Friday, March 29, 2013

A Mid-Week Portugese Blend

1275. N.V. Bonifácio - Encosta dos Curiosos (Portugal)

A low-key night at home, a panini on the grill, it just seemed right to pop the cork on this bottle from the "Vineyard of the Curious" that I'd picked up at Marquis awhile back. An entry level wine, the back label states that this is a wine made of "Portugese traditional grape varieties." That phrasing of "Portugese" "traditional" and "varieties" is likely what prompted me to grab it in the first place. Known for the vast assortment of varieties that can go into its blends, I'm always hopeful that a Portugese blend might provide another addition to my Wine Century Club tally.

It took a bit of online searching - and I never did find a definitive breakdown - but I discovered the the three main varieties going into EC are Castelão, Tinta Miúda and Alicante Bouschet. I've already tallied the first and last grape but Tinta Miúda looked good for an add.

That is, until I checked Jancis Robinson's tome, Wine Grapes, and found out that Tinta Miúda is just one of many synonyms for the Graciano grape - and Graciano was a Wine Century Club add a long ways back. Darn.

With no new grape variety to focus on, I tried finding out a bit about the winery but there wasn't a whole lot of depth or interesting information readily available. I did see that Bonifácio was founded in 1963 (after years of family involvement in the wine business), is still family operated, and is based in the district just outside of Lisbon. The winery utilizes organic practices and releases wines under a number of brand names.

For the under $15 category (remember I'm in Vancouver), this was more interesting than a lot of its peers. EC is still a commercial wine but it doesn't rely simply on big, sweet fruit. It was more red fruit than black and it probably drank a little nicer with the food than on its own. I don't think it's readily available in the market, but I'd probably consider opening another bottle when in similar circumstances - i.e. mid-week simple wine with a light dinner in front of the TV.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Looking Ahead to WBC13 - A Visit to Red Rooster

With the Wine Bloggers Conference 2013 quickly approaching, I'm starting to see more and more posts and tweets relating to this June's extravaganza. For the first time, the North American version of WBC is going to cross the 49th Parallel and meet in Canada - in British Columbia and the Okanagan Valley none-the-less. Being a BC kind of a guy, I think it's safe to say that I've been rather intimate with my share of BC wines over the years. With that in mind and knowing that many of this year's participants will have never tried a BC wine before in their life, I thought I'd take a stab at a series of posts to highlight some of my favourite BC wineries.

The idea is to feature a different winery each week leading up to the start of the conference. If I'm reading the calendar correctly, that'll see ten terrific wineries featured before we all meet in Penticton. Keeping in the spirit of this blog, I'll naturally have to drink a bottle from each of those wineries so that I can add the bottle to The List. Hopefully, I haven't bitten off more than I can chew. Lord knows I'm chronically behind with my writing. On the other hand, the drinking part won't be a problem.

Seeing as how Boo and I just spent this past weekend with a fine assortment of folks at Red Rooster winery, it only makes sense that this is the natural place to start.

Red Rooster is one of the 23 wineries (at last count) now found on the Naramata Bench just outside of Penticton - and there's no doubt that most of the bloggers attending WBC13 will find themselves on the Bench (if not at Red Rooster itself) at some point during their stay. The winery was established by Beat and Prudence Mahrer in 1997 at the far end of the Bench. That original location, however, had a maximum capacity of 10,000 cases and the Mahrer's found that they needed to reinvent themselves at what might have been the first showcase winery on Bench in 2004 - and its much increased 30,000 case capacity.

The winery has always had a tie to local art and some feature pieces are prominently displayed on the property and in the winery. The current location even features a gallery on its second floor. One of my favourite stories about Red Rooster, however, relates to Frank the Baggage Handler - the whimsical statue that greets guests just outside the tasting room.  Frank was initially commissioned as public art by the City of Penticton in 2004 but his installation - and the public display of his man parts - proved to be a tad outrageous for some of the city's residents. Although the city tried concealing Frank's privates at first, some self appointed art critics were sufficiently appalled that they performed a "Lorena Bobbitt" and vandalized poor old Frank's penis. Since it was evident that Frank's manlihood was still a bit much for some residents, Red Rooster adopted him - and all his glory - and moved him to the winery.

