Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Some Down Home Southern Cookin'

Boo found some fresh catfish filets and decided to go to town, summoning those Southern roots of his, by fixing up some fish fry, okra and hush puppies.  Seemed like an opportune time to open one of the bottles we picked up when visiting his family in North Carolina last year.

1295.  2007 Hinnant Family Vineyards - Norton (North Carolina)

One of the joys of travelling - at least for me - is discovering local wines.  There wasn't much opportunity to visit the wineries that are starting to hit running speed in this burgeoning area of winemaking.  But that doesn't mean that I couldn't stop by a couple of wine shops to check out the local bottles that were available.

Then there's that part of my brain that's always thinking Wine Century Club and gets all tingly when there are new varietals to be tried.  This is actually the second bottle of Norton to be added to The List, but I was pressed for time when the Horton Norton was added about 100 wines back at #1194.  So, I'll try to expand a little bit more on this distinctly American varietal that's been called "arguably the only variety of American Vine Species origin making a premium quality wine" in the Oxford Companion to Wine.

Before discussing the grape varietal itself, I should mention the winery a bit first.  Hinnant's website states that it "is the oldest and largest commercial Muscadine vineyard in the state of North Carolina." But Muscadine isn't the only grape that they make wine from (in addition to their many fruit wines).  Their vineyards now boast 80 acres of grapes - where they grow 14 main varietals.  Two of those acres are currently dedicated to Norton that they brought down from Virginia.  Interestingly, they have also planted another American hybrid grape - the Blanc du Bois - that hails from Texas (but that will have to be another story should I ever run across a bottle).

Although the Hinnant family has been growing grapes in 1971, they only started making and selling wine under a family-named label in 2003.  They've grown to the point where they produced 25,000 cases of wine in 2010 but the addition of new tanks recently will allow them to expand to between 40,000 and 50,000 cases down the road.

They must be out of stock of the Norton wine at this point as I couldn't find any mention of it on the website.  With our bottle being a 2007 vintage, I'm not even sure that they still produce a Norton themselves.

Once again, a short online search regarding Norton resulted in my finding the most comprehensive treatise to be Rob Tebeau's post on his informative Fringe Wine blog.  I'll just refer you there for the full goods, but a brief synopsis would be that the Norton grape's history seems to stem from Richmond, Virginia, in the 1820's where Dr. Daniel Norton experimented with crossing grape varietals in an attempt to create a new grape that could both withstand harsher climates and result in a drinkable wine.  Norton seemed to be a grape that couldn't be distinguished from European vinifera grapes and it started taking hold in American vineyards - particularly as the phylloxera louse devastated European vineyards.  A Norton wine, made in Missouri, is actually noted as having won an award for the best red wine in the world at a Vienna competition in 1873.

Norton vines didn't take all that well to soil compositions found in French vineyards when it was experimented with as a solution to the phylloxera riddle and the grape never gained a foothold in Europe.  Prohibition then took its toll on American production of wine - and, by the time, winemaking was being reintroduced in the United States, not many wineries were interested in hybrids and native grapes like Norton.  Most efforts at re-establishing vineyards were directed at the noble vinifera grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

As interest in local grapes gains steam, Norton is seeing a bit of comeback in some American vineyards - particularly in North-East and Mid-West.  I doubt you'll find vaunted Californian Norton, but I suppose stranger things could happen.

I found that I wasn't quite as enamoured with the Hinnant version as I was with the Horton bottle awhile back.  This version was a little lighter in structure and juicier/grapier in its profile.  I'll categorize this as an intriguing, local bottle and chalk it up to experience but we had no issue finishing off the bottle with our catfish.  None whatsoever.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Memories of WBC12

Unfortunately, I have to admit that I haven't written much about the 2012 Wine Bloggers Converence that I attended in Portland, Oregon, this August.  As heretical as it might sound, sometimes life takes priority over blogging and my Mom's passing certainly brought that into perspective.  In trying to stay somewhat current with The List and the wines now being poured into our glasses, I just haven't made time to go back and flesh out that timeframe.

Opening tonight's bottle served as a bit of reminder of Portland and WBC12.  A bottle was graciously gifted to each of the conference participants - but there was more than enough wine to keep us going at the conference.  So, this one made it home with me.

1294.  2010 Don & Sons Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast - California)

I hadn't realized the fact when I was given the bottle, but "Don" is a Don from the Sebastiani family - a pioneering name in California winemaking with over 100 years experience in the business.  The original Sebastiani brand was sold back in 2008; however, Don Sebastiani branched off to create Don & Sons with two of his children.   They have modelled the company on a négociant format and they source grapes from growers throughout California - aiming to produce appellation-driven wines at consumer friendly prices.

The company is also structured so that it produces wines under more than just the Don & Sons label.  I'm actually more familiar with the Smoking Loon and Pepperwood Grove brands - Dons & Sons being behind both of them.  Their reach isn't limited to using California grapes either.  The company has sourced fruit from Chile and Tasmania as well.

The bottle at hand was 100% Pinot Noir, primarily from Sonoma Coast growers - website notes say that 13% of the fruit was grown in the nearby Clarksburg appellation.  It's a fleshy, easy drinker with lots of bright fruit.  I'm not sure it was a Pinot that Myles would gush over in the movie Sideways, but Boo was quite taken with it - and that surprised me a bit in that that he generally favours wines with a little more Old World structuring.  Wines that are awash in bigger tannins and structure and not so much juicy fruit.  Guess it just goes to show that any given wine on any given day can hit the mark.

As for my hitting the mark, that'll revolve around getting caught up with some more posts - and maybe in going back to fill in some those gaps that "life" left behind.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Tawse - 2012 Top Canadian Winery

The 2012 Canadian Wine Awards have been announced and Tawse Winery, from Ontario's Niagara Peninsula, has been named Canada's Winery of the Year for the third year running.  In 2010, Tawse was the first Ontario winery to win the title and it is also the first winery from any province to win the award three years in a row.

We don't see many Ontario wines out in BC.  Go figure.  Same country, but we see almost as many listings from wine hotbeds like Israel and China in our government stores as we do from Ontario - and almost half of the Ontario wines are icewines.  I don't think they make any icewines in Israel.

So, it was quite the pleasant surprise when I discovered Tawse - and picked up this bottle - at this year's Vancouver International Wine Festival.  I was impressed by what I heard and tasted and hearing the WOTY announcement made it seem only logical to open a bottle to celebrate.

