Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Walking A Tightrope

When I started this blog back in 2009, there were around 170 wineries in production in BC. Six years later and there are over 250. With a few wineries changing hands every year and some closing down altogether, there's a steady stream of new wineries every time you take a new look. Given Boo's and my participation in the BC Wine Appreciation Society and the number of times we visit the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys or attend industry-coordinated tastings, I figure I have a better handle on local wineries than most.

I still can't keep up with the ever-changing landscape though. There's only so much space on the Naramata Bench but it seems that we find a new selection of wineries even there when we pay a visit. I ran across this bottle when trying to locate a hard to find wine from the Bench at the Naramata General Store. Being an out and out aficionado of Rosé, I grabbed this instead when my other wine wasn't available.

1908.  2013 Tightrope Rosé (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

Tightrope began selling its wines in 2013 but I had yet to run across them. The winery is a new venture of Lyndsey and Graham O'Rourke. The couple are hardly strangers to the Okanagan and the Naramata Bench though. Lyndsey was the award-winning winemaker for Ruby Blues and Graham was a viticultural with Mission Hill. According to local wine scribe, John Schreiner, Graham learned about Okanagan growing conditions in 26 vineyards through the valley and "launched the Mission Hill sustainability program and ... composting program." I figure it's fair to say that they bring a bit of a pedigree with them to the fledgling winery.

Both Graham and Lyndsey have left their respective positions to concentrate on their own 10-acre vineyard and wines - although they still make some time available for consulting services. The couple has planted a selection of grapes known to do well on the Bench including Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier, Pinot Noir and Merlot. They've also added small blocks of Cab Franc and Barbera, the latter being one of the rarer varieties to be planted in BC. Barbera doesn't even make the list of top twenty red varieties planted by tonnage or by value. It's rare enough that its production falls behind those juggernaut grapes Zweigelt, Dunkelfelder and Rotberger.

Tightrope's Barbera makes it into this Rosé, however. The variety was about 15% of the 2013 vintage, the balance of the wine being Pinot Noir. All of the grapes came from Tightrope's own vineyard and production was definitely on the smaller side - only 100 cases of the Rosé was made in 2013 - but the abundance red fruit and bright acidity on the palate will make it worth running into again.

There was still no tasting room for the winery when I came upon this bottle but word is that the O'Rourkes hope to have a tasting room up and running sometime in the near future - hopefully before the 2015 tourist season kicks in for the Okanagan. We'll have to give them a taste next time we make it up to Naramata.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Festival Treat from Kaesler

1907.  2012 Kaesler - Stonehorse GMS (Barossa Valley - Australia)

So, I find myself running into just a tiny, little problem nowadays. We don't exactly have any room in the cellar (such as our cellar is - a couple wine fridges, a closet, a spare bathroom tub and a stairwell) for new acquisitions. And, as much as I try to rein my buying habits and Boo tries to tighten the "No Buy Leash," there are always going to be occasions where I have no choice but to buy a new bottle or two. The annual Vancouver International Wine Festival is one such occasion.

As noted earlier in this blog, the theme region at this year's Festival was Australia and the Festival always has a number of wines available that aren't otherwise available in our market. As regular readers of the blog know, I readily admit that I have a jones for Aussie wines. So, needless to say, I didn't make things any easier on myself for space at home.

Since I didn't exactly have a spot for this bottle, I just decided to pull the cork - even though we have other bottles that likely should have been opened first.

I don't know much about Kaesler and their wines but I do recognize them from a couple of attendances at the Festival over the years. The vineyards and winery were founded by the Kaesler family in the 1890's and they operated the winery until 1986. The current owners purchased the winery in 1999 and have strived to take advantage of the premium lands and old vines ever since. The vineyards are farmed sustainably and the owners have expanded production into the Clare Valley and McLaren Vale (although those wines are released under the Clare Wine Co. and Nashwauk Vineyards banners respectively).

The Stonehorse is a classic Barossa GSM or Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre blend - although this is a GMS with the Grenache playing a major (80%) role and the Mourvèdre (17%) and Shiraz (3%) balancing out the blend. The Stonehorse is from Kaesler's entry level series and is a fruit forward, easily accessible wine. The winery did, however, bring a major treat to the Festival as well - if you were lucky enough to try the wine while they still had some to pour. Kaesler's flagship wine - Old Bastard - is a single vineyard Shiraz, made from some of the vines originally planted back in the 1890's by the Kaesler family. I would have loved to add a bottle of the Old Bastard to The List but, unfortunately, the wine wasn't for sale as they only make 500 cases and it retails for over $200 a bottle when it is available. I did get my picture taken with a bottle though as I've been called a similar name often enough. In fact, an acquaintance that happened to be at the Kaesler table at the same time I was there suggested that I could make the Old Bastard my "signature" wine. I should be so lucky.

I always wonder how the wines I pick up at the Festival are going to taste when I get them home. Luckily, it's not too often that I open a bottle at home and wonder what the heck I was thinking at the Festival. There was no such concern here. The Stonehorse remained a good sip - always a good sign.

Now I guess we just need to do some drinking to free up some more space for more purchases.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Rex Hill Pinot to Remember

Well, now that the Canucks have been knocked out of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, my evening TV viewing will certainly be freed up in the weeks to come. Looks like we'll probably move out of the BC Syrah for a bit seeing as how I made Syrah the theme wine for the Canuck/Flames series.

Now that I'm into the final 100 wines of this Wine Odyssey, I'm hoping to open a few bottles that we've been hiding away for awhile. Filling the glass with some Willamette Pinot seemed to be as good a place as any.

