Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Wine-Filled Long Shadows Dinner

Definitely one of my favourite times of the year, the annual Vancouver International Wine Festival got under way yesterday. The showpiece Festival Tasting Room doesn't open its door until later in the week, but the myriad of tastings, seminars and winemaker dinners are now ripe for the picking. Boo tends to find the big tasting room a bit overwhelming; so, we opted to whet his whistle with one of the winemaker dinners that sounded very interesting.

The dinner was being held at Coast and was to feature the wines of Long Shadows. Despite it's being an acclaimed Vancouver restaurant, I'd never eaten at Coast but I had always hoped to get to there eventually. Being paired up with a Washington state winery was a great selling point for me since we don't see much opportunity to taste Washington wines here above the 49th Parallel. I wasn't even aware of the breadth of the winery's lure when I booked the tickets but, boy, talk about falling into a lucky circumstance.

Long Shadows Vintners is a truly intriguing, joint venture operation. Founded by Washington State wine pioneer Allen Shoup (who, surprising everyone, turned up at the dinner as a plus-one for one of the guests), their website describes Long Shadows as "a collection of ultra-premium wines created by internationally acclaimed winemakers from the major wine regions of the world. Each winemaker is part owner in this unique winery dedicated to producing individual wines that showcase the viticultural excellence of Washington State's Columbia Valley."

Seven wineries currently make up Long Shadows and each of the collaborations sees the renowned partner work individually with Shoup and resident winemaker, Gilles Nicault, to produce a "best of type" wine under its own label. Nicault tends to the home base and consults with each of the winemaker partners - who visit at least twice a year - to craft the wines to everyone's distinct styles and directions. We were regaled with each of those seven wines and to some incredible food. I know that I tweeted that it was too hard to pick a favourite pairing.

The wines, however, consisted of:

Poet's Leap Riesling, made by Armin Diel of Germany's Schlossgut Diel.

Chester Kidder red blend - the home team project of Nicault's and Shoup's.

Tuscan father and son team, Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari's "Super Tuscan" - Saggi, a Sangiovese/Cab Sauv blend.

Pomerol winemaker and consultant to the world, Michel Rolland's Pedestal Merlot.

Sequel Syrah - made with John Duval, the man, who for 15 years, made one of Australia's most acclaimed wines, Penfold's Grange.

Feather Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley's Randy Dunn.

I could only wish to add all of these wines to The List (maybe over time I'll be able to) but I'm actually going to add the seventh of the Long Shadows wines to The List - if only because it would be a shame not to add one of these wines as a testament to this dinner. I figure it's a legitimate add though since we experienced incredibly healthy pours of wine all evening. I often find that the wine at winemaker's dinners can be limited to pours designed to make a bottle go a long ways amongst the various diners. There was no shortage of re-pours here however. Indeed, Boo enjoyed the next wine so much that the waiter just left a generous portion of a bottle at our table for us to polish off at our leisure. This might be a tad hard to believe but I was even turning down second pours of some wines because it was a school night and I figured we'd done more than enough damage to the offering of wines.

1265. 2009 Long Shadows Pirouette (Columbia Valley - Washington)

In addition to being a fancy ballet move, Piourette is now a premium, small lot wine that falls under the influence of Philippe Melka, who hails from Napa via Bordeaux and many prestigious wine stops in between, and Agustin Huneeus, Sr. who contributes his four decades of winemaking skills - largely styled in the Bordeaux tradition. Long Shadow's website proudly mentions that Huneeus' own wines include the 1999 vintage Quintessa that garnered 100 points.

Not surprisingly, given the winemakers' heritage, this is a Bordeaux or Meritage blend of  59% Cab Sauv, 27% Merlot, 13% Cab Franc and 3% Malbec. There may be French sensibilities directing this wine but its nose and palate were generous with concentrated, ripe Washington fruit. It was a given that Boo needed to tip our waiters generously for having left the bottle behind.

