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!