Our Vancouver market doesn't see a whole lot of Oregon wine available on general release at the government liquor stores. There might be a few wines in the specialty shops but I think you pretty much have to visit the private wine shops to find much in the way of selection and even those shops will likely have only a limited number of bottles to choose from. It's a shame given the proximity of Oregon to BC.

That being said, it's not too surprising that I don't have much of a grasp of Oregon wines. In light of that limited knowledge, it was an exciting time when I had a brief exposure to the region while attending the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference that was held in Portland. One of my favourite memories of WBC12 was our visit to the Willamette Valley. Conference attendees were asked to jump onto a bus not knowing what their destination would be. Turns out that I made a great choice - our bus ended up at Rex Hill winery where they teamed up with an assortment of their neighbours for a vineyard tour, cellar tasting and wine dinner in the winery's garden.

It certainly didn't hurt that, during our dinner at Rex Hill, we were treated to a taste of the 1992 Pinot Noir - poured from a 9-litre Salmanazar bottle. That's a whole case of standard size bottles poured into one.

The afternoon and evening left enough of an impression that I made sure that Rex Hill was one of the half dozen or so wineries that Boo and I visited when we had a chance to spend a day in the Willamette on our California road trip a couple of years later.

I don't think I've ever seen a bottle of Rex Hill for sale in Vancouver; so I'm happy that I was able to pick a couple bottles during those two visits.

1906.  2008 Rex Hill Reserve Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley - Oregon)

The winery website says that 2008 was seen as "one of the finest vintages on record" at Rex Hill - "a vintage defined by the vineyard rather than the weather because each site developed fully to reveal their pedigree." The winery says that the '08 vintage should age gracefully for many years and we can attest to the fact that this bottle still had plenty of life to it. This was definitely a fruit-driven bottling but both Boo and I thought that the integration and complexity of the tannins and bright, dark cherry notes was both explosive and tasty. No doubt, the depth of flavours, in part, resulted from the fact that the Reserve Pinot is a blending of the winery's finest barrels from a variety of vineyards and blocks.

The estate vineyard, itself, is dry framed, using biodynamic farming practices. You can argue how big a part this decision may have played in the wine's profile but, in my mind at least, the dry farming should definitely result in reduced yields of more expressive grapes. Rex Hill was only established in 1982 and it saw a change in ownership in 2007 but the winery has concentrated on premium Pinot Noir since day one, with a small production of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. During my WBC12 visit, we were told that they produce around 10,000 cases - as opposed to 100,000 - and they strive to make the best use of the land while revitalizing and enhancing that soil with products and by-products that come from the same lands.

For me, this is New World Pinot at its best - and the wine's a worthy addition to the Odyssey's last choices for The List.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Knocked Out By A Bunch of Flamers

As our Aussie buddy, Merlot Boy, was quick to point out, "the Canucks got knocked out by a bunch of Flamers."

2006 Burrowing Owl Syrah (Okanagan Valley VQA)

No wine in the glass. No number for The List. No more Canucks hockey this year. It was just that kind of a game.

The shot for the blog was actually taken the morning after - seeing as how the morning paper's headline had already announcing the demise of the Canucks' season - hence no wine in the glass. You may rest assured, however, that we finished off the bottle. Just like the Flames finished off the Canucks with a 7-4 score in the game and a 4-2 series win in the best-of-7 playoff round.

The bottle doesn't get a number on The List simply because I couldn't have been paying much attention as I grabbed the bottle because we just drank the '06 Burrowing Owl Syrah last week and added it to The List at #1899. There actually is a bit of a story but I suppose it all comes back to small print on the labels and the fact that I'm getting older and the eyes don't do so well with that small print. I thought I'd grabbed the '05 when we started off the series. Silly me.

I think that, come this Fall, we're going to be hearing much the same story about the Canucks - that they're just getting too old and that they can't be as competitive as they were four and five years ago. At least, this Syrah still had some legs to it. My Delectable note said "Brilliant, fruit-filled nose upon opening (but sadly, it diminished over time). Still exhibited nice body and integrated structure (more than the Canucks did while I was watching the game). "

Obviously, we were all hoping that the Canucks would take the series and have a nice long run into the playoffs. I was already lining the BC Rieslings for the second round.

Heavy sigh.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Winning Wine. Winning Game.

I kind of doubt that tonight's choice in wine had anything to do with the Canucks' performance, but we were in awe of this wine and the Canucks were pretty awesome themselves on the ice.

1905.  2003 Sandhill - Phantom Creek Vineyard Syrah (Okanagan Valley VQA)

At the time I grabbed this bottle, I knew it was a Lt. Governor's Award winner but I didn't know that the '03 Small Lots Syrah was not only the Syrah/Shiraz of the Year at the 2005 Canadian Wine Awards but it was also named Red Wine of the Year at the same competition. Quite the pedigree. Winemaker - and all around good guy - Howard Soon, thought that the 2003 would be a great follow-up vintage to the equally decorated 2002 Small Lots Syrah and boy was he bang on the money.

We were very pleasantly surprised at the longevity of this Syrah. Despite being fully caught up in a very entertaining hockey game, I made a small note on the wine on Delectable and it read, "In awe that this '03 has such staying power. Nose. Fruit. Ripe tannin. Acidity. Length. Yowzah!" I don't make nearly as many notes as I should with the wines we drink but this one was about as glowing as I get. I also guess that, at least on this occasion, my palate agreed with some judges at a couple big competitions involving BC wines. That's not necessarily always the case.

Unfortunately, there were only 248 cases of this Syrah made - and this was our last bottle. When Howard called this a "Small Lots" wine, he wasn't joking.

