Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Chanukkah Gathering

It never ceases to amaze me how lucky we are to live in Vancouver where there is such a wide-ranging and cosmopolitan make-up to the city's inhabitants and to its cultural celebrations. At our office alone, I work with folks that were either born in other countries or are one generation removed. It's a small office, but those countries have included India, Hong Kong, Albania, Uruguay, Chile, Mexico, Afghanistan, Poland, Italy and Korea.

It's no surprise that Vancouver's multicultural populace also has a wide assortment of religions and religious celebration as well. Two of the homes in our immediate neighbourhood are Jewish and we were invited to a Chanukkah party to join in the celebration.

I can't say that I know much about Jewish celebrations and the stories that go with them, but I do know that K-Pop makes a mean latke - and I can't say as I run across any other opportunities to enjoy the tasty potato pancakes.

Plus, I know these folks well enough to know that there'll be plenty of wine and craft beer to add to the festivities.

1478. 2011 Giesen Pinot Noir (Marlborough - New Zealand)

I always look forward to seeing what wine K-Pop and Baby Mama decide to serve.  K-Pop has an in with Barbara Philip, the first Western Canadian to earn a Master of Wine designation and still the only female MW in the country. So far, I've discovered a couple of winners that K-Pop has scored on a tip from Barb. Seeing tonight's Giesen, I'm feeling rather smug in that I'd uncovered Giesen a couple of years back at the Vancouver International Wine Festival - although, admittedly, I keyed in on their Sauv Blanc at the time.

Having opened the Orofino Pinot the other night, it would have been interesting to compare the two cool climate Pinots side by side. Like the Orofino, this was on the easier side of bolder, New World Pinots but it still had enough fruit (as opposed to earth and mushroom) on it to make it entirely appropriate for lighter fare like a latke or as a stand-up, cocktail wine. I was simply glad that most of the other guests were fawning over the assortment of craft beers - since I didn't have to fight anyone off for refills of my wine glass.

The Pinot maybe didn't go quite as smoothly with the cheesecakes and cookies as it did with the latkes but, then, I doubt many reds would have.

Watching the lighting of the menorah - the nine-branched candelabrum - was a treat. I don't think Boo's and my plugging in the Christmas lights has quite the same meaning or emotion. I also thought it was neat to watch the kids playing a dreidel game. I've heard the word "dreidel" before but I guess I didn't know what it was since I probably would have guessed it was a dress if I'd been subjected to a pop quiz. I didn't take the kids on at the game though. They seemed pretty proficient at it - and it might have distracted me from my cheesecake.

All in all. Another tradition. Another wine. And what looks to be a grand start to the holiday season.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Dinner With A View

Ever since we got the chance to spend a short time with our old neighbour, Red, at Dîner en Blanc back in the summer, she's wanted to try and put together a dinner at her place.  After a couple of false starts, we finally pulled it off following her return from a vacation in Sweden to visit her new squeeze. As much as we miss Red as a neighbour, I don't know if I'd even second guess a move from our old hood - if you could end up with a view like this. I'm rather fond of our view of the tennis court and park, but this is something else.

On top of the view, the girl knows how to cook!

1476.  2012 Cono Sur - Bicicleta Viognier (Chile)

Red's always on a hunt for a tasty, well-priced "house" wine. The Cono Sur Viognier is her current choice.

I heartily concur with her reasoning. This Chilean Viognier has quite a different profile from the Viogniers we see from our Okanagan Valley but there's not really much surprise in that. It's a fuller body with less acidity but the fruit is still prominent and at $11 - in OUR market - that's quite the bargain.

As we took in the view - while sipping on our Viognier - Red played double duty as hostess with the most-est and chef in the kitchen. We knew from dinners in the hood, that the girl's got plenty of kitchen and dining experience to draw from. Her years in Italy are enough to make any pasta-loving guy - such as me - salivate at the thought of dining at her table.

Red's other dinner guests were just as appetizing as the first course of linguine with clams. We'd met La Gondoliera previously and, whenever she and Red get together, there's bound to be fun times. I'll leave it at that (for now). We hadn't met the other couple joining us but something tells me they're never going to think of traffic cones as they did before the evening's conversation.