The best part of the story for me, though, was that, for their next vintage, the winery produced a special release "Cabernet Frank" and quickly sold out of all of the artist signed bottles. I've tried for years to find a bottle of Frank but, much to my dismay, there just don't seem to be any bottles still hanging around - and that's even with the winery's help in trying to find a bottle. Sadly, they no longer produce a varietal Cab Franc. I'm thinking the marketing tie-in is still ripe to be picked should they ever go the Cab Franc route again though.

Shortly after Frank was moved to Red Rooster, the Andrew Peller group purchased the winery in 2005. Accordingly, the winery benefits from shared experiences with stablemates Sandhill, Peller Estates and Calona in BC and with Trius, Wayne Gretzky and Thirty Bench in Ontario.

The next step in the winery's evolution was the appointment of Karen Gillis as its winemaker in 2007. Prior to Karen's arrival, the winery had seen a bit of revolving door when it came to winemakers. Karen has now finished her sixth vintage with Red Rooster and she seems to have become an anchoring influence at the winery. Born and raised in BC, Karen attended BCIT where she studied food technology. Those studies included a winemaking component and it didn't take too long for her to gravitate to the world of wine where she cut her winemaking teeth with Okanagan superstar, Howard Soon. She now oversees a varied production of wines that covers a full spectrum of Okanagan varieties and she's known for favouring a fruit forward style that is delivered at reasonable prices. It's also a style that is earning some hefty recognition and hardware I might add.

Karen is as down-to-earth and self-effacing as a person can be and she'll inevitably give credit to the growers and her team at the winery but it's easy to conclude that the lady has talent. I need only point you to some of the accolades she garnered in 2011. Her 2009 Chardonnay won Canada's only Gold Medal at the Chardonnay du Monde competition in France and, not only that, it was named one of the Top 10 wines in the competition (out of 914 entered). That award was followed shortly thereafter when her 2009 Pinot Noir was named Best of Varietal, Best of Class and Best New World Pinot Noir at Jerry Mead's New World International Wine Competition in the States. And the tributes kept coming. The 2008 Meritage was given a Lieutenant Governor's Award for Excellence in BC Wine - one of only eleven wines to be named in 2011.

I think I've already added all three of those wines to The List. So, I figured we'd treat ourselves to yet another big winner from that year.

1274. 2009 Red Rooster Syrah (VQA Okanagan Valley)

The Syrah was named Red Wine of the Year at the 2011 Okanagan Fall Wine Festival and, in my humble opinion, it is drinking beautifully - think rich, black cherries and a bit of spice coming through. The wine was definitely New World in its approach but there's also no way you'd confuse it for a big Aussie Shiraz. Both Boo and I were very pleased to see that this wasn't our last bottle either.

Early on with the move to the new location, Red Rooster introduced what I feel is one of the smartest marketing moves I've seen in the BC wine industry. I've written a fair bit about the winery's unique Adopt-A-Row program through the years; so, I won't go into too much detail here (you only need to search the topic in the blog for more). However, the concept is that the rows of Malbec planted on the estate vineyard are adopted by wine lovers and the winery delivers an annual case of wine and throws a Spring Pruning weekend and a Fall Harvest party for any adoptive parents that can make it - in addition to other perks like early notice on wines and discounts at the winery. This past weekend, we attended the pruning party - during which we tasted our way through current releases, sampled the yet-to-be-released 2012 whites, enjoyed a lunch and Q&A session, feasted at a winemaker's dinner at one of Penticton's heralded restaurants and pruned the 50 or so vines that make up our row. I can attest that there was far more wining and dining than there was work. Boo and I had finished our row in less than 45 minutes and there wasn't enough work to do to keep us going any longer - much to our dismay actually.

Picking grapes in the Fall is even more fun.

Through the Adopt-A-Row events, I've come to know Karen and some of her team and I truly value all the time and patience everyone affords me. Karen took the time to answer a whack of questions that I'd thrown her way in preparation for this post. It was hardly a Proustian questionnaire but I definitely learned some hitherto unknown aspects of Karen's approach to wine. A few highlights of the repartée - for me anyhow - were:

A favourite aspect of the industry for her is that it's still a small community and that everyone knows each other. But, more than that, she loves the huge connection between all the different components of the agricultural business community - particularly the fact that the region's chefs are working hard to create "amazing wine and food pairings, all sourced locally." You only need look at Red Rooster's relationship with Bogner's Darin Paterson to see how intimately the winery tries to work hand in hand with the local food community.

