Saturday, March 31, 2012

Nasty Crawdads

Boo had to run down, across the border, to Washington state to complete a couple of errands and he ran across some frozen crawfish. We haven't seen or had crawdads in years. We didn't even get to try any when we were in New Orleans last November as they were out of season. Excitement. Please. Things were looking great for a good old crawfish boil. So good, in fact, that we invited Mr. D. over for dinner since there was going to be plenty.

He might not have been so happy that he accepted the invite. Those bugs were bad!

Mr. D. did have fun picking a wine to bring along, however. He visited his pals at Marquis Wines and posed the old "what would you pair with ______" question. Apparently, they don't field a whole lot of requests for wines to match with a crawfish boil, but they picked a fresh Italian and Mr. D. hoped that it might even be a varietal that could be added to my Wine Century Club list.

1093. 2010 Terredora Falanghina (IGT Campania - Italy)

I took a look back at my Wine Century Club page and, lo and behold, Falanghina is not a listed varietal. I know we've had it before but maybe it was a minor part of a blend - or maybe I just missed it previously. In any event, we had a winner. Score one for Mr. D.

The Falanghina grape is among the oldest varietals cultivated in Italy. Some studies believe that it might have been grown in the region as early as the 7th century B.C. It thrives in the volcanic soils that are readily found in the areas that surround Vesuvius and Pompeii. It is also known for its bigger body and higher alcohol content - while still maintaining a good dose of acidity.

Located inland from Naples, Terredora is one of the largest wineries in Southern Italy. It was established in 1978, partly as an attempt to rediscover and restore the Campania region's winemaking tradition - especially the local grape varietals that were prevalent in the area, those grapes primarily being Aglianico, Fiano, Greco and Falanghina. To up the ante even further in terms of trying to build on the quality of the region's wines, as of 1994, the winery started only vinifying grapes that were grown on their estate vineyards.

Mr. D's find was much better than Boo's. The rest of the boil - like corn and sausage - were fine, but the crawdads were just nasty. Whether it was because they'd been frozen or whether it was residual flavour from the BP oil spill in the Gulf, we struggled mightily to get through dinner.

It did mean we took a sip of wine after every bite of crawfish though. That, in turn, quickly meant we needed a second bottle.

2009 La Frenz Viognier (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

The La Frenz was a bit more of known quantity than the Falanghina was; indeed, to the extent this is this vintage of Viognier was already added to The List a couple of months ago and, therefore, can't be added again. The Viognier was an interesting contrast to Italian drop though, particularly in that the La Frenz still had some hefty acidity to it. I often find the acid to be negligible on Viognier when the grapes are ripen enough to deliver the bigger body and flavours that the varietal is generally known for.

Jeff Martin, La Frenz's owner/winemaker, is well known for his Viognier though and it's always welcome at our table. No doubt, this won't be the final bottle to be seen on this blog - whether I'm adding it to The List or not.

In the mean time, I guess I'll just have to be content with adding the Falanghina to both The List and my tally of varietals for the Wine Century Club - and with the knowledge that our local Spot Prawn season isn't that far off. That should help get over the disappointing crawdads.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dine Out For Life

For years now, Boo and I have participated in Dining Out For Life. After 17 years, it's now BC's biggest restaurant fundraising event and it has actually spread out continent-wide. The Vancouver and Lower Mainland Region currently has close to 250 participating restaurants - large and small - and all of them donate 25% of all food sales on this special day to two of Boo's and my favourite charities - A Loving Spoonful and Friends For Life - to assist their efforts to provide services to people living with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses. Over $3 million has been donated throughout these years.

This year, I decided to try and ramp up our participation a notch. Scott and Stephanie Jaeger of The Pear Tree Restaurant offered to work in tandem with me and gave me the opportunity to take all the reservations and fill the restaurant with friends, family and colleagues. This was an especially generous offer by Scott and Stephanie because The Pear Tree isn't the largest of restaurants and it had just been named as having both the Best Food and Best Service in Zagat's Vancouver Restaurants Survey. That was just one of a number of culinary awards that the restaurant has reeled in. Accordingly, reservations can be hard to come by.

I'm thrilled to say that the evening was a grand success. There was a great turnout - particularly since no less than a dozen of my closest drinking buddies (who regularly grace this blog) were all out of town for one reason or another. Luckily, as regular readers might have assessed, I've got lots of drinking pals and the likes of Vixen, Miss Jaq, The Boss and Tyrant were all great sports and made the trek to help out.

I ended up spending much of the evening liaising between tables and touting the charities, but all that work called for some liquid sustenance and, thankfully, we managed to pick a couple of bottles from the comprehensive wine list.

1091. 2009 Descendientes de J. Palacios - Petalos (D.O. Beirzo - Spain)

I recall seeing Petalos previously but it must have been prior to starting this blog because I didn't find it on The List yet - or maybe I just saw it at a tasting event somewhere along the line and didn't finish off a bottle. In any event, Stephanie recommended it as a nice place to start the evening as it was light enough to sip on before we really got into dinner.

Made from the Mencia varietal, it's not a wine or grape that many people will have come across before. Mostly found in the Bierzo region in North-Western Spain, it's only recently that the region's winemakers have started modernizing their production standards and making a wine that was poised to turn some heads outside local borders. As Toronto wine writer, Beppi Crosariol, recently wrote in the Globe and Mail newspaper - the Mencia varietal "justifiably languished in obscurity" for centuries.

Crosariol went on to sing Palacios' praises and write that "Spanish wine cognoscenti are wise to it, extolling its bright fruit, food-friendly acidity and pretty, herbal-floral overtones. Imagine a cross between delicate Pinot Noir, crisp Cabernet Franc and savoury cool-climate Syrah from France's Rhône Valley and you get a vague and enticing picture. Ancient, uncommon and complex, yet light on its feet, it's a wine geek's wine."

I won't try to expand on his wordsmithing; it's probably enough to say that Palacios is likely the best known producer in the region and has played as big a role and any winery in making a name for the Mencia grape.

I think it's pretty fair to say that Stephanie was correct in her assessment of the wine being a good place to start. It was easy enough to drink on its own and it matched up nicely with Scott's excellent dishes once they started arriving at our table. Between the four of us, our dinners included an assortment of Dungeness Crab and Sungold Tomato Broth, Spot Prawn Cappuccino, Carmelized Scallops with Smoked Bacon Risotto, Pork Belly with Spot Prawn Cassoulet and Braised Short Rib with Celeriac Puree and Couscous.

It makes might mouth water just typing out the courses.

1092. 2006 Barossa Valley Estate - Ebenezer Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

Once again, I figured it can't hurt to give a nod to one of the wineries that we hope to visit during our vacation. I've met BVE's winemaker of many years, Stuart Bourne, on a number of occasions when he's passed through Vancouver to promote his wines - and to drink a bit of our local beer and wine. Wouldn't you know that, as soon as we're going to have a chance to try and hook up with him on his own stomping grounds, he's left BVE and gone to take up the chief winemaker's position at another of Barossa's big guns - Château Tanunda.

Around our place, we tend to focus on BVE's E&E Black Pepper Shiraz and Sparkling E&E - not that their hefty price tags permit us to "focus" on them very often. I think this might be the first bottle of Ebenezer that we've opened. This is BVE's second tier label and it might have to compete with E&E for all the press, but it's definitely still got a big personality of its own - just like its winemaker, Stuey B. - and the $40 it hits you back seems a bit more reasonable.

I noted that our table certainly enjoyed it. I went to chat up a few of the other tables for a bit and, much to my dismay, I returned to an empty bottle. Guess I'll just have to come with another occasion to celebrate when the new vintage hits our market.

I'll use this forum to send out another big thanks to everyone who attended the evening. I hope that everyone enjoyed themselves as much as we did. The overall numbers were a ways off from being tallied and/or announced but I know that A Loving Spoonful and Friends For Life will be grateful for all the donations and will put those funds to great use.

