Friday, May 30, 2014


Regular readers will know that I get quite a kick in trying wines made from obscure grapes. I surpassed my first 100 grape varieties some time ago to become a card carrying member of the Wine Century Club. I'm slowly inching my way up to reaching 200 but it does get harder and harder to find those new grapes. Indeed, I now find that I often have to Google part of a wine label to see if it's a grape or a brand name for a winery. Accordingly, it was fortuitous that I stumbled across this Italian red a while ago.

1619.  2012 Caruso & Minini - Terre di Giumara - Frappato Nerello Mascalese (Terre Siciliane IGT - Sicily - Italy)

Caruso & Minini is one of a new breed of smaller wineries that have started production as part of a renaissance of winemaking in Sicily. Part of this renaissance involves a strong interest in the potential of Sicily's native grapes and Caruso & Minini are certainly party to that approach. Much of the winery's production highlights such native Sicilian grapes as Perricone, Inzolia, Nero d'Avola and Grecanico. This particular wine blends two of region's local grapes: Frappato and Nerello Mascalese.

Unfortunately, I don't get to add both grapes to my Wine Century Club list. Perhaps a little surprisingly so, Nerello Mascalese has already been added to that tally. So, rather than repeat my earlier notes on that variety of grape, I'll just include a link to my earlier post. I think that earlier bottle was even a single varietal wine - which isn't all that common to find on our West Coast shelves. I am adding Frappato as #171 to my list though and I'm all the happier for it.

The Caruso & Minini winery is located in the heart of the traditional production area for Marsala; however, only Nerello Mascalese is traditionally used (although only to a small extent) in making Marsala. Rather, after a new wine denomination or appellation was approved for Sicily - Terre Sicilane IGT - the winery looked at using Frappato in producing a new blended wine under its Terre di Giumara line. Terre di Giumara is the name of the Caruso family's country estate and the brand was first used to produce the family's varietal wines. The new IGT denomination allowed the introduction of Frappato into a wider range of Sicilian wines and the winery capitalized on it.

Don't let the deep colour of the wine fool you into thinking that this is a big, boisterous wine. I was quite surprised by the lightness and fruitiness of the juice.  Frappato is apparently known for its lighter tannins and acidity - perhaps stemming from the fact that, like Nerello Mascalese, the grape is related to Sangiovese. Indeed, the winery notes highlight the lighter tannins and recommend matching the wine with both meat and fish.

Something tells me that I'll be looking for more smaller, regional wines like this to fill those last 29 spots in order to hit 200 varieties. Count on it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Return to Okanagan Roots

Although Sperling Vineyards only produced their first vintage in 2008, there is a long and storied history to the land and family behind the "new" vineyard. Sperling Vineyards may take its name from winemaker Ann Sperling but the 45-acre Sperling vineyard, Pioneer Ranch, has been in the family for over a century. The family's Okanagan narrative began in the late 1800's when Ann's great-grandfather, Giovanni Casorso,  left Italy and ventured to work with the Okanagan Mission - a new agricultural community in what would become known the Okanagan Valley.

The family has been growing grapes since the 1920's and their plantings over the years tell a good part of grape growing history in the Okanagan. Starting with the hybrid and labrusca grapes that were prevalent in days of yore, those vines eventually yielded to quality wine and Sovereign Coronation grapes (the latter being a table grape developed in a local breeding program). In more recent years, the vineyard has been converted to largely Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - although the property still includes a 45-year old planting of Maréchal Foch and some of the oldest Riesling vines in the valley - 35 years and counting.

While Ann's family has been operating Pioneer Ranch for decades, Ann herself has learned the wine trade and honed her skills working and consulting for a wide range of wineries from the Okanagan to Ontario to Nova Scotia (with acclaimed sparkling wine house, Benjamin Bridge). She even has an interest in an Argentine venture to add to her busy schedule.

