Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Return of the Barossa Boomerang - Wine Blogging Wednesday 76

Well, slap me silly and call me Mary.

Gobsmacked I am.

As I sit here, half way around the world, waiting for our plane at the Adelaide Airport, imagine my surprise when I discovered that Adam Japko, of Winezag blog and the host of Wine Blogging Wednesday 76, announced that this month's topic would be The Return of the Barossa Boomerang. Boo and I have just finished a seven day tour - and drink-fest - through three of Australia's iconic wine regions - the Coonawarra, McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley.I can't think of a more timely lead up to a classic post.

I'll be up front and admit that I'm a long time Aussie-phile - country, footy, wine, people, you name it, I'm likely a fan. This, however, was my first visit to the Barossa - after all, I think I can safely be forgiven for not counting that one-day bus tour out of Adelaide, 16 years ago, that included one or maybe two mass tasting room visits - and our three days still only allowed us to scratch the surface. Our little face-to-face visit with this winemaking Mecca finds me leaving with a whole new appreciation of what makes up the Barossa but we sure could have easily filled another three days - or longer.

Adam's prompt for today's confab didn't call for an entire travelogue on the region though. Rather, we're talking about a re-emergence of Aussie wines in today's mid-price (and even high end) market and about introducing everyone to (hopefully) a star of the Barossa that checks in at under $30. We're lucky in Vancouver in that we've long been the recipients of far more than [yellow tail] and the mass market brands from Down Under. Don't get me wrong, cheap and cheerful definitely has its place. In fact, my folks picked [yellow tail] to serve at a recent family landmark birthday. But, I never really abandoned Aussie wines like much of North America. I just cottoned on to the higher end wines a tad sooner than many others.

After our local BC wines, I've added more Aussie wines to The List than those of any other country - and that list includes a number of wines from Barossa producer, Langmeil.A long time favourite of mine, I figured a look at Langmeil's 2009 Valley Floor Shiraz is a perfect fit with WBW76 - especially since Boo and I enjoyed a wonderful tour of the vineyard and a full tasting of the winery's offerings. Our visit only cemented my admiration for Langmeil and I'm choosing one of their wines even though we didn't drink a full bottle of it while on the trip and can't, therefore add a bottle to The List. Not at this time anyhow.

The Barossa actually includes both the Barossa Valley and the neighbouring Eden Valley and there are well over a hundred wineries in the region. A good majority of the wines produced in the Barossa are made by a few big producers though. Langmeil is not one of them. The Valley Floor Shiraz sees the largest production of any of Langmeil's wines, but even it only sees a normal production of between 5,000 and 8,000 cases. The good news for us North Americans is that around half of that production is currently earmarked for global export.The even better news is that, if this wine can hit the shelves for under $30 in tax-riddled British Columbia (which it does), it's likely a bargain in other jurisdictions.

The Valley Floor part of the name refers to the fact that the grapes can be sourced from vineyards in any of five villages found on the floor of the Barossa Valley - predominantly the hottest sub-regions of the valley. As such, the wine is also part of Langmeil's aptly named Village Series - its introductory level for reds. As a regional blend, the winery sees this as a true expression of Barossa Shiraz.

And Langmeil should know its Shiraz. The winery is thought to contain what is believed to be the oldest surviving block of Shiraz vines in the world. Planted in 1843 and phylloxera-free for all those years, A lot of care and attention have gone, and continues to go into, the nurturing of the vines. At nearly 170 years of age, the vines don't produce a heck of a lot fruit - maybe enough for one bottle of wine per vine - and almost all of it is destined for the winery's flagship The Freedom Shiraz; however, it's not inconceivable that some of that fruit makes it into the Valey Floor as well. Not many wines can lay claim to be contain any grapes with such a pedigree. The fruit making it into the Valley Floor Shiraz holds up perfectly well on its own though - whether there's any of the 1843 fruit or not. The wine is deep in colour and the fruit on the nose and the palate matches that dark intensity. This is still a fruit forward, bold Barossa wine, but it serves up a smooth integration of flavor and structure. Ready to drink as is, we were told that it could easily age for ten years or longer.

