Sunday, September 6, 2015

The 2001st Bottle - Quite the Odyssey

Six and a half years later and here we are: time to add the 2001st - and, therefore, final - wine to The List. As the journey behind this blog has always been to celebrate the places and the people that we sipped away at and with, I think it's fitting that we reach our goal with a very special gathering of our Dinner Club.

I've personally been in a dinner club of one sort or another since university days - and that's over 30 years ago. However, our current gang (with a few changes along the way as significant others appeared and one couple retired from the club) is coming up on twenty years. Indeed, one of my earliest posts on this Odyssey was at a Dinner Club gathering at Chez Tyrant.

And the memory of that dinner and others makes tonight's feast and post all the more special. Not only am I able to pull the cork on the "last" bottle but I get to share it with friends who have been with me all along the journey. Further, we all got to raise our glasses in a heartfelt toast to Tyrant - our dear friend who passed away a couple of weeks ago. I know Tyrant was looking forward to the 2001st bottle almost as much I was because we'd been talking about pulling a few special treats from his cellar. And I do mean "cellar" in Tyrant's case. As a little example, he'd generously brought along a bottle of 1982 Grange to my 50th birthday party and it remains one of the most memorable wines I've been fortunate enough to enjoy. Unfortunately, that bottle was before I'd started the blog and, therefore, not on The List.

I'll never know the wine Tyrant had tentatively earmarked for tonight's dinner but we all managed to find a few noteworthy bottles for the occasion to knock back with him in mind.

N.V. Lanson Black Label Brut (Champagne AOC - France)

2014 Domaine L'Ostal Cazes Rosé (Pays d'Oc IGP - France)

It turns out that we had more than enough wines this evening to reach bottle number 2001. So, it was of no concern that our first two wines were ones that had already been added to The List. One of the "rules" that I had set out for myself at the start of the blog was that I couldn't add the same vintage of the same bottle more than once to The List. Lanson Black is one of my favourite Champagnes and, being a non-vintage wine, the first bottle of this baby made it to the blog long ago.

The Rosé was a recent discovery but a pleasant one all the same. The wine had been recommended at a local government liquor store when I was picking up wines for this year's Giro di Burnaby viewing party. It was a hit then and I'm more than happy to join in on a glass whenever it shows up. I often tried to avoid revisiting a bottle that I'd previously enjoyed simply because I wouldn't be able to add it to The List. Guess that won't be so much of a concern anymore.

Tonight's Dinner Club was being hosted by Lady Di and She Who Must Be Obeyed and the menu was classically inspired as Lady Di was looking to put some of the skills she'd been picking up at various cooking classes to good use.

On any normal evening, I could have easily been sated with the bubbly, the Rosé and the fresh burata served with the tastiest of heirloom tomatoes. As if that was ever going to be the full extent of a Dinner Club though.

1997.  2013 William Fevre - Petit Chablis (Petit Chablis AOC - Burgundy - France)

Unoaked Chardonnay and Oysters Motoyaki. I don't think anything else needs to be said. Seafood, acidity, cream.

I mentioned Lady Di was going after some classic dishes and pairings tonight. Two for two so far in my book.

1998.  2007 Rolf Binder - Heinrich Shiraz Mataro Grenache (Barossa Valley - Australia)

1999.  2008 Langmeil Orphan Bank Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

It turned out that our wine choices were a little more red-centric than the menu was but that can happen when we all take such pleasure in not disclosing the Dinner Club's bill of fare in advance. The Gazpacho wouldn't normally scream big, juicy reds, but there wasn't a single complaint to be heard until there was no more wine to be poured. I suppose it goes to show that sometimes an unforeseen pairing can work out far more favourably than you might expect.

Then again, it's entirely possible that these two wines could have been paired with a slice of toast and some Vegemite and we still would have raved. Langmeil is another favourite of mine - although we don't usually splurge on the more premium Orphan Bank Shiraz. If I had to pick an Aussie house wine (and was only allowed to spend $30), the Langmeil Valley Floor Shiraz would very likely be my first choice. The Orphan Bank is just that much more layered and nuanced.

I don't think I'd tried the Heinrich before but this is a GSM (or SMG) blend that brother and sister winemakers, Rolf and Christa Binder, named in memory of their father. I don't know if Jeaux and Matinder were aware of that fact when they chose this wine but it seems uniquely appropriate for a Dinner club in Tyrant's memory.

With these two wines, there was no doubt that we were partying like it was 1999 - because, indeed, this course served up bottle #1999 on The List.

2000.  2003 Baron Philippe de Rothschild - Cabernet Sauvignon (Vin de Pays d'Oc - France)

The next step to happiness was beef tenderloin - cooked to order - served with baked kale and mushrooms in a wine reduction. The girls definitely had a challenging go of it with the timing on the cook of the beef since they had to juggle Jeaux and Matinder's penchant for blue steak through to Boo's more pedestrian medium cook.  But, of course, they were more than up to the task and my rare-medium-rare arrived spot on.

The tenderloin was paired (by happenstance) with two Rothschild wines - albeit from slightly different ends of the spectrum. It's a rare occasion that I get to try a $15 bottle side-by-side with its more well-heeled "cousin."  While Tyrant likely had some actual Mouton Rothschild in his cellar, a bottle of Le Petit Mouton was the best that I could come up with for the occasion.

2001.  2006 Mouton Rothschild - Le Petit Mouton (Pauillac AOC - Bordeaux - France)

As I knew this bottle would officially be number 2001 on The List, I was hoping for a bit of "knock 'em out of the park" sip. The Wine Advocate declared that "the 2006 Le Petit Mouton is the finest example of this cuvée I have tasted." The winemaker noted, "Aromas of berry fruit, vanilla and spice reflect its great complexity. Round, lush, full-bodied and supported by fine tannins, it is long and ample on the palate."

Not too bad as far as pedigrees and reviews go. Amen to that. Sounds like just the wine to hit the blog's final target and goal with.