Finishing the last sips from Boo's and my glasses was a sad event. At least the Canucks played their best game of the series so far and managed a win over the Flames. So, we weren't left crying into our empty glasses. Our boys are still behind the 8-ball as far as the series goes and they still can't lose a game, but they do live to fight another day and we get to open at least one more BC Syrah.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Yikes - Some Things Are Easier to Swallow

Another Canucks/Flames playoff game, another BC Syrah.

It's Game 4 of the series and our Canucks haven't exactly been taking it to the upstart Flames. Game 4 is going to be rather pivotal and the Canucks were heading into the game down two games to one.

Unfortunately, the wine was far better than the game.

1904.  2009 Le Vieux Pin Syrah (Okangan Valley VQA)

If memory serves, I picked up a couple bottles of this '09 vintage after a BC Wine Appreciation Society tasting with Le Vieux Pin and its sister winery, La Stella. Indeed, I see that fellow BCWAS'er and fellow blogger, Russel Ball, wrote about that tasting and his Adventures in BC Wine post confirmed our tasting of the this Syrah. The wine wowed us then and it continued to work its magic now.

It was gratifying to see that the bit of ageing we'd given the bottle hadn't hurt it at all. It remained a big bodied wine with lots of fruit and a wonderfully long finish. I only wish that this description was just as applicable to the Canucks (but that wasn't the case tonight). This was only the second vintage of Syrah produced by Le Vieux Pin. So, I'm looking forward to seeing if the wines can get any better as the vines mature.

I'd also recalled the story that Russel recounted where the the winery's general manager, Rasoul Salehi, proudly advised us that this wine was breaking ground for them in Europe and how a Michelin-starred restaurant on the continent was selling this wine at €35 a glass. Pretty crazy seeing as how that's probably more than the full bottle went for over here. Not sure that I could afford a full bottle at those restaurant prices though. It would have to be a major treat - much like tickets to an actual Canucks game.

As mentioned, the wine was much better than the game. The Canucks lost the game by a 4-1 score and now their backs are against the wall. If they lose one more game to the Flames, their season is over - and I'm hardly ready for that given all the wines, Syrah and otherwise, that I have to open.

Here's hoping.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Wine Wins & Hockey Losses

It's Game 3 between the Canucks and the Flames. So, that means it's also time for another BC Syrah - my grape of choice for this first round NHL playoff series. We were on our own tonight. No guests watching the game with us, trying to cheer on our squad. So, only one bottle to add to The List.

1903.  2008 Quinta Ferreira Syrah (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I was hoping that pulling a wine that won one of the 2011 Lt. Gov's Awards for Excellence in Wine would be worthy of showing some support to the Canucks - and, if nothing else, my hope was that it would be tasty enough to make us forget how the game was going (because even though I'm hopeful for the team, I'm not betting the farm on this year's Canucks and their playoff start so far).

Unfortunately, it turned out that the wine was better than the hockey game.

The night's Syrah jumped out of the glass with a bright, bold bouquet and it had a whack of dark fruit on the palate. It almost seemed too big for an Okanagan Syrah. I only wish that the Canucks had come out on the ice with as much gusto. Calgary won the game 4-2 and, once again, our boys just didn't have the polish or finish to put away the Flames.

I'm likely drawing too much of an inference and reaching a tad to far for a relation between the game and the wine but we also found that the Syrah's finish was a bit out of sorts with the rest of the wine's profile. The acidity on the finish was just a bit out of balance - not enough to detract from the overall enjoyment of the wine but still enough to liken it to the Canucks' out of sorts finish.

Maybe I need to pre-taste the wine before the start of the next game in the series. After all, I wouldn't want to upset the cosmic balance of wine and hockey outcomes.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

(Benjamin) Bridging the Country

Now that I'm into the last 100 bottles before I hit the blog's stated goal of 2001, I'm hoping to open a healthier proportion of nicer bottles than we usually would - particularly during the middle of the week when it's just dinner at home. I figure this is a great place to start because I've been waiting close to a couple of years just to get my hands on a bottle of tonight's wine, let alone get to knock it back.

I don't think I would have known about the wine or the winery had we not, by happenstance, been sharing a table at an Australian Wine Appreciation Society winery dinner with Matt Lane - also known as @champagnelane on his Twitter handle.  I published a post about that dinner - an AWAS tribute to Peter Lehmann after he passed away - but what I didn't say in that post is that Matt has a passion for bubbly, particularly Champagne, and he advised us that he thought Benjamin Bridge - hailing out of all places, Nova Scotia - produced sparkling wines that rivalled some of the best of France.

Now, Boo and I had taken a quick "guided" tour of three or four wineries in the Gaspereau region of Nova Scotia when we visited Halifax in 2008 but I don't recall anyone mentioning Benjamin Bridge at all. And, heaven forbid that Nova Scotian wines would ever make it all the way across the country to be listed for sale in BC. When I saw a notice saying that some of the winery's Brut had actually made its way to BC liquor stores, I ran out to grab a couple of bottles.

Tonight we got to pop the cork.

1902.  2009 Benjamin Bridge Brut (Nova Scotia)

The winery saw its naissance around the turn of the last century. In 1999, the 60 acres that makes us the winery lands were purchased and, in the following years, the lands were cleared and studied and the first blocks of vines were planted. The winery's website explains that those studies determined that the Gaspereau is "one of the rare grape-growing regions with a growing season remarkable similar to Champagne. The valley's geography and cool climate foster extremely low natural cropping levels - leading to a precious, expensive yield of grapes with rich flavours, texture and length."

