Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Big, Bold Strayla Day

I almost missed it but, luckily, I saw a reference online to the fact that it was Australia Day. It only made sense that we pull out a big, old Aussie red to go with something we could throw on the barbee.

1850.  2005 Pirramimma Petit Verdot (McLaren Vale)

Pirramimma is one of those Aussie wineries that I've known of for years; yet, I know very little about them. For a smaller, family-owned operation, Pirramimma offers a healthy number of wines - particularly since their total output is limited to approximately 40,000 cases. I recall that I was introduced to the winery and their Petit Verdot at a tasting some years back and I've remembered them ever since. I've added some Pirramimma wines to The List previously, but it appears that this is the first Petit Verdot - despite it being the grape variety I remember them for best.

The winery website says that the winery researched the grape variety in their vineyard for eleven years before they released their first varietal wine in 1994. "The Pirramimma Petit Verdot vineyard was the first and is now the largest in Australia." Indeed, some of the comments they show on the site state that "Pirramimma has long been a benchmark for varietal Verdot" and ask "Is there any better Petit Verdot in the world?"

Petit Verdot is an authorized Bordeaux grape; however, it is a late ripener and, as such, doesn't play that large of a role in most Bordeaux wines. That may change a bit with climate change but, for the time being, you might find that Petit Verdot, made into a varietal wine, is more likely to have originated from a warmer climate - like Australia or California.

The grape is known for powerful presence, deep colour and rich tannins - whether found as a varietal wine or as a component in a blend. When fully ripened, P.V. wines will be full-bodied and full of dark fruit. This wine certainly exhibited the powerful notes. It drank nicely with the steak but I didn't find this vintage to be particularly fruit-driven. It became a bit overpowering when being sipped on its own. I wonder how much bolder the wine would have been without the decade of ageing.

All considered, I'm a firm believer in "different is good" and, as such, I'll continue to look forward to a return visit to Pirramimma and to its "benchmark" Petit Verdot.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

An Evening of Oculus - BCWAS's 10th Anniversary Bash

I don't often add bottles to The List from the various tastings that I attend throughout the year; however, I'm making an exception with this one. Throughout 2015, the BC Wine Appreciation Society is celebrating its 10th Anniversary and my favourite gang of guzzlers is rejoicing with a line-up of exciting festivities. The first of those bashes is perhaps the most extravagant tasting that the society has ever offered - a twelve-year vertical tasting of one of the province's most iconic wines: Mission Hill's Oculus - in the lush surroundings of the Vancouver Club.

Society cellarmasters had accumulated nine vintages of Oculus over the years and Mission Hill graciously provided some of the 1999 - one of the earliest vintages produced - as well as the 2011 and 2012 vintages that haven't even been released yet. Ingo Grady, the winery's director of wine education, joined Society members for the tasting and he regaled the assembled wine lovers with stories of the winery's goals, trials and tribulations as Mission Hill strives to achieve its goal of making a wine that can rank with the finest of Bordeaux wines.

I think everyone in attendance knew that they were lucky to participate but the prestige of the tasting became even more evident as, shortly after the tasting, articles were published by both John Schreiner and Anthony Gismondi - two of the most notable wine scribes in BC. Indeed, even Ingo stated that he wasn't sure that the tasting would ever be held again. Private collections of the wine through the years will be few and far between and the winery itself - much to its surprise - found out that it no longer has any of the 2000 or 2001 vintages left in its own cellar.

We learned that the first vintage of Oculus was released in 1997 when approximately 500 cases was made. While production has increased over the years, the total number of cases is still likely to be less than two or three thousand. Along with increased production, a fairly dramatic change in the wine's make-up occurred in 2005 when the winery brought in renowned Bordeaux consultant, Michel Rolland, to help give some assistance and direction. Ingo pointed out that the winery's owner, Anthony von Mandl, and winemaker, John Simes, realized that achieving their goal would be a lengthy process and the winery readily acknowledges that the wine is still a work in progress as everyone behind the wine realizes that they are still learning about the make-up of the Okanagan soils, the growing season and cropping levels. The production of Oculus has seen the introduction of practically an entire "winery within the winery," the creation of dedicated cellar areas and the use of infra-red imaging of the vineyards to assist in the pinpointing of ripening patterns and of parts of the vineyard block that might need additional attention.