I'd be remiss in not publicly thanking Tyrant for his donation of a bottle of 1977 Dow's Vintage Port and The Guru for giving us a couple of older BC wines. All tolled, our little silent auction raised an additional $500 for the charities - with the Port alone bringing in $200. Obviously, Scott and Stephanie deserve big kudos for helping create such a special evening for everyone that attended.

Here's hoping that this becomes a bit of an annual affair. Maybe I'll see you there.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Long Awaited Photo Show

We'd been talking about getting together with Lucy and Ricky to go over photos from our trip to Argentina and Peru - "talking about it" for like 16 months now. But we finally managed to pull it off. Naturally, we still haven't figured out how to load a folder with a reasonable number of photos onto the iPad. So, we had to basically leave a program running with a slide show of all the photos and just stopping if there was a particular one that caught someone's eye. I won't mention how many photos there actually were. It's enough to point out that there was no need to worry about running out of shots before we needed to make some room and dive into the tapas at Biercraft.

1090 . 2010 Trinchero Zinfatuation - Zinfandel (Amador County - California)

I would have preferred to order an Argentine wine for the occasion, but Biercraft's wine list is limited and the only wine they had from Argentina was The Show Malbec - which I'd only just tried a couple of weeks back. As such, we went with a Zin that none of us had tried before. It may not be a coincidence that both The Show and Zinfatuation were on the limited list as it turns out they're both from the same parent company Trinchero Family Estates.

I've had some Trinchero wines in the past and remember them as a higher end California producer; so, the Zinfatuation is likely an entry level, mass market wine for them. I didn't even find it on the Trinchero website.

As a fruit forward, easy drinker that can accompany a wide range of menu items at the restaurant, I suppose the wine met its goals. Likely the more telling note is that we didn't order a second bottle - despite the fact that there were four wine lovers at the table and that the stories about travels, wineries and local providers of specialty meats and foods seemed like they'd never end. Rather, each of us opted to go with one of the long list of specialty beers that were available.

I guess if we get together again, we should consider a wine bar rather than a restaurant called Biercraft - even if the food is worth the trip and the price is right.

I am going to have to find that East Side butcher that serves up Argentine cuts of beef, however, and you know I'll drag out one of the nice Mendoza wines we still have if I can pull off that slab of beef.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Absentee Parents

Having sipped back on a trio of Red Rooster wines this weekend, I'm hoping our babies up in the Red Rooster vineyard weren't feeling neglected or abandoned. The winery scheduled the annual spring pruning party for all the Adopt-A-Row parents for this weekend but Boo and I just weren't able to fit the trip up to the Naramata Bench into our schedules this time around. The Adopt-A-Row weekends are always a great time but, what with our trip Down Under quickly approaching - and Boo having to work this weekend anyhow - as much fun as the weekend would have been, the thought of all the "lost" hours away from tasks at home just seemed a bit daunting.

In lieu of visiting the winery in person, we decided to open a different bottle of Red Rooster for each of the days that we would have been communing with the vines.

1088. 2010 Red Rooster Riesling (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I'm currently seeing lots of variety when it comes to Okanagan Rieslings. The varietal is open to a full range of production styles and local wineries seem to be covering the spectrum. Red Rooster's winemaker, Karen Gillis, is always happy to serve up her Riesling and she knows that I'm particularly drawn to this grape. This current vintage is perhaps styled a bit more along the lines of the Aussie versions I anticipate we'll run into in Oz. There's all sorts of acidity and puckery lemonade tartness - which I find can lead to wines that are a tad austere for my tastes - but I liked the fact that there was still enough of that Okanagan tree fruit coming through to balance out the acidity. Me likey - particularly with a seafood pasta.

2009 Red Rooster Rosé (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I always have to be careful when looking to add a Red Rooster bottle to The List. Being members of the Adopt-A-Row, we tend to drink our fair share of Red Rooster and it's pretty easy to find that I've already added a particular vintage to The List - as is the case with this '09 Rosé. Having been added all the back at #655, it would have been easy to miss that entry on this easy sipper. We're seeing more and more Rosé coming out of the Okanagan and Karen's is a nice example of this fruit forward and food friendly sip.

1089. 2008 Red Rooster Reserve Malbec (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Seeing as how as our adopted row is full of Malbec vines, it only seemed natural to open a bottle, knowing that some of the fruit going into this wine came from Boo's and my row. If I'm not mistaken, there are only two acres of Malbec planted at Red Rooster. It was originally planted with the idea of using the fruit in a Meritage blend but the fruit proved to be good enough to be vinified on its own. A small lot production has been the result ever since the 2006 vintage. As Adopt-A-Row members, we get first crack at the wines - and we regularly take advantage of that opportunity. It's a far cry from owning a winery but it's a nice way of getting a more comprehensive feel for the activities of a winery that go on behind the scenes and the tasting room.

I think the whole Adopt-A-Row program is a great little marketing effort on Red Rooster's part and I'm sorry that we had to miss this weekend's affairs. Luckily we were able to toast our row in absentia. Hopefully, we'll be able to make the harvest party come the Fall. I'm already looking forward to it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Back to Mendoza

Seeing as how I keep blathering on about the fact that we'll soon be off for a bit of walkabout through wine country Down Under, I thought I might grab a bottle from one of the wineries we visited on our last big trip - when we took in some Mendocan wineries in Argentina.

I wrote a bit about our visit to the Vistalba vineyards and winery in October 2010 and I have to admit that Vistalba and its sister winery, Tomero, have become favourites of mine when it comes to Argentine wine - even though I don't get many chances to actually sip back on their wines.

I mentioned in my previous post about Vistalba that the Tomero brand is used for the varietal wines produced by the winery and the name comes from the "tomero" or the person who regulates the distribution of water flow through the local irrigation system that was created over 100 years ago in Mendoza. That system consists of numerous water channels that are used to deliver mountain run-off that was captured from near-by Andes. Certain estates have been allocated, by law, a quota of water hours and the tomero is responsible for opening and closing thetoma de agua or gates and channels through which the waters flow. It was all quite fascinating to see the interlocking ditches and gates. The system is even used for the delivery of water throughout the city of Mendoza itself.

1087. 2006 Tomero Reserva Petit Verdot (Mendoza - Argentina)

As for the wine, I don't tend to see straight varietal bottles of Petit Verdot all that often - and it's not a varietal that quickly comes to mind when thoughts wanders back to Argentina. P.V. is used primarily for blending with other Bordeaux varietals - even in Argentina - but this was a wonderful example of the deep colour and the depth and intensity of flavours that make it an alluring component of those Bordeaux and Meritage wines.

Tonight's bottle was actually a gift from Lucila, our agent at Exotic Patagonia, who helped put our trip together. Her husband, Ricardo, is a local rep for Vistalba and Tomero in Vancouver and we were thrilled to be given the bottle because fewer than 500 cases of the wine were made and there's no way we'd have been able to buy it in our market.

For a 2006, there was still plenty of heft and fruit in the glass at first, but the wine really opened up after an hour or so as the tannins softened and the complexity of the wine shone through. No doubt, all that flavour was helped along by the fact that the vines would have had to work so hard to establish and replenish themselves. One of the highlights of the winery tour was the cutaway wall in the underground tasting room. One side of the room was simply an out and out look at the geographic conditions found in the vineyard.

You continually hear that grapevines tend to do best when they have to struggle to survive. Well, this sure wasn't any soil I'd want to be working a vegetable garden in. The vines in this vineyard must be some kind of tough.

I'm sure going to look forward to the next opportunity to try a Tomero or Vistalba wine though. Hopefully, there'll be some finds in Oz that are just as exciting.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Spring Has Sprung

If nothing else, I'm having to come to grips with just how far I'm behind with my posts. We'd opened this bottle as a bit of inspiration for the appearance of Spring - even if that appearance was by the calendar only as the weather may not yet actually qualify as Spring-like- and here I am not actually posting it until much later. Back then, the thought was that if the weather had yet to leave the local mountains awash in field flowers - such that you could dance and sing your way through meadows à la Julia Andrews - at least this wine might conjure up some Spring-like tasting notes.