The inaugural release of a Benjamin Bridge sparkling wine was in 2004 and the production of and praise of the wine has been building ever since. The Brut is made in the traditional méthode classique; however, the fruit going into the wine are largely foreign to growers in Champagne. While a quarter of the grapes are Chardonnay, and therefore traditional to Champagne, the balance is made up of two grapes commonly grown in the Gaspereau: L'Acadie Blanc (57%) and Seyval Blanc (18%) and, although you may have never heard of them, both grapes merit reference in Jancis Robinson's tome, Wine Grapes.

The wine is aged three years on its lees, resulting in a richness on the palate. We were surprised by the surprisingly bright citrus notes though. The wine was full of tart grapefruit and lime. It could have been a sipper on its own and it was a good contrast to some rich halibut cheeks but I think it was at its best paired with some soft cheeses that we brought out for dessert. Personally, I would have loved a little more mouthfeel from an amplified mousse but I'm thrilled to have had a chance to try such an up and comer.

An added bonus is that I get to add both the L'Acadie Blanc and Seyval Blanc grapes to my Wine Century Club tally - although I'm somewhat surprised by that as I know we've had both grapes previously. I suppose it must have been before I started keeping track on this blog. This brings me up to 178. Who knows, maybe I can hit 200 and a doppel membership before I reach my goal on this blog.

Can it be any wonder why I so love this Odyssey of trying wines of all types from all regions? Here's a renowned bubbly from a tiny little region in Atlantic Canada and I get two "new" grape varieties to boot. I hope to keep 'em coming is all I can say.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Landmarks, Playoffs & the Final Stretch

I suppose it's only fitting that I should hit another landmark number on The List during this latest Canucks playoff run. Of course, regular readers know that the premise behind this blog is to drink 2001 unique wines and tell some of the tales behind the wine or behind the occasion at which they were consumed - and by whom.

Well, we're hitting the last century mark before reaching those magical final numbers. Hitting numbers 1900 and 1901 tonight means that there's only another hundred bottles to go. I think that qualifies as a "final stretch."

Our own playoff run, if you will.

Knowing that tonight was a big one for both the Canucks and the blog, Boo and I asked Shelback and Chewbacca to come over and watch the second Canucks - Flames game. And, of course, to knock back a little BC Shiraz seeing as how that's the blog's wine theme for this playoff series.

Much to everyone's dismay, the Canucks suffered a last minute loss in the first game. So, both the girls and I brought out some heavy hitters for tonight's game. Chewbacca also brought along her blow-up Johnny Canuck punching bag. That way, if we didn't like either the wine or the way the game was progressing, we could take our frustrations on something other than each other.

1900.  2009 Orofino Syrah (Similkameen Valley)

1901.  2011 Black Hills Syrah (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Orofino is one of my favourite wineries in the province and, of course, Black Hills is the winery behind Nota Bene, one of the most iconic wines produced in the Okanagan. I wouldn't go so far as to say the Syrah is the best known focus or even the varietal that either winery wants to hang its hat on but you can pretty well bet that any wine from either winery is going to be a well-made, good sip.

Luckily, the wines lived up to their billing and - even more so to our liking - the Canucks put together a far more convincing game against Calgary. It was a 4-1 win for the Canucks over the Flames and the series is back to being tied - at one game apiece.

The problem (if you want to call it that) was that we were so caught up in the excitement of the game that we neglected to make any tasting notes or take any other pictures of the wine or the evening. We did take a quick straw poll of the four us though and the Orofino was a consensus favourite over the Black Hills. Naturally, that order could change on any given evening or given different vintages - particularly if we were tasting similar vintages. The '09 vintage was warmer than the '11 in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. So, it could make a lot of sense that the '09 was the bigger wine with more fruit on it.

I'm simply glad that we had the chance to try both wines, that the Canucks won and, of course, that I'm now into the final 100 wines on this little wine Odyssey. The big goal is in sight. See you at Game 3.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A New Series of Playoff Wines

With all of the changes and upheaval happening last year, I'm not so sure that I expected to see the Canucks make the playoffs this time around but here they are and they actually made it in fine fashion. I know it's early, but hopes are pretty high that our boys could even make a bit of a run of it.

For the first so many years of this blog, I had a bit of tradition of picking a BC winery and opening one of their bottles during each of the Canucks' games when possible. The team didn't make the playoffs last year and Boo and I were vacation both of the two previous years that the Canucks made the playoffs. So, the tradition has fallen a bit out of sync.

But the boys are back in the playoffs this year and I'm ready to roll. I've decided on a slightly different twist this year around. Instead of featuring wines from only one winery during each series, I'm going with a different varietal for each series that the Canucks make it to. Seeing as how there have been a whack of awards given to and heads turned by Okanagan Syrah/Shiraz lately, I figure this is a great place to start.

1899.  2006 Burrowing Owl Syrah (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Much like your team entering into the playoffs, you never really know what you're going to get when you open a bottle that's got a bit of age on it. The jury is still out on the ageability of BC wines; so, for an '06, we were off to an excellent start with this bottle. There was a brilliant, fruit-filled nose and the wine was still exhibiting nice body and an integrated structure - not all that bad as descriptors for a hockey team as well.

To add to this good start, the Canucks were up 1-0 over the Calgary Flames after two periods.

Unfortunately, the nose started to diminish the longer the bottle was open even though the wine was still intact. More unfortunate, however, was the fact that the Flames tied up the game in the third period and it appeared that we'd all be heading off to overtime when the Canucks gave the Flames a second goal and the win with less than a minute left in the period.

