Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Biercraft Blast (From the Past)

This could be an ad for how the internet and social media can enhance your life. A chance crossing of paths on LinkedIn prompted a night out with Camper and the Sand Queen - two old university pals that I haven't seen for, well, too long. The plan was to get together for a quick drink, a bite to eat and a bit of a catch-up. That drink morphed into drinks and a bottle of wine and a full meal - all while holding court at the corner of the Biercraft's well-appointed bar.

And, by "well-appointed," of course I mean that the girls thought the bartender was worthy of our attention and tips.

1885.  2012 Sandhill Merlot (Okanagan Valley VQA)

As you might guess, the sip of choice at an establishment called "Biercraft" is more likely made with hops than with grapes - and, in a multitude of variations. The wine list wasn't overflowing with opportunity; however, I saw the Sandhill and figured there wasn't much chance of going wrong with that (plus there's that whole Sandhill for the Sand Queen thing going on). Sandhill has been a long-time - and remains a current - favourite BC producer of mine. No doubt I'd find that I've added more of winemaker, Howard Soon's, Small Lot bottles to The List but the regular Sandhill label has been seen as a bang-for-your-buck, well-made and (most importantly) tasty wine pretty much from the day the winery was established in 1999.

Everyone I know in the BC wine industry enthusiastically approved of Howard's being named the 2015 Spirited Industry Professional Award winner at the recent Vancouver International Wine Festival. With 35 years in the business, the awards ceremony referred to Howard as a "trailblazer" and recited "an impressive series of firsts to his credit: the first BC winemaker to release a series of single vineyard designated wines, the first to produce a Super Tuscan blend and the first to receive Red, White and Winery of the Year at the Canadian Wine Awards." I wasn't in attendance at the luncheon but I recall tweeting that I couldn't think of a nicer guy in the BC wine business as soon as I heard about the award.

Having toasted Howard in my mind, it was back to the gab-fest at hand. Now, Merlot may not be my standard first choice for moules-frites (mussels and fries) but these little guys were aggressively flavoured and up for the task and, as mentioned, you can't really go wrong with a Sandhill wine in any event.

The three of could easily have added another bottle to The List but it was still a "school night" for all of us and we'd managed to hold onto our little corner of the bar for nearly three hours. Rather than jeopardize our mornings after, we agreed to do it all over again - hopefully sooner than later.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Another Rosé For the Records

1884.  2013 Sperling Vineyards Pinot Noir Rosé (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I've done a little resorting of our "cellar" and moved some of the Rosé wines that I'd picked up over the last year or two closer to positions of easy access. Not only do we tend to eat a lot of Rosé-friendly meals around our place but most of the BC-produced Rosés that we have are meant to be consumed fairly early in their lives. I think I picked up this Sperling Rosé when we visited the winery on the BC Wine Appreciation Society Bus Tour last Fall.

Prior to that visit, I had written a bit of piece on Sperling Vineyards since I was adding a bottle of their popular Market White to The List. So, rather than simply re-write a lot of that post, I'll just add a link and you can check it out if you'd like to read a bit more about this pioneering family in the Okanagan.

While visiting the winery, however, we did get a bit of the skinny on the winery and this Rosé. When the family decided to move more into wine production and out of farming, they introduced a whole different approach to their vineyard practice. They'd been steadily moving their 45 acres of vineyard into full organic and biodynamic production but they also changed up their commercial farming yield of around 6 tons of fruit per acre down to only 2 tons/acre. With your name going on the wine, it's not surprising that you want the best and most concentrated fruit that you can grow.

Obviously, lower yields result in less wine and those reduced totals were compromised even more with the 2013 vintage when a late hail storm in their part of the Valley ruined about 70% of their crop. Luckily they salvaged enough of the crop to produce this first venture into a 100% Pinot Noir Rosé. Of course, winemaker Ann Sperling is an old hand with all types of winemaking but, for an out of the gates Rosé, it didn't do too badly - winning a Silver Medal at the All Canadian Wine Championships.

Featuring a nice acidity with subdued red fruit, I think I can safely say that this won't be the last of Ann's Rosés that I'll venture to enjoy.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Sweetie Loves His Tongue

Alright, it's a given that any relationship that is going to work is going to involve a healthy dose of give and take. I'm the first to admit that Boo gives a lot. So, I can't complain (too much) that one of my gives is the fact that he likes to serve tongue - and that's on the dinner plate as opposed to lashing out like a drag queen - at least once or twice a year.

Gotta admit that it's not exactly my favourite piece of beef, but you know...

Good thing is that tongue seems to go with an awful lot of reds - and that's something that I can easily deal with.