1086. 2009 Laurenz und Sophie - Singing Grüner Veltliner (Austria)

Neither Austrian wines, nor Grüner Veltliner varietal wines, have made much of an appearance on The List. The 2005 vintage of this wine was an early addition at #50; however, a quick perusal of The List shows that a total of only four Austrian wines have been previously added - this will the fifth - two of which have been Grüner Veltliners and two have been Rieslings.

Indeed, I re-read my posting (from almost three years ago now) of the 2005 bottle and not a whole lot seems to have changed. G.V. is still produced almost exclusively by Austrian wineries and its production still outpaces any other varietal in the country by quite a margin.

Laurenz und Sophie remains quite a new outing for the Moser family. Although the family is in its fifth generation of winemaking, this current partnership was only started in 2005. The winery concentrates solely on the production of Grüner and part of its stated vision is to "support the variety on its way to well-deserved international repute." Their wines are now exported to 39 countries and they have attracted notice - and praise - from many of the bigger forces in wine media. One example being that, Internet wine star, Gary Vaynerchuk, is quoted as detecting "a little burnt tire-meets-apple pudding" with this vintage. I'll point out that Vaynerchuk is never shy with his tasting notes and this was part of a positive review that also declared "impressive complexity and a pretty interesting bottle of Grüner."

You won't find me trying to compete with Vaynerchuck on tasting notes, I simply thought that - seeing as how Grüner is often compared and contrasted with Riesling and/or Pinot Gris - the bottle might match up nicely to butter chicken. We figured it did just fine.

As for the hold-up in finally getting around to posting this bottle, I suppose that, if you're looking for a brighter - or a glass half full - side to the story, the delay with this entry has seen some marginal improvement to the weather. There's certainly plenty of flower action to be seen presently here in Vancouver. Here's hoping that the new season will see some of my creative juices flowing - and a whack of wines being posted and added to The List - as opposed to my showing up on You Tube running through hills that are alive with the sound of music.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wine Blogging Wednesday 75 - Single's Night

It's that time of the month again. It's the third Wednesday of month - time for Wine Blogging Wednesday - and I get to discover that, yet again, I'm still lagging behind in my posts. Do I add another bottle to The List even though I'll be out of sync - after all that's the raison d'être of the blog - or do I skip a month of WBW? As tempting as "skipping class" might be, I'm hoping that WBW can get on a roll again and build on its participation rate. If I really want that to happen, I pretty much have to play my part and get that post in.

There's that - and then there's the fact that this month's host, 1WineDude, has proposed a great theme for WBW75: "Single's Night." As Joe Roberts, our host, points out the theme "does not mean that you should be drinking alone (not that there's anything necessarily wrong if you do...we're not judging you here) {Editor's note - "phew!"}; it means we're going to taste and talk about wines that come from single vineyards."

My choice of wineries for this post was a bit of a no-brainer. When it comes to BC wines, I think it's safe to say that single vineyard designations start and end with Sandhill. I don't think anyone in the BC wine industry could be more passionate about single vineyard wines than Howard Soon - Sandhill's Master Winemaker and all-around great guy. Heck, the headplate on the home page of their website proclaims "Single Vineyard Wines - One Distinct Vineyard. One Distinct Wine Experience."

Indeed, my problem was going to be what wine would I actually choose to write about. I took a quick look back on The List and I've added just over 20 Sandhill bottles to The List since I started. That may be the most wines added from any one winery. I think it clearly speaks to the quality of the wines Howard and company continuously produce at Sandhill. We wouldn't keep going back for more if he didn't keep delivering.

A native son of Vancouver, Howard actually started out as a brewmaster at Labatt's, one of Canada's big two national breweries. Apparently, it was a wine appreciation class - and cold Prairie winters - that prompted his crossing the dancefloor to the wine cellar. That was back in 1980 when Howard started with Calona Wines. During those 30-plus intervening years, Howard has seen a cataclysmic change in the BC wine industry - from the days of Canadian jug wine to one where a bottle of his 1994 Chardonnay became the first BC wine to win Gold at the Chardonnay du Monde competition in Paris.

Since Sandhill's first release in 1997, when Howard was the first BC winemaker to release a series of single vineyard wines, he has offered nothing but single vineyard wines. He has been quoted as stating that his goal has been to capture the "unique combination of geography, microclimate and human touch" and that the "commitment to purity of place is more difficult than blending." That "commitment" has resulted in a fine collection of awards and medals for his wines. Indeed, Howard and Sandhill experienced a banner year in 2009 when Wine Access magazine named Sandhill Winery of the Year at the Canadian Wine Awards - and, oh yeah, Sandhill also won Red Wine of the Year with its Small Lots Syrah and White Wine of the Year for its Viognier - both single vineyard wines, naturally.

The Sandhill estate vineyard was only planted between 1993 and 1994. Accordingly, winemakers and growers alike are still striving to detect specific vineyard expressions of terroir but Howard and his viticulturists have tweaked growing practices enough - from more water here and less water there to canopy maintenance and the yield of fruit - that they now feel that they have enough of an understanding of the vineyard subtleties to venture into single block wines. And that's where I transition to today's wine...

(# on The List to be determined) 2009 Sandhill Block C8 Merlot (VQA - Okanagan Valley)

Since the 2007 vintage, Howard and Sandhill have released a Merlot and a Chardonnay - as part of their Small Lots Program - sourced from single blocks in the estate's home vineyard that Howard has consistently identified as being notable for rich, concentrated and intensely flavoured grapes. Limited to a production of only five barrels, I was lucky enough to nab a couple of bottles at the recent Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival. Howard was serving the Single Block Merlot as one of his wines and it immediately grabbed my attention with its intense nose and incredible integration of young tannins and bright fruit. The Merlot was a definite standout among the 800 some-odd wines that were available for tasting from around the world.

The Playhouse Festival is rather unique in that a winery is not invited to participate unless it is prepared to send along one of the winery principals - be it owner, winemaker or head of sales - to interact with Joe and Jane Public. Accordingly, I had an opportunity to chat briefly with Howard. I told him that I was befuddled as to how winemakers are able to differentiate one grape from another in order to determine which fruit should be destined for the more premium wines. Despite facing a small crowd of folks anxiously awaiting a pour of wine at the Sandhill table, he took time to explain that he separately vinifies the grapes from each block from each vineyard and that, as they age, he can identify particular barrels of wine - from particular blocks - that are just that much more intense. He added that, over the years, you notice that certain sections of many vineyards tend to consistently deliver premium fruit - and, in some instances, those unique profiles merit a unique bottling of their own.

All this goodness can come with a price though. At $40 a bottle, the Block C8 Merlot is the most expensive wine released by Sandhill (along with the Small Lots Syrah). However, when you compare that to the $85 charged by La Stella, one of Sandhill's neighbours down the road, for its icon Merlot - Maestoso - the price seems a whole lot more palatable. Particularly when I believe this is truly one of the best expressions of Okanagan Valley Merlot you can find. That is, if you can find it.

With this 2009 vintage being a new release, I've probably opened it earlier than is optimal but I simply thought that this was the perfect choice for Single's Night at Wine Blogging Wednesday. Having tried it only a couple of weeks ago, however, I knew it was already drinking beautifully. I'm certainly glad we've still got one more bottle. I only wish we had even more.

I'll end with a big shout out to Joe and 1WineDude and for the effort he's put into hosting WBW75. I look forward to checking out the wines and stories that are being posted simultaneously - and to a rocking topic for Wine Blogging Wednesday 76.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Crisp & Green St. Patty's Day

Faith and Begorrah. 'Twas an eventful St. Paddy's Day.

I'm not sure if that was a befitting use of the phrase or not, but it seemed fun and appropriately Irish for the day at hand.

