Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Wine to Blow Gismondi's Tits Off

As Vancouver gears up for the annual International Wine Festival, we full-blooded Aussie-philes are are in for some even bigger treats than usual. The featured region at this year's festival is Australia and one of the side benefits is that the Australia Wine Appreciation Society is calling on an old friend and dragging her out for an AWAS winery dinner.

Jane Ferrari is about as iconic a figure as you can find in the world of Australian wine and she has likely done as much as anyone I can think of when it comes to promoting Australian wine in Vancouver. The first real recollection I have of Jane was a seminar she led for the Wine Festival. She was talking about Yalumba's reintroduction of Viognier to the world and the seminar was called "The Viognier Monologues" - after the hot play of the time ("The Vagina Monologues" if you're not a theatre buff).

As you might guess, this is one witty lady. At tonight's AWAS dinner, she not only gave us the goods on Yalumba (in specific) and the Barossa and Australia in general, but she often had the assembled gang in full out laughter - and example being her history lesson on how the Aussies would likely be speaking Dutch now if the English hadn't been kicked out of the States around the same time the colonization of Oz was taking place.

Equally charming were her descriptions of politicians as "the same bum in a different pair of pants" and the early days of Australian cuisine as "boil, bake and ruin."

I can't recall the question or topic that prompted her bons mots that "they all feel like George Clooney in the dark" but that will be a phrase I'm sure to make use of in the days to come.

The girl knows her stuff though and we were treated to nine wines and four courses. I heard a number of people (myself and Boo included) who commented that this might have been the best meal to be served up at Tramonto restaurant (a frequent location for AWAS dinners). I know that the Smoked Pork Belly Confit with Tomato Spaetzle, Salsa Verde and Chili Chicharron was to die for! They could have continued to bring plate after plate of that dish - along with the two vintages of The Menzies Cab Sauv - and I wouldn't have complained one bit.

The wine I'm going to add to The List, however, was one of the last of the evening and I'm choosing it because you can't currently find it or buy it in Canada. Indeed, Jane announced that the previous night was the first time that the Paradox Shiraz had been in Canada. Naturally, she added that it "blew Gismondi's tits off." ("Gismondi" being local wine scribe Anthony Gismondi.)

1869. 2010 Yalumba - Paradox North Barossa Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

This is the first vintage of Paradox and it was so named because, like a paradox, this is a Barossa Shiraz that is contrary to what you might normally expect from the region. Not from the school of high octane and heavily oaked wines with huge fruit, this is a "softer, gentler" Shiraz. Paradox is one of the "Distinguished Sites" series that the Yalumba website describes as "wines from venerable and elite vineyards whose provenance have been identified for individuality, consistency and a unique expression of Barossa terroir."

Paradox is "fermented using the natural yeasts from the vineyard and aged with minimal winemaker influence." The website further advises that, while the 2010 growing season started off with some problematic winds while the fruit was setting, in the end many at Yalumba feel that wine lovers will look back on 2010 as being one of the great Barossa Shiraz vintages. Bottled in early 2012, the wine could age for another twenty or more years. Not that I could wait that long.

The dinner was my unofficial start to this year's Wine Festival and I can only hope that the rest of festival can match our dinner. It's quite an effort to corral fifty-plus wineries from Down Under. Here's hoping the Aussies who make the journey to our shores enjoy themselves as much as I hope to enjoy their wines.

As Jane pointed out, "it's a long way from Alice Springs to Vancouver." I, for one, am a happy Bob every time she does.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Another High School Musical

First it was Zombie Prom. Then Urinetown. Now, it's time for In The Heights.

Yes, it's time for another high school musical. This time around, Melmo, the youngest niece, has a featured role in the Broadway hit. Unlike the others, I've actually heard of this show. Don't know anything about the songs or the story but I did know it was a hot ticket on the Great White Way the last time Boo and I were in the Big Apple.

It's a little tough taking an obvious glass of wine to the high school gym; so, we had a quick pre-show dinner at my sister's place before heading off to the school.

1867.  2007 Saviah Cellars - The Jack Red (Columbia Valley - Washington)

I'm pretty sure that this is the first time that I've tried a wine from Saviah Cellars. I don't recognize the winery and I don't tend buy many US wines up here, north of the 49th Parallel, because of the additional taxes and currency exchange. So, I think I probably grabbed this during a Costco run during a naughty weekend in Seattle.

A little visit with Mr. Google shows that Saviah Cellars was established in 2000 as a very small boutique winery of only 300 cases. It has since grown to the point where it produces around 18,000 cases annually and was named "One of the Rising Stars in Washington" by Wine Spectator in 2010.

The Jack brand of wines is Saviah's entry label and it has also enjoyed success, having been named one of the Top Value Brands of the Year in 2013 by Wine & Spirits Magazine. The 2007 vintage of The Jack Red was primarily Merlot (89 percent) that is fleshed out with small additions of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Syrah and Petit Verdot.

