Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Chardonnay Even an ABC Drinker Should Love

Tight schedule or not, we made some time for another quick stop on the road home from the Half-Corked Marathon. Driving through the Similkameen Valley is one of my favourite parts of any trip to southern interior of the province and, more often than not, I'll plan for a visit at Orofino.

Tonight's bottle wasn't one that I picked up this time around but it appears that our holding onto the bottle did it absolutely no harm.

1927.  2010 Orofino Chardonnay (Similkameen Valley)

I'm hardly an ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) drinker but I don't pull the cork on many Chardy's - at least not compared to other white wines like Riesling or blends. If all Chardonnays tasted like this one though, I'd be bona fide Chardophile.

The quick note that I made on Delectable went "Whoa, a Chardy to re-pour over and over again. Bottle just up and vanished. Rich, full and luscious."

I don't know that I can add a whole lot more than that. I've waxed eloquently   (or at least tried to) about Orofino many a time on this blog. John and Virginia Weber's take on their place in both the winemaking community - and the general community at large - is refreshing and, inevitably, tasty. From straw bale construction and sustainable practices to single vineyard wines and innovative winemaking approaches, I'm a fan.

I can't say that Orofino's Chardonnay is one that immediately pops into my head when I'm reflecting on their wines. That may have to change though because I definitely want more of this.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Unicus - Something Unique for the Okanagan

Boo and I didn't have a whole lot of time to visit wineries or wander around following yesterday's Half-Corked Marathon. Indeed, Mr. Cool and the Mimster left early in the morning to return back to Vancouver. We had enough time to make a couple stops and one of the wineries foremost on my wishlist was Culmina - the latest foray into BC wine by Don and Elaine Triggs, with their daughter Elaine joining the team this time around.

Part of the Half-Corked course took us alongside the new Culmina winery and vineyards but, unfortunately, except for a quick sip of their Rosé, there was no time for a visit during the race. I'd been lucky enough, however, to visit Culmina a couple of years ago when a small group of us from the BC Wine Appreciation Society met with Don to check out his new digs. Rather than reiterate myself (when I'm so far behind with my writing), I'll just add a link to that post where you can discover some of the inspiration behind the project.

1926.  2014 Culmina Family Estate - Unicus (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Back during that initial visit, one of the more intriguing announcements Don made was that they had planted a section of Grüner Veltliner, the white variety most closely associated with Austrian winemaking. Culmina's planting was the first for the Okanagan Valley but Don thought there was potential for the grape in BC. The winery produced a scant 60 cases of Grüner with its first vintage in 2013 and the team had hoped for a bigger production with the 2014 wine. While the harvest resulted in an increased volume of 285 cases, the winery quickly found out that they're still navigating a learning curve when it comes to the new grape. John Schreiner reported that Don thought they'd make an additional 40% in volume with the second vintage but the heatwave experienced in July throughout the Okanagan toughened and thickened the grape skins, thereby resulting in a troublesome press of the juice.

Access to the reduced volume wasn't helped by the fact that most of the production was earmarked for restaurants in the province. I was fortunate to be able to pick up a bottle at the winery.

That being said, I would never have guessed that the wine in my glass was Grüner Veltliner had I not already known. Not that I'm anything close to a seasoned pro when it comes to the variety. I did find that the acidity went on for days but, if anything, I thought the flavours were more reminiscent of a Sauv Blanc.

That high level of acidity is, no doubt, partly due to the fact that Culmina has planted the vines at a higher elevation than is seen in the lower part of the Okanagan Valley. As you can see, the vineyard is quite a bit higher than the rest of the winery's property - and the rest of the Golden Mile's plantings for that matter.

It will be interesting to see where the wine goes down the road. The 2014 vintage was aged completely in stainless steel casks but the winery is planning to perform a little experiment with the upcoming year's fruit. Don and winemaker, Pascal Madevon, plan to mature the wine in three different vessels - a stainless steel tank, a concrete egg and a concrete amphora. The intent is to age equal amounts of the wine in each of the three containers and see what impact the various vessels might have on the wine.

I'd love to be one of the lucky folks who get to taste the results before any final blending.

That next vintage is some ways off in the distance. In the mean time, I've got another 75 wines to go before I hit the 2001st bottle in my own little odyssey.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Half Corked - Again

For the second year running, Mr. Cool and I have donned our grass skirts, Hawaiian shirts and Nikes to take part in the Half-Corked Half Marathon. Along with a thousand other wine-loving crazies, we arrived at the Hester Creek start line ready for a glorious day of taking in the Golden Mile and Black Sage Bench for what is definitely one of the most celebrated runs in Canada.

We were lucky to be positioned in the first wave of runners because the day was already heating up by the 8 a.m. start time and it was promising to be a hot one. We arrived just in time to act as witnesses for a wedding of two participants. The vows were timed to finish just before the starting gun. So, naturally, there was a toast to the happy couple as we all readied to start them off on their honeymoon.

Nothing like a few first sips of wine before starting a half marathon. It's definitely part of a proven training regime when it comes to this race.

The course winds its way through the southern half of the Okanagan Valley, traversing up and down the rolling terrain (or is that "terroir" given this is wine country?), through grapevines and along service roads. Although incredibly scenic, it's quite the taxing course. No one sets out to run a personal best on this race. Indeed, it quickly became evident that grapes grow best on slopes - a fact that we can all attest to now.

Of course, one of the most appealing aspects of the run is that water stops are regularly scheduled every one or two kilometres as the course passes through or by another winery. And, funny, but for some reason those water stops all featured wine tastings and occasional bites of artisanal foods.

