Saturday, August 29, 2015

Iconic Friends Deserve Iconic Wines

From the start of this blog and Odyssey, a major focus was always going to be who we drank our wines with and the occasions where we drank the bottles. It's definitely fitting that we were able to schedule a dinner with Elzee this close to hitting the 2001st bottle. We know very well that it's almost inevitable that, every time we get together with the lovely and talented Elzee, there's likely going to be great food and equally fine wine.

I'm happy to say that this occasion was no different - even though this was a simple, spur-of-the-moment invite to our place.

1993.  2014 Orofino Moscato Frizzante (Similkameen Valley)

When I look back on all the wines that have made up the 2001 bottles, I'm sure there will be more Orofino wines on The List than all but a handful of wineries. Boo and I have been fans of the "straw-bale winery" pretty much since Day 1. We were lucky to discover Orofino very early in its existence as its owners, growers, winemakers, proprietors (and likely everything else needed), John and Virginia Weber, presented some of their first vintage at a BC Wine Appreciation Society tasting of wines from the, at that time, new on the scene Similkameen Valley.

Although its now been around for a handful of vintages, Moscato Frizzante is one of Orofino's newest wines. It is also a very popular one as it arrived as a playful, easy drinking Moscato with a splash of Riesling and Pinot Gris that brings out an acidity to counter the fruity and floral base of Moscato. In a region that really only started to make a name for itself in the last decade, t's a bit of a surprise that much of the fruit for the wine comes from Muscat vines are over 25 years old now. The fruit from those established vines, planted on Orofino's home vineyard, is augmented with grapes from the neighbouring Hendsbee vineyard, those vines having been more recently planted around 2009.

The carbonation is measured; there isn't an abundance of fizz or mousse but the slightly off-dry palate makes the wine an excellent start to an evening. As it did for us.

I think the Okanagan Valley has established itself as a premium region for producing more serious, traditional even, Champenoise-styled sparkling wines (just look at Blue Mountain, Stellars Jay, Tantalus and Summerhill) but there's a new breed of bubbly that's starting to emerge and Orofino's Moscato is definitely helping to lead the way.

1994.  2008 Clarendon Hills - Astralis (McLaren Vale - Australia)

As I journey along this Odyssey and learn more and more about wine, one of the most valuable lessons has been about the pairing of food and wine - to bring out the best attributes of both simultaneously. One of the biggest discoveries I encountered was that we "drank red but ate white." I now try much harder to match whites, rosés and lighter reds with many of our dinners while saving our beloved big reds for meatier occasions. That re-adjustment of my pairing habits over the years has definitely increased our pleasure of the wine we're drinking.

That being said, tonight's pairing does not follow any of that logic. An Aussie Shiraz isn't likely the best sip to pair with mussels - even if there are yam frites and chipotle mayo alongside - but I wanted to dip into the cellar for one of our landmark wines for this near "List-ending" bottle with Elzee.

I decided on a bottle of Astralis - although I can't say that I've tried it before or knew much about the winery. Astralis has been called an Aussie cult wine - particularly after wine critic, Robert Parker (love him or hate him) wrote in 1996, "This is the hottest wine in Australian wine circles, as it came out ahead of two great vintages of Henschke and Penfolds' Grange in a recent tasting. If readers can believe it, it is a bigger denser, more concentrated wine than the Grange." The bottle was another extravagance of one of Boo's border crossing jaunts and it seemed appropriate for the occasion.

 Clarendon Hills is a small (by Australian standards), family run winery and Astralis is the flagship wine of the Clarendon Hills portfolio. Roman Bratasiuk founded winery in 1990, 40 miles south of Adelaide in the McLaren Vale district and he immediately imprinted himself with a reputation as a bit of a maverick, starting with the fact that he calls his Astralis a Syrah instead of the ubiquitous Shiraz that is so associated with Aussie wine. Bratasiuk is one of the original pioneers of single vineyard wines in Australia. His first vintage of wines were single vineyard and that was rather unheard of in Aussie winemaking circles at the time. The winery now produces up to 19 single vineyard cuvées in its portfolio and his goal has been to express the varied terroir of McLaren Vale as opposed to gunning for the biggest, baddest fruit bomb possible. Indeed, the winery produces as many as seven single vineyard Syrahs annually.

The 1994 vintage was the first Australian wine to sell for $100 a bottle and, unfortunately, it hasn't gotten any cheaper. However, it is still substantially cheaper than a bottle of Grange - if you can even find it in our Vancouver market - and any bottle like this is going to be a special occasion in our household. Like when you're breaking bread with a dear friend and drinking one of the last bottles to be added to your List of 2001.

I'll have to admit that the wine wasn't nearly as fruit forward as I would have expected for an iconic Aussie Shiraz - but I guess that was the point. It is an Aussie Syrah after all. We might have opened it a tad early as Parker's Wine Advocate originally reported that this "Astralis is very young and primary promising much more to come! Consider drinking it from 2015 to 2025+" but I definitely lean towards fruit on the palate with my wines. So, drinking it a bit earlier in its lifetime is not out of the question for me as the fruit profile of a wine tends to diminish as it ages. Besides, waiting seven years for a bottle of wine is a tough task and we were within the suggested window.

Dinner was concluded with one of Boo's homemade apple pies; however, we didn't need to worry about overpowering the pie by the wine. The Astralis was long gone by the time the pie appeared. I'd blame it on Elzee scarfing all the wine but that's about as likely as me jumping into Another 2001 Bottles - The Sequel. Hopefully, there will be plenty more dinners with Elzee and multiple iconic wines but I'm guessing they won't be documented so regularly in a blog - at least not mine.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Bottle for a Theatrical Picnic

It's been over a decade since Boo and I have taken in one of the Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) shows at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park and almost as long since we last had a picnic by Beaver Lake. Luckily, we get to remedy both those absences tonight as we threw together a quick alfresco basket to enjoy before making our way through the park to watch Hairspray.

