Tuesday, October 30, 2012

And We're Back...

As a post script to my last entry, I'm happy to say that our drive home from the Red Rooster Adopt-A-Row weekend was uneventful and that the Hope-Princeton's mountain passes were nice and clear - despite the previous night's storm.  Mr. D and I drove past two nasty accidents though.  There was a flipped pick-up and then another car that had somehow ended up facing down the upper hillside in a manner such that we couldn't figure out how the car had even ended up there.  Sure glad it wasn't us and that we didn't have to drive in the conditions that must have prevailed at the time of the accident.

Our arrival home was welcome because it also meant that all the new wine we'd picked up arrived safely as well.  Boo's and my new case of Red Rooster wines, as part of the Adopt-A-Row program, was part of that bounty.  Since Boo hadn't been able to join in the weekend's festivities, I thought it'd be appropriate to open a bottle of Red Rooster to let him feel at least a tiny bit connected.

1273.  2011 Red Rooster Bantam (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Bantam may be an entry level, proprietary blend for the winery but it's perennial favourite of mine and a reliable go-to wine.  Single vineyard, single varietal wines might command the greatest shelf space in bottle shops, but I just have a tendency to gravitate towards blends.  Must be something to do with that old "the whole being greater than the sum of its parts" bit.

I find that white blends in BC can often be a vehicle for using lesser known varietals that are still hanging around from older days, but that's certainly not the situation with Bantam.  Winemaker, Karen Gillis, fashions her easy drinker from grapes that she bottles as varietal wines as well.  The 2011 vintage sees a blend of Viognier (30%), Chardonnay (25%), Riesling (20%), Sauvignon Blanc (15%) and Gewürztraminer (10%) - and the result is a varied array of flavours and aromas.

I like that the wine is a touch off-dry but still has a nice bite of acidity.  I also like that you definitely notice the aromatic varietals coming through on the nose but no one varietal dominates.  The abundance of ripe tree fruit, with some tropical notes to boot, is an easy serve to guests that might not be all that caught up in wine, but there's enough complexity to entice a seasoned palate as well.

 For me, Bantam packs a great value for the $15 price.

And, being from the Adopt-A-Row case, Boo couldn't question my bringing it home.  That's a win-win in my books.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bogner's Dinner

Our final stop on the Red Rooster Adopt-A-Row weekend calendar was the Winemaker's Dinner being held at Bogner's, one of Penticton's grand dames for dining.

The Winemaker's Dinner has become a bit of a tradition at these Adopt-A-Row events and they're always bang on.  Tonight's dinner was based on a family-style Italian supper - that is, if your family happened to one of the top restaurants in town.  Mr. D. and I joined up with a pair of couples that we hadn't previously met - and they turned out be great dinner partners, both interesting and fun to be with.  I'm sure all the camaraderie wasn't hurt by the fact that there were another five wines paired with dinner.   It's not as if we hadn't had much opportunity to taste any wine throughout the day - but what's a winemaker's dinner without an abundance of wine?

A particularly enjoyable aspect of the evening is that we had visits to our table by Red Rooster winemaker, Karen Gillis, winery manager, Blair Dufty, and Bogner's Chef, Darin Paterson.  One-on-one opportunities like that are rare in my books and they always take an event to a whole different level - particularly when each one of them is so down-to-earth and approachable.

There was no fear of a shortage of wine at the table.  And it didn't hurt that a couple of my faves - like the Riesling and the Cab/Merlot - were included in the dinner.  I know fully well that our table finished off more than a single bottle of wine.  It was more like a bottle per person, but I'm only adding one to The List at this time.  If truth be told, the reason is that I have the other bottles in a case coming home with me and they'll get added to The List at another time.  I wasn't so lucky as to pick up the following bottle though.  It was sold out at the winery and our little dinner crowd was being treated to the last bottles around - ones that were saved specifically for this dinner.

1272.  2010 Red Rooster Reserve Malbec (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I'm glad that we got to enjoy the Malbec because there were only 191 cases made and I was too slow off the mark to buy any of the 2010 vintage.  The production is so limited because the vines were originally planted simply so that the winery would have some regular access to Malbec fruit for blending into the winery's Meritage blends.  The 2006 vintage proved so tasty that it was bottled as a varietal wine and never saw its way into the Meritage blend.  The winery has made a varietal wine ever since.

Not to be confused with the Malbecs of Mendoza and Argentine fame.  Red Rooster's 2010 Malbec still features plenty of fruit but it's a lighter fruit as opposed to a dark and brooding one.  You're not going to need to worry about tannins taking over your mouth either.  It matched up nicely to the ragu, potato gnocchi and lemon chicken piccata but our table didn't have any problem drinking it all on its own either.  Luckily, one of our new table mates had little shame about finding us an unfinished bottle on one of the other tables as well.  So, it safe to say that we had our share of the fruits of our adoptive parent labours.

This was the first time that I'd learned as much as I had about Chef Darin Paterson.  He came over and chatted with us once the dinner service was completed.  Interesting guy.  His resumé includes stints of working for Saudi Arabia's royal family for four years and feeding Nobel Prize recipients in Sweden while he operated a catering service in Stockholm.

Although Bogner's has been a constant in Penticton for many a year, Darin bought the restaurant in 2006 when he wanted to return to Canada from cooking abroad.  One of his trademarks is taking the sourcing of local foods to a new level.  He actually has a two acre property nearby where he grows tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, squash, potatoes, herbs and more.  More than just paying lip service to the whole local food scene, Bogner's is actually self-sufficient with the provision of vegetables for the better part of the year.

Darin's credentials as a chef are indisputable as well.  In the upcoming weeks, he'll participate in the BC playdowns for the Gold Medal Plates Canadian Culinary Championships - putting up his dishes with some of the biggest culinary names in the province.  When asked, he admitted that he was still working on the dish that he'd be serving up.  I'll look forward to seeing what he ultimately decides and see how he fares in the competition.

As filling as the meal had been, there was no way I was passing on dessert and the Italian Zeppole Doughnuts with chocolate dipping sauce.  I don't think I've ever had a dessert like that before.  I'll be watching for it on menus in the future though.  I suppose that, if leaving the restaurant completely stuffed is a testament to the chef's prowess in the kitchen, Darin should fare nicely at the upcoming Gold Medal Plates competition.   Mr. D. and I left the restaurant as sated as one could hope.

