Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Novas - Playhouse Preview

The 2012 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival is under way - and the big Festival Tasting Room evenings are just around the corner. This year's theme region is Chile and they're expecting 36 different Chilean wineries to pour a selection of wines in the big room - many of which aren't normally in our market. As such, I thought I'd get a bit of a head start and try one of the few Chilean wines that we have hanging around.

Despite the fact that Boo and I spent a whole 40 or so hours in Chile, I can't say as I know much about Chilean wines. On top of getting the chance to discover some new wineries, I'm really looking forward to sampling some wines from the higher end of the spectrum. For the most part, the South American nation's presence in the Vancouver market is largely predicated on decent bang for buck, entry level wines. I'm guessing that we're going to be exposed to a different side of Chile.

1073. 2006 Emiliana - Novas - Winemaker's Selection Syrah (Casablanca Valley - Chile)

Emiliana is the first Chilean winery, that I know, that has really really promoted itself as a leader in organic and biodynamic agriculture and wine production. Their website even has a neat, little interactive diagram that attempts to show how the various components of organic and biodynamic are integrated into the winery, vineyards and surrounding farm.

Although, as stated, I'm no expert on Chile, I was a little surprised to see that this wine hails from the Casablanca Valley. We are starting to see more and more Chilean Syrah on local shelves; however, I think it's mostly produced in the warmer growing regions. What little I know of the Casablanca Valley is that it's primarily coastal and considered cooler climate - at least as far as Chile goes. As such, it's mostly known for its whites. Indeed, even though the Casablanca Valley was a bit closer to Santiago, Boo and I chose to visit the Aconcaugua Valley - during our one free day to tour Chile - because it was known for reds and we didn't see any real touristic references to red wine in Casablanca.

That might be why this wine wasn't as boisterous as I'd expected it to be. Tannins were a lot softer and the wine seemed a bit reserved. I'd had some Emiliana wines previously and they struck me as being much bolder. Not sure if I like this tamer side as much. Guess I'll have a better idea at the end of the weekend as I hope to take a full tour of Chile over the next couple of days.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Kennedy Shah

With Boo having tightened the No Buy Leash (are you hearing a lot of this lately?), I don't know if I'll be able to pull off the 3rd Annual Costco Wine Run across the border into Washington State this year. That could mean that I'll simply have to be satisfied with the bottles that are still around from the last two road trips.

Tonight's bottle is one of them. I didn't know anything about the winery when I picked up the bottle but that's one of the joys of shopping for American wines while in the US. When State-side, we Canadians can take some risks and just grab a bottle that might look interesting or novel because the lower liquor taxes means that US wines are a lot more reasonably price south of the 49th Parallel than they are back home in Vancouver.

1072. 2007 Kennedy Shaw Merlot (Rattlesnake Hills - Washington State)

During a brief internet search, I didn't find out much more about the winery than I knew before. I see that this is one of five labels produced by The Woodhouse Wine Estates - a family affair operated by the husband and wife team of Bijal and Sinead Shah. I didn't find anything further in terms of the difference between the labels; however, I did discover that this Kennedy Shaw label is named after the Shahs' daughter, Kennedy. For what it's worth, they seem to have given Kennedy the largest selection of wines under her label and the pricing on these wines is more of an entry-to-mid level price point. Two of the other labels seemed to offer a more limited selection - at a more premium price point. I noticed some Kennedy Shaw reserve wines are produced as well.

Although labeled as Merlot, the back label proclaims that the Merlot is blended with 12% Petit Verdot and 8% Malbec - rather an interesting blend to enhance the Merlot in my opinion. They might all be traditional Bordeaux grapes, but such a large percentage of Petit Verdot isn't all that common.

Big on fruit but it's not about to become a "must-buy" every time we cross in the States. Up here, Costco can't sell wine or beer. So, I'm not familiar with the range of wines that are commonly found in Costco but this one was pretty pedestrian. Oh well.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar & Kiwi Savvy

We treated ourselves to some seared tuna for dinner tonight as we plopped down in front of the TV for the Oscars. Given the high-ended hijinxs of the red carpet (and our dinner choice), I figured it only made sense to treat ourselves to a well regarded Kiwi wine. Considering that our last bottle was a classic vintage 2005 Cru Classée Bordeaux, we kinda needed to make that 180° turn and go to a refreshing white - while keeping up with a nice level of sophistication.

I'm not sure that we saw more than one or two of any of the nominated movies this year. I think I've probably spent too much time at wine tastings or in front of the computer blogging to head out to the movies. Accordingly, I wouldn't have much riding on any of the winners. But, if nothing else, I'd have a good response on the red carpet if anyone asked, "What are you drinking?"

1071. 2007 Staete Landt Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough - New Zealand)

This boutique Kiwi winery has some intriguing stories to tell - starting with its name, Staete Landt, which came from the original name that Abel Tasman gave to the lands when he first discovered New Zealand in 1642. "Staete Landt" meant the lands of the state (the Dutch Republic) upon who's behest Tasman was exploring. Touching upon both their Dutch heritage and their ties to New Zealand, winery founders and owners, Ruud Maasdam and Dorien Vermass, thought Staete Landt was a perfect combination of their past and future.

The winery is located in New Zealand's "Golden Mile" - a strip of land located on old riverbed soils in the Marlborough subregion of Rapaura. It's a relatively small area with a unique microclimate that proves agreeable to the growing of premium grapes. Some of the oldest and most famous Marlborough vineyards are planted in this area. Indeed, some of the original Marlborough Sauv Blancs that helped create the buzz heralding the emergence of the Kiwis on the international wine scene originated from this region.

That being said, Staete Landt itself is a relatively new enterprise, its first vintage having been produced in 2000. Interestingly, they decided to tackle the premium end of the spectrum right from the start, however, and they've adopted a boutique "approach of producing single vineyard estate grown wines only." They've identified 24 different parcels of soil profiles in their vineyard, with each one of those parcels providing a "distinct favour and textual component" to the wines. Their website provides that the Sauv Blanc is planted in 6 different blocks, thereby providing six distinct flavour profiles that can be used as components for a layered and flavourful wine.