It never ceases to amaze me why there's such a dearth of Washington and Oregon wineries that participate in the VIWF - especially given how close they are to Vancouver and given the prominence of the Festival - but this was a wonderful way to learn about a unique operation and some incredible wines. It was a great start to my Festival and, without a doubt, the evening was one of the best wine dinners I've ever attended. Bravo to both Coast and to Long Shadows.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Open That Bottle Night XIV

I love Open That Bottle Night - both the concept of it and participating in it. Now in its 14th year, OTBN is the brainchild of former wine columnists for the Wall Street Journal, Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher. They saw their weekly "Tastings" column as a means to show that "wine is more than the liquid in the bottle. It's about history, geography, relationships and all of the things that are really important in life" and they noted that "whether it's the only bottle in the house or one bottle among thousands, just about all wine lovers have that very special wine that they always mean to open, but never do."

The idea is that everyone should grab one of those bottles on the last Saturday of February and revel in all the "memories of great vacations, long-lost loved ones and bittersweet moments" that are released with the wine. For no other reason than to celebrate the moment - and, hopefully, to ensure that you don't wait so long before opening it that you've let the wine turn to vinegar.

Diving head first into the deep end this year, Boo and I decided to open one of those bottles that are few and far between - at least on our budget - and just scream out for a special occasion. We picked it up during our brief vacation around Italy back in 2008 and it was one of the limited bottles that we were able to bring back with us.

While luxuriating in Piedmont for an extended weekend, our B&B hosts set up a visit to La Spinetta - a winery that we'd been tipped off to by the folks at Marquis Wine Cellars before we left. La Spinetta is a relatively new winery - at least by Italian standards. While this branch of the Rivetti family originated in Piedmont, it took a bit of a side trip when Giovanni Rivetti emigrated to Argentina in the late 1800's with hopes of some day returning to Italy as a rich man to make wine. Giovanni never made it back to Italy, but one of his three sons, Giuseppe, did. The Rivetti family set up residence in the heart of Moscato d'Asti country in Piedmont and began making wines that raised the level of the sweet, light wine. In 1985, La Spinetta ventured into making its first red wine, a Barbera. They then added an innovative, if not revolutionary (for its time), blend of Barbera and Nebbiolo in 1989 and progressed to making Barbaresco in 1996.

Having found itself making a good collection of Piedmont's wines, the family finally purchased some lands in the classic Barolo region. A state of the art winery was built and, voilà, a new star in the Barolo firmament was established.

1264. 2001 La Spinetta - Campè Barolo (Barolo DOCG - Piedmont - Italy)

The 2001 is only the second vintage of Barolo made by La Spinetta and, even still, fewer than 2000 cases of the wine is generally made. Like all Barolos, it is made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes; however, La Spinetta subscribes to a newer school of Barolo making where the goal is to produce a wine that is both structured and approachable - and drinkable on an earlier time table. Co-owner and winemaker, Giorgio Rivetti, has been quoted in the Wine Spectator as saying that "some people around here think that if a Barolo or Barbaresco doesn't punch you in the stomach from the high tannin and acidity levels, then it is no good. I don't agree." Rivetti's Barolo sees more oak and the juice isn't left to soak and ferment on the skins as long as traditional Barolos (the latter practice can lead to the incorporation of stronger tannins). His Barolo also sees no filtration or fining when it is bottled as he hopes to accentuate the wine's aroma, flavour, texture and ageing potential as much as possible.

Presuming that our La Spinetta would be up to the task, we cooked up some lamb in olive oil and garlic. It was, indeed, up to the lamb. This wasn't so much a sipping wine as it was one full of gusto, waiting for the next bite of meat. Even with Rivetti's modernist take on Barolo, it was still no fruit bomb. The wine was definitely up Boo's alley when it came to a taste profile as he tends to enjoy a more austere bent to his palate than I do but we were both sorry to see the last of the wine poured out of the bottle.

The winery's website suggested that the wine could age for 25-30 years; so, perhaps we opened it a bit prematurely but, you know, when Open That Bottle Night calls out to you, sometimes you just have to give in baser impulses. Opening this bottle certainly took us back to our time in Piedmont and reinforced the desire to make our way back to Italy - hopefully, sooner than later.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Party Leftovers

It would seem that one of the benefits of throwing a party nowadays is that most of friends don't drink nearly as much as we used to and, and as a result, there is usually a bottle of this or that left over after the soirée. Such was the case after our Mardi Gras bash and one of the bottles that was left behind was a classic.

1263. 2012 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough - New Zealand)

The surprising thing to me is that this is the first Kim Crawford Sauv Blanc that I've added to The List. We've polished off bottles of the Pinot Gris and the Rosé but no Savvy - and that's probably the variety that Kim Crawford made it's name on in Canada, if not the world.