It wasn't the most leisurely picnic but we had just enough time to finish off our wine and get to our seats slightly before all those theatrical juices started coursing away.

1992.  2007 Jarvis Estate - Lake William (Napa Valley)

Given the occasion, I pulled a wine that supposedly has a good pedigree - even though I wasn't familiar with either the wine or the producer. It's a rare enough occasion when I'll buy a $100+ wine (at least one that costs that much after the conversion from US bucks) - let alone one that I haven't tasted before. But, this Jarvis Estate blend was one that Boo had grabbed during a Washington state Costco run. Despite the fact that he's "technically" placed me on a "No Buy Leash" for some time now, he can go a little off the rails himself when it comes to Cabs.

I figure, if we can't pull out a big gun with less than ten bottles to go before reaching the blog's goal, when will there ever be an occasion that rates a little sumtin' sumtin' extra?

A mix of Napa-grown Bordeaux grapes, the 2007 vintage was a blend of Cab Sauv (39%), Merlot (38%) and Cab Franc (21%), with a splash of Petit Verdot (2%). The wine could well have stood up to a much bigger repast than we'd thrown together. There was more than enough dark fruit on the palate, however, to lend itself to simple (if hearty) sipping as we watched the sun setting over bucolic scene of Beaver Lake.

Although we haven't visited Jarvis Estate, it appears to have quite the stunning setting as well. According to the winery website, Jarvis was the first winery in the US to "tunnel a cave so large that it could hold the entire winemaking operation." That's 45,000 square feet of tunnel in the Vacas Mountains just east of downtown Napa. Sounds like it's definitely worth a visit should we find ourselves down that way again.

As for finding ourselves at TUTS again, the pure joy that is Hairspray just emphasized the point that we'd been away from the annual outdoor shows for too long. There won't be any need to blog any accompanying wine, but I'll have to remember to check out the scheduling of next summer's shows.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Star for the Gulf Islands

Here we are down to the final ten wines before we reach the titular 2001st bottle. To kick off these "last" wines, I'm going to the Gulf Islands and to Sea Star - a new(ish) venture of owner, David Goudge, and winemaker, Ian Baker. I was excited to see that Sea Star's initial vintage from 2013 was as well received as it was. The winery entered the 2014 Northwest Wine Summit competition and came away with two gold medals, a silver medal and a "Winery of Distinction" accolade as one of only 16 wineries to win two gold medals.

Some of my initial attraction to Sea Star stems from the fact that, off and on, I've known David for many a year, crossing paths at various community and fundraising events and even the odd party or so. To see an acquaintance "burst" onto the local wine is great thrill.

The fact that the winery is located on Pender Island was equally exciting because it means we might be able to fit in a visit every so often seeing as how Axel and The English Doc have set up house not far from the Sea Star's home vineyard. Indeed, spending Thanksgiving with the boys last year was how we managed to pick up some Sea Star wines. The winery was virtually sold out of its initial vintage but David managed to find a couple of wines for us to buy.

1991.  2013 Sea Star Stella Maris (Gulf Islands)

It's not much of a surprise that the bulk of Sea Star's limited production is white wine. Pender Island is a cool, coastal climate and - until the warming effects of global climate change have run their full course - there won't be much in the way of big, international reds. Indeed, "coastal" is as apt a descriptor as you'll find. As far as David knew at the time of our visit, Sea Star is the only winery in Canada where the vineyard actually runs down to and touches the ocean. The winery has sections of Pinot Noir planted in the warmest parts of the vineyard but the first vintage of a varietal Pinot Noir is still some time away as the vines were still maturing to a point where the fruit is deemed good enough to result in a fully representative Pinot.

Stella Maris, which is Latin for "Star of the Sea," is a blend of Gewürztraminer and (that young) Pinot Noir "with a splash of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Ortega and Schönberger" (as the winery describes the wine). Nicely dry but with plenty of tree fruit and a bit of spice, it's a wine that easily disappears from your glass and matches nicely to full array of foods.

With the "final" bottle of this Odyssey so quickly approaching, I have no idea about where the blog might head or what might be in store. I am, however, sure that I'll be making effort to pay another - and longer - visit to Sea Star.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Boyz en Blanc - Tripping the White Fantastic

Launched in Paris 27 years ago, Dîner en Blanc has now expanded to 50-plus cities on five continents and, this evening, it's celebrating its fourth anniversary in Vancouver. Boo and I missed the inaugural event but, including tonight, we've now made the last three shows.

The simplest description of DEB is that guests "flash-gather" in a high-profile, public location and set up a chic dinner party, revelling in the iconic setting. With all the participants decked out in their sharpest white outfits and all the tables decorated completely in white, it's become one of the hardest tickets in the city to get.

With the ability of past guests to invite friends, Boo and I have been able to increase our table from the original two to four to this year's eight. Following our meeting the other week, the courses and table details were divvied up and, despite some rather annoying logistical issues with finding our designated location and collecting our wine, we finally managed to pop the cork on our bubbly and settle in for a six course extravaganza.

1987.  N.V. Moët et Chandon Brut Imperial (Champagne AOC - France)

Knowing that this blog's task of reaching wine #2001 was nearing its climax, I started the gang off with the premium choice among the sparkling wines available for the evening. After all our initial frustrations, the classic bubble with a quartet of caviars was exactly what we needed to get re-grounded and re-set the mood for the evening.

Unfortunately, we were late to the table and didn't get a chance to wander or explore the venue. This year's secret location was the "deck" below the sails of the old Trade and Convention Centre. So, unlike previous years, the narrow deck location meant that we couldn't see all of our 4,500 dining companions. That was the biggest disappointment of the evening for Boo and I. Despite its spectacular view, this year's location just didn't seem to have same group cachet as before.

Good thing our menu was equal to - or surpassed - that of any of the other tables in our vicinity.