Funny thing is that, the Petit Mouton didn't really speak to anyone at our table - even when paired with the tenderloin. The wine might be right on point for the pros but, as much as we might have wanted it to, it didn't titillate our palates - at least not to the extent that many of the other wines gracing our table did.

I suppose that's part of the joy of trying wines of every stripe. The best way to discover a wine that moves you is the try as many as you can.

2001+  2012 Tenuta Sette Ponti - Crognolo Toscana (Toscana IGT -Tuscany - Italy)

2001+  2010 Fontanafredda - Serralunga D'Alba Barolo (Barolo DOCG - Piedmont - Italy)

As previously mentioned in this post, some of the night's pairings weren't what you'd call classic. By the time our dessert of Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta with chocolate pebbles arrived, we were down to a couple of big Italian reds - a Supertuscan and a Barolo. I suppose that the unorthodox pairing was of no concern though. By now, we were simply taking in the evening and these beauties were bonus wines for The List anyhow.

Noticing that the wines had been poured as a trio of national pairings, we held a little poll of the table. The Aussies came out on top as our favourite wines of the evening, followed by the Italians and then the French. Not that there was any grand international tasting or bragging rights at stake. After all, there were (surprisingly) no Okanagan wines poured with dinner.

So, the latest round of the Dinner Club came to a close - as has the formal task of this blog. Having added the 2001st wine to The List, I now get to take some time and decide the direction the blog might take in the future. It's been quite the Odyssey. No doubt about it.

The wines. The people. The events.

It's made for an incredible adventure and, to be honest, a whole lot more work than I'd ever envisioned when I decided to upload that very first post. Drinking the wine was easy. No doubt about that. Writing the posts was a whole other exercise. Boo has called himself a "blog widow" for years - and there's a lot a truth to that.

And so, as I happily brace myself to hit the "Publish" and finish The List and my formal Wine Odyssey, I figure this won't be the end of the blog. It will definitely take a different - and not so demanding - structure but I'm hardly done with my love of wine. And that indulgence and amusement is something that will still drive me to put finger to keyboard now and then.

In the meantime, I need to send out big bouquets of gratitude to everyone who's encouraged, commented on, participated in - and endured (right Boo?) - my indulgence. It's been the most extraordinary learning experience.

I toast all of you.

And, as a final act of appreciation, I raise my glass to Tyrant. Having shared his humour, his generousity, his friendship and many a fine wine, it's a joy to share the 2001st bottle with you in mind. I wish you'd been there in person but you were definitely there in our hearts and minds. Skoal, dear friend.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Expressing One's Inner-Italian

An old card I kept on my fridge went "I always cook with wine - sometimes I even put it in the food." 

Tonight wasn't such an occasion. It was an evening of peeling, dicing, crushing, saucing and canning 40 pounds of tomatoes. No wine was added to the actual tomato sauce - however, the cooks certainly took regular breaks for a sip from the glass.

Naturally, given we were cooking tomatoes, we endeavoured to tap into our inner-Italian - although truth be told, neither Boo, nor I, have any Italian blood coursing through our veins. Given that, I figured the occasion at least called for an Italian wine.

A second consideration in the wine choice - and for those who have been following the last so many posts you'll already know - was to pick a wine from the cellar that would, hopefully, be worthy of being one of the final wines to be added to The List on this Odyssey.

1996.  2003 La Spinetta - Vürsù Vigneto Valeirano (Barbaresco DOCG - Piedmont - Italy)

With thousands of Italian wineries to discover, we were fortunate to be pointed in La Spinetta's direction by the good folk at Marquis Wine Cellars.  Back in '08, Boo and I had planned an Italian vacation as a second honeymoon and we'd been tipped off that most wineries in Italy require appointments before you can visit and taste. La Spinetta was on the Marquis "Don't Miss" list. We took them at their word and weren't disappointed.

Naturally, having become fans of La Spinetta and their modern, premium approach to winemaking, we no longer see any of their wines on local shelves. Luckily, we still had a bottle tucked away in the cellar.

The Spinetta estate was only established in 1977 - a relative baby by Italian standards - and it climbed to "superstar" status with its introduction of state-of-the-art machinery and attention to production detail. The winery initially produced only a Moscato. It started adding reds in the 80's with the introduction of a Barbera and then upped the ante with a formerly unheard of Barbera/Nebbiolo blend. The mid-90's saw the inaugural production of Barbaresco and that brings us to tonight's bottle. Valeirano is one of three single vineyard Barbarescos that La Spinetta currently produces and they are definite stars in the portfolio.

I'll simply say that this was one heckuva wine to cook with - at least for the cooks. While  I'm sure it would have imparted a grandness had we added some to a batch of the tomatoes, there was no way we were putting this rich baby into the sauce. With an intensity of body and integrated tannins, the winery's Spec Page says that 2003 vintage can likely be aged up to 30 years. We obviously didn't wait that long but I think the decade we gave the bottle was sufficient time to harmonize the big flavours.

Down the road, I may not be blogging all our bottles to the same extent. I think, however, that I may have to put fingers to keys should I run across some more Spinetta wines. You know I'll be keeping an eye open for them.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

An Artful Chard

If you've been reading this last series of posts, you've likely noticed that I've been pulling some of our bigger guns out of the cellar for these final bottles to close out The List before I hit the 2001st wine. Tonight's wine definitely fits the bill of a "big gun." We've only got one bottle and that's because I've only ever seen one bottle for sale in a shop - and that was in New York City. I don't know that anyone carries it in Vancouver - and, even if someone did, I'd be afraid to see what price it comes in at.

I think it's fair to say that the Vancouver market has never seen many Margaret River wines on a regular basis. The region has been one that I've always had a fondness for though - ever since I tried and quite liked a bottle while I was in Australia in 1996. I returned to Vancouver and could only find two or three bottles from the region in our city and, naturally, that was at one of the premium wine shops. I tried another of the district's wines. Enjoyed it. And, with the region being two for two, I've always had a positive outlook on the region's wines.

That being said, I've been holding on to tonight's bottle for an "occasion." I think hitting #1995 on The List qualifies.

