Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tommasi Amarone

1948.  2006 Tommasi Amarone (Amareno della Valpolicella Classico DOC - Italy)

I think my note on Delectable (the wine app) sums it up pretty concisely: "I'm in amore with this Amarone. Full, dark and delicious."

This is the second vintage of this Amarone to be added to The List. The first was a 2004 and it was almost all the way back at the start of the blog, being the #60 on The List, when we paired it with camel kabobs because that's what any self-respecting Italian would do, right? It surprises me that it's taken this long to pull the cork on another bottle.

Tommasi Family Estates was established in 1902 and it's currently seeing the involvement of the fourth generation in the estate's operations. Indeed, the newer family members have spearheaded the investment and expansion into some of Italy's different regions. I'm only familiar with the Tommasi brand that produces wine in the Veneto but the company also has related brands in Lombardy (Caseo), Tuscany (Casisano in Montalcino and Poggio al Tufo in Maremma) and Puglia (Surani). I'll have to keep an eye out for these additional brands as they may have equally well-made wines at prices a little easier on the pocket book than Amarone tends to come in at.

Hopefully, Tommasi will be at next year's Vancouver International Wine Festival in full force seeing as how Italy will be the feature region at the Festival. You know I'll be there in full force looking for other gems like this bottle. With luck, the 2001st bottle should be well behind me by then. Who know's what I'll be up at that time?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dinner Club - Vancouver Meets Bretagne

Due to member travels, our Dinner Club takes an annual winter break until our snow birds have returned to roost - except, of course, unless the gang all heads off together like we did last year to Antigua when Jeaux and Matinder hosting a once-in-a-lifetime St. Patrick's Day dinner.

J&M were hosting this time as well and, once again, they took us "on the road." However, their theme for this round wasn't Caribbean based. Rather they focused on all things Bretagne since they had just returned from a sailing regatta in that northern province of France. Luckily, it was a gorgeous day and we were able to start dinner up on Jeaux and Mutineer's rooftop deck. It was if we'd been transported off to a sunny après-midi en France.

1942.  N.V. Henriot Rosé (Reims - Champagne - France)

As is only befitting a culinary trip to France, we started off with a little bubbly. Although Bretagne isn't exactly next door to the Champagne region of France, it's certainly a lot closer than Vancouver is.

Henriot refers to themselves as one of the last independent and family owned houses in Champagne and they've been making Champagne for over two centuries, having been established in 1808. Their Brut is made with all three classic Champagne grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and their hint of rosé colour is achieved by adding a bit of the Pinot Noir wine prior to the final bottling.

Along with our bubble, Matinder and Jeaux served up a cider spritzer along with a bevy of hors d'oeuvres as we lounged on the roof. The spritzer is common to the apple growing region and we also had a quartet of mousse/pâtés that Jeaux proclaimed were omnipresent throughout the region. She'd also made some savoury pâte à choux, blood sausage tarts and filled crisps. We probably could have filled up on just the nibblies but, bien sûr, there was plenty more to come.

Our first step to happiness, once we'd arrive at the dinner table was an assortment of salads - particularly featuring beets and noodles. The course was accompanied by a duo of boutique wines with a similar heritage.

1943.  2014 Mike B. Riesling Cabinett (Okanagan Valley)

2011 Kurtis Wild Ferment Semillon (Okanagan Valley)

Both of the wines were made at Okanagan Crush Pad under the mentorship program that was introduced as part of the Vancouver International Wine Festival's Sommelier of the Year award. The winner of the annual prize is provided the opportunity to make a small batch wine of their choice. The sommelier, cum winemaker, gets to choose the grape and the style of wine they'd like to tackle - and the limited production can sometimes be found on the local shelves.

Kurtis Kolt was the first sommelier to make a wine as part of the Wine Campus series and I'd hunted down a bottle some years back when it was originally released. Accordingly, it has already been added to The List as #1248 and, therefore, doesn't get another number this time around.

The second bottle was made by Mike Bernardo, of Vij's restaurant, as he was named Sommelier of the Year in 2014. He opted to make a wine along the lines of wines that he'd regularly pair with menu items served at Vij's. I hadn't seen this wine yet. So, I was particularly pleased to give it a whirl - both because of its provenance and because he'd chosen Riesling. Bright with acidity, I can see its versatility with a number of dishes.

1944.  2012 Barton & Guestier - Lobster & Shrimp Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine (Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine AOC - Loire - France)

I remember B&G as one of the few French labels that I'd recognize many years ago when I first started to grab the odd bottle of wine now and then. They certainly didn't go in for this mass market kind of label back in the day but, then again, there were no critter wines back in the 70's and 80's - unless you counted Baby Duck and its ilk as critter wines. This bottling is part of collection of wines that are meant to give the consumer a (none-too-subtle) hint about what meal might pair nicely with the wine. A definite bonus - I should think - considering that I very much doubt that there are many folks in our Vancouver market who would have the slightest idea what to expect from a bottle of wine made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape.

