Saturday 18 December 2010

Wine Club: Episode Three

Last weekend was the third iteration of our small wine and dinner club, with hosting duties rotating to the third couple such that now all of us have hosted and created all three courses. Having started with entree duty, I was finally rotated to appetizers, and had been looking forward to it for ages – I had the perfect unique wine to share. A visit to Vista D’oro in the early fall had yielded a bottle of their fascinating Pinot Noix – a Sherry-like wine made from Pinot Noir that has aged for a year with Brandy-macerated walnuts. At the time of my visit the tasting room staff had suggested it would be the perfect accompaniment to a salty savoury olive tapenade so I immediately mentally linked it to one of my favourite appetizer recipes for Kalamata olive sundried tomato tapenade. Served alongside some Salt Spring Island Feta and a fresh baguette the tapenade was a big hit. The Pinot Noix provoked a great deal of mussing as it tickled our noses and palates: there was fruity Pinot Noir there but also the nutty Brandy walnut flavours, quite a roller-coaster experience and altogether delicious.

Our entree of the night was a truly exceptional duo of lasagnes prepared with almost entirely fresh homemade ingredients, right down to the ricotta! Homemade tomato sauce and pasta yielded results that are actually making me hungry as I write about it: mushroom lasagne for the vegetarians and a traditional meat dish for the other half of the crowd. Sandhill 2007 Small Lots Three was the ideal match – a blend of Barbera and Sangiovese with a touch of Merlot. The bottle had been opened earlier to decant and by dinner was awash in smooth juicy fruit. Considering only 266 cases were made I consider myself lucky to have tried this charming wine, some of which is still available on Sandhill’s website – get it while it lasts!

The final course was quite a sight to behold as we were presented with delightfully arranged dishes of poached pears and Poplar Grove Tiger Blue. The pears had been poached whole in mulled wine, and I’d certainly never had anything like that before! Ironically our dessert chefs pulled out a bottle of “D’oro”, the famous fortified walnut wine from its namesake winery Vista D’oro. Primarily Marechal Foch with Merlot and Cabernet Franc this wine is a unique and treasured treat. The aromatic red wine sauce and sweet pears mixed with the strong sweet flavours of the D’oro and tangy Tiger Blue made for a very enjoyable and memorable final course!


Upon reflection I’ve realized what makes our wine club so enjoyable for everyone: it is a non-competitive distributed compliment system! Since we are all making different courses that fulfill different functions, we are never in competition to “out-do” one another in a given evening; to do so would be attempting to compare apples and oranges, quite literally in some cases. Each course can be appreciated entirely on its own, and thus each amateur chef/sommelier receives unique compliments and praise. Because everyone contributes uniquely the compliments are distributed across all three couples, and everyone leaves happy in the knowledge that they helped make the evening a success! I’m looking forward to our next meeting in January: I’m back on entree duty and have already settled on the menu item and accompanying wine, neither of which I have ever tried before – it should be exciting!

Monday 13 December 2010

Legacy Liquor Store

Last month a new private liquor store called Legacy opened in the Olympic Village (aka Millennium Water) neighbourhood; and not just any store, but the “largest private liquor store in BC!” At 8,600 square feet I can testify that this is a big store for someone used to the tight spaces of VQA wine stores and shops like Liberty Wines. I was fortunate enough to attend the grand opening and check out the BC wine selection, which impressed me a great deal in the expansive offerings and the aggressive prices. Although the majority of their selection was marked only by hand-written Post-It notes on that first day I could tell that Wine Supervisor Lesley Anne Saito has sourced some unique and hard-to-find offerings, and has permission to price them very fairly.

I have since revisited Legacy and although there were still a few empty spots on the shelves the majority of their wine has been displayed – with plenty of room to grow. In fact with such large common spaces in the centre of the store Legacy is able to build massive flexible displays like the tower of Joie wines I admired during my second visit. Upon entering I immediately spotted some rare gems in the BC wine section and was forced to make the difficult decision of which two bottles to purchase – my typical wine-shopping bag only has room for two, to keep my buying habits in check! Although Lake Breeze’s 2007 Tempest caught my eye – having just been awarded a high silver medal at the Canadian Wine Awards – I ultimately settled on two even rarer big reds for my 2007 collection. The first choice was relatively easy, as Legacy is the first store in which I have ever spotted Rollingdale’s La Gauche Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend. With only 385 cases produced, and a sterling 91+ points review from Icon Wines I knew this little-known wine would be a valuable addition. Rollingdale also produces a Merlot-heavy blend called La Droite (the names refer to the Left and Right banks of Bordeaux), but I don’t think I’ll be so lucky as to own the full pair; perhaps as Rollingdale’s reputation grows so too will their production and distribution.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThe second bottle I selected was Bill Eggert’s “The Bear”, a complex Meritage blend from his Fairview Cellars winery. I was lucky enough to find the 2006 vintage earlier this year, and now thanks to Legacy I can add the 2007 to my collection. Once again I put my trust in the talented team at Icon Wines: their 91-93 point review for this vintage was hard to ignore. The Bear is said to be included in the wine lists of many top BC restaurants, and I look forward to aging mine a few years in an attempt to do justice to Bill’s hard work. Fairview Cellars recently updated their website to include more than just contact information – it now lists the current releases and purchasing information. In fact the 2008 vintage of The Bear is already available via the winery, and Bill is keeping the price at a very reasonable $35. A high-quality boutique winery Meritage for under $40 is a treasure in BC’s cut-throat industry, given the many challenges and expenses faced by small producers. I hope to keep adding wines from Fairview Cellars to my collection over the years; I would suggest keeping your eyes peeled for entry level blends like “Madcap Red” and “Two Hoots”, I certainly will be!

Friday 3 December 2010

November Acquisitions - Part IV

This is one of the last Pinot Noirs from Le Vieux Pin, released only recently alongside the larger non-reserve 2008 bottling titled “Adieu”, officially their last bottling of Pinot Noir. It remains to be seen if a 2008 Reserve is resting in the cellars for release next year, but if 2007 marks the end of a (albeit short) era for Le Vieux Pin they have certainly gone out on a high note. Based on a strong recommendation from the staff at Taylorwood Wines I purchased this wine for my 2008 collection after reading a very positive review from John Schreiner; I particularly liked his description of the palate as being “almost as rich as a dark fruitcake.” Le Vieux Pin cropped the vines for this wine to a ridiculously low 1.4 tons per acre and released fewer than 300 cases, hence the $45 price tag – more than many Meritage blends in fact (still less than Foxtrot’s $55 Lt. Governor’s Award-winning Pinot Noir however). Still, if the early reviews are correct I think this wine will have excellent aging potential and will be a valuable addition to my collection; I may even taste it alongside Quails’ Gate’s 2007 Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir in a few years to see how two $45 Pinots stack up.

Perhaps one word sums up Poplar Grove’s approach to winemaking and that is “patience”. This merlot-heavy blend is a particularly good example of this approach, as after spending two years in oak the good people at Poplar Grove held it for a further 18 months in bottle to ensure it is fully approachable upon release. Considering it was released at the same time Mission Hill was taking the wraps of their 2007 red blends you can see how patient Poplar Grove is willing to be for our benefit. Bottle aging is expensive: with cellar space at a premium many wineries are hesitant to hold their product for long after bottling. Plus, it must be nerve-wracking to stare at thousands of bottles of $50 wine that you are NOT selling yet for months on end: who knows what calamity could befall that wine while it waits, everything from fires to mudslides can wipe out a year’s worth of product – and profit. Suffice to say, Poplar Grove must be very pleased this wine is now in stores, and receiving many positive reviews from the likes of John Schreiner, the often conservative Anthony Gismondi, and the fine gentlemen at Icon Wines. Although I’m certain The Legacy is excellent right now, mine is awaiting consumption in 2013 alongside an equally well-received Poplar Grove 2006 Cabernet Franc; I look forward to it!