The most unfortunate aspect of writing this post while on vacation is that I haven't got the foggiest notion of how to add any photos while working on the iPad - and we have some doozies. I assume there must be a way but it's well beyond my capabilities. I can always add some at a later date but it's not quite the same. You'll just have to treat this post as a trailer for the blockbuster movie still to come. (Note: OK I'm home now and finally able to retreat to my tried and true means of posting. Accordingly, I've touched up this post and it's not quite as bad as I made it out to be. It sure was a pain working on an iPad though. I've obviously got some learning to do.)

In the mean time, our plane, after an hour's delay, has finally been announced for boarding. One more Aussie wine region to come - Margaret River on the West coast - and I'm salivating at the thought. Thanks to Adam for a WBW topic that's near and dear to my wine-loving heart. I'll definitely look forward to seeing what everyone else writes about.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Travellin' In A Land Down Under

G'day Mates. I realize there hasn't been much added of late but I honestly think I have a bit of an excuse this time around - Boo and I have been gallivanting around Australia for the last little while and, believe it or not, I'm using my time to drink wine rather than blog about it. Funny that. It hasn't helped that my computer access has been limited and that I can't seem to figure out how to post anything using the iPad. I haven't the foggiest notion how this post is going to look since I'm completely guessing at whether the picture is actually going to attach or not. As for adding shots of our own from the trip - try mission impossible. Never fear though. I will eventually get back to this Wine Odyssey. I'm just a little delayed at present. It should make for some good reading though.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Bubbly Reception

After months of waiting - and an 18 hour flight over the Pacific, Equator and International Date Line (somehow we managed to leave on the 12th, arrive on the 14th and avoid Friday the 13th) - Boo and I have finally set foot in Oz. Melbourne, to be exact. And, we couldn't have asked for a more delightful reception. My old high school confidente, the lovely and talented Sheila, met us at the airport and briefly played tour guide as she whooshed us off to our hotel so that we could settle in and ready ourselves for the upcoming evening's extravaganzically swellegant cocktail party that our old drinking bud, Merlot Boy, had conjured up with Sheila to welcome us.

Merlot Boy had rounded up a dozen of his closest friends - at least those that were willing to play welcome wagon to a couple of old Canucks - and, in true Aussie style, readied himself to ply us with booze and appies.

In amongst all the revelry, I learned an interesting facet of Aussie life. As much as you think that stereotypical Australia is a nation of beer-swilling, back-slapping, sports-loving dudes (which I'm still not convinced it isn't), they love their sparkling wines. I was rather gobsmacked by the fact that every single guest brought along a bottle of bubbly to the party - and Merlot Boy swears it wasn't a pre-announced theme. Sure there was plenty of beer and vodka, but I'd be somewhat surprised if a single person brought along a bottle of bubbly to a Saturday night soirée back home - let alone every person.

I suspect there are going to be more than a couple bottles of wine added to The List during this little vacation. So, I might as well get started.

1101. N.V. Sir James Pinot Noir/Chardonnay Cuvée Brut (Australia)

First sip and it's a wine I've never seen before - something tells me this is going to happen a lot on this trip. Sir James is apparently produced by Australian juggernaut, Hardy's, and while I'm intimately aware of them, it's probably more because of their higher end wines that are often served at Australian Wine Appreciation Society events back home. This might be more of a local bottle but it is a classically made sparkler that is classic enough in its flavour profile that I could see it filling a nice niche if they could bring it into our market at the $14 price point it seemed to go for here.

1102. N.V. Omni Classic Sparkling (South Australia)

I'd never run across this next bottle before either. I subsequently discovered that Omni is produced by Accolade Wines - and I think Accolade must have been Constellation in an earlier lifetime because Canada's own Inniskillin and New Zealand's Kim Crawford are part of the almost forty brands that make up Accolade's portfolio and I know they were Constellation wines. And surprise, Hardy's is also part of the same family. My guess is that Omni is as much a marketing product as it is a serious wine for Hardy's since the website for Omni consists as much of girly tips and bachelors of the year as it has anything to do with wine. Not that there's anything wrong with bachelors of the year, mind you.

On the other hand, the site does say that their Classic is made from "traditional" varietals - not that they mentioned what they were traditional for. I also found another site that says the wines are bottle fermented which isn't that common for wines at this price. Finally, a third site states that the winery is based in the Southern Flerieu region in South Australia. That area is located right below McLaren Vale and Boo and I will be there in a little over a week from now. Perhaps this wine will be even more "Omni"-present in that area.