1618.  2011 Sperling Vineyards - The Market White (VQA Okanagan Valley)

With Ann's return to her roots in the Okanagan, her attention has been directed primarily at the white varieties that have become synonymous with the northern Okanagan. While Sperling offers a number of varietal wines, The Market White is a blend of primarily Pinot Blanc and Bacchus. I couldn't find an exact breakdown of the varieties incorporated in the 2011 version; however, I see that the 2012 vintage also includes a good chuck of Gewürztraminer and a touch of old vine Perle of Csaba (a variety of Muscat). I haven't seen any confirmation of those additional grapes in the 2011 though.

Regardless of the wine's make-up, it was deemed tasty enough to make Wine Diva's Annual Under $20 Top 100 Wines for 2012.

The off-dry notes might have been a touch much for our stuff and roasted pork but that's all the more reason to have added a bit of spice to the seasoning on the meat and accompanied the dish with a hefty pepper jelly.

Although I've certainly been aware of Ann's return to the Okanagan, this is the first of her wines to be added to The List. I doubt it will be the last. Indeed, I'll run across some of her handiwork when the BC Wine Appreciation Society hosts a tasting with Clos du Soleil in June. As if she doesn't have enough on her plate, Ann is winemaker for this award winning winery as well. "Welcome back," I say.

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Celebratory SunRock Cab

Having just returned from the Okanagan Valley and the Half Corked Half Marathon, I figured why not continue the celebrated completion of the race with a bottle from one of the highest profile members of the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association - the organization that did such a stellar job in hosting the race.

1617.  2006 Jackson-Triggs SunRock Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (VQA Okanagan Valley)

It's been awhile since I pulled the cork on a Jackson-Triggs bottle. That might be why we still have an '06 bottle hanging around. As luck would have, there was still a good bit of life to the wine - maybe even a bit more than I'm exhibiting after the past weekend's run. There was plenty of dark fruit still present - and that isn't necessarily a given with BC Cabs, even at the start of their life - and there was a good overall balance to the wine. The longevity of the wine likely has a lot to do with the fact that the wine is part of J-T's Gold Series - their highest tier of wines - and it's from the 2006 vintage which was considered a fine year for the Okanagan.

The southernmost of Jackson-Trigg's properties, the SunRock Vineyard is now fully planted to red wine varieties and this is the last of the SunRock reds to make it onto The List. Bottles of Meritage, Merlot and Shiraz were all added some time ago.

I can't but think that, if the weather for this current year keeps going at the pace we've seen so far, the 2014 vintage might be just as big and long-lasting as this '06. The vines will have another eight years of age on them and should be producing even higher quality fruit now.

As Boo is pushing to drink up some of our older bottles in the "cellar," I may just find a few more bottles of J-T's contemporaries making The List in the near future. It may well be a long time before I'm celebrating the finish of a half marathon or other long run; so, we'd best drink wine while the sun shines (or however that saying goes).

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Cheers to That - A Half Corked Success

I may have a few marathons and trail runs under my belt but, admittedly, that was a dozen years and many added pounds ago. Back in my running days, though, I was always enthralled with the thought of running one of the marathons through wine country - whether that be the Napa or the Bordeaux run - but I was never able to make it happen. When the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association introduced its Half Corked Half a few years back, I knew I was going to have to make it happen one way or another.

I didn't hear about the race in its first year until just before the start and it was too late to get involved. An injury and lack of training prevented any thought of running the next couple editions. Now, here we are at the fourth running and fortunately for the Winery Association - but unfortunately for would be runners - the Half Corked Marathon has almost become a victim of its own success. Demand for starting numbers has become something fierce. Such that, last year, all the spots were gone within a minute of them going on sale. Wanting to be as egalitarian as it could be, the Association introduced a lottery system to gain entry into this year's run.

I know about a dozen people who entered the lottery and not a single one of us saw our name picked in the initial draw. Hard to believe that you could be so disheartened by being told you can't run a half marathon, but it's true. We were all drowning our sorrows and bemoaning the training that we had under our belts. A week or so had gone by when, magically, I got the call that my name had been picked in the supplementary draw. Mr. Cool and I would be able to cruise through Okanagan vineyards after all.