That might be the full extent of my Irish exposure for the day though. Even though the Canucks' Pat Quinn era may be long past, there was plenty 'o green, and maybe even a few leprechauns, to be seen at the Canucks game that night. I'd managed to score a couple of tickets so that my Dad and I could take in the Canucks game with Columbus. It's been more than a couple of seasons since we've seen a game live together; so, it was a welcome ending when the Canucks pulled off a win to help them in their final drive before the playoffs start.

I think I'm safe in saying that Dad enjoyed the game - despite having a beer spilled over him by the bumbling twit sitting behind us. I don't know if it was green beer that was spilled or not, but I know for a fact it wasn't Irish wine. I understand that, seriously, there are a couple of Irish wineries nowadays - but I'm fairly certain you'd ever find any of their wines available on our shores.

That wasn't an option for this St. Patrick's though. I did try to go with a wine that'd be reminiscent of things all "bright and green." There was the possibility of finding a Mead - the traditional Irish honey wine - but I have to admit that the thought of a New Zealand Sauv Blanc was pretty much foremost when mind was put to task.

1085. 2010 Giesen - The Brothers Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough - New Zealand)

And I had the perfect wine in mind as well. The Brothers Savvy was another of the wines that I'd picked up at the recent Playhouse Wine Festival. I mentioned in an earlier post that I rather enjoyed meeting Matt Bindell of Giesen at the Festival - well, I enjoyed their Sauv Blanc even more.

I somehow missed trying Giesen during the 2010 Wine Festival when, along with Argentina, New Zealand was one of the featured regions. Giesen attended the Festival but I just didn't get around to trying their wines. Too bad, because I really enjoyed the restrained nature of their higher end Sauv Blanc and now I've missed out on two years of drinking their wines.

A family run operation (yes, there actually are three Giesen brothers involved), they've set up shop in Marlborough - the original hotbed of Kiwi Sauv Blanc. I don't know if it's the German heritage playing a role in their outlook on winemaking, but I found the wine to have a more dimensional feel and taste than some of the one-note New Zealand Savvy's that scream acidity and gooseberry you can run across in mass-marketed wines.

For me, the wine's brightest hallmark was one of passionfruit - and, from one passionate fruit to another, that's a definite bonus for me.

I can't be the only one who enjoyed the wine either. I see that, among other awards, this 2010 vintage won a Gold medal at the 2011 New Zealand New World Wine Awards.

A Canucks win matched with a great little wine. I'd say we hit that legendary Irish pot of gold today - even if I sent my Dad home to Mom smelling like a brewery.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

At Last - Wine Century Club Membership Confirmed

Regular readers will be aware that - ever since I discovered the Wine Century Club on the internet - I get a little thrill every time I have the opportunity to try a grape varietal that I haven't sipped before. It took awhile to compile a full 100 varietals during this Wine Odyssey; however, my official certificate of membership arrived in the mail today and, with it, the formal declaration that "By the power bestowed upon me by the great Bacchus, you are now a distinguished member of the Wine Century Club."

If you haven't previously run across this group yourself, the club's website states that it "is for all adventurous wine lovers. If you've tasted at least 100 different grape varieties, you're qualified to become a member." You can download a list of possible grapes at the website and amuse yourself with figuring out the different grapes that you've tried. Just be aware of the fact that, of the thousands of people that download the list, less than 3% of them actually apply for membership.

I don't know what current membership stands at; however, members now span the globe. I had a nice little back and forth e-mail chat with Steve De Long, one of the clever originators, and he advised me that there is a baker's dozen of members in British Columbia. I'll have to hope for a gathering of local members or a tasting of some sort down the road. After all, I still need a whack of varietals if I'm going to make it to 200.

Keeping track of my ongoing total is amusing in itself - and you can see the list featured as a side page to the blog - I'm currently at 117. Something tells me, locating those additional 83 varietals might be something of a chore. It's one thing to know that there's someone, somewhere, growing the likes of Schioppettino, Kadarka, Monica or other intriguing grapes and another thing altogether to actually find a bottle made with such varietals in a local market.

The plan is to keep on keeping on though. There's another 900+ bottles still to be added to The List before I've completed my Wine Odyssey task at hand. Surely I can fit in a few more grapes of a different colour.

Let me know if you see any bottles that might prove helpful. After all, the membership application warns that "Should you lie, may the watch of Bacchus curse your palate." I wouldn't want that now, would I?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tamaya Syrah

In an effort to ensure that Boo doesn't hate me too much for taking advantage of the loosened "No Buy Leash" during the recent Playhouse Wine Festival, I opened one of the bottles that I picked up there. My thinking was that he might forget - if only a little bit - about all the new bottles if he's actually enjoyed some of the new acquisitions.

1084. 2010 Viña Tamaya - Winemaker's Selection - Single Vineyard Syrah (Limarí Valley - Chile)

Tonight's wine is a direct example of how the Playhouse Festival is great for introducing wine lovers to all sorts of wineries that might not otherwise show up on the radar. Tamaya is one of the thirty-five Chilean wineries that participated in the Festival's Regional Theme. It's also a winery that I wasn't familiar with at all prior to the Festival.

Tamaya is located in the Limarí Valley, 400 kms to the north of Santiago, a region that lies adjacent to the Atacama Desert - the most arid desert in the world. Growing conditions are moderated, however, by ocean breezes that blow into the valley, approximately 20 kms, from the Pacific Ocean nearby. Situated in the foothills of the Andes, the region is probably better known for the production of Pisco - the national liquor of Chile. Wine has been made in the area for centuries, however. Despite the history of winemaking in the region, Tamaya is a relatively recent enterprise. Its vineyards date to 1997 and construction of the winery began in 2001.

Tamaya has been able to capitalize on the burgeoning regionalization of Chile's wine industry and the increasing global recognition of those regions. There was only one other winery at the Festival that hailed from Limarí; yet, the region's name was being introduced right along with Colchagua, Aconcagua, Casablanca and the others.

It didn't hurt that Tamaya was able to boast that their Syrah took the Best in Show trophy at the 2012 Wines of Chile Awards.

I particularly liked the refined nature of the wine's profile. It had a big nose to seduce you; yet, the fruit on the palate was subdued and the tannins were soft. There was no mistaking them but everything was nicely integrated and understated.

Even Boo had to admit he liked it. With this being the first bottle to be opened from the Festival, I think I might have dodged a bullet.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Miss Jaq Returns

What a surprise! I got a call from the lovely and talented Miss Jaq saying that she was back from Abu Dhabi and, this time, it's for the foreseeable future. Nice surprise for us. Not so sure what surprises are going to be in store for her. She'd decided that the politics of work in the Emirates was proving to be a bit much and that, after ten years of tax-free living, it might be time to give Vancouver another try. As I say, great for us but this might prove interesting for her.

Over the last decade, we've been lucky to see her a couple of times a year. She's always made it home for a bit of a vay-cay in the summer - after all, if you're given some time off in 50+°C weather, who wouldn't come back for a bit of Vancouver summer? - but that short time doesn't allow for more than a couple of dinners and the annual Miss Jaq Wine Picnic.

The girl obviously had some new stories to tell; so, we invited her over here for dinner as soon as she could make it.

1081. 2005 Majella Sparkling Shiraz (Coonawarra - Australia)

Seeing Miss Jaq is always a celebration; so, a little bubble was an appropriate start. With Boo's and my trip to Oz just around the corner, I thought "Why not pop the cork from a winery that we hope to fit into our travels?" I met Brian and Ros Lynn, two of Majella's principals at the recent Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival and they were among the most pleasant and interesting folk I met through the final weekend of tastings. I loved the Sparkling Shiraz at the Playhouse and I picked up a bottle (since Boo let me off the "No Buy Leash" for the Festival) but it turns out I had an earlier vintage at home and that's where we started.

A bit of an Aussie tradition, this sparkling red is still make in the traditional champenoise method - with bottle fermentation (on the wine's lees - or spent yeast) for close to four years. It is then disgorged and an interesting dosage of vintage Port is added as a bit of a sweetener to the wine. Although not nearly as bubbly as more traditional sparklers, there's a lightness to the big Shiraz that is a wonderful way to a start the evening with appies or to accompany a brunch.