To add to the complexity of the wine, the fruit from each parcel was handled differently in the winery. Each bottle contains a combination of hand-picked, whole-bunch-pressed, machine harvested, natural, indigenous and/or cultured yeasts, early harvest fruit together with some later harvest grapes, some ageing on the yeast lees, some with a bit of ageing in old French oak barriques - all in all a complicated and involved process to try and reach the best end result that they can.

I don't tend to drink a lot of New Zealand Sauv Blanc as I often find it to be a little too one-dimensional and predictable - you know, the well-discussed grassy, gooseberry, cat's pee with bracing acidity. Well, all the dedication and varied approaches going into this Staete Landt takes the wine to a different level. One that I enjoyed a lot. This was no subtle French Sancerre (perhaps the original home for stars of the Sauv Blanc persuasion) - there was no mistaking the wine as a Kiwi Sauv Blanc but it had extra dimensions, particularly a bit of sweeter tropical fruit, on the palate that just aren't normally evident to me with Sauv Blanc.

I discovered Staete Landt at the 2010 Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival when New Zealand was one of the featured regions at the festival. That's where I picked up this bottle. Looks like I might need to keep an eye open for it on the everyday local shelves.

Now, as for getting out to see a movie...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Open That Bottle Night 2012

I had an inkling that Open That Bottle Night was either just around the corner - or that it might have actually passed us by for 2012. Good thing I checked online because it turned out that OTBN2012 was this weekend. For those that aren't familiar with Open That Bottle Night, the event was the brainchild of Dorothy Gaiter and John Becher back in 2000 when they were the wine writers for the Wall St. Journal.

They regularly heard stories from people who held onto that special bottle of wine, just waiting for the right occasion to open it. Problem is, the occasion never seemed to actually arrive or it came along long after the wine had turned to vinegar. Gaiter and Becher urged their readers to make the last Saturday in February a special occasion in its own right and plan an evening around that bottle that was hidden away. What makes a bottle special to us will differ from person to person - maybe it was a gift from someone special, or you picked it up while on a memory-packed vacation or perhaps it's simply a bottle with a price tag that you rarely agree to. Regardless of the reason, Gaiter and Becher's response to the perennial question, "When should we open that special bottle of wine?" was "now, with the people who make it special."

Boo's and my special night was rather impromptu, with no special planning, but I realized that today would have been my brother's 50th birthday - were he still around to celebrate it - so, I decided to pull out a bottle we easily could have left tucked away for years to come. I just thought that this would be the type of bottle that would have turned Ronnie's crank. Besides, with the No Buy Leash firmly tightened around my neck for the foreseeable future, we're going to have to start opening some big ticket bottles. Might as well start here.

1070. 2005 Château Palmer - Alter Ego (AOC Margaux - Bordeaux - France)

I had to do a little reading on this wine and winery. I definitely can't say that I'm a pro when it comes to classified Bordeaux wineries. I know the whole "classification" concept goes back to 1855 and Emperor Napoleon III's desire to classify the best of Bordeaux wines for display at the world exposition about to take place in Paris. The top estates were ranked in "importance" from first to fifth growths ("crus") based on the winery's reputation and trading price. As controversial as that classification has been, it has remained in place - with only two changes - since that time.

Obviously, to even be ranked, a winery has to have been around long enough to have a history that pre-dates 1855. Château Palmer is such a winery, having been named after a Major General in the British army who had purchased a property from a young French widow in 1814. The resulting winery enjoyed success in both French and British society; however, Charles Palmer was known for his life in the fast lane as much as he was for his wine and he fell on hard times, having to sell the winery in 1843.

The estate was purchased in 1853 by the Pereire brothers from the financial institution that had operated the winery during the intervening years. Although the brothers quickly took to rebuilding the estate's reputation, their short control at the reins before the 1855 classification wasn't long enough to garner them a higher ranking higher than the Third Growth or Troisième Cru. The fact that there were only sixteen estates named to the First and Second Growths still says something as to the status of the winery at the time, but, nowadays, Château Palmer is widely recognized as ranking among Bordeaux greats.

Alter Ego is a relatively new wine for Château Palmer as this second label was only introduced in 1998. The winery looked to take a different approach to selecting and blending fruit to capture the vineyard's terroir. When compared to the first label, Alter Ego is generally seen as being a little more intense, with juicier fruit on the palate. I don't think anyone would be so bold as to call it a New World wine, but it does skew to a New World palate a bit more than traditional classified Bordeaux wines.

Château Palmer is also regarded as somewhat unorthodox in the Médoc - where Cabernet Sauvignon rules supreme. Palmer vineyards are planted almost equally with Merlot and Cab Sauv and the 2005 Alter Ego sees a blend where the Merlot has a higher percentage than the Cab - 57% to 43% - a fact that took both Boo and I a bit by surprise.

Of course, the 2005 vintage is one of the most heralded from Bordeaux. Drought-like conditions through the summer in the Médoc resulted in lower yields, with more concentrated fruit. The estate's website says that 2005 saw the highest sugar levels that anyone at the winery had ever seen up to that point.

All I know is that there's no doubt that we can do our own little classification of this bottle and easily confirm that it meets our criteria for "special." Full bodied with elegantly integrated tannins, fruit and acidity, we worked hard to squeeze out the last few drops from the bottle. The website says wine will peak between 2010 and 2025; so, we might have been a bit early with our pop of the cork, but you'd never have known it. The wine was drinking beautifully.

I can honestly say that Boo and I rarely open $100+ bottles of wine. It sure is nice when the wine lives up to the price though. I tip my glass towards Gaiter and Becher for envisioning Open That Bottle Night. I'm sure that we would have postponed our enjoyment of the Alter Ego for some time had it not been for this special event. If they can all be this enjoyable, I might have to look to having a few more, unscheduled, Open Those Bottles Nights.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Wine for a Zombie Prom

"Where once the girl was effervescent,
She's now a poster-child depressant,
A problematic post-pubescent,
A convalescing adolescent,
A Teenager in Hell!"

Lyrics the like you've never heard before. Indeed, this was an evening I haven't experienced for some years - a high school musical. But I don't think the Disney Channel was behind this particular show. The oldest niece, Stargirl, had a role in her school play and, frankly, I don't remember the last high school show I attended. When my sis, Vixen, said that Stargirl had a role in Zombie Prom - it was a no-brainer that we'd be there cheering on her introduction to the big stage, even if we'd never heard of the show. Turns out that Zombie Prom is an Off-Broadway musical that's been made into a movie, starring none other than our favourite drag queen, RuPaul, as the nasty, disciplinarian school principal.