When asked if there was a particular wine she makes that gives her slightly more of a thrill than the others, Karen advised that it was Red Rooster's Golden Egg - the Valley's only take (to my knowledge) on the classic Rhône or Aussie Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre blend. There is very little Grenache or Mourvèdre grown in the province; so, in order to get her hands on some, Karen has coaxed some of her regular growers to plant a row here or there. The vines are still young and have yet to reach their potential but Karen hopes to keep learning about the blend and seeing how those grapes and vines evolve in the vineyards. Aussie drinkers will be familiar with the GSM nickname, but Karen couldn't source enough "G" to go that route. Mourvèdre is the biggest component in her blend; she just didn't think the MSG name would go that well with the wine's label or with winery's marketing plan. Hence, Golden Egg name is here to stay.

Karen is also having fun playing around with the winery's new concrete egg fermenter. Red Rooster received their first egg from France in time for Karen to try it out on some of last Fall's vintage of Viognier and Pinot Gris. The new concrete fermenter provided her with yet another outlet to quench her thirst for knowledge and she's looking forward to seeing what influences the egg might have on different wines down the road.

And, speaking of "thirst," Karen confessed to a favourite tipple of sherries and ports during the colder months of the Okanagan calendar. A lover of winter comfort foods, she advised that a full, nutty and well developed sherry queues up nicely as a "comfort wine."

Being the gentleman that I am, I'm never going to ask a woman her age, but Karen's considerably younger than me. As such, I was surprised to hear her say that she's sees "young superstar" winemakers as being a big trend in BC wine - and she wasn't counting herself in that group of "youngsters." She's already finding a next generation of winemakers coming through the ranks and she's impressed with their desire to try new approaches - whether those approaches be experimental or a throwback to more traditional methods.

It was Karen, herself, who was recently being heralded as a young gun. When someone like Karen is already looking to a new generation, I guess it just goes to show how quickly the BC winemaking scene is growing and changing. I have to think that Karen and Red Rooster are laying a good foundation for the years to come though.

As mentioned, Red Rooster produces a fairly wide range of both varietal and blended wines. Personal favourites over the years have been Bantam (the easy drinking white blend), the Reserve Merlot, the Riesling, Rosé and Reserve Gewürztraminer. The best way to find a favourite of your own is to visit the well appointed tasting room and take in the view and the breadth of Karen and the winery's hard work.

If you're visiting the Okanagan for WBC13, be sure to take in the Naramata Bench. I don't think you'll regret the excursion or making Red Rooster one of your stops en route.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Pizza From Way Back

Gonna be quickie with this one. My sis, Vixen, called to see if we wanted to join them and Dad for dinner. They were headed to an old high school haunt of mine. I won't say how many years it's been since I chowed down on some Romana's pizza - since that would date my sis - but the restaurant's celebrating its 40th anniversary on The Heights this year. We weren't there opening night but it likely wasn't too long afterward.

I'm not even sure if the place has changed much since those early years, especially since I don't recall the last time I ate here when it wasn't late into the evening, long after some game, party or dance.

There may be a wave of high end, Neapolitan pizzas raging through Vancouver but Romana's isn't part of that wave. These pies definitely harken back to old school, Vancouver thicker crust pizzas. Now, the toppings have been modernized since my high school days - there was no spinach or melizano, artichoke hearts or feta on our pizzas back then - but it would seem that you can go home again after all.

1272. N.V. Spinelli Montepulciano d'Abbruzzo (Abruzzi DOC - Italy)

We'd have never ordered a bottle of wine to go with our pizza all those years ago, but by look of the wine list, I'm not so sure that many people order wine even now. This simple, entry level fruity quaff was about as adventurous as it got on the limited list and this is one of a handful of bottles in our provincial liquor system that sells for under $10. It kinda tasted like that as well - although it does seem to garner its share of "bang for your buck" plaudits in the press. It was certainly fruity and light enough that even my niece tried a bit - and she hasn't graduated past sweeter wines yet - but she wasn't interested in much more than a couple of sips.

It all counts for The List though. It just that I have a feeling I might check to see if Romana's allows BYO should we show up for another pizza and a few memories.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Plantagenet Bubbles

We've found ourselves facing a bit of a conundrum. Why is it that we seemed to stay more in touch with Miss Jaq when she was on the other side of the world in Abu Dhabi than we do now that she back in Vancouver? Just one of life's little mysteries and a underlying belief that our current proximity will lend itself to easy access I suppose.