The label certainly came in handy when it came to our trying to pair the wines, brought by all of the dinner guests, with an appropriate dinner course. We might not have been dining on lobster but I think mussels weren't too far off.

1945.  2006 Domaine la Barroche Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC - Rhône - France)

We normally would have served up a C-du-P with a heartier course but we seemed to have hit the dessert course before we had need to pull the cork. Unfortunately, I can't claim to have had the pleasure of knocking back many bottles of Domaine la Barroche but I can certainly say that I haven't met a bottle of their's that I haven't enjoyed. The small estate's production is difficult to find and one of their flagship wines, Pure, is generally found only on an allocation basis.

Their signature Châteauneuf-du-Pape is standardly a Grenache-driven wine and the winery, 2003 having been their first vintage, definitely steers to a more modern, fruit-laden product. I figured it could pair up to Jeaux' trio of typical Bretagne desserts. Besides, if no one else wanted to go the route of a red with dessert, that would just mean more for me.

Thinking a bit of a stretch and a flight of stairs might do us all some good, we once again retired to the roof deck to chat away the balance of the evening. Funnily enough, there were still some wines that had yet to be touched. Tyrant pointed out that we truly must be getting long in the tooth because he couldn't recall a previous dinner club where there was still this much wine left by the end of dinner. He followed that statement up with his offer to give it the old college try and drink some of the remaining juice - particularly since he'd spirited a couple of Burgundy's out of the cellar in honour of the fact that I was in my final 100 wines for the blog.

1946.  2012 Joseph Drouhin Saint-Véran (Saint-Véran AOC - Burgundy - France)

1947.  2003 Moillard Mercurey (Mercurey AOC - Burgundy - France)

Going to Burgundy and pulling out a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir certainly added to the Gallic fare of the evening. I think Tyrant might have been right when he thought we should have been better pikers during dinner so that we'd have opened these with the benefit of food but the wines seemed to go down well enough on their own.

Then again, it was late, and the time for constructive tasting had long passed. These were simply good for propelling the conversation forward on one of the first long nights of summer.

Kremmig Crème du Plessis (À L'Eau de Vie de Cidre de Bretagne)

Our hosts trotted out one final treat as well. They'd brought back a bottle of Kremmig from their adventures in Bretagne. Kremmig is a specialty of the du Plessis distillery - a cream based, eau de vie made with Lambig. Lambig, itself, is a Bretagne specialty liquor made by distilling hard cider.

There was no going back to wine after the Kremmig. All that creaminess just coated the mouth and said "you're stuck with me now kid." Not that we needed more wine.

Jeaux and Matinder may have transported us to a corner of France for the evening but reality of needing to return to our Vancouver beds had us all bidding "au revoir" and "à bientôt" and heading off into the night. The Lady Di and She Who Must Be Obeyed are next up on the hosting schedule. Just a little something to look forward to.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Consider this is a wine blog, it's far more likely that you'd see a #LoveWine hashtag on the blog or my Twitter account. Today, however, it was #LoveWins all over the internet. It was definitely a long time coming for our American friends but, today, folks all over are celebrating the United States Supreme Court's historic ruling to allow same sex marriage.

Boo and I are already legally married here in Canada; however, Boo is still an American citizen and, before now, there was little chance of him ever returning to his country of birth on a permanent basis if he wanted me to be able to cross the border with him. I don't know that the day would ever come where we wanted to move to the States but it makes a world of difference to know that it might actually be possible.

1941.  Intrigue - I Do Rosé (Okanagan Valley VQA)

It only seemed fitting that we celebrate the Court's ruling with some bubbles. It also seemed appropriate to pop the cork on a bottle of I Do, Intrigue's sparkling wine that's aimed (shall we say rather blatantly) at the wedding market.

The folks at Intrigue might be aiming for the traditional wedding market but that's about all that's traditional about their I Do. The wine is a sparkly Riesling that utilizes a splash of Merlot to add the pink colour. It's also opted for a fruitier profile, particularly strawberry, as opposed to the yeast-heavy, traditional method sparkling wines that are being delightfully produced in the Okanagan.

An easy sipper. Sure. But I'm all for easily accessible bubblies to draw the great unwashed into the joys of sparkling wines on an everyday basis. It was quite the surprise when Boo and I found out just how popular bubbles are Down Under. They don't need a special occasion - any occasion that involves wine is special enough for bubbles. We could use a little more of that sparkling attitude here in North America.

Today's ruling and celebrations certainly didn't hurt that cause. I trust there were all sorts of corks popping.