Making time for the musical wasn't a problem. Attending without a bit of wine in me to soften the possible blows might have been.

When I think high school musicals, it's more likely to be along the lines of My Fair Lady, Grease or Fiddler on the Roof. Stargirl's school was definitely thinking outside the box with the story of a boyfriend from the wrong side of the tracks who committed suicide by jumping in the town nuclear reactor. Who knew when they dumped his body in the ocean that the power of teenage love could bring him back as a zombie - just in time for senior prom?

1069. 2008 Vinos Sin Ley Traza Gra2 (DOC Rioja - Spain)

The show's theme simply called for - not for a zombie wine (not that I know what one might be) - but for a wine that plays outside tradition as well. The Vinos Sin Ley, or "Wines Without Law" series, seemed perfect. I've previously added wines from the "G" (Garnacha or Grenache) and "M" (Monastrell or Mourvèdre) series to The List, but this bottle from the "Gra" line is a first.

I'm totally intrigued by the concept of Vinos Sin Ley. It's not a specific winery but, rather, group of (mostly) young, Spanish winemakers that strive to meet an objective of creating "new wines" that incorporate experimentation and innovation and that look to use different varietals or emphasis in blends in a variety of regions throughout Spain.

The "Gra" stands for the Graciano, a Spanish varietal that is authorized in the Rioja appellation but is almost extinct and is primarily used as a support grape to be blended with the more recognized Tempranillo. It's rare to see Graciano as a 100% varietal wine and that's part of what Vinos Sin Ley does best - put a new twist on local tradition. I was a little surprised to find out that I've already added Graciano to my Wine Century Club list - but I'm sure it wasn't as a straight varietal wine.

Traza's winemaker is David Sampedro and he has a deep fondness for "forgotten grapes" - those varietals that were pushed to the side as Rioja and Tempranillo became a current darling of the global wine world. Traza is no shy wine, big with tons of dark fruit on the nose and palate. In a way, it was almost a bit much but it was certainly approachable as an easy drinking, pre-zombie sipper.

We polished off the wine and Vixen's pizza and made our way to the school. The show was entertaining and had some catchy tunes and witty lines. While the lead girl, Toffee, had a really nice voice and handled her role well, I cringed more than a couple of times with the poor guy playing our zombie hero, Jonny. I think he missed almost as many notes as he hit - but maybe he was told that zombies aren't supposed to be able to sing all that well. He was a real trooper and made the rest of the role his own though.

Stargirl's role as the strict mom that didn't want her daughter dating the town bad boy, let alone a zombie, had little sis, Melmo, screaming that's "so my sister."

Fun night, but I think another bottle of wine would have made it that much better. And on that happy note, I leave you with the wise words of the high school chorus -

"Will you dash his high ambitions?
Throw his PhD away?
Would you close the door to Jonny...
Just because he's D.O.A.?"

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

D'Arenberg Riesling

I grabbed tonight's bottle as a bit of harbinger of days to come. First off, I think d'Arenberg will have to be one of our winery stops when Boo and I hit South Australia next month. Secondly, this was a bottle that I picked up at the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival a couple of years back. The 2012 Festival is just around the corner and I thought letting Boo taste one of my past finds might help loosen the "No Buy Leash" during the Festival.

I love d'Arenberg's colourful and witty labels. Every wine seems to have a brilliant story behind the name and there are plenty of them. As one of the twelve First Families of Australia, I think it's safe to say that it's not all just about the marketing either. These folks make good wine and make a serious commitment to Aussie wine and the engagement of the rest of the world in learning about the diversity of Australian regions and wines.

1068. 2008 d'Arenberg - The Dry Dam Riesling (McLaren Vale - Australia)

d'Arenberg has a strong presence in the Vancouver market. Their basic Stump Jump red and white are staples on many a restaurant wine list because of their great value for price ratio. Every so often, we run across their more premium wines at Australia Wine Appreciation Society tastings as well. Then there's Tyrant. He's brought along some d'Arenberg icons that he's collected over the years to various dinners and we've all benefitted from his foresight and good taste.

Although it's relatively easy to find d'Arenberg wines in Vancouver, The Dry Dam Riesling is part of d'Arenberg's mid-range label and I'm not sure that it's one that regularly makes an appearance in Vancouver. With approximately 48 different wines being produced, not all d'Arenberg wines are going to be found on our shelves.

I'm glad they brought this one to the Playhouse Festival though. Regular readers will know that I'm a Riesling lovin' kinda guy. That being said, Aussie rieslings aren't generally my faves. I often find the overall Aussie style for Riesling to be big citrus notes, high acidity and plenty of minerality and it can all be a little too bracing. Not this one. The tell mark Aussie notes were still there but they were reigned in some and there were even notes of stone fruit coming through. I dare say that I could go so far as to state that I even noticed a hint of residual sugar.

This is a Riesling I could go back to. I don't know if it was just the taste of a one-off vintage but I'm rather eager to find out if this is d'Arenberg's regular flavour profile for The Dry Dam. I just have to find some more.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Road 13 Chenin Blanc

A bit of a quick post today. Not that I didn't like the wine or anything. I'm just getting that "you're falling behind on your posts" felling again and I'd kinda like to catch up a bit before we head off Down Under.

Tonight's bottle is making a second appearance on The List, but that first bottle was the 2006 vintage and we opened it over a thousand bottles ago. At #18, it was one of the first bottles opened on this Odyssey adventure. Indeed, the it was back far enough that the 2006 vintage was still released under the old winery name of Golden Mile. Things can change quickly in the BC wine scene - and I've got to try all that much harder to keep up.

1067. Road 13 - Old Vines Chenin Blanc (VQA Okanagan Valley)

There isn't a lot of Chenin Blanc grown in the Okanagan. Chenin's fame (or notoriety) as a varietal is associated far more with wines from the Loire Valley in France and from South Africa. There was (is?) a lot of Chenin grown in California as well; however, it is largely used for lower end, simple wines. The fact that Road 13's vines are 40 years old is rather astounding. 40 years of age makes those Chenin Blanc vines among the oldest of any vines in the Okanagan Valley.