2009 Church & State Chardonnay

No number for the Church & State since I've already added the 2009 to The List back at #1182. We liked it then and we liked it tonight. Richer than the Viognier, it paired nicely with the oil and butter of the pasta. The Viognier had a bit more acidity since the Chadonnay did see some oak, but we certainly finished off the bottle before all of the pasta seconds were finished.
1477.  2008 Orofino Pinot Noir (Similkameen Valley)

The Pinot Noir isn't generally the first wine I grab for when it comes to Orofino wines, but Red had asked for a lighter red to go with a fish course and I figured Pinot is about as classic a red as it can go when it comes to West Coast fish and BC reds. I definitely could have gone for a Gamay Noir - and Orofino has one of those as well - but I have way more Pinots in our "cellar" than I do Gamay's. And, I'm hardly one to pass on an Orofino wine if the occasion arises - as you might gather by the number of Orofino wines that have been added to The List thus far.

By now, the wines had us all in a boisterous mood. So, sing along with me..."Fish Heads. Fish Heads. Roly Poly Fish Heads. Eat them up. Yum." (Certainly some of the most interesting song lyrics you'll ever run across, I dare say.)

OK. So, we weren't really singing that (although the song does exist) and Red did serve the whole fish, but the heads were there if anyone was looking for a cheek or an eye to match up with the Pinot. Despite the wine's deep colour, this was far from an over-the-top, big Pinot. It still showed a subtle body and a profile that certainly didn't overpower the garlic roasted fish.

Admittedly, there may have been another wine or two over the evening that I didn't get to (and don't rightly remember) but, in my defence, I pretty much stuck to these three as I knew I had a big day ahead of me and that Boo needed to leave early because of his need to get up for work at 5.30 in the morning. The evening ended with some big hugs and the promise of more good times to come. Red's off to Venice in the new year for a conference and we're bound to do a little celebrating after that.

Beyond Venice, there's still plenty more to learn about this little (or not so little) story revolving around Mr. Sweden and about some new opportunities for adventure in Whistler that have come up. I'm happy to bring the wine if she brings the stories. Enquiring minds want to know.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Vancouver Gay Men's Wine Social

I like to think that I know a lot about wine events in the Vancouver area but I was taken by surprise that there's been an event - that's right up my alley - that has been ongoing for almost a year now without my hearing about it. While chatting about the blog with one of my teammates during our curling league's Pink Broom bonspiel, he mentioned that he's ben attending Vancouver Gay Men's Wine Social events for awhile now. That announcement certainly piqued my interest, but even better, he said that one was coming up shortly and that he'd see if he could swing me an invite.

He did - and here we are.

The VGMWS was started by a couple - new to Vancouver - after moving from NYC. The monthly get togethers in the Big Apple had been a staple of their New York lives and they apparently missed them enough to try and re-establish them here. Each month, a different wine lover volunteers their home for between 25 and 50 "Wine Boyz" - experienced and wannabe alike.

The host picks a theme for the evening and everyone attending brings along a bottle matched to the theme. Our first stab at the VGMWS saw California Cabs as the theme.

Rough way to start.

1473.  2010 Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon (California)

Getting decent shots of the wines was tougher than getting a glass of wine. I had to use my phone as I didn't bring along my camera and, more to the point, I didn't want to be overly obvious since this was our first foray into this scene. No sense standing out too much or messing up the decorum, you know. I'm more than willing to sacrifice a sharper picture if it is going to play into another invite. (Of course I'm saying this just to make it clear that the fuzziness of the picture has nothing to do with the copious amount of wine that was available).

It was nice to see the assortment of wines that had been brought along - despite the fact that I hardly find there to be a great assortment of Cali Cabs at decent prices in our market. While it's certainly better than it was a decade ago, there's still something about wine crossing the border - and the prices that result from that crossing.

I didn't know anything about the Cannonball brand but the label caught my eye. The wine seemed a bit light compared to the Cabs we were trying in Napa and Sonoma back in the Spring; however, we did tend to try to go as high-end as could back then. After all, this is only a Friday night social - not a high falutin' tasting extravaganza.