1995.  2004 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay (Margaret River - Australia)

Leeuwin Estate is family owned and operated and, with its bevy of national and international accolades and awards, is one of the - if not the - pre-eminent wineries in the Margaret River region. Unlike some other Aussie wine regions - like the Barossa - winemaking in Margaret River didn't really get started until the 1970's. Indeed, it was only in 1969 that Leeuwin Estate was one of the five founding wineries in the Margaret River district located to the south of Perth in Western Australia. Leeuwin, however, didn't actually make any vintage wines for release until 1978. It's been all uphill from there.

Making three separate labels, Leeuwin's Art Series wines are their "most opulent and ageworthy" wines. The first vintage of Art Series Chardonnay was 1980 and it arrived on the scene with a declaration by Decanter magazine that it was the best Chardonnay in the world in 1982.

My introduction to Leeuwin's Art Series Chardonnay was at an Australian Wine Appreciation Society tasting in Vancouver that involved a blind tasting of fifteen or so Chardonnay's from around the world. Leeuwin's was, by far, the favourite wine of the evening - including my score card. However, as much as I kept an eye open for it, I could never find a bottle of the wine until that New York wine shop.

The region has continued to have a romanticized hold on me though and, when Boo and I made a trip back to Australia in 2012, we decided to travel out to Perth for a quick venture down to Margaret River with Merlot Boy and Margarita. We managed to fit in a dinner at Leeuwin and finally added a bottle of the Art Series Chard to The List - along with a couple other Leeuwin wines.

It's now time to add a second vintage to The List before this Odyssey peters out.

We had quite the scare opening this bottle though. The cork broke on me while I was pulling it out and I couldn't help but worry that, if the cork was faulty, the wine might be faulty as well. There was a heavy sigh of relief though after the first taste. The wine was still rich and velvety on the tongue. There was noticeable, although refined, oaking and some subtle hints of tropical fruit still shone through.

A rare treat but oh so enjoyable. There haven't been many wines on my journey that have as hallowed a history as the Art Series Chardonnay but isn't that exactly why we try to experience as many different wines and regions as we can. It makes those special occasions all that more special.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Iconic Friends Deserve Iconic Wines

From the start of this blog and Odyssey, a major focus was always going to be who we drank our wines with and the occasions where we drank the bottles. It's definitely fitting that we were able to schedule a dinner with Elzee this close to hitting the 2001st bottle. We know very well that it's almost inevitable that, every time we get together with the lovely and talented Elzee, there's likely going to be great food and equally fine wine.

I'm happy to say that this occasion was no different - even though this was a simple, spur-of-the-moment invite to our place.

1993.  2014 Orofino Moscato Frizzante (Similkameen Valley)

When I look back on all the wines that have made up the 2001 bottles, I'm sure there will be more Orofino wines on The List than all but a handful of wineries. Boo and I have been fans of the "straw-bale winery" pretty much since Day 1. We were lucky to discover Orofino very early in its existence as its owners, growers, winemakers, proprietors (and likely everything else needed), John and Virginia Weber, presented some of their first vintage at a BC Wine Appreciation Society tasting of wines from the, at that time, new on the scene Similkameen Valley.

Although its now been around for a handful of vintages, Moscato Frizzante is one of Orofino's newest wines. It is also a very popular one as it arrived as a playful, easy drinking Moscato with a splash of Riesling and Pinot Gris that brings out an acidity to counter the fruity and floral base of Moscato. In a region that really only started to make a name for itself in the last decade, t's a bit of a surprise that much of the fruit for the wine comes from Muscat vines are over 25 years old now. The fruit from those established vines, planted on Orofino's home vineyard, is augmented with grapes from the neighbouring Hendsbee vineyard, those vines having been more recently planted around 2009.

The carbonation is measured; there isn't an abundance of fizz or mousse but the slightly off-dry palate makes the wine an excellent start to an evening. As it did for us.

I think the Okanagan Valley has established itself as a premium region for producing more serious, traditional even, Champenoise-styled sparkling wines (just look at Blue Mountain, Stellars Jay, Tantalus and Summerhill) but there's a new breed of bubbly that's starting to emerge and Orofino's Moscato is definitely helping to lead the way.

1994.  2008 Clarendon Hills - Astralis (McLaren Vale - Australia)

As I journey along this Odyssey and learn more and more about wine, one of the most valuable lessons has been about the pairing of food and wine - to bring out the best attributes of both simultaneously. One of the biggest discoveries I encountered was that we "drank red but ate white." I now try much harder to match whites, rosés and lighter reds with many of our dinners while saving our beloved big reds for meatier occasions. That re-adjustment of my pairing habits over the years has definitely increased our pleasure of the wine we're drinking.

That being said, tonight's pairing does not follow any of that logic. An Aussie Shiraz isn't likely the best sip to pair with mussels - even if there are yam frites and chipotle mayo alongside - but I wanted to dip into the cellar for one of our landmark wines for this near "List-ending" bottle with Elzee.

I decided on a bottle of Astralis - although I can't say that I've tried it before or knew much about the winery. Astralis has been called an Aussie cult wine - particularly after wine critic, Robert Parker (love him or hate him) wrote in 1996, "This is the hottest wine in Australian wine circles, as it came out ahead of two great vintages of Henschke and Penfolds' Grange in a recent tasting. If readers can believe it, it is a bigger denser, more concentrated wine than the Grange." The bottle was another extravagance of one of Boo's border crossing jaunts and it seemed appropriate for the occasion.

 Clarendon Hills is a small (by Australian standards), family run winery and Astralis is the flagship wine of the Clarendon Hills portfolio. Roman Bratasiuk founded winery in 1990, 40 miles south of Adelaide in the McLaren Vale district and he immediately imprinted himself with a reputation as a bit of a maverick, starting with the fact that he calls his Astralis a Syrah instead of the ubiquitous Shiraz that is so associated with Aussie wine. Bratasiuk is one of the original pioneers of single vineyard wines in Australia. His first vintage of wines were single vineyard and that was rather unheard of in Aussie winemaking circles at the time. The winery now produces up to 19 single vineyard cuvées in its portfolio and his goal has been to express the varied terroir of McLaren Vale as opposed to gunning for the biggest, baddest fruit bomb possible. Indeed, the winery produces as many as seven single vineyard Syrahs annually.

