Sunday, January 27, 2013

Pac Rim Cup

Much like the Canucks game the other night, I'm not expecting much on the wine front from the weekend at hand. Our curling league is hosting its annual Pac Rim Bonspiel and our team opted to take part - even though we haven't exactly been setting the league on fire this year. I say that I'm "not expecting much on the wine front" because, even though curling is about as social a game as it gets - particularly in the lounge following the game - beer tends to rule.

And far be it from me to buck the beer trend - especially when the other team is buying. Seeing as how the bonspiel takes up the better part of the weekend, you have to know that I'll find a way to fit in a bottle of wine or two though. We did have two dinners at the club after all.

Problem - such as it is - is that the club doesn't exactly have an extensive wine list to choose from. And, if memory serves, it hasn't changed since the doors opened two seasons back.

1250.  N.V. [yellow tail] Pinot Grigio (Australia)

Faced with a combined sushi and Chinese food dinner, I figured the [yellow tail] would be a decent, if generic, match. Indeed, the wine was as expected but I was intrigued by the fact that the brand seems to be undergoing some changes. I've previously added a 2008 vintage Pinot Gris from [yellow tail] to The List but I noted that there was no vintage shown for this bottle. I followed that discovery up with a question at the big, government liquor store and the staff hadn't noticed the change themselves. However, I see that the brand's distributor in BC now shows most of [yellow tail]'s varietal wines as being non-vintage.

I know that Casella Wines, the company that makes [yellow tail], has been in the news lately as it is facing financial issues due to the steady rise of the Australian dollar against the American greenback. The wine's brand has been largely based on its affordability and the Wall Street Journal reports [yellow tail] relies on the US for three-quarters of its total sales. As such, the company faces a scenario where it can no longer produce the wine within its traditional price range, but its hands may be tied regarding any flexibility in raising its prices.

I don't really see how the dollar's rise would affect vintage designation on the bottle but it is a bit of intrigue surrounding the brand that so many wine lovers love to hate.

For those not familiar with a curling bonspiel or tournament - especially a large one involving 32 teams - there can be a fair bit of down time. Hence, the predominance of socializing and social drinking - be it beer, wine, scotch (especially for those kilt toting Scots) or shooters. During one lull, we found ourselves in the middle of game of Trivial Pursuit. I can't remember the last time I played the game but it's a good thing that we did because it was about the only game that I won all weekend.

Our team is a new one this year and I think it's fair to say that we were just a little out of our league in the bonspiel. We've got a full year's experience between our lead and second players and, as luck would have it, our draw had us facing some pretty seasoned teams. Our one team win came against the Curling Housewives who had even less experience than we did and they didn't even know how to hold the broom properly as a guide on how to take the next shot. At least they were fun to play - even if the win against them didn't do much to boost our egos.

1251. 2011 Pascual Toso Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

Our second bottle at the bonspiel was another easy drinker - an easy drinker with a strong reputation for over delivering on value mind you. Exactly what you need when the boys are chomping down on a burger while debating the previous game's shots and misses.

Actually, there's not a lot of need for team debates over shots with our guys. We'll take a win over a loss any day, but we're not exactly going to cry into our beers (or wine) if we don't happen to pull out a win.

Besides there's always next year and, by then, we'll be that much more seasoned. And, maybe, I'll sneak in a bottle of bubbly to celebrate that expected big win to come.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The 2013 Annual AWAS Gala Dinner

Amongst its variety of tastings, Vancouver's Australian Wine Appreciation Society hosts an annual Gala Dinner and for the last five years, it's been building on a tradition of raiding the society's cellar and creating the dinner around 10-year old wines that have been salted away by our cellar master. The evening's assortment of wines included some promising treats - despite the fact that the dinner started with a caution that 2003 was a difficult vintage for most of Australia.

2003 might have been a year of rains and short growing seasons but you wouldn't have known it from the wines that we were poured. I guess it just goes to show that the best winemakers can still pull off good wines in challenging vintages. Production levels might be down and 100-point scores might be missing, but the best wines still manage to make a statement.

The dinner was held at Tramonto Restaurant at the River Rock Casino and the evening's menu had some treats to match the wines. Plate-wise, a favourite of Boo's and mine was the parsnip velouté with duck confit and balsamic pear chutney. The '03 Rockford Semillon and Vasse Felix Chardonnay weren't my favourite pours of the night - as the whites showed a little more age than I tend to appreciate - but the soup more than made up for it. I held back from licking the bowl clean but I was sorely tempted. The Grosset Polish Hill Riesling (from an earlier course) fared a bit better for me. Even so, the minerality that showed prominently with its age made it a difficult match for the sweet shellfish that it was served with.

The reds hit a much better note for me - and they weren't even being paired with lamb. I'm not sure that I remember the last Aussie-themed dinner I attended that didn't feature a bit of lamb on the menu. Smoked sablefish and stuffed chicken leg filled in for the lamb tonight and we were none-the-worse for it (and that's coming from a great lover of lamb). Another surprise - beyond the lack of lamb - was the fact that a Samuel's Gorge Shiraz from McLaren Vale was poured. I'd never heard of Samuel's Gorge until last Spring when Boo and I spent a couple days in the region and Samuel's Gorge was the winery right down the road from where we were staying at Chapel Hill. Here, I thought we'd cottoned on to a hidden gem and AWAS has had some of their wine in the cellar for years.