Something tells me I'll be looking for an opportunity to pop a cork on a sparkling shiraz while Down Under.

Despite the new movie, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, neither Mis Jaq nor Boo & I have ventured there. Yemen may be in the same region as the U.A.E., but, quaint movies or not, it's not the safest places to visit. We had to settle for an evening of Eating Salmon on The Drive. Ewen McGregor may not have featured prominently but we did introduce Miss Jaq to an episode of RuPaul's Drag Race afterwards.

1082. 2006 Howling Bluff Pinot Noir (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

I've been looking forward to opening this bottle of Luke Smith's Pinot for some time now. We've tried Luke's wines at a number of tastings over the years but the only full bottles we've enjoyed have been his Meritage blend, Sin Cera. That's partially because it's generally easier to find the blend in the stores. Indeed, the 2006 vintage was Howling Bluff's first and there were only 120 cases of this Pinot Noir made - and it was next to impossible to find any since it was awarded one of the 2009 Lieutenant-Governor's Award for Excellence in BC Wine.

Luke is quick to tell the story of how he started the winery with a goal of eventually making a world-renowned Bordeaux blend. Having now produced a handful of vintages, he seems agreeably resigned to the fact that Mother Nature appears insistent on pointing him in a completely different direction. Having planted the majority of his Summa Quies vineyard in Bordeaux varietals, Luke is naturally finding that it is his Pinot Noir that is gaining him the most notoriety. Our bottle of the 2006 won him his first L-G's Award, but that was quickly followed up with another in 2011 for the 2009 vintage. To top that off a bit, the 2008 vintage won Wine Access magazine's 2010 Red Wine of the Year award - the first Pinot to ever do so.

Luke has reluctantly reached the conclusion that he needs to wake up and smell the Pinot. That probably won't be that difficult or painful because our wine had a beautiful nose on it - a nose that opened up even more with a second glass, as did the flavour profile. Grafting over or replanting all of his Bordeaux varietals may prove somewhat agonizing, but it's going to result in even more Pinot Noir and different options for Luke - and that can't be a bad thing for the rest of us.

Boo made us a blackberry pie for dessert (perhaps one of his best ever) and I figured the pie called for an accompanying sip of its own.

1083. N.V. Salt Spring Blackberry Port (Gulf Islands - BC)

Surprisingly, I couldn't find out much about the Blackberry Port - other than that it's made from organic blackberries, grown on the Gulf Island, and that it's one of the most popular products that the winery makes. The winery's entire production of wine is limited to about 2000 cases; so, not unlike the Howling Bluff Pinot, I doubt there's much of this to be found. As full of flavour as Boo's blackberry pie, I'm glad we nabbed the bottle that we did.

With Miss Jaq back in Vancouver, we'll hopefully fit in more and more little visits. You just know there'll be some good wines involved. However, with her no longer in Abu Dhabi, I don't know that we'll be heading back to the Emirates any time soon. Guess Boo won't get much opportunity to address his silk carpet jones. That means we'll just have to settle for trips - like Australia - in the mean time. I know. It's tough; but somebody's got to do it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Playhouse Wine Fest?

All of Vancouver's arts headlines have been abuzz with the just-announced demise of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company after 49 years of regional theatre. As shocking as the announcement was, I have to admit that my immediate thoughts didn't go to the loss of one of the key production companies in VanCity. Rather, the first thought that crossed my mind was "I wonder how this could affect the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival?"

Having just sipped and savoured my way through the 2012 festival, the possibility of losing one of the foremost festivals on the continent would be inconceivably maddening. Luckily, it appears that this distressing thought needn't furrow my brow any more.

Word has now surfaced that, as much as the Wine Festival organizational committee is saddened by the "day's news," the Wine Festival wine continue. A separate society was set up years back to operate the Wine Festival independently from the theatre company and the festival will continue regardless of the theatre's continued presence.

Alas, the curtain may have fallen on the stage shows for now, but with California and Chardonnay poised to assume the feature roles next year, at least there'll be a stage still there for the wine world to play out its own theatrics.

Here's a belated toast to the Playhouse. Now, all of you finish off that glass of wine and head out to take in some theatre.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Ballet BC & Bao Bei

Ballet BC has never been much for presenting pieces that feature tutus, swans or princes. I know that it can be a bit of a hard sell to convince Boo to join me, but I was able to do so for tonight's performance of three disparate pieces - Walking Mad, Vitulare and between disappearing and becoming. The dances may not be as immediately recognized as Nutcracker or Giselle, but that likely has much to do with the fact that two of the pieces were world premières and the third was a Canadian première.

Don't look to me if you're wanting a critique on contemporary ballet - or classical for that matter - I'm not your man. I have enough trouble trying to discover the nuances of wine, let alone dance. I do, however, know that I love the fact that Vancouver has such an innovative and talented dance company - and, while the pieces rarely enthral me from start to finish, I inevitably enjoy aspects of the show enough to draw me back. Tonight's little triumphs included the integration of the moving wall into Walking Mad and the ebb and flow of the continually changing partners and dancers traversing the stage en pointe throughout between disappearing and becoming.

But enough of the arts review. If I'm posting the evening here, you can pretty much be guaranteed there's a bottle of wine involved. And, naturally, there is.

Before we traipsed off to Ballet BC, Boo and I stopped in for dinner at Bao Bei, the contemporary Chinese brasserie that opened in Chinatown awhile back and was seen as one of a few moves that might help invigorate the area. I've wanted to try the restaurant for some time but just haven't gotten around to it yet.

1080. 2010 Château de Sancerre (AOC Sancerre - Loire - France)

Bao Bei, which we're told translates from Chinese as "precious," originally grabbed some headlines for innovative cocktails. The wine list was far more pedestrian - or maybe "limited" is a better word - as there wasn't much choice. Since the dishes we chose were all over the map - from squid with pork belly to beef tartare (which I've never really thought of as Chinese), I thought a white might match up better. Boo didn't want to go the Riesling route; so, we settled on a Sancerre. I'm not sure that the acidity and minerality of the Sauv Blanc matched our dishes all that well, but we managed to work our way through both food and wine without too much difficulty.

I wasn't aware of Château de Sancerre - what with the region being called Sancerre and all - but the winery is part of the Marnier-Lapostelle holdings (most notably Grand Marnier) and the family owns the historical castle in the region. Hence, this is the only wine from the Sancerre appellation that can be named Château de Sancerre.

I don't drink a lot of Sancerre - nor do I drink a lot of Sauvignon Blanc in general - but I tend to gravitate to what I see as a more stylistic integration of all the flavour points that make up the Sauvignon Blanc profile. To me, this Château de Sancerre seemed to be a little more forthright in its flavours. If I hadn't known it was a Sancerre, I might have mistaken it for a New World Sauv Blanc. Maybe that's why I didn't find it subtle enough to match up with the varied flavours of the food.

An evening full of food, wine and dance. Sounds pretty swellegant and I'm glad we did it. I'm not sure that any of those three components knocked it out the park though. That being said, I'm fairly certain that each of Ballet BC, Sancerre and Bao Bei will still figure in our plans down the road.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Return of the Jets

It's a rare opportunity for me to actually make it to see a Canucks game live - other than watching it on the TV - but Blade, the newly-arrived Prairie Boy, invited me to join him to take in the first appearance of the Winnipeg Jets in Vancouver in sixteen years. It would be even rarer to be able to blog about a bottle of wine at the game itself; however, we grabbed a burger a before the puck dropped and had no trouble in gearing ourselves up for the show by ordering up a little pre-game lubrication.

Indeed, a bottle of The Show - before we took in the big show on ice - only seemed to make sense.

1079. 2010 Trinchero - Three Thieves - The Show Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

The Show is one of over two dozen different labels that Trinchero Family Estates Wines produces. The list includes some pretty big names in our market - Angove, Doña Paula, Ménage à Trois and Sutter Home. The Show appears to take a bit of unique approach, however, in that they currently make four varietal wines - Cab Sauv, Malbec, Pinot Noir and Garnacha (Grenache) - but each of them is made from grapes sourced from a different country. The Cab is from California, the Pinot from Chile, the Garnacha from Spain and tonight's Malbec is from Argentina.