1474.  2010 Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley - California)

1475.  Rock & Vine - Three Ranches Cabernet Sauvignon (North Coast - California)

We continued to try a number of wines over the course of the evening but the two that stood out for us were the Avalon and the Rock & Vine. I don't know that either would stand a chance against a real big gun from California but, then again, you could drink a whole lot more of these two than you could for the price of one of those big gun bottles.

Neither Boo nor I knew many of the attendees at this month's social but, needless to say, I'm all over this concept and I'll have to hope that I can make it to more of them down the road. I can think of all sorts of themes that could be all sorts of tasty.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

No Thorns on this Cactus Club

It's been some time since we've had an opportunity to get together with Bella Jianna and Flyboy B. Their living on Vancouver Island might have had something to do with that. So, when Jianna gave me a call to say that they were going to be in town and wanted to try and fit in a dinner, we jumped at the chance.

There was only one night that worked for everybody and, even at that, Flyboy needed to stay close to the Airport as his ability to join us wasn't guaranteed. As such, we decided to hit the Cactus Club, not far from YVR, to try and make things easy for Flyboy.  It worked.

1470.  2011 Feenie Goes Haywire Red (Okanagan Valley)

Bella Jianna is a huge booster of BC wines; so, we started off with what seemed a natural fit. Feenie Gone Haywire is a joint effort between restaurant and winemaker that takes "house wine" to a whole different level. The wine sees Okanagan Crush Pad (and Haywire Winery) winemaker, Michael Bartier, joining forces with a Cactus Club team that includes Executive Chef (and Vancouver food royalty/personality/Iron Chef) Rob Feenie and the restaurant's award winning service director, Sebastien Le Goff, to fashion a white and red blend to pair with an assortment of restaurant dishes.

The Red is a blend of Merlot, Syrah and Cab Sauv and it's only found at Cactus Club restaurants. I'm assuming that the team has gone for a more medium bodied wine - as opposed to a fuller bodied one - so that it'll pair with more dishes.

We figured, "when at Cactus Club..." and it was enjoyable enough, but I'm not sure I'd stock my cellar with it.

1471.  2011 Road 13 - Seventy-Four K (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Our second bottle was another blend, this time from Road 13 - not too far down the highway from OK Crush Pad. The blend is dominated by Merlot and Syrah (46% and 45% respectively) and is fleshed out with Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and Mourvèdre. Winery notes say that the blend includes some Viognier as well. I'm thinking that the Syrah might be co-fermented with that Viognier to lift the aromatics.

The play for aromatics just might have worked because Bella Jianna found "subtle violets" notes on the nose.

A bit bigger than the Feenie red, it paired up nicely enough with all the meat we'd ordered - enough so that we'd finished the bottle long before we'd finished the conversation. Surprise, surprise. We'd reached a point where we needed to decide on buying another bottle or calling it a night. It wasn't that hard of a decision.

1472.  2007 First Drop - The Big Blind - Nebbiolo Barbera (Adelaide Hills)

None of us had ever heard of this winery or wine before - but I think I can say that it wouldn't be a bad thing if we run across it again. I don't think there's too much chance of mistaking this for a Piedmontese version of a similar blend, but I'm hearing more and more about Italian varieties making some noise in Australia. We're also starting to see a few more wines from Adelaide Hills in the Vancouver market. Maybe this is just the start of a whole new trend - which is fine by me seeing as how this was our favourite wine of the evening.

It's almost a given that, regardless of the time between our visits, we're going to be able to pick up wherever we left off with Bella Jianna and Flyboy B. It must have been a couple years since we last saw them but it was like it had only been a week. The biggest news of the night - even bigger than finding a new Aussie wine to look for - was that our Island buds had moved to the Okanagan. They'd replaced Saanich wine country with Lake Country and Jianna has immersed herself in the wineries in her neighbourhood - like Ex Nihilo, Gray Monk and Intrigue.