The Samuel's Gorge was paired with a Shiraz from Heartland. This is a project of well known Aussie winemaker Ben Glaetzer and this Shiraz hails from the lesser known Limestone Coast and Fleurieu Peninsula that is a little further south of McLaren Vale. It was interesting that neither Shiraz was from the Barossa. Indeed, it was the Rockford Cab Sauv that hailed from the Barossa and it was matched with a Coonawarra St. Hugo's Cab from Jacob's Creek.

1249.  2003 Elderton Botrytis Semillon (Riverina - Australia)

All the reds delivered nicely and I'd be hard pressed to pick a favourite from them. The one bottle that I'm going to add to The List from the Gala, however, is an Aussie take on classic Sauternes. Tramonto's chef took the promised tropical notes and luscious richness of this Elderton treat to heart and served it with a first for me: deep fried crème brûlée and pineapple carpaccio.

Yup. Anyone. Anytime. Anywhere. If you're going to end my dinner with crème brûlée and dessert wine, you're likely sending me home a happy Bob. That was definitely the case tonight. I'm not sure how one deep fries crème brûlée but I'm more than willing to risk the additional calories to try it out again.

For the moment though, we'll just have to wait to see what surprises will be in store for next year's dinner and the selection of the 2004 vintage wines.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Big & Brooding - Was That the Canucks or the Wine?

The NHL lockout was a problem that never should have reached the point of futility that it did and saving the 2013 NHL season may have been a last-minute solution, but I was happy to see a resolution all the same. It's a rare occasion that I get to attend a game at the best of times. So, with half the number of games being played this year, getting an invite from Blade to join him at a game against the Calgary Flames was a highly unexpected treat.

Luckily Blade and I would even be able to cheer for the same team for this game. Being a transplanted Albertan, Blade's heart is still with his old hometown team; however, that's Edmonton. Not Calgary. As such, I didn't have to worry about having a beer dumped over my head because I'm sitting with a dude in an Oiler jersey. Edmonton and Calgary may both be in Alberta but there's a grand old rivalry between them - and an Oiler fan is technically allowed to hope that the Canucks beat the Flames.

1248. 2009 Black Cloud Altostratus Pinot Noir (Okanagan Valley)

Hockey arenas aren't exactly known as meccas of fine wine. Beer tends to rule. Knowing that we wouldn't be adding a bottle to The List at the actual game, we grabbed a bite to eat beforehand. Naturally, that involved working on a little, strategic pre-game preparation. Our thought was to go with a lighter red to match the different pizza toppings. Little did we know that we ordered one big, old slapshot of a wine.

Black Cloud is Brad Cooper's sideline venture. Between his day job as winemaker at Township 7, his wine consultant business and his active presence in the social media scene (@bradinator is his Twitter handle), I'm not sure how he fits in the extra activity that is his virtual winery. How he arrived at Black Cloud is a story in itself. Numerous articles have recounted how, through his consultancy business, he had produced some 2008 Pinot Noir for a client who was then unable to pay for the wine due to the business crash that followed. Brad took the wine as payment in lieu and the financial "black cloud" that appeared over his family's head turned in the virtual winery that it has become.

Brad has been winemaker at Township 7 since 2005 and, while at Township 7, he has produced a number of award-winning wines including his 2006 Reserve Chardonnay that was named Best Chardonnay in Canada at the 2008 All Canadian Wine Awards. Brad's 2007 chardonnay was also honoured by being served to Queen Elizabeth at a state dinner.  The winery, however, has encouraged his Black Cloud endeavour as Township 7 doesn't produce a Pinot Noir of its own.

While Township 7 has a wide range of wines available, Black Cloud produces Pinot Noir exclusively - and there isn't a lot of it. I was actually quite surprised to see it on the restaurant menu as there was only about 130 cases produced of the '09 Altostratus. Pinot Noir has become a much produced and well known grape variety in the Okanagan but this is as intense a version as I can recall having tasted. I found the wine loaded with much darker fruit and the body far more robust than I normally associate with BC Pinot - but you know, headed to a hockey game like we are, I'm thinking these are some traits that I wouldn't mind associating with the Canucks.

Robust. Big. Brooding. That's a Canuck team that I'd have no problem getting behind.

Unfortunately, I forgot to bring along my camera. So, the phone shot of the bottle doesn't do the label justice. Nor do I have a shot of the game itself. Suffice it to say that the Canucks did pull off a win - even if it did go to a shootout. The may not have embodied all of the traits that our evening's wine exhibited, but a win's a win in my book.

I hope it's not too trite to say that I'm hoping that Brad is finding that mythical "silver lining" that is supposed to accompany that original black cloud. Lord knows, I'm hoping for a great Canucks' season this year as a silver lining to the black cloud that was the hockey lockout. Indeed, cheers to silver linings.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Minister and a Blaster Walk Into a Church...

