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.

No comments:

Post a Comment