The 1994 vintage was the first Australian wine to sell for $100 a bottle and, unfortunately, it hasn't gotten any cheaper. However, it is still substantially cheaper than a bottle of Grange - if you can even find it in our Vancouver market - and any bottle like this is going to be a special occasion in our household. Like when you're breaking bread with a dear friend and drinking one of the last bottles to be added to your List of 2001.

I'll have to admit that the wine wasn't nearly as fruit forward as I would have expected for an iconic Aussie Shiraz - but I guess that was the point. It is an Aussie Syrah after all. We might have opened it a tad early as Parker's Wine Advocate originally reported that this "Astralis is very young and primary promising much more to come! Consider drinking it from 2015 to 2025+" but I definitely lean towards fruit on the palate with my wines. So, drinking it a bit earlier in its lifetime is not out of the question for me as the fruit profile of a wine tends to diminish as it ages. Besides, waiting seven years for a bottle of wine is a tough task and we were within the suggested window.

Dinner was concluded with one of Boo's homemade apple pies; however, we didn't need to worry about overpowering the pie by the wine. The Astralis was long gone by the time the pie appeared. I'd blame it on Elzee scarfing all the wine but that's about as likely as me jumping into Another 2001 Bottles - The Sequel. Hopefully, there will be plenty more dinners with Elzee and multiple iconic wines but I'm guessing they won't be documented so regularly in a blog - at least not mine.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Bottle for a Theatrical Picnic

It's been over a decade since Boo and I have taken in one of the Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) shows at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park and almost as long since we last had a picnic by Beaver Lake. Luckily, we get to remedy both those absences tonight as we threw together a quick alfresco basket to enjoy before making our way through the park to watch Hairspray.

It wasn't the most leisurely picnic but we had just enough time to finish off our wine and get to our seats slightly before all those theatrical juices started coursing away.

1992.  2007 Jarvis Estate - Lake William (Napa Valley)

Given the occasion, I pulled a wine that supposedly has a good pedigree - even though I wasn't familiar with either the wine or the producer. It's a rare enough occasion when I'll buy a $100+ wine (at least one that costs that much after the conversion from US bucks) - let alone one that I haven't tasted before. But, this Jarvis Estate blend was one that Boo had grabbed during a Washington state Costco run. Despite the fact that he's "technically" placed me on a "No Buy Leash" for some time now, he can go a little off the rails himself when it comes to Cabs.

I figure, if we can't pull out a big gun with less than ten bottles to go before reaching the blog's goal, when will there ever be an occasion that rates a little sumtin' sumtin' extra?

A mix of Napa-grown Bordeaux grapes, the 2007 vintage was a blend of Cab Sauv (39%), Merlot (38%) and Cab Franc (21%), with a splash of Petit Verdot (2%). The wine could well have stood up to a much bigger repast than we'd thrown together. There was more than enough dark fruit on the palate, however, to lend itself to simple (if hearty) sipping as we watched the sun setting over bucolic scene of Beaver Lake.

Although we haven't visited Jarvis Estate, it appears to have quite the stunning setting as well. According to the winery website, Jarvis was the first winery in the US to "tunnel a cave so large that it could hold the entire winemaking operation." That's 45,000 square feet of tunnel in the Vacas Mountains just east of downtown Napa. Sounds like it's definitely worth a visit should we find ourselves down that way again.

As for finding ourselves at TUTS again, the pure joy that is Hairspray just emphasized the point that we'd been away from the annual outdoor shows for too long. There won't be any need to blog any accompanying wine, but I'll have to remember to check out the scheduling of next summer's shows.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Star for the Gulf Islands

Here we are down to the final ten wines before we reach the titular 2001st bottle. To kick off these "last" wines, I'm going to the Gulf Islands and to Sea Star - a new(ish) venture of owner, David Goudge, and winemaker, Ian Baker. I was excited to see that Sea Star's initial vintage from 2013 was as well received as it was. The winery entered the 2014 Northwest Wine Summit competition and came away with two gold medals, a silver medal and a "Winery of Distinction" accolade as one of only 16 wineries to win two gold medals.

Some of my initial attraction to Sea Star stems from the fact that, off and on, I've known David for many a year, crossing paths at various community and fundraising events and even the odd party or so. To see an acquaintance "burst" onto the local wine is great thrill.

The fact that the winery is located on Pender Island was equally exciting because it means we might be able to fit in a visit every so often seeing as how Axel and The English Doc have set up house not far from the Sea Star's home vineyard. Indeed, spending Thanksgiving with the boys last year was how we managed to pick up some Sea Star wines. The winery was virtually sold out of its initial vintage but David managed to find a couple of wines for us to buy.

1991.  2013 Sea Star Stella Maris (Gulf Islands)

It's not much of a surprise that the bulk of Sea Star's limited production is white wine. Pender Island is a cool, coastal climate and - until the warming effects of global climate change have run their full course - there won't be much in the way of big, international reds. Indeed, "coastal" is as apt a descriptor as you'll find. As far as David knew at the time of our visit, Sea Star is the only winery in Canada where the vineyard actually runs down to and touches the ocean. The winery has sections of Pinot Noir planted in the warmest parts of the vineyard but the first vintage of a varietal Pinot Noir is still some time away as the vines were still maturing to a point where the fruit is deemed good enough to result in a fully representative Pinot.

Stella Maris, which is Latin for "Star of the Sea," is a blend of Gewürztraminer and (that young) Pinot Noir "with a splash of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Ortega and Schönberger" (as the winery describes the wine). Nicely dry but with plenty of tree fruit and a bit of spice, it's a wine that easily disappears from your glass and matches nicely to full array of foods.

