Monday, 31 January 2011

January Acquisitions

With all the hubbub this month I’ve been busy posting about Taste BC and my Wine Club with friends, and haven’t had a chance yet to talk about some of the new wines I’ve added to my collection in January! Fortunately I’ve still got a few minutes left this month to mention some of the cherished new additions I sought out over the past few weeks.

Lennox Liquor Store: My Little Secret

Inside City Square Shopping Centre across from Vancouver City Hall there is a small unassuming private liquor store in which I often find surprisingly rare finds. This month was no exception as I picked up a Poplar Grove Merlot for a reasonable price, and two great wines from Orofino at winery pricing!

Poplar Grove Merlot (2006): In addition to their high quality white wines Poplar Grove produces some powerful and highly acclaimed reds including Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and this Merlot. Their wine can be a little hard to find so I’m glad to have picked up what sounds like a beautifully complex wine that even four years out still has at least a couple years to go before full maturity.

Orofino Red Bridge Red (2008): Orofino was one of the first wineries I visited in person, and all by a happy accident after my wife and I got a little lost driving back from the Okanagan! We stopped in the Similkameen valley for directions at what turned out to be Orofino Winery, and enjoyed their wines so much we later ordered a whole case. Since those early days Orofino has gained steam each year, in large part due to their very well received Red Bridge Red Merlot. I picked up the 2007 vintage at the winery in 2009 on my second visit, and buying the 2008 was a no-brainer.

Orofino Cabernet Sauvignon (2007): An experiment with Cabernet Sauvignon has yielded what sounds like an excellent small lots wine. Only time will tell if they release another vintage, but one would hope so based on the critical success of the 2007 (Silver at the 2010 All Canadian Wine Championships) and very positive acclaim from critics. Orofino seems to have an enviable a habit of very strong initial releases.


Firefly Fine Wines & Ales: The Rarities

Firefly has done a good job of acquiring some of those non-VQA wines and others you simply don’t see too often in the many VQA stores that dot Metro Vancouver: wineries like Black Cloud, Blue Mountain, Joie, and Nichol for example. They’ve made a wise choice not to directly compete with LDB pricing too often, especially with a BC Liquor Store only blocks away (from their Cambie location).

Black Cloud Pinot Noir Altostratus (2008): Township 7 winemaker Bradley Cooper has released a couple of charming Pinot Noirs under his own label, from both the 2006 and 2008 vintages. With the 2006 already in my hands I knew I needed a bottle of the highly regarded 2008 to “collect the whole set”.

Nichol Syrah (2008): Nichol has a very creative portfolio of wines including some based on the rare St. Laurent grape, plus a tasty-sounding Cabernet Franc-Syrah blend and a uniquely peachy-coloured Pinot Gris that always grabs people’s attention. Among their recent red releases is this Syrah that has got lots of people talking, in a good way: with words like bold, unique, and chic. I can’t wait to try it!

Mission Hill Reserve Viognier (2008): This wine was not on my list – primarily due to its Sold Out status at the winery – so it was a very pleasant surprise impulse purchase. Seeing several on the shelf at Firefly I quickly checked my smartphone to be sure I was remembering the details right and just as quickly picked up a bottle of this solid value wine that possesses a “richness and power that is rare in whites.


Taylorwood Wines: VQA Selection and New Releases 

Taylorwood is one of my favourite wine shops for VQA new releases: their staff is highly knowledgeable about BC wines and they host some really excellent weekly tastings in their spacious location in Yaletown. They recently started sending what I hope will be a weekly newsletter including details of new arrivals, which is what prompted a visit for some wonderful Malbecs, among other treats.

CedarCreek Platinum Malbec (2008): Last year CedarCreek released their first single-varietal Malbec, only 84 cases of a rare and complex wine I scooped up from the Playhouse Wine Festival Shop last April. Local writer John Schreiner described it as one of the best Malbecs he’d ever tasted in BC, or Argentina! There are no reviews out yet for the 2008 vintage, but it just received a Gold Medal from the Canadian Wine Awards, so it was a purchase I made without hesitation. I’m particularly glad that CedarCreek decreased the price by $10 (from $55), and nearly tripled production (to 210 cases).