As wrote in the posts leading up to race day, I'd actually picked up an injury over the last couple months. It was diagnosed as bursitis on the knee and it pretty much meant that I wasn't able to train for about 3 weeks leading up to the run and I wasn't sure that I'd even be able to complete the race. Having managed a couple 16k training runs for the first time in over a decade though and knowing how difficult it is to even get into the run, I was damned if I wasn't showing up at the start line - even if it meant that I had to walk a good part of the course or that Mr. Cool needed to carry me for a couple kilometres.

If you haven't guessed from the first couple pictures, this may still be (just shy of) a half marathon, but it is definitely operated as a fun run. A healthy proportion of the runners show up in costume - and there were some incredible outfits. Mr. Cool and I worked with the tiki room theme because it was easy to run in but I'm hard pressed to figure out how some of the participants were able to finish with their costumes in tact. The course winds through wineries - and some stunning scenery - on the Golden Mile and Black Sage Road benches but - costume or not - it isn't a course where one might look to complete a personal best time.

This part of the Okanagan is the northern tip of the Sonoran Desert that runs up the West Coast from Mexico. Therefore, the heat of the day can easily become an issue for participants. Knowing this, the organizers have wisely ensured that there are 14 water stations along the route to keep the runners hydrated.

And, since this is wine country, naturally, each of the water stations is manned by one of the 31 wineries that make up the Association. It was left to each winery to decide what to serve at their station and there was certainly a wide-ranging array of offerings - everything from Sangria at Tinhorn Creek and campfire wieners & beans to accompany Riesling at Rustico to a full spread of food and wine at Silver Sage.

I have to admit that the spray shower, set up at Stoneboat, was as welcome as any wine along the route though.

The award for best costumes went to the Red Planet team - we caught up to Marvin the Martian and crew at one of the pit stops and we marvelled at the thought of their running the whole race in their spaceship. After the race, I was gobsmacked to find out that they hadn't tried running in their ship even once before the start of the race. Yowzer!

Other favourites among the runners were the Walking Red, the various bridal parties - with or without pregnant bride, the grape bunches, the Ron Burgundy newscast team, the Dutch Brigade, and my own personal favourites: the grape-stomping Lucies. All decked out as Lucy from the infamous grape stomping episode (luckily for them, it was in the pre-fight wardrobe), there were more than a couple calls of "Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do!" heard over the day.

I'm happy to say that, with Mr. Cool's incredible patience and amiable pace, we managed to cross the finish line in tact and together. And, despite what I said earlier about no one being concerned about times, we managed to finish in personal bests. Admittedly, those personal bests didn't stem from stellar pacing, rather it's the fact that the course length of 18.6 km isn't a standard race length. Since this is the first time we'd run this distance, it couldn't help but be a personal best. Fancy that.

The race concludes with a festival-style tasting event with all of the Association's wineries that didn't man a water station during the race. I think it's safe to say that most of the runners sampled a whole lot more wine at the finish than they did during the race itself. Mr. Cool and I were sure to try at least one wine at each of the 14 stations but I definitely filled my coconut glass with water and ice along the course - as opposed to taking a free pour of wine to go - that is, until our final couple stations. I figured I could finish off the last so many kilometres wine in hand. I took it as a badge of honour that we crossed and toasted the finish line with some Quinta Ferreira Rosé in our tiki coconuts. It only seemed fitting for a run through wine country.

At the finish line tasting, I was reminded how I've always chuckled over the stories of women lifting their skirts for photos in front of the old Golden Beaver sign. The winery may have changed its name to its Latin translation - Castoro de Oro - but I thoroughly enjoyed telling the story to one of the blushing brides - with golden blonde locks - as he sidled up to the tasting table. Being the demure bride that he was, the skirt immediately came up. There were shorts though; so, I suppose we'll never really know if he was a natural blonde.

As the tasting wound up, surprisingly enough, Mr. Cool and I were thrilled to let the Mimster play chauffeur and take us back to the hotel for a well deserved nap.