A few highlights of the fifteen water wine stations were Sandra Oldfield and Tinhorn Creek's Sangria party tent, Rustico's western themed BBQ (not that I ate the baked beans as a courtesy to the other runners) and, my personal fave, Stoneboat where they'd MacGyver'ed part of a crusher/de-stemmer to provide a chillingly refreshing shower and offered an icy granita of their Piano bubbly. Admittedly, I added three or four of the granitas to my pineapple water bottle for the next part of the course. Even watered down, it was just so perfect for the occasion.

Unfortunately, I starting having a problem with my left knee shortly after the race began. So, poor Cool, he had to deal with my intermittent run/walk means of tackling the race. Even after the medical tent at Silver Sage tried to jerry-rig a tape job on my knee, it was slow going at best. Cool could easily have finished the race a whole lot sooner than we did but he was good enough to stick it out with me, all the time offering encouragement like, "alright now, I figure that, if we jog it out for a couple hundred metres, there's bound to be another wine stop just around the corner."

It might have been a sad finish to the race but, lo and behold, there was a festival tasting at the end - featuring all the Oliver-Osoyoos Wine Association members that weren't encountered directly on the Half-Corked route. By then, my knee was in pretty bad shape; so, we didn't stick around too long at the race festival - just long enough to watch some Flintstones, I Dream of Jeanie gals and sock puppet monkeys join us at the finish line. As sacrilegious as it might seem, I chose an afternoon nap and a heavy dose of ibuprofen over continued wine tasting.

As soon as the nap was over, we got back to real reason for this Odyssey and added another bottle to The List.

1924.  2012 Intersection Mile's Edge White (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I first ran across Intersection and its intriguing wines at the Vancouver International Wine Festival and The Grape Debate back in the spring. The winery is a relatively new entrant to the BC wine scene - although its principal, Bruce Schmidt, is a definite veteran. As early as the late-1970's, he was a marketing executive with Calona Wines and local writer, John Schreiner, reports that Schmidt is famously known for making Calona's Schloss Laderheim Canada's largest-selling white wine of its time. Schmidt spent the better part of the '80's, 90's and 00's working in other fields but he returned to the Okanagan in 2005 when he purchased an old orchard property and packing house.

Schmidt and team worked on converting the orchard to a vineyard and the packing house into a winery and they started releasing wines in 2010. Unfortunately, the 2008 and 2009 winters were so severe that they lost almost half the vines they'd planted.  After only being able to release a couple hundred cases of wine in those initial years, they finally reached their full production goal of 2500 cases in 2012.

Having been impressed with their offerings at the earlier tastings, Boo, Mr. Cool, Mimster and I stopped in to do a tasting yesterday and we grabbed this bottle as a weekend treat. An unusual blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Viognier, Mile's Edge White was a great afternoon sip on our deck overlooking Lake Osoyoos. Body. Aromatics. Fruit. Acidity. It might not have healed my sore knee but at least it helped dull the pain.

Following our Intersection interlude, we made our way to Tinhorn Creek and Miradoro restaurant. The winery was hosting one of its annual Canadian Concert Series nights and Rich Hope & His Blue Rich Raiders were playing away to a lively crowd in the amphitheatre below. I don't think too many of the revellers had taken part in the Half-Corked. Catchy music or not, there was no chance that I'd be dancing the night away.

2013 Tinhorn Creek Rosé (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I wasn't sure whether it was the 2012 or 2013 vintage that we'd enjoyed recently. Turns out that it was the 2013; so, I don't get to add this vintage a second time to The List. No matter. As the last vintage of Rosé where Sandra Oldfield was at the winemaking helm, it was a welcome addition to the table. It matches with all assortment of dishes and just goes down so darn easy. A welcome thing with this gang.

1925.  2012 Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I couldn't have a dinner in wine country, on such an auspicious day as the Half-Corked, without adding a new bottle of Tinhorn Creek to The List though. So, a second bottle just happened to get ordered. Sandra pioneered the planting of Cab Franc in the Okanagan and her perseverance is now paying off as the variety is seen as being well-suited for the region. Instead of all the Cab Franc forming part of Okanagan Meritage blends, more and more varietal Franc wines are showing up on winery lists and they're deservedly proving to be popular pours.

This is a big, dark-fruited version, well-suited for our richer main courses and for our simple sitting back and enjoyment of the concert.

With luck, the knee will recover quickly and I can think about coming back for next year's Half-Corked. After two years of knee issues, I could use a bit of "third time lucky" coming my way.

For some strange reason, Mr. Cool is all ready to suit up again. Maybe it's the wine.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Half Corked Pasta Party

For the second year running, and that's literally "running", Mr. Cool and I have decided to lace up our runners for the Half Corked Marathon. My long distance running days may be 20 years and 30 fewer pounds ago and a half marathon may no longer be a run in the park for me, but the allure of running through gorgeous Okanagan vineyards and countryside is tough to say "no" to.

Especially when it's one of the hardest entry bibs in BC to nab.

Add to that, the fact that a healthy proportion of the runners are in costume and there are more than a dozen water, er wine, stations along the route, it's a no-brainer.

After the incredible popularity of the first couple of years - when all the spots were selling out in mere minutes - applications to run are now determined by lottery. I don't know the actual numbers but I've heard (from reputable sources, of course) that the odds are only 1-in-10 that a person will get in. When Mr. Cool and I finally wrangled our entry bibs, we were pretty stoked.

Since the run takes place through the Golden Mile and Black Sage Bench regions between Oliver and Osoyoos, Mr. Cool, the Mimster, Boo and I made the drive up from Vancouver and spent a long weekend there. It's become a tradition of the Half Corked Half to hold a pasta carbo-load - AND WINE TASTING - on the night before the race and we cottoned right on to that.

