we had to make time for and that was to take in a bit of old time N'Awlins jazz. It wasn't the old Preservation Hall but the Maison Bourbon Jazz Club is a stalwart of its own. Bourbon Street, itself, is more known for loud rock & roll, strip clubs and hi-jinx than jazz nowadays, but Maison Bourbon is a bit of throwback to music clubs of yore.

It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea (Boo's?) but it's a definitive face of what I think of when I remember New Orleans. Everyone should take in at least one set. But that set spelled the end of our stay.

God willing and the creek don't rise, we'll make it back for a little more Southern decadence and hospitality. Until that happens, I'll take a riff on an old jazz classic and continue to know what it means to miss New Orleans.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Voodoo Crypts, Muffuletta & Prosecco

As sad as it was, we saw our Aussie travel mates, Merlot Boy and Margarita, jump in a cab to catch their flight back to NYC. There's little chance that our day to follow would be nearly as eventful as days spent with them - but we likely wouldn't have to drink as much.

One of the activities on our "must do list" was to take a tour of one of the New Orleans cemeteries. St. Louis #1, the Roman Catholic cemetery just outside of the French Quarter, was where our tour took us.

The tour actually started in the Quarter and we were given some interesting history of the city as we made our way up to the cemetery. However, before entering the cemetery, we stopped for a brief visit to one of the Catholic churches, the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, where we were regaled with a great little story about the legend of St. Expedite. Many stories revolve on the appearance of this "controversial" saint in New Orleans and how he arrived without any clear identification of who he actually was. The fact that the word "expédit" was apparently written on the outside of the box was good enough at the time and that's who he's been from that point on.

Despite having a rather sketchy standing with the Vatican, St. Expedite remains popular in New Orleans - particularly among computer geeks and those looking for speedy results. He is also understood, at times, to play a role in voodoo rites.

Many a cemetery has a famous crypt or two and I think it's fair to say that the uncontested star of St. Louis #1 is renowned Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau. Evidence of believers still asking her for assistance abounds. I also found it interesting to see tokens - like pawns and bishops and dice - from petitioners being left at the crypts of a former chess champion and a noted playboy famous for introducing the game of craps to New Orleans.

Almost all of the tombs are built above ground and are designed to house many generations by way of multiple, sequential interments. After a body has been buried, the vault can be re-opened after a year and a day, with the decomposed remains being pushed to the back or moved to a lower level where they would mix with their ancestors and family members. In earlier years, there was ofter much demand for ongoing use of the crypt as folks didn't live as long and an epidemic could easily play havoc with family health.

Being at the oldest remaining cemetery in New Orleans, Boo was in his element - although the variety, size and grandeur of the tombs here doesn't really compare to that of the Recoleta Cemetery we visited last year in Buenos Aires. Then again, Recoleta didn't have stories of voodoo priestesses, rogue film antics or vampires.

All in all, a very interesting tour. An opportunity to meet with a practicing voodoo priestess was also presented to us; however, we were partially warned that the priestess could be rather long-winded and pedantic. So, Boo and I opted to continue back to the French Quarter and grab a picnic lunch.

Boo's must-visit cemetery was followed by my "can't miss" visit to the Central Grocery to wait in the lunch line for a famous muffuletta sandwich - Italian bread stuffed with salami, ham and provolone that is finished off with a chopped olive, anchovy and garlic salad. With that and a bottle of wine in tow, Jackson Square, with the St. Louis Cathedral behind us, was a perfect lunch spot - particularly when a brass jazz band started playing away in the neighbouring plaza. The funny part of our choice of location was that our bench was immediately in front of a statue of Bacchus. How appropriate for another bottle to be added to The List.

985. N.V. Adami Garbèl Prosecco Brut (Prosecco DOC Treviso - Italy)

Given the heat of the day and our desire for something cool, I thought a Prosecco would be an easy drinking fit for our Italian sandwich. The number of Prosecco's available in the Vancouver market back home is forever expanding; however, I haven't seen Adami on any of our shelves yet. I see that the winery is a well-established producer in northern Italy and is three generations old in its making of Prosecco.

I was little surprised at the tartness of the wine. Despite being a Brut, I thought, being a Prosecco, it might have a little more residual sugar and a more active mousse (i.e. bubbles). Not making these comments as a bad thing. The taste profile was just a tad unexpected and we had no complaints as we finished off our lunch with a jazz concert playing away.

This is what vacations are meant to be like.