One of the most discussed topics in the BC winemaking world (even if it is more prevalent with pundits than it is with winemakers) is whether or not BC should have a signature grape. Indeed, the University of British Columbia Alumni Association is even hosting a panel debate and tasting on the topic in a couple of weeks.

That being said, the next wine to be added to The List is about as strong an argument as there is against a signature varietal wine. It might present an argument for promoting blended white wines as the region's signature, but that's a little different now. Isn't it?

1247. 2010 Blasted Church - Hatfield's Fuse (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I think it's fair to say that Hatfield's Fuse has become a signature wine for Blasted Church. More Hatfield's Fuse is made than any other wine by the winery and it is perhaps the easiest wine to find in local stores. Being a blend of nine different grape varieties, it is often compared to popular California wine Conundrum. The list of grapes going into the wine - Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Optima and Ehrenfelser - is pretty much a what's what of the primary white grapes grown in the Valley. Indeed, according to the 2011 BC Wine Institute Crop Report, the first seven grapes in Hatfield's Fuse are the top seven white varieties grown in the province by both volume and value.

The wine may be a blend but it is hardly a hodgepodge of leftover wine once all the varietal wines have been completed. It's true that each variety is vinified separately from each other until the final blend is assembled; however, most winemakers will tell you that blends are often much harder to assemble than individual varietal wines are to make. The Blasted Church website also refers to different processes - such as cold soaking some of the Pinot Gris and whole bluster pressing a portion of the Gewürztraminer - to best capture varietal expressions and add complexity to the blend.

Beyond liking the easy drinking profile of the wine, I like the fact that the name and label captures much of the whimsy behind the winery's marketing. In his The Wineries of British Columbia, John Schreiner tells the tale of how the winery's name came about. "There is a century-old wooden church in Okanagan Falls that originally was in Fairview, the long-vanished mining community near Oliver. In 1929, when the church was dismantled to move it, the crew loosened the nails from the sturdy timbers by exploding dynamite inside the building." Harley Hatfield was the foreman of the crew that dismantled the church. Hence, Hatfield's Fuse.

I'm finding myself drawn more and more to these BC blends when it comes to approachable whites. Along with Red Rooster's Bantam and Stoneboat's Chorus, these blends seem to nicely capture the big fruit that Okanagan wines are known for and, yet, I find the blending adds a complexity that isn't always there with the single varietals. I say "Keep the blends coming."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

This Is What We've Been Waiting For?!

Seeing as how tonight is the start of the 2013 NHL season, I thought it only natural to go with a bit of a hockey theme. It seems that, throughout last summer and this Fall's league lockout, the biggest - if not only - hockey topic in Vancouver has been what's going to happen in the Canuck goal crease? Who will Luongo be traded to? Is there even any interest in his contract? Who would be your dream choice of a player in exchange?

Well, it's opening night and we still have two goalies.

So, what could be a better choice of wine than one called The Goal?

1246. 2010 Bartier Bros. The Goal (VQA Okanagan Valley)

The "Bros." part in the winery's name refers to brothers, Don and Michael Bartier. Raised in the Okanagan Valley, their lives have taken divergent paths - that is, until they decided to combine their areas of expertise in this joint venture. Don had spent years in Alberta as an accountant while Michael has been making a name for himself as a winemaker for well-known Okanagan producers Hawthorne Mountain, Township 7 and Road 13. Business acumen meets wine skills - sounds like a good start.

The Bartiers have taken to naming their wines after notable accomplishments by exceptional people. "The Goal is a nod to the Penticton Vees downing Russia 5-1 in the 1955 World Hockey Championship."

Who knows? Maybe they could name a new wine after this hockey season should the Canucks manage to win the Stanley Cup.

Bartier Bros. is one of the original participants at Okanagan Crush Pad - the custom crush facility that allows winemakers to utilize on-site equipment and make smaller production vintages without all the costs of buying expensive equipment. The 2010 vintage was already in barrel by the time the Crush Pad opened in 2011; however, newer vintages will have benefitted from the centralized facilities.

As for The Goal, the 2010 vintage is a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc and Syrah (40/30/30) - all of the fruit having been sourced from the Black Sage Road.  Bottled under screwcap, The Goal was still filling our glasses as a big wine with a good bit of life left in it for ageing and mellowing out. We found that, when drinking the wine on its own, the dark fruit was overpowered a bit by the heft of the tannins. That heft lightened up, however, when we paired it with the flank steak that we grilled up and the bottle had been exposed to the air for awhile.

Unfortunately, the game itself didn't quite match up to expectations. After months of waiting for the lockout to end, our boys gave up an early lead against the Anaheim Ducks and ended up getting skunked 7-3. Ouch! After all this time, that's what we were waiting for? Not exactly the start to the season we'd all wanted!

My guess is that we'll be pouring more than a couple of bottles as the hockey season carries on and that there'll be ups and downs during those games. "The goal" around here will just have to be to continually serve up winning wines as the boys hit the ice. We'll simply have to wait to see if we'll be toasting a change in the Vancouver goal soon or whether the team will continue with a 1-2 punch that has to be the envy of most other teams.