On most days, a nap after a long run can easily signal the end of my day but, being in wine country, we decided to celebrate with dinner at Miradoro. We scored a skookum table on the balcony - from which we not only enjoyed our delicious dinners but had a great view of the first show of Tinhorn Creek's 2014 Concert Series. The Town Pants were serving up some rollicking Celtic tunes and it was a superb addition to a great day. I don't think my legs would have been up to much of the abandoned dancing that was happening below us but I did manage to tap my toes a bit to the wild rhythms.

If you look really closely at the photo below you might even see the ever-effervescent Sandra Oldfield kicking up her heels a bit to a jig or a reel. Girl's got some moves.

For a day full of wine, I haven't been adding a whack of bottles to The List. Admittedly, I did go back for multiple pours of Culmina Riesling at the finish line tasting but that didn't a bottle make. Ultimately, I couldn't miss adding a bottle from this event though and dinner provided the opportunity to do so - and add a very tasty bottle at that.

1616.  2009 Tinhorn Creek - Oldfield Series 2Bench Red (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Canadian wine scribe, Rick Van Sickle, called the '09 2Bench Red "simply the best red I have tasted from Oldfield." A Bordeaux blend of 45% merlot, 30% Cab Sauv, 22% Cab Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, it certainly hit the spot with us that evening. Dark and earthy, it got the blood coursing through my tired, old legs again. Maybe not enough to go for another run in the morning but at least enough to make it back to the hotel for a whole lot of log-sawing.

All in all, it incredible day - and weekend. The organizers and wineries deserve huge thanks and I'm not surprised to see why the run has become so popular in such a short time. I think it's safe to say that we're more than game to give the Half Corked Half another go next year. Indeed, Mr. Cool is already talking more elaborate costumes. Hopefully, I'll be up and running again by then - and be lucky enough to get starting numbers in the lottery.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Wine Worth Running For

After months of anticipation, the weekend for the ½ Corked (Half) Marathon had finally arrived. Both Mr. Cool and I were having hectic weeks at work but we managed to off-load enough of our files to sneak out of our respective offices by noon and hit the road. Luckily, the highways were clear enough that we made our way to the sunny Okanagan in time to pick up our race packages for the big run.

We were joining forces with a phalanx of runners for Primavera - the pasta-loading party thrown by the Oliver Osoyoos Wine Association - in the evening but I figured we had plenty of time to settle into our digs before we needed to leave. The Mimster had arranged for accommodation in Osoyoos and I wanted to go through the information package and show Mr. Cool all the goodies I'd rounded up for our race outfits.

And, lo and behold, foremost among the registration goodies was a bottle of event-branded wine! Unavailable, except to those participating in the run, this is one of those special bottles that speak to me as a bona fide wine geek. It was going to be fun adding this bottle to The List.

I figured Primavera would just be a buffet, eat when you like affair. Ooops. When we arrived at Church and State - the winery hosting the dinner - we saw that it was a sit down, catered affair and that we were among the last to arrive. Fortunately, we found three plum seats together and managed to  show up in time before the first course.

We'd missed a bit of a reception that featured wines from the Association's member wineries but we still managed to scoop a couple of glasses of interesting wine as everything was being finalized for dinner. Considering most of the diners were going to be running in the morning, there was an awful lot of wine being poured.

1615.  ½ Corked Blend (Okanagan Valley)

The primary wine accompanying our Joy Road dinner was the race-branded wine that we'd received in our registration package. I haven't been able to find out much information about this year's vintage of the ½ Corked Blend but I understand that Tim Martiniuk of Stoneboat Vineyards spearheaded the effort. Each of the Association's member wineries contributed wine from their cellars to produce the "rare blend of 31 premium red wines." I don't know what the make-up of the blend was but, given the who's who of member wineries and the reputation of the region for producing the biggest red wines in the province, this was no shrinking violet of a BC red.