I've previously mentioned in the blog that Road 13 has changed its core outlook in wine production in that, over the last couple of years, they have been phasing out many of their varietal wines in favour of making blends. They feel that the blends are more capable of capturing the real essence of what the Okanagan's terroir can be. There isn't a lot of it made; however, thus far, the Chenin Blanc has continued to survive as a varietal wine. I couldn't find any reference to the 2007 vintage, but small amounts of Reisling and Muscat have been used to up the ante of the Chenin flavour profile over the last so many vintages.

I thought the wine was pleasant enough. We maybe should have opened our bottle a little while ago as the reviews I saw tend to speak of more noticeable fruit than I tasted, but the bottle was under screw cap and should have kept its flavour profile longer than if it had been bottled under cork.

I might be more interested in trying Road 13's sparkling brut wine before I reach for the dry Chenin again though. The winery's bubbly, like those found in the Loire and South Africa, is Chenin based. I should think that must be a rather unique wine for BC.

There will definitely be more trips down Road 13 before this Odyssey comes to an end. I think I'm a little more inclined to their reds though. Guess we'll see.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Georgian Peach of a Different Colour

Now, this is going to be a bit of different post for me. The next bottle to be added to The List is from Georgia - and I'm not talking the southern US state (although that would be novel enough in itself). To be honest, I knew that Georgia was in Eastern Europe and was part of the old Soviet Union, but I wouldn't be able to point it out to you on a map without some research.

You add the fact that I know anything about a wine culture in Georgia either. The Marani winery website is surprisingly extensive and interesting. Their pages point out that the region has a long history when it comes to wine. Archaeological digs have unearthed cultivated vinifera grape seeds from 6000-7000 years B.C. and three to four thousand year old clay wine amphoras as well. The generic word "wine" is even thought by some to have been derived from the ancient Georgian word "gvino."

There are apparently 500 different Georgian grape varieties, 38 of which are used for commercial wine production. It was reading a brief review of tonight's wine in one of the local wine columns that prompted me to go out and look for it. I'd never heard of the Mtsvane grape before and you know I'm always on the lookout for new varietals to add to my Wine Century Club "curriculum vinum."

1066. 2009 Marani Mtsvane (Georgia)

"Mtsvane" is apparently translated from the Georgian language into "new, young, green" and that is the primary descriptor used for this 100% varietal wine. Boo and I both found a resemblance to either Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris - and we were both pleasantly intrigued by the wine. At $15 in our government liquor stores, it's priced so that I'm not opposed to grabbing it to try something new and "out there." I'd have wanted a taste before I picked up a bottle if it came in at twice that price.

The Marani winery was founded almost a century ago in 1915 in Kakheti - Georgia's largest wine growing region - and it produces up to 40 wines under the Marani brand.
Marani vineyards grow both indigenous grapes - like Mtsvane - and an assortment of better known international varietials.

Due to Soviet practices through much of the last century, Georgian winemaking suffered from lack of investment and modernization. Foreign investment is currently helping to bring about a new era for Georgian wines. With such an illustrious history and wine culture already existing, I'll be intrigued to see if this new outlook sees further results hitting Vancouver wine shelves. I'd certainly be willing to give the wines a chance.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Daveyboi. Mr. D. Dinner

I'm all over invitations to dinner, especially when I'm the invitee and not the cook. Daveyboi called up to say he missed our smiling faces ever so and that we absolutely had to come over to his place so that he could lavish us wildly with gourmet fare. Okay, maybe that's not the exact wording, but there was a dinner invite in there and he did say that it'd had been too long - and that we were as good an excuse as any to start up the BBQ for the season.

Mr. D. got the call as well and was able to join us. It might have been the day after Valentine's and there might not have been any romance in the air, but there was plenty of wine and vodka and I figure that makes us a foursome to be reckoned with.

As is often the case, I didn't know much about the wines that were opened until I looked them up after they had been polished off. Turns out we had a couple of "little brothers" tonight. Both bottles are from wineries with some serious cred or bragging rights.

1064. 2004 Shingleback Cabernet Sauvignon (McLaren Vale - Australia)

I grabbed the Shingleback because I thought it'd be a good lead up to Boo's and my impending trip to Oz. We've got a quick visit planned to the McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide, and I don't really know much about the area except for the name. I have to admit that I was a tad apprehensive about Shingleback's label. A first glance comes awfully close to the whole "critter wine" dilemma - the range of wines that many claim are trying to capitalize on the popularity of [yellow tail] wines. They generally feature cute animals on the label, are widely available, inexpensive and are filled with an easy drinking wine that is approachable to consumers that might not otherwise know their way around the bottle shop. Critter wines are not always taken that seriously by folks that fancy themselves wine connoisseurs.

Good thing I got past any critter scare because this is far from a wine that is simply seeking out international branding. Indeed, the 2005 D Block Cab Sauv, the next level up of Shingleback wines, won the 2006 Jimmy Watson Trophy - perhaps the most coveted Aussie wine award. The Jimmy Watson is awarded to what is deemed the best one-year old red wine in Australia and its list of winners is legion when it comes to iconic Aussie wines.

Tonight's wine may not have been that big winner for Shingleback - different vintage and approach to what makes the wine - but it is the same varietal, from the same vineyards and should be a good indication of the direct the winery likes to take. And, most importantly for us, it matched up wonderfully with Daveyboi's steaks. I have to admit that the man has a way with meat.

A relatively new winery, Shingleback released its first vintage in 1998, it now produces 100,000 cases annually, with a good proportion being sold in export markets. I don't know if their more premium wines make it to Vancouver shores; however, I know their more entry level label, Red Knot, is available in our market and seems to be well received. Red Knot might be more on the level of a critter wine, but I think I'll have to give it a whirl - and we'll have to keep an eye open for the winery when we hit McLaren Vale.

1065. 2009 Tenuta San Guido - Le Difese (IGT Tuscany - Italy)

Mr. D. brought our second bottle and it's a little brother to Sassicaia, one of Italy's most iconic wines. Le Difese is the third (and newest) wine from Tenuta San Guido - the winery that many feel created the whole concept of the Super Tuscan wine when the 1968 vintage of Sassicaia was first sold in the open market.