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Wine Club: Episode Two

Last weekend was the second iteration of our friendly little wine and food club. As my wife and I were hosts last time the dessert duty was passed to us this month, as the previous dessert chefs moved to the appetizer course, and the entree and hosting duties were taken up by the previous appetizer chefs. Our new appetizer chefs W & D had just recently taken up home cheese making and so we were treated to a delicious homemade eggplant and paneer curry paired with the highly-awarded Pentâge Gewurztraminer 2009. Having just received a Lt. Governor’s Award for Excellence in BC Wines plus a Gold Medal in the 2010 All Canadian Wine Championships, this Gewurztraminer did not disappoint in the flavour department. Not only did delectable aromas of oranges and lychee fill the air above our glasses, but the flavour was a perfect complement to the curry dish. We were all very impressed with Pentage and I’ll have to keep a close eye on them in the future: they have a very large repertoire of wines so it may take me some time to work my way through them!
                As the aromas of our entree course began to fill the air all eyes were drawn to the deep red hue of something special in the decanter on the buffet: our hosts B & L proudly revealed a bottle of Hillside 2002 Mosaic. Considering I’ve only began seriously collecting our fine BC wines in the past couple of years, I have nothing in my collection from such a far-removed vintage; the chance to try a well-aged Naramata-bench red was tantalizing indeed! As our plates were graced by a beautiful mushroom risotto with sautéed cherry tomatoes and asparagus we collectively relished the aromas coming from our glasses as the Mosaic was poured. This Bordeaux blend had been bottle aging for nearly seven years and the texture was silky smooth, with aromas and flavours almost unnervingly well-matched to the risotto. I was quite amazed at the earthy mushroom aromas that paralleled the dish in front of us, and murmurs of pleasure and sighs of contentment filled the room as we dug into our meal.
                After some seconds of risotto by at least one of us (how could I resist half-a-dozen different kinds of mushrooms?!) we took time to consider the dessert wine I had brought: Cherry Point Cowichan Blackberry. Although I had initially expected traditional grape wines to be focus of this club, I had already become the first to break out of the box with something different. Some wild blackberries I had picked last fall were still doing quite well in the freezer, but I felt the time was right for blackberry squares, and what better an accompaniment than their namesake wine. Cowichan Blackberry comes to us from Vancouver Island, where ripe wild blackberries are transformed into what we discovered is a smooth and well-balanced dessert wine, that despite one’s expectations is just sufficiently off-dry as to avoid perceptions of syrupiness. Of course the wine and squares paired quite nicely, and we all enjoyed trying blackberry wine for the first time. It was the end of another successful evening, in which we all got to be the stars: my thanks once again to my adventurous friends for embracing this concept so whole-heartedly!

Sunday 21 November 2010

November Acquisitions – Part III

Two "archive" wines were my third set of acquisitions in November, obtained from perusing the shelves of private stores in downtown Vancouver. I'm often surprised by what I find on store shelves when I least expect it, and in this case I got the rare opportunity to add some back vintages to my collection.

Osoyoos Larose: Le Grand Vin (2005)
The first vintage of this legendary wine was produced in 2001: a joint effort of Vincor and the French Group Taillan. Growing Bordeaux varietals in southern BC has proven a very successful venture, not only for Osoyoos Larose of course but for a great many wineries seeking to produce powerful red blends. Although I have no hope of ever collecting a bottle of the initial few vintages, finding several 2005 editions in Coal Harbour Liquor Store in late October was a very lucky break, especially considering the 2007 was being nearly simultaneously released. How Coal Harbour managed to hold on to a vintage now two years removed is a mystery to me, but when I returned in early November – after promising myself I would wait until the next fiscal month – there was only one bottle left! Although the 2007 is considered by many to be the “best by any measure” the 2005 was also quite positively received at the time. Now that I have all three vintages from 2005 to 2007 I’m thinking a six-year vertical would be very nice to look at indeed! Fortunately Le Grand Vin easily lends itself to long-term cellaring; this 2005 will still be relatively young in four years when I finally have to make room for the 2011. Six years will be sufficient for my needs however; I’m looking forward to an aged Grand Vin on my birthday each year starting in 2014!
Mission Hill: Select Lot Collection Syrah (2006)
Although I have the 2007 SLC Syrah I actually did not have any intention of purchasing this particular vintage. I was looking for a 2006 Pinot Noir to bulk up my Pinot selection from that year. Having spotted a 2006 Howling Bluff Pinot in Sutton Place Wine Merchant in October I returned with the knowledge it won a Lt. Governor’s Award, eager to add such a well-regarding wine to my collection. Sadly it was nowhere to be found, and the consequences of my (barely restrained) patience once again reared their ugly head! Perhaps “patience is a virtue” should be revised with an addendum “...except in cases of limited resources!” Still in mourning I spotted this Syrah, being familiar with its (excellent) younger sibling. Knowing I still had room in the 2006 rack I quickly digitally confirmed my expectations of excellence and made the easy decision to pick it up. Anthony Gismondi suggested one to three years of aging for this wine in 2009 so it should be perfectly ready to drink in 2011 when I open it up. Of course by then I may have the 2008 SLC Syrah and will want to hold on to all three vintages for a special vertical tasting!

Wednesday 17 November 2010

November Acquisitions - Part II

A visit to Village Wines Dunbar in early November ensured I could check off another two wines from my to-buy list, including a rare past vintage from Sandhill and a delicious Chardonnay from Mission Hill to complete my 2007 Chardonnay collection. The three Village Wines stores are one of Vancouver's best sources for hard-to-find VQA wines, as well as the occasional unexpected treat!

Mission Hill: Select Lot Collection Chardonnay (2007)
Mission Hill has one of the largest portfolio’s in the BC wine industry, with four fully differentiated tiers of wine under their home label (not to mention their many semi-independent sub-brands). Within the Mission Hill label there sits the Five Vineyards wines, the Reserve tier, the Select Lot Collection, and finally the Legacy Series, home of giants such as the Bordeaux-style blend Oculus. Within their three different levels of “reserve” wines the Selection Lot Collection Chardonnay sits comfortably in the middle. Although the Reserve Chardonnay – at a very reasonably-priced $19 – racks up regular medals at the Chardonnay du Monde competition, this 2007 SLC wine has received a great many accolades itself, and continues Mission Hill’s aggressive pricing structure at only $22. In particular the 2007 SLC Chardonnay was named Best of Category at the 2009 All Canadian Wine Championships, and also received the Regional Trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards. Buttery, baked apple flavours are often associated with this wine; just listen to Daenna Van Mulligen’s glowing review: “...oozes ripe pear and melon aromas, exotic citrus and praline with warm pie crust, baking spices and vanilla.” If that doesn’t make your mouth start watering I don’t know what will!
Sandhill: Small Lots Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah (2006)
The blending of Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah was pioneered by the Australian wine industry, and has spread to North America as the benefits of this unique blend have become obvious: the powerful tannins and age-ability of Cabernet Sauvignon are an excellent complement and match for the fleshy fruit aspects of the Syrah. As part of Sandhill’s Small Lots Collection winemaker Howard Soon has blended grapes from Sandhill’s estate vineyard off of Black Sage Road south of Oliver. A very positive review from Icon Scores encouraged me to add a bottle of this intriguing blend to my collection, and I am certain Sandhill won’t let me down when I open it next fall. I’m particularly optimistic about this wine’s versatility, as it is reported to stand up well on its own or even with a dessert course of peppered chocolate! Only 363 cases of the 2006 vintage were produced, but I found nearly a full case at Village Wines Dunbar. The 2007 vintage was released in March and recently sold-out at the winery. Although I don’t really have the room in my collection I’ve decided to pick up a bottle should I see one, for it has been hinted to me that 2007 will be Sandhill’s last vintage of this particular blend; VQA stores or the Granville Island Brewery store (which also carries select wines, including Sandhill) might be your best bet before it’s gone forever.