1883.  2010 Celler El Masroig - Solà Fred (Mont Sant D.O. - Spain)

I can't say that I knew that Mont Sant is a Denominacio d'Origen region in Spain. I grabbed this Carignan/Grenache blend because I needed a Spanish wine to compliment a present involving a Spanish guide book and a couple other Spanish items to provide a bit of a tempting view into a possible trip there. I've since learned that Mont Sant is in Catalunya and that, despite the label (presumably made for our Canadian market) talking about Carignan and Grenache, the grapes being grown there would likely be called Samsó and Garnacha. Garnacha, I would have known but Samsó?

I can't say that there's anything particular Spanish about Boo's preparation of the tongue but I figured the wine would be big enough to stand up to the textural meat. Indeed, the wine was more than enough to handle Boo's tongue lashing. Big with lots of fruit coming through as the wine doesn't see any oak.

I will admit though that the wine ran out before the tongue did. Good thing Boo is more than happy to worry about any leftovers. I'm only expected to savour the one meal.

It's no doubt a good thing that Boo brings out the tongue every so often. I rather suspect that, if we ever did make it to Spain, there'd likely be a few dishes served that are ultimately more exotic than tongue.

I can't wait.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Still Dining Out For Life

Dining Out For Life has been a staple event in our schedule for years now. A signature fundraising event for A Loving Spoonful and Friends For Life, the annual celebration of Vancouver food - from Whistler to White Rock - sees participating restaurants graciously donating 25% of all their food sales for the day to these two primary, and stalwart, AIDS service organizations. Originally established in 1991 in Philadelphia, the event is now produced in over 30 cities across North America, generating millions of dollars for the agencies in those participating cities.

Having drunk our way through a dozen Pinot Noirs last night with the BCWAS tasting, Boo and I opted to keep a rather low profile with this year's Dining Out For Life. There weren't too many restaurants along The Drive that were participating in this year's fundraiser but we're always up for a platter of BBQ at Memphis Blues. Considering the number of times we've had to pass on the lengthy line-ups at Memphis Blues, we were pleasantly gobsmacked to be able to get in without any wait at all - a great start to a tasty evening.

When they first opened, the boys at Memphis Blues surprised a lot of folks with the savvy that went into their limited wine list. A lot of thought was put into identifying a handful of wines that pair with the smorgasbord of meats and fixin's. The list is perpetually changing to reflect what wines are available at the time, but we've come to the conclusion that, if a wine is on their list, it won't really matter what you pick. Odds are it will work.

I think the biggest surprise for most is that Memphis Blues has always championed the pairing of Rosé with BBQ. And, give it up to them, I always take a look at whatever Rosé they're serving as a starting point. Indeed, that's what we decided to go with tonight.

1882.  2013 Le Paradou Cinsault Rosé (France)

The Le Paradou brand is a series of three wines made as a side label by the the Chaudière family of Châteu Pesquié. The wines are made outside of the AOC system in order that the two Chaudière brothers behind Le Paradou would be "completely free to create fresh and sexy wines" (or so their website advises). This wine is made, in the region south of the Rhône, from 100% Cinsault grapes and is a direct press Rosé (as opposed to the saignée method where a Rosé wine is one of the results after "bleeding" off some of the freshly pressed juice to intensify the original wine). These grapes are grown purely for the purpose of making this Rosé and the resulting wine is bright with acidity and tart, red fruit. You know, just a little sip to drink back on its own or match up with everything from chicken to ribs to brisket to baked beans, potato salad and fries.

Some tasty dining and sipping, all while helping a more than worthwhile cause. That's an evening's fare that I can whole-heartedly get behind.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pinot Envy

I don't always take the opportunity to add a bottle to The List when it comes to the various tastings hosted by the BC Wine Appreciation Society - primarily because I don't finish an entire bottle with the folks I'm immediately next too. But how could I not add a bottle after another stop on the series of BCWAS 10th Anniversary tastings. After all, this time around it was a double blind Pinot Noir tasting.

This is the third blind tasting that BCWAS has thrown to feature popular varietal wines that are regularly produced and well received in BC, the first two being Cabernet Franc and Syrah. This Pinot tasting was exciting because the province's wine regions are becoming particularly well known for their Pinot Noirs. Growing conditions in the province can be quite similar to those classic Pinot regions: Burgundy, Oregon and New Zealand. So, it was time to see how BC's Pinots measured up - against both some international wines and amongst our own producers.

The plan was to hold a double blind tasting of twelve wines - nine from BC and three international. Attendees (almost all members of BCWAS) were to taste all twelve wines and identify their top five choices in order. A grand compilation of those picks was then tallied and the big reveal was made.