The evening went far too quickly for my liking but talks are already ongoing for our first visit to check out the new digs.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Pleasant Surprise - Muscat Ottonel

1469.  2011 Hillside Muscat Ottonel (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I took a look back to see how many vintages of this wine had already been added to The List and I was quite surprised to find out that were none. I say "surprised" because Boo has always had a soft spot for this wine since he says it reminds him of some of the Muscadine wines he grew up with in the American South.

The grapes have nothing to do with each other but, you know, Muscat Muscadine. Fruity, white wine that tends to carry some residual sugar. His mind just works like that.

In any event, there's an added bonus to this surprise in that I haven't added the Muscat Ottonel grape to my Wine Century Club tally either. With this "new" variety to add, I'm now hitting 165. I may hit my "doppel" membership yet.

As you might guess, Muscat Ottonel isn't the most common of grapes grown. In fact, a number of sites advise that Hillside is the only Okanagan winery producing a Muscat Ottonel wine. Hillside definitely appears to have the only varietal wine made with the grape. If anyone else is using it, they must be putting it into blends.

The grape does, however, merit a page in Jancis Robinson's (et al) tome, Wine Grapes, where it is noted that the grape is a cross of Chasselas and Muscat d'Eisenstadt (not that I've ever heard of the latter). The book also points out that wines made with Muscat Ottonel are best known from Alsace and Eastern Europe, particularly Hungary and Romania. This last fact may explain the grape's appearance in the Okanagan since the original owners of Hillside were Czech immigrants Vera and Bohumir Klokocka.

Interestingly enough, Muscat Ottonel was the first variety planted at the Hillside farm in the mid -1980's and the varietal wine has been somewhat of signature grape for Hillside ever since it was the first winery to open on Naramata Road back in 1990. Cult status for the wine or not, production is limited. Only 781 cases were produced with this 2011 vintage and the wine goes quickly for such an uncommon grape.

Muscat Ottonel is known for its delicate profile and I think I'll just go with a quote from Daenna Van Mulligen's Wine Scores site where she writes, "It's a wonderfully scented white, which you may want to wear as a perfume, but it tasted too good to waste." Virtually every reference or review of the wine says that it pairs perfectly with Thai food - particularly if there's a bit of bite to the dishes. It worked equally as well with our mussels - and knowing of the wine's tendency to show a bit of sweet, it allowed me to jack up the heat on the mussels.

Gotta love a wine that let's you jack up the heat so as to compliment the wine.

Now I just have to figure out why the wine hasn't made it to The List previously.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Franc'ly My Dear, I Quite Fancy this Sip

Seeing as how my last post was a big 2004 BC red, I guess it's only fitting that I follow it up with another from one of BC's foremost wineries. A recent visit to Poplar Grove, while on this year's BC Wine Appreciation Society's Bus Tour, prompted me to take a look to see if we had any bottles that were crying out to be opened.

Luckily, this Cab Franc just happened to catch my ear.

1468.  2004 Poplar Grove Cabernet Franc (Okanagan Valley)

If memory serves, Poplar Grove was one of the first BC wineries to offer a 100% Cab Franc varietal wine. The fact that they still do shows quite the commitment to the grape since the winery focuses on only six wines. Even with that engagement with Cab Franc though, '04 production was limited to 403 cases.

In typical Poplar Grove fashion though, there's no shortage of fruit or body with this wine - even with it being an '04 and having a few years under its belt.

I'm a big fan of Okanagan wineries diversifying their reds away from Merlot - and Cab Franc is seen as a viable option. The grape's ability to handle BC's cooler climate is certainly welcome. And, when you add to that, the fact that the vines get an early start in the Spring which can help with a more consistent ripening of the fruit, it makes sense that more and more of it is being planted in the Okanagan. I still think, however, that, when it comes to the buying public, Cab Franc might be more easily sold as a component in blends than on its own as a varietal wine.

That marketability could well see some upswing if more and more wineries come out with wines as tasty as this one is.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Vintage Mirage in Those Desert Hills

1467.  2004 Desert Hills Mirage (VQA Okanagan Falls)

Desert Hills is one of the Black Sage Road wineries that we ran across when visiting Burrowing Owl years ago. I've got to admit that we haven't dropped in much in recent years though.  I still run across their wines regularly at various events but we just haven't had enough time to fit in stops to the tasting room at the winery. Indeed, I think this '04 vintage might be from our last visit - and that would make it some time ago.