Full of dark fruit and earthy notes, it went down easily with the Spaghetti Bolognese and Baked Pesto Pasta being served to all the prospective runners. There didn't seem to be any end in sight for either food nor wine but all good things eventually come to an end. Mr. Cool and I both determined that, with a half marathon to run in the morning, we were better off behaving ourselves and making an "early" night of it.

Besides, I was rather sure that there wasn't going to be any shortage of wine during the next day's activities.

So, we bid adieu to our dining mates - and, new drinking pals - Peaches and Coco. The two ladies just happened to be sitting next to us and we simply seemed to click - sharing more than our share of laughs through the evening. I can't say that I recall having as much fun discussing endless orgasms and the perils of dating younger men with complete strangers before.

Call me crazy, but it might have been the wine. And, with a promise to keep an eye open for them during the race, we called it a night.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sottano - An Argentine Cab

Mr. Cool and I are off in the morning to head up to Okanagan wine country for the Half Corked Half Marathon. So, it's a night for packing and a final opportunity for some last minute training - of the wine drinking variety, of course. I haven't even pretended to try and run for the last couple of weeks. I'm going to rely on the fact that this is a "fun run" and that a healthy percentage of participants will be walking for a substantial part of the race anyhow.

For those last sips of training fluids, I figured "why not go with the Sottano?" Boo and I discovered Sottano while on a road trip in Argentina and Cool and I were about to embark on another road trip - although decidedly shorter in time and distance.

1614.  2006 Sottano Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendoza - Argentina)

Bodega Sottano is currently seeing the fourth generation of the Sottano family involved in the growing of grapes and making of wine in Mendoza. Don Fioravante Sottano migrated from the Veneto region of Italy to the Argentine countryside in 1890; however, it's this current generation - of three brothers - that has over-seen the completion and opening of a new winery in 2005.

It was this new winery that Boo and I visited during or stay in Mendoza. I recall it as being one of our shorter visits but also one where the winery staff was ever so laid back and where they'd build a neat glass floor insert that provided a view down into the cellar from the tasting room.

Facing the draconian restrictions of bringing wine back into Canada - and much to our dismay - we only picked up one bottle of Sottano wine when we were actually in Argentina. It was not this Cab Sauv. Rather, I walked into one of the private wine shops in Vancouver a few months after our return and, shockingly, saw the bottle there. I've seen a few Sottano wines in town since that time and they are usually this "entry" level label. They also produce a Reserve label and an "icon" wine, a premium Malbec called Judas.

The home vineyards surrounding the winery are planted with primarily Malbec and Cab Sauv. So, the odds are good that we were within walking distance of the vines used in making this Cab (albeit we didn't arrive at the winery until well after this vintage had been bottled and readied for the market). I can't say that about many of the wines we drink - particularly not the ones from outside BC.

I'm not so sure that Mr. Cool and I will want our wine to be this big during the Half Corked run. Something tells me that the heat of the day might dictate something a little lighter. That doesn't mean that a whole lot of fruit and body doesn't work as a training wine though. If handling the Cab isn't causing problems now, I'm pretty sure that all this training is doing some good after all.

I say, "Bring on the race."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Lammershoek - A New Look at South Africa

I still have a few training drinks to fit in before the Half Corked Half Marathon on the weekend. I may not be able to train on the road, but at least I can keep training with the glass.

1613.  2009 Lammershoek Roulette Blanc (Swartland W.O. - South Africa)

I don't know South African wines very well. We don't tend to buy many ourselves and, when we do run across them at events or parties, they're usually the mass commercial, entry level brand wines. Case in point, I didn't even recognize Swartland as a Wine of Origin appellation in South Africa - let alone know where it is on a map. Same thing with Lammershoek. I knew nothing about it when I picked up this white, along with a red blend, at a charity event silent auction and, while the purchase was a pure gamble, I figured the wines had to be a worthwhile sip as the bottles were donated by Marquis Wine Cellars - perhaps Vancouver's premier private wine merchant. If you can't trust them for a bit of an adventure, who can you trust?