And our waddling departure brought this Adopt-A-Row weekend to an end.  All except for the drive home in the morning.  There was one heckuva storm outside and both Mr. D. and I were fervently hoping that the storm wasn't dumping snow all over the mountain passes.  We knew that we'd find out soon enough.  By then, we'd pretty much determined that the weekend's events were definitely worth the drive and the effort though.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Red Rooster's Annual Adopt-A-Row Harvest

It's time for my annual chance to play the teensiest role in the annual fall harvest.  The Red Rooster Adopt-A-Row Harvest Party is nigh and by most accounts, the 2012 vintage is going to be an all around great year for Okanagan wines.  Despite a particularly wet spring and a slow start to the summer, a favourable growing season eventually kicked in - and stayed.  Harvest reports have been good - one after another - and harvest has been under way for over a month.

With that in mind, when the dates for the Harvest Party were announced for the last weekend of October, I wondered whether there were actually going to be any grapes left to pick.  Lord knows, the grapes don't wait around for pre-arranged weekends to ripen.  They're ready when they're ready and you have to jump to it.

Luckily the grapes cooperated.  They were both ripe and waiting for us.

The weather, on the other hand, wasn't quite as favourable.  The last of all that glorious Fall sunshine had finally decided to give up the ghost.  Indian Summer had turned rather wet - even in the normally dry Okanagan - and snow was starting to hit lower elevations.  I was more than a little concerned about the drive up to the Okanagan, particularly since there'd been reports of snow in the mountain passes.  Being a boy from the Coast, my snow-driving experience has been limited in recent years - especially when my little sports car doesn't even have winter tires.  Boo was going to have to work through the weekend and wasn't able to come with, but we switched cars and put on his snow tires.  That'd help but, as fortune would have it, the roads stayed clear.  Some fog here, a bit of snow on the side there, but all thing considered, it was just another day on the highway.

Boo and I have been adoptive parents under the Adopt-A-Row program for some years now and I really look forward to the annual Spring Pruning and Fall Harvest Parties.  As such, I've written about the program on other occasions in this blog.  While each event is a little different in scope, they're also somewhat similar; so, I'll try not to repeat myself too much.

The primary concept is that interested wine lovers can "adopt" a row of Malbec vines in the vineyard adjacent to the winery tasting room.  In addition to an identifying plaque on your row, "adoptive parents" get a case of wine and other winery perks.  For me, the aforementioned Pruning and Harvest parties are the highlights.  During the Fall weekend, we parents get a first hand opportunity to pick grapes and learn about the process that follows.

Since Boo had to work during the weekend, Mr. D. took his place as my Plus-One and we managed to make it up to Penticton and the Naramata Bench just in time to take part in the winery's Friday night meet'n'greet.  Nibblies and a wide array of Red Rooster wines made for quite the tasty start to the weekend, but we knew that duty called in the morning.  So, we were good boys and made an early evening of it.

Everyone at the winery was hoping that the forecasted rain would hold off until we'd had time to pick all the grapes.  Let's just say that I was glad I'd brought along an extra layer of clothes, a hoody and a baseball cap.  The vineyard manager was quick to admit that they wouldn't normally pick the grapes in wet conditions like this, but they proceeded all the same as they didn't want to deprive us parents or our picking experience.

Lucky for us, our group actually got to harvest the Adopt-A-Row Malbec vines.  That's not always a given because of scheduling around those variable ripening dates.  I found Boo's and my row and Mr. D. and I set off to play farmboy.  Our row seemed particularly fecund to me this year.  If memory serves, the Malbec vines were planted almost 10 years ago and are old enough now that they're really starting to come into their own.  Picking the row still took no more than an hour.  Despite the poor start with the weather, it did stop raining and I'd have happily continued on.  There was some consolation in that warm coffee and copious wine awaited us inside the winery.

We had a little time to kill as we waited for another group of parents to return from picking a vineyard up the road.  So, with glass in hand, Mr. D. and I wandered around back to the crush pad and watched as some of the cellarhands tended to the tasks at hand.  The winery might be hosting 100 some odd "parents" but the crush had been going on through the night (and weeks beforehand) and there was plenty to do to get ready for the Malbec crush to come.

After a warming lunch of Mulligatawny soup, any interested parents were invited to see what happened to the grapes that had just been picked.  It's not that often that regular consumers get the chance to watch a crush under way - let alone actually draw the grapes out of the bin and into the crusher-destemmer.  I think many of the attendees were surprised that the first stage of the crush left so much of the grape in tact.  

We learned that the year's harvest had been so large and consistent for the last so many weeks that the winery had run out of fermentation tanks.  Despite having brought in some more tanks as last minute additions, they were still having to temporarily fill plastic bins with the crushed juice until they could clear out some of the tanks that were currently in use.  I hadn't seen that process previously and that provided for an incredibly up close and personal view of what the crushed juice looked like.  It also begged the ever-so-practical question, "So, what does the juice taste like at this stage - exactly?" A quick fill from the makeshift tank was a welcome introduction to just what our adoptive rows lead to.

And, I can confirm that it was eminently tasty.  The sweetness of the grape juice belies its eventually dry finish.  It will no doubt be a couple of years until we can taste the finished product.  By then, I rather hope to have reached bottle number 2001 on The List.  But, if I haven't, adding the 2012 Red Rooster Malbec seems like a no brainer.

As for us adoptive parents, our work day was done.  I dare say we only scratched the surface of all the work and dedication that goes into making a bottle of wine, but it was sure fun.  Now, we just had to kill a couple of hours (with some wine shopping - much to Boo's dismay) and put in our final effort of the weekend - a winemaker's dinner.

Yes, life can be tough.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Red Rooster Re-Visited

Needing to unearth all our hidden Halloween decorations, a little Fall cleaning was required over the weekend.  Lo and behold, in addition to the cobwebs, chandeliers and skulls, I found a cache of older BC wines that I'd managed to bury over the years.  Sometimes my ability to put things away gets the best of me and I forget that I've even put the item away in the first place.

When talking wine, finding that forgotten case or bottle can be a welcome occasion.  Nowadays, most wines are fashioned to be ready to drink as soon the consumer buys them, but a bit of ageing can still add some favourable rounding out of the wine.  BC's wine industry is still far too young for the jury to have made a decision on the overall ability of the region's wines to age.  There are definitely BC wines being made today that require some age, but I'm not so sure that the region's red wines, in general, are up to it - particularly with the more entry level bottles.