Cassini Cellars Malbec (2008): ready to battle for my Malbec love is this small production release from new winery Cassini (only 174 cases). I didn’t get to try this wine at the recent Taste BC, but it’s clear Cassini has another winner on their hands (Silver Medals at both ACWC and CWA). It’s been described as a delicious wine possessing a silky, fluid texture. After some cellar time I may toss the above two Malbecs up against Sandhill’s Small Lots version – and maybe Inniskillin’s Discovery Series – for a Malbec battle royale!

Cassini Cellars Maximus (2008): Cassini’s Cab-heavy red blend also received Silver at the Canadian Wine Awards, while it’s older sibling from 2007 took home a Gold medal. Fortunately I added the 2007 to my collection before it sold out, and now the 2008 holds a spot as well. John Schreiner thinks highly of this ripe red, which will hopefully have many subsequent younger siblings to come.

Twisted Tree Tannat (2008): This very exclusive varietal from Twisted Tree is their only red wine left that isn’t sold out. Hopefully some new releases are coming this spring or they’re going to get awfully bored in the shipping “department” at Twisted Tree! In an odd twist this wine came out in early 2010, before their 2007 Tannat (sold out). It is described as bold and vibrant, with firm tannins that I’m sure will do well in the cellar for a little while.


Wednesday, 26 January 2011

January Wine Club: Double or Nothing!

Earlier this month our friendly wine club celebrated what I suppose you could call Season 2: with each couple having hosted once we’ve come full circle and my wife and I were once again hosts. We took on the responsibility of providing the main course, and fortunately I already had a great wine picked out, I just needed to come up with a recipe!

Before the entree however, our appetizer course arrived in components nearly too many to count, and was slowly laid out on the table one little bowl at a time. Ready for assembly were enoki mushrooms, chopped peanuts, cilantro, basil, and bean sprouts, plus crispy cubed tofu and some marinated shrimp for the carnivores; on the stove was the most mouth-watering broth ready to receive rice noodles – we were having Asian-inspired soup! The aromas filled the kitchen as we learned about the accompanying wine – Gray Monk 2009 Siegerrebe – an off-dry grape related to Gewurztraminer grown by only a handful of BC vineyards. With 19 grams of residual sugar they aren’t kidding when they say “off-dry”, but Gray Monk’s iteration is sufficiently well-balanced that the wine worked quite well with the soup. The fresh finish paired nicely with the herbs and vegetables sprinkled in our bowls, and kept us coming back for more; fortunately there was enough delicious soup for seconds as well! Equally fortunately was the fact that our appetizer chefs thought to bring a second bottle of Gray Monk wine, this one a 2009 Gewurztraminer. Gray Monk makes some really lovely white wines, in particular those off-dry styles like Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Siegerrebe, Ehrenfelser, and Kerner. Having been involved in BC’s wine industry for nearly four decades the Heiss family that owns Gray Monk have really got it down to a science.


Now the Wine Club charter specifically states one bottle per couple, but it would seem we all had the same idea this particular evening, because I had also prepared two bottles of my choice – Jackson-Triggs Sunrock Vineyard 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine has been in stores for what seems like ages, and surprisingly there is still plenty to be had – almost 700 bottles in BC Liquor Stores alone. Being able to pick up a bottle of well-made nicely aged Cab Sauv at your neighbourhood BC Liquor Store is a real blessing, because it is ready to drink now, but could no doubt continue to age well for a few more years. To go along with our “magnum” of Cab I’d made a new recipe reminiscent of the holiday season: Caramelized Onion-Butternut Roast with Chestnuts. Out of the oven came a warm comforting casserole of roasted onions, butternut squash, chestnuts and white beans, sprinkled with sage breadcrumbs. Served alongside some roasted Brussels sprouts the casserole was an excellent match for the smooth, rich red wine. Although the equally good 2006 vintage (Canadian Wine Awards 2010 Silver) will start showing up in stores any day now you really can’t go wrong in picking up a bottle or two of the 2005 while it’s still around, and in doing so you can thank the store for so nicely bottle-aging it for you!