Lammershoek is a family run and managed operation that produces three label ranges - an entry level, this eponymous label and a "project" label that pushes boundaries and plays with more unusual grape varieties and techniques. The winery added a new winemaker, Craig Hawkins, in 2010 and he's apparently upped the ante since his arrival. The experimental, "project" label - Cellar Foot - even has a Syrah that is aged in barrels under water. Never heard of that one before.

Hawkins wasn't with the winery during the vintage and pressing of the juice for the '09 Roulette Blanc but he did supervise the blending of the finished wine. He has an interesting production method for this wine (at least for the subsequent vintages) in that the juice is pressed directly into large (300L and 600L), old oak barrels and aged for 12 months on its lees (spent yeast cells) and then blended and placed in a 9500L concrete tank where it is aged for another 5 months on lees before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. The finished wine sees Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier and Clariette Blanche combined for a rich mouthfeel that goes more for minerality and spice than for fruit - quite different from most of the whites we find back home in BC. It was definitely big enough for a pork roast - although I think I'd want to drink it more with food than just by itself for a cocktail sip.

The grapes are farmed organically on dry land (no irrigation) from well established vines and that likely adds an even bigger element to the mouthfeel on the wine.  The Chenin vines are between 45 and 50 years old, the Chardonnay and Viognier around 30 and even the newest Clairett Blanche vines are 15 years old.

A definite change of pace for my wine glass. I'll be interested to see what the red is like.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Hard Core Training

The 4th Annual Half Corked Half Marathon is coming up this weekend and I luckily scored a double entry into the race. Patterned after the full marathons in Médoc (Bordeaux) and Napa, the Half Corked Half sees participants run a course through wine country in the Southern Okanagan - and, probably more to the point - that offers up a dozen or so water stations at various wineries and strategic spots along the route. If you haven't already guessed, the folks running the water stations turned that water into wine tastings and bites of food (along with the water, of course).

Problem is that the race has become so popular in its brief existence that the race organizers, the Oliver Osoyoos Wine Association, needed to introduce a lottery system to select its participants. Spots in the 2013 race were in such demand that all the spots were taken within a minute of them being offered.

Despite knowing that you'd have to run 18.6 km - likely in costume while sipping away - this is one difficult race to get into. I knew about a dozen folks that had entered the lottery and I'm the only one that got in - and even that was on the second round draw to fill empty spots.

Building my running distance back up to acceptable distances had been going along nicely but about six weeks or so ago, my left knee started hurting. At first, it wasn't anything that a little wine after the run couldn't overcome - until, a couple of weeks back, my race buddy, Mr. Cool, and I ran a 15km course in miserable weather, after which the knee started kicking up something fierce. Training hasn't been going well since. In fact, it hasn't been going at all.

Hoping I'd still be able to fight my way through the race, I started some physiotherapy to check things out. As luck would have it, the diagnosis was bursitis and the physio figured I could struggle my way through the race without doing much more, if any, damage. Of course, I did have to face a few chuckles when I told friends that those most vulnerable to my injury were middle-aged, overweight women. Go figure.

All this meant that I simply had to focus my training on the drinking-wine part.

In recognition of the fact that the race is just around the corner and that we'd be running along the Black Sage Bench, I thought it would be appropriate to open a bottle from one of the wineries supporting the event.

1612.  Burrowing Owl Merlot (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Burrowing Owl wines have made The List on enough occasions that I don't really need to go into news about the winery. Check out one of the other posts for more on that front.

Now that we've finished off this bottle, I see that John Schreiner, one of BC's top wine scribes, wrote in February 2012 that it was time to start drinking the '06 Burrowing Owl reds. He confirmed that he thought 2006 was "one of the strongest vintages of the decade" but he figured that they'd peaked and that they might only hold for another year or two.

I suppose we might have pushed that limit somewhat, but I'm happy to say that Boo and I both thought there was still plenty of life left to this Merlot - and I'll be quite happy to open the last two bottles that we have tucked away. Maybe that should be sooner than later though.

Now, the hope will be that I've got as much life in this tired, old frame to get through the race without Mr. Cool having to carry me too far on his back.