Guess we were going to get a bit of test with tonight's bottle.  It was part of the "lost" cache and it seemed a natural choice to open because I was going to be heading up to the winery over the weekend for another "Adopt-A-Row" Parents' Weekend.

1271.  2004 Red Rooster Merlot (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Because of our participation in the Adopt-A-Row program, Boo and I have amassed more than a couple of Red Rooster wines over the years - and we've laid down a number of them to see how they develop.  I think it's safe to say  that I hadn't exactly intended to lay down their entry level Merlot for this long though.  This was going to be an interesting test.

I was pleasantly surprised that there was still a very full and enjoyable nose greeting us as we poured those first glasses.  As for the first couple sips, not so welcoming.   The lack of fruit or tannin had me thinking that the wine might be past prime by a long shot.  The wine was still viable; it was just rather flat with an over-abundance of acidity for my taste.

The hope was that food would help but, as it turned out, the food wasn't even necessary.  After about an hour, the pronounced nose had faded but the wine had mellowed out and tasted a lot more integrated.  For a Merlot, it was still lacking in BC's trademark abundance of fruit, but it had become totally quaffable on its own.  I doubt that this bottle would out-perform a newer vintage on a side-by-side tasting, but it was a treat to finish the bottle rather than pour it down the sink.

Maybe the wine's revitalization after a bit of time is simply keeping in theme with Halloween being just around the corner.  The threat of zombies coming back form the dead and all.  Luckily, in this case, that rebirth wasn't quite as scary.

Considering the array of finds - wine and otherwise - that I run across when cleaning, it might not be a bad idea to try the concept a little more often.  Maybe when I need to find the Christmas decorations.  You never know.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


A couple of posts ago, I touched on the fact that we'd made a quick visit to Salt Spring Vineyards when we ventured over to the Gulf Islands for an all-too-short of a stay with Tyrant.  As previously mentioned in the blog, this tasting room visit was largely to talk about the Blattner varietals that the winery was working with.

During our tasting, we were told about a new wine that Salt Spring was releasing - a sparkling wine, styled somewhat after Prosecco and made with another uncommon varietal.  Sold - and that's where we're headed tonight.

1270.  2010 Salt Spring Vineyards - Splash! (Gulf Islands - BC)

The primary subject of my visit may have been the work that Salt Spring Vineyards and their winemaker, Paul Troop, were pioneering with Blattner varietals, but Splash was a whole different bit of "new."  It's not produced from a Blattner varietal.  Rather, the grape used is Léon Millot - another varietal that very few folks will have heard about.

Some years back, Salt Spring owners Dev and Joanne McIntyre had been visiting L'Acadie - a winery clear across the country on the Canadian East Coast in Nova Scotia  - where the McIntyre's discovered that Léon Millot was quite commonplace in the region.  It's another varietal that is particularly suitable for cooler, coastal climates.  They loved the wines that they tried and thought that they'd give it a try out on the West Coast.  Ironically, Boo and I had visited L'Acadie when we made a short trip to my namesake city, Halifax, back in 2006.  I'd encountered Léon Millot for the first time back then and wondered why no one was growing the grape on Vancouver Island or on the Gulf Islands.  It sounded like a natural fit to me.

There are a couple of wineries giving the varietal a go out West now but it's still not a grape that will strike a memory chord with many a wine drinker.  The varietal doesn't even rate a mention in Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine.  Hardly a traditional grape, it is a hybrid (a cross of two or more species of grapes) from a classic vitis vinifera grape, Goldriesling, and another hybrid grape with the attractive and memorable name of Millardet et Grasset 101-14 O.P.  As such, it is the type of grape that is generally passed over when growers are determining what grapes they want to plant in their vineyards.  After all, do you really want to risk your investment planting something that no one's ever heard of or ever tasted?

Well, the McIntyre's did.  In part, to take advantage of the early ripening tendencies and the fact that the varietal is largely resistant to fungus diseases - both qualities that lend themselves to growers in cooler climates.  All the same, most references to the grape (that I could easily find) still seem to be limited to small amounts being grown in Switzerland, Alsace, Canada and New York.

I had only seen the grape used previously to make still wines, but Salt Spring thought they'd make partial use of their crop in the production of a sparkling wine.  The winery was already making a traditional Champenoise style bubble.  So, this second sparkler was made to be more at an introductory level.  The base wine sees forced carbonation - along the lines of Prosecco and more "discount" bubbles - rather than the traditional double fermentation in the bottle method of Champenoise and classic sparkling wines.

I was rather excited to try the wine, but I'm afraid to say that it's not going to be a fave.  For having seen forced carbonation, I didn't find much, if any, in the glass and there wasn't any noticeable mousse in the mouth either.  To be honest, as much as I love an explosive mousse, I can live with an absence of same - provided I enjoy the taste and the palate.  Not so much there, unfortunately.

I don't think it was the fact that Léon Millot just doesn't match up as a viable grape - because I remember enjoying some of those Nova Scotian wines - the wine just didn't result in my hurrying to refill my glass or in having to force myself to slow down between sips.  For me, the wine offered little in the way of fruit or excitement.  My sad.

On the glass half full side, it was an intriguing wine to discover and to try.  AND I haven't added Léon Millot to my Wine Century Club tally either; so, I get to add a new varietal for the second post in a row!  That brings me to 139.  And on that happy note...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Grecanico. Whoa.

I know Boo doesn't believe me one iota when I say that I really have been trying to keep my wine purchases under control.  After all, I don't think it shows a lack of self control to buy a little something when you visit the actual winery.  Or when it's the release of a stellar Bordeaux vintage (especially when he loves Cab).  Or when you run across a bottle of a grape varietal that you've never seen or heard of before.

So, the last one might be a tad hard for Boo to swallow but, for me, it really is a stellar reason to buy.

And such was the case with tonight's wine.

1269.  2010 Mare Magnum - Il Nostro Grecanico (Sicily IGT - Italy)

When I first saw this bottle, I thought it was the Graciano varietal - rare enough in itself - but seeing that it was Grecanico had me reaching for my wallet.  Particularly since I was pretty sure that I had a new varietal to add to my Wine Century Club tally.