Proximity doesn't always lend itself to fitting each other into busy schedules though - particularly when Boo's and my wine-drenched activities can scare a girl when she's on the Merlot Boy No Merlot Diet. Not that Miss Jaq scares easily.

We managed to work this Sunday morning into everyone's calendar and, naturally, Miss Jaq wasn't feeling on the top of her game. Thoughts of strolling The Drive for brunch morphed into something a little less taxing: bubble, chat and coffee. A few of of our favourite things.

1271.  1997 Plantagenet Mount Barker Brut (Western Australia)

As you might guess from the '97 vintage, this bottle has been hanging around for awhile - waiting for an appropriate occasion (and, without doubt, any get together with Miss Jaq qualifies). Boo and I won this bottle at the very first Australia Wine Appreciation Society event we attended. I'm not even sure how many years ago that was but, suffice it to say, it was long before I started this blog.

I can't say that I'm accustomed to seeing Plantagenet wines on Vancouver wine shelves. Indeed, I'm not sure that I've ever seen another bottle of their wines here. The winery was established by Tony Smith in 1974 and was named after Plantaganet shire, the region that surrounds the town of Mount Barker. The region itself is named after the English royal house that ruled from 1154 to 1399. Smith, himself, is a descendent of the Plantagenets and he purchased land 350 kilometres south-east of Perth and planted a trial vineyard in 1968 with Shiraz and Cab Sauv. Three years later, he planted more vines and produced its first vintage in 1974. During the following year, they purchased an old apple packing shed on the highway nearby and, voilà, the region's first winery and cellar door was born.

Nowadays, Tony Smith is still involved in the management of Plantagenet; however, the winery was sold in 2000. They now produce approximately 60,000 cases annually under the Plantagenet, Omrah and Hazard Hill brands.

I couldn't find much information about this Brut. It doesn't seem to have left much of a trail on the internet. Plantagenet still makes a Brut but I can't definitely say that our older vintage was made in the same traditional method that the current wines are made. I think it's fair to hazard a guess and say that production methods are similar and that, if that's the case, this is a classic Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend. It certainly had those classic biscuit notes - likely intensified by the additional years of ageing.

Boo is encouraging me to pull more of these classics out of the "cellar." Guess if we can find more occasions to fit Miss Jaq into the schedule, it'll be easy.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Between Boo's work schedule being all over the map and Beamer's parental duties and child delivery services, getting together can be somewhat problematic. When the opportunity arose to catch up with Beamer and The Divine Miss M over dinner, we snagged it. Miss M came up with another winning suggestion for the locale, L'Ufficio - the little brother or wine bar as the owners refer to it of La Quercia (Vancouver Magazine's 2011Restaurant of the Year) - and we were set.

It was a first time to the restaurant for all of us, but The Divine Miss M was under the impression that you could order either the wine bar's offerings or the dishes from La Quercia next door. Turned out that we could only order dishes from L'Ufficio but that was no problem. We started with a large platter of mixed charcuterie, cheeses and condiments that went down as easily as the Tuscan red that we chose.

1271.  2011 Pertimali Sassetti Livio - Rosso di Montalcino (Rosso di Montalcino DOC - Tuscany - Italy)

The wine list was completely Italian (except for a couple of high end Champagnes) and, at our waiter's suggestion, we went with a producer that I hadn't run across before. The Rosso di Montalcino was 100% Sangiovese Grosso and the Sassetti family has been making wine in Montalcino for three generations. The Pertimali vineyards and estate are located on the Montosoli hill, outside of Montalcino, in one of the most favourable locales for growing Sangiovese. The family is noted for producing traditionally styled wines that are meant to go with food and Livio Sassetti was one of the founders of the Brunello di Montalcino consortium in 1967. Indeed, an oft-quoted excerpt from The Wine Advocate stated that "If I had only one Brunello to drink, it would be Pertimali. This producer has been making spectacular wines since 1982."

We didn't go with the bigger Brunello, but the Rosso di Montalcino was very approachable and much lusher than the Tuscan Chiantis that we see so regularly as the Italian entries on local wine lists. The bottle was long gone before our main course arrived. So, we really had no choice but to order another bottle to go with our beef. Boo was apprehensive about ordering the family style entrée and he made sure that he told the story of our dinner in Cortona where we let the restaurant choose our menu for us and the shared plate of bistecca alla fiorentina had a sticker price far beyond anything any of us had imagined - more like the cost of a side of beef back home.

