Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Toast to the Old Alma Mater

It's Alumni Weekend - sometimes known as the Party on the Point - at the University of British Columbia. I figured I'd take in a couple of events since I rarely head out to UBC nowadays and had yet to see the new Law School. It didn't hurt that there were a couple of wine-centric events being presented as well.

I'll readily admit that I was looking forward the most to the UBC Wine Library Tour. There was nothing like a wine library when I was attending classes. The Lido Deck at Sedgewick, yes, but no wine library. The Library forms an integral part of the Wine Research Centre and was established when Dr. Hennie van Vuuren arrived at UBC in 1999 to help pioneer research into the molecular genetics of yeasts and vines, fermentation and viticulture among other topics. Dr. van Vuuren arrived with a fascination in the ability of some varietals to age gracefully while other wines fall apart quickly. The Wine Library was set up to help study how wines, in general - and BC wines in particular - age and participating wineries send two cases of the wine to be studied. This allows the wines to be tasted annually over the next two decades, the hope being that the Centre will "eventually establish a correlation between viticulture and enology practices in BC and the ability of wines to age well."

Dr. van Vuuren advised us that the Wine Library can store up to 30,000 bottles, but that they currently have about 6,000. In addition to the winery participations in the study, the Centre has, fortuitously, received some donations from the estates of deceased collectors in the city. One such donation included some 103 year old bottles of Château Margaux. There are six bottles left. Not surprisingly, Dr. van Vuuren continually receives offers from wine drinkers offering to volunteer for tasting panels. Nice job if you can get it, I figure.

I suppose when we hear about winemaking techniques continually being improved and modernized and read about how there's so much science that goes into a bottle of wine nowadays, the Wine Research Centre is front and centre with the introduction of those changes.

Unfortunately, there was no tasting involved with the Wine Library tour but it was very intriguing all the same. I had signed up for a "class" in tasting later in the day though. Passing the time between the two events was easy enough in that the university was abuzz with activity.

I missed out on guided tours of the new Law Building and of the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, but I did spend some time in the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. I remember all the media hoopla that accompanied the establishment of the museum in 2010 - particularly the unveiling of the two-storey glass gallery that displays the largest blue whale skeleton on display in Canada - but this was the first time I've come anywhere close to seeing it. The immensity of both the whale and the museum's purpose was inspiring. There's no doubt that UBC is continually upping the ante with what it offers to the educational community.

The tasting event was an introduction to wine tasting; so, I wasn't exactly immersed in new information but it was interesting to see a different approach to tasting - including the testing of our senses of smell and taste while blindfolded. It was also interesting to discover that there's now a 300-level credit course offered in the introduction to wine. Now, there definitely was never any course available like that when I was a student. Had there been, my enthusiasm for wine might have been tweaked a whole lot more - and a whole lot earlier - than it was. Ah, no use lamenting over (un)spilled grapes.

With all the touring and tasting it was definitely time for a drink when I got home.

1159. 2008 Cantina Zaccagnini - il vino "dal tralcetto" (Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC - Italy)

One of the bottles we picked up with our Bellingham Costco run last year, I didn't know anything the winery, but the packaging is fetching - and I simply love saying "Montepulciano d'Abruzzo." For someone like me that doesn't speak Italian, mastering this little phrase is like being swathed in a whole layer of romantic swagger. You can't help but sound suave when saying it. Plus, it just sounds delicious.

And, you know, this was perfectly matched to my palate and to our simple Margherita pizza. I often find entry level Italian wines to be too spare for my liking, but the Zaccagnini had some nice body and bright red and dark fruit.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable way to wind down from the day. If we make it back to Costco, I'm going to have to look for another bottle.

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