The hurdle I had to get over was whether Grecanico is just a Sicilian name for Chardonnay or Riesling. I've been burned by that on more than a couple occasions.  As it turns out, DNA studies have confirmed that the Grecanico grape is identical to Garganega - the grape used as the backbone in the production of Soave up in the Veneto region of Northern Italy.  Heavy sigh. I definitely know that I've swigged back more than a couple glasses of Soave in my day.  With that news, my new number was questionable.  Luck would have it that I just haven't reached for Soave recently - at least not since I started keeping track of my WCC grapes (when i started this blog).  #138 here I come.

Il Nostro is one of many labels produced by the Mare Magnum conglomerate, a relatively new wine company created with a plan to produce value-based wines throughout various Italian regions. It also collaborates on a handful of international projects in "places as diverse as France, Spain, South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa."  The Il Nostro label is one of three that Mare Magnum produces from Sicily.

A little Google reveals that the Grecanico grape is known for its acidity and a tendancy to be very vigorous.  When that vigour isn't reined in, the resulting wines can be rather thin and neutral.  I don't think that over-production was a problem here; there was plenty of body to the wine.  I can't say that I found much fruit on the palate though.  Acid, yes.  Minerality, yes.  But I didn't find the green apple with hints of vanilla and pear mentioned on the website.

On the whole, I'm not the biggest fan of Italian white wines.  Give me a big red from Tuscany, Piedmont or the Veneto any day, but I could see a place for the Grecanico on a hot summer day with a whopping helping of calamari.  Then again, I could be happy drinking most anything with calamari on a hot summer day.

In the mean time, no regrets.  A new varietal is always a treat in itself - even if Boo does throw me a stink eye when I bring a new bottle home.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pork Preview

When Boo and I attended Hot Chefs Cool Jazz - a fundraiser for Alex Chen, Canada's representative in the 2013 Bocuse d'Or - we placed a winning bid on a half a side of pork and a cooking class with Oyama Sausage on Granville Island where we get to decide what we want to do with our little piggy.  When Merlot Boy Tweeted a naughty comment about Boo's and my night out, I decided to name the pork side after him.  It should make for some interesting menu plans.

As a toast to our grand win and to all the exciting dining to come, Boo cooked a pork roast and I pulled out an Aussie wine to commemorate Merlot Boy's namesake to come.

1268.  1997 Wyndham Estate - Show Reserve Cabernet Merlot (South Eastern Australia)

This is one of those bottles that kind of defy logic as to why we still have it hanging around.  We certainly don't have many bottles left over from the last century - and I don't think that this is a wine that folks generally lay down for more than a year or two.  When opened, I was pleased that the wine still had a gorgeous nose though.  The first glass, however, was quaffed while dinner was still cooking and the wine on the palate didn't come close to matching up with the bouquet.  It now looked like the bottle was well past its prime - with little left in the way of tannins or fruit.

We likely held onto the bottle as long as we did because of all the stickers on the side of the label announcing that the wine had won an assortment of gold medals and even a Grand Champion Trophy.  That might have been a mistake however.  I don't know much about Wyndham Estate - except that it's a long-established, large producer (800,000 or so cases annually) and that it definitely has a regular place on local bottle shop shelves.  I'm somewhat surprised that this is the first of their wines to be added to The List though.  I'd have thought I knew them a little better than that.

It started looking like this bottle was hardly going to vault Wyndham Estate to the top of my Aussie favourites list. We were just about ready to chalk it up as one of those bottles that we let slide by.  Then, once we started sipping it along with the food an hour or so later, it was a completely different wine.  That rather insipid glass morphed into more of an inspired pour.  It's not like the tannins or fruit reappeared out of thin air, but the nuances of the flavours that remained just shone along with the pork.

The evening sure brought home the point that you should never give up on a bottle after a couple sips.  I'm hardly scared off of ever trying another Wyndham Estate wine, but I don't think I'll keep the next bottle around for 15 years or so.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Gangnam Style Gourmet

It's taken awhile, but the gang has finally managed to assemble for the latest edition of our Dinner Club.  We were scheduled to gather at Tyrant's island hideaway back in August but life got in the way and we had to postpone.

Tyrant had planned his original menu to use as much local and seasonal produce as possible.  Given the extended delay, his garden choices needed a thorough revision - but, as guests, we certainly didn't suffer any.  Dinner was extravagant and tasty.  Having been the lucky recipient of many a Tyranical treat over the years, I wouldn't have expected anything less though.

Hors d'oeuvres included black cherry tomatoes (straight from the garden) with goat cheese and a rhubarb grapefruit compote, panko crusted tofu and wild mushrooms in brandy cream.  And that was just to start!  Tyrant chose to start off the evening with a cocktail based around a Vancouver Island cider - as a a "guest liquor," it's not a bottle that I can add to The List, but it was tasty all the same.

The Sea Cider Kings & Spies is a traditional sparkling cider that uses a blend of local heritage apples - predominantly Kings and Northern Spies.  I love the fact that the proceeds from this cider help "support Lifecycles, a Victoria organization that promotes local food security."

1261. 2011 Calliope Viognier (VQA British Columbia)

2007 Alderlea Clarinet (Vancouver Island)

Our first course of homegrown carrot and ginger soup was accompanied by something familiar and something new.  I'd added the 2007 Clarinet - a Vancouver Island Maréchal Foch - to The List all the way back at #216.

I knew that the Calliope brand is a newish, second entry level label for BC fave, Burrowing Owl, but I hadn't tried the Viognier at all.  The varietal can be a bit of hit or miss for me, but Lady Di is a big fan and she brought along the Calliope as a new discovery.  I think it's safe to say that the Viognier was a hit - which shouldn't be a surprise considering it was named as one of the Top 25 Wines under $25 by Wine Access magazine.

1262.  2011 Fabulous Ant Pinot Noir (Hungary)

When Tyrant announced that the next course was a Five Spice Rubbed Duck Breast with Julienned Root Veggies, we went straight for a bottle that I'd heard mentioned in the Vancouver wine press lately.  It's not often that I hear of or see a Hungarian wine in our market - let alone a value priced Pinot Noir - but Fabulous Ant seems to be making a bit of name for itself.

I can't say that the Fabulous Ant rocked my world but, then again, I tend to like a little more heft and body on my reds.  Even Pinots.  This was a lighter bodied, fruity version that will likely find lots of fans - especially at the $14 price point.