In choosing the evening's wines, the Society (and, in the spirit of full disclosure, I was named Cellarmaster last year) tried to pick wines that both represented a variety of BC's wine regions and were wines that could boast a pedigree amongst their peers. As such, we included wines from Lake Country, Kelowna, Okanagan Falls, Summerland, Osoyoos (all in the Okanagan Valley) and the Similkameen Valley. Choosing the three international wines was a little more difficult in that there were a lot to choose from and we were trying to keep the price points in a similar range - and, funnily, nice Burgundy, Central Otago and Oregon's Willamette Valley wines tend to skew a tad higher than a lot of the local wines.

Society members were both pleased, if not a little surprised, to see how the results flowed. The Burgundy (2009 Louis Jadot Santenay) - which was incidentally the most expensive wine of the night at $45 - and the Willamette Valley (2013 Evesham Wood) both finished in the bottom four, as did Blue Mountain's 2011 Reserve. Those familiar with Okanagan wines know that Blue Mountain was one of the first BC wineries to become known for producing wines worth searching out - and their Pinot Noir has always been at the forefront. I think there were a number of folks surprised by the "poor" placing. Rather than recap all of the wines that evening and elaborate on the final results, I'll just refer everyone to Russell Ball's comprehensive Adventures in BC Wine post. Russell has put together a great recap of the wines and how they were received.

As reported by Russ, four of the wines stood out in the choices made by the attendees at large. I think it will suffice to say that my tastes weren't necessarily in sync with the rest of those in attendance. Only one of my five picks was included in the evening's top four - where it finished third. Even though I'd ranked my fifth choice, I think I'll make that the bottle that I add to The List.

1881.  2012 Meyer Family Vineyards - Reimer Pinot Noir (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I'm hardly taken aback by seeing a Meyer wine near the top of our highly sophisticated poll/tasting. After all, the winery's proprietors, JAK Meyer and Janice Stevens, set up shop to explore their passion for premium, single vineyard Pinots and Chardonnays. Quite the fave of BCWAS, this bodes well for a dinner that the society is going to host with Meyer Family Vineyards in late May.

I was drawn to the full body the Reimer displayed in comparison with the other wines but I found it displayed a more earthy, minerality profile than some of the more fruit forward wines that were poured. Regular readers will know that I can be a sucker for big fruit.

The tasting's top two picks of the night - the 2013 Eau Vivre (the only wine from the Similkameen Valley) and the 2012 Kim Crawford Rise and Shine Central Otago didn't break out of the pack for me. The fact that my faves for the evening were revealed as Haywire's 2011 Canyonview, the aforementioned Blue Mountain Reserve and Cedar Creek's 2012 Platinum Block 2 served to re-inforce the fact that I've gravitated to those wines and wineries on many occasion when given a choice. It would seem that I like those wines whether I know what's in my glass - or not. The biggest surprise for me was that I'd ranked the 2012 50th Parallel Pinot as my third pick and I was only recently introduced to them - in fact, it was on last year's BCWAS Bus Tour. Guess they'll be yet another winery to watch for down the road.

All in all, I think the Society was more than pleased by the evening. Some of the participating wineries may not be so thrilled with their placing but it's interesting to note that every one of the twelve wines received an assortment of votes. Indeed, every wine - save one - received at least one first place vote.

I'm already looking forward to the next varietal blind tasting that BCWAS is going to host. The early contender is Riesling - and you know I loves my Riesling.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Pruning Our Little Ones

It's pruning time for us Red Rooster Adopt-A-Row types. Boo and I have been part of this early-adopter version of a wine club for Okanagan wineries. As more and more wineries started to appear on the BC wine scene, there weren't many ways for customers to enjoy an "intimate" connection with the wineries. Red Rooster introduced the Adopt-A-Row program where "parents" do exactly that - they "adopt" a row of the Malbec vines that are planted right outside the Red Rooster winery. There may be a number of unique opportunities nowadays but I think Red Rooster might have been the very first to try something like this.

It's not like the program gives you any control over the management of the vines or in the making of the wine, but you can find your name on a row, you receive wine (naturally) and the winery throws two parties each year for the parents: a harvest party in the Fall and a pruning party, like the one at hand, in the Spring.

Boo and I haven't been able to make the last couple of celebratory weekends. So, I was happy to see that I could make the drive to the Naramata Bench this time around - sans Boo, unfortunately - but at least our vines got a little lovin' from one of their adopted daddies.

The weekend kicked into gear with a winery reception on the Friday night and, this year, they hosted a parlour game where they served up eight wines blind - a pair each of four varietal wines - where one wine was made by Karen Gillis and the Red Rooster team and the other was an international wine from a region well-versed in the particular grape variety. There were also four cheeses paired to the varietal wines. It was our job to identify the grapes AND which of the two was the Red Rooster wine and to name the type of cheese (from a list of four choices).