Although the wine was big-bodied, it was still fruit forward and approachable enough to fill our travel coffee mugs to take with us to the show. We hadn't finished the bottle during dinner and you never know the kind of "support" you might need to get through a high school production.

1868.  2012 Fort Berens Riesling (British Columbia VQA)

When looking for a white to take to Vixen's, I was glad to see that I had a bottle of the 2012 Riesling in the cellar because I hadn't realized that I'd picked up a bottle before it won one of the twelve Lieutenant Governor's Awards given out in 2014. Once a wine is given one of the prestigious awards, it can be next to impossible to find a bottle.

What was quite exciting about the award was that this was the first vintage where the Riesling was made 100% from fruit that was estate grown at the winery's Lillooet vineyard. Being the first winery to set up shop in the Lillooet region, the winery is justifiably proud of the fact that they were able to execute such an award-winning wine so early in the winery's venture. It should certainly turn some heads in the direction of BC's newest wine-producing region.

Even with this vintage's bright lime and minerality, Fort Beren's story should only get more exciting since the home estate vines are still very young and the enterprise has, within the last year, opened a new winery with facilities large enough to make all its wines, cellar them and open a tasting room to help draw wine-loving folks away from the Okanagan for a spell.

There was no Riesling left for the theatre however.

As exciting as the wine was, we were told that Melmo was to have a big solo number in the show. Now, that would be exciting! Terrifying perhaps, but exciting all the same. We were also told, however, that Melmo's character dies six minutes into the show. Naturally, we asked if we could leave after she dies. Turned out that she didn't die until the second act; so, we stuck it out until the end in order to give our little diva her bouquet of roses. After all, she managed to pull off her performance without any cringe-worthy notes.

Guess we'll have one more production to look forward to as Melmo definitely has the stage bug and she doesn't graduate until next year. Given the variety of shows the school drama department comes up with, I'll be intrigued to see what that performance is going to be. Think a high school could get Spamalot? Whatever the show is, I'm sure we'll be there - wine in hand.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A New Bundle of Joy

In one of the most astonishing stories to start off 2015, our neighbours, Nature Boy and Mr. Principled, joyfully announced that they had become daddies - and in as about as unexpected manner as you could ever imagine. The boys had been trying to adopt for a couple of years now but they hadn't heard anything from the adoption agency for six months. Nada. Nothing.

Then, one afternoon in early January, they get a call at 2 in the afternoon to see if they could arrive at the hospital by 5. All they were told was that a birth mother had chosen them and they were going to be parents. Three hours notice that you're becoming a father. Whoa.

Not having had even a whisper of an adoption, they had no bedroom prepared. No basinet. No clothes. No bottles. Again, nothing.

But the beauty of our neighbourhood was that all measures of baby paraphernalia started arriving. It's maybe six weeks later now - and there's little doubt that the boys' lives have turned topsy-turvy - but they're as happy as stink - and that's not just from their baby girl's diapers.

Being Jewish, the boys introduced their new bundle of joy to the congregation at their synagogue in a naming ceremony and they invited all of the neighbours to join in. I tried to think back but, quite surprisingly, I couldn't recall ever having attended Shabbat prayers or visiting a synagogue. Not knowing what to expect, I have to admit that I was quite taken with the musicality of the service and the casual camaraderie of the congregation. It was a lovely introduction to their faith and their new daughter's community beyond the neighbourhood aunties and uncles.

1866.  2012 Renwood Zinfandel (California)

The service was followed by a wonderful lunch - or kiddush - that the boys hosted and, lo and behold, there was wine to accompany all the nosh and goodies. Luckily, the wine was better than the photo I took of the bottle.

I gravitated towards the Zin thinking that the expected fruitiness would be an easy go with the variety of flavours being offered - particularly the most delicious beet and pomegranate salad. I don't know much about Renwood but I've previously added a couple of their higher end Zin's to The List as I picked up a few of their wines over the years at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. I believe this bottle is the only bottle of their's that is currently offered in our government system however.

Although hardly a regular drinker of Renwood's wines, I tend to remember their name because, one time while at a California Wine Fair in Vancouver, I was told that there are a number of Californian Zin producers that start with the letter "R" and that many of them are premier producers. Renwood was one of the wineries that was recommended. Good on the boys for having identified them.

So this newest bottle to be added to The List is truly celebratory in all manners. They will have been - and will be - wines of bigger pedigree on The List, but very few will have as much joy attached to them.


Friday, February 20, 2015

A Haywire Start to the New Year

So, my last entry was for the arrival of the Year of the Sheep. Silly me, I'd made a special effort to go out of my way and find a particular wine that Haywire had fashioned to celebrate Chinese New Year. I then promptly forgot to open it to mark the occasion.  Good thing the Chinese celebrate the new year for a good two weeks. I can still open this bottle and be totally in line with the sentiments behind it.

Boo, however, did not spend another day prepping an inspired Chinese meal for me.