Tyrant gave us a bit of a break before the next course and, somehow, the dinner turned to all things Gangnam.  Half of the gang had never heard of the latest cultural sensation, but there was no stopping the commentary and dance moves once we pulled up a couple of videos on the net.  There were more than a couple of attempts to master the dance steps, but Lady Di was the unlucky one to have been captured best on film as she showed us her happening Gangnam Style.

Everything Gangnam just built up everyone's thirst and the next couple of bottles ended up being a couple favourites of the evening.

1263.  2008 Foxtrot Pinot Noir (Okanagan Valley)

1264.  2010 Nagging Doubt - The Pull (Okanagan Valley)

I'm in debt to whoever brought the Foxtrot because it was my fave for the evening.  A perennial favourite of local wine critics as well, it's one of the few wines that I'm willing to pay $60+ for vintage after vintage.  It's just that it's not a wine that I run across very often as there isn't  much of it made.

While talking of limited productions, there were only 100 cases of The Pull produced.  That may be why I'd never heard of Nagging Doubt - even though it's an Okanagan wine.  Once again, it was the Lady Di who found this one.  She's a bit of star when it comes to bringing wine to our Dinner Club events.  She regularly checks the blog to see if I've added a bottle to The List before she picks one for the evening. (Actually, you know, I think everyone in the Dinner Club is pretty good on that front nowadays.)

The Pull is a new-ish project of Vancouverites, Rob and Abbey Westbury, and is made at the production facilities of Alto Wine Group, a boutique winery and "wine incubator" (as writer John Schreiner calls them).  The wine is a bold Bordeaux blend or Meritage that leans heavily on the Merlot component (43%) and is completed with Cab Sauv (25%), Cab Franc (15%), Petit Verdot and Malbec (at 8% each).

I don't think there's much doubt that Nagging Doubt will end up on our dinner table again.

I'd be remiss in not mentioning that the mains joining these wines on the dinner table were Grilled Veal Chops stuffed with wild rice, pine nuts, dried cranberries and goat cheese - but don't forget the Calvados demi-glace with poached pears and figs.  And, oh yeah, since Tyrant grew the potatoes as well, I have to mention the blue potato patties filled with a Moonstruck "Baby Blue" cheese centre.  Having spent just shy of $100 on Moonstruck cheeses myself in the afternoon, I welcome any course that features any of their fabulous Island cheeses.

1265.  2003 Burrowing Owl Meritage (VQA Okanagan Valley)

1266.  2005 Del Dotto Caves Merlot (Napa Valley - California)

There was enough food on those plates to keep us occupied for more than a couple bottles of wine.  So, corks were popped on another couple big boys.  It was nice to see that the '03 Burrowing Owl had weathered the years.  The Del Dotto Caves was another new label for me.  Tyrant had pulled the latter from his cellar and, perhaps unfortunately, it might have been enjoyed more as a featured wine at a somewhat more intimate occasion - rather than being the seventh wine of the evening.

Don't get me wrong though.  I'm more than willing to partake in one of Tyrant's cellar wines at any time.  Having known him for over three decades now, I know darned well that a lot of wines don't see the light of day until late in the night.  The good thing is that the big Napa fruit was a nice foil to the season's last wild blackberries that adorned Tyrant's Almond Crusted Custard Flan with Chambord Yogurt.  After all the work and effort that Tyrant put into the dinner, it was grant to see our chef and host still standing and smiling as we dove into the dessert.  I'm not quite sure how we fit in all that food.  Guess it's a testament as to how tasty it all was.

1267.  2010 Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon (California)

Our last wine of the night was an interesting nightcap - a bottle of Two Buck Chuck.  Lady Di and She Who Must Be Obeyed picked up a bottle on one of their shopping trips to Trader Joe's south of the border.  They'd actually brought it with them to Tyrant's for the Dinner Club last year but we never got around to drinking it.  I'd mentioned, at that time, that I was disappointed that we never got around to the bottle because it's unlikely that I'd run across another bottle in order to blog it.  Lo and behold, Tyrant just put it aside, knowing that we'd all be back eventually.

I'm not sure that many folks ever toss back a bottle of Two Buck Chuck that's actually seen a year's ageing.  Another special treat for the Dinner Club.  Okay, not really, but I am glad to be able to finally blog a bottle of the California phenomenon.  I doubt we'll ever see a similarly priced wine-for-the-masses on Vancouver liquor shelves, but I might be able to live with that fact.  Indeed, the wine wasn't quite enough to keep my attention going for long - as I'm told that I fell asleep in the living room while balancing a glass of Chuck on my chest.  If nothing else, I must have thought enough of it to not let it spill.

All told, it was a grand evening- and Tyrant has raised the bar yet another level for fellow Dinner Clubbers.  Good thing it's Lady Di and SWMBO that get to host our next get together.  In the mean time, I have some blogging to catch up with - and some Gangnam dance moves to practice.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cruising the Straits

After a couple of false starts, we've finally managed to jump a ferry and cruise the straits on our way back to visit Tyrant and his island paradise on Salt Spring. Of course, Murphy's Law dictated that, after three months of almost solid sunshine, there was nothing but rain - big time - on the horizon and the weather forecast. Tyrant was to host another edition of our little Dinner Club and, even if logic dictated that we wouldn't be dining al fresco like last year, something told me the weather's wasn't going to matter a whit.

We made the journey with Jeaux and Matinder and we all agreed that an early cocktail and toast to the weekend was in order.  We were lucky that the inside lounge wasn't very busy since we couldn't exactly bask in the sun on the ship's deck.  Opening a bottle of wine, while surrounded by weekend warriors, wouldn't have been all that wise given ship prohibitions on booze.

1260.  2010 Cellar Hand - Punch Down Red (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I'd grabbed a bottle of Cellar Hand - rather than "deck hand" - for the first time and we were all pleasantly surprised by the wine.  Cellar Hand is a second label for Black Hills - one of the Okanagan big guns.  You might argue that Punch Down Red is a little brother for Black Hills' flagship, Nota Bene, in that it's another red blend.  It's 45% Syrah, 28% Merlot and 27% Cab Sauv and was very approachable for our little cruise.  Plenty of big fruit, body and nice spice but not so powerful that we couldn't sip it on its own without food.