As a bargain wine - it comes in at under $10 - I suppose I can see how this might be an easy grab for warm weather on the patio. I very much doubt that we'd find anything equivalent back home in BC. I might be tempted to save it for Mimosas if some of the other bottles we tried tonight make a concurrent appearance though.

1103. 2007 Seppelt Original Sparkling Shiraz (Great Western/Grampians - Victoria - Australia)

Mere hours into our first day in Oz and here we are running into our first Sparkling Shiraz. Gotta love that! Now Seppelt I've heard of before - although I think I've only ever run across their fortified wines. If I remember correctly, they were also bought up by one of the big consortiums (not Accolade by the looks of it) and there have been number of changes ongoing with the Seppelt brand.

We are starting to see Sparkling Shiraz on more of a regular basis back home, but they tend to be higher end bottles (like Barossa Valley Estates Sparkling E&E) or basic introductory guzzlers. If we can continue to run across bottles like this at approximately $25 throughout this trip, I'll be a happy Bob.

Sparkling Shiraz isn't going to be everyone sip of choice, but I think it works nicely in big Aussie temperatures. I'm looking forward to sampling my fair share and the Seppelt website states that it "has had more experience with this unique Australian wine style than any other winemaker. Although there are no precise records, it appears the winery was experimenting with sparkling red wines as far back as the 1890's." I think we got off on the right foot here.

1104. N.V. Pirramimma Eight Carat Chardonnay/Pinot Noir Cuvée Reserve (South Australia)

I saw no mention of Pirramimma winery on the bottle (but then I didn't take the empty home with me) but I saw a number of references to the connection online - not that Pirramimma's own site refers to this brand. The winery does have several ranges and labels; so it's entirely possible that Eight Carat belongs to the well-established family winery. I'm familiar with the winery's big reds but had no idea that they delved into bubbly.

As mentioned, this trip is going to a bit of an eye opener.

1105. N.V. Grant Burge Pinot Noir/Chardonnay Brut (Eden Valley - Australia)

Last but not least is the Grant Burge. Another sparkler made in the traditional method, it was yet another example of a classically noted wine - without having to go the full Champagne route. Priced in the mid-$20's, I could easily see my grabbing a bottle of this at home as well. Not that I've ever seen it in Vancouver. We do have some Grant Burge wines at home but, like all of the other bubblies, this one just doesn't seem to cross the Pacific to our shores.

Each of the bottles was opened in succession. So, I never did taste any of them side by side or take any tasting notes. It had been a long journey getting there after all. Who takes notes? I vividly remember the Shiraz though and know that I poured myself a little extra helping of the Grant Burge.

With all these bubbles, it would seem that sparkling wine isn't just for weddings, landmark birthdays and special occasions Down Under. Unless, of course, our arrival was like a national holiday or something similar. With all the attention and spoiling we received today, I'm thinking "royal visit" or something like that. If the rest of the country proves as welcoming as Merlot Boy, Sheila and the gang have been, we're in for one helluva trip.

Bring it on.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Last Sip

Surprisingly, I wasn't able to find out a whole lot of information about this latest bottle. The magic "Google" didn't generate a whole lot of links to anything useful. I would have thought this bottle and the marketing efforts would result in a whole lot more being written about it. Guess not.

I'll just have to go with what little I could gather. Hopefully, some of it is still current and correct. On the more positive side, this will be a quicker post to write - especially seeing as this is likely our last bottle before we leave for Oz.

1100. 2008 St. Hubertus Fire Man's Red (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I'm pretty sure I've written a bit on St. Hubertus previously in the blog - both because of the big fire that devastated the winery close to a decade ago and the fact that they won a Lieutenant-Governor's Award for Wine Excellence last year - but it's the 2003 Okanagan forest fire that is the primary focal point in this post. It's hard to believe that it's already been nine years since the forest fire was front and centre on everyone's mind for much of the summer. It's even more difficult to comprehend that St. Hubertus was the only BC winery that was pretty much wiped out by the flames.

Despite the devastation that befell St. Hubertus that summer, there were some good news stories that surfaced as well. The Gebert family was quick to thank their neighbours and fellow winemakers for all the support and assistance that was given after the fire. It was great to hear of all the goodwill in the valley. Similarly, I loved the story of how St. Hubertus immediately set out to produce both a white and a red to honour all the firefighters and foresters that helped save as much of the winery and vineyard as they did. If memory serves, $2 from every bottle sold was donated to local fire fighting services - and this from a winery that was almost completely wiped out.