Thursday 11 November 2010

November Acquisitions – Part I

The first week of every month usually means a bit of a shopping spree for me, as my self-imposed wine budget is reset, and I have a shortlist of collectibles burning a hole in my pocket. This month I added eight excellent wines to the cellar, including some valuable past vintages I was excited to find. I’ll discuss them two at a time over the remainder of the month, in the order I purchased them; enjoy!
Painted Rock’s very first release of Cabernet Sauvignon last year (the 2007 vintage) won a Lt. Governor’s Award. Not only was this a very impressive way to enter the BC wine scene, but Painted Rock took home a second Award for their Red Icon blend! Sadly, although I managed to acquire the 2007 Red Icon (and the 2007 Merlot) I missed my chance in adding the Cabernet Sauvignon to my cellar. Fortunately I was ready to buy this year as soon as I saw the 2008 vintage appear on store shelves. Other consumers should be equally better off this year because Painted Rock surprisingly did not use any of their Cabernet Sauvignon in the 2008 Red Icon, leaving quite a bit more for the single varietal release. You may have to conduct a bit of sleuthing however, as it is unlikely to show up in VQA stores; I picked mine up from Brewery Creek, after seeing it first at Crosstown Liquor Store. Keep your eyes peeled for the 2008 Red Icon in the New Year, as it has received some extremely positive early press, and will surely be a valuable addition to any BC wine collection.
A was afforded the rare and precious opportunity to visit Blackwood Lane’s winery in Langley, and couldn’t pass up the chance to pick up a bottle of the red blend Icon Wines awarded their Wine of the Year label in 2009. Even better, I was able to taste a nicely decanted sample during my visit, an opportunity often lacking for many of the wines I collect on faith (and lots of detailed research!). Although a $60 wine at the winery (and significantly higher-priced in private stores), Alliance is actually the baby brother to Blackwood Lane’s “The Reference”, a 95-point Bordeaux-style blend that retails for more than $100 in stores. Having decided that I’m willing to “settle” for 94 points, I opted for the Alliance, and my decision was cemented when I smelled the incredible aromas coming out of my glass in the tasting room. I was not ashamed to admit out loud that I wanted to stay and smell that glass all day long. My purchase was guaranteed without even needing a taste, but a couple of sips of that incredibly balanced, smoothly-textured delight and I was hooked. With bottle in hand I grudgingly left, already wondering if I could afford a second one to open immediately – I sadly have to wait until 2013 to taste it again if I follow my own cellaring strategy. Of course it should be even better by then, and hopefully will be followed by subsequent vintages: I’m told the 2007 is just as amazing, and awaiting bottling – I think Blackwood Lane may become an annual pilgrimage!

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Best of BC Fall Release

This past Saturday BC Liquor Stores held their “Best of BC” Fall Release, in which selected Signature Stores offered a number of newly released VQA red wines. Although at least a couple of the wines on offer were actually older vintages (e.g., Laughing Stock Portfolio 2007, Painted Rock Red Icon 2007), a few wines were seeing stores for the first time. Always the eager collector I took the chance to snag a few bottles I didn’t already have. There are still many bottles left – but going fast – of most of the wines available, including the new (2007) releases of Mission Hill’s venerable Compendium and Quatrain. Below are the four wines in particular I singled out for addition to my collection.
Nk’Mip: Qwam Qwmt Pinot Noir (2008): Nk’Mip Cellars submitted both their 2007 and 2008 Reserve Pinot Noirs to the Canadian Wine Awards this year, and won prestigious Gold Medals for both of them! The 2008 vintage was just released in August, but there is some 2007 to be found if you are very lucky: I recently discovered a few bottles – and picked one up – at Village VQA Wines Dunbar; they may still some left. Both vintages have racked up a long list of national and international awards; the 2007 was also named Best of Class in the 2009 All Canadian Wine Championships and the 2009 Los Angeles International Wine Competition. Winemaker Randy Pickton has been heard to declare the 2008 as the “best ever”; Nk’Mip is certainly setting the standard in the Pinot Noir department. Even Nk’Mip’s non-reserve wines are highly awarded, and preserved nicely under screwcap (the Qwam Qwmt releases are all sealed with cork).
Burrowing Owl: Syrah (2007): Burrowing Owl wines are highly-collectable due to their scarcity and superb reputation. With enviable vineyard locations in the Black Sage Bench between Oliver and Osoyoos, Burrowing Owl has been producing sought-after wines for many years, and is arguably one of BC’s first “cult” wineries. Most of their production is snapped up by restaurants as a result of their status, and bottles for sale are rarely seen outside private wine shops. The opportunity to pick up a delicious Syrah for winery-pricing was too good to pass up: few of Burrowing Owl’s wines are even offered for sale directly from the winery, unless you visit in person! The 2008 vintage is currently on offer from the winery, so this may be your last chance to obtain the 2007! The Syrah will join my bottles of Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc and Meritage (also part of the Best of BC release) from the 2007 vintage, a trio I look forward to enjoying in a few years!
CedarCreek: Platinum Merlot (2007): The 2006 vintage of CedarCreek’s legendary Merlot was awarded a Lt. Governor’s Award for Excellence in BC wines, and the new 2007 vintage sports a shiny Gold Medal from the Canadian Wine Awards (ironically the 2006 only received a Bronze, such are the vagaries of wine competitions). CedarCreek has been holding back this wine for some time as the large 2006 vintage is sold off (1279 cases versus 878 cases for 2007). Part of the reason for the delay was to avoid awkwardness resulting from the new labels: having two significantly different labels side-by-side was probably perceived as unnecessarily confusing. However, some 2006 bottles can still be found in Vancouver-area shops, and it’s worth picking up one or two for the cellar. Both vintages are available for the reduced price of $35, and I hope CedarCreek sticks with this reasonable price for the remainder of the 2007 release.
Osoyoos Larose: Le Grand Vin (2007): Followers of BC wine will be quite familiar with probably the most well-known Bordeaux-style blend produced in the province, a wine partnership between two industry giants – Groupe Taillan of France and Vincor Canada. Osoyoos Larose’s facility in Oliver has been overseen since 2002 by French viticulturist (and newly-minted Canadian citizen) Pascal Madevon, who has produced steadily-improving Bordeaux blends from BC grapes for several years. The wines are meant to age, and the 2007 is no exception; you’ll want to hold on to this wine for at least a few years to let it reach its maximum potential. The 2007 Grand Vin has been labelled by many in the industry as the best ever; fortunately there is plenty to go around: case production often tops 10,000 for distribution across Canada. Wide-ranging availability and reasonable pricing ($45), combined with consistent quality ensures Le Grand Vin a spot in most collections.