The loss on the ice left a far more sour taste in my mouth than the Burrowing Owl did but we'll have another Syrah in our glass come the start of Game 2.

Here's hoping that I'll be adding a lot of hockey-related wines over the next couple of months.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Getty a Little Giggy (of is that "Jiggy?")

1898.  2006 M. Chapoutier Gigondas (Gigondas AOC - Rhône - France)

As much as I like the Rhône as a wine region in France (not that I've ever been there - but there's always hope), I don't drink Rhône wines as much as I might like to. Given that, maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised at how big and fruit forward this Grenache-dominant Gigondas was. If I hadn't opened the bottle myself, I could have easily been convinced that this was a big Aussie GSM (Grenache/Shiraz/Mouvèdre).

The exuberant extraction that's evident on the wine, with the pleasantly big nose and the dark fruit on the palate, makes me think that this is a wine made more in a modern style than one that strives for the nuances of terroir. I'm not going to complain though. I like a good whack of fruit in my glass.

Stylistically, Gigondas wines - and appellation requirements - are often compared to the near-by Châteaueuf-du-Pape region. The prices can be far more accommodating though - and who's going to disagree with that?

The M. Chapoutier website tells a brief little story about winemaking in the village of Gigondas - stating that the village was a winemaking area "up until the arrival of the phylloxera epidemic at the end of the 20th Century. As a consequence of the disaster, Gigondas chose to turn towards olive growing. However, following the "Black Frosts" of 1956 which destroyed the greater part of its olive trees, Gigondas reverted to winegrowing," replanting the region with high quality vineyards. Even with the new outlook, it took 15 years before Gigondas was granted appellation status separate from the Côtes du Rhône Villages designation.

I'd never heard of the "Black Frosts" before. So, that was kind of neat to read. Guess it just goes to show that there are more wine stories out there than you can imagine - but discovering some of those stories is one of the main reasons behind this Wine Odyssey of mine. I say, "bring it on."

Sunday, April 12, 2015

One Season Winds Up & Another Starts

Our curling league had its annual wind-up party and BBQ to close out the season that was. Our team didn't exactly burn up the league in the standings or the playoffs but I'm happy to say that we did win for Best Team Name - which is obviously one of the most coveted awards in our league. This is a gay curling league after all - and names and team uniforms count.

Teams names were chock full of puns and double entendres. So, we were happy boys to hear our name called out. The other teams nominated were:

- The Curldashians
- C.U.R.L.R (a spin on the hook-up app G.R.N.D.R.)
- Asstrogliderz
- Summoning Dorby Nordby (in honour of the Norwegian player of yore)
- Grab YOUR Stick (Let's Measure) (curlers will understand the measuring stick)

Our name, you ask? Fifty Sheets of Gay - our little homage to the ever-so-topical book/movie and to the curling "sheets" that our league plays on. (The name doesn't need any explanation when playing in a gay league.)

1896.  2013 Rosemount Estate Bottled Shiraz (Australia)

The party was held in one of the Davie Street bars - where beer and hard liquor are obviously more popular than wine because this was the ONLY red wine they had. The wine was a fruit forward (appropriate for our crowd I suppose) and an easy sip for the occasion.

We didn't close down the bar, however, because we wanted to get home in time to watch the debut of new season of Game of Thrones.

I'd pulled out the Jon Snow POP! figure that I'd picked up for the event - because it is a true event in our household - and set it on the mantlepiece below the flat screen. Surprisingly, I had to prompt Boo a bit before he picked up on it. I would have guessed that he'd notice one of his favourite characters much sooner than he did. Perhaps he was more excited about seeing the live-action Jon Snow after all these months than he could ever be about some little vinyl toy.

Ah, he knows nothing.

1897.  2010 Wild Goose Black Brant (375ml) (Okanagan Valley)

Given the dark nature of GoT (and the fact that we'd already eaten and polished off the bottle of Shiraz), I grabbed the half bottle of Black Brant to accompany some cheese. Black Brant is a port-style wine that is made from Maréchal Foch grapes and is named after the Black Brant goose that stops in BC during its migration between Mexico and Alaska.

I'd be willing to bet that you won't find a Portuguese Port that contains any Maréchal Foch in it. Then again, you don't find many of the standard Portuguese grapes grown in the Okanagan - if any. The wine is still made in the traditional manner, however, where the ripe grapes are vinified but the fermentation is arrested while the while there is still noticeable residual sweetness on the juice. The wine is then fortified by adding brandy or grain alcohol.

I searched a little but couldn't find out what the folks at Wild Goose fortified the Black Brant with. I do like asking because the answers go all over the map and some of the more recent BC wineries have been adding some rather unique spirits.

I'm a sucker for fortified wines. So, this was a marvellous end to a good day. A chance to celebrate a winning season (of sorts) on the ice. A new season of a favourite show. And another two wines added to The List.

A Signature A Tad Past Its Prime

1895.  2011 Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc (Okanagan Valley)

Barbara Phillip, Western Canada's first Master of Wine and the country's first female MW, may sing the praises of Pinot Blanc as a potential grape variety for the Okanagan Valley to champion and take to a world level. I, on the whole however, generally liken Pinot Blanc to Pinot Bland - definitely more so than seeing it as being the varietal wine that's going to put BC on the world wine map.

That being said, Blue Mountain has been producing its Pinot Blanc for many a vintage and its version is bound to be one of the Pinot Blancs that has Barb singing the variety's praises. Unfortunately, I think we might have held onto this bottle a little too long though. I obviously thought it was tasty enough to buy a bottle while visiting the winery but both Boo and I found tonight's glasses to be a bit past their prime. There was no real fruit to speak of on either the nose or the palate and, for me, that seems to be a necessity if Pinot Blanc were ever to be a signature BC varietal wine.