With any luck, everyone will be drinking celebratory tipples out the Canucks' first Stanley Cup at the end of the season! I'll raise a toast to that possibility! THAT will have been worth the wait!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Last Chalet Syrah

With the BC Wine Appreciation Society's Great Syrah Taste Off just around the corner, I thought I would pull out our last of an older BC Syrah that - as I recalled - pulled in a bit of hardware of its own in the day. If memory serves, we picked up this bottle some years back when we were visiting Bella Jianna and Flyboy B on Vancouver Island.

Chalet Estate, as it was then known, was just down the road from our favourite Island couple's abode and the four of us managed to fit in a bit of a tour.

1245. 2004 Chalet Estate Syrah (Okanagan Valley)

Okay, when considering this wine, the first thing you might have to do is wrap your mind around and reconcile "award winning Syrah" and "Vancouver Island." And you'd be correct in wondering. As the label notes, these grapes weren't Island grown but were sourced from the Okanagan Valley. Indeed, I'm not aware of anyone who's tried to commercially produce Syrah on Vancouver Island - where even the "cool climate" Okanagan seems downright tropical. But, that doesn't mean that this Island winery didn't still offer up one tasty red.

Chalet Estate is found near the top of the Saanich Peninsula, not far from Victoria and it was one of the first wineries to set up shop in the region. The winery was established in 2001 after Michael Betts and Linda Plimley had laid the groundwork and planted grapevines in 1998. As alluring as the thought of producing big reds might have been, they planted grapes much better suited to the regional climate - Ortega, Bacchus and Pinot Gris.

Their outlook from the start was to ride the early wave of producing wines that could take on as many organic aspects as would be viable. Even when the grapes were being sourced from the Okanagan - as was the case with this Syrah - all those grapes were grown pesticide-free. It's often said that you can't make good wine without good grapes - but you still have to be able to take those good grapes and turn them into a good wine. Chalet managed to do just that with the '04 vintage. The Syrah won Silver medals at both the 2006 Northwest Wine Summit competition and the All Canadian Wine Championships.

I kind of remember trying a bottle some time back and what memory I have of that bottle was bigger than the one we opened tonight. It might be that our bottle was a bit past its prime but it was still entirely drinkable. I just don't think it had the fruit or structure to stand up to the best of today's BC Syrahs.

Peter and Jane Ellman purchased the winery in 2008 and the winery's name was changed to Muse after the purchase. They have looked to maintain the standards exhibited by Michael and Linda as they look to expand on the winery's production. We've only made one subsequent visit to Muse since that time; so, I guess it's time we tried to organize another island road trip. Hopefully, Bella Jianna and the Flyboy are up for it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Quinta Ferreira Chard

1344. 2008 Quinta Ferreira Chardonnay (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Quinta Ferreira is a winery that's found just outside of Oliver on the Black Sage Road. That being said it's on the far side of the tracks when driving down Hwy 97 and it on the opposite end of the road when we find ourselves on Black Sage Road to visit the likes of Burrowing Owl or Black Hills. As such, it's one of those wineries that I'm more familiar with the name than I am with the wines. The winery recently won Canadian Red Wine of the Year from Wine Access magazine for its 2009 Syrah; so, I figured it's high time we paid their wines another visit.

Family owned and operated, Quinta Ferreira was established in 2007. The Ferreira family, however, have been farming in the Okanagan since the 1960's when they immigrated from Portugal (which helps explain the roots to the name "Quinta"). Although the second generation in Canada continued to farm and grow tree fruit, John and Maria (now Mom & Dad) decided to start converting the orchards into grape vines in 1999. They now produce around 5000 cases annually in a wide array of wines - 10 reds and 7 whites - and son, Michael, is carrying on with the family's new direction by becoming the lead winemaker for Quinta Ferreira.

Despite not have many of their wines in our collection, I have added their Syrah, Malbec, Pinot Blanc and an earlier vintage Chardonnay to The List. This 2008 joins the '07 that was added to The List all the way back at #141. The winery now offers both an oaked and unoaked version of Chardonnay. We opened the oaked wine and it saw barrel ageing in both French and American oak. I'm not a big fan of heavy oaking with my whites but the winemakers showed some restraint with this vintage and I could still sense enough fruit coming through to find that it paired nicely with the cream and shrimp sauce.

I did manage to score a couple bottles of that 2009 Syrah and I'm looking forward to when we pull the cork on one of those bottles. In the mean time, the Chardy might not have pulled in the same hardware I think it helps show that the winery is definitely moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Clare Riesling to Enjoy

1343.  2010 Mitchell - Watervale Riesling (Clare Valley - Australia)

Unfortunately, the timing of our little Aussie Wine Adventure last year didn't give Boo and I a chance to jaunt up to the Clare Valley. If we had have been able to fit in a short visit, Mitchell definitely would have been one of our "can't miss" wineries. Mitchell isn't all that well known in the Vancouver market but I discovered it a couple of years back when the Australian Wine Appreciation Society (AWAS) had an impromptu tasting with winery owners and proprietors, Jane and Andrew Mitchell.