Thursday 14 October 2010

The Wine Club

Last night we sat down for dinner with some friends for the first of what I hope to be a monthly series of wine and food pairings – a small Wine Club if you will. Three couples, three bottles of BC wine, an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert. Each couple provides a wine and food pairing, and the course assignments and location rotate, with the entree always provided by the host couple (who thus have access to their own kitchen). Three bottles of wine for six people is just enough that we all get a couple small glasses of each wine to enjoy, and everyone leaves safely sober by the end of the night. Most entree recipes will feed six people after appetizers, plus most of us only have six chairs around our dining tables! We may be on to something here...
For our first Wine Club I hosted, it having been my idea in the first place, and I relished the opportunity to finally open a bottle of Joie 2009 Muscat that was waiting for the right time and place. Joie’s Muscat is a rare commodity; I ordered mine direct from the winery this past Spring when it was first released. Not only is this delightful grape rare in BC, but most of Joie’s 151 cases get snatched up by restaurants: the world-famous Vij’s here in Vancouver carries this wine alongside four other BC wines, within a wine list only eleven bottles long. That knowledge was enough to spur on an Indian feast, and I got to work on Tuesday preparing for a red lentil dhal, a chickpea-potato tomato curry, and a creamy vegetable curry from Vij’s own recipe.
Before it came time to dig into curries however we got to enjoy the appetizer course: a cold Asian noodle salad with peanuts and scallions paired with Neck of the Woods Blanc de Noir Brut. The only Fraser Valley estate-bottled sparkling wine, the crisp and clean acidity of this wine paired well with the rice-wine vinegar-based dressing. I was able to detect the charming hint of peaches that Neck of the Woods describes, and that creamy finish was much appreciated.
When it came time to serve the dahl and curries, with naan and steamed Basmati rice, we revelled in the floral nose of the Muscat before even tasting it. Muscat really has an aroma unlike any other wine, and sometimes leaves me wanting to keep smelling without any tasting required! This Muscat in particular is a sneaky one, as the acidity and the long, dry finish surprise those who go into it expecting a much sweeter wine given the floral nose. Joie describes flavours of ripe peach, orange blossom, and lemon-drop candies on the palate, and I think between the six of us we all experienced at least one of those – always nice when you actually find agreement with the winemaker’s perceptions!
Following a few second-helpings of curry and dahl, we took out of the oven a now-warmed and impressive-looking blackberry-blueberry pie, made with handpicked blackberries from our courageous and now heavily-scarred friends. An all butter crust made us lick our lips as we read the tasting notes for our third bottle: Nk’Mip 2008 Riesling. Very much a dry Riesling (with even less residual sugar than the Muscat), this wine was released last summer; the 2009 just came out this August (and has nearly twice as much sugar). Under screwcap it has fared fine of course, and we could appreciate the granny smith apple aromas wafting from our glasses. The crisp, dry finish was actually a welcome pairing with the sweet, syrupy pie filling, and proved that you don’t need a “dessert” wine to go with dessert!
Next month is our turn for dessert, and I’m already thinking of different pairings: I enjoy the challenge of choosing a wine, and then coming up with something delicious with which to serve it. It may in fact prove difficult to hold this Wine Club only once a month; I’ve got so many ideas already – I’ll keep you posted!

Friday 8 October 2010

Fraser Valley Wineries

Fraser Valley Wineries
Last Saturday we visited a farmer’s market near Langley with some friends, and after loading up on some unusually large produce we headed back to Vancouver, only to pass by a winery: Neck of the Woods. After determining that it had a tasting room and was actually open we headed back for a visit. There are quite a few wineries in the area around Langley, in the designated viticultural area officially called The Fraser Valley. Since we so rarely make it out there it seemed like a great time to check out this sometimes overlooked region of BC’s wine industry. What began as one winery visit turned into an exciting afternoon of wine touring that we hadn’t expected whatsoever!
Neck of the Woods Winery, our first stop, is a young winery that began life as Glenugie Winery in 2002. After the unfortunate passing of the winery’s founder it was purchased by a White Rock developer in 2008 and eventually renamed Neck of the Woods. They grow Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, and Schoenberger at the Langley vineyards, and produce a very nice sparkling Blanc de Noir from that Pinot, plus a Rose from the Zweigelt and Schoenberger. The winery also produces several additional wines from Okanagan fruit, such as a solid Meritage and a very off-dry Gewurztraminer. After tasting several of their wines (some of which can also be found under the “Backyard” label) we ended up taking home a bottle of Brut, as well as a mixed case of Chardonnay, Merlot, and Gamay (all Okanagan VQA) – 2006-vintage leftovers from Glenugie and priced to move at $99/case. There’s still plenty left so if you’re looking for some good basic table wines at a price that can’t be beat it’s a great opportunity.
Following Neck of the Woods, and with a complimentary and handy Fraser Valley Wineries map in hand we decided the day was young, and headed off in search of Township 7’s Langley location (having visited their Okanagan winery last spring). Township 7 clearly brings in a lot of traffic, as the small tasting room was buzzing with activity. We tried a few whites – a very nice Viognier, a crisp and clean Sauvignon Blanc, and a refreshing un-oaked Chardonnay among them – before picking out a tapas tray and a chilled bottle of Viognier for the picnic table outside. Having these pre-made trays of cheeses and dips ready to go in the fridge is a stroke of genius on Township 7’s part, and was the perfect way to enjoy a leisurely lunch in the vineyards. Red wines followed lunch and we thoroughly enjoyed the Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon; a breakthrough moment occurred when we realized that the Merlot conjured up flavours that reminded us all of smoked ham with mustard – surprisingly specific! I ended up purchasing a bottle, recalling that I also very much enjoyed the previous year’s vintage (2006) when I got a bottle in the Okanagan.
Quite close to Township 7 is a very unique winery and farm called Vista D’oro: “a culinary agritourism destination” in their own words. Vista D’oro not only produces a small portfolio of table and dessert wine (primarily using Okanagan fruit), but also an extensive series of artisanal preserves from fruit and vegetables grown on the farm. Above and beyond their excellent wine you should visit if you are interested in unique, locally-made, high-quality gifts to impress the foodies in your life. If we hadn’t just purchased a couple of jars of compote at the farmer’s market, we would certainly have come away with delicious-sounding preserves such as Turkish Fig with Walnut Wine or Chestnuts, Dates and Brandy. The selection changes with the seasons of course, the mark of a truly authentic artisanal producer. Fortunately you can find Vista D’oro wines year-round in VQA stores, including a very unique fortified wine called simply “D’oro”: a walnut wine comprised of Marechal Foch, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc in which green walnuts (from the trees right beside the tasting room) have been macerating in Okanagan Brandy. The best part is, Vista D’oro uses the brandy-soaked walnuts a second time after draining off the red wine blend. They add Okanagan Pinot Noir to the mix and age for a year in oak to produce a Sherry-like wine they cheekily call “Pinot Noix”. Hearing that it is not available outside the winery (“D’oro” is in select stores), and would taste superb alongside an olive tapenade (for which I have a killer recipe) I had to get a bottle!
The next time you find yourself in the Fraser Valley on a beautiful sunny Saturday keep your eyes peeled for winery signs; you might just discover some unique treats and unexpected delights!