1923.  2014 Church & State Lost Inhibitions White (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Church & State hosted the Primavera dinner at their winery and they greeted us, upon our arrival, with a glass of their Lost Inhibitions White. As such, even though we tasted a great many wines from the various members of the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association, it seems appropriate to add a bottle of Lost Inhibitions to The List.

Lost Inhibitions is a new brand that Church & State has launched this year as it wanted a wine with bigger production numbers and, if nothing else, its array of labels caused a great stir amongst the local wine-buying public - especially since the wines were launched on April Fool's Day. Even though there are only a white blend and a red blend produced under the brand, the winery has started out with 96 different "Lost Inhibitions" labels. The labels are divided into two categories - Prude and Lewd. The Prude labels may be a little more "G-rated" as they were all run by the government liquor board to make sure that they could be stocked but with catchy phrases such as "Shut The Front Door," "You Little Minx" and "Carpe Diem Bitches," they'll still grab your attention.

The Lewd category of labels include such beauties as "You Bet Your Ass I Will," "Hash-Tag This Mother F#cker" and "Polite as Fu*k" and they're expected to be available at the winery itself and in private wine shops that might not be so concerned about consumer reactions. I have to admit that I bought a couple of them on the spot to give away as gifts.

Luckily, the wine in the bottle is tasty enough to get you to reach for another bottle - and perhaps a different label. The white is real "kitchen sink" blend of grape varieties - about one-half of the blend is an equal mix of Gewürztraminer, Sauv Blanc and Chardonnay, another third is Viognier and the balance is made up of Riesling, Orange Muscat and Roussanne. Not exactly a break-down you'll see on many labels or winery websites. I see, however, that a number of Okanagan wineries make unorthodox, mixed-bag blends like this on a fairly regular basis and, surprisingly or not, I tend to find that the resulting wines are often tastier than the same wineries' varietal white wines. I know Church & State more for its reds than its whites; so, I can't really comment on a comparison to the winery's whites but I think, regardless, that they might have hit on a winner with these Lost Inhibitions.

Neither Mr. Cool, nor I, could let loose with our inhibitions too much this night though. We did have our big run coming up in the morning and, tasty wine or not, that called for an early night of it.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Terravista Fandango

Senka Tennant is one of a number of pioneers in bringing about a reputation for sophisticated wines in the Okanagan. When she (along with her husband, Bob, and a couple of business partners) worked on the launching of Black Hills Winery in 1999, she was responsible for the introduction of one of the region's most iconic wines: Nota Bene, the Bordeaux blend that quickly attained cult status and ingrained Senka's name into the minds of BC wine drinkers.

As anyone familiar with BC wines knows, Senka and Bob sold Black Hills to a investment consortium in 2007 and the Tennants took a bit of a breather.

That breather didn't last long, however, the couple purchased new property on the Naramata Bench in 2008. They also decided to blaze a trail with their new project, Terravista, when they were the first in Canada to commercially plant and harvest Albariño and Verdejo - two grapes that are associated more with the northwest of Spain and Portugal than the northern climes of the Naramata Bench.

1922.  2012 Terravista Fandango (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

Senka's penchant for blends was also seen in another of Black Hills' better known wines, Alibi - a white Bordeaux blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The Tennants may not have continued making Bordeaux-styled wines but they have carried on in the direction of blends. They are currently only producing white wines - a Rhône-style blend called Figaro and tonight's bottle, Fandango, a blend of the Albariño and Verdejo grown on their new property. They don't make a lot of either wine either. Local wine writer, John Schreiner, has reported that Senka found the whole expansion and growth of Black Hills to be a bit overwhelming and that she and Bob intend to keep production at Terravista around a 2000 case maximum.

The 2012 is the second bottling of Fandango and it would appear that it can stand up to a bit of ageing because, after a couple of years in the bottle, this is still a fresh and vibrant - not to mention tasty - glass of wine. I'm no expert on either of the two grapes making up this wine, but I'd love to do a comparison tasting of the Terravista and a Spanish and/or Portuguese version.

As of the 2012 vintage, Fandango still couldn't qualify for VQA status - despite its pedigree and the quality of the product. To my knowledge, that still hasn't changed. Neither Albariño, nor Verdejo have been recognized by the provincial wine powers as approved varieties. Until that happens, Fandango will simply have to rely on the fact that its fans know its value - even if it doesn't have an executive stamp of approval.

I'm just glad to see Senka and Bob back in the wine business.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Pinot Found in the Pantry

1921.  2007 Crowley Entre Nous Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley - Oregon)

Tyson Crowley is a New York transplant who relocated to Oregon in 1995 and started working in local wineries - such as Erath and Cameron - and a little farther afield with a vintage in New Zealand. While working as assistant winemaker at Cameron, Crowley made his own first four barrels of Pinot Noir in 2005. The next year, he made six barrels and, in 2007, he decided to branch out on his own after 12 years of learning and working with others. This 2007 vintage is, therefore, his third bottling but his first after setting up his own shop.

Crowley is still a small producer. Even today, the winery only produces about 2500 cases and, to be honest, I don't recall where I picked up this bottle.

This is one of those bottles in our cellar that have just been there for awhile. Seeing as how I don't tend to buy American wines up in Canada (as our taxes - and sometimes our dollar - can make the prices seem prohibitive), my guess is that I picked it up during a short vacation in New York, Seattle or North Carolina. Funny, but a visit to the local wine shops is pretty much a given part of any vacation I'm on. Once there, I generally ask one of the shopkeepers for some suggestions since I don't tend to know any of the wines available.