I don't know if I've previously run across that concept in winemaking before.

Their label is eye-catching. The price is reasonable ($18 in the government stores). And the website states that they're looking to add a "breath of fresh air to the sometimes-stuffy world of wine" as "big, bold varietals meet big, bold labels." That might not be too unexpected. It's the type of big wine, with plenty of dark fruit, that I'd expect to find on a restaurant's wine list when the restaurant has to limit the number of wines that it can make available. It's an uncomplicated, easy drink of a full bodied wine. To bring the point home, I saw that the table next to us ordered it (by the glass) as well.

There was no wine to be had at the game though. Our one glass of beer cost $14 each. I'd hate to think how much a glass of good wine (in a plastic glass none-the-less) would cost. Live hockey needs beer anyhow. And I will admit that I was fascinated by the draft machine they had that filled the glass from the BOTTOM. The "bottom-less glass" had a magnet that closed up the hole where the beer came in and it was even way more fun than seeing wine served on tap - as is starting to happen.

The Canucks have been on a bit of slide lately but they managed to pull off a win 3-2 tonight - much to the dismay of all the Jets fans that appeared to all be sitting immediately around us. Every "Go Jets Go" chant - and there were a lot - seemed to start just behind us. If they hadn't been cheering for the wrong team, it perhaps would have been even more fun than it was. It's great to see another Canadian team in the NHL but I'm still holding out for the Canucks to bring home the Stanley Cup.

The Champagne will be flowing that night!! In the mean time, I'll take the win and the wine.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

California Meets the Rhône

Another wine and winery that I knew virtually nothing about - particularly since the bottle was gift from the Boss Man. Turns out that Treana is one of five brands that Hope Family Wines produces and it's their premium, flagship label. Joining right in with California's Rhône Rangers, Treana is inspired by "the great white wines of France's Rhône region." They've just tried to add a twist of California richness.

1078. 2007 Hope Family Wines - Treana White (Central Coast - California)

A 50/50 blend of Viognier and Marsanne, the Treana grapes are grown in the highland regions of Monterrey County - one of California's cooler regions because of the influence of the coastal breezes. Because of the vineyard location, there is a longer growing season - but the consistent temperatures allow for a full ripeness that maintains good acidity. The ripeness in the fruit leads to a fuller bodied wine that is only expanded upon by some oak, by nine months of ageing the wine on its lees (or spent yeast) and by putting a portion of the wine through malolactic fermentation (a process that converts more tart-tasting acids into softer, creamier ones - think lemon juice as opposed to milk).

Despite the big body, there was plenty of tropical and stone fruit coming through - while still being integrated with a firm base of acidity.

Winemaker, JC Diefenderfer, has stated that this is "white wine for red wine drinkers." I might think of it along the lines of Pamela Anderson in a bottle.

I rarely refer to the food we chow down on, but Boo and I thought it matched up perfectly with a spinach and mango salad with candied pecans.

An untypical blend for California, Treanna White hasn't been the easiest wine to sell - until prospective buyers try it. Then it sells itself. Look at me. I'm not necessarily drawn to white Rhônes. I'd reach for a Rhône-styled red over a white pretty much any day of the week. As mentioned, this bottle was a gift and I don't know if I would have reached for it without having tried it first. Sipping back on this Treana, however, that could change. Who'd have thought that Pam Anderson - despite her being a good ol' BC girl - could do that for me?

A Night at Memphis Blues with the Boys

It's been awhile since the Gang of Five got together for dinner. The Gang finished off our university days decades back now but it's been meeting for dinner every so often for almost as long just to keep up with everyone's going's on. As much as it's an informal Gang of Five, we haven't been able to assemble the full crew for the last so many meetings. Tonight was no different. Usually it's Downhill Doug that bows out, but tonight it was The Pink One that wasn't be able to make it. So, once again, we were a Gang of Four - or perhaps more accurately, a Gang of Pour.

Since The Pink One is a pescatarian, we took advantage of his absence and met up at a venerable Vancouver shrine to meat - Memphis Blues BBQ House. I was surprised that none of the other boys had ever been, especially since Memphis Blues has been around for over a decade now and Mr. Big is the personification of meat-eater.

I'm rather sure that most folks reach for the nearest beer when it comes to BBQ, but the folks behind Memphis Blues have always looked to keep a small, but well thought out, wine list. I doubt there are many restaurants that can win accolades in wine list competitions with a list of only a dozen or so budget priced wines. The guys at Memphis manage just that - and we tested out a couple.

1076. N.V. Don Leòn - Tempranillo Merlot Syrah (La Mancha - Spain)

We went for the Spanish blend to start as it came highly recommended by our enthusiastic waitress - although it was a rather roundabout procedure in picking the wine. They were out of our original Spanish choice and this was the last bottle they had of this wine; however, she had just opened it to give a sample to someone looking for a glass of wine. Can't say that I've ever agreed to take a previously opened bottle - even if she offered it with a slight discount on the price.

I hadn't heard of the wine before and couldn't find out anything more about it online. My guess is that it's a bulk, cooperative effort - particularly since it's a non-vintage wine. It showed a more modern Spanish profile, with bigger presence than I'd normally expect for a Tempranillo, but it wasn't over the top in its fruit forwardness. It didn't wow me but it was fine for BBQ fare.

1077. 2009 Château Pesquié - Terrasses Rouge (Côtes du Ventoux - France)

I'm a little more familiar with the Pesquié. I may not regularly imbibe, but I certainly recognize the Terrasses label and I'm cognizant of its reputation of good bang for buck. Terrasses is definitely an example of a more modern style coming out of Provence and the Southern Rhône. A blend of (predominantly) two-thirds Grenache and a third Syrah (with traces of Carignan and Cinsault fleshing it out), the boys preferred this bottle with their pulled pork, ribs and brisket.

I'm gonna admit that the conversation and the BBQ took precedence over the wine tonight. I was impressed, however, that the boys - for the most part - even preferred the wine over beer given tonight's fare. We sure wouldn't have gone that route back in university days.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tassie Pinot

With the 2012 Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival now behind me, I figured this would be a great opportunity to go back to one of the wines and wineries that I discovered at last year's Festival for the first time. I originally gravitated to the winery because it was new to me, but also because we don't see many Tasmanian wines here in Vancouver and both Boo and I have a soft spot for all things Tassie - having thoroughly enjoyed a short, 3-day visit a decade ago. Our stay back then was barely long enough to whet a whistle and we never had the opportunity to visit any wineries but we both agreed that it wouldn't take any convincing for us to head back again. It hasn't happened yet, and, unfortunately, we aren't able to fit it into our itinerary when we head Down Under next month.

Guess that, for the time being, we'll just have to satisfy our Tassie dreams with a bottle of wine now and again.

1074. 2009 Josef Chromy Pinot Noir (Tasmania - Australia)

Although I read that, after being established in 2004, Josef Chromy is now the third largest winery in Tasmania, it is still very much a boutique winery with current production being approximately 18,000 cases annually. Tasmania is primarily known as perhaps Australia's coolest climate wine region. Accordingly, it's not too surprising to find that the area's industry is largely based on white and sparkling wines. The island state is taking a run at becoming the epicentre of Australian Pinot Noir though - and that's what we've cottoned onto tonight.

I have to admit that I was rather intrigued to see mention on the winery website that Joseph Chromy likens their climatic conditions to BC's own Okanagan Valley. I don't know if I've ever seen a foreign winery even acknowledge the existence of the Okanagan, let alone compare its growing conditions favourably.

That being said, I was second-guessing myself a tad when we first opened the bottle. I couldn't quite identify what it was about this wine that must have grabbed me at last year's Festival. It opened with a nice big nose, but the palate was rather acidic and not entirely my cup of tea (or wine as it may be). I understood the attraction awhile later though. The wine opened up nicely after an hour or so - and it definitely went better with food.