I suppose some times you can just take a wine for granted when it always seems available. Maybe that's why this wine hasn't made it to The List prior to now.

I'm not going to try and pretend that I can add anything new or exciting about Kim Crawford's Sav Blanc. Google it and there's no end of reviews and sites offering the best price for it. Virtually every one of those page hits will sing of the wines characteristic Kiwi notes and its value for money. I don't disagree. I do like, however, that the grassiness - that is often so profound in New Zealand Sav Blanc - is somewhat more restrained here, letting a bit more fruit shine through.

I didn't immediately run across Kim Crawford's production levels but I did see that total output was about 86,000 cases a decade ago when the winery was acquired by Vincor International (one of Canada's biggest players in the industry before it was bought out in turn by Constellation Brands). The plan was to increase production appreciably. Those original numbers weren't particularly huge; so I guess Vancouver's familiarity with the Kim Crawford name might stem from the fact that Vincor looked to its Canadian roots and markets to expand the brand. They've done quite the job on all fronts as Kim Crawford is not only one of the most recognizable Kiwi brands in Vancouver but I read that it now "enjoys the status of the best selling New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in both the USA and Canada" and recently "hit a record one million case sales in the past 12 months with 60 percent of them going to the USA."

If this is an example of the bottles I might expect to be left over after a party, we just might need to throw them on a more regular basis.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler. Mercy me! How those words have a way of stirring up memories. It may be close to a couple of decades since I've partied away on the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but that doesn't mean I can't throw on some beads, deck the joint out in purple, gold and green and invite some friends over to "let the good times roll."

Now, true enough, a Mardi Gras party may not be the most traditional of occasions for gathering material for a wine blog - but there's no denying that, when there's that much booze present, there's bound to be some wine to be had.

And, have it we did. It's just that there was plenty of alternative libation around and it may have served to cloud my wine tasting abilities a tad.

I think it's fair to say that the Hurricane is the "official" drink of Mardi Gras. You can't truly say that you've been to Mardi Gras if you didn't throw back your fair share of the Rum punch that makes Pat O'Brien's, Bourbon Street and New Orleans as memorable as they all are. So, I naturally had to do my best to set the scene by making a couple gallons of the naughty, red elixir. Knowing just how much Rum went into filling those "go cups," I was sure to give a good, stern warning to and keep plenty of ice handy for all our revellers - many of whom have never had the pleasure of living through a Hurricane before.

The truly naughty part of our hosting, however, was that, a couple of days before the party, I happened to see a recipe online for Hurricane Jello Shots. Now, I've never tried making jello shots before but, if there was ever going to be an appropriate occasion, it was going to be this party.

Tasty little things I might add. Good thing you could taste the booze in the jello and you knew better than to keep popping them. Between the punch and the shots, however, I think you can understand why I'm not even going to try and talk much about the wine. Indeed, I'm rather pleased with myself that I even remembered to take pictures of the couple bottles that I tried during the course of the evening.

1261. 2008 Bodegas Piqueras - Castillo de Almansa Reserva (D.O. Almansa - Spain)

I rather wish I did recall more about this little Spanish number. I always try to keep my eye open for good value wines and Spain is as good a source as any nowadays. I'm not familiar with either the producer or the Almansa region but the back label says that the wine is a blend of Tempranillo, Monastrell (Mourvèdre) and Garnacha (Grenache). It didn't go down quite as easily as the Hurricanes did - but that's likely a good thing. I may have to give it another go, however, as I did enjoy it a bit more than the second bottle I helped finish off.

1262. 2009 Christian Moueix Merlot (Bourdeaux AOC - France)

It was the gaggle of BC Wine Appreciation Society ladies that brought along that second bottle. They highly recommended the Merlot but it too will have to be a bottle that I give another chance to and try when the taste might be better appreciated. I just remember it as being fairly big for a French Merlot.

It may just be that the Spanish wine went a little better with the cheeses and mini-muffulettas but I guess I'll never know. To be honest, I don't know that either bottle truly went with the gorgeous Mardi Gras cupcakes that Cupcake brought along or with either of the King Cakes that were served up. I'd "slaved" over one of the traditional Mardi Gras treats but I was floored when Isotopos and Dr. Dirt showed up with one of their own. They apparently Googled "Mardi Gras desserts" and discovered what a King Cake was for the first time. They did a great  job at whipping one up when neither of the gals had ever tried one before.