The Clare Valley is a narrow, 40 kilometre valley located a couple of hours above Adelaide (and beyond the Barossa Valley). It's home to over 40 wineries and is probably best known for dry, crisp Rieslings. While our tasting also featured some of Mitchell's red wines, I was lucky enough to grab one of the last bottles of Riesling that remained at Everything Wine.

Regular readers will know that I'm a bit of a Riesling fiend. That being said, the Clare Valley Rieslings that tend to make it to our markets aren't generally faves of mine. I can find the trademark acidity to be somewhat overbearing at times. While there was no missing the bracing acidity with the Mitchell wine, there was a nice touch of tree fruit on the palate in addition to the expected lime notes - this is definitely along the style lines I favour.

The Mitchells established the winery in 1975 and are consistently lauded by Aussie critics - notably, they hold a five-star rating from James Halliday (his highest). Part of the Mitchell story that I particularly enjoyed hearing was their transition to dry farming and to organic and/or biodynamic vineyard management. While discussing the idiosyncracies of biodynamics, Jane confessed that when she started life as a winery owner, she never envisioned spending a good part of her Sunday's "shovelling cowshit to make compost sprays." That statement - coming from this pleasant, well-mannered woman - caught everyone by surprise and resulted in some big laughs.

I don't know how good the wine would have been without the Mitchell's particular farming regime and Jane's regular shovel action, but I do know that Boo was a happy as a pig in sh*t with his calamari and I was just as happy with my Riesling. I think we need to do this more often.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Fat Lady Sings! End of Hockey Lock Out Finally Arrives!

After an annoying 113-day lockout, we finally have news that an agreement between the players and the NHL is at hand. We were waiting for the fat lady to sing and it would seem she's come to the stage to belt out her tune. Good thing it was her and NOT Gary Bettman because he'd have been "boo'ed" off whatever stage he wanted to stand on.

In honour of the (shortened) hockey season to come, I looked for something of an "operatic" bottle. The choice was a new wine and a new winery on the scene but I figured Figaro fits that bill.

1342.  2010 Terravista Vineyards - Figaro (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Terravista may be new to BC wine drinkers but the folks behind it should be immediately recognizable to anyone truly familiar with BC wine. Black Hills and its Nota Bene and Alibi wines have been front and centre when it comes to buzz on the BC wine scene ever since Senka and Bob Tennant opened the winery back in 2001. The Tennants sold Black Hills in 2007 and it was with great interest that I saw they had a new presence in the Okanagan.

The Tennants decided to dive back into grape growing and winemaking and relocated from the Black Sage Road to the Naramata Bench. In 2009, they began planting their new four-acre vineyard on the Bench, but they went about it with a whole new view to the region. They started by planting two white Spanish grapes - Albariño and Verdejo - varieties never seen before in the Valley (and quite possibly in the entire country).

Neither of those grapes are found in Figaro though. Terravista's - and Senka's - first release is a blend of classic Rhône grapes: Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne. As their own vines weren't producing yet, the grapes for Figaro were purchased. BC consumers are becoming familiar with homegrown Viognier but there still isn't much in the way of Roussanne or Marsanne being grown in the Valley. Accordingly, there were only 220 cases of Figaro produced.

Senka turned heads when she produced her white blend, Alibi, at Black Hills. A Semillon/Sauv Blanc may be standard in other countries but it was bit of a rarity for BC. I remember an early review of Alibi, however, and the author (John Schreiner, maybe) said he thought it was one of the best white wines ever produced in Canada. Senka appears to be turning some heads again.

Rhône-style white wines aren't necessarily my favourite tasting profile but you can't fault Senka on her actual winemaking. The wine has bright acidity and a stoney-ness to it, all the while keeping a good body and allowing the aromatics to come through.

The Tennants have finished their new winery and it was constructed to blend with the site topography. Word is that, even when their vineyard is in full production, the Tennants only plan to make a maximum of 2000 cases and the winery won't feature a tasting room or wine shop. I've read that they intend to commit their wine to restaurant sales, featured bottle shops and some direct sales.

As such, finding Terravista isn't likely going to always be that easy of a find. Indeed, I'm a little late in finding this bottle. The 2011 vintage has apparently been released - as has a first vintage of the Albariño/Verdejo blend called Fandango.

I can't wait to find a bottle of Fandango to give it a try. That thought is almost as exciting as the start of the hockey season will be.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

La Frenz Shiraz

Pulling the cork on any La Frenz wine can be a bit of a test for my blog. La Frenz is one of our favourite BC wineries and, justifiably so, I've already added a good number of Jeff and Niva Martin's wines to The List. Since one of my primary ground rules for adding a wine to The List is that I can't add the same bottle twice, I always have to check the blog to see if I've previously added a particular La Frenz wine. The good part of my rule is that I can add different vintages of the same wine to The List.

As luck would have it, I've yet to add this '05 vintage to The List. The '02 and '06 versions can be found respectively at #668 and #426 but that still leaves a spot for tonight's bottle.

