Saturday, December 28, 2013

One Blue Mountain Leads to Another

What the hey. Last week's celebratory wine with Sacred Drop and W2 was a Blue Mountain bubbly; so, why not open a Blue Mountain still wine tonight? After all, doesn't the phrase go "one good wine leads to another?"

1505.  2009 Blue Mountain Chardonnay (Okanagan Valley)

Not that there was really any doubt beforehand, but our choice turned out to be particularly pleasing. Being a bit of a Riesling man myself, I don't tend to gravitate to Chardonnay when picking white wines - particularly when they're oaked - but this one definitely hit the spot.

Blue Mountain offers both an estate Chardonnay and a Reserve (what is now the "old" striped label). From what I can tell, the primary differences between the two (other than that the Reserve picks the best barrels from the fermenting wine) is that the "entry level" Chardy only sees ageing in older oak barrels, sees less time in those barrels and sees less battonage (or stirring of the wine while it ages on its lees or spent yeast cells). As this is the estate bottling, I expected a more subdued oak presence and it was, indeed, nicely integrated - blending subtly with the acidity and tree fruit that still showed through.

I may have to forego a few Rieslings and see what other Chardonnays we have stored away. There may be a few more gems like this one.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Another Round of Turkey Wines

Christmas Day has arrived. So, as tradition dictates, it's off to my sister, Vixen's, home for present opening and dinner. Unfortunately, Boo had to work this year. So, that left me as the designated driver - and left me having to limit the number of wines I dove into. We still managed to go through a few given the length of the day.

1502.  N.V. Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón - 1884 Extra Brut (Argentina)

Not to play into vinous stereotypes, but we started things off with a little bubbly. I can't say that I'm aware of many Argentine sparklers in our market but I'd been waiting to try this since Boo and I splurged for dinner at the 1884 Francis Malman restaurant while we were in Mendoza a few years back. I'm not certain but I think we might have had a cocktail featuring the Brut while waiting for dinner then, but this is the first bottle that I'm adding to The List.

Ironically, while we dined at the 1884 restaurant - which is situated in the urban winery - we didn't actually visit the winery as part of our itinerary. As such, I don't really know all that much about the winery. I did see that the Extra Brut is made from 70% Chardonnay, with the remaining 30% being Pinot Noir. Knowing that the rest of my kin hardly embrace plenty o' bubbles, I thought the reasonably priced (around $20) bottle might be a nice what to introduce the nieces to sparkling wines. Even though, there was a touch of sweetness to the wine, I think we may need a little more time before the girls are ready to jump on the bubbly bandwagon. For the time being, that just leaves more for Vixen and me.

We're always fêted with a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixings at Vixen's. She does the kitchen duties and I tend to the bar. As such, I thought I'd bring along a white and a red from the ubiquitous lists of classic wines for pairing with bird - a Gewürztraminer and a Pinot Noir. Little did I know - until I started thinking to myself that the Gew was sure un-Gew-like - that I'd grabbed a Riesling instead of a Gewürztraminer. Same winery, same box of wine - just a different varietal wine. The good news was that the Riesling was just as tasty.

1503.  2012 Synchromesh - Amelia Block Storm Haven Riesling (Okanagan Valley)

Synchromesh was perhaps my favourite discovery from last summer's Wine Bloggers Conference. I took part in an excursion with the Okanagan Falls Winery Association where we hiked one of the local mountains and, when we reached the apex of the group's climb, the association had set out what must have been one of the most scenic tastings ever. That's where I immediately fell for Synchromesh Riesling and I arranged for a visit after WBC13 had ended. This was one of the bottles that I picked up.

And I can't think of a better occasion to have opened the wine for. I know I'm certainly going to look forward to opening more Synchromesh wines as well.

1504.  2008 Salt Spring Pinot Noir (Gulf Islands)

Once again, knowing that I wasn't playing to a Pinot sort of crowd, I went with the Salt Spring Pinot - which is on the more reasonably priced end of the scale. Seeing as how this wine is made from fruit grown on Salt Spring Island, I fully expected it to lighter bodied and, indeed, it was but it also had some nice red fruit coming through. I rather enjoyed it with the turkey and stuffing but it was a harder sell to the rest of the table.

I can't say that I had much luck selling the virtues of wine to familial non-believers but I've come to accept that I just need to bring along beer and/or Scotch to this tribe. There are worse things in life than having to finish off the wine on your own.

Merry Merry.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Tasty Christmas Eve

So, it would appear that I'd have been fine if the other night's bottle hadn't been #1500. Tonight's bottle and occasion weren't too shabby either. Seeing as how it was Christmas Eve, I decided to open a treat even though Boo could only have a glass before he trundled off to work. My Dad was coming over and I knew he'd be good for a glass - and, even better, I knew he'd want to switch over to beer after that one glass. Thereby, leaving more of this baby for my baby and me.

1501.  2004 Betts & Scholl - The Chronique Grenache (Barossa Valley - Australia)

I haven't had a Betts & Scholl wine before but I recall picking up this bottle because I'd remembered seeing that one of the wine rags had announced that a Betts & Scholl Grenache was one of their choices for iconic Aussie wines.