1293.  2010 Tawse Riesling (VQA Niagara Peninsula - Ontario)

Tawse is a family owned, estate winery that particularly prides itself in its efforts to capture its terroir.  They firmly believe that the surrounding lands really do have noticeable differences and completely lend themselves to distinctive wines.  In their desire to reveal the Niagara Pennisula, they produce four single vineyard Rieslings, together with an estate blended wine (the bottle at hand) and a wine from more broadly sourced fruit.  The winery website confirms that part of those efforts to emphasize terroir stem from the fact that "all Tawse estate wines are produced using certified organic and biodynamic farming techniques."  Indeed, Tawse was only second winery in Canada to obtain biodynamic certification for certain areas of production.

This is all pretty heady stuff considering the winery only opened its doors in 2005 and, nowadays, it still only produces approximately 30,000 cases annually.

This 2010 Tawse Riesling won Gold at last year's 2011 Canadian Wine Awards (and helped secure that year's WOTY award) - where it was praised for its bold notes of citrus and minerality.  Regular visitors to this blog will know that I'm a Riesling fiend and this one totally matches my preferred high notes - big fruit with a good brace of citrus and acidity, but with a noticeable touch of sweet that stems from the ripeness of the fruit, not simply from an off-dry, residual sugar kind of finish.

I see that those recent Canadian Wine Awards saw fit to place a total of 32 medals on Tawse wines - 9 Gold, 9 Silver and 14 Bronze.  Crazy stuff.  I also see that a couple of the more "entry level" wines are currently listed with our provincial liquor stores.  That's better than nothing I suppose, but I wish I had more opportunity to try and obtain a broader selection of Tawse wines out here on the West Coast.

I was hoping that I might get another chance at this year's Wine Festival but neither Tawse, nor any other Ontario winery for that matter, is participating this year in Vancouver.  Again, I say "same country," what the heck is going on?  But that'll have to be a topic for another day.  In the mean time, I've got to try and find me some Tawse.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Via Tevere

I got the call from my Dad that my Aunt Belle and Uncle Lyle had arrived in town for a short visit prior to their heading South of the border for Black Friday.  We had the one night that we could get together for dinner; so, I talked them into coming to our neck of the woods and a trip to Via Tevere.  Naturally, our timing wasn't the best and our group of six had to wait a good 45 minutes before we got seated.  Good thing they liked the pizza - and, just as importantly, the wine.

I knew that Via Tevere participates in the "new-ish" Bring Your Own Wine program that's been introduced in BC.  This is only the second time that Boo and I have taken advantage of the opportunity - and the first occasion was here as well.  After an initial flurry of press, I haven't heard much about BYOW at all and I don't know of many restaurants that are participating - not that we get out all that much.  It's a nice option though and I hope to be able to participate a lot down the road.

1290.  2004 Avignonesi - Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (D.O.C.G. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - Tuscany - Italy)

I can't say that I know much about Avignonesi; however, I clearly remember that I was advised to keep an eye out for their wines while Boo and I were in Italy a couple of years back.  If memory serves, we were particularly tipped off about one of the winery's Super Tuscans: 50 & 50.  We never found that wine, nor did we even get to try an Avignonesi wine before time constraints forced us to leave Italy and return home.  Although the Vino Nobile is a traditional Tuscan wine (as opposed to a new fangled Super Tuscan),I was glad to run across this bottle in a local bottle shop.

The winery is named after the Avignonese family - founders of the original estate.  It was purchased in 2009, however, by a retired Belgian lawyer.  While the new owner's intent was to build on the winery's reputation, one of her first steps was to look to switch vineyards over to organic viticultural practices.  Being a 2004, our vintage had, obviously, been bottled long before the change in ownership but I can only hope that quality levels stay the same - if not improve - because I quite enjoyed it and I'm hardly a big fan of Chianti - the region's prime wine.

The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is more localized than Chianti; however, the wine is still primarily based on the Sangiovese grape, although producers generally use a local clone known as Prugnolo Gentile.  That varietal provides the majority of the wine's fruit - but there's an added bonus for me in that small quantities of Canaiolo Nero and Mammolino are used as well.  Neither of those varietals have been added to my Wine Century Club tally.

Got to love that fact that I get to add to new varietals - while dining with the relatives and enjoying a wine to boot.

1291.  2011 ViVi - Falanghina (IGT Campania - Italy)

It was clear from the outset that we were going to need more than one bottle.  I didn't know whether we could bring two of our own bottles; so, we bought the Falanghina off the wine list.  I'd say that we were more of a red crowd - except for Aunt Belle - but there was no worry about leaving any of the white in the bottle.

The ViVi website doesn't actually provide a whole lot of information about the winery but I'm guessing that Vivi is more of a bulk, brand producer than Avignonesi.  That may well be the only way that a Falanghina varietal vine could be marketed in Vancouver though.  Falanghina is hardly going to be a grape that most people could go into a liquor store and rattle off as being the wine they want to pick up.  Marketed as a well-priced white wine might be a whole lot more sensible from a winery standpoint.

Italian whites aren't usually high on my list of faves - and this one didn't reach favourite status either - but it was well made with a nicer acidity to it than I often find with Italian whites.  The fruit was lacking (when compared to the local Okanagan wines) but the bottle was picked primarily for Aunt Belle's palate and she quite liked the wine.  So, the bottle definitely lived up to its task.

We called it quits after our wine and pizza because Boo had put one of the leftover Halloween pumpkins to use and made us a pie that wasn't pizza pie.  Homemade pie a tempting thought - especially when I remembered there was another bottle waiting at home.

1292.  2007 Pacific Rim - Vin de Glacière Riesling (Columbia Valley - Washington State)

Pumpkin pie and a Washington dessert wine seemed like an appropriate way to cap off our early start to American Thanksgiving.  I don't think Belle and Lyle were going to take in Costco for Black Friday, but I'm pretty sure I picked up the Vin de Glacière awhile back during a States-side visit to Costco ourselves.  I gather that the wine is a take on Canadian icewines.  

The big difference between this wine and a true icewine is that these grapes are harvested when they've reached high enough sugar levels and, then, they are frozen.  While the grapes are, indeed, pressed while frozen, the winery doesn't have to take the risks involved with waiting until the grapes have frozen outside in the vineyard before they can be picked and pressed.

The end result is still tasty though.  There was still plenty of honey and ripe tree fruit on the palate but I think it could have used a bit more acidity to balance out the sweet.  The cost was nowhere near as precious as an icewine would cost and that's hardly a bad thing.