Luckily, this wine would have paired with almost anything - or nothing at all.

1865.  2012 Haywire Lunar New Year Red (Okanagan Valley)

For two years now, Haywire has released a Lunar Red and Lunar White blend that they have hopefully "crafted to work in perfect harmony with local cuisine found in our Asian community." Both wines are a limited release timed to coincide with the lunar new year and the wines feature specially crafted labels - with lucky red and gold colouring and calligraphied Chinese characters - to commemorate this year's welcoming of the sheep.

The Lunar Red is largely made from Gamay Noir grapes - a favourite variety at Haywire; however, a small percentage of Syrah was added and it seemed to add a little heft to the body and depth to the palate. It's not a blend that I can remember seeing before, but it certainly worked in this instance.

There were only 200 cases each of the red and white blends made but this was a tripling of 2014's initial offering when only 60 cases of each wine were offered. Even still, the volume is such that the wines are not going to be found on every shelf in every wine shop.

It might be easy to simply write this initiative off as a gimmicky, marketing ploy to entice Vancouver's teeming Chinese population - after all, the winery's initial lunar wines in 2013 sold out within days of release - but it's nice to see that there's a bigger goal involved as well. Wanting to combat a preconception that only sweeter wines or big, bold reds can effectively pair with asian cuisines, Haywire "has also developed a food and wine pairing initiative for the Asian market." In releasing the initial vintage of the lunar wines, they worked with local broadcasters and foodies Stephanie Yuen and Nathan Fong "to develop a program and guide of how to pair flavours from various parts of Asia with the flavour profiles that emerge from BC wines." That exploration of Asian cuisine and wine continued with the new releases.

And, then there's the fact that both Boo and I really enjoyed the wine. I don't know what the winery will have in store for 2016's Year of the Monkey but I'm hoping it will be just as tasty as this effort.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Surprise. An Ontario Riesling

Chinese New Year and the Year of the Sheep has arrived and I arrived home from work to find that Boo had hit the local Asian supermarket and fashioned an inspired meal (inspired in that probably only he could come up with some of the combinations involved).

As can often be the case with me and white wines, I grabbed a Riesling - although this wasn't one that I was familiar with at all. Ontario wines aren't exactly common place out here on the West Coast. I know that I've said it before but it bears saying again: It confounds me that it can be easier to find wines from Hungary, Uruguay or Tasmania than it is to find wines from other parts of our own country. Canadian liquor laws have to be as antiquated as they come. C'mon people, rise up. Let's see some direct action and demands for better access to our own Canadian products.

Thank you. I will now leave the ranting to Rick Mercer.

1864.  2011 Thirty Bench Riesling (Beamsville Bench VQA - Ontario)

Although I can't say that I know much about Ontario wines, I do know that the regions there are known for Riesling and Thirty Bench is, at least, a winery name that I've heard before. When I saw the bottle in one of our government stores, I eagerly reached for it. With the help of Mr. Google, I found out that Thirty Bench is under the Andrew Peller umbrella and - given the size of that group and their heavy presence in our province - that likely explains why one of Thirty Bench's wines made it to a shelf out here in BC.

Ontario's winemaking regions are divided into various appellations and, according to the back label of our bottle, Beamswille Bench is a "narrow strip of land near Lake Ontario that boasts sloping vineyards and deep, dry soil" where Riesling is a standout grape. Thirty Bench, itself, started out as a boutique winery in 1981, producing no more than 10,000 cases annually. The winery was purchased by Andrew Peller in 2005 but the winery has continued its smaller scale of production.

The winery is particularly known for its Rieslings, especially its series of single-block Rieslings. The bottle I found is the winery's blend from its various vineyards and it is primarily sourced from the winery's younger vines. Being the Riesling fiend that I am, I won't say that I'm going to go cross country to find another bottle. It was a touch off-dry - which may have paired better with dinner if Boo had spiced up his dishes a bit more - but, more than that, I found the palate to be a bit thin. There was nice acidity but the fruit just didn't sing at all.

I think I'd be more inclined to keep an eye out for one of the small lot bottlings.

So, inspired combinations of food and wine or not, I'll readily admit to the tastiness of the dinner. I could have refilled my plate all over again with Boo's appetizing fare. Luckily though, I remembered that I already get "Gang Way Fat Boy" at work instead of the traditional New Year's greeting "Gung Hey Fat Choy" and I thought it better to pass on seconds. Funny, there was no leftover wine however.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Valentine's Day Treat

Valentine's Day. Saturday night. How often does that come along? Thing is, Boo won't get home from work until about 8pm; so, we decided to just stay at home and take it easy. Guess we've seen enough Valentine's Days over the years that simplicity can work just as well as a big night on the town - particularly if I spend a good portion of the day prepping things in the kitchen and make sure that the martini was ready to pour as soon as my sweetie walks through the door with his standard, "Honey, I'm home."

