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!