All in all, I'd say things went well.  Everyone was still chatting away in our dining room when I called it quits.  Being the only one of the crowd that had to get up first thing in the morning, it was time to hit the sack.  And that had nothing to do with the fact that we'd finished off the evening's wines.  Truly.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Beaujolais, But Hardly Nouveau

I've seen a few references lately that announced the arrival of this year's Beaujolais Nouveau.  I'll admit that maybe I fell prey to the hype back in the 80's, but I can count the bottles of Nouveau that I've tried recently on the fingers of one hand.

That doesn't mean that I have to avoid the name "Beaujolais" altogether though - and I figured we could celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau's arrival with a Beaujolais of a different sort.

1289.  2010 Villa Ponciago - La Réserve Fleurie (Fleurie AOC - France)

I tasted this Cru Beaujolais at this year's Vancouver International Wine Festival and, out of the 800+ wines that were being poured at the Festival Tasting Room, this one impressed enough for me to grab a bottle.  When there's that many wines being poured at an event though, I can't always be positive that I'm going to like the wines as much in saner situations.  So, I'm always happy - and relieved - when the wine is just as enjoyable at home as I must have thought it was at the Festival.

Villa Ponciago was actually known as Chateau Poncié when it was purchased in 2008 by the Henriot family - owners of well known Burgundy labels Bouchard Père et Fils and William Fèvre.  Villa Ponciago harkens back to the historical roots of the domaine, some 1,000 years ago, when the property was known by that name and was given to a local abbaye due to its renown for the quality of its wines.  The Henriot family has announced its intention to restore the property to its former acclaim.

I know nothing of that former acclaim but I think the family is doing something right if this current release is any indication of the wines they strive to produce.  There are ten crus (or appellations/regions) in Beaujolais and they differ in character from light bodied through full bodied; however, all the regions make their red wines from the Gamay Noir grape (although, technically, the AOC regulations will allow up to 15% of the appellation wine to consist of white wine but this in't that common in practice).

Fleurie is generally considered to fall in the middle in terms of wine style - and, for a Gamay, this wine certainly had a nice medium body with plenty of red fruit on the palate and a brace of acidity coming through, along with some soft tannins.

I've started looking for more of the Gamay Noirs that come out of the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys as they are really starting to come into their own.  This Ponciago wine is a nice example of where those BC wineries might look to for comparison.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Culture Crawl

One of my favourite weekends of the year in our hood is always November's East Side Culture Crawl - a three-day event that sees artists on Vancouver's East Side open their studio doors to the public to visit, to discover and to maybe even buy some of their work.  The 2013 version is the 16th annual and it's grown from 1997's 45 artists to this year's almost 450 artists. The organizers expect to attract an audience of over 15,000 patrons - a majority of whom likely never attend any other art event or gallery in the course of a year.

Between vacations and work schedules, Boo hasn't been able to attend a Crawl for a number of years now, but he was free for this evening's Friday night opening.  We decided to take in 1000 Parker Street - the biggest of all the venues - and I knew from past experience that it's nice to have a little something to ease one's way through the masses.

Arty, bohemian surroundings or not, we still needed to be somewhat circumspect in our meanderings. The solution I came up with might be the best use ever for our coffee travel mugs.  They not only keep the contents private but those double grande mugs hold a good amount of drink.

They might have, however, introduced a slight dark coffee note to the wine's palate.

1288.   2006 Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza (D.O.C. Rioja - Spain)

Bodegas LAN was founded in 1972 and specializes in red wine, producing around 400,000 cases of wine annually - with Rioja wines representing about 90% of its production.  The balance of their wines are made from other well known Spanish regions - Rías Baixas, Rueda and Ribera del Duero.  The quality of LAN's wines has been well received over the years.  Indeed, the winery has twice been included in Wine Spectator's Top 100 list.  Bodegas LAN also made the news this year when it was purchased by Sogrape - Portugal's largest wine company.  With this purchase, Sogrape has become one of the five largest wine companies on the Iberian peninsula.  In addition to its Portugese and Spanish holdings, Sogrape also owns wineries in Argentina, Chile and New Zealand.

The Rioja Crianza is 100% Tempranillo and accounts for more than half of the winery's production.  The Crianza reference advises everyone that the wine has seen at least two years of ageing prior to release - with a minimum of one year having been spent in oak barrels.  Rioja wines are classified by four categories with each progression of a category seeing both more time in oak and ageing overall.  There's basic Rioja, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva - with Gran Reserva wines seeing a minimum of five years ageing before they're released.

Photo from Scout Magazine on Twitter
This was a bigger Tempranillo than we had the other week for International Tempranillo Day.  It had enough heft on the body to handle a cool, wet evening on the town; yet, its red fruit and balanced tannins left it easy enough to drink on its own, without the need for a meal to help it along.  Having our "go mugs" definitely played into our enjoyment of the evening.  The only problem was that we'd finished our mugs long before we'd finished our tour of the buildings - and there were no refills to be had.

I don't know if it was just the wine enhancing some of the pieces that we saw, but there were at least a couple that I could have been talked into.  The pieces were more practical than the extravagant cabinet we saw and loved but we ended up not picking up any art this time around.  It might just have been that Boo didn't have as much wine as me but we couldn't mutually agree on any pieces.  That might have been just as well since we've pretty much run out of wall space anyhow.

What Boo didn't realize though is that, if I didn't have to buy any art that night, I might just have a few spare shekels for a bit of wine now.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bombino Bianco - Another Great Grape Name

Generally, I think it's worth it to pick up a bottle of wine when it features a grape varietal that's been previously unknown to me - especially when pronouncing the grape name is entertainment in itself.  I say, "generally," because I'd be hard pressed to throw down $30+ for a bottle just because it's exotic, but untried.

Luckily, I didn't have to face big coin to grab tonight's bottle.  Bombino Bianco might not be quite as romantic as saying Montepulciano d'Abbruzzo but it's still good fun compared to most of the grape varietals seen more regularly on the shelves.  And I get to add another grape to my Wine Century Club tally - #140, I do believe.

1287.  2008 Cantele - Telero Bombino Bianco (IGT Puglia - Italy)

When taking a look online to find something out about the varietal, I happened upon a great post on the Fringe Wine blog that tells a far more comprehensive story about the grape than I'd ever attempt.  I'm just going to quote an excerpt that I found wittily succinct:

"So our current situation is essentially this: we find ourselves in Puglia with a grape called Bombino Bianco, which is sometimes called Pagadebit, but which is different from the Pagadebit in Emilia-Romagna, or is at least different from some of the grapes called Pagadebit there, and which was also thought to be identical to Trebbiano d'Abruzzo, but is not.  Our Bombino is, as the Pagadebit synonym (and the more colourful Stacchia Cambiale synonym, meaning "tear up the invoices") suggests, a cash crop, grown primarily because it yields explosively and reliably.  Few producers bother with bottling the wine, and a great deal of it is shipped to Germany, where it is bottled as ordinary, anonymous EU Table Wine.  Nicolas Belfrage's assessment of the potential quality of the grape is summed up when he says 'Bombino Bianco can make as dull and tasteless a wine as you could hope to find.'  He mentioned that some producers are experimenting with lower yields in an effort to coax some character from the grape, but ultimately says that wines produced even from these estates are 'more for the drinker than the thinker.'"