With the "final" bottle of this Odyssey so quickly approaching, I have no idea about where the blog might head or what might be in store. I am, however, sure that I'll be making effort to pay another - and longer - visit to Sea Star.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Boyz en Blanc - Tripping the White Fantastic

Launched in Paris 27 years ago, Dîner en Blanc has now expanded to 50-plus cities on five continents and, this evening, it's celebrating its fourth anniversary in Vancouver. Boo and I missed the inaugural event but, including tonight, we've now made the last three shows.

The simplest description of DEB is that guests "flash-gather" in a high-profile, public location and set up a chic dinner party, revelling in the iconic setting. With all the participants decked out in their sharpest white outfits and all the tables decorated completely in white, it's become one of the hardest tickets in the city to get.

With the ability of past guests to invite friends, Boo and I have been able to increase our table from the original two to four to this year's eight. Following our meeting the other week, the courses and table details were divvied up and, despite some rather annoying logistical issues with finding our designated location and collecting our wine, we finally managed to pop the cork on our bubbly and settle in for a six course extravaganza.

1987.  N.V. Moët et Chandon Brut Imperial (Champagne AOC - France)

Knowing that this blog's task of reaching wine #2001 was nearing its climax, I started the gang off with the premium choice among the sparkling wines available for the evening. After all our initial frustrations, the classic bubble with a quartet of caviars was exactly what we needed to get re-grounded and re-set the mood for the evening.

Unfortunately, we were late to the table and didn't get a chance to wander or explore the venue. This year's secret location was the "deck" below the sails of the old Trade and Convention Centre. So, unlike previous years, the narrow deck location meant that we couldn't see all of our 4,500 dining companions. That was the biggest disappointment of the evening for Boo and I. Despite its spectacular view, this year's location just didn't seem to have same group cachet as before.

Good thing our menu was equal to - or surpassed - that of any of the other tables in our vicinity.

1988.  2014 Chartron La Fleur Sauvignon Blanc (Bordeaux AOC - France)

The Sauv Blanc doesn't sport quite the pedigree as the Moët does but it matched nicely with the Tuna and Scallop Ceviche accented with fresh peaches, lime, basil and cayenne. By the time we were on this second course, a number of the tables around us were already finishing up with their meals. They must have been newbies. Some of these millennials might have more energy than us old folk, but they still need to learn that slow and easy can still win the odd race.

1989.  2014 La Vieille Ferme Rouge (Ventoux AOC - Rhône - France)

Our next course of a trio of pâtés was paired with the Rhône blend. Duck with Fig, Duck with Black Truffle and Venison with Cranberry were served along with Cornichons, Prosciutto di Parma, Dijon and baguette. This course alone would have out-paced many of the main plates around us - but we, of course, made it clear that we were still on the appies.

Our extensive menu and leisurely pace did mean that we still had a good portion of our dinner to go when the traditional lighting of the sparklers was announced. Ah well, we needed a bit of a stretch before we sat down for the main course anyhow.

1990.  2012 Terrazas de los Andes - Reserva Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

As the evening was getting a little long in the tooth, we picked up the pace a bit though.  A few of our dining companions were starting to close up shop and call it a night. That just meant they had to leave with their mouths watering as they passed our Barbecued Duck with Red Plum Compote, Saffron Basmati Rice and Buttered Peas & Corn Niblets.

By the time we started serving up the desserts, we were offering tastes to neighbouring tables - particularly since we had another trio: Crème Brûlée, Prosecco Raspberry Gelée and Macarons.

Not to mention the cheese course that followed. By then, we were carrying our platter to various tables to offer a little night cap to the neighbours. To be nice - and to allow Mr. D. and Soolu to slyly check out some of the other diners.

As tasty as the dinner was and as fine as the company was, this year's DEB didn't seem as special as years past. In retrospect, we might have been a little over-ambitious with our menu. We were definitely one of the very last tables - of a couple thousand - with food going strong at the end of the evening. Moreover, though, I think it was the large degree of separation we felt from all the other participants. The sense of community - that was so evident in previous years - just seemed to be lacking.

Of course, how can you go wrong with a dinner view like we had?

I'm sure we'll return next year - even if the blog's wine countdown will be well behind me. Our planning may need a little re-jigging but the reality of it all is when else will we be able to sport all of these white duds that we've assembled?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Some Intensity With That Port?

As long as Boo has been working in the same job, he's still not high enough up in the seniority rankings to rate extended vacation time during the summer. Consequently, we weren't able to join in with some of the family as they cruised to Alaska. We did get to hear some of the tales over dinner upon their return, however, and that led to a couple bottles of wine at our place afterwards.

1985.  2013 Mistaken Identity - Intensity (BC VQA - Okanagan Valley)

Mistaken Identity is an organic vineyard and winery that set up shop on Salt Spring Island and released its first wines in 2009. Although perhaps not "mistaken," the identity of this Cab Franc is a little mysterious. Boo and I visited the winery once (when cavorting with Tyrant on Salt Spring) and I know that they grow largely white grapes there. They certainly weren't trying to grow Cab Franc. Indeed, I rather doubt that any of the Gulf Islands are able to fully ripen any of the big red varieties; hence, the grapes for this wine were sourced from the southern Okanagan Valley. The wine was still produced in a manner to comply with VQA rules and the label advises that the grapes were also grown organically (so as to stay in sync with the balance of the home vineyard grapes), but the wine doesn't have much more of a connection with the Gulf Islands.

A simple search online didn't reveal much more about the wine either.  I did discover, however, that the winery has since been listed for sale and may well have been sold by now. So, we may not run across any Mistaken Identity down the road.

1986.  1997 Broadbent Port (Portugal)

Like Mistaken identity, Broadbent is also a relatively new producer - although "relatively new" in the world of Port can still be decades. There's no mistaking the identity of this wine though as the Broadbent name comes from the father and son team of Michael and Bartholomew Broadbent. The former has been the Chairman of Christie's International Wine Department and his son has made a name for himself as one of the "world's top authorities on Port and Madeira."