Finding some heart-shaped pasta at Cioffi's was a great start. Adding in some fresh scallops, asparagus and vodka cream sauce would certainly be a way straight to my heart. The hope was that it'd work on Boo as well.

1862.  2013 Sea Star Blanc de Noir Rosé (Pender Island - BC)

Thinking a Rosé would suit the occasion, I grabbed a bottle of Sea Star's Blanc de Noir. Seeing as how 2013 was the first vintage of wines produced by Pender Island's Sea Star, I'm thinking it must say something that this is the third bottle that I've added to The List - especially when I believe they've only released five wines for a grand total of 1400 cases (only 312 cases of this Rosé). Luckily, we visited the winery last Thanksgiving and managed to coax some wines out of owner, David Goudge, even though the winery was sold out of almost everything except the Ortega. I guess those years of bumping into David at various fundraising events paid off big time.

I know that David and winemaker, Ian Baker, were justifiably proud of the Rosé. It was made entirely from island grown Pinot Noir and it was awarded a "Best Rosé in Show" at last year's Northwest Wine Summit. Perhaps reminiscent of Southern France more than what we'd associate with South Pender, there was a lovely acidity that balanced out the tart fruit on the palate.

I can't wait to get my hands on some of the vintages to come. I can just see making those bottles a bit of Valentine's present to myself.

1863.  2008 Sonoran Estate Ehrenfelser Icewine (Okanagan Valley VQA)

No Valentine's Day is complete without some sweets as well and - for my money - a crème brûlée paired with Icewine is about as good as things can get. I'm not all that familiar with Sonoran Estate's wines. It's been around a decade longer than Sea Star but I just don't seem to find my way to many of the so-called Bottleneck Drive wineries outside Summerland. I picked up this bottle at the winery during a visit with the BC Wine Appreciation Society on its annual Bus Tour a couple of years back.

Made from Ehrenfelser grapes, this bottle had a bit of a pedigree of its own in that it won a Silver medal at the 2012 Northwest Wine Summit. With tropical fruits abounding, it truly was a marvellous pairing with the creme brûlée.

Even if the menu plan might have been totally in sync with some of my favourite tastes, I think it's fair to say that it hit the mark for Boo as well - but decency mandates that I defer on discussing how he showed his appreciation. Suffice it to say that he can be pretty sweet in his own way.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Desert Hills Gamay

We/ve been watching a new condo development go up on The Drive for what seems like years but the commercial spaces at street level have started opening. We've walked by JamJar, a small restaurant that serves Lebanese folk dishes, for awhile now and it always seems to be crowded; so, Boo and I decided to start the weekend off with a visit.

There was a bounty of hot and cold mezze to choose from - well beyond the regular hummus and baba ghanous. Not only did all the dishes on offer sound delicious but many of the names brought back grand memories of our two visits to the Emirates when Boo and I experienced some Arabic culture with Miss Jaq while she was working in Abu Dhabi.

Seeing as how the dishes encompassed all ranges of tastes, I thought a lighter red might pair nicely. It wasn't a big wine list but I've always liked Desert Hills' Gamay and it was there. So, I was happy to give it a go.

1861.  2013 Desert Hills Gamay (Okanagan Valley VQA)

As Gamay Noir goes, this was a big one - bigger than those I recall from Desert Hills in the past. Maybe it was just the vintage and the heat on the Black Sage Bench but I don't think I would have identified the wine as Gamay if it had been served to me blind. Not that it mattered. There was still an abundance of fruit and a bit of spice on the palate that matched the subtle spicing on our lamb and beef dishes.

Between the mains and an assortment of mezze, we likely ordered more than we needed. So, we passed on the dessert and waddled back onto The Drive to make our way home.

As we strolled by Cafe Deux Soleils, we noted that it was hopping and that the evening's draw was - wait for it - a drag show. CDS is known for open mic nights and slam poetry, but drag? Granted, I've seen many a drag show - top of the line pro and first time amateur efforts - but this was something neither of us had encountered in our neighbourhood. And it was about to start at the entirely reasonable hour of 9 pm.

I haven't seen a lot of drag in over the last decade or so. The shows are generally found in the downtown bars and start too late in the evening for this old boy's liking but, all the same, I've been aware of a growing stable of East-side drag divas. I just hadn't actually seen a show further east than Main Street. How could we pass it by?

This was also the first time I've seen Thanks Jem - and her guest gal pal Celestial Seasons - in action. Anyone serving up Annie Lennox is okay in my book.

All in all, not a bad evening. We got to take in two new welcome additions to our hood in one pass. I know we'll make our way back to JamJar (hopefully with Miss Jaq in tow) and I'll just hope to hear of more drag on The Drive.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Revisiting a Fond Tintara Memory

All those years ago, when I finally graduated from regularly drinking U-brew plonk to pulling the cork exclusively on estate wines, I particularly zeroed in on Aussie wines. Between the Vancouver International Wine Festival and annual Australia festival tastings, it was easy to discover a myriad of brands and wines that were tasty and well priced. One of the first brand names that I remember being introduced to as more "premium" label was a Tintara - and it was likely a Shiraz. I recall that both Dr. Dirt and I were delightfully gobsmacked. Not that we could find any to buy.