Now to get the Aussies to go the route of allowing same sex marriage. After all, they already know how to pop the cork in celebration.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Different Howling Bluff

1940.  2012 Howling Bluff Pinot Gris (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Granted, Pinot Gris isn't generally the first thing I think of when I hear "Howling Bluff" and "Pinot" in the same sentence. I think it's safe to say that Pinot Noir is far more likely to win out on such a word association.

Howling Bluff proprietor (and potential part-time stand-up comic), Luke Smith, is quick to announce that, despite his initial hopes and dreams, his lands on the Naramata Bench aren't all that well-suited for big Bordeaux grape varieties. He inevitably follows that declaration up with a straight-faced statement that he's convinced he can grow world class Pinot Noir - and he's making a valid argument with the attention that his Pinot Noir regularly garners.

That's for another time though.

That being said, Pinot Gris isn't even Luke's favourite white that he produces. Get him started and he can beguile you with the amazement he annually encounters with his Semillon and Sauv Blanc. The two grapes aren't the most common white varieties found in the Okanagan but Luke is clearly passionate about them and what he feels they capture on his vineyards.

But, that also is for another time.

Luke doesn't make much wine in the first place but he makes next to no Pinot Gris. There were only 400 cases made in the 2012 vintage and I don't think I've seen him release any since. There is no mention of Pinot Gris currently on the Howling Bluff website (at least not that I could find) except that the 2012 vintage won a Bronze medal at the All Canadian Wine Awards in 2013.

Seeing as how Luke is such an aficionado of Sem/Sauv, you shouldn't be surprised that this Pinot Gris is lush with acidity and isn't an ode to ripe tree fruit that can often be de rigueur for Okanagan Gris. That works for me. Too bad this won't the easiest of bottles to find.

Another story for another time, I suppose.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Boo's Big Day

Now that I'm well into the final 100 wines on this Odyssey, I'm particularly thrilled when I get to work in special events with special wines and the best of drinking buddies. That's exactly what this blog was meant to focus on.

Boo was running up against one of those landmark birthdays. So, I organized a BBQ with some of our nearest and dearest. It also provided the "perfect" opportunity to pull the cork on possibly our most unique bottle of all to be added to The List.

Seeing as how it was Boo's b-day, there was plenty of pulled pork, chili and red wine. There were certainly more than three empty bottles at the end of night but these were the three that I played a part in finishing.

1937.  2012 Synchromesh Pinot Noir Rosé - Palo Solara Vineyard (Okanagan Valley)

Memphis Blues (our favourite local BBQ haunt) has long convinced me that Rosé wine pairs perfectly with smoked meat. It only made sense then to grab a bottle from one of our favourite new producers in the Okanagan. Alan Dickinson's wines from Synchromesh are, shall we say, difficult to obtain because he only makes limited, single vineyard bottlings. Things might get a tad easier for Boo and I to get our hands on their wines though since we joined the Synchromesh wine club. With so many wonderful BC wines being made nowadays, we have to be careful not to over-extend our excitement and join too many of the clubs that are popping up to tempt one and all. Synchromesh is one that I've obviously succumbed to.

It's easy to say that I've simply fallen for Alan's emphasis on Riesling but there's definitely more to it than that. This Pinot Noir Rosé is an example. The Palo Solara Vineyard is located in East Kelowna and its north-west facing slopes results in a high retention of acidity, a critical component when using the traditional saignée method of bleeding the juice for the Rosé off the pressed fruit for the primary Pinot Noir wine. The saignée method not only results in a bolder base wine but can create a vibrant Rosé to boot. Win. Win. Just like we did on this summer afternoon.

1938.  2008 Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah (Hawkes Bay - New Zealand)

I have to admit that, when it comes to New Zealand wines, my initial thoughts generally gravitate to their whites - the famous Sauv Blancs and, more and more, the Pinot Gris and Rieslings. I don't usually think red unless it's Pinot Noir - and particularly Central Otago Pinots. Thing is, I can't afford many of the latter wines. It was, therefore, a different treat when Shelback and Chewbacca brought along a Kiwi Syrah. It's almost an inevitability that Boo and I quaff BC wines with these two ladies since they're two of our closest confidantes from the BC Wine Appreciation Society. It almost seems like we're cheating on BCWAS when we drink wines from other regions.

Being the equal opportunity drinkers we are, however, pulling the cork on a bottle from Gimblett Gravels - one of most valued sub-regions in New Zealand - definitely falls within the definition of birthday treat. I don't think Sacred Hill is a regular find in the Vancouver market although I know they've participated in the Vancouver International Wine Festival on at least a couple of occasions. Far from the big, juicy Shiraz wines made across the Tasman Sea in Oz, this was a more elegant approach that I think I would have enjoyed more at a formal sit down dinner as opposed to only grabbing a casual sip every now and then while wandering around and through birthday guests and duties.