Betts & Scholl is more of a virtual than a bricks and mortar winery. It is a collaboration between Richard Betts, a Master Sommelier who had set up shop at The Little Nell - an aspirational hotel in Aspen - and art collector Dennis Scholl. It's a virtual boutique wine in that these gents don't have actual vineyards or a winery that they call their own. Rather, they work in tandem with grower/producers. Given time, they were producing limited wines from Australia, California and the Rhône. It is also a collaboration that jumped off the page with its first release of a 2001 vintage Barossa Grenache. That first release was in 2004 and, that year, Betts & Scholl was named 'Best New Winery in the World" by Food & Wine magazine. Not a bad start.

Indeed, the wines being made stem from Betts' own starting point on wine. In an interview with internet wine phenom, GaryVaynerchuk, Betts corrected Vaynerchuk when the latter introduced him as a wine expert. Betts calls himself a wine "enthusiast" rather than an "expert." Betts also said that he and Scholl started out to make wines that they love and would want to drink, rather than simply chase points or make a Cab or whatever the most commercially viable grapes or wines would suggest.

Both Betts and Scholl loved to drink Grenache - extolling it as a bigger version of Pinot Noir - and with The Chronique, they partnered up with an Aussie grower and his old vines Grenache in the Barossa. Despite making their wine with big Barossa fruit, they looked to Châteauneuf for how to make their first Grenache. They wanted to be as non-interventionist as they could be and they looked to bring out the "soft, seductive, sexy" side of Grenache.

The Chronique was a "second riff" on Grenache and we definitely "riffed" on it. Not a wine to be found in the "cheap and cheerful" section of the wine shelf, but we coined it, "Aussie fruit at its best," while toasting the season with it. Unfortunately, there were only 375 cases of it made - which makes it a little surprising that we even found it in our market. Lucky find. I'd say.

It might have been a risky move but I didn't leave a glass behind for Santa - what with his needing to drive all night. I definitely would have been in his good books if I had though.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Landmark Addition - Portland's In the House

I don't know what to say. Here I am three-quarters of the way through this Wine Odyssey and that special way point snuck up on me completely.

I guess I hadn't been keeping track of the numbers as we opened the latest bottles and, lord knows, I'm not exactly up-to-date with my writing. As such, this landmark addition to The List came and went without my realizing it. Of course, I knew that I was approaching the number 1500 bottle but I hadn't prepared sufficiently to celebrate it with a rightful bang. There were neither planned fireworks nor special trips to the cellar. This bottle could easily have been Two Buck Chuck (except that I don't have any) or something equally cheap and cheerful.

Luckily, for me, that wasn't the case.

As fate would have it, one of my best blogging buddies, April from Sacred Drop Channel, was in town for a visit to Vancouver. April and I had played, thick as thieves, during the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference last Summer in Penticton. To the extent that, upon my return home, Boo asked who this Sacred Drop person was and why I'd been so familiar with her all weekend on Twitter. What can I say? Sometimes personalities just click and that was definitely the case with us.

April and her main squeeze, W2 (short for "WineWidower"), had decided to travel up from Portland for a short, anniversary celebration and they thankfully fit in some cocktails and dinner with Boo and me. Knowing that April was as enamoured with wine as I am, I popped the cork on one of my faves. As mentioned though, it was more coincidence than thoughtful planning.

1500.  2008 Blue Mountain Brut Rosé (Okanagan Valley)

Not only is the Blue Mountain Brut Rosé one of my favourite BC bubbles, it's proved to be a tough bottle to find over the years as well. At times, production has been so limited that you had to be on a special, "double-secret" winery list and you had to act right away if you ever expected to succeed in buying some. Since I hadn't quite graduated to that list until recently, if you ever got your hands on a bottle, it automatically became one of those special occasion treats. I've added one other vintage of the Brut Rosé to The List when a 2007 cork was popped back at #1028 - when we opened it for another special occasion: Christmas dinner.

I wrote a fairly comprehensive piece on Blue Mountain leading up to WBC13; so I won't write much about it at this time. The winery does, however, make its Brut Rosé using a traditional Champenoise method. The wine is also made from traditional Champagne grapes - 63% Pinot Noir and 34% Chardonnay - except for a small portion of Pinot Gris that is added to complement the wine's complexity. With three years ageing on the lees (or exhausted yeast cells), it's no surprise that the wine has creaminess - with plenty of biscuit notes - on the palate. There's some definite red fruit that makes itself known as well - along with some hefty acidity.

You'll note that there's no actual wine in the glass for the accompanying photo. That's because I was so caught up in the conversation with April and W2 that I wasn't even thinking about a picture for the blog. The bottle was empty and we were ready to move along before it dawned on me to take a shot. Whatever was I thinking?

If I'd known this evening was going to play scene to my #1500 bottle, I probably would have ordered another eventful bottle while at dinner. As it was, we all went our separate ways - ordering flights by the glass at Salt Tasting Room. April had been tipped off to Salt and I agreed that it's a fine choice for light dinners and a neat introduction to the Vancouver dining scene. The assortment of tasting plates and wines saw the conversation and laughs carry on until it was well past my bedtime and well beyond the time any happy couple likely would have allotted for strangers to intrude upon their anniversary. As another indication of how caught up we were in the moment, again, none of us had thought about taking any pictures until we were almost out the door. Luckily, we managed to slip one shot in on a phone.