Although Rochetta family roots go back to the Medieval and Renaissance periods of Italian history, the estate's history as a winery really only started in the late 1940's. Situated in Bolgheri, a coastal region of Tuscany, there was no history of Cab Sauv as a local wine as Tuscan tradition means Sangiovese. When Mario Rochetta looked at the family vineyards, he felt that the lay of the land and the soils bore a great similarity to the vineyards of Bordeaux and he dreamed of creating a quality wine based on the ideals of a great Bordeaux. Bolgheri, and Tenuta San Guido in particular, is now considered to be the cradle of Italian Cabernet.

Through the 50's and 60's, Rochetta's Cab-based wines were considered inferior and estate wines were limited for family consumption. The family began to see that the wines benefitted from ageing and they began bringing in renowned consultants to improve production standards and the quality of the wine. When the wine was finally deemed worthy of sale on the open market, the new Cabernet wine had to be sold as "table wine" as the non-use of Sangiovese meant that the wine didn't fall within the rules and regulations of local winemaking authorities. When the Cab-based wines started outshining many of the traditional Sangiovese wines, both in international acclaim and price, Italian authorities had to come up with a new classification - IGT or wines displaying typical characteristics of a geographic region - for the newly named Super Tuscans.

Le Difese isn't meant to challenge Sassicaia (or its $190 price tag in government stores), but its being a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Sangiovese qualifies it as a prime example of what the whole Super Tuscan movement was - and remains - about. The winery looks at Le Defise as being a softer, smoother alternative to Sassicaia - one that is meant to be enjoyed without any need for ageing. I can't say that I recall ever having had an opportunity to try Sassicaia but I'm certainly glad that Mr. D. (and his contacts at Marquis Wines) introduced us to the younger brother. It didn't have the degree of fruit that the Aussie Cab had but I wouldn't turn a bottle away from our dinner table.

Being a school night, I needed to bow out on the evening but "Cheers" to a great dinner, little brother wines, and my brothers in booze, Daveyboi and Mr. D.

We Have Zinned

Is it appropriate to Zin on Valentine's Day? Of course it is! And that's regardless of whether we're married or not.

1063. 2006 Renwood Old Vine Zinfandel (Amador Country - California)

If coming home to a dozen red roses doesn't call for a big Zin that we've been sitting on for awhile, what does? Thing is that, with all the "romance" in the air, I didn't check out the blog before I opened this bottle. Seems we opened a bottle of Renwood not all that long ago (at #915) - not that this matters - but I generally like to space bottles from the same producer a little farther apart, particularly when they're from a winery that I don't buy a lot of wine from. With the Jack Rabbit Flat Zin at #915 and an earlier vintage of the Old Vine Zin back at #317 gone, this depletes what little Renwood we have stowed away.


Having now looked back at those two entries, I see that I've already talked a bit about both Renwood as a winery and Amador County as a wine region. Since, naturally, I have a fair bit of catching up to do with blog entries, I don't think I'll repeat myself. I'll simply suggest that you take a look back at those entries yourself. They're captivating (tee hee).

I'll confirm that the Zin was big and juicy, as expected, though and it was just what Valentine's Day calls for in our household. When done and lounging back though, contemplating the bottle that was, I couldn't help wondering if it was worth the $40 price tag and five years worth of ageing? We don't tend to drink an awful lot of Zinfandel on a regular basis, but I know there's a good selection of wines coming into the market $10 to $20 cheaper. I may need to give them a new once over.

In the mean time, the fragrance of the roses and the wine made for a Happy Valentine's. If this is what The Days of Wine and Roses is all about, I'm all for it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wine Blogging Wednesday 74 - Budget Bubbles

Despite the fact that my regular postings still haven't caught up to January's entry for Wine Blogging Wednesday 73, here it is the third Wednesday of the month and it's time for a WBW74 contribution. This month's confab for wine bloggers is being hosted by Tim Elliott at Winecast. His chosen topic du jour beckons everyone to look to the growing trend of consumers taking a shine to all wines bubbly and sparkly. The public is speaking and we're no longer limiting our bubble consumption to celebrations at weddings, New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day.

As Tim points out, "sparkling wine is one of the most versatile at the table with styles to pair with nearly every dish. From bone dry to sweet, single variety to blend, sparkling wine is something we should all drink more of." Everyone has been asked to "pick a sparkling wine from any appellation, made from any grape but make sure it sells for $25 or less a bottle."

I don't think there's a wine that has branded itself as successfully as Champagne. When it comes to luxury and wine, not everyone will know what a First Growth Bordeaux is, but I'll bet you a bottle of Dom Perignon that almost everyone is aware of the allure of Champagne.

The thing is most people also understand that true Champagne generally costs a pretty penny. In the Vancouver market, Champagne seems to start at the $50-$60 mark. What those same people likely don't know is that, in order to be marketed as big "C" Champagne, a wine must be made in a traditional method and made in the small region of France that is actually called Champagne. The good news is that the world of bubble has expanded such that you can find sparkling wines, being made in both traditional and/or more mechanized and economical methods, from virtually all wine regions in the world.

And many of those wines can be as special as Champagne at a fraction of the price.

I have no doubt that WBW74's contributors will explore Spanish Cavas, French Crémants or Californian sparkling wines. I've even tried wines from South Africa and Hungary that use the méthode traditionelle - meaning that, after an initial period of ageing is complete, additional yeast is added and a secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle itself. That's how all those bubbles get in the bottle.

I'm going a slightly different route however. Neither of the bottles we popped the cork on were made in the traditional method. In fact, neither bottle actually even had a traditional cork. It just goes to show the variety of sparkling wines that are available nowadays.

1061. N.V. Evans & Tate - Zamphire (Margaret River - Australia)

Traditional Champagne must be made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier grapes. Margaret River is often touted as the be all and end all of Australian Chardonnay regions and Evans & Tate is one of the foremost producers in the region. Accordingly, I had great hopes for this bottle when I saw it on our local wine shelves. I didn't find a whole lot of information about the wine but I did see that it is a non-vintage blend of around 60% Chardonnay and 40% Chenin Blanc. While Chenin Blanc could never be used in making Champagne, it is commonly used to make sparkling wines in the Loire region of France and also in South Africa. So, once again, there's good reason to hope for good things to flow from the bottle.