1988.  2014 Chartron La Fleur Sauvignon Blanc (Bordeaux AOC - France)

The Sauv Blanc doesn't sport quite the pedigree as the Moët does but it matched nicely with the Tuna and Scallop Ceviche accented with fresh peaches, lime, basil and cayenne. By the time we were on this second course, a number of the tables around us were already finishing up with their meals. They must have been newbies. Some of these millennials might have more energy than us old folk, but they still need to learn that slow and easy can still win the odd race.

1989.  2014 La Vieille Ferme Rouge (Ventoux AOC - Rhône - France)

Our next course of a trio of pâtés was paired with the Rhône blend. Duck with Fig, Duck with Black Truffle and Venison with Cranberry were served along with Cornichons, Prosciutto di Parma, Dijon and baguette. This course alone would have out-paced many of the main plates around us - but we, of course, made it clear that we were still on the appies.

Our extensive menu and leisurely pace did mean that we still had a good portion of our dinner to go when the traditional lighting of the sparklers was announced. Ah well, we needed a bit of a stretch before we sat down for the main course anyhow.

1990.  2012 Terrazas de los Andes - Reserva Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

As the evening was getting a little long in the tooth, we picked up the pace a bit though.  A few of our dining companions were starting to close up shop and call it a night. That just meant they had to leave with their mouths watering as they passed our Barbecued Duck with Red Plum Compote, Saffron Basmati Rice and Buttered Peas & Corn Niblets.

By the time we started serving up the desserts, we were offering tastes to neighbouring tables - particularly since we had another trio: Crème Brûlée, Prosecco Raspberry Gelée and Macarons.

Not to mention the cheese course that followed. By then, we were carrying our platter to various tables to offer a little night cap to the neighbours. To be nice - and to allow Mr. D. and Soolu to slyly check out some of the other diners.

As tasty as the dinner was and as fine as the company was, this year's DEB didn't seem as special as years past. In retrospect, we might have been a little over-ambitious with our menu. We were definitely one of the very last tables - of a couple thousand - with food going strong at the end of the evening. Moreover, though, I think it was the large degree of separation we felt from all the other participants. The sense of community - that was so evident in previous years - just seemed to be lacking.

Of course, how can you go wrong with a dinner view like we had?

I'm sure we'll return next year - even if the blog's wine countdown will be well behind me. Our planning may need a little re-jigging but the reality of it all is when else will we be able to sport all of these white duds that we've assembled?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Some Intensity With That Port?

As long as Boo has been working in the same job, he's still not high enough up in the seniority rankings to rate extended vacation time during the summer. Consequently, we weren't able to join in with some of the family as they cruised to Alaska. We did get to hear some of the tales over dinner upon their return, however, and that led to a couple bottles of wine at our place afterwards.

1985.  2013 Mistaken Identity - Intensity (BC VQA - Okanagan Valley)

Mistaken Identity is an organic vineyard and winery that set up shop on Salt Spring Island and released its first wines in 2009. Although perhaps not "mistaken," the identity of this Cab Franc is a little mysterious. Boo and I visited the winery once (when cavorting with Tyrant on Salt Spring) and I know that they grow largely white grapes there. They certainly weren't trying to grow Cab Franc. Indeed, I rather doubt that any of the Gulf Islands are able to fully ripen any of the big red varieties; hence, the grapes for this wine were sourced from the southern Okanagan Valley. The wine was still produced in a manner to comply with VQA rules and the label advises that the grapes were also grown organically (so as to stay in sync with the balance of the home vineyard grapes), but the wine doesn't have much more of a connection with the Gulf Islands.

A simple search online didn't reveal much more about the wine either.  I did discover, however, that the winery has since been listed for sale and may well have been sold by now. So, we may not run across any Mistaken Identity down the road.

1986.  1997 Broadbent Port (Portugal)

Like Mistaken identity, Broadbent is also a relatively new producer - although "relatively new" in the world of Port can still be decades. There's no mistaking the identity of this wine though as the Broadbent name comes from the father and son team of Michael and Bartholomew Broadbent. The former has been the Chairman of Christie's International Wine Department and his son has made a name for himself as one of the "world's top authorities on Port and Madeira."

The first Broadbent Port was produced in 1994 and the pedigree of the Broadbent name was solidified when they asked winemaker Dirk Niepoort to do the honours for them. The Niepoort family has been in the wine business since 1842 and knows a thing or two about making wine, particularly Port.

The 1997 was only the second declared vintage for Broadbent and their overall production is limited as they only make about 500 cases a year.

We came across this bottle when a client was downsizing his home and he needed to divest himself of some of his home assets because his new house wouldn't have enough space for everything. I refer to the bottle as being part of the "Carpet Collection" because Boo wanted to buy a couple of the Persian carpets that the client was selling. That meant, however, given the nature of tit-for-tat, that I got to buy some of the Port that was up for sale. Two carpets. Twelve bottles of Port. I think I let Boo off easy - and we all get to enjoy both the carpets and the Port for many days to come.

I think it particularly comes in handy when the family just pops in for a bit a tongue-wag session. Even if we didn't get to go on the cruise, we can enjoy a little vintage time of our own.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Lemberger to Celebrate

Having successfully shared a little - and literal - taste of the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference with Boo the other night, I figured "let's just carry on and give it another go." As such, I trotted out another surviving bottle of the bumpy ride home encountered while returning from the Finger Lakes.

1982.  2011 Ventosa Vineyards Lemberger (Seneca Lake AVA - Finger Lakes - New York State)

Now, there might the odd person that would question the urgency or necessity of hustling for a bottle of Lemberger. Indeed, there are likely more folks that would think you're serving stinky cheese rather than wine if you told them that Lemberger was on the menu. But, I'm going to chalk this bottle up to being in the right place at the right time.