In fact, I think it was a great night all around. We may not have insisted that our guests "Show Us Your ______" in order to earn some beads, but there was still plenty of fun to be had. I was rather pleased when Nature Boy found the baby in the King Cake. Of all the folks that might have discovered that special bit of cake, I think Nature Boy might actually follow through with the tradition of throwing the next party.  But that's a ways off still. Thankfully, I knew better than to imbibe as freely as I would have twenty years ago on Bourbon Street. If I had tried taking a stab at reliving my youth, I have a feeling I wouldn't be all that eager to open any more bottles of wine before Nature Boy comes through with his shindig.

And I certainly wouldn't want that to come to pass.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Valentine's Day Treat

Around our home, nothing says Valentine's Day like a tasty Shiraz, a rack of lamb and the new Skyfall DVD with Daniel Craig filling the screen as James Bond. If bringing all that to the table doesn't convince the better half that love is in the air, I don't know what could.

I'm not exactly sure how we missed seeing Skyfall on the big screen last year, but we did. So, it was time that we made up for our earlier failure. Granted, the motorcycle chase over Istanbul rooftops wasn't as all encompassing as it would have been in the theatre, but BC theatres aren't urbane enough to allow us to sip our Shiraz through the movie. (OK, there is the Rio Theatre that's made some headway in that direction, but they didn't get the rights to Skyfall and I'm pretty sure that their wine choice wouldn't match up with tonight's choice at home.)

1260. 2007 Two Hands - Angels Share Shiraz (McLaren Vale - Australia)

I figure that the name "Two Hands" helps set the mood for Valentine's Day, but if that's not enough, like Bond, Two Hands has a house style that starts with "big is better" - and I'm definitely in love with their big, dark fruit and mellow tannins. The Angels Share Shiraz is part of the Picture Series collection that features varietal wines to show regional and varietal distinctiveness. A healthy proportion of Two Hands' output is Shiraz and this one hails from cooler McLaren Vale vineyards.

If Daniel Craig isn't enough to get you into a loving mood, the Angels Share certainly does a good job at making things move.

Our only trouble was that there wasn't enough Shiraz to last the full movie. Ergo, like Bond, we had to jump into action and find a little something more to resolve our dilemma. Our solution? Shaken, not stirred. We pulled out the Victoria Gin, a local boutique distillery, and made ourselves a couple classic Vesper martinis from Casino Royale: 2 parts gin, 1 part vodka, 1/2 part Lillet.

All Valentine's Days should be this tasty.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Surprise Rockford Riesling

Rockford is one of those names from the Barossa that I'm coming to recognize as a top, boutique player but still know very little about. Boo and I made it as far as the winery driveway last April when we were travellin' in that world Down Under but the Rockford folk weren't going to open for another 90 minutes and, unfortunately, we couldn't stick around long enough to pay our respects.

Up until now, most everything I'd heard about Rockford related to their reds - reds that are known for big flavours and limited availability. Owner, Robert O'Callaghan, is known for emphasizing the use of fruit from older, low-yielding, dry farmed vineyards and his best known wine - the highly sought Basket Press Shiraz - has garnered a cult following that rivals Henschke's Hill of Grace.

So, I was quite shocked when I saw a Tweet singing the praises of a Rockford Riesling - particularly since it was a Tweet from a local Vancouverite. A couple of Tweets and quick calls later and I'd secured two of the last bottles from a cache that wasn't even supposed to exist.

1259. 2003 Rockford Riesling (Eden Valley - Australia)

I didn't know that Rockford made a Riesling. So, being the fiend for Riesling that I am, it was a no-brainer of a buy for me.

Part of Rockford's allure is that the winery is steeped in tradition. In some ways, it's more like a museum than a winery. An oft told story recounts how O'Callaghan kickstarted his winery by collecting vintage equipment pieces (still found at the winery) as they were being cast off by more established wineries when modernizing. The equipment still worked and O'Callaghan's method of procurement was as economical as it could get for a new boutique winery.