Gotta love friends that bring sweet bottles like this to your party though.

1939.  2008 Red Rooster Meritage - 3L (Okanagan Valley VQA)

This Red Rooster is one of those bottles that you have to wait for the right moment to open. I wanted to make sure I added it to The List and I figured this was as perfect an opportunity as I was likely to come across. Firstly, because we needed a few friends to join in with us. I don't even want to consider the possibility of Boo and I finishing off a 3-litre bottle on our own (especially in one sitting). And, secondly, since this was a full circle kind of opportunity. I'd arranged a consignment for the bottle for Boo's last landmark birthday. I figured it made good sense to enjoy it five years on.

During one of our Adopt-A-Row visits with the good folks at Red Rooster winery, I noticed a couple of hand-painted artist bottles. I obtained the name of the artist and enquired whether she'd create a bottle "all about Boo." I sent her some favourite photos and memories of my man and she created an homage to travelling (& kissing camels), Star Trek, ferrets and Pride.

The next step was to ask Red Rooster winemaker, Karen Gillis to fill the one-of-a-kind bottle. I gave her carte blanche to choose whatever she thought was tasting good in the cellar at the time - simply advising her that Boo has a penchant for big reds. She picked her 2008 Meritage - which just happened to win a Lt. Governor's Wine Award the next year in 2011. If you simply must have a double magnum sitting around in your cellar, it might as well be filled with one of that winery - and region's - more celebrated wines.

I hadn't actually looked at the bottle in awhile and we had a bit of a scare when I pulled it out of the winery box. There'd been some leakage from the cork - not a lot but enough to lead us to immediate fears of oxidation. Having tried this vintage previously, I'd expected a little more boldness to the fruit but, thankfully, the wine showed no other signs of spoilage.

For some reason, there was no problem polishing off even that big of a bottle. Must be something about Boo's friends.

I guess our next step will be to see if Karen will give us a re-fill on the bottle - in the spirit of recycling and all that you know. I'm pretty sure that we won't be pulling the cork on any refill prior to hitting my 2001st bottle on this Odyssey though, but I'll have to see what, if anything, this blog has morphed into by that time. Time - and birthdays - will only tell.

In the meantime, I think there are still a few more bottles, if not birthdays, in the immediate future and I'd best get to them.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Prosecco Perfection

It's been a fairly low-key weekend here in Whistler, BC's best-known entrant on the world ski scene. Miss Jaq had proposed an adventure on the zip-line but we opted for a somewhat more relaxing morning of sipping Prosecco on the balcony while basking in some early rays.

1936.  N.V. Giusti Asolo Prosecco Brut (Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG - Italy)

This was no throwaway, fluffy Prosecco though. No siree Bob. This was the second of the Giusti wines I had picked up at this year's Vancouver International Wine Festival and it rocked. I don't know if it was the choice location or the company or both but, as far as I was concerned, this was Prosecco perfection.

As I wrote in a fairly recent post about another bottle of Giusti and dinner with Elzee, the winery was a favourite discovery at the Wine Festival and we're absolutely eager to discover more about the winery and the folks behind it. It would seem that Guisti is making a favourable mark with others as well as I see the this DOCG Brut has been added to the wine list at the famed Harry's Bar in Rome. I think that being a listed wine at Harry's is kind of like making it in New York. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

No surprise but the bottle didn't last nearly long enough. So, as a final chapter to our Whistler weekend, Boo, Miss Jaq, Tanta Luce and I wandered over to the Farmers' Market that was just across the street from our hotel. I love wandering Farmers' Markets whenever I come across them and this was the first time that I'd been in Whistler while their's was happening.

One of the surprises of the market was that Samantha Rahn had a booth in play and she was selling some of the wine that she had available at the moment. Samantha is the sommelier at Araxi - one of the resort's most acclaimed restaurants - and she had been named Sommelier of the Year at the 2013 Vancouver Wine Festival.

It's quite the award for Samantha to take home because, not only do you receive all the acclaim, but you are also given the opportunity to make a vintage of a wine of your choice through the Okanagan Crush Pad. She chose to make Samantha Syrah but those 100 cases were long sold out. The effort clearly paid off though as she decided to continue her work with the folks at OCP. Her second wine was a Chardonnay and that's what we were able to pick up.

We didn't open the Samantha bottle right away though - despite the temptation. Boo and I, after all, had to negotiate the twisty Sea-to-Sky Highway on our return to Vancouver.