Not that the bottle's provenance matters at this time, the bottle has a bit of age on it now and, as far as I can tell from other posts and articles online, the '07 Oregon vintage is now drinking better for that additional aging. The vintage was apparently a tougher one and the wines - Pinot Noir in particular - started off rather uninteresting but have been growing in depth over time.

Crowley has a good reputation as being a producer of value wines and that is likely the reason for my taking a recommendation from one of those vacation wineshops. It may still be the vintage but I found the wine to be fairly Old World in its presentation. There was still some New World fruit - particularly cherry notes - but the wine was pretty earthy with a spicy kick on the finish. I'm no expert on Willamette Pinot but I tend to associate a bit more fruit with the limited number of Oregon wines that I've knocked back.

Good thing that profile goes right along with pork sausage and garlic potatoes.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Spot Prawns on the Barbee

There is no doubt that Spot Prawn season is one of my favourite times in Vancouver. Maybe it's because I can throw some "shrimp" on the barbee and tap into my inner-Aussie. In any event, this year's season is upon us and I grabbed my first couple pounds. Turns out that it doesn't take much to convince Elzee that prawns and wine is fine way to spend the evening either - even if she has to put up with Boo and I in order to collect.

1919.  2010 Blue Mountain Brut Rosé (Okanagan Valley)

A favourite entrée - and a favourite drinking buddy - cries out for a favourite tipple as well. Any Blue Mountain bubbly is worth the price of admission but I've always had a special jones for the Brut Rosé - and not just because I could never seem to get my hands on any for the longest time. Blue Mountain has long been one of the pioneers on the BC wine scene and, along with Stellars Jay, they set the bar for the introduction of true bubblies in the region. But since so many of the country's trade and wine writers review this wine, I'll just leave it to them and add the link to Blue Mountain's webpage where they've compiled a few of them.

I would appear that I'm not the only one who enjoys this Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wine made in the traditional Champenoise way.

We'd finished the Rosé long before the shrimp was ready to come off the barbee - despite the fact that it only takes a minute or so to grill these babies. One thing you definitely don't want to do with the succulently sweet spot prawns is overcook them. Or over-season them. A touch of olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper and they're good - or should I say "great" - to go.

The spot prawn season may not be long enough for me to enjoy an endless supply into the summer but I have a feeling that there's going to be a whole lot of Rosé in the months to come - whether it's bubbly or not.

1920.  2013 Tinhorn Creek - 2 Bench Oldfield Series Rosé (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Indeed, we just carried on with a still Rosé and Sandra Oldfield - and the team at Tinhorn Creek's - Rosé is a mighty fine sip to carry on with. This 2013 is the last vintage where Sandra was in full control of the winemaking at Tinhorn. She's since passed those duties on to Andrew Windsor and decided to concentrate on her obligations as President and CEO for the winery. This beauty, however, made from 100% Cab Franc, is a fine "last" effort.

The freshness of the wine paired brilliantly with the spot prawns. There was enough body and red fruit on the palate that it highlighted the sweetness of the prawns and the touch of spice on the finish simply added to the dish.

Spot Prawns, al fresco dining, a wonderful friend and lovely wines. In my book, it doesn't get much better than this. I'll definitely look forward to trying this again with the 2014 vintage.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Staged Farewell

I may have just finished off a Wild & Wacky Wine Week, but I'm not opening tonight's bottle to carry on with that theme. Moscato is anything but wacky. It may well be wild - but that's only as in "wildly" popular.

I'd wanted to bring along a Prosecco for the evening because it was going to be a send-off for one of our neighbours. G-Dub was having everyone over for a last tipple in their place as the house was now all staged for sale and G-Dub was taking off to join up with Sam and the girls in California. The two of them could always be counted on for finding and bringing the newest and latest Prosecco to any of our gatherings in the hood. It seemed appropriate to bring one to their last hurrah...

...Except that it was a last minute event and I didn't have any Prosecco lying around that could make it to The List. Despite the growing popularity of the Italian bubbly, finding new Prosecco's to add to The List can be a tad difficult because the majority of the bottles found in our market are non-vintage and one of my little "rules" for the blog is that I can't add the same vintage of the same wine twice. I figured a Moscato d'Asti could fill in as a close alternative.

1918.  2012 Fontanafredda Le Fronde - Moscato d'Asti (Moscato d'Asti DOCG - Italy)

Don't be deceived by the accompanying photo. This isn't an "orange" wine. Rather, I brought along a bottle of Aperol to make Spritzers - thinking that the Moscato would be semi-dry and maybe even have a bit of bubble to it. As such, it would fill in nicely for a Prosecco. That wasn't the case. The wine was fully dry and didn't really remind me of a fruity Moscato at all but it still worked fine with the Aperol.

For those taking a closer look at the photo, yes, those are olives in the glass. Olives. Wine. If you're wondering if I'm crazy, I wondered the same thing the first time we were served a Spritzer from a bona fide bonne vivante from Venice. Some time back, at another neighbourhood gathering, La Vénitienne brought along the making for Spritzers and she introduced us to the buttery smooth, green olives that she used to garnish the drinks. I take her at her word and I now do the same. I don't really know if she was stringing me a line or not but I could care less because I do love my olives.

I know Boo and I are going to be sad to lose G-Dub and Sam as neighbours but, if we have to look for a silver lining, they did move to San Francisco and we have an open invite to come down and take in a bit of the wine culture down there.

I told them I'd bring the olives.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Big Finish For a Wild & Wacky Week

It would seem that this bottle will our last stop on this Wild & Wacky Wine Week that I had going. It's been quite the ride with introductions to Jacquère, Grechetto, Drupeggio, Malvasia Bianco, Verdello, Mavrud, Teroldego, Callet and Manto Negro but they say "all good things must come to an end" and tonight's grapes will likely be the last stop on this train for awhile.

