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!