With all this background, I was eager to pull the cork and give the wine a try. The wine, unfortunately, didn't quite meet expectations. At least not for my palate. I found the wine to be very austere but in a subdued way. It didn't boast overwhelming notes of citrus or minerality that I can find characteristic of Eden Valley Rieslings and, as such, it was just a bit lacking.

My lack of enthusiasm for the wine won't dampen my jones for Rockford but I'm going to want another go at their Rieslings before I'm going to run for them as quickly as I would for their reds.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Gang Way Fat Boy

Living in Vancouver, I think it's safe to say that I'm fairly well versed in Chinese culture - at least for a gwai lo. I can rattle off a "Gung Hay Fat Choy" with the best of them when Chinese New Year rolls around. Indeed, it's gotten to the point where some of my colleagues at work have jokingly adapted the traditional Cantonese greeting into "Gang Way Fat Boy" should we pass in the hallways.

At least I'm hoping that it's all in good fun.

I think I'm safe though because it's usually me saying the "Fat Boy" bit.

1258. 2010 Wild Goose - Mystic River Pinot Blanc (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Since the actual New Year's Day fell on a weekend this year, I grabbed some Szechuan take-out and we celebrated at home. Hoping for a bit of bite in the ginger beef and salt and pepper squid, I figured an easy going white - maybe even with a touch of residual sweetness - would fit the bill. Little did I know at the time that the Wild Goose Pinot Blanc I grabbed was one of only eleven wines to win a Lieutenant Governor's Award in BC in 2011 or that their take on Pinot Blanc emphasizes crisp acidity to go with the big tree fruit flavours.

Wild Goose is well known for its aromatic whites and wines sourced from their Mystic River vineyard are particularly sought after. The 2010 vintage was a challenging one in the Okanagan. The growing season featured a cool spring, a wet June and a questionable start to the critical month of September. Luckily for the winery's owner/operator Kruger family, their decades of experience in the Okanagan resulted in their dropping a larger portion of the crop than usual. That green harvest and a nice finish to September and October resulted in a proper ripening of their fruit - with a nice concentration of flavours. It showed in the wine but their volumes were noticeably smaller.

I was fortunate to have this bottle on hand because Lt. Gov Award winners are often next-to-impossible to find after the awards are announced.

I likely could have done a better job matching it to our dinner but we were lucky that it drank just fine on its own all the same. And an easy drinking, award winner is never a bad thing when celebrating a new year.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bracingly Rosé

1257. 2011 La Frenz Rosé (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

After a good stint with Mr. Google - to little or no avail I might add - I was just about to give up on trying to find out any information about this Rosé from Jeff Martin and La Frenz winery. Then, I magically found a whopping single sentence from one of John Schreiner's posts. I pretty much take anything that John says as gospel; so, I'm going to run with it and just make this a bit of quickie post.

John's informative sentence? "This wine was made by bleeding some juice (a traditional method) from various lots of Merlot, Pinot Noir and Shiraz. The wine's colour alone sets you up for a delicious taste experience, on the palate, there are flavours of rhubarb, cranberry and strawberry. 90." I was more interested in the blend of grapes that went into the wine and the method of making it than I was with the tasting note, but I figured it wouldn't cost anything to throw that in as well.

This wasn't the biggest BC Rosé wine that you'll find out there but that might relate more to the fact that, overall, 2011 was a tough vintage in BC. As such, the fruit might not have been quite as ripe as the La Frenz Rosé might normally see. It might partly explain the wine's bracing acidity though - and that just really lends nicely to matching the wine with food.

I've happily knocked back many a La Frenz wine and written about the winery on almost as many occasions here; so, I'll just say that Jeff and Niva can simply mark another notch on their collective wine belt with this bottle. And on that happy note, I'm going to mosey on to the next post.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Neighbourly Evening

Regular readers of this blog will have come to know that Boo and I love the neighbourhood that we live in. We have some truly great neighbours and evenings like tonight just serve to cement those sentiments even further. K-Pop and Baby Mama invited us over for dinner since neither our chats over the fence nor our brief passings on the street tend to allow anything resembling an involved conversation.

And, believe me, there's never any shortage of things to talk about when we're chatting with these two.