I found it interesting to hear that the assemblage of each vintage's final blend is overseen by 15 tasters - one of whom will be from outside the winery to ensure some independent input into the blending. The final wine is now primarily Merlot with Cab Sauv and Cab Franc making up the balance. Petit Verdot has been used in some vintages; however, the winery's Petit Verdot hasn't been up to the desired standard and it hasn't been included in the last four vintages that have been completed. Malbec has never been used in the blend as winemaker, Simes, doesn't feel that Okanagan Malbec is typical of the variety and isn't well-suited for the region.

Back in the day of those first bottles in 1997, they sold for $35 and the price was considered to be an extravagant ask. John Schreiner stated in his article that, at the time, the average price for a bottle of BC VQA wine was around $12. Oculus now retails for $100 - one of a very few BC wines that command a price in that lofty range - but Ingo stresses that the winery feels that they actually need to "over deliver" when they charge such a price.

Thus far, Mission Hill hasn't had any problems selling all the Oculus that they can produce though. The price might, however, give you an idea why I've only added the wine to The List on a couple of occasions: the first being back at the very beginning blog - a 2003 at #10 to be precise - and the other when I added both the 2000 and the 2005 vintages (at #819 and #820) to urge on the Canucks during their ill-fated 2011 Stanley Cup series with the Bruins. The Canucks won that game but I guess I should have opened more Oculus during the later playoff games.

1849.  2009 Mission Hill Oculus (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I think everyone had a difficult time picking a favourite vintage at the tasting. Some of the vintages, particularly the older ones, saw a profound change in profile over the course of the evening. Both Boo and I quite enjoyed the '09 though (as did most of our table companions and Gismondi and Schreiner). The wine was rich and received full marks for an abundance of dark, ripe fruit.

I wouldn't mind a few bottles of that wine in our cellar but I'm afraid I shall have to rely on the kindness of strangers if I'm to have another chance at this great vintage.

On top of the awesome selection of wines, the evening featured a few moments of wit and camaraderie as well. Ingo pointed out that a magnum is "the perfect size for three people so long as one is a non-drinker." Then, John Schreiner raised some laughs of his own when he remarked, "Good God, doesn't everybody do verticals at home?"

The Society also paid homage to Tim Ellison and Francis Dorsemaine, the brilliant minds behind the creation of BCWAS, and also gathered the four members in attendance who were actually among those present at the very first Society tasting those ten years ago.

And, of course, having enjoyed Tim's sartorial splendour at events over the Society's first decade, our past President was obliged to show the assembled gang that he cold still pull off a bit of colour - if only with his socks - all these years later. An even bigger chuckle was earned by Francis when he revealed that he could also sport some wild shades of his own when he lifted his pant leg to show a bit of brightness that even Tim could be proud of.

All in all, it was a great start to BCWAS's second decade. Here's toasting the rest of events to come and wines to be drunk in the year and years to come.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A New Generation of Riesling

Considering all the Riesling I drink and add to The List, there should probably be more 8th Generation already recounted on this blog. Bernd and Stefanie Schales' Riesling is - that should be "Rieslings are" - right up there with wines I'm always on the look out for. Given that both of the Schales have German heritage and their respective families have had eight and ten generations of grape growing and winemaking back in Germany, it's should come as no surprise that they have a bit of experience with the Riesling grape.

1848.  2011 8th Generation Riesling (Okanagan Valley)

An 8th Generation Riesling appeared on The List as early as #294 but I've added just as many of their Rosés and bubblies as Rieslings since then. There are more because there just isn't a lot of 8th Generation wine made. Case in point, only 270 cases of this 2011 vintage were made (as it wasn't the greatest of growing seasons) and, furthermore, there's a little problem in that I only seem to get an opportunity to stop in at the winery every other year or so.

I remember I picked up this bottle following the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference that was held not too far from the winery (Summerland vs. Penticton). The tasting room wasn't overly busy and Stefanie was gracious enough to walk me through all of their wines and spend as much time with me as was needed to answer as many questions as I could throw at her.