Some bloggers we are.

Despite the lack of preparation, however, #1500 turned out be the special event it deserved to be after all. Great Wine. Great Occasion. Landmark number. I think I may just need to be a little more prepared in the final wines leading up to #2001 though - and the way we've been drinking, that could happen a lot sooner than might be expected.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Non-Tyrannical Winter Solstice

I've lost count of the actual number but, for a hefty collection of years, Tyrant has hosted his "trademark" Winter Solstice celebration. This was definitely a party that you wanted to be invited to. Every December 21, you could count on meeting up with a whole phalanx of old friends for a grand blowout of wine and tidbits and making the best of the shortest day of the year. Tyrant wasn't going to be in town this year and had recently lavishly entertained everyone in the Fall and his and Panda Guy's wedding.

As such, we found ourselves free on the Saturday night before Christmas. Knowing that just wasn't going to cut it, Boo and I decided to have a handful of friends over to have a mini-Solstice celebration. We couldn't possibly match the hoopla that Tyrant has mastered over the years, but we could give it the old college try to embark on a little merrymaking of our own.

If I do say so myself, the collection of bevies was kinda decent. Boo made up a batch of his family's old eggnog recipe (which isn't much more than Bourbon, Rum, eggs, sugar and cream) and I hit some of the new, local breweries and distillers for some craft brews, Vodka and Gin.

That being said, this is a wine blog; so, naturally, there was a bit of wine being poured as well. And, whenever, that happens, I'm more than happy to add the bottles to The List.

Before                                         After

1495.  2011 McWilliam's Wines - J.J. McWilliam Shiraz Cabernet (South Eastern Australia)

1496.  2010 Bodega Norton - Barrel Select Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

The first two wines are the ones that Boo and I chose for a batch of mulled wine. I don't make mulled wine very often but, if you can't interest folks in some piping hot wine on a cold, winter's night, when will you ever? Admittedly, both of these bottles are entry level wines, but I've quite enjoyed both McWilliam's and Norton in the past. I think they over-deliver for the price and I figured that a blend of different grapes and the definite presence of big, dark fruit would only add to the flavour of the "glogg." (It wasn't really "glogg" but I just like the word.) It must have worked because we went through a couple of hefty pots.

1497.  2012 Domaine Houchart Côtes de Provence (AOC Côtes de Provence - France)

As a contrast to the mulled wine, I was intrigued that one of our friends brought along the Rosé. Most folks I know would be more likely to open a Rosé during the Summer Solstice - if they drink Rosé at all. Apparently, it wasn't the thought of warmer Mediterranean sunshine that resulted in the choice. Rather, our pink friends copped to the fact that they knew nothing about the wine and that they simply liked the bottle shape and the colour of the wine. I wasn't any help on the producer but I could definitely be persuaded to take in a little of Provence and the Mediterranean to sit back in the sun and enjoy life myself.

1498.  2010 Michael David - Petite Petit (Lodi - California)

Another interesting choice, by one of our guests was the 85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petit Verdot that is Petite Petit. Once again, it was the label that prompted the purchase but I know more than a couple of folks that reach for this wine quite regularly. I picked up a bottle at the Vancouver International Wine Festival a couple of years back but we still haven't opened it. I figured it had a bit of time in the bottle.

I think I'm safe with keeping our '08 vintage a bit longer because, like the elephants adorning the label, this wine is big bodied and powerful. If the mulled wine wasn't enough to warm everyone up, this one might have been able to accomplish the feat - without being warmed up on the stove.

1499.  N.V. Cupcake Prosecco (D.O.C. Prosecco - Italy) 

The final bottle that I was involved with (there were plenty others that I just had to pass on - at least as far as the blog goes) was Cupcake's entry into the Prosecco market. Based in California, the folks at Cupcake travel the world looking for opportunities to make international wines for their portfolio as well. Italy has proven a fertile ground for Cupcake in that they now produce a Chianti, a Pinot Grigio, this Prosecco and a Moscato d'Asti.

Meant to be an easily approachable brand, Red and La Gondoliera brought the Cupcake along to entertain the crowd with Venetian spritzes. I'm a long time fan of Aperol and spritzes but the girls introduced a whole new twist. They added a nicely mild olive to the mix. I'd never seen that before - but this is a drink from the piazzas of Venice where La Gondoliera was born and bred. If anyone is going to say the drink is authentic, it's going to be her. I'll have to keep the idea in mind for the many spritzes I've yet to drink down the road.

Not only was the olive an interesting twist but I got to add yet another Prosecco to The List. Since Proseccos are non-vintage (at least in our market), I'm perpetually concerned that I'm going to run out of new ones to add. No this time though.