And where else would you stop to find some offbeat and intriguing grapes but Portugal? With over 250 different indigenous varieties in its vast array of grapes, Portugal is a helluva place to start if you're looking to join the Wine Century Club.

1917.  2011 Niepoort Diálogo - Douro Branco Snow (Portugal)

When I picked up this bottle, I hadn't realized what a find it was on the new grape front. Notes for the wine, however, says that grape varieties used in making the Branco Snow include Rabigato, Côdega do Larinho, Gouveio, Dona Branca, Viosinho, Bical and others. That bodes well for a hefty score on the Wine Century Club tally as I try to complete my second century of grapes. The only thing with some of these more indigenous varieties is that they're often found by more than one name. So, it takes a bit of workout to make my way through Jancis Robinson, et al's, encyclopedic Wine Grapes and check all the various names against my own list.

I'm tickled to say that I get to add another five new varieties. Out of the six grapes listed, I had previously sipped on and added Gouveio under another of its names, Godello. In my books, five for six isn't so bad though.

There wasn't much to find on the five new grapes but Jancis and friends pointed out a few facts that I've latched on to:

• Rabigato - almost exclusively found in the Douro in northern Portugal and is rarely used to make a varietal wine.  Rabigato is favoured for blending particularly because of propensity for high acid levels.

• Côdega do Larinho - primarily noted for intense aromas of tropical fruit but, opposite to the Rabigato, can be rather low in acidity.

• Dona Branca - or "White Lady" in Portuguese - has, confusingly, been used for a number of distinct varieties in Portugal but there is a genetically distinct grape grown under this name in the northern part of the country where it produces "soft, fruity wines without any great distinction."

• Viosinho - is a relatively rare variety. It is also found almost exclusively in the Douro region; however, unlike some of the other grapes mentioned, Viosinho is well thought of as a quality grape that has good potential for quality wines - even so far as to having been referred to as the Portuguese Sauvignon Blanc. The biggest issues limiting that undeveloped potential is that it the grape is known for low yields and for being susceptible to oxidation.

• Bical - is found perhaps a bit more extensively in Portugal as it is recognized in a number of appellations and is known mostly as an aromatic, early-ripening grape.

Being a blend, I can't really comment on the individuality of the different grapes employed. I don't even know if the characteristics of one grape stood out more than another's, but I presume this should be a case of the whole tasting better than any of the component parts. The winery has prepared a great little tech sheet on the wine and it points out that 25% of the wine sees some aging in French oak and that all of the wine - whether aged in oak or stainless steel - has contact with fine lees (or spent yeast cells). I'm inclined to associate oak and lees to fullness in body and to some longevity in the wine's life but I think this one is better drunk when fresh. We just opened the 2011 vintage - and I see that it's still the current vintage in our government stores - but I wouldn't say that I found much in the way of fruit or acidity on the palate.

On the flip-side, the winery tasting notes talk of a "very long and salty aftertaste." I didn't notice that either but I think I'm just as glad to have missed the salt.

Diálogo sports a whimsical label that, according to an article of Jancis Robinson, is different in every country to which the wine is exported. That's got to take some dedication by the marketing department.

I see that Niepoort produces a red Diálogo as well.  I may need to source some out should I find myself in the throws of another Wild & Wacky Wine Week. In the mean time though, Wine Grapes goes back on the shelf. I celebrate five new grapes for the Wine Century Club (taking me to 193) and I get to put some thought into the final 80 some odd wines I need to reach #2001.

A Bulgarian "Amarone"

Next stop on this Wild & Wacky Wine Week: Eastern Europe and an indigenous grape being vinified in not-so-local way.

1916.  2011 Zagreus - Vinica (Bulgaria)

There definitely isn't much in the way of Bulgarian wine in the Vancouver market. So, this was a very intriguing find when I ran across Vinica at one of the local, government wineshops. Just the premise of this wine was enough to get me to throw down some cash. I did, however, have to hit the net to find out anything about the wine than the fact that the back label states that the wine is made from semi-dried grapes.

Although wine has been made in the region since Thracian times, the Zagreus winery only made its appearance on the scene recently. It's first sales were only date from 2007 but the winery is setting up its corporate structure so that it can try to expand the national wine scene on an international scale. A trade article I ran across reports that Zagreus has already ventured into foreign markets such as Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Slovakia, Japan, the UK, China and Canada and that it has committed to a "persistent exploration of the traditional Bulgarian Mavrud variety and its possibilities."

I didn't come across a whole lot of writing about the Mavrud grape - even the entry in Jancis Robinson (et al)'s Wine Grapes was rather limited. It is the oldest indigenous variety of grape found in Bulgaria but it doesn't appear that the grape is grown anywhere except in Bulgaria and, even at that, it is now largely blended with more international grapes like Cab Sauv or Merlot. Part of that limited production is likely related to the fact that Mavrud can be a difficult grape to work with as it is late to ripen and the vines can suffer from cold winters.

The winery, however, has introduced six varietal wines all made from the red Mavrud grape: a white wine, a rosé, three 100% varietal wines made in different ways and the wine I ran into. Vinica is also made from 100% Mavrud.  I find that interesting on its own - especially since I get to add #188 to my Wine Century Club tally - but, on top of that, the wine is made in an Amarone style and I do love my Amarone.

In the Amarone tradition, the grapes are dried outdoors for two to three months on racks before fermentation in order to allow about a third of the the grape's weight to evaporate, thereby concentrating the flavours and softening the sugars. The wine is then aged in new Bulgarian oak.