Thursday 30 September 2010


Wednesday morning after Simply Red I dragged myself out of bed; it was definitely a work-at-home day. A relatively slow pace kept me busy until that evening, when I knew I had something exciting to look forward to. The reason I was so excited was because the week before I had WON tickets to ChefmeetsGrape! Originally I had passed on purchasing tickets when I learned the theme this year was seafood – as a vegetarian I didn’t feel I would get my $80 worth having to pass on half the event. Winning tickets thanks to the BC wine institute was pretty awesome to say the least: now I could concentrate on the wine and ignore the food!
ChefmeetsGrape is an annual event that pairs BC wine with culinary creations from various Lower Mainland restaurants. The room is centered around a dozen different tasting stations producing small portions of signature dishes from each eatery, matched with a selected BC wine. This year the event took place in the new Vancouver Convention Centre, in the same space that hosted the Playhouse International Wine Festival this past spring. (Too bad Playhouse is going back to VCC East – the “old” convention centre – next year!) The new facility is spectacular, roomy and modern; I’m going to miss it! Around the perimeter of the room – in alphabetical order – were about a third of BC’s over 180 wineries, including all the big players such as Mission Hill, Jackson-Triggs, Nk’Mip, Sandhill, CedarCreek, and many, many more. Not needing to line up for food we headed straight to the wine tables, with a quick stop at the Savoury Crackers table for some samples.
Needless to say I was most definitely spitting this evening, as my stomach was still doing summersaults from the night before. Not that the crowd made it very easy however, as some people seemed totally oblivious to the spit bucket while they stood directly in front of it. I soon gave up on decorum and just leaned down to spit more inches away from people’s crotches – if you get splashed Mr. Dumbass it’s your own fault! The crowd was definitely different from those you’d meet at the Playhouse Festival; people were hungry and very interested in food for one, but they also seemed kind of rude as well to be frank. More than I few times my wife and I got jostled and pushed around; a number of people just seemed more interested in getting their $80 worth of food and wine than in actually appreciating the learning opportunities in front of them.
I enjoyed a number of new releases from wineries both big and small, including Quails’ Gate’s new 2008 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay. Last year’s (2007) release won a Gold medal at the Canadian Wine Awards and this year looks to be equally polished and valuable. I also enjoyed stopping by Painted Rock’s table to sample most of their portfolio, many of which I have cellared but not had the chance to try (one bottle of $55 Red Icon is enough for me at this stage in my collection). Painted Rock’s 2008 reds are being released next month, and this time there will be quite a bit more of their Lt. Governor’s Award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon, as the Red Icon didn’t include any in the blend this year. The Sandhill table was also a lot of fun, with a limited selection of Howard Soon’s Small Lot wines to taste – and the man himself to meet as well. Sandhill was just named Canadian Winery of the Year by Wine Access last year, and had the swag to publicize it – I helped myself to a couple of charming Sandhill pens touting their success. I also stopped by the Church & State table to try their new release 2008 Chardonnay, which took away Best of Category at both the All Canadian Wine Championships and the San Francisco International Wine Competition. This creamy, toasty wine will definitely be joining the 2008 collection alongside Quails’ Gate and others.
ChefmeetsGrape yielded many more treats and surprises (such as the stunning Daniel Chocolates table), and if you enjoy food and wine I suggest attending in the future, just wear a helmet and shin guards, and be ready to defend your spot in line. Lastly, don’t wear light-coloured pants if you’re going to stand beside the spit bucket, lest someone decorate your lap. Cheers!

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Wine Wednesday Warm-up!

There is a tradition on Twitter of celebrating Wine Wednesday by discussing what you’re drinking that evening, or posting other interesting wine information. Last week we celebrated Wine Wednesday in style by attending the ChefmeetsGrape wine and food event at the Vancouver Convention Centre. But first, I warmed myself up with the Naramata Bench Simply Red Fall wine release at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Simply Red has always been a media/trade-only tasting event in which all the Naramata Bench wineries show off their latest red wine releases. This year however, for those of us civilians the event was paired with a public version in the evening, following the afternoon trade tasting. I purchased tickets and arranged to attend with some friends for an evening of purple tongues and gray teeth!
The Simply Red event was held in the heritage courtrooms at the Art Gallery, two small rooms that were actual courtrooms when the building was the Vancouver Courthouse. Hard to believe this seemingly small space was a courtroom compared to the giant galleries we see on TV these days, but they were perfect for a wine tasting! There were quite a few wineries present, many of which I am very fond of, having visited in person last Spring: Nichol, Kettle Valley, Therapy, Van Westen, Lake Breeze, Black Widow, Howling Bluff, Laughing Stock, Hillside, Poplar Grove, D’Angelo, Red Rooster, La Frenz, Township 7, and Elephant Island Orchard Wines. I even stayed at Black Widow in their lovely Bed and Breakfast and was looking forward to saying hello to Dick Lancaster, the owner, but alas he was not present that evening (hard to make the trip to Vancouver for every event no doubt).
The highlights of my evening at Simply Red were tasting Laughing Stock’s small but finely crafted line-up, including their delicious Blind Trust Red, the majestic Portfolio, and the heavenly Syrah – their first vintage, and long since sold out (I never even saw any in stores). Also very enjoyable was sampling Howling Bluff’s exquisite Pinot Noir and chatting extensively with owner and winemaker Luke Smith. I had just met Luke’s son Daniel earlier this month at a tasting at Taylorwood – he regaled me of his attempts to reassure his father their choice of a risky wild yeast ferment would yield dividends. It appears to have worked like a charm, as Luke informed us his Pinot Noir has been awarded a Gold Medal at the Canadian Wine Awards, a huge coup! Alas, it is now sold out at the winery, but I managed to pick up a bottle at Taylorwood, and as of Sunday they had ten bottles left; if you can find it buy some because it is simply fantastic.
Other notable treats I can recall – the evening seems to get hazy near the end for some reason – include the powerful reds of Van Westen, following in the footsteps of a reputation built on well crafted whites. Both the Merlot/Cab Franc “Voluptuous” (two vintages) and the all-Merlot “Vivre la Vie” were present and impressive in their attention to detail and power. Anthony Gismondi declares the young Vivre la Vie “a brute” with strong potential to improve and I would have to agree; I hope to lay down a bottle if I can find any in stores (only 100 cases produced)! For much less “brutish” flavours we travelled to Kettle Valley’s table for a sample of their rare and desirable fortified Malbec called “Starboard”. At $24 per 375ml bottle this is a slow-sipping wine but still a bargain compared to ice-wine! The flavour is very enjoyable and the use of Malbec (and Petit Verdot) such a treat – it will make a great stocking-stuffer; check private stores such as Liberty Wines.
A few more samples, and then a late dinner and bar visit made sure my body was well aware of its limitations the next morning. I was certain to do a better job of tasting and gracefully spitting at ChefmeetsGrape, which I’ll cover in tomorrow’s post. Until then, happy Wine Wednesday!