Crossing Georgia Strait didn't take a whole lot longer than it took us to finish the bottle but we arrived on the island with a bit of time to kill before dinner.  Not wanting to get in the way of Tyrant's prep time too early, we hit the local Farmer's Market and loaded up on Moonstruck Cheese.  There was no way I was leaving the island without scoring some of my favourite taste treats.

After dropping Jeaux off at Tyrant's, the plan was to make a quick visit to one of the island's three wineries.  Salt Spring Winery was one of the first wineries in the province (and continent) to make a commitment to and experiment with some of the Blattner grape varietals.  I'd arranged a visit with Dev McIntyre, one of the owners, to talk a little Blattner.  But, first we had to find our way to the winery.  Unfortunately, we were trying to find the winery by memory - with neither address, map nor functioning GPS.

Before we found the winery, we ended up at Ruckle Park and a part of the island that I'd never seen before.  We were all taken aback by the working farm and turkeys running amuck.  Not sure how they all escaped Canadian Thanksgiving, but we gave a bit of thought to bringing one of them back to Tyrant's for dinner.  After all, we could always look to Christmas dinner if Tyrant wasn't able to work fresh turkey into the evening's fare on a moment's notice.  We passed on the turkey but I definitely want to make it back to the Park when we have some time to take in the trails.

We made it to the winery with just enough time to fit in a tasting at the wine bar and for me to meet with Dev.  I must admit, he wondered what the heck I wanted to know about Blattner grapes.  I don't think it's a topic that gets raised all that much.  What could I say other that I'm intrigued by different and unique?  And our chat was definitely on the unique end of the spectrum.  I very much doubt that I could have learned as much by Googling my way around the net and I'm grateful to Dev for making the time to meet.  I'm going to save the details about our discussions though until I get around to opening one of the Blattner wines down the road.

In the mean time, we had to make our way back to Tyrant's.  There'd definitely be more wine waiting for us there.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Layer Cake Primitivo

For the last year or so, I've noticed that a number of Layer Cake wines have arrived in the Vancouver market.  I hadn't tried any of them yet but Boo picked up a couple on recent travels and I figured we could start off with the Italian entrant in the portfolio since it was pasta night on the home front.

1259.  2008 Layer Cake Primitivo (IGT Puglia - Italy)

Considering the fact that we had this Italian Primitivo (or Zinfandel) and an Aussie Shiraz in reserve, it didn't take a genius to realize that Layer Cake wasn't going to be your standard stand alone winery.  A little Google action goes a good ways with Layer Cake.  The label is the brainchild of Jayson Woodbridge, the owner of and vintner behind the California cult Cabs of Hundred Acre.  Woodbridge acknowledges the influence his grandfather has provided for his outlook in business and winemaking and he's further noted that his grandfather "would have been hard pressed to buy a bottle" of Hundred Acre which generally goes for $300+.  Accordingly, Woodbridge has worked to craft a more affordable wine as well - Layer Cake is the answer.

The label currently offers an assortment of seven varietals, but the primary kick is that the wines are all 100% varietally driven with the grapes being grown and the wines being produced in regions around the world that are perhaps best known for that grape - such as their Australian Shiraz, California Cab, Argentine Malbec.

The Primitivo harkens back to Italy and to what most folks now agree is the starting point for California Zinfandel - Primitivo.  DNA studies now claim that the grapes are genetically identical; however, the Layer Cake website proclaims that their label is the first certified label to show both varietals on the label as synonyms for each other.

I definitely found it interesting that the grapes are grown in the Manduria region - part of the heel in the Italian boot - and they are permitted to be used in wines for the "higher" categoried DOC wines.  The Manduria appellation requires 14% alcohol, however, and the winemakers preferred to finish the wine at a lower alcohol level.  Accordingly, they had no choice but to go with the "lesser" regional IGT designation.

All that being said, the wine in the glass certainly seemed more reminiscent of a New World, California Zin than the majority of Italian wines I'm familiar with.  I was surprised - and pleasantly so - by the jammy notes on the wine.  If I hadn't know what the wine was in advance, I doubt I'd have ever guessed that it was Italian.  As far as enjoying the wine though, that's not necessarily a bad thing.  I find that many - if not most - Italian wines need to be accompanied by food to truly enjoy them.  I could easily see serving the Layer Cake as a stand up cocktail wine.  Needless to say, we had no problem finishing off the bottle with our pasta.

I'll be interested to see how Layer Cake has approached the wines from the other regions.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Question: If we had Duck for dinner on Saturday and turkey on Sunday and then we have chicken on Monday, does that we mean we had "turducken" over the weekend?  I've seen turducken mentioned many a time over the years, but I've never actually seen one.  This little foul weekend that we're just finishing off is about as close as we've ever come; so I think I'll just tell everyone that we did.

I may have needed to blend my birds but I didn't blend the wines.  Third night; third wine.

1258.  2009 Quails' Gate Dry Riesling (VQA Okanagan Valley)

This might have been my favourite over the weekend.  All things considered, that's not likely all that much of a surprise.  I'm hardly shy about my fondness for Riesling.  I can't say that Quails' Gate has really been on my radar as far a BC Riesling goes - maybe it should be though.  I tend to associate this pioneer of the province's modern wine industry with Pinot Noir and their cultish Old Vines Foch, but this Riesling really hit my sweet spot.

And I'm not referring to "sweet spot" in an off-dry sense. This is a fully dry white - with bracing acidity and some zingy citrus notes - but it never ventures towards austere.  Rather, there is a hint of sweetness. My guess, however, is that this perception of sugar simply comes from the fine, ripe fruit on the palate.  The 2009 growing season was a good one for the Okanagan and most growers were able to fully ripen all of their grapes.

The complexity of the wine is likely helped along by the fact that Quails' Gate's Riesling vines are now 25 years old.  That and the fact that the winery blended six different batches of Riesling to made the final wine.

All in all, a very nice finish to our turducken of a weekend.  I dare say that, should we ever run across a true turducken, I could bring along another bottle of this baby and it would fare just as nicely. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Turkey Talk

After last night's duck dinner and our initial take on this year's adventure in Thanksgiving poultry, it was time to talk turkey.  It's long been a family tradition to have these dinners at Vixen, my sister's, place.  This year's version was going to be somewhat different though.  There was going to be some of that whole "circle of life" bit. 