Boo and I rather enjoyed it. I found it to be more substantial than a Ripasso-styled wine but the $25 price tag was certainly more in line with a Ripasso than with its big brother Amarone.

It was also surprising to me that finding information on the winery - while not extensive - was relatively easy. Indeed, an article by none other than Jancis Robinson was a great little introduction to Zagreus in itself.

One of the interesting tidbits I read stated that the name comes from Greek mythology and the fact that Zagreus was identified with Dionysus or Bacchus, the god of wine. Apparently, there is a cave, found near to the winery, that was dedicated to the wine god. The naming of the winery was a tip of the hat to that part of winemaking history in the region.

I figure any connection to Dionysus or Bacchus is a gimme if you're talking "wild & wacky wine" as well. It doesn't get much wilder or wackier than a full out Bacchanal (not that I'd know from direct experience).

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Teroldego - Grape? Region? Huh?

After a brief visit Down Under, it's time to return to our Wild & Wacky Wine Week. This time around I'm going for a varietal wine out of the Italian Alps.

1915.  2006 Mezzacorona Teroldego Rotaliano Riserva (Teroldego Rotaliano DOC - Italy)

I do admit that I get a kick out of running across a label in a wine shop when I have no idea if the label is talking about a grape, a region, a proprietary brand name or something else altogether. Sometimes the label provides a bit of elucidation but that wasn't the case here. I thought that this might be a blend of Rotaliano and Teroldego - two grapes that I couldn't recall having run across before. Luckily, the cell phone and Mr. Google came to the rescue.

A quick search revealed that my guess was at least partially correct - Teroldego is an Italian grape, grown primarily in north-east Italy in the Trentino region. I later learned that Teroldego Rotaliano is the one DOC or approved appellation where the grape is approved for varietal Teroldego wines.

Although Teroldego is not grown in great quantities around the world, it has been around for centuries with written references to it dating back to the 15th Century. There are apparently small plantings of the grape in California, Australia, Brazil (of all places) and I know of one Okanagan producer who has just started producing some Teroldego as well.

Mezzacorona's website states that the grape is indigenous to Trentino and that this Riserva is only made in "remarkable vintages." For a regional, cooperative producer and a little known variety, the winery babies this Riserva with controlled temperature fermentation and two years of aging with twelve months of that time being spent in French oak. Indeed, the Canadian wine site, Wine Align, says that Mezzacorona's Riserva is an ideal wine to introduce one's self to the "charms of Teroldego" (although, they did say it en français).

While looking up the grape in my much loved, Wine Grapes (Jancis Robinson et al's tome on the subject), there was some totally wine-geeky notes on Teroldego's parentage - which is all up in the air because the grape's parents are now thought to be extinct. Genetic testing, however, has linked Teroldego to Syrah with the most viable hypothesis seeing the former being an uncle or aunt to the latter. I know, that's definitely geeky (but obviously interesting if you've read this far).

As for the wine itself, Boo and I found it to be big enough to live up to grilled steak, with enough earthiness to keep him happy and a good dose of fruit for my palate. I think Wine Align got it right. It was a nice introduction to a new grape - and I get to add it as #187 to my Wine Century Club tally. I'm liking that.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Solo Haan Wine

Having recently added seven new grape varieties to my Wine Century Club tally, Boo and I decided to take a slight detour from our Wild & Wacky Wine Week. It might seem a little tame - compared to Grechetto, Manto Negro and Plavac Mali - but a good Aussie red will always be a worthwhile endeavour to me.

1914.  2004  Haan - Wilhemus (Barossa Valley - Australia) 

I grabbed this Aussie take on a Bordeaux blend when some Aussie lamb pie was destined for our dinner plates. Most of the Aussie reds in the cellar involve Shiraz. So, there was a teensy bit of wild & wacky in this choice after all. Haan is not a producer that I recognize as normally being available in the Vancouver market. If memory serves, I picked this up when the winery attended the Vancouver International Wine Festival some years back. Seeing as how it's an '04, that would have been some years ago.

I'm not sure if the winery is still around as links to the winery's website don't appear to be up and running as I write this. I found one link that, for some reason, connected Haan to the Chateau Tanunda site. So, maybe the Haan winery and/or label was purchased by the Tanunda group and their grand assortment of wines.

The wine blends in all five of the "classic quintet" of red Bordeaux grapes and the back label breaks the wine down as Cab Sauv (35%), Merlot (27%), Cab Franc (23%), Petit Verdot (9%) and Malbec 6%). I guess it won't matter much whether we loved or hated the wine though because it wouldn't appear that we'll be finding any more.

For the record though, we found it to be an interesting departure from many of the big, fruit forward Barossa Shiraz wines that would have been coming out of Australia back in '04. There was still plenty of heft to the wine but some of that weight came from the new oak as opposed to simple fruit extraction.

As such, this may be the only (or solo) Haan wine we'll ever open (pardon the pun), but we definitely wouldn't turn another bottle - whether or not there was going to be lamb on the dinner table.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Wild, Wacky & Abboccato

Some wines just require too much effort. Not so much in terms of quaffing them or finishing off the bottle but, definitely, in terms of finding out about the actual wine or winery. I spent far too long looking up this wine and the grape varieties. Admittedly, a healthy chunk of that time was trying to work my way through all the synonyms and different names that a single grape can have in Italy but, in the end, it appears that I get to add four new grape varieties to my Wine Century Club tally.

And, as part of this Wile & Wacky Wine Week, I'm going to count that as a win.