Sunday 19 September 2010

Wine Verticals

One of the more entertaining and exciting aspects to wine collecting can be assembling vertical collections of your favourite wines. Tasting multiple vintages of one wine can reveal the incredible changes that take place in different seasons; and if the winery switches vineyards it can show you the powerful effect of terroir on a wine. Bringing out a vertical collection of a favourite wine on a special occasion can be a real treat, and provide for a fun and enlightening evening for your wine-interested friends. Of course, collecting verticals can also be immensely frustrating, as some wines may radically differ in production quantity from year to year, or due to prominent awards may prove immensely difficult to acquire in some years, thus potentially leaving a frustrating hole in your collection. Lastly there is also the difficult decision of when to finally drink that compilation you so carefully and lovingly assembled over years – it may be hard to bring yourself to consume them all in one sitting, knowing how much work and/or money you put into it!
If you decide to start collecting certain wines for the purposes of a vertical tasting one day in the future, you need to first decide on what price point with which you are comfortable. At first I imagined the glory of a vertical collection of some of BC’s icon wines such as Mission Hill’s Legacy Series Compendium or Quatrain, which run in the $40-$50 range. In fact, I very fortunately have all the vintages of both of those sought-after wines, but after reflection realized I would not be able to bring myself to consume multiple vintages of said wines (seeing $120-$150 poured at once would be tough for me). After discussion with my voice of reason I realized with her help that I should focus on the less expensive quality wines available, of which there are quite a few in BC; wines under $25 thus became one of my vertical goals.
Another consideration for your vertical collection is the length of time you want to collect before opening those bottles. I have settled on collections encompassing three vintages: enough to appreciate the annual changes that can take place, but not so many that any one vintage gets lost during the tasting. It should be easy enough for you and a few guests to compare and contrast three years of wine without falling over when you get up. Lastly, three years is relatively easy to store in an out-of-way location – many wine stores sell handy three-bottle boxes in both cardboard and wood.
Beyond your own personal tastes of course, paying careful attention to national or regional awards is a great place to start when planning a vertical. It can be fun to start your collection with a wine that captured a Lt. Governor’s Award, or Wine of the Year in the Canadian Wine Awards or All Canadian Wine Championships. If you have limited space you could start only one vertical per year, based on the wine that wins Red Wine of the Year at the CWAs for example (in 2008 it was Sandhill’s Small Lots Syrah, and last year Jackson-Triggs’ Sunrock Shiraz snagged the prize). Of course, if that’s your plan you better move fast, because a big award has a very effective way of moving bottles out the door!
Sometimes you don’t even choose which wines to collect in a vertical, they seem to choose you when you realize you have two vintages already, with a third on the way – why not hang on to those two until you have the third, and you’ve got yourself a vertical! Below are a few of the wines I’m collecting with the goal of a future vertical-tasting in mind; most of them are reds due to their more flexible storage periods, but whites such as Chardonnay and Riesling can also lend themselves well to mid-term cellaring. Many of BC’s exceptional Chardonnays – made with cellar time in mind – top $30 however, and while I still collect them annually I don’t plan on consuming them in a vertical tasting that would see me go through $100 at once.
Ex Nihilo Riesling ($22): The 2007 vintage won gold at the Riesling du Monde in 2009, and I found a 2006 at Firefly. I have high hopes for acquiring a 2008 sometime soon, as that vintage also won gold at the Riesling du Monde this Spring.
Joie Riesling ($23): This well-known Riesling won a Lt. Governor’s Award for the 2008 release, and after acquiring a couple bottles of the very good 2009 while still retaining a 2008 in my collection, I’ve decided to wait for next Spring’s 2010 release and see what I get! Judging by the Okanagan weather this fall I’m guessing something fairly dry and acidic, but Joie should be able to pull off a lovely crisp, food-friendly Riesling that will round out this vertical.
Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Merlot ($25): My bottle of 2005 Oldfield Merlot is the last one with the “old” labelling, providing for an amusing contrast with the dramatic new labels that started in the 2006 release. Winemaker Sandra Oldfield puts this well-priced Merlot at the centre of Tinhorn’s array of fine wines. As soon as I see a 2007 Oldfield Merlot I’ll grab at least one bottle to complete this collection.
Sumac Ridge Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Franc ($20): The 2006 Black Sage Cabernet Franc won a valuable gold medal at the Canadian Wine Awards, so it seemed like a good place to start the vertical. The 2007 can be seen on shelves how, although you wouldn’t know it from Sumac Ridge – their website contains nary a mention of the new vintage, which has been out for a few months now. Don’t let their e-ignorance dissuade you though, if Sumac can maintain that gold-standard this should be a very nice vertical once I have the 2008.
Inniskillin Dark Horse Vineyard Meritage ($25): This well-priced 2006 Meritage won a bronze medal at the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards, and valuable praise from critics, and when I saw the 2007 come out recently I picked up a bottle and thought it would be fun to collect three years’ worth.
Osoyoos LaRose Petales D’Osoyoos ($25): Petales is Osoyoos LaRose’s “Second Label”, a less-expensive baby brother to Le Grand Vin, their premiere Bordeaux blend. While the best grapes are retained for Le Grand Vin, Petales hardly seems to go wanting. It receives very positive reviews, and even benefits from some cellar time before consumption. I’ve got the 2006 and 2007 vintages in my collection; the 2008 will book-end a charming vertical I can hold for some time until an extra-special occasion calls for it.

Sunday 12 September 2010

It’s Time to Drink Some Wine!

As you can see all of my posts so far have been about wine collecting; you may even wonder if I ever drink wine, or if I just keep buying it and filling every nook and cranny in my home. Fortunately I have a relatively small home so I’m limited in that respect; and yes, I do drink wine! This weekend we had a couple lovely bottles from some of BC’s most well-known wineries: Jackson-Triggs and Sumac Ridge. Some might argue they are one winery, because both are fully owned by Vincor (along with Inniskillin, Osoyoos Larose, Nk’Mip, and See Ya Later), but let’s not get into that – let’s just appreciate good wine for what it is.

Jackson Triggs 2007 Proprietor’s Grand Reserve White Meritage: In 2008 Jackson-Triggs Okanagan was named Winery of the Year at the Canadian Wine Awards. This white meritage was the third-highest-ranked white wine that year (after Wild Goose Pinot Gris, and an Ontario Riesling from Flat Rock). In fact, the only two Gold Medals for White Blends were given to this wine and its older brother from 2006! The blend itself is a traditional Bordeaux mix of Sauvignon Blanc (75%) and Semillon (25%), partially aged in mostly French oak. We enjoyed this soft, smooth wine with a simple potato, leek, celery, and white bean soup. The citrus aromas and subtle oak seemed to go well with the meal, and I was happy to finally consume this wine that I’ve had for a couple years in a suitable forum.

Sumac Ridge 2006 White Pinnacle: I should have opened this wine a while ago, but there never seemed to be a good time to do so – always something else that was more appropriate to the meal or occasion. The 2007 vintage has already been released (in October 2008), and for all I know the 2008 and 2009 should be out already if they’ve continued the series – Sumac is extremely lax at updating their website with new wines and tasting notes. This white blend is a mix of just about everything, ranging from 25% Gewurztraminer, to 2% Semillon. Even more surprising is that the blend has been fermented and aged for 7 months in oak – not something you often see in off-dry, aromatic varietals like Gewurztraminer, Ehrenfelser, and Muscat (all of which are contained within). Sumac recommended drinking it by 2009, and that makes sense, as the oak has clearly begun to dominate the tropical fruit aromas; my apologies to the winemaker for not following your advice with sufficient haste. Nevertheless, we still enjoyed this wine after dinner; it was a fun challenge to pick out the different varietals, and the oak left a comforting toasty aftertaste. I would love to try a newer vintage of this wine to better experience the fresh fruit; I imagine it will be a wholly different wine if consumed shortly after release.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Recent Acquisitions - Part II

The Veterans

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield’s Collection 2Bench White 2007: The 2Bench White has been around for a few years, and winemaker Sandra Oldfield has been carefully fine-tuning the blend to achieve the complexity she is looking for. The wine is designed to be an “age-worthy” white that can be kept under screwtop for 2-4 years after release, which is why I snagged a lonely bottle of 2007 I spotted in Wall Centre Fine Spirits. Having already acquired the 2008 2Bench, and seeing the 2009 just starting to appear on store shelves, I have the potential for a 3-year vertical that I can set aside for a special occasion in the next year. Under Sandra’s watchful eye, the blend in 2Bench has been changing substantially, and is now primarily Chardonnay, while back in 2007 it consisted of 49% Semillon with lesser proportions of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Muscat. In 2008 the Semillon and Chardonnay were almost even while for 2009 the Chardonnay has been bumped up to 44% with the Semillon down to 17%, below Sauvignon Blanc. It should be quite exciting to try all three years against one another and examine how the different proportions of grapes express themselves.