There were some clues to the grape varieties. So, I'll admit that I found naming the varietal wines - Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir - to be easy enough. Picking which one was the Red Rooster wine was a bit tougher but I figure I've quaffed enough Red Rooster over the years that I had a pretty good handle on Karen's stylistic traits. Picking the cheeses was a crap shoot.

The good news was that I was the grand prize winner and, furthermore, they announced that, for the first time when they've played this game, the winner had gotten all of the answers correct. Humble, as always, I had to admit that the cheeses were pure guesses for the most part. It was nice to know that it can pay off to drink all that wine that I have over the years.

Being solo Friday night, I was able to make an early evening of it and was even able to get up the next morning with enough time to complete a short run to fit in some training for the Half Corked Half Marathon. The race takes place through the vineyards of the Oliver-Osooyoos area and was coming up at the end of May. The region might be a half-hour down Highway 97, but it's the closest I'd be able to train on the race course.

After the run, it was time to get those pruning juices flowing. The first time we attended a pruning party, the winery actually trusted us to decide where to make the initial cut on the vines. I think they must have learned that might not have been the smartest move for the ensured longevity of the vines. Nowadays, the vineyard staff have pre-cut the vines and we parents are tasked more with clearing out the cut vines. There was plenty of cutting and carting to be accomplished though as you can see by the pile of cut vines.

Karen and vineyard manager, Rolf, also talk some about how the winery operates and why certain steps are taken. I found it interesting that, this year, the cuttings were all going to be burned - as opposed to being mulched for compost - because they felt that there were some traces of a black mould that had appeared on some vines that had been damaged by a particularly cold winter spell the previous season. They wanted to ensure that the mould wasn't introduced to any future compost.

After our efforts in the vineyard, everyone is treated to a lunch and wine tasting in the winery. A pretty good payoff for maybe an hour's work in the vineyard.

It's become a bit of tradition that the Adopt-A-Row weekend is ended with a winery dinner for those who can attend. Luckily for me, Bella Gianna was able to play "plus-one" for me in Boo's absence. She drove down from Lake Country and we had a grand afternoon touring the Naramata Bench before we headed off to the dinner.

1880.  2012 Red Rooster Reserve Malbec (VQA Okanagan Valley)

As with most wine dinners, there was a wide selection of wines served. However, since our Adopt-A-Row vines are all Malbec, it seems like a good idea to add the newest vintage to be released to The List.  With only 194 cases having been made, the Malbec is rather rare and is initially released only to Adopt-A-Row members. There isn't a lot of the wine made because Malbec isn't one of the more common grapes grown for varietal wines in the Okanagan. Rather, it is generally grown as a component of BC Bordeaux or Meritage blends.

Being a blending component was the intent for Red Rooster's Malbec vines as well; however, back in 2006, the winery team decided that the Malbec fruit and resulting wine was good enough to bottle as a varietal wine even if it might limit the Meritage production a bit. The winery has released a varietal Malbec ever since.

Bella Gianna and I were particularly blessed in our table mates that night in that winery manager (and all-around good guy and goof), Blair Dufty, joined us and, to top that off, winemaker, Karen, joined us for the main course since there was an empty seat at our table. Both Blair and Karen are always good for particularly insightful stories about the Red Rooster in particular - and the BC wine industry, as a whole, in general. Information doesn't come much more directly than that.

By the look of the count on with this bottle, this may well be the last Adopt-A-Row visit that I'll make before I hit bottle number 2001 on this little Odyssey. I'm pretty sure that it won't be the last Red Rooster wine to make The List, but I'll just have to see how I continue with the blog once that landmark goal is reached. Something tells me this won't be the last Adopt-A-Row venture that I'll write about.

Until then, it's back to The List at hand.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Adopt-A-Row Preview

It's time to head up to the Okanagan and to the Spring Pruning Party as part of Red Rooster's Adopt-A-Row program. Boo and I haven't been able to make many of the semi-annual Adopt-A-Row events lately. Isn't it just a pain how often work and/or life can get in the way of having fun? Indeed, Boo isn't able to attend this time around either as he has to work through the whole weekend.

Poor boy. I figured we should open a little Red Rooster so that he wouldn't feel that he was completely missing out on the weekend.

1879.  2012 Red Rooster Viognier (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Knowing that we tend to grab some of winemaker, Karen Gillis', Viognier every year, I had to check back to make sure that I haven't already added this Red Rooster vintage to The List already. There have been 2009, 2010 and 2011 bottles already poured on this little Odyssey, but we haven't made it to the 2012 thus far. So, here we go.