The first Broadbent Port was produced in 1994 and the pedigree of the Broadbent name was solidified when they asked winemaker Dirk Niepoort to do the honours for them. The Niepoort family has been in the wine business since 1842 and knows a thing or two about making wine, particularly Port.

The 1997 was only the second declared vintage for Broadbent and their overall production is limited as they only make about 500 cases a year.

We came across this bottle when a client was downsizing his home and he needed to divest himself of some of his home assets because his new house wouldn't have enough space for everything. I refer to the bottle as being part of the "Carpet Collection" because Boo wanted to buy a couple of the Persian carpets that the client was selling. That meant, however, given the nature of tit-for-tat, that I got to buy some of the Port that was up for sale. Two carpets. Twelve bottles of Port. I think I let Boo off easy - and we all get to enjoy both the carpets and the Port for many days to come.

I think it particularly comes in handy when the family just pops in for a bit a tongue-wag session. Even if we didn't get to go on the cruise, we can enjoy a little vintage time of our own.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Lemberger to Celebrate

Having successfully shared a little - and literal - taste of the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference with Boo the other night, I figured "let's just carry on and give it another go." As such, I trotted out another surviving bottle of the bumpy ride home encountered while returning from the Finger Lakes.

1982.  2011 Ventosa Vineyards Lemberger (Seneca Lake AVA - Finger Lakes - New York State)

Now, there might the odd person that would question the urgency or necessity of hustling for a bottle of Lemberger. Indeed, there are likely more folks that would think you're serving stinky cheese rather than wine if you told them that Lemberger was on the menu. But, I'm going to chalk this bottle up to being in the right place at the right time.

As mentioned a couple of posts back, I'd been lucky enough to join up with the WBC15 Pre-Conference Excursion and we were treated to dinner at Ventosa Vineyards by the Seneca Lake Winery Association. The folks at Ventosa were in a particularly celebratory mood that day because they had learned - just that day - that the winery's 2011 Lemberger had won the 2015 Governor's Cup for the Best Overall Wine at the annual New York Wine & Food Classic competition. They referred to it as the Oscars of New York wine and the place was clearly abuzz.

Our little Canadian contingent had taken an immediate liking to Ventosa's free-spirited winemaker, Jenna LaVita, and we joined up with an after-dinner party at Jenna and her partner's side venture, a pub and craft brewery - Lake Drum Brewing. Although her award-winning wine wasn't even for sale at the winery yet, she had a couple of bottles at the pub and she let me twist her arm into selling me a bottle to take home. With only 256 cases of the wine and a major award to shout to the heavens, I'm fairly certain that I wouldn't have ever come across a bottle otherwise.

See what I mean when I say, "right place, right time."

Given the accolade showered upon it as New York State's top bottle, however, the wine wasn't as full or as flavourful as I might have hoped. To be fair, maybe the bottle was suffering some bottle shock from the flight home - after all, it had only been a couple of days - but we didn't catch the "powerful" spice or notes of juniper or eucalyptus on the nose that the winery speaks of. I can see the "under-ripe blackberries" reference but I'm not sure that'd be the hallmark of an award-winning wine for me.

All the same, it was a welcome find and I was thrilled to have a chance to meet with Jenna, to celebrate her big win and to add this bottle to The List. May she experience many more such awards in the vintages to come.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Bringing the Finger Lakes Home to Vancouver

Despite having to endure an unexpected overnight stay in Chicago - with no excitement to be had following our late arrival at the hotel we were put up in (hence no wine to add to The List from Chicago) - the trip home from the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference has me back home and looking to reach the heralded 2001st bottle and the "finish line" for this blog.

Although I would have loved to have done so, I wasn't able to bring much wine back with me from WBC15. Indeed, I was dinged for duty at Canadian Customs for the "extra" wine that I did bring back.  Turned out I paid duty on a bottle that didn't even make it back to Vancouver in tact. I'd packed a bottle of Fox Run's Hedonia in my luggage - wrapped in a couple of socks - only to find broken shards of glass and some rather wet clothes when I finally opened the bag.

Not that this comes remotely close to being a silver lining, but it was pointed out to me that Hedonia is a dessert wine and that my dirty socks had never smelled so sweet.

Luckily, the other bottles made it home safely and I figured it was only fair to open one of the Finger Lakes wines for Boo since he didn't partake in any of the excitement that was WBC15.

1981.  2014 Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling (Seneca Lake AVA - Finger Lakes - New York)

Among the few things that I remotely knew of the Finger Lakes before departing for WBC15 were that its winemaking history as a region was rather similar to BC's own Okanagan Valley and that it was probably best known for its Rieslings. Being the Riesling fiend that I am, I was particularly looking forward to the chance to sample some of the higher praised Finger Lakes labels.

One night while dining out in Manhattan, Boo and I started chatting with the table next to us as we couldn't help but hear that the majority of their conversation related to wine. It turned out that all three of the diners were involved in the New York wine trade. So, naturally, I wanted to canvas their thoughts on New York Rieslings and ask for a few suggestions. All three of them recommended Hermann Wiemer as one to try. Coincidentally, the proprietor of the bottle shop just around the corner from our hotel made the same suggestion. So, the quest was set.

I never actually saw a wine shop near our Conference hotel but, luckily, I'd noted that Miss Selfie, The Suje and Gone Girl were cavorting amongst the vines on their way up to WBC15. So, I asked them to pick up a bottle of Hermann Wiemer if they happened across one. Naturally, Miss Selfie made it a priority to do just that - and Boo got to be an additional beneficiary.

According to their website, "Hermann J. Wiemer is regarded as one of the pioneers of the wine industry in the Finger Lakes." Coming from a family with 300 years of winemaking experience in Germany's Mosel Valley and relying on his own winemaking and viticultural studies, Mr. Wiemer emigrated to the Finger Lakes in the 1960's, long before anyone thought that the region could support vinifera grape vines. His own experiences led him to believe that the region could realistically grow and ripen Riesling and Chardonnay grapes and that the warming effect of Lake Seneca could help the vines survive the winter chills.