Hardly a ringing endorsement of the grape or the wine, but this is where limited expectations and reasonable price tags help play a role in promoting exploration.

I have to say that there wasn't anything exciting to point out about this wine.  Expressive with neither acidity, nor fruit, it was more generic than delicious.  It's rather unlikely that Bombino Bianco is going to become our house white - that is, not until "our house" is a coastal home where we can sup on the daily catch while relaxing on our patio overlooking the Mediterranean.  The wine might suit that occasion - too bad that whole scenario is rather improbable.

In the mean time, while we face the day in Vancouver, I'm still pretty jacked about adding Bombino Bianco to my Wine Century Club tally.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Pinot Fit For a Lieutenant Governor

Seems like we're on a bit of a run with tasty wine choices. Our last couple bottles - the Skillogalee Cab and the Ostler Pinot Gris (both from the Southern Hemisphere) - were real treats.  We've returned closer to home tonight with an Okanagan Pinot Noir, but it definitely kept our streak of happening wines alive.  I'm not overly surprised that tonight's wine was thoroughly enjoyable since it won one of only eleven Lieutenant Governor's Awards for Excellence in BC wine in 2011.

Despite the fact that this is the third L-G Award that Stoneboat has won, it doesn't seem to me that the winery has achieved the cachet or cult status that some of the other big names in BC wine have garnered.  Indeed, I've probably added four or five Stoneboat wines to The List already, but it's not a winery that I particularly know much about or treat as an annual "must buy" producer.

The "lack" of bottles in our cellar may relate to the fact that there isn't a whole lot of Stoneboat wine to be found.  The winery only produces about 3500 cases annually and, as such, you won't find it on a whole lot of shelves around town.  I was lucky enough to grab this bottle when I made a quick, side trip visit to the winery while heading to the Okanagan for the 2011 BC Wine Appreciation Society Bus Tour.  The L-G Award had already been announced but, surprisingly, they still had a couple boxes of wine still available.

Lucky us!

1286.  2009 Stoneboat Pinot Noir (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Stoneboat is a small, family run operation.  Having only been open and releasing wines since 2007, that's still a relative newcomer to the BC scene.  That doesn't mean that they appeared one day and started selling wine the next however. The story goes that the Martiniuk family (mére et pére - or mother and father) was looking to relocate to the Okanagan back in 1979 and they set about looking for a vineyard to purchase.  They managed to purchase their estate property on the Black Sage Road; however, it wasn't a vineyard at the time.  There were no vineyards for sale and the current estate vineyard was originally a 15-acre orchard that they had to "settle" for.

As has been told many a time when discussing BC wine, the introduction of Free Trade with the US in the 80's saw an industry-wide ripping out of the old hybrid varietal vines.  So, the timing for the Martiniuks was probably fortuitous in that they didn't have to rely on or rip out already established vines.  Rather, they "simply" ripped out the old fruit trees and started looking at what varietals of vinifera vines might be appropriate for the region.  Father Martiniuk, Lanny, played a big part in planning the fledgling industry's future during the formative years of restructuring.  He has been a director of the BC Grape Growers Association, the Grape Marketing Board and the BC Wine Institute.  Lanny is also a successful grapevine propagator and has grown millions of vines for vineyards all over BC.  He used all that burgeoning experience to good effect when designing his own vineyards.

 I was advised at the winery tasting room that being as knowledgable about grapevines as he was, Lanny had identified a short stretch of the local Southern Okanagan bench that was slightly cooler than the surrounding area.  He was pretty sure that he'd never be able to fully ripen Cab Sauv or any of the other big red varietals that were being grown nearby; so, he planted that section with Pinot Noir.  Considering the fact that this is Stoneboat's second L-G Award for Pinot Noir, he must have been onto something.

This was a glass of Pinot that packed plenty on the nose and the palate; yet it remained subtle with its overall presentation.  I doubt you'd mistake it for some of the bigger Pinots that are being made by New World producers but the abundance of red fruit and candied spice (the Tasting Room called it "a hint of lavender that lingers on the palate") set it apart from any French Pinot that you'd likely find for the same price - being an entirely reasonable $25.

As mentioned, we found it very tasty and the bottle quickly disappeared.  I might not have been quick to find Stoneboat wines previously, but I might need to re-think that strategy down the line.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Special Ostler Pinot Gris

We saw some fresh sablefish today at Wheelhouse Seafoods, a new-ish fish market (to us anyhow) that we recently happened upon.  We don't make it to Granville Island very often; so, it's great finding good quality fish not far from where we live.

And I love sablefish.

Our find called for a nice fresh white and maybe even a bit of treat.  When I grabbed tonight's bottle, I didn't realize how much of a treat it was going to be.

1285.  2008 Ostler - Audrey's Pinot Gris (Waitaki Valley - New Zealand)

I'd picked this bottle up a couple of years back at the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival (at least it was called the Playhouse Festival back then) when New Zealand was one of the regional theme countries.  I can't say that I remembered much about the wine or the winery but there are over a thousand wines served up at the Festival; so, if I bought a bottle, I know that I liked it a lot at the time.

It only took one sip to know that I still did.

Ostler is a boutique producer of premium wines and are pioneering the development of a new cool climate region in the Waitaki Valley on New Zealand's South Island.  Among some additional wines from sourced fruit, Ostler produces two estate-grown wines - a Pinot Noir and this Pinot Gris - and they aim to catch the complexity of the region's limestone-based soils that are geologically unique to New Zealand in this region.

Ostler's website is full of intriguing information and it provided a nice insight into the production of the Pinot Gris - and to its rather unique profile.  This was a Pinot Gris unlike most of the Gris we find locally.  It was weightier with a greater depth of flavours on the palate.  If I hadn't seen the label, I would have thought this was an un-oaked, and very tasty, Chardonnay.  Indeed, winemaker Jeff Sinnott and owner Jim Jerram produce the wine by some engaging typical Chardonnay practices: four months of stirring the wine on its lees (spent yeast cells) and ageing it in older large format oak barrels.

Everything from the aromatic nose to the big, almost buttery, mouth-feel to the smooth integration of ripe tree fruit with a good hint of acidity just made this wine work.