This would be our first family dinner since Mom passed away this summer.  An additional twist stemmed from the fact that Vixen and her man, Big Trucker, got engaged this summer as well - and this was would be the first full gathering of both clans.  Nothing new about Vixen and her three chilluns but all of Big Trucker's three kids have never joined in before. His girls have gotten used to our clan but BT's son was joining in for the first time.

I'm not sure he knew what his dad had gotten him into.  Hopefully, we didn't scare him off too badly.

It did make it clear that we're about to experience the Brady Bunch first hand though.

1257.  2008 Mistaken Identity Gewürztraminer (British Columbia)

Our new family members are more of a beer and football crowd but Vixen and I were there; so, you have to know that there'd be some wine being added to The List as well.  When talking turkey wines, Gewürztraminer is usually one of the first suggestions that comes out and I figured I'd grab a bottle that we'd picked up last year on Salt Spring Island.

Mistaken Identity is the third - and newest - winery to open on Salt Spring and 2008 was the first year that they had a winery licence and an actual vintage.  Turns out, though, that the vineyards weren't actually planted with any Gewurtz; so, enough grapes were sourced from the Okanagan to produce 500 cases.

It takes a pretty special Gewürztraminer to win me over.  The varietal's trademark floral tones often overwhelm me.  That wasn't an issue with this bottle.  While there wasn't much of a floral kick to it, the wine also seemed to be missing the spicy note that I do like to look for with Gewurtz.  This one was pretty much all soft fruit - and, while I might have been called a "soft fruit" myself, now and then, over the years, it's usually not my favourite drop of wine.

Mistaken Identity also grows an interesting assortment of varietals at the estate vineyards than the standard grapes we hear about - ones that are considered more suitable for the mild coastal climes.  I think I might be more inclined to try one of their wines made with Madeleine Angevine, Reichensteiner or Agria next time around.

An added bonus to the Thanksgiving dinner was that it was Big Trucker's birthday.  He might favour beer over wine, but he does like his chocolate - and that might be reason enough to welcome him with open arms into the family ranks.  I'm sure that Vixen can elaborate on a few more endearing traits - but that'd be different blog.  You'll have to reach her directly for further goodies.

Two nights.  Two birds.  Two wines.  Things are good.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Just Ducky

Canadian Thanksgiving Long Weekend has arrived.  Like so many other locales, it's going to be a weekend of family, food and wine around here - and, if that's not something to be thankful for, I don't know what is.

That is, even if all that thankfulness does mean that I'm going to have all that more wine to blog about and add to The List (when I'm already too far behind).

First up, though, is one of the bottles that we nabbed on the BC Wine Appreciation Bus Tour we joined with last month.  I thought it would match up nicely with the duck and sautéed peaches we were going to chow down on.

1256.  2011 Blue Mountain Gamay Noir (Okanagan Valley)

Blue Mountain - as local winos will know - is one of the first BC cult wineries. Indeed, I remember my first bottle of Blue Mountain.  It was at a company dinner - back in the early '90's - and one of our gang recognized the name on the wine list.  Now, back in those days, I was just as likely to be drinking u-brew plonk as I was to be trying wine made by a real winery.  Let alone a wine made in BC.  I've come a long way since those days, but Burrowing Owl is still delivering the goods.

The Mavety family has been farming on their original estate since 1971 when they started championing the planting of noble varietals in the region.  Long attracted to Burgundian and Champenoise grapes, the winery exclusively uses estate grown grapes and is probably best known for its Pinot Noir and sparkling wines.  All the same, their Gamay is regularly named as one of the best in the province.

The Gamay vines are now 14 to 21 years old and the Mavety's grow two clones of varietal.  Generally, they aim for a more Beaujolais Cru style of wine - heavier and darker than many of the Beaujolais wines found in the market.  They consider themselves lucky, however, in that their corner of the Okanagan Valley allows their wines to have brilliant fruit and acidity coming through even with the bigger body of the wine.

With a second generation of Mavety's participating fully in winery operations nowadays - including the winemaking - there's been a leaning towards a little more risk taking.  Around 50% of the 2011 Gamay vintage  saw fermentation with wild yeast that is native to the vineyard.  Wild yeasts are known to be volatile and winemakers can be disappointed with unexpected end results but those wild yeasts can also lead to an even grander sense of terroir when they work.  I think everyone on our tour - and the winemakers as well - feel that everything worked out just fine with these wines.  The folks at Blue Mountain feel that this Gamay can age 4 to 6 years.  Guess it's pretty clear that this bottle didn't quite reach point.

A cloudy September morning greeted us and our visit to the winery.  It didn't affect the taste of the wines at all but it did mean that one of the most recognizable views in the BC wine industry wasn't quite as vibrant as it might have been normally.  Guess it just means that we'll have to make another visit to the winery.  Thankfully, on the chance that this next visit might take awhile, we still have a nice selection of wines that Boo and I can enjoy and add to The List.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Martinis & Blind Dales

I've reached the conclusion that the inability to throw back both wine and martinis in the same night - without adverse consequences the next morning - is a sure sign of growing old.  If my theory is, indeed, true, I now bear the mark of "old age."  I might be able to fool myself that bulging bellies and greying hair can happen to the youngest of us all, but I have to admit that "Wine or Martini, but not both" has become a bit of a mantra chez nous.

It takes a special occasion to "break" that rule.

And, with that being said, it's National Vodka Day and my old, younger self is making a brief appearance.

I was all ready to arrive at home and release my "inner 007" and mix up an old fave - the tasty Vesper Martini.  Then I realized that the Casino Royale classic is three parts gin.  Ooops.  Never fear.  Like Mr. Bond, I can - most Absolut'ly - be resourceful in a crisis.  I simply simply decided to make it dirty.  Shaken.  Not stirred.  And dirty.  After all, if you can't enjoy vodka soaked olives, one after another, you really are getting old.

The martini, OK martinis, was just the icebreaker.  I was also scheduled to take in a performance of Blind Date at The Cultch (the Vancouver East Cultural Centre).  I'd heard about this show some time ago when it was playing in the Centre of the Universe (Toronto for you non-Canadian readers) and was really looking forward to being able to take it in myself.

Naturally, Boo got called in for overtime and I had to find a last minute date for my Blind Date.  Now, Baby Mama is my neighbour.  Is married.  And can see perfectly well. So, she wasn't exactly a blind date, but good Lord, did we have an enjoyable time. This truly was one of those LMAO times.

