Sunday, September 6, 2015

The 2001st Bottle - Quite the Odyssey

Six and a half years later and here we are: time to add the 2001st - and, therefore, final - wine to The List. As the journey behind this blog has always been to celebrate the places and the people that we sipped away at and with, I think it's fitting that we reach our goal with a very special gathering of our Dinner Club.

I've personally been in a dinner club of one sort or another since university days - and that's over 30 years ago. However, our current gang (with a few changes along the way as significant others appeared and one couple retired from the club) is coming up on twenty years. Indeed, one of my earliest posts on this Odyssey was at a Dinner Club gathering at Chez Tyrant.

And the memory of that dinner and others makes tonight's feast and post all the more special. Not only am I able to pull the cork on the "last" bottle but I get to share it with friends who have been with me all along the journey. Further, we all got to raise our glasses in a heartfelt toast to Tyrant - our dear friend who passed away a couple of weeks ago. I know Tyrant was looking forward to the 2001st bottle almost as much I was because we'd been talking about pulling a few special treats from his cellar. And I do mean "cellar" in Tyrant's case. As a little example, he'd generously brought along a bottle of 1982 Grange to my 50th birthday party and it remains one of the most memorable wines I've been fortunate enough to enjoy. Unfortunately, that bottle was before I'd started the blog and, therefore, not on The List.

I'll never know the wine Tyrant had tentatively earmarked for tonight's dinner but we all managed to find a few noteworthy bottles for the occasion to knock back with him in mind.

N.V. Lanson Black Label Brut (Champagne AOC - France)

2014 Domaine L'Ostal Cazes Rosé (Pays d'Oc IGP - France)

It turns out that we had more than enough wines this evening to reach bottle number 2001. So, it was of no concern that our first two wines were ones that had already been added to The List. One of the "rules" that I had set out for myself at the start of the blog was that I couldn't add the same vintage of the same bottle more than once to The List. Lanson Black is one of my favourite Champagnes and, being a non-vintage wine, the first bottle of this baby made it to the blog long ago.

The Rosé was a recent discovery but a pleasant one all the same. The wine had been recommended at a local government liquor store when I was picking up wines for this year's Giro di Burnaby viewing party. It was a hit then and I'm more than happy to join in on a glass whenever it shows up. I often tried to avoid revisiting a bottle that I'd previously enjoyed simply because I wouldn't be able to add it to The List. Guess that won't be so much of a concern anymore.

Tonight's Dinner Club was being hosted by Lady Di and She Who Must Be Obeyed and the menu was classically inspired as Lady Di was looking to put some of the skills she'd been picking up at various cooking classes to good use.

On any normal evening, I could have easily been sated with the bubbly, the Rosé and the fresh burata served with the tastiest of heirloom tomatoes. As if that was ever going to be the full extent of a Dinner Club though.

1997.  2013 William Fevre - Petit Chablis (Petit Chablis AOC - Burgundy - France)

Unoaked Chardonnay and Oysters Motoyaki. I don't think anything else needs to be said. Seafood, acidity, cream.

I mentioned Lady Di was going after some classic dishes and pairings tonight. Two for two so far in my book.

1998.  2007 Rolf Binder - Heinrich Shiraz Mataro Grenache (Barossa Valley - Australia)

1999.  2008 Langmeil Orphan Bank Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

It turned out that our wine choices were a little more red-centric than the menu was but that can happen when we all take such pleasure in not disclosing the Dinner Club's bill of fare in advance. The Gazpacho wouldn't normally scream big, juicy reds, but there wasn't a single complaint to be heard until there was no more wine to be poured. I suppose it goes to show that sometimes an unforeseen pairing can work out far more favourably than you might expect.

Then again, it's entirely possible that these two wines could have been paired with a slice of toast and some Vegemite and we still would have raved. Langmeil is another favourite of mine - although we don't usually splurge on the more premium Orphan Bank Shiraz. If I had to pick an Aussie house wine (and was only allowed to spend $30), the Langmeil Valley Floor Shiraz would very likely be my first choice. The Orphan Bank is just that much more layered and nuanced.

I don't think I'd tried the Heinrich before but this is a GSM (or SMG) blend that brother and sister winemakers, Rolf and Christa Binder, named in memory of their father. I don't know if Jeaux and Matinder were aware of that fact when they chose this wine but it seems uniquely appropriate for a Dinner club in Tyrant's memory.

With these two wines, there was no doubt that we were partying like it was 1999 - because, indeed, this course served up bottle #1999 on The List.