1062. 2010 8th Generation - Confidence (VQA Okanagan Valley)

On the other hand - or should I say, in the other glass - given BC's Northern climes, the Okanagan Valley and the bracing acidity commonly associated with our fruit is well suited to the making of sparkling wines. Indeed, a few of the early stars in the province's new wave of wine producers were maybe best known, at first, for their sparkling wines. Summerhill, Sumac Ridge and Blue Mountain were - and are still - celebrated for their bubbles.

It would have been easy to grab a bottle from one of those producers - especially since all of them still produce a sparkling wine for under $25 - but I decided to give 8th Generation and its take on producing a Prosecco-styled frizzanté wine a try, particularly since I was lucky enough to get a bottle when there were only 480 cases produced. Besides, I'd rather intended to open this bottle as a treat for Valentine's Day anyhow.

Both bottles are attractively - and novelly - packaged, but other than that, there isn't too much in common between them. As already mentioned, the Zamphire is a Chardonnay/Chenin Blanc blanc wine; the Confidence is a bright rosé made from mostly Pinot Noir (85% - I couldn't find reference to the remaining varietals but 8th Generation does make a Pinot Meunier Rosé as well). Zamphire is completely dry orbrut - with a noticeable toastiness or yeastiness showing - while the Confidence is all about strawberries with a healthy hint of sweetness showing through.

Naturally, two hallmarks of sparkling wines are the effervescence captured in the bottle and glass and the mousse or explosion of bubbles in the mouth. Although neither winery advertised the fact, it appears that both wines utilized a charmant method of production. That's where the wine is primarily aged in stainless steel fermentation tanks that are pressurized and where the wine sees a method of carbon injection much in the way that soda pop is made fizzy. As such, neither wine was particularly exciting as far as long lasting bubbles or overwhelming mouthfeel. If I had to pick, I'd give a bit of an edge to the Confidence on that front but I'll take a full on explosion in my mouth any day and I missed that with both wines.

I did read one online comment about the Zamphire that referred to the fact that there was a great deal of discussion about the innovative Zork resealable cork that was being used and very little talk about the wine in the bottle. As much as I'm a fan of Margaret River wines and of Evans & Tate, I have to admit that I likely wouldn't be quick to grab another bottle at its $20+ price tag.

I might be a little more generous when it comes to the 8th Generation though - despite the fact it costs an extra couple of bucks. I doubt it would ever replace my enjoyment of a good méthode traditionelle wine, but I could see it being a crowd pleaser with all its fruitiness. Too bad I likely wouldn't be able to find any when I wanted to buy it.

Having thought my way through this entry, I realized just how much there is to the vast topic that is sparkling wine. I certainly know that I barely scratched the surface. I'm hoping for a good turn out for today's WBW and I'm quite excited to see the different approaches taken to multitude of wines that are out their for discussion. Falling in sync, as it did, with Valentine's Day, Budget Bubbles is entirely appropriate. There are definite brownie points to be garnered by applying the money saved on the wine on chocolates and/or flowers.

Thanks to Tim and Winecast for hosting Wine Blogging Wednesday 74. Great topic. Cheers until we, hopefully, meet again next month.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A No Frills Sunday Meal

We hadn't seen Miss Di and She Who Must Be Obeyed for a while. So, I made a quick call to check up and see how they were doing. Lo and behold, we got a dinner invite out of it. They were having our mutual friends, Bittr & Sweet, over and the Lady said that it's not really any extra work to make dinner work for six - provided we'd be happy with a "no frills" Sunday night meal.

Knowing fully well that Lady Di doesn't know the meaning of "no frills" when guests are coming over, Boo and I leaped at the chance. BittrSweet used to be in the Dinner Club with the rest of us some years back and that just increased the chances of a full meal deal.

1057. 2009 La Frenz Viognier (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

I know that Lady Di has a fondness for both Viognier and La Frenz; so, this was a no brainer. The only thing I was mildly concerned about was whether this vintage had already been added to The List. Luckily for me, it hadn't. I've added the 2007 and 2008 but '09 was still ripe for the adding. It seems that Viognier is becoming more popular as an Okanagan varietal every year, but Jeff Martin and La Frenz were among the first to bottle it. They've got the whole aromatics, full body, fruit and acid down pat and, while their version might not take the "Best White Wine of Show" every year at the prestigious North West Wine Summit (like it did in 2008), you know it's going to be a winning bottle. (BTW, this 2009 only took a Silver at the 2011 Northwest wine Summit.)

Seeing that this was a Sunday night, we weren't exactly wolfing down the wine - despite its pedigree - and, as such, there was even a bit of the Viognier left to try along with the gals' Thai-inspired seafood soup. For me, the richness of the La Frenz actually matched up better with the bruschetta that Lady Di and SWMBO had served up. I doubt I would have noticed that so much, however, had the next bottle not paired even more beautifully with the soup.

1059. 2010 Little Straw - Signature Blend Tapestry (VQA Okanagan Valley)

A blend of Riesling, Auxerrois, Gewürtraminer, Sigerrebe and Schönburger, I was pleasantly surprised with the Tapestry. On the whole, I like a number of the Okanagan white blends of Germanic varietals that seem to becoming more and more prevalent and noteworthy from BC wineries. Like many of the others, this is an easy-drinking, aromatic sipper with a lower level of alcohol (11%) and touch of residual sugar that paired well with the spice in the Thai soup.

I say that I was surprised with the Tapestry, but only because I don't really know much Little Straw Vineyards. Located in West Kelowna, their total production is limited to around 3500 cases annually (850 of the Tapestry). I rarely make it to the Kelowna area and I have to admit that, on the few occasions that I do find myself in the area, I tend to gravitate to the bigger guns like Mission Hill and CedarCreek. I might have to reconsider things a little next time around.

Lady Di might have planned her dinner around a "no frills" concept but she certainly didn't plan on skimping with the plate size. She was fairly quick to acknowledge that the salmon and quinoa main was somewhat on the "monster-size" scale. She just figured that she was plating for big boys. She might have been right; there wasn't much left on any of the plates when we were done.