Didn't stop us from finishing the bottle though. Funny that.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Birthday Treats at the Pear Tree

I was a happy Birthday Bob when Boo announced that we were heading off to the Pear Tree for dinner to celebrate yet another year having gone by. We shouldn't need an excuse to visit Scott and Stephanie Jaeger and what's likely our favourite restaurant in Vancouver but our waistlines couldn't handle eating this well all the time (even if I'd make some sacrifices wallet-wise to do so).

From scallops with English pea and bacon risotto through a surprise foie gras and brioche course to perfect beef and a birthday crème brûlee, every bite was masterful.

For a smaller restaurant, the Pear Tree has a fairly extensive wine list but, given the occasion, Boo and I brought along a treat from our own cellar.

1894.  2003 Penfolds RWT Shiraz - Bottle No. 38520 (Barossa Valley - Australia)

Seen by many as a baby brother to Penfold's flagship Grange, I'm just going to quote the winery's website to describe their take on this beauty: "Penfolds RWT Shiraz presents an admirable alternative to the multi-regional sourcing and American oak maturation that are hallmarks of Grange, expressing instead, single-region Barossa Valley Shiraz matured only in French oak. The initials RWT stand for 'Red Winemaking Trial,' the name given to the project internally when developmental work began in  1995. Naturally, now no longer a 'Trial,' RWT Shiraz was launched in May 2000 with the 1997 vintage. Its style is opulent and fleshy, contrasting with Grange, which is more muscular and assertive. RWT is made from fruit primarily selected for its aromatic qualities and fine texture rather than sheer intensity or power of flavour. The result is a wine that helps to redefine Barossa Shiraz at the highest quality level."

The wine was as rich as we'd expected it to be and it was restaurant co-owner and front of house wiz, Stephanie, who reminded us what an apt choice the bottle was since we'd celebrated my 50th at the restaurant as well and, on that occasion, Tyrant had brought along a bottle of Grange. To this day, that bottle of Grange remains one of my most memorable sips. That birthday was little bit before I started this Wine Odyssey, however, so the bottle never made it to The List. I'm thinking that, with little over 100 bottles to go before I hit my goal, this is the closest I'll get to knocking back a bottle of Grange before I hit the "finish line."

I might be able to accept that realization but I also see that the current vintage of RWT is up to $140 a bottle at the BC government stores. Maybe I should be dropping some hints as to future birthday presents because I'm certainly game to keep eating and drinking like this on all my birthdays (and any other days for that matter).

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Melmo Does (Book of) Mormon

Our evening on the town may have been late by many a month but our big night out to celebrate my youngest niece, Melmo's, 16th birthday finally arrived. Melmo's passion in school is theatre. So, I figured tickets to the touring company's production of The Book of Mormon would be right up her alley.

And, boy, was it!

Of course, it didn't hurt that I've been dying to see the show for years as well.

Melmo's present included dinner out as well and she chose (wisely, I might add) to partake in some designer, Neapolitan pizza at one of our favourite hangouts - Via Tevere. To augment our festivities, I brought along a celebratory Chianti - not that Melmo partook in that. She was, however, particularly pleased that the waitress asked if she'd be joining us in a glass of wine. What 16 year old doesn't like to think that she or he might be able to pass for the legal drinking age.

1893.  2001 Castello di Monsanto - Il Poggio (Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG - Tuscany - Italy)

I can't say that I knew much about Castello di Monsanto but this bottle somehow made it into our cellar - and I gathered it was on the higher end of Chianti. Little did I know that the winery "is widely considered one of the top dozen Chianti Classico estates of today" according to a number of sites online. Rather than recite information that others have researched far more extensively than I have, I'll just set up a link to an article where noted reviewer of Italian wines, Antonio Galloni, recounts some of the winery's history.

Il Poggio is Castello di Monsanto's flagship wine and, as a classic Chianti, it is predominantly made from the Sangiovese grape. The Sangiovese, however, is blended - to a small extent - with two other local grapes that are permitted to be added to Chianti wines: Canaiolo and Colorino. I've never been the biggest fan of Chianti - maybe because the lower end bottlings that tend to proliferate in our market don't tend to turn my crank - but this was definitely a bigger, earthier and more intense version than I'm used to. With my predilection for robust fruit, I still don't think this would be my go to wine for higher end Italian fare but it was a nice addition to our special evening.

There was no question or hesitation about our enjoyment of The Book of Mormon though. Melmo, Boo and I all laughed uproariously and thoroughly loved the musical. Of course, I shouldn't have expected anything less considering the sacrilegious content came from the warped minds behind South Park. Funnily enough, we ran into Baby Mama and Nature Boy at the theatre and they were equally enthralled with the show. I wish the show hadn't taken so long to finally arrive in Vancouver but I can't wait for it to come back again.

In retrospect, I suppose it would have been better for me to know what that "Hasa Diga Eebowai" t-shirt I bought for Melmo meant before I added it to her birthday present. At least I could say though, after learning of its F-bomb connotations during the show, that it was a joyful tune.

Chianti Classico, gourmet pizza and Broadway. Pretty darned decent, if I do say so myself.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

On the Road 13 Again

1892.  2007 Road 13 Pinot Noir (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I'm going to admit that I was pleasantly surprised that this Road 13 tasted as fresh as it did for a 2007 bottle - particularly since it had such a heady bouquet of bright and ripe fruit. The balance of flavours of the palate was equally enjoyable. All in all, we were happy boys finishing off this beauty.