For those that haven't heard of the show, it's improvisational at its core.  Our heroine, Mimi, is being stood up on a blind date and, seeing as how she's already in the bar and dressed to impressed, she simply finds a new blind date by picking one of the audience members to join her on stage for the performance.  She then "guides" her date as the evening progresses from the bar back to her place - while being pulled over by the police as they drive home naturally - where shenanigans obviously broke out because the final scene was five years later and she was pregnant with her new, now old, date's baby.

No two shows are the same and, obviously, the success of any one show can depend greatly on the date Mimi pulls from the audience. I think we must have lucked out though because Craig, our show's date, was a low-keyed hilarious - especially when Mimi asked him why he hadn't tried to kiss her yet and Craig's wife in the audience used her "time out."  Despite the red wine he'd been enjoying for courage, he astutely realized that he was in a no-win situation - saying that he recognized a "lady trap" when he saw one - even when his wife agreed that he could kiss Mimi once. In the end, he reluctantly agreed but said, "No tongue."  To which, Mimi quickly responded, "Haven't you noticed from my accent that I'm French?"

Good stuff.

As for my own dalliance from my "one booze only" rule, I didn't break it much.  Baby Mama and I had a single glass of wine during our Blind Date.  (So, no new bottle to add to The List.)  And there was no need to worry about anything the morning after.  Not so sure about Craig's though.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Arrival of Fall

OK, I guess Fall has officially arrived.  It's getting darker earlier, leaves are changing colour and it's definitely cooling off.  Cooling off enough that we had our first stew of the season.  That hearty stew called for something equally as hearty and we pulled out another vintage of an old fave.

1255.  2003 Sandhill three (VQA Okanagan Valley)

three is part of the Sandhill Small Lots Program and you can find a fair bit written about Small Lots elsewhere on this blog.  Accordingly, I won't go into the program in any detail this time around.  Suffice it to say that, with this '03 vintage, "small lots" means only 424 cases.

three is winemaker Howard Soon's take on a SuperTuscan wine.  The '03 was a blend of 53% Barbera, 21% Cab Sauv, 13% Sangiovese and 13% Merlot and I think it's fairly certain that no one else was making anything like this wine in BC in those days.  In fact, I'm not so sure that anyone else is working with Sangiovese and Barbera even still.

Still a keeper, but I think we might have enjoyed it more a couple of years back.  Boo's stew wasn't much more than meat, potatoes and tomatoes and it could have handled more oomph than showed up in the glass.  I think that oomph would have been there some years back though.  As it was, the tannins and fruit had faded more than the acidity.  Not a bad weight for Indian Summer overall.  Just a tad shy with the beef-cutting tannins.

Or we could just bring on a pizza.  After all, you know that something's pretty much guaranteed to go with Sandhill one way or another.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Grand Pairing - Ferrari & Octavius

Vancouver's just awash in divas lately - Madonna, Streisand, Gaga and now Jane Ferrari. At least that's how Yalumba's Winemaker - Communications was introduced to us at our Australian Wine Appreciation Society dinner.  Having met and listened to Jane on other stops during her past travels, I'm willing to grant her the intriguing personality of a diva - after all who else would title a presentation seminar, "The Viognier Monologues?"  She was quick to point out to this evening's crowd though that we definitely weren't going to find her sporting any tin cone bras or arriving decked out in nothing but meat.

If nothing else, Jane Ferrari has the gift of the gab - but she's far more than that - and, despite the fact that she advised us that "the more you've had to drink, the funnier you'll find me," she had us hanging on everything she was saying from "word one." Having been raised in Alice Springs (no doubt the source of many stories of their own), she moved on to winemaking.  After starting with Yalumba, she left to work with big names in the Barossa like Glaetzer and Rockford, only to return to Yalumba in 1997 - where she's remained ever since.

Nowadays, she travels the world spreading the good word on Yalumba and Aussie wines in general.  She's a natural and, earlier this year, while  traversing snow-covered Ontario roads, Jane was advised that the Wine Communicators of Australia had named her the group's 2012 Communicator of the Year.

It was a real treat to have her walk us through an ever-so-tasty flight that showed the breadth of Yalumba's wines.  We tasted nine wines that included a Tassie sparkler, Eden Valley Riesling, Coonawarra Cab and even botrytis affected Viognier - but my favourite of the night was one of Yalumba's hallmark wines, The Octavius Shiraz.  This is not a wine that I get to enjoy unless someone is pouring it at a special occasion like this.  It's been referred to as "quintessential" and "big ticket" in the wine press; so, I'm adding it to The List.

1254.  2006 Yalumba The Octavius (Barossa - Australia)

Jane likened The Octavius to a Barossan take on a Côte-Rôtie Syrah from the Rhône.  The wine gets its name from the fact that it's matured in "octaves" - 100 litre capacity barrels.  Yalumba's website states that The Octavius is the "only red wine in the world that is matured in such small barrels."  Jane further expounded that, in the wine's early years, those small barrels almost got the best of the wine - especially since the wine is aged for 8-10 years.  She mentioned that it was often referred to as "Oak-tavius."  The barrel program has been redesigned so that it now incorporates both French and American oak (rather that strictly American) and the staves are aged prior to the assembly of the barrels.  It certainly helps that those barrels are crafted at Yalumba's own on-site cooperage - not many wineries have that luxury.

There were a number of descriptors thrown about while tasting this wine, but whether your take on this wine was "metrosexual," "velvety," restrained or robust, it's still a stunner - with dark fruit and "chocolate" jumping out of the glass.

The wine was paired with Roast Elk, Preserved Cherries and Spiced Chocolate Jus.  I don't know if the Aussies have much opportunity to pair Shiraz with Elk back home, but they should try!  No doubt, The Octavius would have been just as tasty with the Smoked Braised Shortrib that we had earlier.  Hell, I'd've happily knocked it back with the Lime Cured Tuna that we had as a first course if there was no other way to taste it.  But, pairing it with the elk was delicious.

I think it's fair to say that Jane is just as delicious.  I'd also venture that this was one of the most enjoyable AWAS dinners I've ever attended.  I heartily suggest you take advantage of any opportunity you can to meet up with Ms. Ferrari,  I don't think you'll regret it and, indeed, you don't have to wait for her to come to you.  You can follow her adventures and hear the odd story or two on Jane's blog.  I know I look forward to our next encounter.