1341.  2005 La Frenz Shiraz (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

As transplanted Aussies, it's not surprising to find the Martins on top of making a Shiraz varietal wine - especially since the Okanagan, as a region, is continually proving that it has the potential to produce wonderful cool climate Shiraz or Syrah. La Frenz has opted to call its varietal wine a Shiraz - while most BC producers are producing Syrah. I think it's fair to say that the nomenclature has less to do with New World vs. Old World stylings and more to do with Jeff Martin's Aussie roots - where, of course, Shiraz reigns supreme.

Regardless of his styling bents, this is another La Frenz winner. Indeed, the 2005 bottling won silver at both the Northwest Wine Summit and the All Canadian Wine Championships in 2008. On the La Frenz website, Jeff has suggested that the Shiraz is best opened within five years of release. We're at that five year spread now and were pleasantly surprised by the largesse of dark fruit that was still evident on the nose and palate.

With the long awaited BC Wine Appreciation Society's Great Syrah/Shiraz Taste-Off just around the corner, this is a nice start to getting our palates prepped for some of the Okanagan wines to come. I can't wait.

A Final Gathering for the Season

The Christmas tree was destined to come down this weekend. That left us one final opportunity to entertain with a bit of seasonal cheer in the air. Luckily, Elzee and Daveyboi were both free to pay a visit. We didn't have a chance to see either of them over the holidays; so, we counted ourselves particularly lucky to get both of them on the same night.

1338. 2007 Venturi Schulze - Brut Naturel (Vancouver Island)

Elzee hails from Vancouver Island. So, I thought it would be the perfect time to pop the cork on an Island bubbly made in the traditional Champagne method (even if it doesn't feature traditional Champagne grapes). Venturi Schulze is one of those names that I've heard about far more than I've ever been exposed to or had an opportunity to try. Being an Island winery - that produces fewer than 2000 cases (of all their wines) a year - we don't tend to see their wines in Vancouver very often.

If the Brut is representative of the quality all of their wines, I really need to try and find some more. This sparkler is made from Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Gris and Kerner grapes and shows those baked bread notes reminiscent of classic Champagne - the notes coming from time spent ageing on yeast lees (or dead yeast cells).  The wine isn't finished with a sweetened dosage - and is, therefore, bright with acidity - but it matched up nicely with the occasion at hand.  I don't often serve a bubbly as a primary wine with dinner but I thought it might just work tonight.  And it did.

Boo and I decided to serve raclette for dinner. The variety of foods and the emphasis on cheese throughout the dinner seemed to lend itself to a sparkling wine. Raclette's a novel way to sit and eat - and chat - for hours and the bubbles just added to the festive atmosphere.

I should point out that Venturi Schulze is also known for its traditional balsamic vinegar - where a 250ml bottle starts at $50. The vinegar is made from estate grown grapes as well and is aged for years in oak before it is bottled.  The owners figure they have over $1 million worth of balsamic currently in barrel. I've yet to try the balsamic, but I'm dying to get a bottle as a gift. If not mistaken, I even read about one year when they produced an icewine balsamic.  That went for a pretty penny I'm sure, but I doubt you could get much more "one-of-a-kind" than that.

1339. 2011 Woodbridge Merlot (California)

Daveyboi brought along the Woodbridge and it was a good thing since we definitely needed that second bottle of wine during dinner. Woodbridge is a second label and winery for Robert Mondavi. According to the website, after he had established his famous Napa Valley winery, Mondavi "pursued his second vision of creating delicious wines for everyday enjoyment." The region around his childhood home in Lodi fit the bill for growing grapes that could produce quality wines at more affordable price points. Coming in at under $15 in the BC government stores, "affordable" is a definite catch-word.

Mixing Elzee and Daveyboi with Merlot, talk ultimately drifted to our mutual - and much beloved - Aussie bud, Merlot Boy. We worked it out to be early afternoon in Melbourne. So, out came the phone and 20 minutes later, we needed another bottle of wine. And some dessert.

1340. N.V. Lang Vineyards - Canadian Maple Wine (BC)

Boo had made a pecan pie for the kids. So, I pulled out a dessert wine that we'd picked up some years back. Being a bit of a "novelty," we hadn't quite happened on the opportunity to open it previously. A maple syrup infused dessert wine seemed as natural a fit as there might be for pecan pie though.

Gunther Lang and his namesake Lang Vineyards was one of the first wineries to locate on the Naramata Bench and he was the first in North America to make a wine with maple syrup. Novelty or not, this is a serious wine and, at the time we visited the winery, they were making both a red and a white version of this wine. It's difficult to find exact information about our white but the best notes I could find suggest that it is a blend of Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling.

This wine was largely exported to overseas markets and was often seen front and centre in touristy souvenir shops at the Vancouver Airport. The difficulty in finding information about this older version of the wine stems primarily from the somewhat tumultuous ownership the winery has seen over the last decade. The Lang family initially sold the winery to Keith Holman in 2005 and it played a central part in the rather short-lived Holman Lang empire of seven Okanagan wineries. The Holman Lang group was placed in receivership in November 2010 and the Lang Vineyard assets were purchased by Chinese interests. In an attempt to rebuild the Lang brand, Gunther Lang was hired as a consultant and his nephew, Mike Lang, came on board as General Manager. I'll be interested to see how the winery is viewed in the years to come.