Mirage is Desert Hills' entry in the Okanagan Meritage stakes. This vintage was a blend of four the five Bordeaux grapes - with Cab Sauv playing the dominant role at 48%.  Merlot was next at 30%, with Malbec and Cab Franc making up the balance. Mirage is generally big and full of fruit and this baby was no exception; however, this bottle wasn't an over the top, extracted wine - like I've found some of their vintages to be. The bottle's contents certainly seemed to vanish far more quickly than we would have liked.

Bravo (on the wine that is; not the speed at which it disappeared from our glasses). Too bad we don't have another bottle or two hanging around.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

La Docle Vita - Bentornata Elzee

Elzee, one of our more regular - and favourite - drinking buddies though out this "odyssey," had recently returned from a vacation to Italy and Croatia and we were long overdue for a catch up and drink. Luckily for us, she threw in dinner - it might be all those Italian genes she has, but the girl's one heckuva cook.

This shouldn't be much of a surprise but one of the first things I asked her was, "So, what wines did you bring back with you?" I wouldn't have thought it humanly possible but her answer was that she didn't bring any wine back. I mean WTF? Apparently, she used her customs exemptions for fashion, not wine.

Like, I mean, what is it with women and shoes? It certainly seems clear to me that you'll get far more pleasure from a couple bottles of vino than you could ever get from Ferragamo or Zegna. As far as I know, four inch heels only lead to back pain - and where's the pleasure in that?

While Elzee may not have had any new finds from the recent voyage, there were still treats to be had.

1463. N.V. Domaine de la Favière - Apéritif aux Oranges (France)

The first bottle might not be a classic wine - being more of an apéritif - but it says wine based on it and there's no way I'll run across this bottle again - unless we head over to Europe ourselves - so I'm going to exercise a little licence and add it to The List.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find out much information about the producer or the bottle online. A couple of online sellers advise that it is produced from Provence Rosé wine, Marc de Provence, spices and sugar and has been macerated for several months with bitter oranges.

I found it to be quite similar to Aperol - which is definitely a good thing.

1464.  2008 Tedeschi Amarone (Amarone della Valpolicella D.O.C. - Italy)

Thinking that Elzee would likely still be in an Italian frame of mind, we brought along an Amarone for dinner. Now, some folks might think that Amarone is a bit big for a pumpkin soup and might question our choice. Silly people. Velvety, with slight nuances of raisin (from the semi-dried fruit used to make the wine), I'm hard pressed to think of anything that wouldn't go with a nice Amarone.  Okay, I might be stretching it a bit there but we didn't know what Elzee was serving in advance and, to be honest, the wine was fine with the soup as it wasn't the biggest of Amarones.

If it's any indication of the quality, there wasn't any wine left in the bottle by the time Elzee was ready to serve up the main course.  As such, I'm thinking the wine must have worked for more than just my palate.

1465.  2006 Bolla Amarone Classico (Amarone della Valpolicella D.O.C. - Italy)

Although the total volume of and the number of wineries producing Amarone has increased many fold in the last 30 years, Bolla claims to be the first winery to commercially market this particular style wine when they released an Amarone in 1953 - in part to celebrate patriarch, Alberto Bolla's, 80th birthday. Apparently, the wine wasn't really known outside of Italy prior to that time as the wine was only produced for private consumption.

Our second bottle was favoured a little more by all present. We found it to be a little richer and bolder - with a greater depth of the flavours shining through.

I know that I'm certainly glad that Bolla delivered Amarone to the world because it's a fave of mine. I just can't afford to drink it very often.

So, two Amarone in one night is a real treat. I suppose I need to forgive Elzee for not bringing back any wines after all.

1466.  N.V.  Piera Dolza Torchiato di Fregona (Colli di Conegliano D.O.C.G. - Italy)

There never was anything to be forgiven for, but the girl cemented her exoneration from any further chastising when she brought out a special bottle of dessert wine to go with Boo's apple pie. The Torchiato di Fregona is a wine specific to the town of Fregona in the region where Elzee's father grew up. Her Dad's cousin brought a bottle back for Elzee after one of his trips to Italy.