We might have been missing Tyrant this Solstice and our modest soirée couldn't match the grandeur of a Tyrannical affair, but we did toast him - and we did manage to gather a handful of his regular guests who also found themselves "lost" without their regular shindig. I think I'll let him keep the franchise however.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

One of Your Worst Ever

It's a rare occasion that Boo and I can't see our way to finishing a bottle - even if it's not a wine that we'd ever buy again. I remember one Peruvian red that was nothing like we'd hoped for and we left that bottle unfinished at the foot of Macchu Picchu.

Tonight's wine ranks right up there in terms of "Whoa, what is this...?" - except we weren't as desperate for a glass of wine as we were in Aguas Calientes.  Neither of us even finished our first glass of tonight's wine.

1494.  2008 Stonefield Cellars - Noble (North Carolina)

The Noble grape is apparently the "primary red muscadine cultivar used in wine and juice production" in North Carolina. It is not, however, to be confused with the term "noble grape" that most students of wine will recognize as one of the grapes traditionally associated with the production of high quality wine. Historically, the six noble grapes are Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Chardonnay.

I think it's fair to say that those noble grapes - or the folks making wines from those grapes - aren't going to lose any sleep over this grape or this wine. It might be called "Noble" but I'm afraid I don't have much use for this particular version - other than to use the bottle as a means of adding the grape to my Wine Century club tally.

The wine was sold as an off-dry, sweet wine, but I'm afraid that even that might be a bit of a misnomer. Residual sugar may be a catch call for winemaking nowadays but, come on people, there have to be limits.

As mentioned, it's the rare occasion that we don't finish a bottle - unless it's corked - but this was one of them. We tried some other Stonefield wines and even visited the winery when we met up with Boo's kinfolk in North Carolina. There were some decent wines to be had. Just not this time, it would seem. Ah well, on to the next...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

An Anniversary Dine Around

As everyone was planning for our annual neighbourhood Holiday Dine Around, we realized that this is now our 10th annual gathering. That meant that the three remaining couples from the original batch of six had all been in our places for just over a decade. Time has certainly flown by. I guess we must have been having fun.

If tonight's soirée is anything close to representative of our hood, I can guarantee you that we've had some fun, indeed.

The Dine Around sees everyone host the gang for drinks and nibbles at their place for about 45 minutes before we move on to the next. We could easily spend an evening at each home but we don't have any choice but to limit our time if we're going to fit everyone in before the holiday season has long since passed us by. We're now at nine sets of neighbours if everyone is able to participate. I think you can do the math and determine that makes for many hours of food and drink.

1488.  N.V. Beato Bartolomeo Breganze Prosecco Extra Dry (Prosecco D.O.C. - Italy)

Some of the pairings served up are quite inspirational - like the bell pepper and onion soups served in shot glasses, along with yet another Prosecco to add to The List. With all the non-vintage Prosecco's out there, I'm always happy to be able to add another one - because I'm a firm believer that there can never be enough events featuring Prosecco. There are only so many of them in our market though. I could be a whole lot further towards hitting that 2001st bottle if I could add every bottle of Prosecco we help finish off to The List.

2011 Nk'mip Riesling (Okanagan Valley VQA)

That darned "rule" about not adding the same vintage of a bottle twice just gets in the way at times - particularly with Prosecco's. I might have gotten lucky getting to count tonight's Prosecco as a new one but I wasn't so lucky in counting the Nk'mip Riesling. We've already been there and sipped that with the 2011 vintage. As such, we simply got to sip and enjoy this one. Although I think this choice goes to show that Mr. Principled and Nature Boy have some decent taste in wine.
1489.  2012 Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough - New Zealand)

When not filling our glasses with her trademark collection of martinis (which, of course, were available tonight is you wanted one), Shameless Hussy has been on a bit of a Sauv Blanc kick lately. I was intrigued to see that she'd run across the Whitehaven version. I'd only encountered it for a first time a month or two ago at a big New Zealand wineries tasting event. I'd quite liked the new entry into our market but I hadn't gotten around to picking up a bottle yet. The Hussy saved me that effort.
1490.  2011 Mission Hill - Limited Edition Viognier (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I don't know if everyone was just serving white wines through the evening (although I highly doubt it) or whether I simply chose to go with the whites, but I notice that I've only been adding whites so far. Considering the fact that most of them are Okanagan wines, I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of them were new to The List. Unlike with our Dinner Club, I haven't done any active training with these guys to get them to check the blog before they choose a wine to serve.

This Limited Edition Viognier was a nice add as well. I'd tasted Mission Hill's Viognier back in the Fall just before the BC Wine Appreciation Bus Tour but I didn't have any room to pick up a bottle or two. If I'm not mistaken, the Limited Edition wines became Mission Hill's Martin's Lane label last year. Varietal Viognier wines can be a bit of a hit and miss for me but this one definitely swings to the "hit" side of the pendulum.

By the time we'd arrive at our final two stops for the evening, it was clear that we'd managed to tone down a bit on the amount of food that was proffered this year. Some of our most recent Dine Arounds saw entire course being served after entire course - or full buffets at house after house. Not that there's anything inherently evil with an abundance of food, but it did have a tendency to leave folks tuckered out or too full to function by the time dessert came around. Not to mention that it left less room for drinking.

And we definitely wanted to leave room for dessert this year.