Unfortunately, I think the Festival was a one-off opportunity to try the wine and it isn't regularly available in BC.  But I wouldn't hesitate to pick up some more if I ever saw some.  Granted, it came with a somewhat hefty sticker price of $38 - and that's on the high end for Pinot Gris - but I think it's one of those special wines that's worth the sticker price.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Magic Mike - Magical Cab

We'd completely intended to take in Magic Mike - the recent movie about male strippers - while it was still playing in the theatres.  Some movies just require that you take advantage of the big screen action. We never did see the movie in the theatres, even though we tried one night.  Turned out that the theatre had already sold out by the time we arrived.

Our miss at the big screen just meant that we got a more intimate showing at home when it came out on DVD.  The screen might not have been as big but watching it at home did mean that we could drink throughout the show - something that never would have happened in the theatre.

1284.  2004 Skillogalee - Trevarrick Single Contour Cabernet Sauvignon (Clare Valley - Australia)

We were expecting big things out the movie (pun intended); so, I grabbed a big Aussie that I figured would go with our lamb chops.  I just have a natural tendency to gravitate to Aussie wines whenever lamb is on the table and this bottle certainly lived up to expectations.  Indeed, I think it even outdid them.

This is one of those bottles that I must have picked up some time ago and then forgot the details about how, when, why or where.  Something tells me that I must have tried it at some tasting or another because it looks like it sells in the $60+ range.  Despite Boo's protestations that I buy way more wine than we need, I can honestly say that I don't lightly buy $60 bottles of wine - especially just to forget about them.

With the provenance of the bottle being hazy, I figured I needed to try and discover a little bit about it.  Skillogalee was established in 1970 in the Clare Valley - one valley beyond the Barossa and North of Adelaide.  With production still limited to approximately 15,000 cases, it's interesting that the winery is even marketed in Vancouver.

I'm glad it was (is?).  This was one extremely expressive Cab - quite reminiscent of the big, fruit forward reds coming out of Australia in the previous decade.  If the wine wasn't labelled as coming from the Clare Valley, I'd have guessed that it was from the Barossa.  I can't claim to know my way around the Clare much, but I generally hear and expect that Clare Valley wines are more restrained as the Clare is a touch more on the cool side than the Barossa is.  I usually think Riesling first when I hear of the Clare.  Riesling is more of a cool climate grape and, for that reason, I would have expected a Clare Cab to be more akin to a BC or French Cab.

The fact that the label says that the Cab vines struggle mightily in the vineyard and harvest is limited to about one ton per acre.  That certainly helps explain the exaggerated profile. I'm not going to hold that change in perception from a Clare Valley wine against this Trevarrick though. The load of dark fruit is pretty much what attracted me to Aussie wines in the first place and it would appear that this wine pleased a number of other folks as well.  The label sported five little gold medals on it and James Halliday - one of Australia's best known wine writers - awarded the wine 95 points.

Too bad I don't have another bottle laying around.  Surprises like this, I like.  And, it seemed to suit the brashness of Magic Mike.

With all the movies coming out in 3-D nowadays, I would have thought it a no-brainer to do up a movie about male strippers in that format.  I'm not so sure that it would have saved the movie but, if nothing else, it would have given the audience a little more something to grab onto.  Indeed, it could have given a whole new meaning to "two thumbs up."

Movie aside, I'm happy to say that the wine was a four-star production.  Two Thumbs up.  Way up.

Friday, November 9, 2012

International Tempranillo Day

I noticed that the Twitterverse decreed November 8 to be the 2nd International Tempranillo Day.  I'd love to celebrate with an impromptu flight to Spain but I'm afraid the closest I'm going to make it to seeing if it's raining on the plain is to fill my glass.  Spanish wines just naturally come to mind when Tempranillo is in the discussion, but I thought it might be interesting to try a rather rare BC Tempranillo along with a classic Rioja.  If the concept behind this international day is to revel in the diversity of the grape, a regional comparison sounds like a good starting point to me.

Perhaps best known for its medium tannins, acids, body, I think it's fair to say that Tempranillo is the signature grape of Spain.  Wine writer extraordinaire, Jancis Robinson, has even called it Spain's answer to Cabernet Sauvignon.  With the surge in popularity of Spanish wines over the last so many years, everyday drinkers are likely sipping the varietal a lot more than they realize.  While it's becoming more common to see Tempranillo as a varietal wine nowadays - especially when the wine comes from New World producers like California, Australia and even Canada - Spanish wines still regularly use the grape for blending.  Plus, the labels on Spanish wines generally concentrate on the regional source of the wine over the varietals themselves.

And that's pretty much where we've gone with our bottles tonight.

1282.  2001 Lopez de Herédia - Viña Tondonia Reserva (D.O.C. Rioja - Spain)

It's hard to believe that a 2001 vintage bottle is still the current release on local shelves, but that's often the case with Spanish wines - where it's customary for the wineries to do much of the ageing before a wine is released, especially with "reserva" and "grand reserva" wines where appellation laws dictate minimum ageing requirements.

I'm not familiar with Lopez de Herédia but I've learned that it is about as representative of old school Rioja winemaking as it gets.  The winery has more than 130 years of winemaking history.  Indeed, it was one of the first three wineries established in Rioja region.  Part of the growing allure for Spanish wines flows from the fact that many winemakers are adapting to the modern wine world and working on the quality of the wines being released.  Lopez de Herédia hasn't found that necessary.  Their position is that they've worked on quality all along and they continue to emphasize traditional winemaking habits.  In reviewing the 2001 Tondonia Reserva, Robert Parker (perhaps the leading arbiter of wine scores) even advised that technology is noticeable at the winery by its absence.

That statement didn't stop Parker from awarding the wine 95 points though and then declaring that it "bridled with a lovely nose of decayed red fruit, fireside hearth and a touch of mulberry and small red cherry," while tasting of crisp red fruits like strawberry and cranberry.  I can't say that I caught those notes on the nose (especially the "decayed" fruit and "fireside hearth") but I'll give him the red fruit on the palate.

As mentioned earlier, Tempranillo is often blended and that is regularly the case in Rioja - although, even when blended, the varietal traditionally forms the backbone of the wine. The 2001 Tondonia Reserva is prime example where it's 75% Tempranillo with the balance being 15% Garnacha (or Grenache) and a bit of Graciano and Mazuelo making up the remaining 10%.