It turned out that Tintara wasn't a bottle that was readily available in the Vancouver market but, for some reason, the name continued to stand out in my mind. So much so that, when Boo and I visited Australia in 2002, I must have asked in over a dozen bottle shops if they had any Tintara. The closest I could find to anyone who knew anything about the brand was a bloke in Melbourne who thought it might have been a label that one of the producers only used for export purposes. Well, it didn't seem to be one that was regularly exported to the Vancouver market. At that time, wineries hadn't taken to the internet to the degree that they do currently and we didn't really find out anything more about it.

That all changed a couple of years ago when the Tintara brand had a bit of renaissance and I started seeing it again at tastings and on store shelves.

1860.  2003 Tintara Reserve Grenache (McLaren Vale - Australia)

I still don't know what the provenance was of that original bottle but Tintara now forms part of the Hardy's empire (which is itself part of Accolade Wines family) and, indeed, the Hardy's website says that "In 1876, our pioneering founder, Thomas Hardy purchased our Tintara winery in McLaren Vale." Tintara may well have been under the Hardy's umbrella all these years but I wouldn't have been able to tell you that.

All things considered, I may have romanticized some of that original allure I had for Tintara because this Grenache didn't knock my socks off. Granted, I remembered the name for its Shiraz but I think the brand may have been commercialized a bit more since those earlier days - if only for the reason that I do see it more on shelves nowadays and the pricing is reasonable enough that I don't think it's to be considered a "premium" brand anymore.

Now, it could have been the occasion and the vintage that had first burned itself into my memory but this Grenache was simply an easy-drinking, fruit forward sip. I don't see myself traipsing through Aussie bottle shops looking for it specifically down the road. Not to say that I'll turn down a glass should anyone want to pour me one. After all, I think there'll always be that bit of allure in the name Tintara and I look forward to finding one of their wines that rekindles those fond memories.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Don't Mess With Texas

Being a West Coast kind of guy, I think you can forgive me if my first thoughts of American wines drift to California, Washington and Oregon. Even beyond West Coast wine regions, I can't say that Texas is foremost on my radar. After all, I've run across and tasted New York and Virginia wines previously and I've even visited a North Carolina winery, but I'm always eager to try wines from unexpected sources and our neighbours, Songstress and Cycle Dude, came home from a quick trip to Dallas and brought back a bottle of Texan wine for us.

It took a little research to learn that Texas has a long history in winemaking. Not surprisingly, early winemaking related to the arrival of Spanish missionaries and they have left records that date from the 1650's. As with most of the States, the advent of Prohibition pretty much decimated the Texan winemaking industry but a re-introduction of wineries began in the 1970's and the state has seen a steady expansion since that time.

Today, there are over 280 wineries in Texas and, by volume of wine produced, it is the fourth-largest wine producing state in the US, behind California, New York and Washington - although I did see one magazine post in TexasMonthly that noted not all Texan wineries make wine from purely Texan-grown grapes. They then point out that to qualify as a "Texas Appellation" wine, only 75% of the grapes need to be grown in the state.

Cab Sauv and Chardonnay apparently lead the way in acreage planted but Texas Wine Lover blog reports that Tempranillo is a "very popular wine in Texas." Indeed, TexasMonthly also reports that Tempranillo has "become a sort of signature red grape at many Texas wineries."

As such, it was with great interest that we pulled the cork on the bottle at hand.

1859.  2013 Becker Vineyards Tempranillo (Texas)

Becker Vineyards opened in 1996 and is in the Texas Hill Country appellation, located near Austin in central Texas. Area-wise, the appellation is the second largest AVA in the United States; yet, even still, less than 800 acres are planted with grape vines. Accordingly, there may be quite a lot of potential for expanded plantings and increased production.

Although Becker started off small as a 1500-case winery, they proudly point out that they have already seen their wines served at both the White House and at James Beard House. Their annual production has also grown to just over 100,000 cases as they offer around 20 different wines that cover quite an array of grape varieties and blends. From what I could tell on their website, it appears that all their wines are made entirely from Texas grapes.

The good news is that the wine didn't scare us away from Texan wine. I'm not sure that I would have identified it as Tempranillo if I'd been served it blind but, then, the grape can show a wide range of characteristics. Just look at the sweep of flavour profiles you can encounter with Spanish Tempranillo varietals - and Spain is pretty much seen as the starting point for Tempranillo wines. The Becker was definitely on the lighter, fruitier end of the scale but it took us no time to finish off the bottle.