2000.  2003 Baron Philippe de Rothschild - Cabernet Sauvignon (Vin de Pays d'Oc - France)

The next step to happiness was beef tenderloin - cooked to order - served with baked kale and mushrooms in a wine reduction. The girls definitely had a challenging go of it with the timing on the cook of the beef since they had to juggle Jeaux and Matinder's penchant for blue steak through to Boo's more pedestrian medium cook.  But, of course, they were more than up to the task and my rare-medium-rare arrived spot on.

The tenderloin was paired (by happenstance) with two Rothschild wines - albeit from slightly different ends of the spectrum. It's a rare occasion that I get to try a $15 bottle side-by-side with its more well-heeled "cousin."  While Tyrant likely had some actual Mouton Rothschild in his cellar, a bottle of Le Petit Mouton was the best that I could come up with for the occasion.

2001.  2006 Mouton Rothschild - Le Petit Mouton (Pauillac AOC - Bordeaux - France)

As I knew this bottle would officially be number 2001 on The List, I was hoping for a bit of "knock 'em out of the park" sip. The Wine Advocate declared that "the 2006 Le Petit Mouton is the finest example of this cuvée I have tasted." The winemaker noted, "Aromas of berry fruit, vanilla and spice reflect its great complexity. Round, lush, full-bodied and supported by fine tannins, it is long and ample on the palate."

Not too bad as far as pedigrees and reviews go. Amen to that. Sounds like just the wine to hit the blog's final target and goal with.

Funny thing is that, the Petit Mouton didn't really speak to anyone at our table - even when paired with the tenderloin. The wine might be right on point for the pros but, as much as we might have wanted it to, it didn't titillate our palates - at least not to the extent that many of the other wines gracing our table did.

I suppose that's part of the joy of trying wines of every stripe. The best way to discover a wine that moves you is the try as many as you can.

2001+  2012 Tenuta Sette Ponti - Crognolo Toscana (Toscana IGT -Tuscany - Italy)

2001+  2010 Fontanafredda - Serralunga D'Alba Barolo (Barolo DOCG - Piedmont - Italy)

As previously mentioned in this post, some of the night's pairings weren't what you'd call classic. By the time our dessert of Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta with chocolate pebbles arrived, we were down to a couple of big Italian reds - a Supertuscan and a Barolo. I suppose that the unorthodox pairing was of no concern though. By now, we were simply taking in the evening and these beauties were bonus wines for The List anyhow.

Noticing that the wines had been poured as a trio of national pairings, we held a little poll of the table. The Aussies came out on top as our favourite wines of the evening, followed by the Italians and then the French. Not that there was any grand international tasting or bragging rights at stake. After all, there were (surprisingly) no Okanagan wines poured with dinner.

So, the latest round of the Dinner Club came to a close - as has the formal task of this blog. Having added the 2001st wine to The List, I now get to take some time and decide the direction the blog might take in the future. It's been quite the Odyssey. No doubt about it.

The wines. The people. The events.

It's made for an incredible adventure and, to be honest, a whole lot more work than I'd ever envisioned when I decided to upload that very first post. Drinking the wine was easy. No doubt about that. Writing the posts was a whole other exercise. Boo has called himself a "blog widow" for years - and there's a lot a truth to that.

And so, as I happily brace myself to hit the "Publish" and finish The List and my formal Wine Odyssey, I figure this won't be the end of the blog. It will definitely take a different - and not so demanding - structure but I'm hardly done with my love of wine. And that indulgence and amusement is something that will still drive me to put finger to keyboard now and then.

In the meantime, I need to send out big bouquets of gratitude to everyone who's encouraged, commented on, participated in - and endured (right Boo?) - my indulgence. It's been the most extraordinary learning experience.

I toast all of you.

And, as a final act of appreciation, I raise my glass to Tyrant. Having shared his humour, his generousity, his friendship and many a fine wine, it's a joy to share the 2001st bottle with you in mind. I wish you'd been there in person but you were definitely there in our hearts and minds. Skoal, dear friend.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Expressing One's Inner-Italian

An old card I kept on my fridge went "I always cook with wine - sometimes I even put it in the food." 

Tonight wasn't such an occasion. It was an evening of peeling, dicing, crushing, saucing and canning 40 pounds of tomatoes. No wine was added to the actual tomato sauce - however, the cooks certainly took regular breaks for a sip from the glass.

Naturally, given we were cooking tomatoes, we endeavoured to tap into our inner-Italian - although truth be told, neither Boo, nor I, have any Italian blood coursing through our veins. Given that, I figured the occasion at least called for an Italian wine.

A second consideration in the wine choice - and for those who have been following the last so many posts you'll already know - was to pick a wine from the cellar that would, hopefully, be worthy of being one of the final wines to be added to The List on this Odyssey.