Relying on "German folk wisdom" that "Riesling grapevines would flourish where black cherry trees thrived," Mr. Wiemer purchased 80 acres of land which has since become the HJW Vineyard. His wines have been lauded by magazines and critics and the winery has been named one of the top Riesling producers in the U.S. on numerous occasions.

The winery currently boasts nine Rieslings in its portfolio - ranging from dry through single vineyard to dessert wines like the cherished TBA or Trockenbeerenauslese. Our bottle is the winery's classic, signature wine and, as you might expect, it had a definite Germanic profile.

Both Boo and I thought the praise was well deserved. More nuanced than most New World Rieslings (particularly if you're thinking Clare Valley or New Zealand), the acidity was well balanced with subdued citrus notes and minerality. We were singing Miss Selfie's praises loudly.

I only wish I had more Wiemer wines in order to do a little taste comparison with some of my favourite BC Rieslings. I'll have to see if I can make that happen over the next thousand wines or so. I think it'll be worth the effort.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Last Nights and Hot Molten Glass

It's our final night at the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference and, traditionally, there's a banquet where the Wine Blogger Award are presented. WBC15 is no different. 

Of course, as with any proper "gala gala do" (as Vancouver bon vivant and social correspondent, Fred Lee, would call them), before-dinner cocktails were de rigueur. I couldn't really call her my drinking buddy this time around (since she was pregnant and wasn't drinking) but, once again, April from Sacred Drop Channel was attending WBC in all her glory and she was lucky enough to be representing Hyland Estates and Soléna wineries and her sumptuous suite just happened to be available for refreshments.

1978.  N.V. Fox Run Hedonia (Finger Lakes - New York State)

I ran across Fox Run Vineyards' Hedonia (a noun meaning the "ability to experience extreme pleasure") during the Pre-Conference Excursion. It's a fortified dessert or cocktail wine that the winery promotes as being great with a slice of orange on the rocks. I simply added the rocks and used vodka instead of an orange slice. Seemed to work just fine. Actually, I was fashioning it after some of the Icewine martinis that we see at home in Vancouver. - mostly because I still had the better part of a bottle of Grey Goose that I'd picked up at the airport in Duty Free and I wasn't going to be able to take it home with me.

I don't know if fortified Traminette (the grape used to make the wine) is produced by more wineries than just Fox Run - or if anyone's ever blended it with vodka before - but it proved to be a lovely segue into our evening. Whether or not it played any part in our exuberant "participation" in the glass blowing demonstration that the Corning Museum of Glass held before the dinner, I suppose we'll never know.

What I do know, however, is that it is insanely easy for a slightly lubricated crowd of wine bloggers to find every possible double entendre you might imagine during a presentation on glass blowing. Who would ever have thought that such an artistic and ancient art could cause so many howls of silent laughter. Fortunately, our naughty banter was all on the down low with a group Direct Message stream flashing across our phones. 

I will definitely try to keep this thread on my phone for posterity because I'm convinced it will deliver joyful memories and tears of laughter for years to come. Just a handful of the (not-as-naughty) comments:

- "We arrived just as the glass was all 'hot and drippy like honey.'"
- "Because who wouldn't love a good, matching rim wrap."
- "I like it thick and chunky at the rim."
- "Don't stop blowing." "Sage Advice."

The show and demonstration was summed up by "You are all naughty and I love you!"

There were more than a few comments about needing to head out for a cigarette before joining up for the banquet. Let's just say that any cool downs didn't stop the insanity. It was certainly as lively a banquet as I've ever attended (save one fraternity event many years back that ended in an all-out, flip the tables bun throw - but that was another lifetime) with table after table vying for attention. 

Could it have had anything to do with all the wine?

We did manage to get through our meals and the awards, however. Each course was accompanied by two Finger Lakes wines, together with a few assorted surprises. As is my tradition with this blog, I won't add every wine from the dinner to The List but I will add a couple that I found particularly enjoyable.

1979.  2012 Fox Run Lemberger (Finger Lakes - New York State)

1980.  2010 Wagner Meritage (Finger Lakes - New York State)

Of course, I was familiar with Fox Run since (as noted above) we'd visited the winery the other day. I'd concentrated on the Rieslings while at the winery - no surprise there - but Lemberger is becoming a bit of a "go to" red grape in the Finger Lakes. It's characteristically bright, red fruit and good acidity helps pair it with food. Selling it as a varietal wine - under the name Lemberger - might be its biggest hurdle. It sounds like someone's serving you stinky cheese.

Get past the name and it can be a tasty, lighter red with all sorts of serving options. Fox Run doesn't make a lot of the wine but they're having trouble keeping what they make in stock. Not a bad problem for a winery to have.

The Wagner Meritage also paired with our main course and provided quite the contrast with the Lemberger. Bigger and bolder, it is a true Meritage or Bordeaux blend of predominantly Cab Sauv and Cab Franc with a healthy dollop of Merlot thrown if for good measure. Growing Bordeaux grapes, especially Cab Sauv, can see uneven results. Consequently, Wagner only makes its Meritage in years that they find exceptional. Prior to 2010, they'd only made a Meritage in 2001 and 2007. They also skipped 2011, but they plan to release a 2012. The 2010 proved to be popular with more folks than just our table as it won Double Gold at the New York State Fair in both 2013 and 2014.

The Meritage won't challenge a big Napa Cab or Aussie Shiraz but it was a nicely nuanced wine that had more structure to it than I likely would have expected from a Finger Lakes wine coming into WBC15.

Conference organizers weren't done with us yet however. Dinner was followed by a festival tasting in one of the Museum of Glass's courtyard foyers. The tasting provided a final opportunity to visit a few wineries that I'd come to recognize and discover a further few. Knowing that the tasting was following dinner, many of wineries brought sparkling or dessert wines. Paired with a full array of desserts, the evening party would easily have been considered a worthy success even if it had been a solitary event being held independently of a chock-full evening. I could have easily spent twice as much time visiting this last assortment of Finger Lakes wineries.