If memory serves, 2011 was the first vintage that the winery got to keep all of its Riesling grapes for itself. They had previously contracted out a healthy percentage of their grapes to other wineries. That allowed them to play around a bit with their fruit and they began making two (or more) versions - primarily a "Classic" and a "Selection" - where they can work with residual sugar levels, skin contact and even a bit of fermenting a percentage of the juice at a warmer temperature to add some heft to the weight of the wine.

I like the fact that this bottle had a touch of sweetness to it - while still showing bright acidity - as it allows some interesting pairings with food - particularly if you like a bit of spice to act as a counterpoint to the wine.

Luckily, I think I have a few more vintages tucked away somewhere around here but, more than that, I'm quite looking forward to the vintages yet to come.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hurry Hard Hollywood - Pac Rim Cup

Having pulled the corks on some pretty special bottles over the recent holidays, this post is definitely more about where I drank the next wine and who I drank it with than it will ever be about the wine itself.

Funny but our curling rink doesn't exactly have an extensive selection of wine at the bar. The beer is plentiful and liquor flows but I guess there aren't too many curlers that cry out for a glass of wine after the last rock has been thrown.

Indeed, our team at this year's Pac Rim Cup must have polished off a good dozen pitchers over the weekend but I made sure that there was at least one bottle of wine on the table so that I'd have some reason to blog about the weekend.

This year's theme was Hurry Hard Hollywood and there were some Oscar-worthy team names and costumes, the top dogs being "My Favourite Things." The A-List foursome not only won top prize with their playing on the ice but they also wowed the red carpet crowd and paparazzi with their outfits. They showed up in drag (it is a gay bonspiel after all) on the Friday night and had people guessing until it became apparent that one of their favourite things was "girls in white dresses with blue sating sashes." I particularly liked how their blue martinis matched their blue satin sashes. Julie Andrews would have been proud.

They were equally surprising the next day when they showed up with jock straps, wrapped in brown kraft paper, outside of their curling pants. Those girls in white dresses had been followed up by "brown paper packages tied up with string." Not even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Booze Brothers could keep up with them.

Given the Hollywood theme to our little bonspiel, the event just played naturally into our regular team name of "50 Sheets of Gay." For the few of you unfamiliar with curling, the games are played on "sheets." I'm not so sure that our team was anything more than vanilla in its appropriation of the 50 Shades allusions but, hey, I hear the movie isn't so steamy either.

1847.  2012 Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône (AOC Côtes du Rhône - France)

I think there were three red wines and three whites to choose from at the club bar and I picked the Rhône thinking it might have the biggest body of those limited choices. Not so much. I'm afraid I found the wine rather thin and insipid.  Maybe it was a palate sullied by beer but it seemed that there was little in the way of body or fruit to grab a hold of. We finished the bottle off but there was a general consensus that we'd return to the draft rather than order another bottle.

I suppose I should at least give the club some props for having any wine at all - after all, I think there's little argument that most curlers will readily agree that beer rules.

With the bonspiel continuing from Friday night all through the weekend, there was plenty of entertainment off the ice as well as on.

Friday night featured karaoke - some of which had us using an early game the next morning as an excuse to head out before the evening's crowd had fully dispersed. I heard more than a couple comments hoping that the singers curled better than they sang. Glad I didn't get up on stage. Those were some catty bitches in the bar.

Saturday night's entertainment is traditionally more involved - to pair with the banquet buffet that's also offered up - and this year's was no exception. Local diva, Mandy Kamp, gave us her best Bette and Liza and we were also regaled with a new fangled approach to "drag-in-a-bag," two victims were chosen (because of their prowess in Hollywood trivia) to re-enact a number from Chicago. That took some good sportsmanship.

All-in-all, it was another grand bonspiel - even if the wine was unmemorable and our team played like it was definitely destined for a life on the D-List. Now for some recovery time.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Final Twisted Tree?