We didn't have to face that issue here, however, and the far more reasonable price prompted us to splurge a little on our second bottle. One that I'm a little more familiar with.

1272.  2009 La Spinetta Langhe Nebbiolo (Langhe DOC - Piedmont - Italy)

We don't tend to see many entry level Spinetta wines in our market but I've yet to meet a Spinetta wine that I didn't like. La Spinetta hasn't been around nearly as long as the Sassetti family but their wines immediately grabbed the attention of wine writers, critics and consumers when they arrived on the scene. Even the premium Barbarescos and Barolo are known for being approachable upon release, but this entry level Nebbiolo is particularly ready to be quaffed. The winery website notes that the Langhe Nebbiolo is made from the younger vines from one of their vineyards (Starderi) but by "younger," the winery means 12-14 years of age. The fruit from more established vines is reserved for La Spinetta's noted Barbarescos and Barolo.

By the time we'd finished the beef and the Nebbiolo, we could have easily called it a night, but Boo was tempted by a specialty of the house - a pine cone infused grappa. We were told that they add the pine cone to the grappa and leave it on the roof of the building to fully impregnate the flavours. As far as "guest alcohols" go for this blog, this was one of the more intriguing ones - and, once Boo had ordered it, we succumbed to our urge to order canolis and zeppoles (Italian doughnuts) to go with it. It was a good thing that we had a bit of walk as part of our journey home after everything.

As mentioned, we don't tend to have many chances to connect with Beamer and The Divine Miss M but, without fail, you can be pretty much guaranteed that they'll be full of food, wine and stories. Just like tonight was. Here's hoping that the next occasion won't be too far off into the future.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Holy Smoke

Holy Smoke!

I know the phrase is kinda reserved for the announcement of the new Pope, but it's completely apropos to my realization of just how far behind I am on my posts. No doubt there are those who would berate me for thinking aloud that the Catholic church is behind in its thinking and its integration into 21st Century life, but right now, I'm thinking that, just like the new Pope, I've got me some serious catching up to do in terms of being current as well.

Being behind the times may be about the only thing the Catholic church and I have in common though. So, let's see what I can do about moving on.

1269.  2006 Altos Las Hormigas - Vineyard Selection Reserva Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

Seeing as how the new Pope Francis originally hails from Argentina, I think an Argentine Malbec is entirely befitting of the occasion. I have an inkling, however, that this Alberto Antonini-inspired wine from Mendoza might be a tad tastier than your standard communion wine. Not that I'd have the slightest idea as to the tastiness of communion wines.

I've heard Antonini say that he doesn't like being called a "flying winemaker" but the gent certainly does get around. Having learned much of his trade with two of Italy's best known wineries - Antinori and Frescobaldi - he has since traveled the world to consult or work as winemaker for concerns in the US, Canada, Australia, Argentina and Chile.

By 1995, Antonini had been plying his trade in Italy long enough and he longed to  discover more of the world. He started looking for investment opportunities and, at the time, Argentina presented itself as an exotic locale with huge potential and, together with Antonio Morescalchi, he located the current Altos Las Hormigas home vineyard - 216 acres in the Luján de Cuyo region in Mendoza. The two native Italians took on some additional business partners and ALH was born.

From the beginning, Antonini recognized Malbec as "The Grape" for Mendoza. That wasn't the case back in '95 though. Mendoza was still largely undeveloped. Although there was plenty of wine being made, that wine was consumed mostly in the domestic market and no one really saw Malbec as a premium grape. Chardonnay, Cab and Merlot were the grapes of choice and Antonini claims that Altos Las Hormigas was the first winery to focus 100% on Malbec in the region.

The Reserva is definitely more refined than the more commercial Argentine Malbecs you generally find in the Vancouver market. There is still a nice underlying layer of dark fruit to this wine but there is also a level of acidity and gentle tannic structure that takes the wine to a better place.

Definitely more heaven than hell.