All the same, our little jaunt to the mountains was a welcome respite - with a good assortment of tasty treats. Now, I just have to wait until next year when, hopefully, I can pick up some more Giusti wines at the Wine Festival. Next year's feature region is Italy. So, I think it would be appropriate for Giusti to be front and centre.

I think I'll need some just in case Miss Jaq invites us up to Whistler again.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Wandering Whistler

I think I'll blame our early demise last night on a busy week and the altitude here in the mountains. I couldn't possibly fathom any other reason for why we all headed off to bed around 10 pm. After all, no one else - other than old people - goes to bed at 10 pm while spending a weekend in a resort noted for après ski and always-ready-to-party Aussies?

I'm afraid our basic demeanour didn't automatically jump into a higher gear come the morning either. We did, however, take a grand walking tour around the resort, noting of course that Boo fit right in with the whole bear country vibe.

Our little tour - and our major stop and pig out at Pure Bread Whistler (can there possibly be a tastier bakery in BC?) - required a little side trip to the liquor store. We'd brought along a good selection of wine for the weekend, but I'd discovered, during some morning surfing, that it was Internation Gin Day.

How could we pass on that?! This may be a wine blog but Boo and I are equal opportunity drinkers and martinis are very much a part of our neighbourhood diet.

While perusing the Gin selection in the Whistler bottle shop, I ran across Boodles Gin - one that I've never seen before and I've seen a fair share of Gin in my life. We hunted down some olives and a lime and thanked our lucky stars that I happened to have a set of olive picks in my knapsack.

I guess those "Always Be Prepared" days as a Scout may just have paid off.

Cocktails morphed into wine and cheese and our little balcony proved to be quite handy.

1935.  2011 Familia Zuccardi - Tito (Uco Valley - Mendoza - Argentina)

Little did we know when we grabbed this bottle for the weekend that it was going to be as darn right tasty as it was. Big and juicy, the Tito is a blend of two-thirds Malbec with the balance pretty much split between Cab Sauv and Ancellotta. The last of the three is a grape that originated in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy where its deep, dark colour is popularly used to add colour to lighter blends. I didn't find any information online talking about what the winery believes the Ancellotta brings to the table, but I'm going to keep my eye open for more wines with Ancellotta if they all taste like this one. If you're one for dark, rich fruit with soft tannins, this may just just the wine for you.

It might not be too much of a surprise that we all liked this wine as much as we did. The Zuccardi family - now in its third generation at the winery - makes the wine, as part of its Icon range, to honour the winery's patriarch, Alberto (known to everyone as Tito). I tend to find that, when a winemaker names a wine after a grandparent, there's usually something special to that wine.

We were glad to have the opportunity to enjoy it as much as we did with Miss Jaq - because she's about as tasty a friend as we have.

Unfortunately, that bottle of Tito disappeared far too quickly. The mood was set though. The four of us headed over to one of Boo's and my favourite spots in Whistler - The Mallard Bar at the Chateau Whistler - and we all lounged over the view and our cocktails long enough that we rather forgot about dinner until Miss Jaq and Tanta Luce decided they were too far past needing anything further.

There just happened to be some bakery treats still leftover from Pure Bread back in the suite and they were just as delicious as they looked when we couldn't decide which items to buy over the others.

We may well have still been tired and maybe went to bed almost as early as last night but, at least, we'd put a good day of drinking behind us today.

And, to top things off, I get to add another grape variety to my Wine Century Club tally. Ancellota takes me up to #194. And that'll bring a smile to any day for me.

Now to find some another couple bottles of Tito.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Whistler's All Aussies & Kiwis

Luckily for Boo and I, Miss Jaq had booked a weekend suite up in Whistler to have a bit of naughty getaway with her geographically undesirable paramour. Lucky for us because Mr. G.U. wasn't able to fly out because of work commitments. Along with Miss Jaq's Tante Luce, we were considered to be the next best Whistler weekend warriors apparently.

I'm pretty good with that. Being a high level second choice with Jaq is saying something. Long time readers of the blog may recall Miss Jaq popping up as one of our drinking buddies every so often - that is, when she isn't off teaching in the Middle East or China. So, this girl is never at a loss for options - or excitement.

The two ladies had been settled in for awhile by the time Boo and I were able to leave work and make our way along the Sea-to-Sky Highway up to Whistler. We were, therefore, welcomed with a glass of cool Sauv Blanc on the balcony minutes after arriving.

1934.  2014 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough - New Zealand)

Tanta Luce is a Sauv Blanc gal - almost to the exclusion of all other wines - although she's quick to assert that she's a bit of a piker, standardly buying the cheapest Sauv Blanc that's available and, even then, often watering it down a bit. It's only fitting that we upped her game a bit with one of the classic leaders in Kiwi Sauv Blanc.

We allowed her an ice cube in her glass though.