Road 13 Jackpot Chardonnay 2007: Road 13’s reserve tier of wines is called “Jackpot”, and includes Riesling, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Chardonnay. Despite recently phasing out many of their individual varietal wines in favour of new blends such as Rockpile and Stemwinder I can’t imagine Road 13 cancelling the Jackpot series, at least not in its entirety. They have increased the prices however, as the 2008 vintage of Jackpot Chardonnay is up to $41 from $35; a hefty increase in an economy that is seeing some producers lower their prices. Although the Jackpot Chardonnay has been well reviewed in the past, the 2008 vintage didn’t fare so well from prominent critic Anthony Gismondi. Considering that Mission Hill’s highly-ranked, ultra-premium Perpetua Chardonnay is going for only $35, Road 13 may want to reconsider their pricing strategy. With my 2008 Chardonnay collection filling up fast I doubt I’ll spring for the 2008 Jackpot Chardonnay, but the 2007 will have a spot in the 2007 collection.

Road 13 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006: Road 13 is one of those valuable wineries that excels in the areas of white and red wines. Their Cabernet Sauvignon has achieved a certain cult status among collectors, who gasped in disbelief when it was announced the 2007 would be the final year, at least for a while, of this well-loved wine. Having already picked up a bottle of the recently released 2007, which is still quite prevalent, I have been on the lookout for the 2006 for some time. Road 13’s 2006 release received a high silver in both the 2008 and 2009 Canadian Wine Awards – where it was praised for being “a complete, and finally, ripe wine” in a field full of unripe, all-too-green competitors (no Gold’s were awarded for this varietal in either year). Having finally acquired this nearly extinct beast on Saturday I checked out some reviews upon returning home and that’s when the story took a strange twist. You see, Anthony Gismondi, Editor-in-Chief of Wine Access, and Senior Judge at the Wine Access-produced Canadian Wine Awards, gave a rather poor rating to this wine back in 2008. His verdict – “under-ripe” – flies directly in the face of the repeated medals his own magazine gave out two years in a row! Do I trust Gismondi alone, or the blind tasting panel of which he was a member? Such is the often confusing and see-sawing world of wine reviews! I've made the decision to cellar this wine alongside it’s brother, the Lt. Governor’s Award-winning Road 13 2006 Fifth Element red blend; I look forward to trying them in tandem when my 2006 collection gets opened in a few years.

Sunday 5 September 2010

Recent Acquisitions - Part I

With the beginning of a new month comes a new wine budget, and I recently picked up several wines from my wish-list during tastings at Village Wines Kitsilano and Taylorwood Wines. I’ll discuss the newer releases first, with a list of the older vintages I found to flesh out the cellar to come soon.

The Newbies

See Ya Later Ranch Rover 2008: Last year’s iteration of Rover won a Gold Medal at the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards and very high praise from critic Anthony Gismondi, so I have high hopes for this new release. Rover is See Ya Later’s take on Shiraz, but produced in a style common to similar Australian wines - co-fermented with a touch of Viognier to lift the aromatics. Rover is a complex and powerful wine thanks in no small part to the 15 months spent in oak. I had the chance to try it during Village Wines Kitsilano’s Saturday tasting and was very excited to buy a bottle: the tannins were still quite prevalent, but the flavours and aromas were very appealing. I’m looking forward to holding this wine for at least a couple years (See Ya Later suggest serving it until 2015) to see how those flavours develop; although it is under screw-cap I still expect some beneficial mellowing of the tannins.

Dunham & Froese Amicitia Red 2008: A relatively youthful winery, Dunham & Froese released their first wines only a couple years ago, from the 2005 vintage. In 2008 they were named Best New Winery at the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival. Best of all, Dunham & Froese focuses on using fully organic and biodynamic practices in their vineyards, a courageous choice in their industry. Their premiere blends – white and red – receive the name Amicitia, which is Latin for “friendship”. First released in 2006, the Amicitia Red Blend is a Meritage-style blend that also includes Syrah along with the usual varietals. As a result, the wine was judged in the “Red Blend” category at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival this year (not the “Red Meritage Blend” category). Regardless, it was a high-scoring finalist, ending up just behind the winner, Twisted Tree’s 2nd Crossing 2007 Long Creek Red. I’ll be holding this potential gem in the 2008 collection until late 2013 and we’ll see how it has matured by then.

Church & State Coyote Bowl Merlot 2007: I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Church & State; they produce some of the best wines in BC, but engage in a some confusing labelling and release practices that have frustrated me many times. In this case, Church & State released two different 2007 Merlots, one is a single-vineyard release from their Coyote Bowl property, and another has no vineyard designation. I now have both wines, as both have received prestigious awards from different sources, I think...Having two same-tier Merlots from the same year is confusing enough, but what makes it worse is that only one of them has a vineyard designation: one can never be sure if reviewers/media are referring to the “regular” Merlot, or are simply omitting the vineyard designation from the Coyote Bowl Merlot. If memory serves me correctly, Church & State have done this before with their Syrah, which lead to similar confusion last year. Fortunately I believe Church & State is moving to single-vineyard designation for all their red wines, and perhaps even their whites, which should help boost the love side of that love-hate relationship in the future!

Monday 30 August 2010

Village Wines: Desert Hills & 8th Generation

On Saturdays the superb Village VQA Wines chain holds complimentary afternoon tastings. I had planned on visiting the South Dunbar location for the 8th Generation tasting, when the opportunity arose to attend the Kitsilano tasting of Desert Hills as well (thanks Will for the suggestion)! Desert Hills has had a banner year, with their Syrah being named Best Red Wine of the Year at the 2010 All Canadian Wine Championships, and their Gamay receiving a prestigious Lt. Governor's Award this summer. Having picked up the Syrah for my 2006 collection without yet having tasted it, I was eager to find out for myself what I had!

The Kitsilano Village Wines has an excellent selection, but suffers from the popularity of their tastings, with difficult traffic patterns surrounding the cash register and tasting counter - be prepared to wait patiently for samples; they are complimentary after all! Desert Hills is located on the Black Sage Bench in near-desert climate outside Oliver - so it's no surprise they produce some lovely ripe reds, but they also displayed some pleasing whites on Saturday as well. A 2008 Pinot Gris and 2009 Gewurztraminer were both available to taste and were quite satisfying, the Gewurztraminer in particular. I was more excited to try the 2009 Gamay and 2006 Syrah. The Gamay was very nice indeed and would have made an excellent summer sipper during the hot weather we had earlier this season. In any case, let's hope for a warm September in which we can continue to pair this wine with barbecue - if you can still find it, a Lt. Governor's Award has a way of clearing out inventories fast. Desert Hills also suggests pasta with red sauce and spicy foods that will coordinate with the wine's spicy finish. If you can find it pick up a bottle for the fall, if only to try a (well-made) varietal we often don't see here in BC. If the Gamay was good, the Syrah was divine: just holding the glass at waist-height you could smell the jammy berry aromas wafting upwards! It tasted superb, and made me very pleased I was holding one in my small collection, plus encouraged to pick up another bottle sometime soon for more immediate consumption.

Having perused the shelves in Kitsilano and made plans for some upcoming purchases there, we set off for Kerrisdale and the South Dunbar Village Wines. In all honesty, this is an easier store in which to shop, with wider aisles and better customer flow, a larger tasting bar, and a fun back room called "The Cellar". 8th Generation wines available for tasting included their Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, a Merlot, and their two Rieslings ("Classic" - a dry iteration, and regular off-dry). The Classic Riesling was a crisp, more acidic take on the grape more common to German Rieslings - very refreshing and a wine Anthony Gismondi calls "a Riesling for grownups". The regular off-dry version has already sold out at the winery, with help from Gismondi's very positive review, so the tasting featured the 2008 vintage instead of the more recent 2009. Fortunately the 2008 was also very well received, and was intriguing to taste alongside its much drier sibling. With almost three times as much residual sugar there is quite a difference in taste; this wine should be well-chilled to avoid seeming syrupy-sweet! Not available was 8th Generation's delightful Rose, which is long sold-out; fortunately I acquired several bottles earlier this summer for patio consumption. This very refreshing pure Pinot Meunier wine is enjoyable all-year round of course, but make sure you get the 2010 vintage early next Summer!