Exhibiting classic Pinot notes of red fruit, I don't know if I'd rank it as one of my favourite Pinots of late, but I'd agree to sharing a bottle anytime, anywhere should we find ourselves Tassie-bound ever again.

Random Festival Thoughts - A Quick Look Back

Another Playhouse Wine Fest has come and gone. My participation this year was pretty much limited to the big International Tasting Room and to my favourite (repeat) seminar - Meet Your Match (as regaled somewhat in my last post). The Festival can be overwhelming - at least for me - and it'll take a bit of time to process all the experiences. To get things started, though, I figured I'd throw out a few random thoughts that popped into my head over the weekend.

1) It's not necessarily the most expensive wines that will be your favourites or excite your palate. Domaine de la Solitude, from the Rhone, may have been serving the most expensive foursome of wines in the room. Their four Châteauneuf-du-Pape's were priced at $50, $100, $129 and $250. I adored the 2001 Cuvée Barberini and had to beg forgiveness from Boo when I bought a bottle of the $129 beauty. However, at almost twice the price, the 2001 Cuvée Reserve Secrète didn't tweak my interest in the least.

2) Despite all the hoopla I see and read about wineries embracing their historical roots and experimenting with tradition and varietals that are little known outside the home region, the varietal choices being served up at the Festival got to be a tad monotonous. I don't really need to try a new Cabernet coming out of Verona. I thoroughly enjoy tasting and learning about varietals that I've never heard of before - maybe one that the winemaker's great-grandmother used to grow and make wine in the basement with decades ago. Homogeneity and monotony are not the buzzwords I get excited about.

3) I need to practice my spitting. I manage to avoid the embarrassing - and messy - splashback easily enough, but it would be something to be able to hit the bucket from a foot or more away. I was at one table when the winemaker I was chatting with heartily greeted a friend in the business and introduced him as "the best spitter in the business." Is that a badge of courage or what?

4) I don't think I'll ever understand why such a large proportion of people need to come across as knowing more about wine than they actually do. Learning something new is meant to be an integral aspect of the Playhouse Festival and a big part of its mandate is to try and excite more and more people about and introduce them to wine. It's okay to say "I know absolutely nothing about this or that." They might fool their friends with faux or meaningless phrases - but only if those friends know nothing themselves.

5) Finally, I'm rather "hoo-hum" about next year's themes. Where's the excitement in naming California as the Theme Region or Chardonnay as the Global Focus? I'm hardly an "ABC-er" (Anything But Chardonnay), but I'm no enthusiast either. As for California, I don't have any problem with it as the region, but Vancouver already has two annual California Wine Fairs. I don't know that we'll see all that much variation in the line up of participating wineries or wines. Plus, California was the Theme Region just back in 2004. I'd prefer a novel choice like Washington/Oregon or even Ontario. What's with only two wineries from each of Washington and Oregon at this year's Festival - and a lonely one from Ontario? Is there no effort being made to attract them or is there something more sinister behind it?

So, another Festival over and done - that is except for the wines that I picked up. Boo let me off the "No Buy Leash" for the weekend and there's no way I wasn't taking advantage of that. At least, we'll be able to enjoy the wines for some time to come.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Playhouse Festival - Day 3 - Meet Your Match

I'm going to have to admit that Day 3 of Vancouver Playhouse Festival's International Tasting Room was a bit of bust for me. Now, that's just me. The Tasting Room, itself, wasn't a bust. I just didn't manage to accomplish nearly as much as I'd set out to. I'd put together a hit list of 20 wineries and/or specific wines that I hadn' t managed to make it to on the first two days - and then there was that whole "I've yet to taste a single Spanish wine thing" going on as well. I think the goal was attainable - and I made a pretty valiant try - but I barely fit in seven of the pre-determined picks.

Admittedly, I didn't exactly set myself up for sure success. Boo and I attended the "Meet Your Match" seminar just prior to the start of the Tasting Room and the event didn't conclude until after the Big Room had opened to the Saturday night guzzlers. My appearance was delayed a touch longer though when I grabbed a bite to eat at the Gold Pass Lounge - where I somehow got sidelined trying some of the premium wines that had been dropped off as seminars and tastings finished. These were wines that, for the most part, wouldn't be available in the Tasting Room and, as such, it seemed a shame to pass up on them.

When you throw in a bit of a shop at the on-site liquor store (previous experience tells me that you have to nab the most popular wines at the start of the evening because they won't be there by the end of the event), I didn't even taste a first pour in the Tasting Room until after 8.30. The whole she-bang winds up at 10.00. Ooops.

All this simply dictates that my "Best of..." comments for the day will be drawn from options beyond just the International Tasting Room.

There was certainly no shortage of candidates for Most Engaging Winery Principal of the day. The whole concept of the Meet Your Match seminar is to provide an opportunity for intimate access to some bona-fide movers and shakers in the global wine world. Let's call it speed-dating with a twist. Small groups of seven or eight wine lovers are afforded an eight minute session for a combination of descriptive commentary and as much Q&A as you can fit in with each of eleven winery principals.

Jane Ferrarri, of the Barossa's Yalumba wines, is inevitably introduced as one of the most accomplished and entertaining storytellers in the business. I've heard her speak on more than a handful of occasions now and she never fails to impress with her vast collection of stories. You could undoubtedly meet her fifty times and she would likely recount different stories every time. Admittedly, I hadn't previously experienced her handing out Cadbury's Cream Eggs to nibble on along with her wines - with a wry "I don't ever think it's a worthwhile date if I can't match up my wine with a little chocolate." Having just been named Australian Wine Communicator of the Year for 2012, I don't think Jane will mind if I let someone else take the spotlight here.

It's not just me who found Paul Pender, winemaker at Ontario's Tawse Vineyards, completely engaging. Boo and others around us commented on how they thoroughly enjoyed their time with him. It seemed like our little group had barely scratched the surface of his humorous presentation when the bell to conclude our eight minutes rang out. When asked about the winery's introduction of lambs into the vineyards, as part of their biodynamic outlook on winemaking, Paul matter-of-factly stated that they don't need to worry about the lambs eating the grapes because the winery folk eat the lamb before the grapes are ripe. Talk about your circle of life.

I could (and probably should) go on about the other principals but time dictates that I move on.

An added treat, of course, is that each of the principals pours and discusses one of their winery's premium and most interesting wines. I think it only makes sense that I set out, as my Favourites of the Day, the entire line up for the seminar - principal, winery and wine. Seeing as how I misplaced all my notes from the seminar, this'll hopefully help jog my memory down the road:

- Paul Pender, Winemaker, 2010 Tawse Vineyards - Robyn's Block Chardonnay (Ontario)
- Jane Ferrari, Winemaker, Communications, 2006 Yalumba - The Signature Cabernet Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)(this wine hasn't even been released yet and she told us we were the first to try it prior to its North American release)
- Stefano Leone, Global Export Director, 2006 Antinori Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany - Italy)
- Eduardo Chadwick (pictured), Owner, 2007 Viña Errázuriz - Don Maximiano (Aconcagua Valley - Chile)
- Alvara Espinoza, Consulting Winemaker, 2007 Emiliana Vineyards - Gé (Colchagua Valley - Chile)
- Andres Ilabaca, Chief Winemaker, 2005 Viña Santa Rita - Triple C Red (Maipo Valley - Chile)
- Luc Bouchard, Family Member and Export Director, 2008 Bouchard Père & Fils - Corton Charlemagne (Burgundy - France)
- Jean-Claude Mas, Owner & General Manager, 2006 Domaines Paul Mas - Mas des Mas Pézenas (Languedoc - France) (a wine that hasn't previously been seen in Canada)
- Randy Ullom, Winemaker, 2007 Kendall-Jackson Highland Estates Raptor Peak Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma - California)
- Rick Sayre, Winemaker, 2007 Rodney Strong - Brother's Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma - California) and, last but hardly least,
- Daniel Castaño, Family Member & Commercial Director, 2006 Bodegas Castaño - Casa Cisca (Yecla - Spain)

Unfortunately, I won't be able to add all (or even many) of these wines to The List. The prices started at $44 for the Tawse Chardonnay (which I did pick up) and covered a full range, topping out at $158 for the Bouchard Chardy and an estimated $200, in Canada (thanks to all our taxes), for the Raptor Peak Cab. I didn't get either of the latter two wines, much to my dismay.