1996.  2003 La Spinetta - Vürsù Vigneto Valeirano (Barbaresco DOCG - Piedmont - Italy)

With thousands of Italian wineries to discover, we were fortunate to be pointed in La Spinetta's direction by the good folk at Marquis Wine Cellars.  Back in '08, Boo and I had planned an Italian vacation as a second honeymoon and we'd been tipped off that most wineries in Italy require appointments before you can visit and taste. La Spinetta was on the Marquis "Don't Miss" list. We took them at their word and weren't disappointed.

Naturally, having become fans of La Spinetta and their modern, premium approach to winemaking, we no longer see any of their wines on local shelves. Luckily, we still had a bottle tucked away in the cellar.

The Spinetta estate was only established in 1977 - a relative baby by Italian standards - and it climbed to "superstar" status with its introduction of state-of-the-art machinery and attention to production detail. The winery initially produced only a Moscato. It started adding reds in the 80's with the introduction of a Barbera and then upped the ante with a formerly unheard of Barbera/Nebbiolo blend. The mid-90's saw the inaugural production of Barbaresco and that brings us to tonight's bottle. Valeirano is one of three single vineyard Barbarescos that La Spinetta currently produces and they are definite stars in the portfolio.

I'll simply say that this was one heckuva wine to cook with - at least for the cooks. While  I'm sure it would have imparted a grandness had we added some to a batch of the tomatoes, there was no way we were putting this rich baby into the sauce. With an intensity of body and integrated tannins, the winery's Spec Page says that 2003 vintage can likely be aged up to 30 years. We obviously didn't wait that long but I think the decade we gave the bottle was sufficient time to harmonize the big flavours.

Down the road, I may not be blogging all our bottles to the same extent. I think, however, that I may have to put fingers to keys should I run across some more Spinetta wines. You know I'll be keeping an eye open for them.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

An Artful Chard

If you've been reading this last series of posts, you've likely noticed that I've been pulling some of our bigger guns out of the cellar for these final bottles to close out The List before I hit the 2001st wine. Tonight's wine definitely fits the bill of a "big gun." We've only got one bottle and that's because I've only ever seen one bottle for sale in a shop - and that was in New York City. I don't know that anyone carries it in Vancouver - and, even if someone did, I'd be afraid to see what price it comes in at.

I think it's fair to say that the Vancouver market has never seen many Margaret River wines on a regular basis. The region has been one that I've always had a fondness for though - ever since I tried and quite liked a bottle while I was in Australia in 1996. I returned to Vancouver and could only find two or three bottles from the region in our city and, naturally, that was at one of the premium wine shops. I tried another of the district's wines. Enjoyed it. And, with the region being two for two, I've always had a positive outlook on the region's wines.

That being said, I've been holding on to tonight's bottle for an "occasion." I think hitting #1995 on The List qualifies.

1995.  2004 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay (Margaret River - Australia)

Leeuwin Estate is family owned and operated and, with its bevy of national and international accolades and awards, is one of the - if not the - pre-eminent wineries in the Margaret River region. Unlike some other Aussie wine regions - like the Barossa - winemaking in Margaret River didn't really get started until the 1970's. Indeed, it was only in 1969 that Leeuwin Estate was one of the five founding wineries in the Margaret River district located to the south of Perth in Western Australia. Leeuwin, however, didn't actually make any vintage wines for release until 1978. It's been all uphill from there.

Making three separate labels, Leeuwin's Art Series wines are their "most opulent and ageworthy" wines. The first vintage of Art Series Chardonnay was 1980 and it arrived on the scene with a declaration by Decanter magazine that it was the best Chardonnay in the world in 1982.

My introduction to Leeuwin's Art Series Chardonnay was at an Australian Wine Appreciation Society tasting in Vancouver that involved a blind tasting of fifteen or so Chardonnay's from around the world. Leeuwin's was, by far, the favourite wine of the evening - including my score card. However, as much as I kept an eye open for it, I could never find a bottle of the wine until that New York wine shop.

The region has continued to have a romanticized hold on me though and, when Boo and I made a trip back to Australia in 2012, we decided to travel out to Perth for a quick venture down to Margaret River with Merlot Boy and Margarita. We managed to fit in a dinner at Leeuwin and finally added a bottle of the Art Series Chard to The List - along with a couple other Leeuwin wines.

It's now time to add a second vintage to The List before this Odyssey peters out.

We had quite the scare opening this bottle though. The cork broke on me while I was pulling it out and I couldn't help but worry that, if the cork was faulty, the wine might be faulty as well. There was a heavy sigh of relief though after the first taste. The wine was still rich and velvety on the tongue. There was noticeable, although refined, oaking and some subtle hints of tropical fruit still shone through.

A rare treat but oh so enjoyable. There haven't been many wines on my journey that have as hallowed a history as the Art Series Chardonnay but isn't that exactly why we try to experience as many different wines and regions as we can. It makes those special occasions all that more special.