As we settled in our seats and enjoyed a second glass of Cabernet the conversation turned to dessert. In what had clearly become the theme of the evening Team Dessert pulled out two beautiful bottles of Hester Creek 2009 Late Harvest Pinot Blanc! Our dessert course took the form of very attractive individual-serving crustless cheesecakes, made with fresh Saltspring Island goat cheese and topped with wine-marinated crushed pineapple. With two bottles of Blanc on hand we relished generous pours of this charming concoction, one of the Top 5 Sweet Wines of the Year in the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards; and a steal at only $16 compared to the next lowest-priced competitor, a $40 Niagara icewine. The aromas and flavours of orchard fruit and honey meshed very well with the tart pineapple and tangy goat cheese; the clinking of spoons in empty bowls soon echoed around the table!


I’m already thinking about next month’s meeting, and moving on to dessert makes my thoughts turn to chocolate and Port…oh the possibilities!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

A taste of Taste BC

The very helpful folks at Liberty Wines provided their guests with a booklet listing all the wines, spirits, and beers served at the event, with space for tasting notes below each listing. As we perused the room I would blurt out the sometimes odd things that came to mind and my wife would dutifully record them, along with her often much better notes. Below are some of our notes, plus other details about the wines we tried.

After heading straight for the Poplar Grove Cheese table upon entering I was quite pleased to see that Poplar Grove Winery was also present directly alongside. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Poplar Grove since reading on their website that “the dairy and beverage alcohol industries being second only to nuclear power in regulations…” The tenacity it takes to enter into both business ventures simultaneously has always impressed me! I took the opportunity to sample Poplar Grove 2006 Merlot, a wine I recently acquired based on some quite positive reviews. I found it to be quite complex, with tart but ripe fruit. I’m looking forward to trying mine after a couple more years of integration.

As we took in the room and introduced our Poplar Grove cheese to its viticultural cousins I noticed with glee Cassini Cellars by the front entrance. Cassini has made themselves known lately after being being awarded the Best New Winery at the 2010 BC Wine Awards during the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival. Their wines have been racking up impressive awards at competition such as the All Canadian Wine Championships (e.g., Best of Category Merlot), and the Canadian Wine Awards (two Golds and three Silvers). I myself have acquired two vintages of their red blend “Maximus” plus their 2008 Syrah and Malbec. The Syrah was opened for tasting, as were the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Syrah has fairly firm tannins and oak presence suitable for aging; I’m quite glad I picked it up for my collection. My first impressions of the Pinot Noir were that it did not have a strong “Pinot character” (in a good way); it didn’t slap you in the face like some Pinots can with that very noticeable expression of varietal. Finally, upon trying the Chardonnay my wife immediately exclaimed that it smelled like corn – to which I agreed as I sampled some myself. That creamed corn nose reminded her of Christmas, with hints of nutmeg present on the finish.

Painted Rock – the 2009 Best New Winery winner – was also present to show off their new Chardonnay (2009) and Cabernet Sauvignon (2008), plus their 2007 releases of Merlot and Syrah (the 2008 release will follow later this Spring). Painted Rock leapt out of the gate last year with two Lt. Governor’s Awards for Excellence in BC Wine, and I’ve begun a vertical collection of their very well-regarded Red Icon blend, unfortunately not present at Taste BC. The Cabernet Sauvignon pinch hit quite nicely however, and was surprisingly approachable for such a young wine, with tannins that were not nearly as strong as one might expect. The Merlot had pleasant soft fruit and some tart cherry notes as it opened up in the glass. My notes for the Syrah suggest it is “punchier” than the Merlot, which makes sense in funny way.

As we headed towards the back of room we were fortunate to come across Le Vieux Pin, a small lot winery located in Oliver which I have recently started to learn more about. I picked up their latest (2007) Reserve Pinot Noir from Taylorwood, and only later did I learn it was to be the last. Le Vieux Pin is moving away from Pinot Noir in favour of other varietals such as Syrah, despite doing an excellent job it! We were lucky enough to sample two of their Merlots, and compare the baseline 2007 with the Reserve tier: interestingly the Reserve Merlot seemed to be less expressive on the nose, but with a richer palate  and a more pleasing mouthfeel. With a glass of each we savoured trading them back and forth to examine the differences – how often do you get to put a $70 Reserve wine through its paces like that?