1491.  2012 Wayne Gretzky Okanagan - No. 99 Winemakers Selection Pinot Grigio (Okanagan VQA)

Cupcake and Haggis were the first dessert stop and, as you might guess from her nickname, Cupcake is noted for her baking. Naturally, she delivered in spades - and delivered another white for The List. I hadn't even heard that the Great One had set up shop in the Okanagan. I knew that Canada's hockey hero was established in Ontario, but I didn't know anything about a venture out West. I haven't really looked into the move to the Okanagan yet but I have since heard that Wayne Gretzky wines are being made by or in conjunction with Peller Estates.

Game on.

1492.  2008 Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage (Portugal)

1493.  N.V. Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny (Portugal)

Boo and I took the final stop this year; so, we decided to finish the evening off with my now "famous" bread pudding and a pair of Ports. The bread pudding's been adapted from a recipe I'd picked up some 30 years ago at the New Orlean's School of Cooking. Between family dinners and events like the Dine Around or a Mardi Gras party, the tasty dessert gets made at least a handful of times a year.

The two Ports were a nice accompaniment and, in my book, a grand nightcap for finishing off the evening. It was interesting to note people's preference between the two - and the Tawny was the bigger hit, despite the fact that it wasn't the tawniest of Tawnies that I've run across. To me, it still featured a lot of Ruby Port-like fruit on the palate - but there was no problem finding takers.

The biggest concern for whoever goes last on the Dine Around is that - despite the extended length of the evening - 'tis the season to be jolly and there can be a reluctance for some to call it a night, particularly since no one needs to drive home. A short stumble would be the worst that anyone has to endure. No such problem this year though. Once it was determined that there wasn't going to be enough demand to establish a dancefloor, Mr. Principled made the move across the lane to his bed and the rest soon followed (to their own beds and not to Mr. Principled's bed I do believe).

All in all, it was another gold star for the neighbourhood - and I'm always a happy Bob whenever I get to add six new wines to The List in one evening. My head may not always agree the morning after but, hey, I'd already said that "this is the season..."

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A C&C Christmas

In what's become a bit of a tradition, the gang from work gathered for a holiday dinner party at Ciao Bello for some laughs and many a plea for everyone to "Mangia. Mangia."

It's always a bit of a surprise to find out what wines The Boss has picked for the night. I made the wine arrangements for a couple of years but Boss has taken a bit of a shine to wandering the aisles at the liquor store to come up with an array of wines - particularly when he thinks that he has some choices that will surprise me a bit. I totally appreciate the fact that he checks the blog before making a purchase so that I get the chance to add some new bottles to The List - as well as join in with the troops.

1485.  2012 Masi Masianco (Pinot Grigio e Verduzzo delle Venezie IGT - Italy)

I cottoned onto one of the whites The Boss picked - forgetting that I'd bought a bottle for home myself - because I saw that it was a blend featuring the Verduzzo grape. Since Verduzzo Friulano is definitely a new grape for my Wine Century Club tally, I'm not going to care that I could have zeroed in on a different white and saved this one for quaffing at home. When it comes to increasing my grape variety tally, sooner is always better.

Masi has been making the Masianco blend for a decade now and they refer to it as their white "Supervenetian" and a counterpart to Masi's well known red "Supervenetian" wine, Campofiorin. I gather it is the blending of these two grapes that takes this wine out of the more historically approved D.O.C. wines and into IGT territory. I understand that the wine does very well for Masi and I guess that this might just go to show that innovation can have its place even among regions caught up in centuries' worth of tradition.

Another different aspect in the production of Masianco is that the Verduzzo grapes (which make up about a quarter of the wine) undergo some additional drying out - the "appassimento" method - to enhance and concentrate the body, flavours and aromas. This approach doesn't appear to be unique to Masi as the grape is also used by regional producers to make a sweeter dessert wine. An alternative method that leads to a similar result is that the grape's growers will leave the bunches hanging on the vine to bring in for a late harvest wine. There are, apparently, some wineries making straight, dry varietal wines with Verduzzo but I don't think many of them travel much. Jancis Robinson's "Wine Grapes" states that the grape is grown primarily in North-East Italy (with a couple small pockets in Slovenia and one producer in Australia) but that overall plantings are gradually declining.

Good thing I'm adding it to my tally now.

Unfortunately, our dinner group was missing a few of our bigger personalities this year. As such, there was no Bollywood-style bhangra or dancing on the tables. In fact, there was no dancing at all. Just plenty of eating and drinking and moving from table to table in between courses.

Some of our colleagues were a little more adventurous than they might usually be with their drinks over the evening. So, I introduced a handful of them to dirty martinis, to the joy that is Prosecco and a couple braver souls to a Prosecco Spritzer when I saw a bottle of Aperol at the bar. It's getting to be common enough now to find Aperol in Vancouver bars and restaurants. Hard to believe that it was only five years ago that Boo and I came home from Venice and couldn't find a bottle anywhere in the city.

Despite making suggestions to other folks, I was good and stuck to wine though.