I haven't heard much more about the fundraising aspect of Fire Man's Red but the winery is obviously still producing it - since a 2008 vintage was made long after that 2003 fire. I didn't see any additional information on the bottle but I believe the 2008 was a Gamay Noir wine.

Unfortunately, we didn't like the wine as much as we like the background story. Not knowing that it was a Gamay when I opened the wine, I wasn't really expecting the lightness and thin body. There's lots about Gamay that I do like, but this one just didn't seem to capture what the varietal has to offer.

Hopefully, I'll come back from Australia all rested, excited and happy and I'll run right on back to St. Hubertus and love the next wine we try. Until then...

Monday, April 9, 2012

An Easter Bonnet Birthday

Here it is Easter and it's time for the one of the more anticipated events in our family - the annual Easter dinner at my sister's, featuring the now "famous" Easter Bonnet making party and fashion parade.

And, to top it off, since my birthday falls on Easter this year, I figure I deserve an automatic win in the highly competitive quest for top bonnet.

Of course, the event also necessitates hours of effort and "family make nice" - not that it's all that difficult, but a glass or two (or three or four) definitely helps out with all the "want to play this" and "I can't believe you said that."

1098. 2005 Villa Rinaldi - Gran Cuvée Bianca (Verona - Italy)

I thought a little bubble would be a nice way to celebrate the old b-day (and I'm certainly feeling the "old" part) and a birthday seemed like just the occasion to pull out this Villa Rinaldi. One of the very few Italian producers of Méthode Traditionelle sparkling wines, Villa Rinaldi was, for a couple of years, one of my favourite stops at the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival. Unfortunately, they haven't participated for the last couple of years; so, I think this might be the only bottle that I have hanging around. I know I've been waiting a while to open it.

Popping the cork certainly seemed to help get the creative juices flowing with my birthday cake inspired Easter bonnet. Birthday boy or not, I thought it was a winner.

As for the bubble, the Gran Cuvée Bianca is made from 100% Chardonnay from the Alto Adige valley to the North of Venice and Verona. It is one of ten different sparkling wines that Villa Rinaldi makes - along with an Amarone and Recioto. All of their wines come with a fairly hefty price tag - I think this one clocked in at $55 - but the wines that I've tried are beautifully crafted. As mentioned, unlike most Italian sparklers, Villa Rinaldi uses the Méthode Traditionelle with secondary fermentation in the bottle and, interestingly, the Gran Cuvée also sees some oak during the first fermentation.

Completely dry, with classic brioche notes, I think this bottle can stand its ground with a true Champagne on any day. Luckily, this was our day.

1099. 2009 Ponzi Pinot Gris (Willamette Valley - Oregon)

I can't say that I know much about Oregon wineries. For some reason, they don't participate much in the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival and I don't think they have much of a presence on local bottle shop shelves - except for maybe some higher end Pinot Noirs. I grabbed this bottle, as part of a Costco run in Washington state, during a jaunt to Seattle - precisely because it was an unknown in my experience but also because I do know that the Willamette is synonymous with many of Oregon's big wines.

I subsequently learned a little bit about Ponzi Vineyards. Having moved, during the late 1960's, to the Willamette Valley, southwest of Portland, the Ponzi family was one of the first to start planting Pinot Noir in the Pacific Northwest. The new winery garnered favourable press and helped establish Oregon as a legitimate wine growing region. The second generation of the family is now fully ensconced in day-to-day operations, including the winemaking itself. The winery has also stayed ahead of the curve by adopting sustainable farming and winemaking practices early on.

With two bottles now under our collective belt, the creativity going into this year's bonnets was abundantly evident. Granted, there was no Easter thong this year, but we did have Boo's leaning tower "masterpiece." Architecturally inventive, his vision was perhaps a little too stimulating - the boy may not be consistently lauded for his fashion sense but, regardless, he was thrilled with his final chapeau. That is, until it fell apart once he actually put it on his head.

Oh well, there was no way his bonnet was going to top mine this year anyhow. We figured we could just give him another glass of wine to keep him happy.