Their hope was that The Kid would have already settled down for the evening by the time we'd arrived. Hardy. Har. Har. Not much chance of that one coming to pass. Luckily, K-Pop's efforts to tucker out The Kid didn't detract from our cocktails. It took the better part of a bottle to successfully send the little guy off to bed, but isn't that what cocktails are for?

Another fine traits about K-Pop and Baby Mama is that they like their wine. I always like to see what other folks choose for their wines and I particularly enjoy seeing K-Pop's picks because he's got some smarts when it comes to wine (as well as his other attributes).

1254. N.V. Santa Ana Sparkling Malbec Rosé (Argentina)

The first bottle to be opened was our's though. I figured you can never go wrong with a little bubble when it comes to starting off the evening. I'm not really familiar with this wine but, if memory serves, I picked it up at the Vancouver International Wine Festival a couple of years back because I don't think it's currently available on local shelves.

Sparkling Malbec isn't a style of wine that we see much up here in Vancouver. We all quite enjoyed it though. Being Malbec based, the wine had more heft to it than most bubblies - despite the fact that the wine features 15% Pinot Noir. All the same, it wasn't nearly as big as the sparkling Shiraz wines that come out of Oz. There was some nice fruit on the palate but there was still a hint of biscuit and yeast that came from resting the wine on its lees (spent yeast cells) for four months before bottling. The bubbles were induced by carbonation and the Charmat method as opposed to the traditional Champenoise method. Accordingly, the cost is reasonable when you can find the wine.

1255. 2011 JoieFarm Riesling (Okanagan Valley)

K-Pop had whipped up a tasty curry and, lo and behold, he served it with Riesling. Now, if that isn't a pairing designed just for me, what is? Especially with JoieFarm being the first bottle poured. A Gold Medal winner at both the 2012 All Canadian Wine Championships and the Wine Press Northwest Platinum Judging, the touch of residual sugar goes nicely with the spice of the curry. There were only 780 cases made of this vintage; so, it was a treat for K-Pop to have found us a bottle.

1256. 2009 Cave Spring Riesling (VQA Niagara Peninsula - Ontario)

For me, our second Riesling was even more of a treat. Not so much because it was a better wine but, rather, it's just that much rarer of a bottle to find out here in BC. We don't tend to see many Ontario wines locally. Same country and all, the wines just don't make it out here. Go figure.

I've heard of Cave Spring - if only because it's continually referred to and lauded in the Canadian wine magazines. It's been called one of Canada's premium Riesling producers by some big names in the wine biz but I'm pretty sure that this is the first time I've actually had the opportunity to sip back on a glass. My loss.

The two Rieslings were actually served separately from each other. The Cave Spring didn't appear until the collection of Cartems donuts (yumm!) were served up; so, I didn't try the wines side-by-side. That would have been a nice way to compare them but I guess it's good that we didn't. This way I can't be expected to pick a "winner." I think it's enough to say that they were both winners. Indeed, any Riesling that has a touch of passionfruit note to it - like the Cave Spring did - is going to be a winner in my book.

As the whole evening proved to be a winner in my book. Good food. Good wine. Good conversation. They all add up to great neighbours. By the time we'd polished off the Cartems and the Rieslings, it was time to stumble home. No doubt we could have happily carried on for hours but we'd all had long days and we certainly didn't need to open another bottle. Luckily, we didn't have far to go to get home. Here's hoping that we can pull off another neighbourhood night sooner than later.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Little Rehab For Some Real Housewives of (East) Vancouver

As far as guilty pleasures go, rich girls behaving badly can't be all that bad can it? I've got to admit that I've been truly counting the days until the Season 2 première of the Real Housewives of Vancouver. Catching up with the nasty antics of Jody, Mary and Ronnie is definitely part of the allure but an even bigger draw has been the fact that I finally got my hands on a couple bottles of castmate, Ronnie Negus', Rehab wine.

No easy task I might add because I don't believe the wine was ever released for sale. The bottles I have even say "Nor For Resale" on the back label.

I've been waiting for the new season before going for a little Rehab. Seeing as how I was somehow missed from the invite list for the official party, we invited some of the Real Housewives of McSpadden Park over to sip right back and catch the show. The fact that none of neighbours are really "housewives" doesn't matter - particularly since I doubt any of the ladies on the show are "real" housewives either.