1913.  2012 Barbi Abboccato Orvieto Classico (Orvieto Classico DOC - Umbria - Italy)

I didn't find a whole lot written about the Barbi winery - either on their own website or by others - but I did learn that Barbi is a family owned winery that has been operating in Umbria since 1932. The company's "philosophy leans towards the use of indigenous varietals of central Italy, even though lately, in a couple of wines, two international varietals have been employed." The wine we opened is Italian all the way and is made from Grechetto (40%), Procanico (30%) with Verdello, Drupreggio and Malvasia Bianca filling out the balance.

After multitudinous trips back and forth between my Wine Century Club tally and Jancis Robinson (et al)'s Wine Grapes, I've determined that the only grape that's already represented on my tally is the Procanico - not that I'd have known that. It would appear that Procanico is the local name for Trebbiano Toscano or Ugni Blanc and I added that grape in my original century's worth of grapes.

Grechetto is grown in a number of Italian regions but particularly in Umbria where it is mostly used in blending white wines like this Orvieto Classico. As it is a thick-skinned grape, it tends to be harvested later in the season, allowing higher sugar levels and is often used in the making of dessert wines and Vin Santo. Grechetto tends to be a lower yielding vine as well which can result in more concentrated flavours. Accordingly, the grape is also starting to be seen as having potential for use as a varietal wine and for blending with Chardonnay.

The other three grapes that I can now add to my tally aren't as notable. There are a number of different Malvasia Bianco varieties and I can't confirm which one is used in this blend but it is likely Malvasia Bianca di Candia or Malvasia Bianca Lunga as both are permitted in the regional DOC blends. Both grapes are used almost exclusively for blending though as they are generally found to be quite neutral in flavour profile.

Verdello is, indeed, different from the Portuguese Verdelho grape, and is primarily found in Umbria with only small pockets of plantings elsewhere in the country. The grape is favoured for its high acidity; however, the number of plantings seem to be diminishing and Jancis and team state that "the lack of varietal examples suggest it is less successful on its own," outside of blended wines.

Similarly, Drupreggio is grown primarily as a blending grape. Also grown in Tuscany where it is known as Canaiolo Bianco, other than being a new grape for my list, it doesn't appear have much of a following or be much of winemaker's grape of choice.

The name "Abboccato," as seen on the label, apparently means that the wine is meant to be slightly off-dry. We didn't really notice much in the way of residual sugar however.

As a whole, Italian whites don't generally knock my socks off. For the most part, I find them rather bland and often flabby in their lack of acidity. While this wasn't totally lacking in flavour profile, it's not one to turn my head and make me say, "I should really be on the lookout for more Italian whites."

It is good to be able to add grapes 183 through 186 to my tally though and I'm happy with that.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Getting Wild & Wacky on Mallorca

The third stop on my Wild & Wacky Wine Week is in Spain - to the Spanish island of Mallorca to be exact. I was rather surprised to find a bottle of Mallorcan wine in our Vancouver market. On top of that, it turns out that this baby gets me another two grape varieties for my Wine Century Club tally (#s 181 and 182); so, I'm happy it made its way here.

1912.  2010 Muac! (Mallorca IGP - Spain)

Like many parts of Spain (and the rest of the world for that matter), Mallorca is seeing a resurgence and modernization of its wine industry. Although Pliny the Elder wrote of Mallorcan wine back in the first century and the island's wines have been hailed as some of the best in days past, the industry was largely concentrated on producing solely for local consumption during the 20th century. Most of Mallorca's production is still sold locally - largely to the hordes of tourists that flock to the island each summer - however, some of the wineries are introducing new equipment and increased use of stainless steel fermentation tanks and oak barrels and the improved wines are starting to find a bit of an export market.

The modernization of the island's winemaking often sees a marriage of local, distinct grapes and popular international grapes. This bottle of Muac! is one such union. I opened a 2010 vintage but I see on the winery website that the 2011 vintage is made with roughly equal thirds of Callet, Manto Negro and Cab Sauv. Various search results state that the blend was much the same for 2010. Unfortunately, I didn't find a whole lot of other information about the winery or the wine.

Naturally, I headed to my copy of Jancis Robinson (et al)'s Wine Grapes to look up Callet and Manto Negro. Both grapes are unique to Mallorca and are half-siblings as the two grapes are crosses of other obscure indigenous varieties. Both are known for delivering lighter bodied, red-fruited wines but older vines and reduced production levels are seeing wines with finer tannins, more depth and darker fruit on the palate. Adding the Cab Sauv to the blend only serves to increase that intensity.

We found the wine to be a nice fit - in terms of body and fruit - to our grilled pork chop. It was an easy drinking sip and a welcome introduction to this Mediterranean island.

If you're jonesing for more information on the Mallorcan wine scene as a whole, take a look at this post by the folks at Catavino. They know Spanish and Portuguese wines way more than I could ever hope to.

In the mean time, I have another new grape variety to write about.

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Tasty Croatian Sip

Another bottle. Another grape for my little "Wild & Wacky Wine Week." As mentioned in my last post, I figured I might as well use this final hundred bottles on The List to try and make a run at my tally to become a doppel member of the Wine Century Club.

I was a little surprised that I haven't added tonight's grape to my tally previously because I've definitely had it before. Indeed, the wine at the time was added to The List at #401. It would seem that I simply forgot to add it to my Wine Century Club tally. I'll have to make sure that doesn't happen again.

So, getting on to the grape in question, it's Plavac Mali and it hails from the island of Brac on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia.

1911.  2010 Stina - Plavac Mali Barrique (Croatia)

The Stina winery created quite a stir at this year's Vancouver International Wine Festival. It was the first time that a Croatian winery had participated in the Festival - despite the gathering now being in its 37th year - and word definitely got out the folks from Stina had brought along some very tasty wines. There was a perpetual gathering around the Stina table - a sure sign that there was wine of note at a table.