2011 wasn't the best of vintages in the Okanagan for reds but there were still some tasty whites to be found and Red Rooster's Viognier proved to be a popular gem for the winery. It pulled in a Gold medal at the 2012 All Canadian Wine Championships. Tough act to follow - or so you'd think. Turns out that Karen and gang did just that. The 2012 vintage was one of only twelve wines to win a 2013 Lt. Governor's Award for Excellence in Wine.

In what has become a bit of calling card for Karen's Viognier, I found that the aromatics didn't overwhelm. There was plenty of body to the wine - as well as acidity - but I guess it just goes to show how little I know about tasting. While the Lt. Gov's tasting panel found the wine to be an award winning varietal wine, I would have been hard-pressed to identify it as Viognier if I'd tasted it blind.

The wine paired nicely with our spicy chicken and rice noodles though. Plus, it let Boo have a little Red Rooster of his own since he wouldn't be able to head up to the winery for the weekend's activities. I figure a little award-worthy Viognier is better than nothing.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Farewell Grasshopper

A toast of wine. A whole whack of fond memories. A few faces not seen for decades. How unfortunate that it often takes a memorial gathering to bring such elements together.

Such was the case today when I joined with a whole collection of the guys (and a few gals) from university days to celebrate the sudden passing of our friend Andy. The flood of memories was a wonderful tribute to Grasshopper - as he was then called. While no one could have forgotten his cheerfulness and enthusiasm, I had forgotten his perpetual sporting of our rugby jersey and his love of food, food and more food.

Andy so enjoyed cooking and entertaining that his teenaged daughter recounted how her younger brother had asked their mom, "How are we ever going to eat now? Dad did all the cooking."

I think my favourite story of the day though was from another old university friend of Andy's. She recounted how, one day, the two of them were driving along and were cut off by some terrible driving. As they both swore, Becks joked that the driver must have been Asian. Being Chinese himself - and not about to let her get away with that - he responded, "Or a woman." In an effort to see who was right, they caught up to the other car to catch a glimpse of the driver - it was a Chinese woman - and they both laughed hysterically for the rest of the drive.

There were a whole lot of reminiscences being shared that day.

1878.  2013 Gray Monk Latitude 50 White (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Having had to pick wines for my Mom's memorial gathering a few years back, it was interesting to see what the choices were. I can't say that I would have thought of this bottle myself, but I think the Gray Monk Latitude 50 was a good pick for a large, casual gathering this this was. Predominantly Riesling with Gewürztraminer, Bacchus and Muller-Thurgau completing the blend, it's an accessible, easy-drinking wine that pairs up well with reception-style nibblies and stand-around storytelling.

It's a different - but eye-catching label - that was introduced a couple of years ago as the Latitude 50 wine was hitting its third decade of production. As winery matriarch, Trudy Heiss, proclaimed with the new label, it's the "Same great Latitude but with new attitude!" The name comes from the physical location of the vineyard. A friend of the family, knowledgable in geography, told them that the vineyard was "three minutes and nineteen seconds north of the 50th Latitude (each minute equaling one nautical mile or 1.85 kilometres)." Gary Monk is almost as far north as BC wineries currently lay down their roots but it's still at the same level of latitude as some of Germany's most famous vineyards.

During all the tales, I recalled a weekend with boys canoeing up Indian Arm. Grasshopper had a bit of an experience with some Lemon Gin. I don't know if he ever touched the stuff again. Don't think I saw any at the reception.

Here's to you my friend. Skoal!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Monte del Fra - A Festival Fave

For the last couple of years, one of the more intriguing wineries attending the Vancouver International Wine Festival has been Monte del Frá. Hailing from the Veneto in northern Italy, not far from Venice and Verona, I've met and chatted with Marica Bonomo on a number of occasions as I know the winery's Canadian representatives, Lucila and Ricardo of Patagonia Imports (the picture is of Marica on the right and Lucila on the left).

With spaghetti and meatballs on the table tonight, I figured that I might as well pull the cork on one the Italian wines that I picked up at this year's show - especially since Italy was announced as the Theme Region for next year's Festival. Marica was pouring four wines at this year's Festival and I took an immediate liking to the Ripasso.

1877.  2012 Monte del Frá - Lena di Mezzo Valpolicella Ripasso (Valpolicella Ripasso D.O.C. Classico Superiore - Italy)

I tend to enjoy red wines that have a touch more body than most of the general release Valpolicella wines we find in the Vancouver market. Accordingly, I'm always on the lookout for a tasty, well-priced Ripasso. As previously noted on Ripasso posts, the making of Ripasso is a relatively recent vinification process (having seen its first commercial releases in the late 1980's). The winery completes an initial ferment of its Valpolicella wine and then (as noted on Monte del Frá's website) "the skins of the grapes that have been pressed to make Amarone are added...setting off a second, slow fermentation." The result is a richer, more flavourful Valpolicella.