Somewhat on that last note, something tells me though that Francis isn't going to like me (and my gay peeps) any more than the last Popes have. So, if I'm truly earmarked for hell, I at least hope they're serving this Malbec down there. I'll have to see if Pope Francis can look into it for me.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Little Grape Juice as We Dine Out For Life

Boo and I took in, not one but, two fundraisers tonight. As such, I figure this might be as close as I'll ever come to feeling just like Fred Lee - Vancouver media's social gadfly and gallivanting man-about-town. Whether you catch up with Fred through his weekly column in The Province or Monday's mornings on the CBC when he's recalling the week's "gala gala do's" where Vancouver's bright and shiny folk do good, the man is perpetually running around town - often taking in two, three or four events in one night.

I thought we did rather well by stretching ourselves and hitting two. Need I say that it was likely two too many for Boo's preference - but even his rubber arm can be bended to throw a few dollars here and there for charity.

We kicked off the evening at Grape Juice - the annual wine auction and schmooze-fest to benefit Big Sisters of BC Lower Mainland. This year's event was held at the Ferrari Maserati of Vancouver dealership and they were thrilled to raise over $105,000 - enough to help facilitate 52 Big Sister - Little Sister matches. It also likely facilitated the only time that I'm going to get this close to a $789,000 Ferrari (plus tax, thank you) or sit in the plush leather seats of a Maserati (costing a far more approachable quarter million).

We didn't end up buying a car - they just didn't have my favourite shade of blue - but we did pick up a threesome of bottles in the auction that will have to make it to The List down the road.

Despite the fact that we tried our fair share of wine at Grape Juice, we didn't have an actual bottle. So, we had to wait for our second stop of the night - Dining Out For Life - in order to add a bottle to The List tonight.

1268.  2010 M. Chapoutier - Belleruche (Côtes-du-Rhône AOC - France)

Dining Out For Life is the annual fundraiser for A Loving Spoonful and Friends For Life - two of Vancouver's premium agencies for providing services to those suffering with HIV/AIDS. Participating restaurants donate 25% of all food sales that day to the cause and, over its 18-year history, it has become the biggest fundraising activity for BC's restaurant fraternity. Unlike last year, when our Dining Out For Life was a big outing at The Pear Tree with around 40 or so friends, this year was much simpler with just Boo and I and Au Petit Chavignol - the restaurant bistro at Les Amis du Fromage. My French onion soup and triple grilled cheese with pommes frites could have easily been paired with a white but Boo's burger called for red. Accordingly, an easy drinking red was the compromise and it was much easier than expected.

M. Chapoutier has a large portfolio that seems to be getting bigger and bigger. I don't recall having tried this wine before but the Grenache/Syrah blend was much lighter than I'd expected - particularly since M. Chapoutier's wines are all biodynamic and I generally find them to exhibit an abundance of fruit. At first, I thought 2010 might have been a tougher vintage but most reports have it being a banner year. It might just have been that we - and our taste buds - were fatigued after a day at work and the couple hours spent at Grape Juice and we didn't try the wine at our best.

M. Chapoutier doesn't have anything to worry about though. One wine that didn't hit my favourites list won't do them in. I've previously found their well-priced wines to be quite lovely; so, I'm sure there'll be more in our glasses down the road.

The real question, however, is how does Mr. Lee manage to stay so active and keep his palate fresh? Because I know that boy likes his wine. Two events and we were done. I'll have to see if Fred is willing to act as my personal trainer if we're ever going to be so charitably active in the future.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Little Sicilian Carricante

I saw our next bottle a month or so ago at one of the government signature stores and grabbed it - taste untried -because it'd make another grand addition to my Wine Century Club tally. As coincidence would have, the winery was serving its wines at the Vancouver International Wine Festival that just finished and I had an opportunity to try the wine there. It seemed to be a perfectly good omen that I crack open the bottle and give it a more comprehensive taste.

1267. 2010 Planeta Carricante (Sicilia IGT - Italy)

Although the Planeta family has owned its Sicilian estate since the 1600's, the winery is a relative newcomer, having been started in the mid-1980's by two Planeta cousins and an uncle. A third cousin joined up not long after. The familial entrepreneurs are known for having spent their initial years "matching the extraordinarily diverse Sicilian soils with both indigenous and international grape varieties." The end result (so far) has been a collection of five distinct wineries around the island and a reputation as one of the premier wine estates in Sicily. The winery regularly wins awards for its portfolio, surprising many who are used to the more commonly found Sicilian bulk wines.

The Carricante varietal wine is the company's first venture in the area surrounding Mount Etna - a new and upcoming region in Sicily - and this 2010 is only the second vintage of the wine.