1486.  2010 Emilio Moro Bodegas - Finca Resalso (Ribera del Duero - Spain)

The second bottle being added to The List saw The Boss veer a bit away from his almost "all-Italian" selection for the evening - by adding in a Spanish wine that I hadn't run across before. He said that he wanted to grab it because it's supposedly a rare find in Vancouver. The wine is apparently the entry level wine for Emilio Moro Bodegas and it's made from 100% Tinto Fino (another name for Tempranillo) in the Ribera del Duero region. The wine is named for the Finca Resalso vineyard that has been in production since 1933; however, the grapes for this wine are from the vineyard's youngest vines - being between 5 and 15 years of age.

The Moro family itself has been involved in the winemaking business in Ribera del Duero for three generations now but they've only been releasing their wines under this brand since 1982.

I'm not sure that our Italian server was impressed much by a Spanish wine on the table but I think this was probably my fave for the night. Bigger and fruitier than many of the entry level Tempranillos I tend to run across, maybe the Italians should be a little worried.

1487.  2011 Barone Ricasoli - Campo Ceni (Toscana IGT - Italy) 

I was intrigued to see that The Boss brought along a Ricasoli wine as well since Boo and I had opened a bottle not too long ago. This was more of an entry level wine though. I'd grabbed a higher end bottle from (if memory serves) the Vancouver International Wine Festival and it was way bigger than this one.

Don't be fooled by the fact that I took a picture of the bottle with my tiramisu. I'd been drinking the wine earlier in the evening and I'd just forgotten to take a picture for the blog. I wouldn't exactly recommend the Campo Ceni with tiramisu though. It wasn't the worse combination ever but I think you could easily come up with a better pairing. Like the coffee I was now sipping on.

The Super Tuscan - Sangiovese, Merlot and Cab Sauv blend - didn't go over incredibly well at our table. People tended to gravitate to other options. I didn't mind it myself but entry level Sangiovese isn't generally my first wine of choice.

I think The Boss had a much bigger list of wines but I just didn't get around to checking out the others. Boo had experienced a tough day at work and he asked that we head out a little earlier than I might have usually. I likely would have been able to add another bottle to The List but sometimes a clear head in the morning is worth that lost bottle.

Besides I'd already received my early Christmas present by being able to add grape #166 to my Wine Century Club tally. The rest of the evening was all bonus.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An xtrèm Riesling & The Fish House

Boo and I had a certificate for the landmark Fish House restaurant in Stanley Park. So, we decided to take a bit of an evening walk along the Seawall and end it with dinner. Except for an Australian Wine Appreciation Society dinner that was held here a few years back (and that was in their banquet room), I haven't been here other than for brunch maybe 15 years ago. I didn't even know that Curtis Demyon had replaced Karen Barnaby as executive chef. She's been synonymous with the Fish House for so long, the thought of her not being there had never occurred to me. Obviously, it hasn't been my patronage that's kept them in business for over two decades.

1484.  2011 Pierre Sparr - extrèm Riesling (Alsace - France)

Surprise. Surprise. We went with a Riesling. I mean, come on, with "Fish" in the restaurant's name, and my being a bona fide Riesling buff, was there really any other choice?

I will admit that I'm more familiar with Pierre Sparr as a winery than I am with their wines. I think of them as one of the primary Alsatian producers that we see in the Vancouver market, but I can't say that I've had many of their wines. Indeed, it's even quite rare when we drink a bottle of Alsace wine. A quick search of the blog shows that this will only be the seventh Alsatian wine that I'm adding to The List as we almost hit the three-quarters way mark. It's not that I don't enjoy Alsace wines, I just don't really know them that well. I suppose that 1) they tend (at least to my knowledge) to be rather price-y in our market and that 2) the Alsatian varietal wines primarily feature the same grapes - like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc - as our homegrown BC wineries do such a good job with. As such, it might just be easier to grab a BC bottle since we always have some on hand.

I'm willing to give anyone a chance if they're producing a tasty Riesling though - regardless of from whence it comes. And, this was one tasty sip of Riesling. Full of bright citrus and steely acidity, our bottle was disappearing far faster than our dinner was arriving. It took a great deal of will power to keep some wine in the glass so that we'd have something left for our mains of truffled prawns and pork cheek ragu. Unfortunately, the bottle was long finished by the time our passionfruit ganache with compressed pineapple arrived, but I think it would have been perfection.

Seeing as how this is the first Pierre Sparr wine that I'm adding to The List, I should mention that the Sparr family's origins in the wine industry were as early as 1680. The family vineyards were planted during the 18th century and Sparr has been selling wine commercially since the 1860's  The family's ninth generation is currently involved with winery operations. Something tells me they've had a little time to get this wine thing down.

This extrèm Riesling is one of a small range of wines where the winery is experimenting with modern labelling and offering a wine at a more economical price. In a move that is quite distanced from the traditional marketing of Alsatian wines, this line of wines is also under screwcap - something that is far from common among quality French producers.

If all Sparr - or Alsace - wines are like this one, I need to get me a few more. Whether we're having seafood or not.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Little Turbo-Charge With Your Wine?