Although trying my darnedest not to spend any more on wine this month I failed at Village Wines Dunbar, when a stunning display of Sandhill Small Lots wines behind the register caught my eye. Nearly every varietal was available, an order of magnitude greater than many other stores' selections. Even the long-sold out 2007 Merlot, winner of a Lt. Governor's Award and limited to only 119 cases, was available (albeit "one per person"). Fortunately I already have one - thanks again Will! - and could instead focus on the 2007 Malbec I spotted. Also sold out at the winery, the Malbec was limited to 203 cases and would help keep my lonely CedarCreek Malbec company in the 2007 collection until they are both opened in 2012-2013. Malbec in hand, I wandered into "The Cellar" and picked up a Select Lots Chardonnay from Mission Hill to round out my 2006 Chardonnay shelf, something I've been wanting to wrap up for some time. Mission Hill's Select Lot Collection are excellent value top-tier wines, the Chardonnay no exception, notwithstanding the even higher-tier Legacy-series "Perpetua" Chardonnay. Heck, get them both and have yourself a little private tasting!

Sunday 29 August 2010

Stag's Hollow Tasting

As mentioned Friday, I also attended a tasting at Taylorwood Wines on Thursday, hosted by the winemaker of Stag’s Hollow, Dwight Sick. Dwight brought a number of Stag’s Hollow’s new releases, including their new aromatic white blend “Con-Fusion”, which was quite pleasant, and hopefully has a prosperous future ahead of it; I just hope there is enough warm weather still remaining for the 2009 vintage to be consumed “on the patio” as Stag’s Hollow puts it! Stag’s Hollow has had some great success with their whites recently, having won a gold medal at the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards for their (2008) Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend (in good company with Road 13’s Viognier Roussanne Marsanne). They also released a delightful Syrah Rosé this year, which did not last long given its status as “Best Rose” during the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival. Fortunately we got to try some earlier this summer and it was a favourite; if only I could still find it somewhere!

New releases of 2008 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were also present, as well as the 2007 Merlot, and the new release of Stag’s Hollow’s Cabernet Merlot blend “The Heritage Block” (previously known as “Heritage Block 1”). The 2006 vintage of Heritage Block 1 can still be found in some BC Liquor Stores, but has been supplanted by the 2007 release in wine stores such as Taylorwood. Both versions are tasty, and in my opinion a pretty good value at the $25 price point for a Bordeaux-style blend suitable for mid-term aging (the winery recommends now to 2014 for the 2007 release).

Dwight also brought some of Stag’s Hollow’s reserve tier Merlot, called “Renaissance”, which was very enjoyable. The 2007 vintage was well reviewed by prominent wine critic Anthony Gismondi, who complimented its “solid core of fruit” and promise of further improvement over the next few years. It’s reasonably priced at $30, and the 2008 is about to be released at the end of September, which Dwight mentioned is even better – a wine that could “make vegetarians want to eat meat”! I’m not sure about switching teams, but I’ll definitely be getting some to hold in my 2008 collection.

I picked up three bottles at Taylorwood during my visit Thursday, to help flesh out my collection and pick them up while they lasted in stores. Having just heard via Twitter that 8th Generation was sold out of their very well reviewed 2009 Riesling I made sure to grab one of the few remaining bottles on the shelf for consumption later this fall. I also noticed the shelf stock of Twisted Tree’s Bordeaux blend “Six Vines” was getting very low, despite the 916 cases released. Having earlier decided to replace my bottle of (excellent) Twisted Tree Tempranillo in the 2008 collection with the Six Vines (which has better aging potential) I decided not to wait any longer for this unique award-winning blend (Gold at the 2010 All Canadian Wine Championships); the uniqueness comes from the inclusion of Carmenere, which is typically absent from North American Meritage-style blends. Lastly, I noticed just one case of Howling Bluff Pinot Noir near the register, and decided the time was ripe to pick up a bottle of this historic wine: following a Lt. Governor’s Award for the 2006 vintage, the 2007 vintage received first place at the Okanagan Wine Festival (and sold out in two days). I’ve never before seen Howling Bluff in a VQA, or any non-private wine store, so I knew the price couldn’t be beat. Now that the 2008 vintage has been released I figured it was about time for me to try it out (or at least I will in 2013 when my 2008 collection matures). Although it “only” received 87 points from Gismondi, he was careful to point out its potential to improve in bottle, so let’s hope three years does the trick.

Friday 27 August 2010

First Post!

Although I’ve been waiting for the “right” time, it seems that now is as good a time as any for my first blog entry! Only time will tell how long this lasts; maybe people will actually read it and find it helpful, or at the very least interesting.

Yesterday I took in two tasting events after a short hiatus: having spent almost my entire monthly wine budget in the first week of August I’ve been loath to enter a wine shop since! However, the prospect of an (unfortunately) rare BC wine tasting at the 39th Avenue BC Liquor Store was too much to pass up – a rare gem in the midst of the usual hard liquor mega-brands events held weekly. It ended up being an entertaining if not interesting visit, with six different local wines being sampled, for somewhat uncertain reasons. You see, it occurred to me later that the wines being tasted were perhaps those the LDB is trying to gently move along, either due to oversupply or older vintages (e.g., I got to try the Township 7 2006 Merlot, despite the 2007 being the current release).

Amongst the wines on offer was Gray Monk’s Odyssey Rosé Brut, a blend of Gamay and Pinot Meunier. Despite the painfully small teaspoon-sized pours (into chintzy plastic thimble cups) I was able to appreciate the creamy, “moussiness” of this classically-made sparkling wine. It is apparently on sale at present for $25 from $27, and is surprisingly rare – only 220 cases made. Side-note: Gray Monk just recently won a Lt. Governor’s Award for Excellence in BC Wine for their 2007 Odyssey White Brut, of which significantly more was made – 840 cases – and it’s also on sale for $25. Taylorwood Wines in Yaletown has a limited number of well-priced (about $45) magnums of this fine sparkler available, and I look forward to picking one up soon.

A second wine well worth mentioning is Road 13’s new red blend “Rockpile”. Although I had tried it before – and am currently holding a bottle to see what it’s like in a couple of years – I was provided the opportunity to try it with food for the first time. Although BC Liquor Store tastings lack the charm of real glasses, they do provide some often-tasty bites to accompany the wines; the advantage of having a full kitchen at the Signature Stores. Rockpile is part of Road 13’s new move to blends, whilst casting aside almost all of their traditional single-varietal wines (even their well-loved Cabernet Sauvignon). This intriguing mix has almost everything in it – 8 different varietals – ranging from Syrah (60%) to little touches of 1% Viognier, Grenache, and Mourvedre! It was being served with some charming mushroom and truffle oil tarts, and I’ve got to say the combination was fantastic! I can’t wait to grab a few more bottles for the long winter ahead, when it will go great with the many earthy casseroles and stews we always make – with plenty of mushrooms! My only concern for Rockpile is that Road 13 has a long road (sic) ahead of them convincing a sceptical public to embrace blends, which can be more intimidating for those used to single varietals, and past knowledge of what foods to supposedly pair them with. Given the massive quantities of Rockpile I’m seeing everywhere (they made 4,500 cases in the first year for goodness sake!) I hope they haven’t bitten off more than they can chew.

Tomorrow I’ll briefly write about the Stag’s Hollow tasting at Taylorwood I attended immediately after the Signature Store tasting, plus the three smart purchases I picked up while I was there.