After a few nibblies and treats - like the Dutch sausage that Tanta Luce brought along - we decided to take a wander through Whistler Village and see if anything looked appealing for dinner. We ultimately opted to go with the "grab a pizza and take it back to the suite" route but, by the time we'd finished off our 'za, the toll of the week, all the catch-up conversation and the drive had taken its toll and we all turned in early.

Determined, of course, to be a little more extravagant with our "resort" activities in the day to come.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Celebratory Tantalus Dinner

Being members of both the British Columbia and the Australian Wine Appreciation Societies, Boo and I get the opportunity to attend at least a couple winemaker dinners a year. There are very few dinners that have succeeded in getting my juices flowing as much as the promise of combining Tantalus wines with Hawksworth cuisine. Not only is Tantalus one of my favourite BC wineries but I can definitely say that I'm not a regular at Hawksworth, one of Vancouver's most celebrated restaurants. In fact, I've only ever been there once before and, if memory serves, it was for an AWAS dinner.

The dinner was being held in celebration of Tantalus' 10th Anniversary and it certainly lived up to expectations. Boo and I were particularly fortuitous in that we were seated in direct proximity to winery principals David Paterson (winemaker), Jane Hatch (general manager) and Warwick Shaw (vineyard manager). Opportunities to discuss the nitty-gritty of wine and winemaking with such seasoned hands are rare occasions for a piker like me.

I found the conversation riveting but the food and wine wasn't too shabby either.

The courses revolved around dungeness crab, sablefish, risotto and duck breast - any one of which could be a pick of mine off of any menu. Add a bit of wine to these tasty morsels and the evening was set.

The Tantalus gang poured a mix of new and old that was worthy of the anniversary celebration. Starting with a 2010 Old Vines Riesling Natural Brut during the reception gathering, we settled into dinner with two mini-flights of Riesling. The dungeness crab, avocado and grapefruit salad was accompanied by a 2005 and 2014 Riesling. I can't recall having tried such an aged Okanagan Riesling before. Indeed, I doubt many local wineries would want to try ageing their Rieslings to such an extent. Although many see this label as Tantalus' more approachable - or heaven forbid the term - entry level Riesling, it held its own against the fresher, current vintage.

The sablefish saw '08 and '12 pouring of the Old Vines Riesling - a BC Riesling that likes food if ever there was one - and the richness of the fish just killed it with the acidity of these babies. My glasses seemed to be empty far too soon. I'm sure I must have been short-poured.

A roasted cauliflower risotto was paired with the 2010 and 2012 Chardonnays and the duck breast - surprise, surprise - saw two Pinots (again 2010 and 2012) alongside. I've generally been drawn to Tantalus for their Riesling but the Chard and Pinot Noir are definitely showing signs that they are developing into contenders as well as the more recently planted vines start to see more age on them.

1933.  2014 Tantalus Syrah Icewine (Okanagan Valley VQA)

As has been my habit with the blog, I only add one wine to The List at these dinners since our table or small gang never polishes off an entire bottle of any one wine - as much as we might like to. So, tonight's wine for The List is one that I'm not sure I've even tried before - let alone have in our cellar.

I may be adding the Syrah Icewine to The List but we were actually tempted by a pouring of an aged 2005 Riesling Icewine as well. Thankfully, there was no call for a straw poll to see who favoured which over the other. I'd have been hard-pressed to pick. One thing was clearly evident though and that's that Icewines can still pack plenty of punch after a decade's ageing. A hallmark of fine icewine is that there still be plenty of acidity in the wine so that it doesn't become cloyingly sweet. The '05 was certainly an unctuous sip, yet it still didn't veer into pure sweet as its acidity must have waned over the last decade.

All told, this was a winemaker's dinner for the ages. I'll have to mark the 20th Anniversary dinner in my calendar as soon as they announce one.

As we would have liked the whole experience to continue, the next night, Boo and I opened a bottle of the 2012 Tantalus Rosé. I'm not adding that bottle to The List though as we'd already polished off a bottle and it sits on The List at #1659.

Thankfully, whether there's a List or not, I know there'll be plenty more Tantalus wines filling my glass down the road.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Red Rooster Chardonnay

One of the bigger issues I face when picking a wine for dinner is "Have we already opened a bottle of that vintage and I have I added it to The List?" I have to be particularly wary of wineries - like Red Rooster - that play are predominant role in our cellar. Having been involved for many a year with Red Rooster's Adopt-A-Row program, Boo and I have quite the array of their wines.

I'm guessing that, when I've polished off the 2001st wine in this Odyssey, I'll find that there are going to be more Red Rooster wines on The List than wines from any other winery. As such, I was glad to find that tonight's bottle hasn't already been added to The List. There's an '04, an '09 and a '10 Chardonnay but this 2011 vintage hasn't shown up yet.