1283.  2008 La Frenz Tempranillo (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

The BC bottle, on the other hand, is a 100% varietal wine.  There isn't much Tempranillo grown in the Okanagan to start but to see the grape being made into a purely varietal wine is indeed rare.  I've only run across a few other wineries - like Stag's Hollow, Twisted Tree (now Moon Curser) and Inniskillin - that have worked with the grape and I think those forays have all been fairly recent and they've all been more of a discovery process than a commitment to building a winery around the varietal.

I think a primary reason for the introduction of the grape locally is that wineries can now bank a little more reliably on the name recognition of the grape and there are some indications that the varietal might be well suited to parts of the Okanagan Valley.  The grape is known as an early ripener - which certainly suits the Okanagan - however, it can also be temperamental.  The grape likes heat for ripening but it doesn't like it too hot and it thrives in regions that have good cooling influences.  Neither drought, nor high humidity, are seen as favourable growing conditions.  In Spain, the grape is traditionally grown at higher elevations in the mountains.  The Okanagan can certainly offer those warm days and cool nights as well.  Issues for the Okanagan growers are perhaps more that the grape is particularly susceptible to disease and pests and that it doesn't like doesn't like sandy soils so much.

We're a long ways from seeing if Tempranillo can gain a foothold in the Valley's vineyards.  The La Frenz wine was all around lighter in stature and higher in acidity when compared to the Tondonia, but then the local vines are still young and won't have reached mature production levels yet.  Plus, the Spanish wine was fleshed out with the additional grapes.  It's no small fact to compare the prices of the two wines though.  The La Frenz - even with its small lot production - came in at $22 while the Rioja is more of a specialty wine at $50+.  Good thing it's a specialty kind of day.

As for our reactions, I preferred the Rioja while Boo liked the La Frenz.  Nothing new on that front.  Our palates are often found favouring the other glass.  All the more reason for us to have a full assortment of bottles available.  I think it also means that we need to add a vacation in Spain to the bucket list.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Four More Years

As a Canadian, I certainly play no role - legitimate or otherwise - in the American presidential election.  As a Canadian, I do feel, however, that my day-to-day life gets affected by the directions that American politics veer - and that's not only because I'm married to an US citizen.  (Or, should I say that I'm considered married in Canada and at least a handful of American states.)

That lack of direct input aside, I'm still fascinated - and perhaps a little scared - by the theatre that is American politics.  And so, it was with rapt attention that I sat glued to the television as results streamed in from across the country.  I was rather hopeful that the final result would have been declared somewhat earlier in the evening, but at least I'm on the West Coast and didn't have to stay up too late after my bedtime.

Such an important night for the US seemed to call out, obviously, for an American wine.  So I pulled out a bottle that we'd picked up in Seattle.  Canadian duty limitations are so strict that we're only legally allowed two bottles of wine per person after a 48-hour stay State-side.  (Tell me I wouldn't be among the first to vote against that law!)  That doesn't allow a whole lot of room for experimentation with my wine buys.  Accordingly, as a rule, I go into one of the top wine shops in town, tell them my dilemma and ask what wines they'd buy if faced with the same limitations.  This was one of the bottles that came highly recommended.

1281.  2006 Bunnell Family Cellar Syrah (Horse Heaven Hills AVA - Washington)

I'd have to have been pointed in the direction of this wine as I knew nothing - and still know little - about the winery.  The winery's website advises that owner/winemaker, Ron Bunnell, is hoping to build a family legacy after years of making wine at such well known operations as Chateau Ste. Michelle, Beringer Vineyards and Kendall-Jackson (and, even as a Canuck without much knowledge in American wines, I know all three of these).

Bunnell left Chateau Ste. Michelle, where he was helping to spearhead the ambitious Col Solare project, in 2004, to start making wines under the family name.  They now specialize in small lot batches of Rhône varietal wines.  Indeed, only 370 cases of this Horse Heaven Hills wine was made.  Although the winery now produces wines from estate grown grapes as well, the fruit for this wine was sourced from growers in Horse Heaven Hills - the neatly named sub-appellation of the Columbia Valley that is home to some of the most highly regarded grapes in the state.

BC's own Okanagan Valley is becoming well regarded for its Syrah/Shiraz wines; so, it should be no surprise that neighbouring Washington state is producing some winners as well.  Like many BC wines, I found this to straddle the profiles of the French Rhônes and bigger Aussie Shiraz.  The dark fruit was there but it was far from jammy.

I think I would have enjoyed the wine regardless of what I see as a favourable outcome in the election, but I'm glad I didn't have to test that theory.

I do know that there's not much chance of running across a wine like this on our side of the border.  I shall have to be thankful that, despite some political differences, we Canadians can still cross the 49th Parallel as easily as we can to grab some more tasty American wines.

Until that next visit of mine, here's a toast to four more years with President Obama - and to an even greater hope that politicians of all stripes - and the American people - can find some bridges across the Democrat/Republican chasm that seems to be - at least this Canadian - an ever widening gap.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A New Addition to The Bench

As I've written recently, Mr. D and I managed a quick weekend to Penticton and the Naramata Bench a couple of weeks back for the Red Rooster Adopt-A-Row Fall Harvest party.  I'm not kidding when I say that it was a quick weekend.  Most of our available time was spent with the gang at Red Rooster, but Mr. D. and I had a small window of opportunity to take in a couple tasting rooms between picking grapes and heading out for the winemaker's dinner.

I'd really hoped to fit in one of the newest wineries on the Bench.  I didn't know much about the wines of Upper Bench but I had read that Shana Miller, wife of owner/winemaker, Gavin Miller, was creating a buzz of her own with her Upper Bench cheeses.  Whenever we're lucky enough to be in the Okanagan, I try to load up on some of the legendary Poplar Grove cheeses.  Well, Shana was a cheesemaker with Poplar Grove and she's brought her ample skills with her to the new operations.

Suffice it to say that I'm going to keep hoping that their production levels build to the point where they can provide some cheese to one of the Vancouver cheese shops because I won't be able to make it to the Okanagan often enough to keep it in stock in our fridge.  If they can get it down here, I don't think Les Amis du Fromage would have any problem finding customers for the assortment of beautiful cow milk cheeses.

I picked up the three cheeses that they had available at the moment and it only made sense to try an Upper Bench wine when we chowed down on the King Cole semi-soft blue.

1280.  2011 Upper Bench Riesling (Okanagan Valley)

Having only purchased the winery in 2011 as part of the Holman Lang receivership, the Millers have spent the last year renovating the winery, setting up the cheesery and re-working the vineyards.  It's far too early to be able to pass judgement on where Gavin is going to take the winery, but he sports quite the pedigree himself.  Even if you don't recognize Gavin's name, anyone who knows the big guns in BC wine will likely have tried a wine that he's been involved with.   He's recently been a winemaker at both Poplar Grove and Painted Rock - two wineries that are intimately familiar with the production of award-winning wines.