N.V. Père Anselme - La Fiole du Pape (AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape - Rhône - France)

With dinner ready to go, our bonnet workspace needed to be cleared up. After all, we needed a little space for another bottle of wine. This one does fall prey somewhat to the whole danger of over-marketing - with its faux aging and all; however, Père Anselme has been selling La Fiole du Pape in its distinctive bottle for decades. Indeed, the wine's name, "La Fiole," is a reference to its one-of-a-kind bottle and translates as "the Flask."

This Châteauneuf-du-Poof (as my sister Vixen calls it) isn't unique only because of its bottle. It is a négociant wine - where the winery purchases its grapes and wines from a number of different sources - and is a non-vintage wine in that it is blended from multiple vintages. I read on one site that, apparently, La Fiole is the only multi-vintage blend allowed under French law that still qualifies for AOC designation. I suppose a little leniency here or there might be more available when you're the largest selling CdP in the world. Between 30,000 and 40,000 cases of La Fiole can be sold worldwide annually.

Indeed, it turns out that we've even had a bottle previously as the wine was added to The List way back at #382. Guess we'll have to wait a day now before we can hit #1100.

As with most Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, this is primarily Grenache-based (approximately 90%) with Mourvèdre and Syrah making up the balance. Thing is, I don't know if it was all that great of wine. It came across as a little insipid and lacking. I've enjoyed many a marvellous CdP wines, but this bottle didn't really rank up there with the best. It wasn't bad by any means; it just wasn't a fave, given the fact that it's a $40 bottle.

All the same, the wines and bonnets made for a memorable Easter birthday. After all the wine, I'm quite sure that my bonnet was destined for the Easter Bonnet Hall of Fame. At least in my own mind.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Perigée and Pinot

As most regular readers know, I'm perpetually struggling to keep up with my posts. I guess it's time to face the truth - I tend to drink the wine faster than I can write about it. That results in my sometimes having to bypass penning a post about a particular wine tasting event or dinner that I attend - as interesting as it might be. If there's no bottle to add to The List, I often find that I need to jump over the event in order to try and keep up with the bottles that we actually pound back.

Such was the case with a BC Wine Appreciation Society tasting back in February. BCWAS hosted a tasting featuring wines from sister operations Le Vieux Pin and LaStella. General Manager, Rasoul Salehi, captivated the group with up front and to the point information and a Q&A session. Oh yeah, and we tasted some rather decent wines.

Over the last year - between a brief visit to both wineries and the BCWAS tasting - I've come to learn a whole lot more about the wineries and their somewhat unique outlook to winemaking in the Okanagan. I hadn't realized that they were near the front of the new-ish wave of sustainable farming that is gaining a bit of a foothold in the Valley. I'd previously tasted a couple of LVP and LaStella wines at various events and I knew that, when you could find them, the best of them were going to hit you in the pocketbook; however, I didn't have much of a grasp of their approach.

I don't, presently, have much time to go into that program with any depth but I think I'll just quote part of Le Vieux Pin's website to try and encapsulate their raisin d'être: "Our focus is to make wine that is representative of its terroir. Non-interventionist and low-input viticulture is the method we use to get there. Deficit irrigation, on-site composting, high-density plantings and extremely low yields allow the vines to show us who they really are, deep down to their roots."

Tonight's wine was not part of that BCWAS tasting, but I thought it might be a means of giving a shout-out to BCWAS and the tasting and of taking the opportunity to talk a little bit more about the winery.

1097. 2006 Le Vieux Pin Perigée Pinot Noir (Okanagan Valley)

I picked this bottle up at the winery when I had the chance to stop in at Le Vieux Pin with the Wine Grrrrlz just prior to the BCWAS Bus Tour last year. It was lucky that we stopped in because the last of the 700 cases made of the 2006 Perigée were being sold.

LVP had always intended on taking a stylistic approach that was French in its outlook and their ultimate goal was to go primarily with Rhône varietals. LaStella's viewpoint was to be Italian. However, both wineries needed to replant vineyards with their preferred varietals and, in the beginning years, they needed to make wines with the grapes that were available to them.

The last time I checked, Pinot Noir wasn't one of those Rhône varietals but, during those early years (and 2006 is only their second vintage), the winery had access to Pinot Noir grapes from three different clones in three different vineyards. The grapes going into Perigée came from the most Southern of the vineyards down in the Osoyoos lake district. That region, in general, is often seen as being too hot for Pinot Noir but this wine just goes to show that specific blocks and microclimates can play a major role in varietal selection. For a supposedly warm region, it produced a wine deemed worthy of a Gold Medal from Pacific Northwest Wine Press.