1060. 2009 Quails' Gate Pinot Noir (VQA Okanagan Valley)

After finishing off the gals' Tapestry, it was rather fitting that we opened the BittrSweet contribution for the evening seeing as how Quails' Gate is pretty much Little Straw's neighbour. Again, Quails' Gate's location in West Kelowna means that Boo and I don't have all that much of their wine in our "collection." Certainly not like we do with the more southern-based wineries. I took a quick look back at the blog entries and, even though this is the fifth Quails' Gate wine to be added to The List, more often than not, we find ourselves drinking their wines because someone else has brought it along.

Pinot Noir is Quails' Gate's flagship varietal (although Boo has a definite fondness for their Old Vines Foch) and we never fail to enjoy it - whether the standard label or Stewart Family Reserve. Tonight's bottle just reminds me that I should turn my mind to their wines a bit more down the road. I think we all loved it with the salmon.

Four hours later, it was time to either say goodnight to our little "no frills" dinner or to just lounge out on the couch and close my eyes. Home and my own bed won out, but you gotta love "no frills" when it comes packaged like tonight.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Little More Poplar Grove Pinot Gris - Please

Now that we're over half way on this little Wine Odyssey - and since Boo has me on the "No Buy Leash" so that we can enjoy some previously purchased wines - I find I have to check the blog to see if I've already added certain wines to The List or not. Tonight's wine is there twice already - but for earlier vintages. So, under the rules (my blog, my rules), a new vintage is completely legit for a new number. Yippee!

It would appear that I've been reaching for the even-yeared vintages of tonight's wine as the 2006 version was added way back at #83 on The List and, at #842, the 2008 vintage helped Canada "beat" the US in this blog's World Cup of White Wine that accompanied the Women's World Cup back in the summer. It would appear that it's time to pull the cork on a bottle of the 2010 now.

1057. 2010 Poplar Grove Pinot Gris (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Ian Sutherland may have sold the majority interest in Poplar Grove some years ago but he remains the winery's Executive Winemaker and General Manager. He has long referred to Pinot Gris as the winery's signature white varietal - and while I might not have been overwhelmed with our tasting of the 2008, for me, this new vintage hits the mark on every point.

Pinot Gris can be quite the easy drinking quaff and there's certainly a lot of it being made in the Okanagan, but truth be told, a lot of it can be rather pedestrian - big acid, maybe some citrus notes or a touch of stone fruit - but when a winemaker gets it right, boy can the Okanagan sing. This vintage was one of those bottles for me. I don't know if it was the much reduced harvest in 2010 due to tougher growing conditions (they only cropped 80 tons, a reduction from 210 tons), but something helped bring about a richness and complexity of harmonized flavours that sure worked for me.

This is one of the bottles that we picked up last Fall when we made our way up to the Naramata Bench for the Red Rooster Adopt-A-Row Harvest Party. After we'd finished the day's play, up the road, in the Red Rooster vineyard and winery with all the other "adoptive parents," Boo, Tyrant, Taylor and I had a quick opportunity to make a short pilgrimage to the new Poplar Grove facility.

And is it a beauty!! I think it sets a new bar for fantastic - not only for the Bench but for the Okanagan on the whole. It's a completely different feel from the incredible Mission Hill, but we all left rather gobsmacked. Strikingly clean lined, with a spectacular view of the lake, I don't see how you couldn't enjoy the wines. As if the wines were good enough on their own to start.

I don't want to gush too wildly but I can't wait for an opportunity to head back and participate in a winery event or dine at the restaurant that is supposed to open later this year in the Summer. In the mean time, I'll just have to settle for a couple other Poplar Grove wines that I might be able to find hidden away.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Little Sicilian Grillo

It hasn't been any sort of conscious decision to make this Italy week or anything, but this is the third post in a row that's featured an Italian wine. And, much like the other two wines, we're heading into unknown territory. I might have recognized the Masi brand from last weekend and known of Barolo wines like our last bottle, but I know very little about Sicilian wines and even less about the varietal we tried tonight.

1056. 2010 Giacondi - G2 Grillo (IGT Sicily - Italy)

A basic search of the net didn't really reveal much about the Giacondi brand. I gather it is a label that is produced by "MGM - Mondo del Vino" a large wine conglomerate that sources and markets wines from a number of Italian regions. But that's pretty much everything that I found.

There's more information to be found about the Grillo varietal but it's hardly what I'd call well-known or commonly grown grape. Indeed, this bottle is going to give me another varietal to add to my Wine Century Club list. Grillo is primarily grown in Sicily where it's been popular for island winemaking because it's a varietal that withstand the high temperatures found there.

In years past - and still today - Grillo was used in the production of Marsala, the fortified wine that originates in Sicily and is made by a method similar to Sherry's solera system. It's becoming more common to find Grillo being made into a varietal table wine like this bottle or being blended with other, better known, varietals like Chardonnay. With a decent acidity and citrus notes, this was an easy-drinker - not unlike many other, basic Italian whites that you can find. It's not a wine that drives me to go out and find another bottle immediately, but it's nice to have an impression that I can refer back to should I run across more Grillo down the road.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bargain Barolo?

Barolo is one of those magical wine names that I don't often find in my glass. It is considered by many to be the finest wine made in Italy - and premium prices follow it accordingly. It's easy enough to find the big red wine, from the region of Piedmont in northwest Italy, in our market. It's just that those bottles tend to start at $50 and there are only a couple that come in at that price in our government stores.

Imagine my surprise when I ran across a bottle for $27.

1055. 2006 San Silvestro - Patres (DOCG Barolo - Piedmont - Italy)

Made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes, the appellation - or district - that is designated for the production of Barolo is quite small. Historically centred around five towns, it has expanded somewhat (not without controversy) but total production is still limited - which only helps keep the prices at a premium level. Normally noted for its high tannins and acidity, the last thirty years has seen many changes to the production methods and styles - from vineyard yields to the length of maceration to the oak and ageing process.

Like many Old world wine regions, Barolo faced a lot of pressure in the 70's and 80's to modernize its wine to adapt to changing global tastes and to deliver more discernible fruit on the palate - and to do so in a wine that would be more approachable, without having to wait years for the tannins to subside. Stories abound of the "Barolo Wars," recounting "traditionalist" vs "modernist" takes on production - differing standpoints that can still be argued today. I'm no expert on Barolo and I won't pretend to tell those tales of modernization, but they do make for some interesting wine geek reading.