1483.  2008 Pasqua Villa Borghetti Passimento (Veneto IGT - Italy)

Whether you want to call this a "Baby Amarone" - or "essentially a turbo-charged Valpolicella" like Toronto wine scribe, Beppi Crosariol,  did - you can call me a turbo-charged fan. Both intense and soft at the same time, this baby could easily be taken for a poor man's Amarone. Clocking in, at the local government liquor stores, at a completely reasonable $16, this is a veritable bargain in our over-taxed market.

The Villa Borghetti brand is a second amongst many for Pasqua. Like the signature Famiglia Pasqua wines, Villa Borghetti concentrates on the production of "traditional Veronese wines: Soave, Valpolicella, Amarone." The wine is named after the "appassimento" process that partially dries out the grapes before pressing. These Passimento grapes, however, are only left to dry for a month - instead of the four months that Amarone grapes see. This time is still long enough for the grapes to lose about a third of their water content, thereby helping intensify the sugars and flavours.

Another major difference from the traditional Amarone production method is that this Passimento sees a healthy portion (around 40%) of Merlot added to Corvina and Croatina grapes. The latter two grapes are more classically known in the Veneto region and to Amarone wines. It is this addition of Merlot grapes that helps explain why the wine has an IGT designation instead of the more sanctioned D.O.C. label. In this case - much like with the old SuperTuscans that were deemed IGT as well - I'm all for the new twist because it's certainly working for my palate.

Considering how many Italian-inspired dishes hit our dining room table and how we can't justify pouring an Amarone with them on a regular basis, this Passimento may just become a new regular. Works for me.

Tasty Treats & Big Reds

I can pretty much be guaranteed that the holiday season is officially under way as soon as I've nibbled my way through Jeaux and Matinder's Christmas Cookie Extravaganza. The event's formal moniker might well be more generically seasonal but no one's kidding anyone - this shindig is all about the baking.

Months of planning go into the annual bake-fest and regular guests were treated to a new array of cookies this year as Matinder wanted to try out some new concoctions in addition to his regular faves. He and Jeaux even added my all-time favourite - their 2010 Olympic red mitten cookies. Knowing that their guests can't simply gorge themselves on nothing but sugar all night, they not only have an assortment of savoury munchies but the bake-happy couple are well prepped for the real fun of the night - choosing a full slate of take-out treats. No one's "allowed" to leave without a doggie bag - or more appropriately, a goodie bag - filled with one's faves from the neverending buffet.

Boo had to work nights and missed the live munching but Matinder made sure that Boo was the recipient of an extra large "to go" care package - loaded with Boo's fave espresso bean shortbread cookies.

With Boo not able to make it, I "coaxed" Mr. D. to join me. I didn't really want to play "fat boy" and nibble all on my own; so, I figured Mr. D. could handle the extra calories - and help add a couple of bottles to The List.

1481.  2009 Bodegas Ochoa - Garnacha & Tempranillo (Navarra D.O. - Spain)

Yet another Spanish producer that I don't recall having run across before. I'm not exactly sure why since Bodegas Ochoa was founded in 1370 and was the "personal winemaker for the King of Navarra and his royal court for nearly 500 years." Not having personally spent much time around Spanish royalty, maybe I don't know them because the winery's only been exporting their wines for 150 years. Okay, maybe not.

The winery is family owned and uses all estate-grown grapes from the family's Navarra vineyards. The Navarra region is in Northern Spain in the foothills of the Pyrenees and is home to a large range of grape varieties. This wine is more of an entry level blend of Tempranillo (70%) and Garnacha (Grenache)(30%). A bit big for the occasion at hand, I think it might have made a bigger impression if I'd been sipping it along with more traditional Spanish tapas.

The winery sounds interesting and worth a little more looking into though. Bodegas Ochoa is slowly seeing a transition into the next generation as patriarch, Javier Ochoa, is turning over winemaking and other operational responsibilities to his daughter, Adriana. She, in turn, (according to one of their importers) has been named "Best Young Female Winemaker in Spain" on more than one occasion.

1482.  2011 Bodegas Carchelo - C (Jumilla D.O. - Spain)

The second wine that Mr. D. and I tried was the third vintage (to be added to The List) of a rather unique 40/40/20 blend of Monastrell (a.k.a. Mourvèdre), Tempranillo and Cab Sauv. I'm guessing that Mr. D. brought this wine along because he was party to the 2009 vintage that was added way back at #630 as well.

Unlike Bodegas Ochoa, Carchelo is a fairly new winery - having been established in early 1980's. Once founded, it was one of the pioneers in working to modernize winemaking in Jumilla - a previously nondescript, if not backward, wine region in Southern Spain.

Jumilla is generally hot and arid - even by Spanish standards - and, understandably, the wine is bold and full flavoured with plenty of fruit and spice dominating. Like the Ochoa wine, this was a bit over the top for the occasion but its abundance of fruit helped out on the sipping, cocktail front.

There was enough chocolate among all the tasty treats that guests didn't need to worry about a bit of red wine though - intense or not. And, speaking of tasty treats, Matinder's addition of "nipple" cookies to the menu led to a bit of extra-curricular fun as well - especially after a few glasses of big wines had been enjoyed - that is, if this shot of Jeaux and Fifi is any indication.