1253. 2011 Rehab Sauvignon Blanc (Napa - California)

If you caught the last season's shows, you might recall that there were a couple of episodes that honed in on Ronnie and her vinous venture - even if she seemed to know more about drinking than making wine. In her own words, "I really don't know much about wine. I drink wine. I had the idea for the name, and that's as far as I can go." You mean everyone doesn't drink wine out the glass with a straw? Probably not unless you're testing that old high school myth that drinking through a straw speeds up the buzz.

Now, to be honest, I wasn't expecting much from the wine. After all, there were scenes in the show that even pooh poohed it as plonk. But, you know, it wasn't nearly as bad as we expected it to be. I don't think the Kiwis have to worry about Ronnie commandeering their stranglehold on the Sauv Blanc buzz (let alone those in Sancerre) but I've been served far less palatable wines through the years.

I don't know that I'd go so far as to say that this is a testament to the wine's pedigree but, when we didn't finish off one of the bottles during the show itself, we corked it to finish it off later - rather than pouring down the sink. And finish it we did.

To be truthful, it's not a wine that I'd buy by the case - even if it were available for purchase - but it might have enough cachet that I could see buying it as a gift for that special event or housewife down the road. I understand that, even if Ronnie does end up marketing a wine down the road, it will have to be under a different brand name as "Rehab" had been trademarked by Monster Energy Drinks before she tried to do so.

As for the show, I had to drink a little extra Rehab to drown my sorrows that neither Christina nor Reiko returned for Season 2. The jury's definitely out on Amanda but I think we might be quick to sign up as card-carrying members of Team Robin. Guesses are that Ioulia's going to be worth a story line and a few toasts as well.

So, cheers ladies and, Ronnie, anytime you want to set up a focus group for your next wine, keep me in mind. I'll bring my own straw!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Groundhog Day

I may just have to don a scarlet letter after I admit this, but I'm one of those folks that has never seen the movie Groundhog Day. I mean I know it's a classic and all but I've never had the pleasure. I know it's supposed to be something about the same events happening over and over and over again - and I think it stars Chevy Chase - but that's about all I know.

If nothing else, I may have to admit that I'm living my own sort of Groundhog Day with this blog. I continually find myself so far behind on my posts that I have to pull a drastic catch-up stunt. I'm coming close to that now, but I'm trying to persevere for the moment.

Maybe I should check out the movie to see if or how that dilemma was resolved.

In any event, the real Groundhog Day has come around and our neighbour, Shameless Hussy, is throwing a little little fundraising soirée. And, rather than have us stand around a hole in the ground looking for a rodent, she's arranged some laughs, some music and many spirits to enhance the mood.

1252.  2004 Burrowing Owl Syrah (VQA Okanagan Valley)

A small confession might be in order as I add the new bottle to The List. We didn't actually open this bottle until we got home from the Hussy's party. She had some wine by the glass there, but they weren't selling it by the bottle; especially when it was coming out of a box. So, I just stuck to beer. BUT we did drink the wine while eating one of our Shameless Hussy's Groundhog cupcakes; so, I'm thinking I can still use her party as the premise for the bottle.

Plus, I figure Groundhog - Burrowing Owl; they both sort of pop up out of a hole in ground. So, it's kind of fitting. No?

Regardless, any occasion is pretty much fitting for a Burrowing Owl wine. This is the fourth vintage of their Syrah that I'm adding to The List. So far, I've added the '02 (at #358), '03 (at #706) and '05 (way back at #39) and there may a couple more still to come.  The 2004 Syrah has been called "the leanest of Burrowing Owl Syrahs" by writer (and fan) John Schreiner, but we found the wine to still be drinking just fine. Perhaps it was because we were drinking it on its own and not comparing it to any other vintages - or maybe it just goes with Groundhog cupcakes - but we had no problem finishing it off.

That being said about the wine, I'll return to the party and give some props for the show that our Hussy put together. I'd never seen Thomas Jones and the Face Invaders before but they put a whole new look to improvisational theatre. Far from scripted theatre, but nothing like the theatre sports I've seen previously, it was an interesting take on the genre. Not as many belly laughs as regular theatre sports, but interesting all the same.