Gavin wasn't in charge of the vineyards at the start of the 2011 vintage; so, Upper Bench's wines will, no doubt, see change in the years to come.  I think the Riesling stands on its own already though - not that it's going to be easy to find.  There were only 112 cases made.   The wine's got a touch of sweet on the palate but there's plenty of acidity to give it a nice contrast.  There's also plenty of fruit - to the point of tropical, even.  Regular readers of the blog will know that I'm a big Riesling fan.  I'd have no problem coming back to this bottle at all.

I've got to say that I'm not entirely sold on the logo though.  I asked the young lady manning the tasting room about its provenance and she said that the "U" is meant to represent a wineglass - minus the better part of the stem.  I said, "Yeah, I suppose I can see that," but she let out a big guffaw when I told that the "U" really reminded me of a saggy, old boob though.  After she'd stopped laughing, she told us that no one had come out with that one yet and that she couldn't wait to lay that one on Gavin.

I may never be able to see the logo in another light now.  I suppose, however, that, if it's got to be a saggy old boob, I'll just have to associate it with mother's milk or the cow's udder needed to make all that fine cheese.  Either way, I'm happy to welcome Upper Bench to the Bench.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Another Prairie Fairies Fowl Supper for the Annals

Being a born and raised Vancouverite, I have no first hand knowledge of the Prairie phenomenon of the annual fowl supper - a tradition where, apparently, every town, large or small, holds at least one community dinner to celebrate the Fall harvest and to share in a down-home turkey dinner.  Each town and supper sports its own style and traditions, but my guess is that none of them come close to matching the flare of Vancouver's own classic - the annual Prairie Fairies Fowl Supper.

This year's event was the 13th Annual and it is the signature event for the Fillmore Family Foundation.  The Prairie Fairies Fowl Supper started in 1997, when "a group of Saskatchewan transplants" held the first event in an historic Vancouver church basement for 85 guests.  The early years of the dinner saw such growth in popularity that the dinner continually had to move to larger venues - until it arrived at its current home at the Hellenic Community Centre where it sells out to 700 guests.

It's a "can't miss" ticket for Boo and me.  We gather up a gang and our loose change and head out to stuff ourselves on turkey and saskatoon berry pie. It's become such a regular event on so many people's calendar that it's often the only time each year that we bump into some old friends and acquaintances.

The Fowl Supper has morphed into a major fundraiser over the years.  Prior to this year's dinner, the Foundation had raised over $440,000 for a variety of non-profit agencies that deliver programs and services in the areas of nutrition, housing and health.  This year's beneficiaries are A Loving Spoonful, Out In Schools and McLaren Housing Society.  There's little doubt that the most visible face of the Foundation is Linda Fillmore - a feisty "Prairie widow" with a taste for naughty double entendres and lavish outfits.  She's a very naughty girl  - but one with a big heart and pure prairie fairy resolve.

A perennial highlight of the event is the jelly salad contest.  If you're looking for inventive ideas for your next jelly salad, you only need attend one of these dinners.  Winners have included a curling sheet, a map of Saskatchewan (complete with grain silos), a child's fishbowl and this year's jelly portrait of Linda herself.  The salads are often neither enticing, nor edible - who knew Barbie could play a role in so many rude jello activities - but they're always fun.  I had the greatest intention of entering this year's contest but I was thwarted, earlier in the day, when I was preparing to start my multi-levelled extravaganza and discovered that I needed to leave it in the fridge overnight to gel.  Ooops.  Guess there's always next year.

Being a Prairie-inspired event, beer is the most prevalent beverage, but it is a largely gay event as well.  So, there are wines and cocktails to be found.  I've just come to realize that the wines are going to be limited in scope and excitement.

1279.  2012 Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc (W.O. Western Cape - South Africa)

We opted for the Sauv Blanc so that I'd at least have one bottle to add to The List.  After all, I needed some reason to write about the evening on a wine blog.  Let's just say that the Fillmore's have been serving Two Oceans at their events for a couple years now and, while it's a drinkable, bargain wine, the Fowl Supper is generally the only time I grab a bottle.

Our gang this year was a mix of regulars - like Mr. D., Elzee and Tyrant - and a threesome of newbies.  It was the first dinner for Mr. Principled, Nature Boy and KFP and I think they all enjoyed themselves.  With this year's Barn Dance theme, I was hoping to get in a little two-stepping or a Boot Scootin' Boogie but Boo wasn't feeling all that well and we left before the dancing really got under way.

Whether or not my boots got to boogie, it's safe to say that the evening was another big success.  One more Fowl Supper under the belt.  Another wine added to The List.  Big bucks to charity.  What's not to like?  Now, I just have to be better prepared to finish a jellied salad for next year.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


On occasion, I look back and wonder how ten years can have come and gone at our current abode next month.  Ten years?  Already?

As I've mentioned previously in the blog, we were part of a six-pack of neighbours that all moved into the hood at the same time - and we hit it off as everyone hopes you'll hit it off with new neighbours.  That original six dropped down to two when, this summer, we saw a change in the home next door.  Gatu Bela and Danchuk decided to move onwards - and hopefully upwards.  We hadn't heard much from them since the move but we rallied for a little get together as I knew they'd just returned from a vacation in Italy.  There was grand news of La Dolce Vita and of their recent moves - and enquiring minds needed to know.

A little BYO appies, another set of neighbours - Baby Mama & K-Pop (the old Arty400 in his new persona) and a lot of wine and chat.  The night was set.

N.V. Villa Teresa Prosecco Vino Frizzante (Prosecco DOC - Italy)

Naturally, Venice was a part of the Italian itinerary and Gatu Bela's delivery of the Prosecco was no-brainer.  I didn't think to take a picture of our initial toast to the evening because I knew that the Villa Teresa had already been added to The List.  I should have taken a shot all the same because we had a guest liquor as well.  Prosecco and Aperol is a classic Spritz cocktail to pass an evening in Venetian campi or squares.  After looking for the aperitif in Vancouver, without success, for a couple of years, I learned that the provincial liquor board was now carrying the almost neon orange bottle of Aperol.  Since that happy moment, we've been introducing a good number of our friends a different taste of Italy.

Gatu Bela and Danchuk had seen all the stylish Italians sipping away on Spritz, but they never discovered what the drink was.  Looks like they came to the right place.