While searching online for some information on the winery and region, I was pleased to read a Texas Wine Blogger post on the "Battle of the Texas Tempranillos" where Becker finished 4th in a field of 28 Texan Tempranillos.  It was also the only bottle priced below $30 that made it in the top seven. So, it would appear that Songstress and Cycle Dude zoned in on a pretty decent bottle.

One of the more interesting quotes I ran across online was accredited to a tasting room manager from one of the region's wineries, which stated that "We are Napa Valley 30 years ago, as far as the growth and the expansion of the vineyards goes...We are finding the grapes that are good for Texas and it's just going to get bigger and better."

I'm pretty sure that I won't still be blogging in another 30 years. So, don't put it in your calendars to check back in a few decades to see if I've managed to snag some more Texan wines and what I might be thinking at that time. I would, however, like to keep an eye out for some additional wines to try and get a better taste and feel for the bigness that is Texas. I was certainly glad to get the chance for this initial try.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Norma Jean's 90

There have been a number of landmark birthdays noted on this blog - mostly as my friends catch up to me at 50 - but this is the first 90th birthday that we've toasted.

My cousins organized a surprise party for my aunt, albeit it was a somewhat subdued affair. Even nowadays, with a generally improved longevity, most folks don't have a lot of peers when they hit 90. Plus, there's always that added risk of surprising folks - and their tickers - as we've aged. Luckily, the surprise was more of a "what the heck's going here" kind of surprise than a "jump out of the closet, yelling" surprise. Perhaps the bigger surprise was that the kids had managed to bring along one of my uncles who lives clear across the province and another aunt who isn't fairing nearly as well as her sister is.

I wasn't even sure that there was going to be wine at the party. After all, it could have been a genteel affair with rolled cucumber sandwiches and pinkies-in-the-air cups of tea. Luckily my aunt still likes a glass of wine to liven things up. So, The List is being bolstered by another two additions.

1857.  2013 Castillo de Monséran Garnacha (Cariñena D.O. - Spain)

Castillo de Monséran has a reputation locally as a "go to" bargain wine. Given BC's government monopoly and pricing structure, there aren't too many wines that sell for under $10 that are actually quite decent. The cousins did well to cotton on to the Garnacha (or Grenache). Indeed, Daenna Van Mulligen, Vancouver's resident Wine Diva, declares in her companion website, WineScores, that this a "buy-it-by-the-case gem, consistent and delicious." It's a big sip for a lot of people but the abundance of sweet fruit and spice also makes it an approachable drink - on its own or with heartier snacks.

1858.  2012 Scrap Book Red Blend (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I almost passed on the Scrap Book Red but I saw that it's an Okanagan Valley VQA wine; so, I figured I needed to give it at least a taste. I know that there's a seemingly endless array of new wineries in the Okanagan every year but this is a brand that I've neither seen before nor heard of - and I like to think that I have a pretty good handle on BC wines.

Guess I should have taken a shot of the back of the bottle because I can't find any further information on the wine even after the fact. There doesn't appear to be a winery called Scrap Book at all, nor could I find any link to the wine itself - except to see that it was offered for a sale price at Everything Wine. I couldn't find any reference to what the grapes were (although I'm assuming there was a good proportion of Merlot in the mix) except for the fact that the grapes and wine qualified it for VQA status.

Given that this appears to be a brand-driven bottling, I'm not surprised to find that it had a profile that resembled the new brand of accessible, sweeter wines like Apothic. In fact, I even mentioned that to my sister since my older niece is starting to discover wine and she asked her mom to pick up a bottle of Apothic at the liquor store. Definitely inoffensive, like [yellow tail] in its hey-day, there's a definite place for these wines - even if it's not necessarily my first pick for a sip at home.

Turned out that my cousin chose it because she noticed the label and thought it was appropriate since my aunt has enjoyed scrapbooking through the years.

Those couple bottles turned into a good number of hours and, once the birthday cake and the obligatory family shot with the uncles, aunts and cousins was taken, we bid the birthday girl "adieu" and hoped that we'd get together sooner than when the next landmark b-day comes around.

Happy Birthday girl!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Greek Treat

We don't typically drink much in the way of Greek wines in our home. I think I've previously noted that most of the Greek wine we drink is by the litre or the carafe while scarfing back calamari or souvlaki at a local Greek taverna. Boo and I, however, are seriously looking at travelling to Greece this fall. So, I'm trying to find a few, higher end Greek wines to whet the palate.

I grabbed this bottle from one of the local specialty wine merchants (as opposed to the larger government-run stores) to pair with a travel guide book as a Christmas gift for Boo. It turned out to be quite the Greek treat.

1856.  2011 Alpha Estate Axia - Malagouzia (Greece)

Now, I wouldn't know a prototypical Malagouzia wine from one that simply stuck that label on any one of a dozen white juices, but Jancis Robinson et al, in their tome, Wine Grapes, advise that Malagouzia characteristically produces "full bodied, aromatic wines," exhibiting a big mouthfeel and bouquet - but lower acidity - when the grapes are grown in hotter sites. The wines can exhibit more acidity when sourced from cooler, higher elevations but those wines "can be thinner and less impressive." Thin and not-so-impressive being catchwords for most of my previous experiences with white, Greek wines.