That led into some spirited R&B and blues but Mr. D, Logan and I weren't exactly channeling the whole dancing queen persona at the party. We did, however, strike up a conversation with CBC On The Coast host, Stephen Quinn. The party was being held at the CBC building in Vancouver. So, when he offered to take us on a bit of tour of the studios, we jumped at the chance. Seeing the station facilities kind of puts the radio show in a whole different light when listening to it. I just need to wrangle an invite when Stephen's regular guest, Wine Master Barbara Philip, is sitting opposite Stephen instead of Mr. D - especially if it's on a day when she's bringing samples.

In fact, maybe I need to be the guest myself. I can talk wine and blogs. Really. I can.

But that's for another post. It's time to finish this one off in my game attempt to avoid that "Groundhog Day" feeling of blogging dismay catching up with me all over again.

Funny thing is that, for Groundhog Day, I didn't even hear whether or not we're due for an early spring or not.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Grape Debate

"Should BC have a signature wine variety?"

The question has been raised for years, but the question has clearly never been answered to the satisfaction of the BC winemaking industry - or to the wine drinking public for that matter. Indeed, an ancillary question is begged: "Does anyone care outside of a few pundits and wine writers?"

Well, the UBC Alumni Association thought it was a question worthy of discussion and they must have been on to something because a sold out crowd of over 300 folks showed up at the Vancouver Public Library for The Grape Debate.

The actual "debate" might have been more like a panel discussion and I'm not so sure that - beyond the bravado of the format - there was really all that much disagreement between the pro and the con sides.

Despite the fact that there was a tasting that featured a couple dozen wineries after the debate, I don't get to add a bottle to The List. As such, I'm not going to endlessly recount the evening's events. Rather, I'll refer you to Anthony Gismondi's article in the Vancouver Sun for a nice little encapsulation of some of the discussion points - although maybe I should advise you that he was arguing on the "yes" side at the debate.

What I will do though is mention a few a few of what I found to be the most intriguing or quote-worthy points that were made:

In advocating against a single variety, David Scholefield emphasized that an identity for BC wines needs to come from a sense of place as opposed to a grape. He argued that the grape variety is simply a point of departure as opposed to the final destination. It won't matter what the grape variety is IF the wine is good.

Sid Cross, on the other hand, couldn't believe that we're were still even debating the topic. He agreed that BC has good stories to tell with its wine but he just thinks we're telling too many different ones.

Michaela Morris was arguing for a signature variety and took it a bit further by extolling flights of Syrah and Riesling that were placed before recent tasting panels.

Despite being "just a Chinese guy from Canada" who was "scared to death" of Sid Cross and couldn't possibly know anything about wine, Howard Soon thought the argument should be more about defining the different terroirs in the province. For him, it's a question of "terroir vs. varietal."

Anthony Gismondi lauded Howard's sense of adventure but wants him to "eventually settle down" after all of his experimentation. He might have had the sound bite of the evening when he said that without focus BC would be "nothing more than beaches and peaches."

During his bout, Kurtis Kolt reminded everyone that BC's own Master of Wine, Barbara Philip, wrote her MW thesis on whether BC should pin its winemaking hopes on the championing of Pinot Blanc. She concluded that this wasn't the route to take.

It was definitely pointed out that Argentina and New Zealand may have respectively made names for themselves based on Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc, but that notoriety has also become a bit of double-edged sword as their association with those varietal wines has pigeon-holed them somewhat when it comes to marketing different wines.

After everything was said and done, I don't know that either side could be declared a winner. As is often the case, the best answer likely lies somewhere between the two camps. I don't think it's a stretch to say that both sides agreed that the industry needs more focus and needs to identify which grapes work best in the different regions. The Okanagan Valley may not be that big but everyone agreed that it presents a whole array of issues to growers and winemakers. The grapes that grow best in Oliver and Osoyoos aren't going to be the same ones that excel in Naramata or in the northern end of the valley.

I do know that the time seemed to fly by and, before we knew it, the panel discussion was over and it was time to enjoy some wine. Following the tasting, I'd be hard pressed to pick one varietal wine that stood head and shoulders above the others. There seemed to be a bit of satisfaction, however, in the fact that there was a good assortment of wines, styles and grape varieties to choose from.

As for me, I'm not quite ready to campaign for a single varietal (or variety) yet. I certainly don't think that every winery, up and down the Valley, needs to offer a full slate of ten or twenty or more different wines. Something tells me there is quite that much terroir in that little piece of the province. Funny that.