Thinking back, I probably shouldn't have been as surprised as I was. In its younger days, Road 13 used to be known as Golden Mile winery (before they graciously gave up the name so that the region could use "Golden Mile" as the regional trade name and, ultimately, BC's first sub-appellation). I remember being introduced to Golden Mile (and the "questionable" purple and gold-ish yellow labels featuring the castle) and its Pinot. It had a price point to knock your socks off (I think it was $13) and it was about as close to a "house" wine that I had when you could find it.

A change in branding, ownership, price increases and the proliferation of new wineries and products from the Okanagan has meant that I haven't tried nearly as many of their Pinot Noirs in recent years. If all of the vintages have been as tasty as this, I've been missing out and need to start picking up some more to throw in the cellar.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Bunny Shades and Bubbles

Time for another family Easter dinner at my sister, Vixen's. She said that this year's was to be lower key and not as stress filled. That could only be less stress on the cooking and hosting side because there's no avoiding the inevitable stress that permeates Easter dinner with our family. After all, Easter dinner means making the cherished paper plate Easter bonnet. Never meant to be a competition, but you just know that the trash talk will be flying and that there's going to be judgment and ridicule to spare if your bonnet is anything less than spectacular.

To encourage greater ingenuity and cachet with our bonnets, everyone is allowed to bring along one embellishment - a little something to give you some added "Je ne sais quoi." I figured I'd snagged a real winner this year when I found a pair a bunny sunglasses. And, then, I had to let out a big, old "You Bitch!" when Vixen pulled out virtually the same glasses. So much for my unique extravagance and spectacular one-upmanship.

Good thing there was some wine to soothe my rattled nerves.

1889.  N.V. Stoneboat Faux Pas Rosé Brut (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I thought that I'd bring along a bottle of bubbly to help with the celebrations. Plus, Stargirl, my oldest niece, is starting to take a liking to wine and I thought a Rosé Brut would be a good fit for her, especially since this bottle is fashioned to be a bit of a BC Prosecco. The Faux Pas Brut Rosé is a fairly new companion bubble to Stoneboat's popular Piano Brut. Made in the Charmat Méthode, the winery website states that this classic method "is an ideal process for natural carbonation while preserving more youthful freshness and aromatics of the finished wine."

If the Faux Pas proves to be as popular as Piano, I'm sure the winery will be hoping to produce more than the 250 cases they managed with this vintage. This bottle went quickly enough with our gang.

1890.  2012 River Stone Pinot Gris (Okanagan Valley VQA)

River Stone is a small family owned winery that I ran across (literally) during last year's Half Corked Half in the Oliver-Osoyoos region. I think it's the northern-most winery on the Black Sage Bench, a little south of McIntyre Bluff and just north of Oliver. They were one of the wineries that had a "water" (read "wine") station along the route.

The Pinot Gris is one of two whites produced by River Stone (the other being a Gewürztraminer). The winery name alludes to the primary nature of the vineyard's soil and it certainly seems to lead to a more prominent minerality to the wine than is often found with BC Pinot Gris.

Thankfully, all the wine helps the imagination flow for our Easter Bonnet designs. Everyone is then expected to parade their bonnet at the start of dinner and, as Vixen delivered the evening's carrots in her finished bonnet, she was as proud as a peacock. Although I don't exactly see a paper plate incorporated into that bonnet. Looks like a disqualifying factor to me.

1891.  2009 Bodega Castillo de Maluenda - Punto Y Coma Garnacha Viñas Viejas (D.O. Calatayud - Spain)

Our last wine of the night was a big, fruit laden Grenache. It was probably a bit much for our dinner of ham but, as is often the case with Spanish Garnacha - full bodied or not - the wine can be sipped along all on its own.

Punto y Coma is one of the brands that produced by the Bodegas y Viñedos del Jalón, a large collaboration of three wineries that joined, in 1999, together to further "develop the grape growing, wine production and commercialization" of wines for 34 of the 67 municipalities forming the Calatayud region. It would seem to be working for them seeing as how their wines have made it all the way to our little Canadian Easter Bonnet Parade.

And, the way I see it, the more wine that makes it the better because not only do all the bonnets look better after wine but you can always drink more if you need to assuage your wounded pride if your bonnet isn't as well-received as it so rightly deserves to be.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Wrath of Bill

Since Boo and I were grilling up a big-ass steak tonight for dinner, I thought why not splurge and go all out with a big-ass bottle that I've been dying to pull the cork on. This baby's "big-assed" not only in its profile but in its story as well and it's likely one of those "once-in-a-lifetime" wines.

My last entry's Cab was from an iconoclast from south of the 49th Parallel. Tonight's wine is a Cab as well but it hails from one of the most colourful characters that the Okanagan Valley has to serve up: Bill Eggert. (As a bit of a side note, Bill even produces a wine that he calls Iconoclast.)

Bill - and his winery Fairview Cellars - was one of the eight wineries that I featured in posts leading up to the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference that was about to be held in Penticton. In that post, I mentioned that I would dearly loved to have opened a bottle of The Wrath Cab Sauv" but that it still had some ageing to do. Well, I've held off this long but I bumped into Bill at a recent BC wine tasting and he said that The Wrath was drinking beautifully right now.

I'm happy to report that his assessment was bang on.

More than a few local wine personalities have publicly stated that they don't feel the thick-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon grape can fully ripen on a consistent basis in the cool climate Okanagan. Bill begs to differ. He figures he grows as much Cab Sauv, if not more, as anyone in the valley and he finds that his Cab Sauv ripens more consistently than his Cab Franc - the grape variety touted as BC's answer to Cab Sauv simply because it's generally seen as an earlier ripener. A few years back, Bill told our BC Wine Appreciation Society Bus Tour that he prefers to listen to the vines rather than wine writers.