The wine is made with traditional Valpolicella grapes and Monte del Frá's Ripasso is 80% Corvina with Rondinella rounding out the remaining 20% of the blend. The grapes are from the Lena di Mezzo vineyard - one of the eleven vineyards in the Veneto region that provide grapes to the winery.

As with so many Italian wineries, there are records of the Monte del Frá vineyards and wines dating back to 1492 when the lands were owned by monks and rented out to different families. The lands have been the source of fierce fighting and legal disputes over the centuries and the properties were even put up for auction by Napolean Bonaparte when they were expropriated from the church. Marica's family founded the current day winery in 1958 and it has been the subject of stories in and reviewed in Wine Spectator, Decanter and the Italian wine bible, Gambero Rosso.

I'll have to find out if the Ripasso is going to be a regular find on Vancouver wine shelves or whether it was just brought in for the Festival. I'm hoping it's the former possibility. I'm also hoping to see Marica and Monte del Frá leading the Italian charge in Vancouver next year. It should be a tasty time.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Elzee's New Dirty Apron

The great thing about giving a cookbook for Christmas is that there's always the potential of being invited for dinner so that the recipient can try out a new recipe on you. Not that there was any nefarious intent in Boo's and my giving The Dirty Apron Cookbook to Elzee last December. Her proposal to use us as guinea pigs as she tried out some intriguing dishes was both welcome and easy to accept. Girl knows how to cook - with or without a cook book.

The dinner was also a perfect opportunity to pop the cork on some exciting wines.

1874.  N.V. Giusti - Asola Dry Prosecco (Prosecco D.O.C.G. - Italy)

I'd met up with Elzee and her brother, Hockey Cop, for some of the Friday night grand tasting at the recent Vancouver International Wine Festival and one of the definite treats of that night was our visit to the Giusti table. Not only were all the wines as tasty as all get go but Elzee and Hockey Cop struck up an entertaining conversation with winery principal, Joe Giusti. It turns out that Elzee and Hockey Cop's dad is pretty much from the same village as Joe was from. The conversation morphed into an extra special opening of a Giusti icon - their Acquavite Riserva Grappa (much to Joe's agent's dismay).

The Grappa wasn't available for sale but I did pick up some of the winery's Prosecco and I figured there'd be no better occasion to open a bottle than at tonight's dinner.

This is not, however, a simple Prosecco to make Aperol Spritzers or Mimosas with. No. No. No. Being a D.O.C.G. wine, it is made from the traditional Glera grape but Giusti strives for an intensity that captures classic tree fruit and citrus notes but lifts it to a more pronounced level of sophistication. Our bottle didn't last longer than our hors d'oeuvres but I could easily see drinking this through an entire meal.

We definitely sipped away while trying to figure out a way to take Joe up on his offer for us to all visit him if we ever make our way to the Veneto. Travelling to Italy with Elzee has long been a bucket list item for Boo and I. I think Giusti just upped the ante.

1875.  2012 Burrowing Owl Chardonnay (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Elzee just happened to have a bottle of Burrowing Owl Chard in the fridge. So, it didn't take much arm twisting to pour it along with her Kale Caesar salad. I don't tend to buy as many Burrowing Owl wines as I used to. There's just so much choice for Okanagan wines nowadays - and Burrowing Owl is now one of many excellent producers instead of being one of a few that was head and shoulders above the others.

It was nice to try the Chardonnay though since I can't say that I buy Burrowing Owl's whites as much as I go for their reds. Regular readers will know that I'm not all that partial to Chardonnay - especially the big, oak-driven versions that can be prevalent in the market. Wines like this are simply evidence that it doesn't pay to be ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) wine drinkers. This was a full bodied Chard (being from a warmer vintage for the Okanagan) but the oak, while noticeable, wasn't overbearing and was well integrated. I'll admit I refilled my glass.

The main course of braised short ribs was paired with a bottle that I'd been holding onto for awhile. It was a bottle that Elzee had given Boo and I for Christmas a few years back. Just like our giving cookbooks can result in dinners, Elzee's gift of wine might just see us open it to share with her. What goes around, comes around - or so they say.

1876.  2007 Tawse - Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc (Lincoln Lakeshore VQA - Niagra - Ontario)

Unfortunately, I can count, on the fingers of one hand, the number of Tawse wines that I've had - and they've been largely white wines. I just don't see many Tawse wines available for sale in Vancouver. As I've previously lamented, that fact will hopefully change in the times to come. It was a welcome discovery, therefore, to find the Tawse Cab Franc in our cellar. Neither Elzee nor I knew of the wine or the winery's provenance when she picked up the bottle during a visit to Toronto.