The grape variety doesn't even show up in the Oxford Companion to Wine; however, it does merit mention in the new tome on grapes, Wine Grapes, by Jancis Robinson et al. The grape seems to be most closely identified with Sicily and the Mount Etna region but it is apparently grown elsewhere in Italy as well. I presume it is used mostly for blending in other regions because I didn't see any references online to non-Sicilian varietal wines. Indeed, Carricante is even used for blending Etna Bianco DOC and Etna Bianco Superiore wines.

The Planeta wine is a 100% varietal wine though and there's no real surprise why Planeta choose to bottle their Carricante in a Riesling bottle. The wine has cracking acidity and big mineral notes - the latter characteristic invariably coming from the volcanic, black lava sand of Mount Etna that the grapes are grown in. The variety is often noted for its aromas of orange, grapefruit and aniseed but we didn't particularly find any of those characteristics on our tasting.

The wine was aged on its lees (spent yeast cells) for up to four months in stainless steel - apparently this is a fairly common tactic for winemakers hoping to counter-balance the grape's vibrant acidity.

At $35 in the government liquor store, this is a little hefty on the wallet for an unknown white wine,  and I don't know that it excited me enough to be a regular pour at home. It does bring me up to #149 on my Wine Century Club tally though and, to me, that discovery is worth a little extra coin. I surely wouldn't say "no" to a little vacay to the slopes of Mt. Etna and Sicily to try some more.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Feeling a LIttle Topsy Turley

Don't get me wrong, I don't ever want to diss a sunny Spring day in Vancouver. I'll admit, at times, they can feel few and far between. However, those early Spring days often mean work around and outside the house. Even though we'd never want to be taken for one of those houses that leave Christmas lights up all year, there's not much chance anyone's going to climb trees for Christmas lights in the pouring rain.

Those sunny days and chores can make for a fairly decent photo op though. We don't often find "bears" stranded up in trees in the urban city.

We can also be thankful that the sun lends itself nicely to the thought of bringing out the BBQ or the smoker. There's no easy way to keep a smoker - full of pork butt - working away in a steady rainfall. At least not that I'm aware of. And, boy, do we love Boo's pulled pork. I can testify to the fact that it pays to live under the same roof as transplanted Southerner. It doesn't do much good in the way of helping to keep our girlish figures in line, but I've think I've reached the point in life where I'm okay with the fact that I shall never again be a studly Calvin Klein underwear model. (As if I ever was.)

That good day's work does mean, however, that there's no guilt whatsoever in pulling out a treat of a bottle when it comes time to dig into that pork. Not in the least.

1266. 2007 Turley Juvenile Zinfandel (California)

Wine Spectator has previously stated that "Turley's wines leave no room for ambivalence. Many consumers consider the rich, concentrated reds iconic, while other find the 'big boys' as Turley calls some bottlings, stylistically over-the-top." I can't speak from much experience on the matter - since Turley wines are either difficult to find locally or prohibitively expensive, or both - but I'm pretty sure that Boo and I would fall on the "iconic" side of the fence.

The winery was established in 1993, after owner Larry Turley sold his interest in Frog's Leap, another well-known California winery. Zinfandel was Turley's favourite varietal to make and he made it the focus of the new winery. It quickly established itself as one the few "cult" Zinfandels being made. While old vine Zinfandel is often seen as the key to Turley's success, the winery's early emphasis on ripeness was just as critical.

The winery also realized that the grapes will ripen differently on younger vines. Those grapes generally need to be picked earlier as younger plants tend to be more vigorous and ripen sooner. Rather than throw the fruit from younger vines into the premium vineyard designated wines, Turley uses that "younger" fruit to produce a regional blend that is composed of grapes from a variety of sites. The resulting wine can be even more exuberant and fresh - and, ultimately,more reasonably priced.

The Juvenile wines are among the larger productions of Turley wines but, even then, there still isn't a lot of it. There were only 14,000 cases - of all of Turley's wines - produced in 2007 vintage and less than a thousand of those cases would be Juvenile. Total production had apparently increased to about 16,000 cases by 2011 but even that's still not a lot of wine. The oft told story is that there has been as much as a two-year waiting list to be added to the wine club membership so that you can even buy the wine from the winery.

Unfortunately, for us, Turley wines will likely remain rarer than a sunny Vancouver day in early Spring, but we're going to continue to enjoy both - whenever the opportunity arises.