I'm sure that many a purist would turn their nose up at a wine infused with maple syrup but it suited our pie nicely. It won't become a regular tipple at our table but there could always be a suitable occasion - like the next time Merlot Boy visits from Down Under and Boo makes him a pie.

All in all, a grand evening. Quite the mix of laughs, food groups and wines. But now I need to make time to put away all the decorations. I have to admit that I'd rather sit back and open up another bottle though.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Jancis and "Wine Grapes" to the Rescue

Being the wine geek that I am, I suppose it's only natural that the tome that is Wine Grapes would show up under our Christmas tree this year. The 1200 page - and very heavy - resource was published last year by authors Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz. The book is billed as a quick guide to 1368 grape varieties found in the world today - from the most important to the nearly extinct. Want to discover what's the story behind that grape you've never heard of or from where the heck it originates? The hope is that Wine Grapes will turn out to be as good of a starting point as any.

Tonight's bottle was chosen as a test case. I certainly didn't know anything about Vranac at the start of the evening - except that I assumed it was going to score me another grape for my Wine Century Club tally.

Lo and behold, Vranac was there - right between Voskeat and Vugava. Hey, hey.

1337. 2007 Plantaze - Crnogorski Vranac (Montenegro)

I'm kinda behind on my posts; so, I think I'll just crib an example of what you'll find in the book. "Vranac, meaning 'strong black' or 'black stallion,' is the most important indigenous variety of the region that includes today's Montenegro, part of Serbia and southern Croatia, where it has allegedly been cultivated since the Middle Ages."

The book continues with varietal wines are "deeply coloured, full-bodied, tannic, high in alcohol and become more complex with age."

It was interesting to note that Plantaze is one of the producers named by the authors in this entry.  The winery saw its start as a part of an "agricultural-industrial plant" in 1963. The plant was the pre-cursor for the winery and was transformed over 60's, 70's and early 80's. The winery's website states that, by 2009, it was operating the "largest vineyard in Europe" and it was producing 4 million bottles of wine - including a sparkling wine and an award winning Chardonnay.

I never know what to anticipate when I open one of these "unknown" wines. Admittedly, I pick them off the shelf largely for the novelty aspect. It's an added bonus when they're surprisingly tasty - as this one was. I doubt I'll buy it by the case or serve it at a business function or cocktail party but, for an introduction to the grape and to Montenegran wines, it was a decent quaff.

As an added note - and thanks to Wine Grapes - I certainly never would have know that Vranac is common mistaken with Tribidrag. I'm going to have to try and remember that fact should I ever run across a wine made with Tribidrag (which Wine Grapes tells me is also known as Zinfandel). That's for sure.

All in all, I say this is a Christmas present that might see some regular use in the years to come.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Eve

We haven't been so lucky with Boo's work schedules the last so many years when it comes to days off during the holiday season. When we knew that he wasn't going to have to work this New Year's Eve, we decided to invite some folks over for a little low-key celebration - and, naturally, more than enough wine to end 2012 and get a good start on the year to come.

With a dozen or so folks in attendance, there was a grand selection of bottles open for the tasting. Not wanting to start 2013 with a troubled head, I tried my best to behave - and limited myself to celebratory sips of wines that were particularly new and interesting.

1333.  2011 Domaine de la Taille Aux Loups - Dix Arpents (Montlouis-sur-Loire AOC - Touraine - France)

Fist up was the Dix Arpents that K-Pop and Baby Mama brought. I'd never heard of the producer and asked them what prompted them to bring it along. They hadn't ever tried it before either but they thought it looked like an interesting new find when browsing through local bottle shop shelves.  It turns out that they uncovered a producer with quite the story. Domaine de la Taille Aux Loups is a relatively young winery by French standards as it was only established in 1988; however, it is seen as helping lead the way of securing a higher profile for the Montlouis region. Indeed, the principal force behind the winery is Jacky Blot. He's been called a "Loire Superstar" and has enough of a profile that his name is featured on the bottle's front label.

The winery's properties straddle a couple of appellations in the Loire Valley - Vouvray and Montlouis.  - although the majority of the estate's vineyards are located in Montlouis. Being a newcomer to the region, those properties are scattered through the region and Dix Arpents is a blend of fruit from a full assortment of vineyards that can number over 30 different parcels. All of those vineyards are planted solely with Chenin Blanc though.

I'm not that familiar with Chenin Blanc wines.  It's not a varietal that I run across all that often or one that I tend to buy regularly. Despite being the estate's entry level wine, the wine is still considered an intense introduction to Chenin Blanc. Vineyard cultivation sees extensive picking practices. The grapes are harvested in tries (or separate passes through the vines) - where individual grapes are picked, as opposed to entire bunches, to help ensure that each grape on a bunch is fully ripe before it is harvested.