1888.  2009 Fairview Cellars - The Wrath (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I mentioned that this is likely a "once-in-a-lifetime" bottle - not because it's 100-point Premiére Cru Bordeaux that you could only afford to taste on a single occasion. Rather, it's because this is a one-off release that Bill and Fairview will likely never be able to replicate as much as he might like to produce it every year in ever-growing numbers.

The name of this wine is a tip of the hat to James Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" - partially to capture the hardship that Bill endured in preparing the vineyard for his Cab vines but perhaps even more so to commemorate the particular weather conditions that prevailed just prior to harvest time. A little "wrath of God" if you will. If I remember the story correctly, Bill had been nurturing a new vineyard for five years and 2009 was to be the first year that the vines would produce wine-worthy grapes. For Bill and the Okanagan, he finds that September makes or breaks the vintage. Lo and behold, as the 2009 vintage was just hitting stride and after one of the most outstanding growing seasons the region had experienced, pockets of the Okanagan were hit with a lightning and hail storm that nearly wiped out the entire season's fruit. The vineyard that Bill had worked so hard on and where the fruit for this wine originates was one of the hardest hit.

Following an assessment of the vines after the storm, Bill was left with the conclusion that the grapes had generally been destroyed. However, rather than seeing all the fruit rot from the broken skins, the heat that came after the storm fortuitously dried out the damaged grapes and Bill was left with enough of a crop to make 250 cases of an almost Amarone-like Cab.

Rich, balanced and full flavoured, this was a wine that I could drink as my house wine every day. We squeezed the bottle for every last drop and, surprisingly (for me when it comes to Cab Sauv), the sip was every bit as tasty on its own as it was with the steak.

Due to the production difficulties and the limited release, The Wrath started out at $65 - a hefty sum for an Okanagan wine. In comparison to other wines that fall into that "one-in-a-lifetime" category, I suppose it was a bargain. I heard Bill tell that he has a few cases of the wine left for library release but that they now retail at $100 a bottle. My $65 bottle was a bargain indeed.  If only I'd picked up a whole case.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Chateau Smith

1887.  2008 Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley - Washington State)

Considering Washington state is a short hop across the 49th Parallel, I really don't know much about Washington wines. If Canadian wine duties and travel restrictions (two bottles of wine after 48 hours away) weren't so draconian, my consumption rate would likely be a whole lot more extensive. But they are and, therefore, I'm not. So, I'm limited to the bottles that we might run across occasionally on our travels - some of which I actually know and have tasted and others - like the bottle at hand - that somehow end up in our possession.

I think I know more about Charles Smith as a wild haired iconoclast than I do about him as a winemaker. However, I see that that a prime Mr. Google search claims that Charles Smith "first started K Vintners (in 1999), then the Magnificent Wine Company and now he has the eponymous Charles Smith label, which is dedicated to making wines that pack a punch now, rather than wines that need cellaring to be enjoyed." He's been named Winemaker of the Year by various magazines and Wine & Spirits magazine named K Vintners one of the Best New Wineries of the Last Ten Years and even Winery of the Year in 2008.

I only see a few of his wines up here in Vancouver but I don't think I've seen this Cab. I'm more familiar with his Kung Fu Girl Riesling - most likely because I think the name endears the wine to more than a few of our Asian-influenced restaurants.

The Cab was more to Boo's liking. I found big fruit up front on the initial pour but that the wine rather died out for me as it opened up. For me, it was nicer with dinner than sipping on its own but I don't know that I'd fight to find more of it North of the border.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


I can't say that I know very much about Misconduct Wine. I had heard about them and I may have seen them (and maybe even tried a wine or two) at various Okanagan tastings around town but I'm pretty sure that this is the first bottle that I've ever opened of their's. And, to give credit where credit is due, I picked up this bottle during a quick-as-you-can afternoon tour of the Naramata Bench with Bella Gianna during the Red Rooster Adopt-A-Row pruning weekend. 

Bella Gianna wanted to check out the possibility of holding a murder mystery at Misconduct's tasting room/restaurant because the winery has adopted a Prohibition era theme - evident in the winery's general release, Bootleg series where labels and names - such as Massacre Rosé and the Big Take - evoke the rebellion and misconduct of the times. To be totally frank, the obvious marketing push on the theme likely played a role in my not making a bee-line to winery earlier on. I don't generally associate big themes with quality wines but stopping here was first on Bella Gianna's list. 

1886.  2011 Misconduct - Suspect Series Chenin Blanc Viognier (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Since we were there, it only made sense to try a wine or two and we were told that the Suspect Series is a more premium, smaller production line that the winery releases. I was intrigued by the blend of Chenin Blanc and Viognier - not one that I can recall having seen before, especially for the Okanagan where very little Chenin Blanc is even grown. So, I picked up a bottle even though the tasting room wasn't pouring it that day. I'm glad to say that - for my palate at least - it worked. There was good acidity and body but, given the 30% Viognier found in the blend, I was a tad surprised by the subdued nose. All the same, it paired nicely with Boo's and my carbonara.

The back label contained a wealth of information for wine geeks such as myself. The label broke down the percentage of the blend (70/30), the variety clones, the location of the vineyards (Golden Mile and Naramata benches), elevations, yields and production style (whole cluster, medium press; 18.6C fementation temperature and 100% stainless steel).


I'm thinking I may just have to return to the scene of the crime and do some detective work on a few more of their wines.