LVP is also unique in that, rather than highlighting a pretty picture or logo on its front labels, it sets out all sorts of information about the production of the wine. You can't see all this information on the picture by the BBQ, but I can tell you, right off the bat, that the fruit was harvested at 3.5 tons an acre; it's grown on white silica sandy soil; the grapes were harvested on September 29, 2006 and the wine was aged in 100% French oak (of which 30% is new). Now, that's more information than you'd ever likely see or learn about a wine without specifically hunting it down and I didn't even mention the brix that the grapes were picked at, the name of the vineyard or who the winemaker and vineyard manager were - and that info was there as well. Oh and our bottle was individually numbered at 6,208.

The website also proclaims that Perigée is the more elegant and feminine of the Pinots they produced. Its finish is "all about finesse and nuance." And, perhaps it's that last comment that didn't necessarily make this one of my favourite Pinots in recent memory - particularly with a $45 price tag. Myles (from the movie "Sideways") and I are likely going to be at odds when it comes to Pinot's. I'm still fond of finding more up front fruit in my wine, but I'm also a bit of a sucker when it comes to the old "last opportunity to buy it" line. Hence, the real reason we might have this bottle, but I can also appreciate the effort that went into the making of a more premium wine.

Even though this might not have been a new fave of mine, now that I've got a much better handle on both LaStella and Le Vieux Pin, I think we'll see their wines appearing a little more regularly on The List. I know that there are plenty more stories to be told and that I've tried some wines that could well become favourites.

Friday, April 6, 2012

At Long Last - Via Tevere

It seems like we've on a bit of an Italian wine jag of sorts lately. You might think we were readying ourselves for a jaunt to the Mediterranean as opposed to a walkabout Down Under. But, as much as I've been looking forward to our upcoming trip, I've been waiting months for the new Via Tevere Pizzeria Napoletana to open as well - ever since I heard the news story about how their building renovations uncovered an old billboard advertising the 1920's bakery that used to be found on the site. Long enough that the story was broadcast last August - when this picture was taken as well.

The new pizza joint has finally opened - and I love the fact that we can actually walk there from home. I just forgot to bring the camera (phone only I'm afraid) along with us when Elzee joined Boo and I to see how their pies sized up.

1095. 2010 Trentacinquesimo Parallelo Primitivo (IGT Salento - Italy)

As might be expected at a restaurant that only seats 60 people or so, the wine list was rather limited - maybe just over a dozen wines, including red, white and sparkling. I picked the Primitivo, thinking that an "Italian Zin" would be light and flavourful enough to match up with the different pies that we'd ordered up. It's not a wine that I was familiar with, but a quick Google shows that it's been a long time favourite of Vancouver wine scribes as a bang for your buck, bargain kind of wine.

Indeed, selling for only $10 in government liquor stores, Georgia Strait writer Jurgen Gothe, proclaimed in 2010, that this "may well be the best red wine buy in B.C." I can't say that I'd go that far but, unfortunately, we paid rather more that $10 for the wine in the restaurant. I might have taken a different look at the wine had I known the retail price at the time.

I love those big, romantic Italian words like "Trentacinquesimo." That sounds ever so more exotic than the translated "35th." The 35 Parallel name refers to the winery's Southern Italian location in Puglia - the heel of the Italian boot and the winery is part of the Casa Sant'Orsola family of wines. The well-established family produces five brands that cover most regions of Italian winemaking, with 35 Parallel working to re-establish Southern vineyards and create a market for Primitivo varietal wines - after the old, original vines fell victim to an EEU sanctioned vine pull in the 1990's. Lesser known grapes like Primitivo were deemed to be less valuable than international varietals like Cabernet and Merlot. Thankfully - at least in my mind - local growers have concluded that they can make a much bigger statement in the world of wine by sticking to the grapes of old - naturally, with some tweaking in and modernization of production standards. It's often said that it's only DNA studies that showed the relationship between Primitivo and Zinfandel that led to a whole new interest in the Italian grape. The result of the reinvigorated interest was that many of those vines that had been ripped out were re-planted.

That return to one's roots was demonstrated with Via Tavere's pizza as well. Vancouver has long been chided for its lack of authentic pizza - as compared to other major cities - but we've seen a good number of new restaurants taking a run at the crown. The Morra family reached back to its Neapolitan roots and has clearly established itself as a neighbourhood jewel. This isn't a food blog, but we'll definitely be back for the pie!