As mentioned a couple of posts back, I'd been lucky enough to join up with the WBC15 Pre-Conference Excursion and we were treated to dinner at Ventosa Vineyards by the Seneca Lake Winery Association. The folks at Ventosa were in a particularly celebratory mood that day because they had learned - just that day - that the winery's 2011 Lemberger had won the 2015 Governor's Cup for the Best Overall Wine at the annual New York Wine & Food Classic competition. They referred to it as the Oscars of New York wine and the place was clearly abuzz.

Our little Canadian contingent had taken an immediate liking to Ventosa's free-spirited winemaker, Jenna LaVita, and we joined up with an after-dinner party at Jenna and her partner's side venture, a pub and craft brewery - Lake Drum Brewing. Although her award-winning wine wasn't even for sale at the winery yet, she had a couple of bottles at the pub and she let me twist her arm into selling me a bottle to take home. With only 256 cases of the wine and a major award to shout to the heavens, I'm fairly certain that I wouldn't have ever come across a bottle otherwise.

See what I mean when I say, "right place, right time."

Given the accolade showered upon it as New York State's top bottle, however, the wine wasn't as full or as flavourful as I might have hoped. To be fair, maybe the bottle was suffering some bottle shock from the flight home - after all, it had only been a couple of days - but we didn't catch the "powerful" spice or notes of juniper or eucalyptus on the nose that the winery speaks of. I can see the "under-ripe blackberries" reference but I'm not sure that'd be the hallmark of an award-winning wine for me.

All the same, it was a welcome find and I was thrilled to have a chance to meet with Jenna, to celebrate her big win and to add this bottle to The List. May she experience many more such awards in the vintages to come.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Bringing the Finger Lakes Home to Vancouver

Despite having to endure an unexpected overnight stay in Chicago - with no excitement to be had following our late arrival at the hotel we were put up in (hence no wine to add to The List from Chicago) - the trip home from the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference has me back home and looking to reach the heralded 2001st bottle and the "finish line" for this blog.

Although I would have loved to have done so, I wasn't able to bring much wine back with me from WBC15. Indeed, I was dinged for duty at Canadian Customs for the "extra" wine that I did bring back.  Turned out I paid duty on a bottle that didn't even make it back to Vancouver in tact. I'd packed a bottle of Fox Run's Hedonia in my luggage - wrapped in a couple of socks - only to find broken shards of glass and some rather wet clothes when I finally opened the bag.

Not that this comes remotely close to being a silver lining, but it was pointed out to me that Hedonia is a dessert wine and that my dirty socks had never smelled so sweet.

Luckily, the other bottles made it home safely and I figured it was only fair to open one of the Finger Lakes wines for Boo since he didn't partake in any of the excitement that was WBC15.

1981.  2014 Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling (Seneca Lake AVA - Finger Lakes - New York)

Among the few things that I remotely knew of the Finger Lakes before departing for WBC15 were that its winemaking history as a region was rather similar to BC's own Okanagan Valley and that it was probably best known for its Rieslings. Being the Riesling fiend that I am, I was particularly looking forward to the chance to sample some of the higher praised Finger Lakes labels.

One night while dining out in Manhattan, Boo and I started chatting with the table next to us as we couldn't help but hear that the majority of their conversation related to wine. It turned out that all three of the diners were involved in the New York wine trade. So, naturally, I wanted to canvas their thoughts on New York Rieslings and ask for a few suggestions. All three of them recommended Hermann Wiemer as one to try. Coincidentally, the proprietor of the bottle shop just around the corner from our hotel made the same suggestion. So, the quest was set.

I never actually saw a wine shop near our Conference hotel but, luckily, I'd noted that Miss Selfie, The Suje and Gone Girl were cavorting amongst the vines on their way up to WBC15. So, I asked them to pick up a bottle of Hermann Wiemer if they happened across one. Naturally, Miss Selfie made it a priority to do just that - and Boo got to be an additional beneficiary.

According to their website, "Hermann J. Wiemer is regarded as one of the pioneers of the wine industry in the Finger Lakes." Coming from a family with 300 years of winemaking experience in Germany's Mosel Valley and relying on his own winemaking and viticultural studies, Mr. Wiemer emigrated to the Finger Lakes in the 1960's, long before anyone thought that the region could support vinifera grape vines. His own experiences led him to believe that the region could realistically grow and ripen Riesling and Chardonnay grapes and that the warming effect of Lake Seneca could help the vines survive the winter chills.

Relying on "German folk wisdom" that "Riesling grapevines would flourish where black cherry trees thrived," Mr. Wiemer purchased 80 acres of land which has since become the HJW Vineyard. His wines have been lauded by magazines and critics and the winery has been named one of the top Riesling producers in the U.S. on numerous occasions.

The winery currently boasts nine Rieslings in its portfolio - ranging from dry through single vineyard to dessert wines like the cherished TBA or Trockenbeerenauslese. Our bottle is the winery's classic, signature wine and, as you might expect, it had a definite Germanic profile.

Both Boo and I thought the praise was well deserved. More nuanced than most New World Rieslings (particularly if you're thinking Clare Valley or New Zealand), the acidity was well balanced with subdued citrus notes and minerality. We were singing Miss Selfie's praises loudly.

I only wish I had more Wiemer wines in order to do a little taste comparison with some of my favourite BC Rieslings. I'll have to see if I can make that happen over the next thousand wines or so. I think it'll be worth the effort.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Last Nights and Hot Molten Glass

It's our final night at the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference and, traditionally, there's a banquet where the Wine Blogger Award are presented. WBC15 is no different. 

Of course, as with any proper "gala gala do" (as Vancouver bon vivant and social correspondent, Fred Lee, would call them), before-dinner cocktails were de rigueur. I couldn't really call her my drinking buddy this time around (since she was pregnant and wasn't drinking) but, once again, April from Sacred Drop Channel was attending WBC in all her glory and she was lucky enough to be representing Hyland Estates and Soléna wineries and her sumptuous suite just happened to be available for refreshments.