1276.  2009 Wyndham Estate - Bin 444 Cabernet Sauvignon (SouthEastern Australia)

The old neighbours are vegetarian; so, I figured we could make good use of one of the pumpkins leftover from Halloween.  Little did I know that a squash chill recipe that I have calls for red wine.  The bottle of Wyndham Estate was sitting on the counter as a client had given it to me at work today.  Seemed like an easy choice.  And, once it had been opened, the cooking wine became wine for the cook - and guests.

Receiving and opening up the Wyndham Estate was a bit of a coincidence in that I just posted an older vintage Show Reserve from the winery a couple of weeks back - and it was the first wine I'd added to The List from the big Aussie producer.  None in three and a half years; then, two in two weeks.

This is more of an entry level Cab - an easy drinker that works well for an evening like tonight and really nicely as a cooking wine.

1277.  2010 Catena Zapata - High Mountain Vines Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

Having been a caterer for many a year (including Boo's and my commitment ceremony and legal wedding ceremony both), Gatu Bela knows just how well Malbec goes over with a crowd and she brought along one from Catena Zapata - the winery that is often credited with putting Argentine wines on the international wine map.  Being such a large producer, I can find Catena's brands to be a tad confusing at times - especially if you count in all the Argentine labels that wouldn't normally make it to the international market - but the Catena label is reliable and straight forward as the winery's mid-level (of three) international labels.

The wine sees a blend of fruit from four of the winery's vineyards in Mendoza - each with its own idiosyncrasies and fruit profiles due to different altitudes and growing conditions.  At $22 in the Vancouver market, there are definitely cheaper Malbecs on the shelves but the added complexity and smooth integration of fruit, tannin and acidity makes it worth the extra dollars.

1278.  N.V. Bear Flag - Soft White Blend (California)

Danchuk brought along the Bear Flag after being seduced by its extravagant label (the winery website calls it "crazy").  Indeed, how could anyone not notice the label and bottle when you wander by it on the shelf?  Naturally, I neglected to take a close up picture of the bottle, but you can still see it smack dab in the middle of the table if you look at the picture.  It really was there.

Being a non-vintage wine, I think it's safe for you to assume that the winemakers are going for a consistent taste profile that isn't going to change with each passing vintage.  The goal for the wine at hand is rather self-evident with its name - Soft White Blend.  It's a slightly off-dry, easy drinker that's a blend of five varietals: Muscat of Alexandria, Symphony, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and French Colombard.  The producers have a definite market in mind with this style of wine - and I'm not so sure that I'm part of that demographic. I'm actually a fan of interesting white blends like this but I found the Soft White to have an emphasis of sweet over complexity.  I think I'd pay the extra bucks and grab a bottle of Sokol Blosser's Evolution, Red Rooster's Bantam or Stoneboat's Chorus if I were going to go the innovative blend route.

One great aspect of the Bear Flag for me though is that I get to add two of those five grape varietals to my Wine Century Club tally.  Symphony and French Colombard are both new to my list (although I'm pretty sure they've shown up in other blends as minor components previously).

Yee haw.  Great stories and memories of Italy.  Fun with neighbours old and new.  And new additions to The List and the Wine Century Club.  Not bad as far as Friday nights go, I'd say.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Jack Craves a Little CedarCreek Syrah

1275. 2003 CedarCreek Syrah (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I think our pumpkin had its mouth wide open because it wanted more of this wine.  As in, you know, like "open wide."

Once again, I found myself opening an older vintage wine (for BC wines anyhow) with a bit of trepidation.  CedarCreek is certainly one of the established guard in BC wines - and it's a well earned reputation - but I'm not sure that even they see a lot of their wines being opened almost a decade later.  This particular bottle doesn't even show up on the winery's handy Maturation Chart.

There needn't have been any concern with this bottle though.  All it did was remind me of how much I loved the 2005 vintage of this wine - and that was possibly my favourite CedarCreek wine of all time.

Velvety smooth, with nice dark fruit.  This was the only bottle that we have and that's the only sad thing about the bottle.

I can't recall having tried any of CedarCreek's more recent vintages of Syrah.  Obviously, I should be. Syrah just isn't the first varietal that comes to mind when I think CedarCreek.  Their Platinum Pinot Noir and Ehrenfelser wines, admittedly, are likely foremost.  I think I might need to keep an eye open for a couple of the more recent bottles though.

I'd hate to be missing out - because the pumpkin got them instead of me.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Halloween arrived and so did one god awful stormy night.  I think the correct phrasing should be "something wicked this way CAME" - as in past-present and past tense.  When I arrived home from work, I wondered if we were going to see any kids trick-or-treating at all, given the rain.  As luck would have it, the kids' love for the night was stronger than the rain clouds were.  The rain paused for an hour or two and we saw our standard 100+ kids come to the door.

The scare of rain was enough to drive a guy to drink though.  Not that I'm ever really in need of an excuse.

1274.  2008 R Wines - Skulls Shiraz (South Australia)

Described by the provincial liquor board as "midnight in a glass," I figured
Skulls - and its distinctive label - was fitting for a Halloween sip.  It's been called a "monster" for a legitimate reason.  It comes in at 16.9% alcohol - and what's really scary is that you don't even notice all that alcohol because it's hidden by all sorts of intense fruit and big body.   If you're looking for some of the newer Aussie wines that are holding back for a more refined style, this isn't going to be your wine.

R Wines isn't exactly known for its subtlety though.  They're the folks that produce the Bitch and Evil brands among others.  And, like those others labels, this is a tasty sip - if you can handle and enjoy your wines big and fruit forward.

Even if you haven't tried any of the R Wines labels, you might well have come across or heard of winemaker, Chris Ringland.  During the 1990's, he founded his Three Rivers winery in Australia but only made 60 cases of wine a year.  His wine became a cult favourite though, known as the Screaming Eagle of Australia, when Robert Parker awarded him with four 100 scores and two 99's in nine vintages.  The wine was soon commanding prices that can run around $500+ a bottle.  He also teamed up with Sparky and Sarah Marquis, now of Mollydooker, to start the Marquis Philips label from 2000 to 2005.  I understand that Ringland still has the Marquis Philips label even though the Marquis' are no longer involved.  On top of that line and R Wines, he consults with projects in Australia, Spain and Italy.

Busy guy.

Given the strength of the wine, we were lucky that our sipping was continually interrupted by knocking at the door.  After a steady stream of super heroes, robots and zombies, we turned off the Thriller music and closed the door.  Lo and behold, there was enough of the bottle left for us to fill our glasses and take to the sidewalk to watch fireworks hit the neighbourhood skies.

Neighbourhood fun and monster wine in the glass.  Not a bad evening, I'd say.