Glad she did though. All three of us thought it was a standout. Full of body and vibrant fruit, every bite of short rib was simply elevated by another sip of the Cab Franc.

The Tawse website says that the Laundry Vineyard Cab Franc vines are among the oldest in the Niagra region of Ontario. Sustainably-farmed, the fruit was clearly evident in the glass and a nice touch of spice on the finish just enhanced our enjoyment.

Now to find some more Tawse Cab.

Having said that, you know there was no Tawse left by the time Elzee brought out the Sticky Toffee Pudding. Not that we need any more libation but, in honour of our Giusti tales, Elzee brought out some of her dad's own grappa preserved cherries as a nightcap to beat all others.

All told, this was one helluva a dinner: delicious food and ever-so-tasty wines. I think I'm going to have to start looking for another cookbook to give to Elzee this Christmas. No agenda of course. Just a little something to help her fill a little adventure time in the kitchen. I will bring the wine, however, if she needs another guinea pig.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Miss Jaq is Back

This time last year, we were contemplating a trip to China to visit with Miss Jaq. At the time she was working in Luoyang - possibly the biggest city you've never heard of. Luoyang has a population of 6.5 million and, if Miss Jaq hadn't gone there, we likely would have gone through life never having heard of it. Doesn't really matter though because - unlike her stint in Abu Dhabi - Miss Jaq didn't care much for Luoyang and didn't return there. She was enticed to return to China and to Shanghai however - and that's where we were going to catch up with her.

Turns out that the position in Shanghai was even less agreeable than the one in Luoyang and she left the new job at the first opportunity. As soon as she told us that last Fall, we decided against going to China if she wasn't even going to be there.

Miss Jaq is back is Vancouver though and we had her over for a long-needed catch up and to let her watch some RuPaul's Drag Race. Funny, but that show doesn't make it to China.

1873.  2003 Rockford - Rifle Range Cabernet Sauvignon (Barossa Valley - Australia)

The great news was that we got to see our wonderful friend again. The not so good news (for her anyhow) was that she's still recovering from some nasty leftovers of her latest Chinese foray and she isn't drinking wine at the moment as alcohol doesn't seem to be agreeing with her constitution for the time being.

That fact was made even sadder for her because we'd pulled the cork on a treat that we'd been saving. We tried enticing her with a small glass or at least a sip or two but there was no persuading her.

We don't see much Rockford available for sale in the Vancouver market - at least I don't seem to. We've tried a few Rockford wines at Australia Wine Appreciation Society tastings but I can't say as that I've ever had a full exposure to the winery. Over the years, I've been well aware of Rockford's reputation of being a leading Barossa producer and we'd even hoped to pay a visit when we were in the Barossa. That visit didn't pan out but we did score a half bottle of the Rockford '09 Cab to go with a smoked meat pizza on our final night in the Barossa. That just made me even more favourably inclined to the brand. Accordingly, every once in awhile, I'll run across a bottle in town and instinctively reach for it. It can be hard to give bottles like this time in the cellar but we do occasionally give it a try - until one of those grand occasions, like tonight, arrives.

Even with a decade's age on this bottle, it still started out with big, dark fruit. It was a good thing that's we'd paired it with some big flavours of their own - mussel soup and lamb kebabs - because this was no easy sipper. By the time we got the to last glass, however, the wine had mellowed nicely and it was a lovely sip all by itself.

Unfortunately, we only had the one bottle. So, Miss Jaq didn't and won't get to fully appreciate or celebrate with us this time but she promised to be better in time for the annual Miss Jaq Wine Picnic. That's a promise we intend to make her keep. We might not have any more Rockford to bring along but I'll do my best to find something appropriate to the occasion.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Swedish Mussels and Wine Picks

It's not too often that I go out for dinner and someone else takes full control of the wine list and for ordering the evening's fare. Given my wine indulgences, most dining partners don't want to have anything to do with choosing a wine. They just leave it up to me. As such, it was interesting to see Bergmann just take charge when I joined him and my old neighbour, Red, for dinner on The Drive.

Bergmann was down to his last days in Vancouver before he returned to his native Sweden for the summer. His winter on the Whistler slopes and in Red's arms was bout to end and Red hoped that we could all get together. Red called up La Gondoliera to join in and the setting was there for an engrossing dinner. It would seem that Red still misses the old hood because we could have gone anywhere for dinner - and there are some new, happening restaurants near her new digs - but she quickly opted for the moules-frites at Carthage, maybe two blocks from the old home. She says that Carthage remains a favourite of her's and Bergmann's and that they've shared many a bowl of mussels there.