The fact that Via Tavere is close enough to walk to also means that we just happen to be able to walk home right past another of our favourites on The Drive - Dolce Amore Gelateria. What better to follow up a traditional Neapolitan pizza with than Vancouver's tastiest gelato? We grabbed a litre and settled in at home to a little taste of heaven.

Having taken stock of our cellar since Boo restored the No Buy Leash, I've concluded that we have a goodly number of dessert wines. I have a definite weakness for them when standing at a winery tasting bar and I've been known to pick up more than a couple of bottles here and there. Thing is we don't tend to open many of them. This seemed like a perfect opportunity.

1096. 2008 Rustic Roots Santa Rosa Plum (Similkameen Valley)

With our pizza and dinner wine both looking to their respective roots, why not go with a bottle of Rustic Roots for dessert? Grown and produced at a multi-generational organic farm in the Similkameen, I think this bottle qualifies as true evidence of what land, fruit and care can produce in a bottle.

At $29 a half-bottle, this falls into the "treat" category around our household. But having Elzee over definitely counts as a special occasion and the Santa Rosa is one of the winery's most highly awarded wines. It continually wins medals in the fruit and dessert wine categories at the BC Wine Awards, Northwest Wine Summit, Canadian Wine Awards and All-Canadian Wine Awards.

The winery only started in 2008 as part of the farm operations and the winery's output is still limited in scope at around 1200 cases, all told, for its near dozen different wines. The limited production just makes it all that more important that we stop by for a taste and a shopping trip for wine and vegetables as often as we can.

Just like we'll continue to hit Via Tavere and Dolce Amore. Talk about a tasty evening!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Nerello? Sicily? Huh?

With the other night's Falanghina safely behind us (and those crawdads thankfully behind us), I thought why not just jump into another, rather obscure, Italian varietal. Spaghetti and meatballs was going to be a whole lot safer as far as meals go - particularly since we were trying the smoked meatballs from the newly opened Falconetti's butcher shop - so we could afford to be a little adventurous with the wine.

1094. 2009 Orestiadi Rilento Nerello Mascalese Organic (IGT Sicily - Italy)

This bottle just goes to show why I love reading wine columns and articles. If I hadn't seen this bottle briefly reviewed in one of the local papers, I'd have never known that Nerello Mascalese is a grape varietal - and I've heard and tried of a lot of them. If the Falanghina got some of its flavour profile from the volcanic soils in the region around Mount Vesuvius, the same might be expected from the Nerello Mascalese as well, as the varietal is grown primarily - and this bottle in particular - on the island of Sicily in the shadow of Mount Etna.

I didn't find a whole lot about the winery online but I did see one reference that mentioned that there were only 6000 bottles of this wine made. That'd be rather surprising given it's made its way all way to our BC market. I know Commercial Drive used to be the old Little Italy neighbourhood of Vancouver, but I wouldn't think the neighbourhood had that much influence on wine sales half way around the globe, especially when the bottle is retailing for a reasonable $14 in our tax-riddled market.

That price must be based on the fact that it's difficult to sell varietal wines when no one's ever heard of the grape. Faces of wine geeks and Wine Century Club members might light up at the thought of obscure varietals, but I think the general public stays with the tried and true. I know I have second thoughts about buying an unknown entity when the price crosses the $20 threshold.

No worries with the Nerello though. As arcane as the grape may be, it's quite approachable. Not nearly as well known as the Nero d'Avola grape, Nerello does hail from the same region - Sicily and the Italian South. Knowing that, I might have bargained for a much bigger punch in the glass, but it was definitely softer than I'd expected. The spicy finish on the palate is maybe predictable from the region but that softness reminded me a bit of a bigger Chianti. That hint of Chianti may well stem from the fact that it is believed that the Nerello Mascalese grape is a cross of Sangiovese and another, so far, unidentified grape (Sangiovese being the backbone of Chianti wines).

The origin of Nerello may not be fully documented, but it is known that the grape has been around for centuries. And who knows? As more Sicilian winemakers look to take a stab at the international market, we may well see more and more versions of this varietal hitting our shelves.

In the mean time, I have yet another varietal to add to my Wine Century Club roll call. I'm loving that. And, those Falconetti smoked meatballs were bang on as well!