In the back corner opposite the entrance sat a winery I had come specifically to seek out: Stag’s Hollow. For the past few weeks Stag’s Hollow has been teasing us with hints of “Cachet Wines” – something exciting but very non-descript coming soon…and I was relieved to finally get to the bottom of this mystery on Tuesday! To celebrate their 15th Anniversary Stag’s Hollow is releasing the first of a series of limited edition wines called Cachet. Winemaker Dwight Sick has taken some grapes rare in BC, such as Grenache and Tempranillo, and produced mind-blowingly good blends in ultra-small lots style. I was so excited that Dwight had a small amount of both Cachet No. 01 and No. 02 to taste, especially so considering the production run is listed in bottles, not cases, and they retail for $50 each! We tried No. 02 first, a Grenache/Syrah blend with a touch of Viognier and Marsanne: the wine is extremely smooth and rich; the fruity, floral aspects are encouraged by the Viognier, which is noticeable on the nose. Dwight suggests drinking No. 02 within 2-3 years, a shorter period than No. 01, which could do well for up to 5 years, but there’s really no need to wait that long! Cachet No. 01 is a Tempranillo-based blend that is even smoother than the the No. 02, with hints of cassis or perhaps licorice and a pleasing tartness; a bit more bite to it than No. 02. I’m almost hesitant to recommend these wines as I haven’t got my bottles yet, so leave some for me!

Another wonderful treat in the back of the room was Fairview Cellars, with owner and winemaker Bill Eggert present and pouring. I’ve heard some really wonderful things about Bill’s wines and have lately been collecting his reds when I see them, which is fortunately becoming more frequent! I even saw Fairview Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon in a VQA store for the first time recently, which bodes well for the future availability of Bill’s wines. It was a real treat to meet Bill and chat about his work; knowing that he attended the University of Guelph I was pleased to introduce him to my wife, who was born and raised in that Southern Ontario city. He proceeded to take us on a short tour of Fairview Cellars’ red wines, starting with the Madcap Red (2007), a Merlot-heavy blend that was wonderfully smooth and soft, with tart fruit-forward notes. The Two Hoots (2008) has more Cabernet, and is sort of an entry-level Meritage; Fairview’s big red is “The Bear”, a name which is on its own almost enough reason to buy. The Two Hoots we tried was even smoother than the Madcap, with tannins that were present but not overpowering. My wife preferred it over the Madcap which prompted Bill to declare her a “Cab Girl” – so now she knows! Also present from behind the table was some 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine I’ve got in my own collection that proved to be wonderfully smooth and easy-drinking, yet still with many years of graceful development ahead of it.

Over the course of the night we sampled many more excellent wines and learned new facts about new and old wineries (e.g., Nichol Vineyards grows the rare St. Laurent varietal). I’m already looking forward to next Taste BC and commend Liberty Wines for putting on an excellent event for a great cause – see you at Taste BC 2012!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Taste BC 2011

Last night my wife and I were lucky enough to attend Liberty Wines’ Taste BC event, an annual celebration of British Columbia’s great food and drink. The event was held at the very convenient and charming Hyatt Regency in downtown Vancouver. Several dozen wineries, breweries and distilleries from throughout the province sampled their delicious products alongside food from several local restaurants and vendors. There was even an exciting silent auction for BC experiences and products: watching patrons ignore the clearly-stated bid increments as they got a little inebriated was quite amusing! Best of all, proceeds from the event benefit the BC Children’s Hospital every year.