I mean, who doesn't love muscles? Oops, that's "mussels," right?

1871.  2013 Humberto Canale - Diego Murillo Malbec (Rio Negro - Patagonia - Argentina)

In any event, I was happy to let Bergmann assume the role of wine director - particularly since he had a rapport and history with our waiter. They bantered back and forth for a bit and settled on a Malbec. I must say that I might not have gone that direction with mussels (and La Gondoliera opted to stick with her much beloved Prosecco) but it was an easy drinking, fruity Malbec and it paired better than I might have expected.

I've certainly seen the Diego Murillo label sitting on local shelves but I can't recall ever having tried it before. Like many wineries in Argentina, Humberto Canale has been around for many years - long before the arrival of Argentine Malbec on the global wine scene. The founder and namesake of the winery established the company in 1909 and the fourth generation of the family is currently manning the operations.

I found it interesting that this is a Malbec from Patagonia and not the more ubiquitous Mendoza region. Patagonia, in general, sees a cooler climate than Mendoza; so, that might have lent itself to a bit lighter structure in the wine. That being said, however, this is truly an entry level wine. There aren't all that many bottles in our market that come in at under $10. So, I'm not sure this is the best example to use when forming an opinion on wines from the region.

Regardless of the wine's pedigree, the bottle was empty soon enough and we needed a second.

1872.  2011 3 Mile Estate - Cabernet Merlot (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Bergmann's second choice was even more of a surprise. In part because I couldn't recall having seen it before and I figure I have a pretty good handle on BC wineries. At first, I thought it might be one of the virtual wineries producing bulk wines that may or may not be made of local fruit but I then saw that it was an Okanagan Valley VQA wine - meaning that it not only has to be made from local fruit but that the wine has to pass inspection by a tasting panel that qualifies wines as meeting minimum quality requirements.

In thinking back (after the fact), I recall that Luke Smith, of Howling Bluff, has previously referred to a 3 Mile vineyard on some of his labels. So, I don't know if the folks behind that vineyard have opted to produce some of their own wines now rather than sell all their fruit or if it's a totally different operation but I do see that there is a 3 Mile Road that runs along the Naramata Bench.  I guess that just gives me even more to look into next time I'm up visiting the Bench.

The Cab Merlot didn't blow my socks off but that might have been because, by now, we were drinking it with no further accompaniment than our conversations. Our entrées were long finished and the wine was a bit big for the desserts on offer. There was nothing left in the bottle upon our departure though; so, it was hardly a flawed wine.

And, as I often say in this blog, I always like to see what other folks pick when it comes to choosing wine. So, to have Bergmann so readily step up to the plate was intriguing. We didn't discuss what the wine culture is like in Sweden but that too will just have to be a topic for me to look into further in the days to come. I don't think Boo and I will make it to Scandinavia any time soon but Bergmann's scheduled to return to Whistler - and Red, naturally - this Fall. We'll just have to make plans for more mussels.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Langmeil - A Valley Floor Special

Now that this year's Vancouver International Wine Festival has concluded, I figured I might as well toast the festival and this year's theme region, Australia, with a favourite Aussie wine of mine. Langmeil wasn't one of the 60+ wineries that visited from Down Under this year but Shiraz was the variety featured in this year's global focus. So, I'm kinda still in the ballpark.

1870.  2007 Langmeil Valley Floor Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

This is the fifth bottle of Valley Floor Shiraz that I've added to The List. The '06 was added way back at #58; the '02 was #183. 2005 clocked in at #515 and a magnum of '06 became #1658 last summer when it was miraculously smuggled into my sister's wedding reception. This little Odyssey has added other Langmeil wines (like Grenache or the ever-present Aussie GSM blend) as well and the winery was even a highlight of a tour of the Barossa a few years back.

I think you get the picture.

So, I was a little saddened by the fact that Langmeil didn't attend this year's Festival but I suppose having a full bottle of wine at home is that much better than a quick sip and spit at a festival anyways.

Over the years, I've found the Valley Floor Shiraz to be a dependably tasty pour and the '07 vintage was no exception. In these days where many Aussie producers are dialing back on their fruit-forwardness, Valley Floor has never shied away from big, dark fruit on the palate but I never found it to be an over-the-top fruit bomb either. Langmeil has always strived for more balance and integration and, in some ways, I think they were already at that place where others are now striving to be.

Even though the Langmeil folks didn't bring any special treats for me to nab at this year's Festival, I'm happy to say that I still have a few Langmeil beauties stored away in the cellar. Who knows, they may even make it to The List before I hit #2001.