1978.  N.V. Fox Run Hedonia (Finger Lakes - New York State)

I ran across Fox Run Vineyards' Hedonia (a noun meaning the "ability to experience extreme pleasure") during the Pre-Conference Excursion. It's a fortified dessert or cocktail wine that the winery promotes as being great with a slice of orange on the rocks. I simply added the rocks and used vodka instead of an orange slice. Seemed to work just fine. Actually, I was fashioning it after some of the Icewine martinis that we see at home in Vancouver. - mostly because I still had the better part of a bottle of Grey Goose that I'd picked up at the airport in Duty Free and I wasn't going to be able to take it home with me.

I don't know if fortified Traminette (the grape used to make the wine) is produced by more wineries than just Fox Run - or if anyone's ever blended it with vodka before - but it proved to be a lovely segue into our evening. Whether or not it played any part in our exuberant "participation" in the glass blowing demonstration that the Corning Museum of Glass held before the dinner, I suppose we'll never know.

What I do know, however, is that it is insanely easy for a slightly lubricated crowd of wine bloggers to find every possible double entendre you might imagine during a presentation on glass blowing. Who would ever have thought that such an artistic and ancient art could cause so many howls of silent laughter. Fortunately, our naughty banter was all on the down low with a group Direct Message stream flashing across our phones. 

I will definitely try to keep this thread on my phone for posterity because I'm convinced it will deliver joyful memories and tears of laughter for years to come. Just a handful of the (not-as-naughty) comments:

- "We arrived just as the glass was all 'hot and drippy like honey.'"
- "Because who wouldn't love a good, matching rim wrap."
- "I like it thick and chunky at the rim."
- "Don't stop blowing." "Sage Advice."

The show and demonstration was summed up by "You are all naughty and I love you!"

There were more than a few comments about needing to head out for a cigarette before joining up for the banquet. Let's just say that any cool downs didn't stop the insanity. It was certainly as lively a banquet as I've ever attended (save one fraternity event many years back that ended in an all-out, flip the tables bun throw - but that was another lifetime) with table after table vying for attention. 

Could it have had anything to do with all the wine?

We did manage to get through our meals and the awards, however. Each course was accompanied by two Finger Lakes wines, together with a few assorted surprises. As is my tradition with this blog, I won't add every wine from the dinner to The List but I will add a couple that I found particularly enjoyable.

1979.  2012 Fox Run Lemberger (Finger Lakes - New York State)

1980.  2010 Wagner Meritage (Finger Lakes - New York State)

Of course, I was familiar with Fox Run since (as noted above) we'd visited the winery the other day. I'd concentrated on the Rieslings while at the winery - no surprise there - but Lemberger is becoming a bit of a "go to" red grape in the Finger Lakes. It's characteristically bright, red fruit and good acidity helps pair it with food. Selling it as a varietal wine - under the name Lemberger - might be its biggest hurdle. It sounds like someone's serving you stinky cheese.

Get past the name and it can be a tasty, lighter red with all sorts of serving options. Fox Run doesn't make a lot of the wine but they're having trouble keeping what they make in stock. Not a bad problem for a winery to have.

The Wagner Meritage also paired with our main course and provided quite the contrast with the Lemberger. Bigger and bolder, it is a true Meritage or Bordeaux blend of predominantly Cab Sauv and Cab Franc with a healthy dollop of Merlot thrown if for good measure. Growing Bordeaux grapes, especially Cab Sauv, can see uneven results. Consequently, Wagner only makes its Meritage in years that they find exceptional. Prior to 2010, they'd only made a Meritage in 2001 and 2007. They also skipped 2011, but they plan to release a 2012. The 2010 proved to be popular with more folks than just our table as it won Double Gold at the New York State Fair in both 2013 and 2014.

The Meritage won't challenge a big Napa Cab or Aussie Shiraz but it was a nicely nuanced wine that had more structure to it than I likely would have expected from a Finger Lakes wine coming into WBC15.

Conference organizers weren't done with us yet however. Dinner was followed by a festival tasting in one of the Museum of Glass's courtyard foyers. The tasting provided a final opportunity to visit a few wineries that I'd come to recognize and discover a further few. Knowing that the tasting was following dinner, many of wineries brought sparkling or dessert wines. Paired with a full array of desserts, the evening party would easily have been considered a worthy success even if it had been a solitary event being held independently of a chock-full evening. I could have easily spent twice as much time visiting this last assortment of Finger Lakes wineries.

But, last call came quickly and, heavy sigh, there were still after parties yet to come.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Sense of Seneca

This is my third Wine Bloggers Conference and it's been the same story at all three: the surprise winery visit is a guaranteed highlight. The conference sets up a series of side trips and the delegates just board a bus without knowing what their destination will be. The toughest task is trying to coordinate your crew so that you all get on the same bus. Like herding cats I tell you.

We were likely the last bus to load and some of our folks more-or-less just ignored where they were being directed to get on our bus but the gang somehow managed to stay intact - and, as luck would have it, I think we happened on to a lovely outing.

As with the Pre-Conference Excursion, our bus wound its way back to the shores of Seneca Lake - although this time we travelled up the eastern shore to the Banana Belt that we'd previously heard about. The "tropicality" of the sub-region was manifested more as rain forest than equatorial sunshine however - at least for a brief portion of our visit to the vineyard. A little shower did nothing to dampen our moods or the vista though. Everyone's biggest concern was that the rain might be watering down the wine in our glasses.

The theme to our excursion was "Senses of Place" and we were first greeted in one of the Hazlitt 1852 vineyards by principals of four local wineries - Hazlitt 1852, Keuka Spring, Heart & Hands and Sheldrake Point - two from Seneca Lake and two from neighbouring Cayuga Lake. Much to my delight, our hosts each poured a Riesling to provide a sense of the terroir as they discussed the region and their particular directions and aspirations for their viticulture and winemaking.