But, last call came quickly and, heavy sigh, there were still after parties yet to come.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Sense of Seneca

This is my third Wine Bloggers Conference and it's been the same story at all three: the surprise winery visit is a guaranteed highlight. The conference sets up a series of side trips and the delegates just board a bus without knowing what their destination will be. The toughest task is trying to coordinate your crew so that you all get on the same bus. Like herding cats I tell you.

We were likely the last bus to load and some of our folks more-or-less just ignored where they were being directed to get on our bus but the gang somehow managed to stay intact - and, as luck would have it, I think we happened on to a lovely outing.

As with the Pre-Conference Excursion, our bus wound its way back to the shores of Seneca Lake - although this time we travelled up the eastern shore to the Banana Belt that we'd previously heard about. The "tropicality" of the sub-region was manifested more as rain forest than equatorial sunshine however - at least for a brief portion of our visit to the vineyard. A little shower did nothing to dampen our moods or the vista though. Everyone's biggest concern was that the rain might be watering down the wine in our glasses.

The theme to our excursion was "Senses of Place" and we were first greeted in one of the Hazlitt 1852 vineyards by principals of four local wineries - Hazlitt 1852, Keuka Spring, Heart & Hands and Sheldrake Point - two from Seneca Lake and two from neighbouring Cayuga Lake. Much to my delight, our hosts each poured a Riesling to provide a sense of the terroir as they discussed the region and their particular directions and aspirations for their viticulture and winemaking.

The next step to happiness was a walkabout tasting at Hazlitt's dining pavilion. Each of the four wineries offered a couple of different wines while providing a chance for a little one-on-one discussion.

There were a couple of standout wines on my dance card: the Hazlitt 1853 Cab Franc and the Heart & Hands Polarity, the latter being a "unique white wine made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes" (at least that's what the winery website calls it - sounded like a Rosé to me, but a tasty one at that).

Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to try all the hard ciders and craft beers that were also on offer before we were called to the dinner table.

1977.  2012 Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards Cabernet Franc  (Finger Lakes - New York)

Although this Cab Franc wasn't one of the wines that was served with dinner, as mentioned above, it was a favourite for the day and I certainly requested enough refills to qualify this as the one bottle to add to The List. Turns out I'm not the only person to take a hankering to the wine. Within a couple weeks of our leaving the Finger Lakes and WBC15, this wine ended up winning the Best Red Wine at the 2015 New York State Fair. Not that I had any extra room in my luggage - or on my Customs declaration - for additional bottles, but I do wish I'd have had a chance to visit the tasting room and pick up at least one bottle of this full bodied and richly flavoured wine to bring home.

A four course menu was prepared by local restauranteur, Dano Hutnick, and paired with a wine from each of the four wineries present. From chilled tomato soup and seafood stuffed cabbage to pork cheek goulash and home grown apricot napoleon, chef aimed to emphasize what was local and fresh at the moment. Our host wineries continued to show their versatility and poured Grüner Veltliner, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and a Riesling Ice Wine.

As leisurely and enjoyable as our outing had been, we were corralled back onto the bus as a reception at the Rockwell Museum had been planned back in Corning. Proving that our hosts were more than just pretty faces, they kept a (by now) much livelier crowd both occupied and amused with craft beer and Riesling tattoo stickers. I tell you, there's never a dull moment at these Wine Bloggers Conferences.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Party with the Stars

Beyond being simply excited to see all the WBC15 wine bloggers, the folks at Ventosa Vineyards were particularly overflowing with excitement while we were visiting. Turned out, earlier in the day, the winery and winemaker, Jenna Lavita, were advised that they had won the Governor's Cup trophy at the 2015 New York Wine & Food Classic competition. Chosen as the "Best of Show" for their 2011 Lemberger, they were in a particularly celebratory mood.

With that exciting news in hand, the party kept going after our WBC15 dinner had ended. Jenna and her partner, Victor, also operate Lake Drum Brewing and their brewpub was the perfect locale for a little impromptu bash. Jenna invited us bloggers along to their festivities. Joining the fun was a no-brainer seeing as how the pub was just down the road from our hotel.

Taking our wine goggles off for a mix of craft brews, I'm not sure the locals expected their guest Canucks to shake their groove thang to Dancing Queen and a few other old school tunes as the vinyl hit the turntable. Having no dancefloor proved to be no impediment to our determined crew.

Simply heading home to the hotel would have been the wisest plan but, at the time, grabbing another bottle of wine and heading down to dock to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower seemed ever-so-much more exciting. Boo had texted me that the shower was at its peak and the stars are a whole light brighter in Geneva than they are back home. Miss Selfie, The Suje and Gone Girl joined me for for a little laid back action. That is, literally laying back on the dock to look up into the sky.

Except, of course, when we had to sit up to take another sip of wine.

1975.  2013 Forge Cellars Pinot Noir "Les Alliés" (Finger Lakes - New York - United States)

The kids picked up this bottle on their way up to the Conference. Forge Cellars is more of a virtual winery. It's a collaboration of three partners: a vigneron from Gigondas in France's Rhône Valley, a local, newby grape grower and a winemaker/partner of another New York winery. The 2013 bottling was only the third Forge vintage and they currently buy all their fruit and use the other winery's facilities to make the wine.

Unlike many start-up wineries in newly developing regions, the gents behind Forge did not go the route of producing a full range of wines to cover all tastes. They simply look to express what they feel best represents the Finger Lakes. As such, they decided that the two most interesting grapes for the region were Riesling and Pinot Noir and they've only made a couple different takes on the two varietal wines so far - with the Les Alliés being a single vineyard offering from the east side of Seneca Lake.

There were only 222 cases of this wine produced. So, we were lucky to have our bottle to watch the stars by. Unfortunately, the paper cups and pitch black lighting likely didn't showcase the wine to its greatest potential but it was a completely enjoyable venture - despite the fact that we saw very little meteor action before we called it a night. The show likely got better as the night progressed but it was only a matter of hours before we'd need to get back on our excursion bus. That and the fact we were out of wine.

As Gone Girl later noted, however, "We'll always have Geneva."