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!