The next step to happiness was a walkabout tasting at Hazlitt's dining pavilion. Each of the four wineries offered a couple of different wines while providing a chance for a little one-on-one discussion.

There were a couple of standout wines on my dance card: the Hazlitt 1853 Cab Franc and the Heart & Hands Polarity, the latter being a "unique white wine made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes" (at least that's what the winery website calls it - sounded like a Rosé to me, but a tasty one at that).

Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to try all the hard ciders and craft beers that were also on offer before we were called to the dinner table.

1977.  2012 Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards Cabernet Franc  (Finger Lakes - New York)

Although this Cab Franc wasn't one of the wines that was served with dinner, as mentioned above, it was a favourite for the day and I certainly requested enough refills to qualify this as the one bottle to add to The List. Turns out I'm not the only person to take a hankering to the wine. Within a couple weeks of our leaving the Finger Lakes and WBC15, this wine ended up winning the Best Red Wine at the 2015 New York State Fair. Not that I had any extra room in my luggage - or on my Customs declaration - for additional bottles, but I do wish I'd have had a chance to visit the tasting room and pick up at least one bottle of this full bodied and richly flavoured wine to bring home.

A four course menu was prepared by local restauranteur, Dano Hutnick, and paired with a wine from each of the four wineries present. From chilled tomato soup and seafood stuffed cabbage to pork cheek goulash and home grown apricot napoleon, chef aimed to emphasize what was local and fresh at the moment. Our host wineries continued to show their versatility and poured Grüner Veltliner, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and a Riesling Ice Wine.

As leisurely and enjoyable as our outing had been, we were corralled back onto the bus as a reception at the Rockwell Museum had been planned back in Corning. Proving that our hosts were more than just pretty faces, they kept a (by now) much livelier crowd both occupied and amused with craft beer and Riesling tattoo stickers. I tell you, there's never a dull moment at these Wine Bloggers Conferences.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Party with the Stars

Beyond being simply excited to see all the WBC15 wine bloggers, the folks at Ventosa Vineyards were particularly overflowing with excitement while we were visiting. Turned out, earlier in the day, the winery and winemaker, Jenna Lavita, were advised that they had won the Governor's Cup trophy at the 2015 New York Wine & Food Classic competition. Chosen as the "Best of Show" for their 2011 Lemberger, they were in a particularly celebratory mood.

With that exciting news in hand, the party kept going after our WBC15 dinner had ended. Jenna and her partner, Victor, also operate Lake Drum Brewing and their brewpub was the perfect locale for a little impromptu bash. Jenna invited us bloggers along to their festivities. Joining the fun was a no-brainer seeing as how the pub was just down the road from our hotel.

Taking our wine goggles off for a mix of craft brews, I'm not sure the locals expected their guest Canucks to shake their groove thang to Dancing Queen and a few other old school tunes as the vinyl hit the turntable. Having no dancefloor proved to be no impediment to our determined crew.

Simply heading home to the hotel would have been the wisest plan but, at the time, grabbing another bottle of wine and heading down to dock to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower seemed ever-so-much more exciting. Boo had texted me that the shower was at its peak and the stars are a whole light brighter in Geneva than they are back home. Miss Selfie, The Suje and Gone Girl joined me for for a little laid back action. That is, literally laying back on the dock to look up into the sky.

Except, of course, when we had to sit up to take another sip of wine.

1975.  2013 Forge Cellars Pinot Noir "Les Alliés" (Finger Lakes - New York - United States)

The kids picked up this bottle on their way up to the Conference. Forge Cellars is more of a virtual winery. It's a collaboration of three partners: a vigneron from Gigondas in France's Rhône Valley, a local, newby grape grower and a winemaker/partner of another New York winery. The 2013 bottling was only the third Forge vintage and they currently buy all their fruit and use the other winery's facilities to make the wine.

Unlike many start-up wineries in newly developing regions, the gents behind Forge did not go the route of producing a full range of wines to cover all tastes. They simply look to express what they feel best represents the Finger Lakes. As such, they decided that the two most interesting grapes for the region were Riesling and Pinot Noir and they've only made a couple different takes on the two varietal wines so far - with the Les Alliés being a single vineyard offering from the east side of Seneca Lake.

There were only 222 cases of this wine produced. So, we were lucky to have our bottle to watch the stars by. Unfortunately, the paper cups and pitch black lighting likely didn't showcase the wine to its greatest potential but it was a completely enjoyable venture - despite the fact that we saw very little meteor action before we called it a night. The show likely got better as the night progressed but it was only a matter of hours before we'd need to get back on our excursion bus. That and the fact we were out of wine.

As Gone Girl later noted, however, "We'll always have Geneva."

Pre-WBC15 Excursion - A Short Dip Into the Finger Lakes

I had no idea, when I started this little blog of mine, that it would morph into such a significant part of my life. Six years ago, I would never have foreseen my arriving for my third Wine Bloggers Conference - and making my way to New York state's Finger Lakes none-the-less. But it has and I am. Indeed, following the marvellously entertaining - and informative - experiences I had three years ago in Portland and two years ago in our own Okanagan Valley, I know that the next five days are going to be jammed pack with wine, wine and more wine.

And I can't wait - particularly because I know very little about New York wines. Except for a group tasting station at this year's Vancouver International Wine Festival, I'd be hard pressed to remember any other exposure to the region's wines back home. If memory serves though, we did run across at least one Finger Lakes Riesling the last time Boo and I visited NYC.

One thing I learned at my previous Wine Bloggers Conferences is that, while the seminars and conference events are all that and more, fitting in some additional visits to the wineries themselves is always an extraordinary bonus. Consequently, I was thrilled to be able to sign up for WBC15's Pre-Conference Excursion. The actual conference kicks into gear tomorrow evening but I was joined on the bus by a handful of bloggers to mosey off and see a bit of the Finger Lakes and its wineries first hand for the balance of today and parts of tomorrow.