Once again, I couldn't find much information about this wine online. I'm not even sure that there's a specific winery involved. From what little I could find online and from the story that Elzee learned from her Dad, it appears that the wine stems from a centuries old tradition where grapes are hung to dry after harvest and left to evaporate to the extent that the grapes start to raisinate - ironically, this is somewhat similar to the end result and procedure seen with the production of Amarone - it just takes the evaporation process that much further.

It would also seem that the wine is produced in a collective manner by the winemakers and growers in the town. The grapes are apparently left to dry until close to Easter when the best and plumpest grapes are hand selected and pressed to create an unctuous and richly fruity dessert wine. It's anything but an Icewine; however, Icewine is probably the closest sip that might be familiar to BC consumers.

I did find out that traditional Torchiato di Fregona is made from three grapes Glera, Verdiso and Boschera. At first, I thought I was going to get to add three new grapes to my Wine Century Club tally. None of the three are ones that I'm familiar with - especially not by these local names. Unfortunately for me though, Glera is another name for the Prosecco grape and Boschera is what the locals call Verdicchio Bianco - and both of those grapes have already been counted on my list. That still leaves Verdiso though and it turns out to be a bit of a rarity. Jancis Robinson's (et al) tome, Wine Grapes, says that the grape had almost disappeared - until there was a bit of a recovery in the 1960's. By 1980, however, those plantings of the grape were back down to around 200 acres in all of Italy. Verdiso is still not a widely grown variety and, where it is grown, it is generally used for specialty dessert wines like this Torchiato di Fregona and is used in small amounts for some higher end Prosecco's.

Indeed, a special treat - to cap a wonderful evening - from a special friend.

Personally, I still would have brought back wine over shoes though. In her defence, Elzee said that the shoes would last her longer though and she figured that Boo and I would just have to accompany her the next time she heads back to Italy. Because there will be a next time. I can't wait.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Bucket o' Blood for Halloween

Trick or treat.

I do love Halloween. Around work, folks say they're surprised if they get more than a dozen kids come to their door. We still get well over a hundred kids every year. Admittedly, not all of them are cute, little ones but enough of them are that it's worth the effort to put up a few decorations and spend the early part of the evening at home.

The leftover Cheesies and fruit berries are nothing to sneer at either.

Since many of our friends live in apartments downtown where they see no kids at all, we regularly get an assortment of pals coming by to share in the fun.

1462.  2009 Fairview Cellars Bucket o' Blood (Golden Mile - Okanagan Valley)

Seeing as how I previously wrote an extensive post on Fairview Cellars during the lead up to the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference, I won't spend much time here repeating myself. I'm quite sure, however, that there are more stories about Bill Eggert - the driving force behind Fairview - than I could ever fit into a handful of blog posts.

I figured a wine called Bucket o' Blood was appropriate for serving to Halloween guests. While the wine might be a deeply hued red, it is not named for any particularly sanguine qualities. Rather, the Syrah/Cab Sauv (30/70) blend is named, with a nod and a wink, for the Moffatt Saloon - a watering hole above the historical Fairview townsite that was frequented by local miners in the 1890's. The old bar was nicknamed the "Bucket o' Blood" - after another renowned saloon in Virginia City, Nevada.

Syrah/Cab blends may be a popular combination Down Under but they aren't that common in the Okanagan and, as if it isn't enough that they're rare to start, like virtually any Fairview wine, the quantity of this wine was limited. Only 190 cases were made - in part because Bill only has one row of Syrah planted in his vineyard - and one row doesn't leave him with a whole lot of fruit to work with. Ever the pragmatist, Bill's favourite grape to work with is Cab Sauv however, and, not surprisingly, that's the fruit he has most at his disposal. Hence, Syrah/Cab it is.

Finding myself continually having to put my glass down to keep up with the visiting creatures and superheroes, there wasn't much thought put into tasting notes. I can confidently say that this was far more of a treat than it was a trick though. Hopefully, I have another bottle stashed away that we can sit down with and enjoy a little more appropriately down the road.