I can only imagine what might happen if these treats were left next to the fireplace for Santa. I'll need a special order of Matinder's cookies if I'm ever going to find out though. I'm certain that the ones I took home in Boo's doggie bag will never last until Christmas Eve.

Poor Santa.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Stag's Hollow Rosé

Think Rosé is only for hot weather and sunny patio? Not me.

While I won't argue that summertime and pink go hand in hand, man, I'm up for a good Rosé at any time of year. Of course, I'm not talking the sweet White Zinfandels of yore. Rather, I'm hoping for a wine that straddles the bright acidity of a white while boasting the bigger profile of a food-friendly red. You know, a little something to address the winter blues.

1480.  2012 Stag's Hollow Syrah Rosé (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Our Stag's Hollow bottle managed to do just that and it happened to win a Silver medal at the 2013 All Canadian Wine Awards along the way.

With our province's Northern location and no guarantee that some of the bigger red varieties will fully ripen every vintage, we can see a number of BC wineries using the saignée method that sees juice being "bled" from the pressed grapes in order to make a heartier red wine from the juice left on skins. The juice that is "bled" off has minimal contact with those crushed skins and, as a result, doesn't pick up much colour - leading to a Rosé wine.

That's not the method that Stag's Hollow has used with their Syrah Rosé though. The wine was produced from grapes that were grown specifically for this Rosé. According to the winery's spec sheet on the wine, some of the grapes were whole cluster pressed while the remaining grapes saw some skin contact as the juice was transferred to tank before being pressed off.

In a bit of a rare move, the wine is 97% Syrah - a variety not regularly used for Rosé wines in BC. Winemaker, Dwight Sick, has added to the uniqueness of his wine by blending in small percentages of Orange Muscat and Viognier (2% and 1% respectively) to add to the aromatics and fruit profile. While there's definite fruit shining through on the palate - particularly strawberry - that fruit is not to be confused with this being an off-dry wine. The wine might not be as austere as many Provençal Rosés, but it still offers up a bright acidity to match up nicely to any number of dishes.

Too bad there was only 400 cases produced.

I'm certainly glad to see more and more of Rosé being made in BC. That fact and an increased presence of Rosé wines from other countries makes me a happy Bob - especially when they hit the mark like this one does.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

TNT & A Little Bit of Funk

I was glad to run across tonight's bottle because there isn't much of it to be found - only 150 cases in total - and I'm all over the story behind the wine. Being only the third wine to be made as part of the Okanagan Wine Campus program, I'm totally intrigued to discover the choices made in producing the wine.

The Okanagan Wine Campus was started in 2011 by the folks at Okanagan Crush Pad as a mentorship program where whomever is named Vancouver's Sommelier of the Year at the annual Vancouver International Wine Festival is awarded the opportunity to make around 100 cases of a wine of their choice. Kurtis Kolt, 2010's winner, made a Semillon and he was followed by 2011 champ, Owen Knowlton's, choice of a Cabernet Franc. I was able to get my hands on a bottle of the Kurtis Semillon but, unfortunately, I missed out on the Cab Franc.

1479.  2012 TNT Chardonnay (Black Sage Road - Okanagan Valley)

Simply put, the name, "TNT," acknowledges that the man behind the juice is Terry Nicholas Threlfall. The 2012 winner worked with OCP's resident winemaker, Michael Bartier, with OCP partner David Scholefield and even had the opportunity to discuss the project with "flying winemaker," Alberto Antonini, while he was consulting on various Okanagan projects.

The fruit was sourced from a single vineyard on the Black Sage Road in the Southern part of the Okanagan Valley and Threlfall has been quoted as saying that he was going for a Chablis-like character to his wine. In aiming for that profile, he decided to ferment and age the wine in concrete and steel - as opposed to oak - in an effort to capture a purer sense of fruit, bold acidity and minerality that isn't always a prominent feature (or goal) of BC Chardonnays. It had a definite citrus note but, for me, it was a more stark minerality that stood out.

Tim Pawsey, in his blog Hired Belly, has posted a sound clip from an interview with Threlfall, wherein the former Hawksworth sommelier, states that he was looking for a texture and tension that lends the wine to being food friendly. Threlfall says, "I wanted that salty, mineral vibrancy to the wine - and also a little bit of funk. A little bit of funk is good in wine. I wanted a little bit of an edge to it."

The label (and any number of online comments) declares that the wine "cries out for a plate of freshly shucked BC oysters." We settled for roast chicken but I think the minerality might have paired a little better with the oysters. Note to self: next time, read the label before you plan dinner.

A nice facet of the project sees proceeds from the sale of the wine go to the BC Hospitality Foundation to further build their wine scholarship fund that assists students pursuing higher level wine certification. A healthy $10,000 has gone towards scholarships thus far - helping eleven students further their studies along the way.

Dynamite, eh. (Sorry, but you know I had to end with that.) Next up from the Wine Campus will be 2013 Sommelier of the Year, Samantha Rahn's, effort. As soon as her name was announced at last year's Wine Festival, the smart money was betting that she'd be moving directly to satisfy her penchant for Shiraz and Syrah. I'll be keeping my eye open for that.