So, I'm pretty sure this is my first bottle of Twisted Tree Carmenère. Sad thing is, it's also going to be my last. Luckily, we might be able to find something very similar; it just won't be called Twisted Tree. The winery found the name "Twisted Tree" to be too similar to other names in the business and, accordingly, they now call themselves Moon Curser.

Whether or not the name was unique, from the start in 2006, Twisted Tree set themselves apart from other wineries in the Okanagan by planting grape varieties that were far from common. Tempranillo, Tannat, Marsanne, Roussanne and Corvina may be well known to a global wine drinker but you certainly wouldn't find them on many Okanagan wine labels a decade ago - if you could even find them now. The folks behind Twisted Tree didn't want to simply produce another Merlot or another Chardonnay or Pinot Gris - and they figured that their vineyard location down in the very southern part of the Okanagan Valley would be capable of ripening these intriguing grapes.

Carmenère was another one of their surprise plantings. I grabbed a bottle during a quick stop at the winery as Boo and I were making our way to Boo's mom's home in the Kootenays (while she was still there). Glad we did.

1846.  2008 Twisted Tree Carmenère (Okanagan Valley)

Carmenère is a Bordeaux grape that was planted primarily for blending in the winery's red Bordeaux-styled wine. When blending the 2008 wine, however, the Twisted Tree gang found that the Carmenère was special enough on its own that they kept as much as they could and released 96 cases as a varietal wine. Given the year, I believe only Black Hills had ever released an Okanagan varietal Carmenère before this Twisted Tree.  Like Twisted Tree, Black Hills had planted some Carmenère for use in their flagship Bordeaux blend, Nota Bene, but they also became enamoured with the varietal wine just on its own.

Both wineries still release a limited amount of varietal Carmenère and they are definitely developing a following. The Black Hills version may be more in demand but this Twisted Tree bottle was enjoyable from every whiff of the bright, deep nose through every sip of dark, New World fruit.

I only wish I'd bought more of it at the time.

On a side note, I kinda like the old Twisted Tree labels. The new moon Curser ones are way out there, but I guess it's the wine that's in the bottle that really counts - and this Carmenère would be well worth finding - under any label.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mussels & Sauv Blanc

Having added Howling Bluff's Sauv Blanc on my last post, here I am, right back adding another Sauv Blanc to The List. It might have something to do with another round of mussels on the dinner table. We do love our mussels round here.

Or, if I were to channel my inner Diana Ross, I could say, "we do love our muscles round here."

1845. 2012 La Poderosa Reserva Sauvignon Blanc (Valle Central - Chile)

I suppose I'll admit that I picked up this bottle (two of them actually) because of the striking label. I was making an all-time favourite soup that's not much more than mussels, white wine, onions, fennel and saffron. The recipe calls for almost a bottle and a half of white wine and I've just habitually gone with Sauv Blanc. As such, I wanted a reasonably priced wine and this one jumped out at me. I've started seeing La Poderosa at a number of the private wine stores. So, I figured it can't be all that bad if so many stores are stocking it.

According to the label, the story behind the name goes that, in 1952, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara ventured through the wilderness of Chile on his motorcycle - nicknamed La Poderosa or "the powerful one." I subsequently found out that the brand is produced by the well known Chilean winery Viña Luis Felipe Edwards to celebrate that ride.

As far as "cooking wine" goes, I'd say this one fit the bill nicely. I'm told you should never cook with a wine that you wouldn't want to drink on its own. While I don't think the folks in Sancerre - or even Howling Bluff - need to worry, the wine was true to the grape variety and, surprise surprise, paired well with the soup.

There just wasn't enough soup - or wine - to satisfy that craving for mussels. Guess we'll be back for more.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sauv Blanc Rocks Naramata Bench

Seeing as how my last post might not have come across as one extolling the merits of Howling Bluff's wines as much as a post on marketing, I thought it'd be good to pull the cork on another bottle and just sing the praises of one fine Okanagan Sauvignon Blanc.

As much as the Okanagan Valley is home to many a fine white wine, it doesn't seem that a large number of wineries have jumped into Sauv Blanc production. Or maybe I just don't tend to gravitate much to them. There are always exceptions, however, and Howling Bluff's is one of them.