1932.  2011 Red Rooster Chardonnay (Okanagan Valley VQA)

For me, one of the hallmarks of Karen Gillis, Red Rooster's winemaker's, Chardonnay is that she doesn't overplay the oak card. While there's been some oak ageing evident, it stays in background leaving the fruit to shine - this is a good thing in my books.

That being said, however, this wasn't a favourite of mine when it comes to Karen's wines. I found it to be lacking in acidity and the fruit wasn't as noticeable as I remember from past vintages. It didn't strike me as being on the same par as the 2009 when that wine was named one of the Top 10 Chardonnays in the 2011 Chardonnay-du-Monde competition - out of over 900 entries that year.

Just goes to show you that the circumstances surrounding the terroir, the vintage, the winemaking and even the circumstance surrounding your tasting of a particular bottle play such a big role in how enjoyable an individual wine can be.

Despite this bottle's underwhelming cachet, I know there'll be plenty more Red Rooster bottles being poured in our household in the years to come. I'm going to be glad, though, that I won't have to be concerned about whether I've already polished off any certain vintage. I'm rather looking forward to that aspect of drinking whatever I fancy - regardless of its presence on The List.

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Little Cork Taint with that Chianti?

I've got to admit that, throughout this Odyssey and its 1900+ bottles so far, I've been very lucky in that I haven't run across many bottles that I'd considered spoiled. Due to my lack of control when it comes to buying the odd bottle here and there (hence the now infamous "No Buy Leash"), Boo and I have amassed a rather substantial cellar (or shall I say collection of wine fridges, closets, crawl spaces and bathtub - yes, bathtub - since we don't have an actual cellar).

With all those bottles, we know that some of them are somewhat past their "best before" date - particularly when you consider that most wines aren't made for ageing nowadays.

Even if some of our wines might have shown bigger fruit or oomph a few years before we opened them, I can't remember many bottles that were actually corked. Until we opened this one.

1931.  2007 Rocca delle Macie - Chianti Classico Riserva (Chianti Classico DOCG - Tuscany - Italy)

I don't buy a whole lot of Chianti. As I've written many a time on this Odyssey, for me, most of the Chianti that I commonly find in our market is rather insipid, commercial wine that doesn't give me much of a thrill. With that starting point, I was quite looking forward to this bottle. I'd run across it at one of the Vancouver International Wine Festivals and I grabbed it as it was far bigger and more flavourful than most of its cousins that I'm more familiar with.

There was no doubt - even after one sip - that the bottle was corked. The nose was definitely off to my preference but I was prepared to give a benefit of the doubt. It was always possible that this was some weird Tuscan earthiness that was being expressed as terroir. Even if that was the case with the nose, the wine tasted of a terroir that I wanted nothing to do with. More of a note of landfill or mouldy jockstrap - not that I really know what either of those taste like.

Normally, when at a restaurant or event, I quite like being the one to identify a corked wine. Not at home though, especially with an older wine. There's no chance of taking the bottle back to the wine shop or winery when it was a one off in the market so many years back. There's not a lot of pleasure or pat on the back in that scenario.

If there's to be a silver lining to this bottle, it would have to be that Italy is going to be the theme region for next year's Vancouver Wine Festival. Maybe Rocca delle Macie will participate again and I can see what the wine was really supposed to taste like.

Until then...

Thursday, June 4, 2015

SpierHead Rosé Foray

One of the constant topics mentioned in any general blogpost, article or fact sheet about the BC wine scene is that there is a perpetual parade of new - and even newer - wineries. The latest count has increased to over 300 wineries in the province. I'm likely exposed to as many local wineries as the next guy and I can't come close to keeping up with all of them - let alone try or be familiar with all their products and directions.

SpierHead debuted on the scene when it was named Best New Winery in 2012 at the BC Wine Awards. Even with that admirable arrival and a couple of years under their belt, I knew very little about them until we met with proprietors, Bill & Marina Knutson, for a tasting and tour during last year's BC Wine Appreciation Bus Tour. I picked up some of the winery's stellar Pinot Noir at that time to lay down but, then, I was reminded of SpierHead during the recent BCWAS Gala 10th Anniversary Tasting. I picked up some of the Rosé at that time and figured I didn't want to wait to give it a try.

1930.  2013 SpierHead Pinot Noir Rosé (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Deep with colour, the juice for this Rosé soaks on the skins for two days. The depth of hue might suggest bigger flavours and sugars than its lighter Rosé cousins, but don't be fooled. There's still plenty of juicy acidity that cries out for warm weather or food - or both.

SpierHead's first vintage of Rosé in 2012 just happened to win Double Gold at the All Canadian Wine Awards. My guess - and hope - is that the 730 cases of Rosé made this year will disappear quickly and lead the powers that be to make the Rosé a regular part of the SpierHead portfolio.