I was immediately impressed upon entering the large space reserved for the event on the Hyatt’s Convention Level. Wineries and their peers were arranged around the outside of the room with food concentrated in the centre. Although I imagine the crowd grew somewhat as latecomers joined after the doors opened at 4:30 it never felt crowded; I don’t think we had to wait in any “line” longer than one or two minutes. As the night grew a bit longer some actual real lines formed to reach the food purveyors, but fortunately nearly every table had some great artisan crackers from Gone Crackers – they really saved the day when you needed a bit more in your stomach! We particularly enjoyed the crackers with cheeses from Poplar Grove – including the epic Tiger Blue – and Benton Brothers Fine Cheese. Some great breads and tapenade from La Baguette really hit the spot as well, and we enjoyed canapes from Central Bistro and Central City Brewing. There were oysters, salami, terrine, and samples of braised lamb and beer bacon to keep the rest of the crowd busy too. I caught a glimpse of Ethical Bean Coffee but unfortunately never got to try some of their no-doubt delicious organic donuts.

In terms of value Taste BC is clearly one of the best events – if not the top value – for fans of BC wine. For comparison, consider this: the 2011 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival will have representation from 19 BC wineries, less than one third those found at Taste BC! To be fair, the excellent Playhouse Festival focuses on wines from across the globe, of which BC is but a small part, but I still go every year with the goal of trying as many BC wines as possible. For a much lower cost one can attend Taste BC and try many more wines – and many smaller, harder-to-find wineries. Ideally of course one would attend both events; that’s certainly my plan for the future!

Soon to come is our take on some favourites: I made sure to prodigiously thank my wonderful wife for taking notes in the excellent booklet provided by Liberty. Looking back it’s amazing which wineries we totally missed – hard to believe we only made to a third of the tables present!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Holiday Wines & Food – Part 2

It took a little while to recover from our December 23rd dinner party – especially considering the other drinks we had when we went out afterwards, and then again the next day; but before we knew it Christmas day had arrived! I finally had an iron-clad reason to open some of my most cherished wines: I have a nasty habit of keeping special bottles closed because the situation “just isn’t special enough” (even my own birthday often doesn’t measure up for some reason!).

December 25: Christmas Feast!

We had some very good friends over for Christmas dinner and I’d been planning the meal for quite a while. Unfortunately (or fortunately) in reading so many great recipes I had a little trouble narrowing it down, so I made a ridiculously large amount of food: in addition to our traditional Tofurkey, garlic mashed potatoes, dressing, and turnip we also made Creamy Brussels Sprouts with Pearl Onions and “Pancetta” (aka veggie bacon), Maple-Glazed Spiced Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Yams, and a huge Wild Rice, Hazelnut, and Dried Cranberry Pilaf. Finally some homemade cranberry sauce – made with Cab Sauv and maple syrup – rounded out the meal. (After too many years eating canned cranberry sauce we discovered how ridiculously easy it is to make your own only a couple of years ago.)

While we waited for everything to finish boiling, baking, and roasting we toasted to the happy holidays with Sumac Ridge’s delightful Sparkling Gewurztraminer. This refreshing fruity bubbly was released for the first time in 2010, and may still be available in some stores, but Sumac does specify numerous times that it is a “limited offering”. Sparkling Gewurztraminer is certainly rare in BC – this may be the only one – and it was a real treat to get to try some. The wine is off-dry and with plenty of mousse to tingle your tastebuds; we enjoyed some mini Samosas and Pakoras with it. I hope Sumac makes this wine a regular part of their portfolio; I’d like to try another bottle with some other Asian foods and see how well it pairs.

Our dinner wines were of the white and red variety, both of which I had been looking forward to a great deal. Coming out of the fridge was the highly regarded Mission Hill 2006 Perpetua: the first vintage of this excellent wine. This is an ageable Chardonnay that has done very well in the cellar over the past couple of years, and I’m so glad to have added the subsequent two vintages to my collection. The latest 2008 release is equally well-regarded by some of BC’s top critics, and although it is not available via Mission Hill’s online store (it’s “Cellar Exclusive”) you can find it at many private stores and Mission Hill’s line of retail stores – Artisan Wine Shop. Our experience with the 2006 was sublime; it is a marvellous, sophisticated wine that is clearly made with a great deal of care. Perpetua is a must-have bottle for collectors of BC’s finest wines.