1844.  2012 Howling Bluff Sauvignon Blanc (VQA Okanagan Valley)

In taking an online look at Howling Bluff and Sauv Blanc, the majority of references are to the popular Sauv Blanc/Sémillon blend that the winery produces. For the last couple of vintages, proprietor Luke Smith has also made a varietal Sauv blanc - to some solid success. The web site proudly announces that its 2012 vintage was the "highest rated Canadian Sauvignon Blanc last year according to the National Wine fact there was only one gold medal awarded in the Sauvignon Blanc category."

Of course, there was very little of the wine to be found - often a problem with boutique wineries. The Sauv Blanc is a winery tasting room only find as there were only 300 cases in 2012. I was lucky to make this my last stop following the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference that had just been held down the road in Penticton. There wasn't much left but I was able to grab some.

As might be expected from the Okanagan, there was bright acidity and plenty of fruit but I liked that the wine still had a nice balance and, overall, tasted more Sancerre than New Zealand - which is almost inevitably a good thing with me.

And topping that off was the fact that we paired it with mussels. Another inevitable win in my books.

Now, the task is to find some more.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Summa Quies

As much as I like Luke Smith and his pursuit of fine Pinot, I do get confused with his many changes in labelling and naming. I guess the problem is that I don't know his Howling Bluff wines intimately enough to be able to lead you through all the various incarnations but I know enough to realize that there have been a number of changes to the names, labels and branding in the decade or so since Luke arrived on the Naramata Bench wine scene.

I realize Luke was advised to abandon his old label with the howling wolf because Vancouver's higher end restaurants told him that they couldn't sell it as a premium Pinot Noir because patrons thought the bottle looked like just another "critter" wine.

I think he's now settled on his branding but I'm still a little bewildered.

1843.  2010 Howling Bluff - Summa Quies Three Sisters Pinot Noir (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Case in point. The winery is still called Howling Bluff Estate Winery; yet, that name is nowhere to be found on the front label. The focal point of the label is Summa Quies, the name of Luke's vineyard and Latin for "attaining peace" or "attain perfection." I'm not sure how Summa Quies fits into this equation though seeing as how the grapes used in this Pinot were grown on and purchased from the Three Sisters vineyard a little further down the Bench.

I'm sure, as a former Vancouver businessman, Luke's done his consultation and due diligence. I'll just put it out there that I find the whole Howling Bluff vs. Summa Quies juxtaposition a tad bewildering.

I guess at the end of the day, the most important thing is that the wine in the bottle leaves you wanting more - whether you understand the label or not. I found this glass hits that middle point between New World and Old World - a straddling of the two styles that seems to be one that BC wines are getting very adapt at. There's definite red fruit on the nose and palate but it's more subdued than bold and there's more acidity than earthy notes coming through. I think it's fair to say that this wine will be enjoyed more with food than it would be as a sipper on its own. This isn't the most complex Pinot I've tried from Howling Bluff but let's keep in mind that the bottle was $28 and hardly the price of Willamette Valley, Central Otago or mid-range Burgundy.

If nothing else, I'm certainly sure that I'll continue to follow and open more Howling Bluff wines - regardless of and future direction the label may take.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Here's to Rosé All Year Round

Rosé in January?

Rosé wines can be a tough enough sell. Red. White. Bubbly. Fortified even. But Rosé? I find someone might bring a bottle to a gathering but it's usually just in the summer when it's hot and steamy. After all, don't you only drink Rosé when you want something a little chilled? And then, there's that whole "what man wants to be caught drinking pink wine" thing. 

Personally, I think Rosés get a bad rap. We're not talking White Zinfandel here though. 

For the most part, I'm a red wine kind of guy but there are certain dishes that just call for something bigger than most whites, yet they're not quite bold enough for the bigger reds. Hello Rosé. 

Case in point, Boo roasted up a chicken with some hearty seasoning. We could have gone with a whole whack of whites or even a lighter red, but we happened to have a bottle of Rosato within reach and Lastellina's "blushing innocence" (to paraphrase the label) was a fine fit.