The winery is located in the hills on the eastern side of Kelowna - not too far from a favourite of our's, Tantalus. Boo and I don't generally make it up that way during our Okanagan forays. I'm thinking that we need to make more of an effort.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Coast to Coast

I've previously written on the blog that I've heard great things about Nova Scotia's Benjamin Bridge winery - particularly that they produce some bubbly that is regularly considered to be in the running for Canada's best. The unfortunate thing for those of us out here on the West coast is that we don't see much of their wine here. Boo and I recently popped the cork on a bottle of their Méthode Classique Brut that I surprisingly found in a local store and we'd tried a bottle of Tidal Bay - a white blend - that a friend brought back for us when she visited the Maritimes. But other than that, their wines have been a rarity for me.

Accordingly, I was particularly happy to see that Edible Canada was hosting Benjamin Bridge wines at a dinner featuring Nova Scotian cuisine as part of their Coast to Coast series of winemaker dinners.

Miss Jaq joined Boo and I for the Granville Island trek and we were the happiest of campers.

1929.  2013 Benjamin Bridge Véro (Nova Scotia)

I hadn't heard of Véro before but it is one the winery's white blends and, for this 2013 vintage, was made of 60% Chardonnay, 30% L'Acadie and 10% Riesling. The winery website describes Véro as their "dry classic...inviting citrus aromatics and striking minerality." I had a tough time keeping it in my glass - which I guess is a good thing - but I was trying to make it last while I salivatingly nursed the Finnan Haddie & Chorizo Chowder that was served up.

We were told that it couldn't have been called a Maritime dinner unless a chowder formed part of the menu. I don't think I could have been happier. I'm a big fan of chowders but this was one of the most memorable soups I could recall having the pleasure of enjoying. Finan Haddie is apparently cold-smoked haddock but every single bite was worth savouring. Boo and I both commented on how wonderful it would be to try and recreate this dish for the Dinner Club. I would have seriously licked my bowl clean (and Miss Jaq's as well) if I'd thought I could get away with it.

The dinner also featured scallops with the Brut. Smoked Salmon was paired with the Tidal Bay - being a blend of L'Acadie Blanc and Ortega. Butter-poached lobster followed with a Brut Rosé that I would do any number of naughty deeds to get my hands on a bottle. The dinner was concluded with a deconstructed strawberry shortcake that was served with Nova 7, the winery's now iconic, slightly off-dry blend of (largely) Muscat varieties that is popular for its light spritz - à la Moscato d'Asti - and low alcohol (around 7%).

Again, good luck trying to find some of these wines in the Vancouver market.

The great thing about this dinner is that we were introduced to some fine East Coast cuisine and got the opportunity to try a much wider selection of Benjamin Bridge wines that I'd have ever hoped to - short of paying another visit to Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, the bad part is that I likely won't get a chance to try any of these wines again - unless I know someone's who's paying a visit to Nova Scotia.

One can always hope.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A New Wine to Hug

A short time back, the BC Wine Appreciation Association celebrated its 10th Anniversary with a Gala Tasting that featured just shy of 50 BC wineries from around the province. I'm told it was one of the (if not THE) biggest gatherings of BC wineries ever held. With that many participating wineries - and with most of them pouring four wines - there were far too many wines to taste them all.

I did my darnedest to hit as many tables as I could, but even a seasoned piker like me barely scratched the surface. Rather than simply concentrate on producers and wines that I'm very familiar with, I made a conscious effort to try some wines and regions that I didn't know so well. One hitherto unknown winery that particularly caught my attention was a new producer coming out of the Similkameen Valley: Hugging Tree. I had an interesting chat with two of the winery principals about their location and organic approach to viticulture.

I ended up ordering three of the wines that they served up.

1928.  2013 Hugging Tree Rosé (Similkameen Valley)

Now that I have the wines in hand, I opted to go with the Rosé as the first to knock back. Made from Merlot and Cab Sauv juice, there's a good shot of fruit on the palate, with strawberry and tree fruit up front and evident. That profile might not be too surprising since half of the Makepeace family's 60-acre property had already been planted with apples and peaches when they purchased it. The balance of the lands were raw and were planted with grapes - largely red Bordeaux varieties.

With summer just around the corner, I suspect I'll be pouring a healthy number of Rosés. I'll need to keep this one in mind. Too bad, there wasn't a lot of this vintage to go around - around 235 cases or so only.

It's a good thing that Boo and I like to drive along the Hope-Princeton Highway and through the Similkameen whenever we travel to the Okanagan. We'll likely be able to fit in a visit to the new tasting room on one of those forays. Hopefully, it will be sooner than later.