It's quite possible that the winery may not have previously attended the Vancouver Festival because it only started in 2009. Stina has quickly established itself as a quality producer of modern wines, however. Indeed, its wines have to show a fair bit of substance to command between $45 and $100 in the local market - and the interest was clearly evident.

The Plavac Mali grape is the most economically valuable grape grown in Croatia and is often compared to Zinfandel. A little wine-geek sleuthing in Jancis Robinson (et al)'s tome, Wine Grapes, explains the validity to that comparison. Zinfandel - or as it was originally known in Croatia as Tribidrag - has been shown to be one of the genetic parents of Plavac Mali. Although the origin of Zinfandel has been the subject of great study and discussion (amusingly referred to as "The Zinquest"), many see Croatia as the birthplace of Zin.

Photo from winery website
Not that you'd get any of this information from the front label of this bottle. There's no printing on the label - just a bit of embossing in the upper corner. Otherwise, it's a pure white label. The winery website states that the winery and the "label was inspired by the world-famous white Brac stone" called Stina and the wine is marketed as inspiration for artists whether carving virgin stone or applying paint to a blank canvas.

All said and done though, this was a thoroughly rich, full bodied and fruit forward sip and, on top of that, I get to add the #180 grape to my Wine Century Club tally. Got to like that.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

A Fine Start to a Wild & Wacky Wine Week

I've been mentioning recently that I'm into my last 100 wines before I open that celebratory 2001st bottle. Having just knocked off a bottle of Mencia the other night, I figure why not try and hit my 200th grape variety for the Wine Century Club before #2001 as well. Accordingly, a "Wild & Wacky Wine Week" seems to be in order. I've been grabbing a few bottles that feature uncommon grape varieties; so, move over Merlot and shuffle off Chardonnay, it's time to try something a little less recognizable.

1910.  2013 Domaine La Rosière - Jongieux (Vin de Savoie AOC - France)

Can't say that I knew anything about this region, the winery, Domaine la Rosière, or the grape used to make this white from the lower parts of the French Alps. Savoie - or Savoy - is found east of Beaujolais and on the border with Switzerland and, as such, most of the vineyards are planted on "very steep, southwest facing slopes created by ancient glaciers."

Jongieux is one of the villages found in the heart of the region and its name is given to one of the winemaking communes. The Jongieux white is made entirely from the Jacquère grape and this rare-ish baby definitely hits my Wine Century Club  tally as one that I haven't tried before. Jacquère is the most important white grape grown in the Savoie but, according to Jancis Robinson's Wine Grapes, there is not much grown elsewhere in the world - perhaps a bit in the northern Rhône and some in pockets of Portugal.

I was pleasantly surprised by the wine. It had a nice full body that was matched by good acidity and bright citrus notes. I can't say that this is indicative of all Jacquère wines, but I see that the winery's vineyards are graced with warm microclimate for the region and the wine is aged on its lees (or spent yeast cells), the former helping to ripen the fruit and the latter fleshing out the body of the wine.

In any event, I was fairly taken by the wine. I'd have been happy enough to simply add Jacquère as #179 to my tally, but it's always nice to get that added bonus of liking the wine to boot. This is an encouraging start for the other "wild & wacky" wines to come this week.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Domino de Tares

As mentioned in a recent post, I'm hoping to take advantage of the fact that I'm into my final hundred wines before I hit my goal of 2001 bottles. I figure this is as good an opportunity as any to open some bottles that I'd otherwise be inclined to leave in the cellar for a little more ageing - or for that appropriate, landmark moment where a nicer bottle is called for.

I can easily say that we have more bottles than we'll likely need for "landmark" moments. Accordingly, having Mr. D. visit us for a mid-week dinner has just qualified for a more premium bottle than we'd normally reach for. The fact that Mr. D. and Mexican Lou gave Boo and I this bottle some years back for our 10 year anniversary and "real" legal wedding makes it an even more legitimate as a pick.

1909.  2004 Domino de Tares Bembibre (Bierzo D.O. - Spain)

Bierzo isn't nearly as recognized as Rioja, Priorat or Ribera del Duero when it comes to Spain's premium wine producing regions. Located in the north-west part of Spain, Bierzo is seen as an up and coming region - one that is undergoing a modernization from moribund, local wine producers to fashionable wineries with sought after wines. Domino de Tares is one of the new wineries in the region - it was established in 2000 - and is seen as leading the charge of modernization.

Most of the important red wines of Bierzo are based on the Mencia grape. Not seen much outside of pockets of Spain and Portugal, Mencia is often identified as falling somewhere between Pinot Noir and Syrah in terms of character. Until recently, wines made from Mencia were often seen in rather thin, entry level wines that don't do much to impress. Winemaking in Bierzo traditionally saw the vines planted in a bush pruning method and the vineyards were worked entirely by hand. In the region's efforts to improve production standards, the wineries have looked to modernize in a way that allows them to employ tractors in the vineyards. That re-working of the vineyards generally leads to fewer vines per acre and the growers often try to compensate by growing more grapes per vine - thereby resulting in lower quality fruit.

Thus far, Dominio de Taras has had its growers maintain the traditional vineyard layout and field working methods and, accordingly, is seen as pushing the envelope in terms of raising the profile of Mencia. This Bembibre is a prime example of those efforts. Bigger than what I might have expected, the wine had more dark fruit than I usually associate with Spanish wine. If this is what premium varietal Mencia is meant to taste like, I'm only too happy to check it out on a more regular basis.