Rather than pick a Most Intriguing Wine/Winery today, I think I'll use the "most intriguing" topic heading in a more expansive sense. I was somewhat surprised, and totally intrigued, by the fact that two of the Meet Your Match wines were biodynamic. We didn't get a real opportunity to delve into the topic with either of the Emiliano or Tawse reps, but both gentlemen addressed the principles and practices that embrace the concept of ecological self-sufficiency throughout the vineyard. An interesting comment was made that Rudolf Steiner passed away before he'd fully defined the reasoning of the various biodynamic preparations or their application methods. Accordingly, practices can vary between different regions and adherents.

Sometimes defined as quackery because of the mysticism that is part and parcel of the biodynamic movement, I encountered even more discussion of the topic in the International Tasting Room. Quackery or not, biodynamic methods seem to be more prevalent with each passing year.

Finally, a Best New Find for the day. This wine might not be all that practical as a "Best New Find" since I don't believe the winery's products are normally - at least not easily - available in our market. But I really enjoyed the 2010 Poderi Dal Nespoli - Vino Bianco da Uve Stramature - Bradamante (Emilia Romagna - Italy), an intense dessert wine that is made with a blend of Albana (predominantly at 60%), Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Despite some Ports and Icewines in the Big Room, I decided to make this my final wine of the 2012 Festival. Having never heard of Poderi Dal Nespoli before, I hope to find the winery even more down the road.

It's been a tiring three days. Enjoyable and tasty days, yes - but tiring all the same. I'm going to look forward to a little relaxation and maybe a touch of detox. Besides, I still have to catch up with and add a handful of wines to The List - especially since Boo reluctantly allowed me off the "No Buy Leash" for the Festival. After all, reaching those 2001 wines is still the goal and raison d'être for this blog and I'm going to need a few more to hit that total. Being a little more than half way to 2001, I'm rather certain I'll still be writing come the 2013 Playhouse Wine Festival. Guess I'll just have to wait and see what's in store for next year with the just announced Theme Region of California and a Global Focus of Chardonnay. Could there be a little Zin about to fill a day or two of this Wine Odyssey?

Photo Credit - Andrew Chin

Friday, March 2, 2012

Playhouse Festival - Day 2

Feeling a tad overwhelmed at the moment, I am. The second day of the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival's International Tasting Room is now behind me and, while I'm still standing, it's exceedingly clear that, par for the course, I'm going to run out of time
before I run out of wineries, wines and personalities to take in.

It's not like I slacked off with my "swirl, sniff & sip" or anything, but I didn't accomplish nearly as many winery visits as I'd hoped to. Despite the best of intentions, I've yet to taste a single Spanish wine and my Italian efforts are sadly lacking.

Looking back on the day's notes, I think I can safely say that my focus of the day - as inadvertent as it might have been - was "icon" wines. My picks for Favourites of the Day certainly reflect the higher end of the spectrum of wines being presented at the Festival. Just reflecting on the following wines leaves me gobsmacked:

- 2008 Seña (Aconcagua Valley - Chile)(a $100 cool climate Cab)
- 2008 Stag's Leap - SLV Estate Napa Cabernet (California)
- 2006 Château Ste. Michelle - Col Solare (Red Mountain - Washington State)
- 2008 Prats + Symington Chryseia (Douro - Portugal)(a mere $85 - for a Portugese table wine none-the-less) and
- 2006 Jacob's Creek - Johann Shiraz/Cabernet Sauv (Barossa/Coonawarra - Australia)

I didn't get the pricing on the SLV or Col Solare since they were both "under the table" pours and my guess is that they're in the "If you need to ask the price, you can't afford it" category. The seemingly bargain priced wine of the bunch was the Johann at $70. I don't always find that winery icons live up to the billing but these ones sure did.

If you hadn't noticed, there's a lot Cab in them there favourite wines. I'm not nearly the Cab fiend that Boo is, but I guess a surfeit of Cab makes some sense given that Cabernet is this year's "global focus" at the Festival.

Next topic on my daily round up is the Most Intriguing Wine/Winery that I encountered. I made a special effort not to miss El Porvenir de los Andes because I know that Ricardo and Lucila, of Patagonia Imports, have some real winners in their portfolio. "El Porvenir de los Andes" translates as "the Future of the Andes" and this new, family run boutique winery is located in the Salta region of northern Argentina. I've heard a bit about Salta and the Cafayate sub-region - particularly when we were visiting Mendoza a couple of years back - but I can't say that I'm aware of many Salta wines available in the Vancouver market.

Salta is home to some of the highest altitude vineyards in the world. Owner and proprietor, Lucia Romero, was a joy to talk with about their vineyards at 5,700 feet above sea level and how that elevation sees large diurnal swings in the daily temperatures. Those swings, in turn, allow for higher acidity levels in the grapes despite the heat of the day. If Lucia's smooth Cab and bright Torrontés wines are indicative of Salta. I want to find some more. With a production of only 12,500 cases, it's wonderful that a small winery like this would make the effort to attend the Playhouse Festival. A big "thank you" is definitely in order.

I could easily have picked Lucia as my Most Engaging Winery Principal of the day, but with Brian and Ros Lynn of Australia's Majella I got two thoroughly "engaging" folks for the price of one. Brian is a larger-than-life Aussie bloke. It's not often that I'll attend one of these tasting events and the winery rep will loudly admonish me for thinking about spitting out his wine. I first encountered the couple when I was only two or three wines into the tasting and it only seemed prudent to spit at this point - despite the fact that I adored the Sparkling Shiraz. As I looked to the bucket, Brian jokingly let out that I was "to chug that Shiraz back." There was to be no spitting allowed. How stereotypically Aussie.

That comment quickly grew into a discussion of the Coonawarra and a promise of some travel tips since Boo and I are scheduled to drive through the region when we hit Oz later in April. Unfortunately for us, Brian is going to be out of the country when we hit the region, but an exchange of cards led to a "we'll be sure to tell the gang to expect you and to do you right."

Majella has a limited production of about 25,000 cases but it has been a long-time attendee at the Festival. I asked Brian why they keep gracing us with his presence and he replied "Simply because of people like you." I turned to his wife, Ros, and said, "Silver tongued devil isn't he?" She said that's pretty much how he snagged her. There was an additional mention of persistence but there were plenty of chuckles all around.

"Engaging" barely scratches the surface.

As for a Best New Find of the day, I think a shout out to Ontario's Tawse Winery and its 2010 Riesling is due. I've previously pointed out, in this blog, that very few Ontario wines ever make it out to BC. Same country. Different world - or so it would seem. Indeed, as an example, there are 15 countries and 180 wineries presenting wines at the Festival but Tawse is the only participant from Ontario. I find that fact to be rather sad, but at least Tawse is one of the best. Named by Wine Access magazine as Canadian Winery of the Year for the last two years running, this is the first time I've tried any Tawse wines. It's nice to know that my first taste is of their Gold Medal winning Riesling. I'm going to look forward to adding this bottle to The List down the road.

But that tops off the recap for the day. Sadly, there's only one more day to go.

Having attended the Festival for a many of its 34 years, you'd think that, by now, I'd have arrived at a level of comfort with the fact that I'm never going to get to visit all the wineries and try all the wines that tweaked my interest in the Festival Program. I took a look at the program and realized I've got my work cut out for myself on tomorrow's final International Tasting Room. I've already identified at least twenty wineries that I had on my "don't miss" list at the start of the Festival.

Wish me luck!