With all that being said, I can't say that the San Silvestro did a whole lot for me. There's little doubt that I have a tendency to reach for wines with a bigger fruit profile, but I just didn't find an integration of the tannins and acid in this wine. I know this won't be the last Barolo (or Barbaresco) to fill my glass but this isn't the first time that I haven't been excited by a Nebbiolo wine. I'm starting to wonder if Nebbiolo's just destined not to be a favourite varietal of mine.

Than again, maybe this bottle was found at a bargain price because it isn't a premium example of the region and wine. Even if $27 is be a good price for Barolo, I wouldn't call it an every day price tag. I'm pretty sure that I can find many a bottle that better suits my palate at that price point. Too bad. I was rather hoping for a little Barolo magic to happen.

Pac Rim Bonspiel

Being a good old Canadian boy - but one that doesn't play hockey (as much as I love the Canucks) - I guess, if I really want to keep my passport, I don't really have much choice except to curl. I just wasn't aware of the fact that curling is a good way to keep your "gay card" current through the winter months as well.

Those curling skills - or lack thereof - are being put to the test this weekend at the Pacific Rim Curling Bonspiel. And, unless you're hitting the glitz and glam that is Whistler during the Gay Ski Week, this bonspiel as good as it gets for a winter weekend of gay, old fun and entertainment. The Pac Rim League is Vancouver's gay curling league and - who would have thought it - but it is the biggest curling league in the Lower Mainland with 48 teams. My regular league team didn't enter the bonspiel, but I was asked to join up with another team that was going to be short one of their teammates for the weekend.

The Bonspiel is our league's annual tournament that invites teams from across Canada and the US to join us and this year's version is extra special because it's the first time we've held the bonspiel in our new digs - a legacy from the 2010 Winter Olympics that now plays home to many of the leagues from the sad, old Vancouver Curling Club. To top that perk, the VCC and Pac Rim are hosting the 2012 Canadian Gay Curling Championships. Sixteen teams have qualified from across the country and are playing for national bragging rights - while the rest of us fight it out for regular bonspiel wins.

If there's one thing that's probably a given when curlers and/or gays party over a weekend, it's that there's going to be a lot of booze. The Club lounge definitely enjoyed its busiest weekend since it opened, but, admittedly, curling is more associated with beer than wine. All the same, I had to fit at least a couple bottles into the weekend for the blog's sake.

1053. 2010 Masi - Modello Delle Venezie (IGT Rosso Delle Venezie - Veneto - Italy)

The VCC lounge doesn't exactly have an extensive wine selection - something like three reds and as many whites - but I decided to grab a bottle of Masi when Tyrant happened by to catch a game while a buddy from Toronto was on the ice. One of the best known Italian producers in our market, this wasn't the most enjoyable Masi wine I've tried. I gather it's primarily produced as an entry level wine that looks to capture a simple drinking wine that is reminiscent of enjoying a glass at a Venetian trattoria.

A blend of Refosco, Raboso and other local grapes (that aren't identified as anything other than a "Masi blend"), it might have been true to the Veneto but it didn't do much for me and my Canadian palate. It seemed a little thin, with no discernible fruit and nothing that made it intriguing to my palate. The good news is that I haven't added either of those two varietals to my Wine Century Club totals. Gotta like that.

If I wasn't familiar with Refosco or Raboso, the same can be said for Saturday night's entertainment. I'd heard of Kamelle Toe, one of the newer drags queens on the Vancouver scene, but I'd never actually seen her perform. The bonspiel organizers brought her and one of her good pals, Iona Whipp, to perform a couple numbers and keep us laughing. And laugh I certainly did as Kamelle performed one of Adele's heartbreaking tunes all the while chowing down on a cheeseburger that she pulled out of one side of her bra, which was followed up with a side of fries that appeared from the other side. Who says food can't cure heartache?

Kamelle was also engaging as she MC'd what is becoming a bit of a Pac Rim tradition at the bonspiel, the Drag In A Bag competition. This year, three of the out-of-town teams were chosen and each of the teams had to choose one of its members to get made up in 15 minutes and then, to quote RuPaul, to "lip-sync for their life." This is the third year running that the crowd has been been in stitches as the trio of good sports ham it up. This year's winner hailed from the nation's capital, Ottawa, after doing Dolly Parton's "9-to-5" proud.

It was certainly a hectic weekend. Our team ended up playing six games - more than any of us bargained for. Our Friday night game ended up going until after midnight and, for another, we were on the ice at 8 a.m. Sunday morning. We did have all sorts of laughs though and were lucky enough to play teams visiting from Montréal and San Francisco. When getting ready to play the Montréalers, we pulled out the iPad to Google some French curling terms to jokingly see if we could subvert any strategy they might have to confound us by talking in French. They chortled when we called the "hog line" a "ligne du porc." They said they call it a "hog line" despite what we saw online. We laughed the remainder of weekend, however, whenever some heavy brushing was needed to drag a light shot further down the ice so we could avoid the dreaded "ligne du porc."

1054. 2010 Laughing Stock - Blind Trust White (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Despite curling through all those games (especially when we weren't in the running for any prize money), the four of us championed on and made it to the bonspiel banquet - where we found it in ourselves to order another bottle. Whether we really needed it or not. The wine list was substantially larger at the restaurant and the team left it up to me to pick a wine. I remembered ordering the Laughing Stock Blind Trust Red at my cousin's wedding and that bottle had a non-Merlot drinker raving about a Merlot-heavy blend; so, I figured going the same route with a white might be safe as well.

It was.

The blind trust was mostly Pinot Gris (60%) with Viognier, Sauv Blanc and Pinot Blanc making up the balance. Nice and crisp, with good fruit on the palate, the bottle went quickly. Too bad we were smart and kept it to one bottle - even though dinner took forever to arrive.

Whether it was the home ice advantage or not, it ended up being two Vancouver rinks battling it out for the big prize and national championship - beating out Toronto, Montréal, Ottawa, Halifax, Edmonton and Calgary teams along the way. We may not be bonspiel champs but Old Fart (so named because he won the Old Fart draw to the button contest), Dorbee and Norbee were great to put up with me all weekend. I can't wait until the next time we line up against each other in league play. You can bet I'll be pulling out all my strategic French terms for that one.