 I like how the winery's website says that this Malagouzia is "fat but balanced." I think that's a pretty apt description of the wine.

Wine Grapes also says that the grape was "recently rescued from oblivion" and one of my favourite sources of more unfamiliar grapes (before he retired from his blog), Rob Tebeau of Fringe Wine, wrote a nice, little piece that talks a bit of how the grape was brought back from obscurity to become "one of the most important white grapes grown in Greece."

Not being that familiar with Greek wines, I'd never heard of the winery. Most of the Greek wines I run into are Boutari, Domestica or Tsantali. Alpha Estate was founded in 1997 and is found in the northwest part of Greece in the Florina region of Macedonia. An indication of the winery's modernity is that, in addition to traditional Greek grapes, the estate's vineyard grows such international varieties as Sauv Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Noir, Montepulciano, Tannat, Merlot and Syrah.

We haven't done one iota of planning for this Greek Odyssey of our's; so, I have no idea if we'd make it anywhere near Alpha Estate during our travels, but I do know that I want to take in some wineries and find a whole lot of wines as tasty as this one was.

Even if we don't make our way to Alpha Estate or run into any of their wines, I'm already benefiting from their wines. I've yet to add Malagouzia to my Wine Century Club tally. So, this bottle gets me #176 on that list. Now that I've got less than another 150 bottles before I hit 2001 on The List, I'm hoping to pull in that last two dozen wines to hit 200 varieties before I get to take a bit of rest. I might need to find some more Greek wines before we actually hit the islands.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Malbec and Mid-Week

1855.  2008 Bodega Sur de los Andes Malbec (Argentina)

Sur de los Andes is a relatively new name on the Argentine wine scene. The winery was established in 2005 by Guillermo Banfi, an Argentine banker who left the financial world to pursue his business interests and taste for wine in 2002. The grapes are sourced from a number of long-term contract growers in some of the prime areas of Mendoza.

The winery offers four ranges of wines and this bottle is the Malbec from the entry level Clasico series. Along with the Cab Sauv, Bonarda, Torrontés and Chardonnay varietal wines produced as Clasico wines, the Malbec is delivered as a fruit forward, easy drinking sip that still sees a bit of oak as it aims to deliver more than you'd expect at an entry level price. Sur de los Andes is often cited as a top brand value winery and, if memory serves, I picked this wine out as a fave at an Argentine tasting that presented a range of around 16 different Malbecs.

I don't know that Sur de los Andes can readily be found in our market. But Malbec and mid-week are a great combo in our household and, being a guy that likes some great fruit in his glass, I'll definitely keep an eye open for another bottle from these guys.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Cherysh the Thought

1854.  2010 Forbidden Fruit Cherysh Cherry Rosé (Similkameen Valley)

I'm at the stage of the blog where I always check previous posts to see if I've already added a particular bottle to The List. Since I'll often pick up more than one bottle of a wine's single vintage, those second bottles are cropping up (or the corks are popping out) more and more often. I didn't think there'd already be a bottle of the 2010 Cherysh on The List because we don't drink a lot of fruit wines - and it wasn't but I was a little surprised to see that I had previously added a bottle of the 2009 vintage at #1155.

As much of what I'd write this time around was written on the previous post and other posts on Forbidden Fruit wines, I'll just leave the link as opposed to re-hashing my earlier notes.

I will add, however, that the 2010 vintage was a very successful one for Cherysh. The wine won Gold at the All Canadian Wine Championship, Silver at the Northwest Wine Summit Competition and was a Finalist in the Spring Okanagan Wine Festival. Not a bad haul.

As with the 2009, I likely waited too long to open the bottle. I think we would have found more cherry notes on the wine if we'd opened it a couple of years ago. I just seem to hesitate on fruit wines when it comes to picking something for dinner. I generally don't see fruit wines going with a red wine dinner, but then it seems just as hard to pair (no pun intended) them with our standard white wine dinners. I simply opened this one, finally, as I would a Rosé and we did just fine (although it would seem I neglected to take a picture of the accompanying meal this time around). We had it accompanying duck with a pomegranate gelée - not quite a cherry sauce but close enough for government work (as they say).

I'm going to have to keep an eye open for a newer vintage and try sipping back on it a bit earlier, without the aging, because this could easily fit into our rotation of Rosé wines.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Barbera Kind of Night

1853.  2007 Beni di Batasiolo Sovrana Barbera d'Alba (Barbera d'Alba DOC - Piedmont - Italy)

It's mid-week. A spaghetti and meatballs kind of night. In my book, you can't really go wrong with Barbera d'Alba. From the home of Barolo and Barbaresco, Barbera d'Alba's generally one of the easier drinking, lighter red wines (along with Dolcetto) from the Langhe region. With a bit of spice and dark cherry notes, this Barbera was a bit richer than expected - but that was no problem whatsoever.