Our destination is the Seneca Lake Wine Trail where a series of events have been organized by the Seneca Lake Winery Association.

The Finger Lakes region is a series of eleven lakes that were created upon the retreat of glaciers from the last Ice Age. They range from large and deep to small and shallow and they are now home to around 130 wineries. Those wineries produce about 90% of the wine made in New York state and a majority of them are located near Seneca Lake, a primary reason being that the lake is incredibly deep and, consequently, has an ability to store heat during the winter thereby helping with the viability of the vines through what can be some harshly cold temperatures. All the lakes also have a cooling influence on the surrounding areas, providing some moderating effect through the summer growing season  - another crucial benefit to good viticulture.

There are two other leading sub-regions that host "wine trails" of their own - Cayuga Lake and Keuka Lake but they'll have to wait for another day.

Our first visit was at Bellangelo - about half way up the western shore of Seneca Lake. The Missick family and the folks at Bellangelo teamed up with Kings Garden Vineyards (from the eastern shore of the lake) and one of the local, artisan cheese producers. Together, they offered an in-depth look at Riesling - perhaps the grape I most associate with the region - and at a Cab Sauv vertical, something I would definitely not have expected.

I think it's safe to say that my foremost goal for the Finger Lakes visit was to garner some exposure to the local Rieslings. As anyone who regularly reads this blog will know, I'm a super-fan of the grape. Bellangelo must have known that as they went full bore and introduced us to their "Riesling Experience" - a presentation of nine different examples of their varietal Rieslings. The wines ranged from dry to semi-sweet, covered four vintages and included their Reserve bottling and a single vineyard wine. The range of notes was surprising and I'll readily admit to requesting a second and third pour of the Reserve.

On the whole, I didn't find the acid to be as bracing as with some of my favourite Okanagan Rieslings, but it was a memorable introduction to the region - particularly when paired with any number of the local cheeses, breads and charcuterie that were graciously provided. I've got to say that I'm a long time fan of goat cheese but this was the first time I'd ever been offered a chance to milk a goat. I think the ladies, including the goat herself, will be happier to sell me the cheese and leave the milking to the pros however.

As mentioned, there was also a ten-year Cab Sauv vertical presented by Kings Garden Vineyards and owner/winemaker, Mike Oleksyn. The first words out of most everyone's mouth was "I would never have thought that the region is hot enough to ripen Cab." His reply? "Taste the wines and you tell me."

We hear the same "you can't grow Cab here" statement in the Okanagan and, as Mike pointed out, it's all about where you're located and the terroir you find yourself in and on. He advised that his vineyard is located in a micro-climate known as the Banana Belt and he figures he's been able to consistently ripen his grapes in all but a couple of years. In part due to my extended rendezvous with the Rieslings, I wasn't able to taste the full flight; however, I was intrigued by the wide range of opinions that were voiced as to which years were favoured most by our crew.

Our time allotted at Bellangelo, though leisurely, quickly came to an end and we were back on the bus making our way to our host hotel in the town of Geneva at the northern end of Lake Seneca.

After a quick check-in, we journeyed on to our next destination - a rendezvous with the Finger Lakes Wine Women at Ventosa Vineyards. The Winery Association knew that they were going to host a dinner as part of our excursion and they went all out, canvassing their members to submit concepts for the evening's events. The proposal chosen celebrated the growing presence that women are playing in the wine industry in the Finger Lakes.

Bringing together owners, winemakers, researchers and even a part-time burlesque dancer (on top of her winery duties) from four of the Association's wineries, we learned how these women were making headway in an industry that is predominantly male-centric - once you move beyond the tasting room.

Each of our hosts recounted stories of how she ended up treading the vineyard trail and what some of the trials and tribulations were that she'd encountered along the way. From having to convince a winery principal that, indeed, a woman could operate a tractor to being asked if she was crazy when deciding to give up law school, each woman's perspective was unique. Yet, all of them emphasized their belief that part of the Finger Lakes' strength and growth as a winemaking region stems from a larger than usual proportion of women participating in the local wineries.

Our group was also taken for a tour through part of the Ventosa vineyard, where we were put to work for our supper. Hardly. We did receive, however, some notes on how the growers and winemakers look to evaluate the ripeness of their grapes. We collected a selection of grapes and saw a demonstration on the use of a refractometer to measure to the must weight or amount of sugar present in the grape juice.

After that incredibly taxing activity, we were treated to a four course meal that a pair of wines from each of the four wineries participating: Ventosa Vineyards, Leidenfrost Vineyards, Three Brothers Wineries & Estates and Standing Stone Vineyards.

1974.  2012 Ventosa Vineyards Pinot Noir (Seneca Lake - Finger Lakes - New York State)

It only seems natural for me to add one of our host's wines to The List and Ventosa's Pinot was introduced, along with our sweet corn and cheddar risotto cake, as one of the winery's most popular wines.  Fruit forward and easy drinking,  it was popular at our table as well. In fact, with a little finagling, part of an additional bottle magically appeared for a few re-pours.

The balance of the dinner included a candied beet, melon and arugula salad, Finger Lakes filet with Cayuga blue cheese and a peach and ginger galette. The wines ranged from a Blanc de Blancs and Pinot Rosé, through Gewurtz and Riesling to Cab Franc and a Cabernet Port.

As if that weren't enough, everyone moved to Ventosa's banquet room for a walk around tasting of many other offerings from our four host wineries.

Let's say that, as far as introductions go, the Seneca Lake Winery Association and the Finger Lakes region started off on the right foot.

And, as packed as our day had been, we weren't done yet...