1842.  2012 La Stella Lastellina Rosato (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Made from primarily Merlot, with about 10% each of Pinot Noir and Cab Franc added in, La Stella's Rosé had that extra body that helped pair with the chicken. There was also bit of residual sugar, however, that cut through Boo's trademark aggressive spicing.

I often think that it's a fear of sweetness that keeps folks away from Rosés but, with this wine, the off-dry notes were countered with a nice acidity - which is probably a big difference from your mother's Rosé.

Don't be afraid.

And what's an outright bonus is that I find most Rosé wines are sold at lower values than a winery's equivalent reds. Who doesn't like to save a buck or two?

With a Rosé being one of our first wines of the new year, I'm not saying that I've resolved to drink substantially more Rosé through the year. After all, I drink a healthy share of pink wine as it stands. But, I will endeavour to always have a bottle or two on hand to fit the occasion. After all, isn't that the idea of having a "cellar" in the first place?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

An Early Welcome to 2015!

Alright, it may not exactly be a sign of the apocalypse, but it's definitely a sign that I an now officially "old." I decided that, rather than stay up until midnight to celebrate New Year's Eve, we'd just turn the TV to an EST cable station at 9 pm PST and watch all the revelry from Times Square. We'd pop our cork and do everything that one normally does to ring in the new year. We'd just be ringing in 2015 a little earlier than most of our neighbours. The great thing was that our early onset festivities would leave me the opportunity to go to bed hours before the stroke of midnight.

Which, I admit, I took full advantage of.

Seeing as how I'd put in a full day at work and Boo was going to have to head off to work early on New Year's Day, we decided to have a little stay-at-home whoop-de-doo of our own making instead of heading out on the town or joining in at some extravagant soirée. Not that we didn't try to do it right all the same. I think a little caviar and a martini is equally festive whether you're imbibing at home or on the town.

1840.  2005 Poplar Grove Syrah (Okanagan Valley)

I'd been waiting for an appropriate time to pull the cork on this bottle - and some New Year's Eve sipping along with a helping of lamb strip loin seemed like a pretty good time to me. I remember being so happy when I was able to grab a couple bottles of this Syrah at the (old) winery some years back. Poplar Grove's founder and proprietor had led a tasting at a BC Wine Appreciation Society summer BBQ and I'd been gobsmacked by the Syrah. The problem was that, at the time, Poplar Grove didn't grow any Syrah of its own and they'd only managed to buy enough fruit to make 475 cases. To make things "worse," the grower who'd provided this fruit wasn't going to sell his Syrah grapes any longer and, accordingly, there were no further plans for this Syrah in the foreseeable future.

Times have certainly changed at Poplar Grove in the last decade - scads of investment, expansion, new winery and all - but this '05 Syrah was a highlight of the old boutique winery days for me. I think the additional ageing had taken its toll on some of the brilliant fruit that I'd remembered so vividly but that just resulted in a more subdued and nuanced palate. Or maybe the wine was just overshadowed a bit by the stellar lamb. Rino at Cioffi's had butchered some loin for us and I swear it was the tastiest, most melt-in-your-mouth-iest lamb I can remember having chowed down on.

It was a pairing that I'd have been delighted with at any restaurant in town.

1841.  N.V. Taittinger Nocturne Rosé (Champagne - France)

Come 9 pm - I mean "midnight" - we popped the cork on a bottle of Taittinger's Nocturne Rosé. This was one of my favourite discoveries at last spring's Vancouver International Wine Festival. We may have been "cheating" on the time this New Year's Eve, but we didn't cheat one iota on the bubbly. There's little doubt that the flamboyant label grabs your eye because this was the wine I'd chosen to give my sis, Vixen, as a wedding shower gift and Elzee had similarly reached for the bottle as a Christmas gift to Boo and I.

Good thing the wine inside the bottle is as bright and tasty as the label on the outside. As Taittinger uses a cane sugar dosage as a final component of this bubbly, there is a residual sweetness to the wine but it remains subtle enough that the wine can be used in any number of circumstances - including toasting your sweetie as you head into a new year.

It might have been a simple celebration but here's hoping that 2015 is as tasty and as enjoyable as this evening was. Here's wishing everyone all the best for the year to come.