It would seem that Beni di Batasiolo produces two Barbera d'Alba wines because I've already added a 2007 to The List all the way back at #169. While I couldn't see any reference to differences in the two versions on the winery website, I see that the Sovrana sells for a bit more. So, the Sovrana may be made from more premium grapes.

In any event, I'm a fan.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Super Bowl Merlot

So, it was Super Bowl Sunday and, with our being from Vancouver and just north of Seattle, we were hoping for a repeat by the Seahawks. I figured we could even open a treat of a Washington wine to help celebrate the day.

Luckily, the wine fared better in the glass than the Seahawks did on the field.

1852.  2008 Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot (Columbia Valley - Washington State)

I like the story behind Long Shadows. Boo and I first heard their tale at a wine dinner a couple of years ago at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. Long Shadow's resident winemaker, Gilles Nicault, regaled those fortunate enough to attend the dinner with the short history of the "winery" and the long history of those behind it. I wrote a post about the dinner and the winery's story; so, maybe I won't rehash all of that again this time around.

Suffice it to say that, after having spent 20 years with Ste. Michelle winery in Washington state, Long Shadows' proprietor, Allen Shoup, decided to work on his own vision of joining up with "a dream team of celebrated vintners" from around the world where each of those vintners would partner with Long Shadows to create a showcase wine that matches Washington fruit with worldwide experience.

Pedestal is the collaboration between Long Shadows and Michel Rolland, one of the most influential winemakers and consultants in the world. Hailing from Pomerol, Bordeaux and France's primary home for Merlot, Rolland, Shoup and Nicault have crafted a predominantly Merlot wine (the 2008 vintage also featured 12% Cab Sauv, 4% Cab Franc and 3% Petit Verdot) that wowed the big names - 93 points from both Robert Parker and Stephen Tanzer and 92 from Wine Spectator.

I don't (and won't) pretend to espouse learned bons mots and tasting notes on the wine itself but I think Wine Spectator may have summed it up when they wrote, "one sip demands another."

Good thing I didn't have that much invested in the game (not like the Canucks' Stanley Cup run in 2011), because long after Katy Perry and her dancing sharks had left the stage, it became evident that the now infamous two-yard passing play would turn this into more of a consolatory sip than a celebratory one. Instead of the Seahawks being placed on a pedestal as repeat champions, the podium belonged to Tom Brady.

At least the Merlot and this Pedestal was still our's.

Middle Kingdom Meets The Seven Kingdoms

Boo is an unabashed Games of Thrones fan - and he's pulled me into all the intrigue hook, line and sinker as well. So, it was a bit of a no-brainer that we'd take in Season's 4's final two episodes when they were shown at one of the local IMAX theatres. The only theatre in Vancouver's Lower Mainland region to screen the episodes was in Richmond - a bit out of our normal stomping grounds but there really was no choice in the matter. We just made the best of the trek by grabbing dinner in one of Richmond's myriad of top notch Chinese restaurants.

Not that we'd know where to go.

Luckily, Boo has a number of Chinese colleagues who are well acquainted with the Richmond dining scene. We tried one of the higher end Chinese seafood restos but it was already full to capacity because of a wedding. Boo made a quick call to one of the girls at work and she recommended that we simply cross the street and try another - which we did. Admittedly, we weren't all that adventurous with our choices - salt & pepper squid, Peking Duck and house seafood noodles - but they all sounded good and we hadn't been there before.

The wine list was on the short side but we went with an Aussie white, thinking it could go with anything that came out of the kitchen.

1851.  2012 De Bortoli Family Selection Traminer Riesling (Riverina - Australia)

De Bortoli is the largest producer (by some margin) in Australia's Yarra Valley outside Melbourne. Part of the sizeable production is based on the fact that the winery does source a good percentage of its fruit from other regions. Bottle in point, this blend of Traminer and Riesling was made with fruit from the more commercial Riverina district. Traminer can be the name for a couple of grapes in Oz - as it is used interchangeably with Gewürztraminer but can also be used in its more genetically distinguishable form which would be Savagnin Blanc or White Traminer. Although the website doesn't state it, I'm guessing this is a Riesling/Gew blend as it is the far more prevalent grape.

At $13 in the Vancouver market, I consider this to be an entry level (if not commercial) wine. We found it to be a bit on the sweet side - which normally might have been okay with Chinese food but, on this occasion, our meal choices didn't really have enough spiciness or heat to match up with the wine.

We had more important fish to fry than to try and spice up our meal though. The Seven Kingdoms were calling and our change in restaurant plans had left us rather tight for time. So, we hastily retreated from our visit to the Middle Kingdom and made our way to Castle Black and Westeros. It would appear that the finish on our wine was a fair bit sweeter than the end met by many of those in the Game of Thrones.

I can live with that.