It was an interesting way to start off the evening. There was some substance and weight to the wine - possibly due to the oaking that wine sees during ageing - and it didn't have as much fruit on palate as the few Chenin's I've tried from BC or South Africa. For a more extensive discussion of the Jacky Blot and Domaine de la Taille Aux Loups, you need only visit the informative entry on the Wine Doctor. That post was like a one-stop info source during my looking around the internet to hunt down the wine.

1334.  2009 Red Rooster Golden Egg (VQA Okanagan Valley)

New Year's Eve seemed like an event that's worthy of an icon wine from one of our favourite producers.  Karen Gillis, winemaker at Red Rooster, states that she's had a long time "fascination with 'Rhône-style' reds." Syrah now has a firm footing in the Okanagan but this is the first GSM that I've seen from a BC producer.  The blend is 59% Mourvèdre, 24% Syrah and 17% Grenache and there was a very limited production of 186 cases.

The small production stems from the fact that there is very little Mourvèdre or Grenache grown in the province. Karen worked with some of their long time growers and coaxed them into planting the two new varietals.  This was the first release of the Golden Egg as a GSM. (There was a previous Golden Egg wine but that was a Bordeaux blend - Merlot, Cab Sauv and Cab Franc and I believe it was last produced in 2003 under the previous ownership regime.)

The Golden Egg was medium bodied - with bigger acidity and a lighter fruit profile than most of the Rhône or Aussie GSM blends that I'm familiar with (surprise, surprise). The profile was more sour cherry or cranberry than dark fruit. The wine did win a Silver medal winner at the Wine Access 2011 Canadian Wine Awards but the $50 price tag might leave most consumers wanting a bigger profile. My guess is that the wine is better suited to the dinner table than it is for a cocktail party.

As midnight and the new year approached, I thought it'd be neat to try and sabre the bottle of bubbly that I'd picked up. After all, my earlier attempt back in the Fall with the BC Wine Appreciation Society bus tour was both successful and great fun and that experience made it seem easy-peasy. Boo pulled out a selection of sabre-esque knives to choose from and we were ready for the countdown. 5-4-3-2-1...nothing. A couple whacks and no bubbles. Ahhhh. Good thing no damage was done to the bottle and I could still pop the cork in the old fashioned way.

1335.  N.V. Chanoine Frères - Tsarine Rosé Brut (Champagne AOC - France)

I was drawn to this bottle - not so much because of the unique bottle design but - by the fact that I saw a advert stating that it was a Lanson product. Not that I get the opportunity to drink a lot of true Champagne but, when I do, Lanson is probably my favourite and as regular a "go to" Champagne as I have. I'd never seen anything that tied Tsarine to Lanson previously, but I was told at the wine shop that Lanson had recently purchased the producer, Chanoine Frères. The plan remained to produce Tsarine under the old name however.  Chanoine Frères is apparently the second oldest house in Champagne, the family having established a trading house in 1730. In the same year, they were permitted to excavate the very first champagne cellars in the town of Epernay.

The striking bottle design is meant to evoke the swirling spires of Russian architecture. In the 19th Century, Imperial Russia was the largest export market for Champagne and Chanoine Frères created the Cuvée Tsarine to honour that relationship.

The wine is equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir - all three of the classic Champagne grapes. The Chanoine Frères website states that "The Pinot Noir grape provides the back-bone of our wine, the Pinot Meunier lending softness and fruit aromas, while the Chardonnay grape imparts delicacy and elegance."

I think it's fair to say that our little gang found the Tsarine to be quite imperial. Easily my favourite tipple of the night. I'm hoping to run across more Tsarine long before another year has passed by.

1336.  N.V. Joan Raventós Rosell Cava Brut (D.O. Cava - Spain)

Continuing with our theme of bubbles, Red had brought along a bottle of Cava. This was a new Cava - or Spanish bubble - for me. Raventós Rosell is no slouch in historical pedigree either. Although the actual company only dates from 1985, the Raventós family has roots in winemaking and the Penedès region that date back to the 1870's. Penedès is the traditional region for the production of Cava - the Spanish equivalent of Champagne.

Raventós Rosell considers itself a smaller, family run producer, having approximately 250 acres of vineyards. Together with related producer, Heretat Vall-Ventós, they produce 18 different sparkling Cavas - as well as a number of still, table wines. The Cava Brut is a blend of Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel-lo and Chardonnay and while it didn't offer quite the same bubbly mousse or flavour profile as the Tsarine, it was less than half the price. Accordingly, we could drink twice as much - and likely end up just as happy as a result.

Not that we did that. At least, not that we're copping to "that."

Behaving myself - and limiting my wining to these four bottles - might have meant that I didn't get to add nearly as many bottles to The List as I might have liked to but it did help my morning after and my start to 2013 and, for that, I'm celebrating my foresight.

For the moment that was though, I figure we saw 2012 out with a fitting celebration of good friends and good wines. Hopefully, the new year will see plenty of new, exciting bottles of wine to add to The List and maybe even see me stay a little more current with my posts.  One can always hope!

Happy New Year!