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

'Twas the Night Before Bloggers

While Boo needed to trundle home to Vancouver, I shuffled off (kinda close) to Buffalo. The 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference was about to get underway in the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. Needing to be in Corning by mid-day Wednesday, I made my way from NYC - by bus none-the-less (no planes or trains and I didn't have an automobile) - and spent the balance of Tuesday getting acclimated to Corning with a night on the town.

No sooner had I settled into the Conference hotel then I ran into blogging buddies from past Conferences, Peter and Nancy Bourget - better known as the bons vivant behind the Pull That Cork blog. Feeling the need for some nourishment - and, of all things - a glass of wine, we toured Corning's main drag and happened upon the delightful restaurant/bar, Hand + Foot. Not only did the vibe call out to us but the cozy hideaway was made all the more enticing by the little poster in the window announcing that they were featuring wines especially for visiting wine bloggers. How could we pass them by?

After striking up a full-out wine nerd conversation with one of the owners and the bartender du jour, we took them up on one of the bar's current faves.

1972.  2014 Getariako Txakolina Ameztoi (Getariako Txakolina D.O. - Spain)

So the story goes, this wine is called Txakoli and the additional letters on Txakolina translate to "the Txakoli." Ameztoi is the producer and is one of the biggest fish in a small pond when it comes to Txakoli. The wine has been largely made for home consumption, in the Basque region of Spain, until the 1980's when a few districts and varieties achieved Denominación de Origen (or appellation) status. Txakoli wines are primarily produced as white wines but there are also red versions and, as we discovered here, a few Rosés as well.

Txakoli whites are made from the Hondarribi Zuri grape and they are known to exhibit a slightly chalky, minerally with citrus notes and a noticeable spritz or light fizz to them. They are made to be drunk while young and fresh. This Ameztoi Rosé is similar in profile but is a bit bolder with a 50/50 blend of Hondarribi Zuri and its red counterpart, Hondarribi Beltza.

I was particularly gung ho to try the wine, thinking that I was going to add two new grapes to my Wine Century Club tally. After all, Hondarribi anything was as foreign a sounding grape as I could remember running across. Hondarrabi Zuri is apparently also known as Crouchen and learning that surprised the hell out of me because we actually drank a bottle of Crouchen (blended with Riesling) a couple of years back when Boo and I were touring wine country in Australia. I'd have never guessed that I'd already added Hondarribi Zuri to my tally as Crouchen. Go figure.

Luckily, I still get to add the red grape, Hondarribi Beltza to my tally as grape #196. While the white grape seems to have travelled a bit - if only to Australia in small amounts - Jancis Robinson reports, in her tome Wine Grapes, that the red Beltza is extremely rare and isn't found in many vineyards outside of Basque country. She notes that it reminds some of Cabernet Franc when made into a full red.

Eric Asimov wrote in the New York Times that "the vast proportion of Txakolina is consumed in Basque country. You find it virtually nowhere else in Spain, except in Basque restaurants, and very little is exported around he world, with one major exception: the United States." Mr. Asimov also reported that the Ameztoi family only started making the Rosé in the last decade but they find that the local population has no affinity for this different take on the wine and almost all of the winery's Rosé is shipped to New York.

Txakoli traditionally accompanies Basque snacks like anchovies and preserved tuna. I'm not so sure it was the best of fits for my incredibly rich pulled pork, grilled cheese sandwich. But the sandwich was so good, I likely could have drunk the bar's dishwater and still been sated.

1973.  2012 Királyudvar Tokaji Furmint Sec (Hungary)

Being the experienced drinkers that we were, we decided - after a little bit of discussion - that we just might be able to handle a second bottle before calling it a night. We stayed on the wine trail less travelled and ordered a dry Tokaj. I'm not all that familiar with Tokaj wines - primarily because they aren't that common in our Vancouver market but also because they're often found only as high end dessert wines that come in at a pretty penny - but, unlike the Txakoli, at least I knew of them.

Királyudvar is an historic estate in Hungary. The name translates to "Kings Court" but the estate had lost much of its glory until an American businessman, Tony Kwang, purchased it in 1997. The tale goes that Mr. Kwang was visiting Budapest and tried a "6 puttonyos" Tokaji Aszú dessert wine that made such an impression that he travelled 200 kilometres the next day where he discovered Királyudvar, purchasing it a couple of months later. He has since embarked on a modernization of the winery that also included the introduction of biodynamic farming to the estate.

As mentioned, Tokaj wines are probably best known as dessert wines, in large part because the local Furmint and Hárslevelu grapes are susceptible to the botrytis rot, as are the world renowned Sauternes wines of Bordeaux. As such, the promise of a dry Furmint was an intriguing option.

Similarly to the recent introduction of the Ameztoi Rosé, this dry version of a Tokaj was only proposed as a new innovation for the winery in 2005. Indeed, it is still sees a relatively limited production in that only 2000 cases made in 2012.

A blend of 85% Furmint and 15% Hárslevelu, I found the Királyudvar to be more enjoyable to my palate that the Txakoli. And, more than that, these actually are two new grapes to add to my Wine Century Club tally - numbers 197 and 198. I'm getting so achingly close to 200 that I might even reach my Doppel membership before we knock back the 2001st wine on The List. Furmint and its offspring, Hárslevelu, are grown mostly in Hungary where they are believed to have originated from; however, they have travelled somewhat around Central Europe, to neighbouring countries like Austria, Slovakia, Croatia and Romania. The two even found their way, as a pair, to South Africa.

This little venture on the town in Corning certainly proved that there's a whole world of wine out there to be discovered.

I've since read that Txakoli is often "poured in an exuberant arc from a bottle held high above the shoulder into tumblers to create a bust of bubbles in the glass." Such an experience was not our's but I think my excitement at getting another three grape varieties to add to my Wine Century Club tally more than made up for the lost opportunity for a show. Besides I think there'll be plenty of show to come with Mr. and Ms. Pull That Cork - and all the other bloggers - over the next couple of days.