Waiting in the decanter was our red wine of the evening – CedarCreek 2006 Platinum Merlot. Although my “schedule” would have me opening this bottle in Fall 2011, I had two bottles in my collection and just had to try it out now. The gentlemen at Icon Wines suggest holding it until 2012, but they do admit that trying a bottle now couldn’t hurt. The fact that this wine may not even have peaked yet amazes me, because it was already fantastic by 2010. Even more amazing is the fact that it is still widely available in VQA stores and the like, despite the release of the 2007 vintage (which won Gold at the Canadian Wine Awards). Ironically the 2006 only received a Bronze at the 2009 CWAs, but it also received a rare and prestigious Lt. Governor’s Award; such are the vagaries of wine judging. I was sufficiently impressed by this wine that I will soon be replacing the consumed bottle, to keep two (and I wish even more) in my collection; perhaps I will open another this Fall, and the last in 2012 or beyond.


Monday, 10 January 2011

Holiday Wines & Food – Part 1

Now that December is fading into the background at a rapid pace I’ve finally got enough of my wits back about me to reflect on the many wonderful wines we celebrated with this holiday season. In particular I finally got to enjoy some of the wines I have been holding for celebrations or carefully aging in the limited space I have available. This Fall brought the “release” of the 2006 Chardonnays I’ve cellared – not exactly a long-lost vintage but just enough aging to provide some extra character. Considering most of BC’s reserve Chardonnays are in the 2008 vintage at present, and others are seeing the release of the 2009 vintage I was looking forward to opening my 2006 wines and pairing them with delicious holiday feasts!

December 23: Five Courses of Food and Wine

Some friends who were unable to join on Christmas day came by to celebrate with us a couple days early, and I was inspired to create an honest-to-goodness five-course meal with designated wine pairings. It was an adventurous meal considering I had spontaneously come up with the first three courses while laying in bed the night before!

With assorted cheese phyllo-pastry appetizers we first imbibed the very enjoyable See Ya Later Ranch (NV) Brut – a crisp and refreshing sparkler that SYL describes as “reminiscient of freshly baked bread rounded out by orchard fruit.” I ordered a full case of this 90-point wine when it was on sale earlier in the month, and this was not the first nor the last time a bottle was opened with glee over the holidays! Unfortunately See Ya Later’s website isn’t completely clear regarding which release the current offering consists of: the latest tasting notes pertain to the Fall 2008 release, which may or may not be the wine currently for sale in stores and via the winery.

As we sat down at the table for our salad course I was happy to finally open my Quails’ Gate (2008) Dry Riesling: it was an excellent pairing for the mixed greens with feta and pomegranate seeds, drizzled in tart mustard vinaigrette. The herbaceous citrus tang and lip-smacking dry finish kept the wine in play alongside the flavours of the salad. My 2008 bottle was only one year removed from the currently available 2009, and in fact Quails’ Gate suggests their Riesling can be aged for up to five years for further development; as John Schreiner suggests: “this is a serious cellar-worthy Riesling.”

For the soup course I broke out a cherished red from Church & State: their Gold-medal-winning 2007 Hollenbach Vineyard Pinot Noir. The 2009 Canadian Wine Awards lavished gold upon this wine, as did this Fall’s BC Wine Awards at the Okanagan Wine Festival. It pained me to hear last year that Church and State recently ended their relationship with the Hollenbach vineyard and would be forgoing Pinot Noir until they could develop their own vineyard(s). The soon-to-be-released 2009 Church & State Pinot Noir will be the last for some time. In any case the 2007 was marvellous, much more fruit-forward then I had anticipated with charming bright cherry notes. Fortunately the French lentil soup I had prepared contained plenty of tomatoes and the caramelized onion & goat cheese crostini on the side was a triumph with this wine. Each crostini was spread with caramelized onions on one half and fresh Salt Spring Island goat cheese on the other – each topped with a cherry tomato half. The sourness from the goat cheese and sweetness from the onion were exquisite with Church & State’s delicious Pinot Noir. I’m so pleased that I have another bottle to enjoy next year – I’m interested in how it will have developed with additional cellar time. This wine is still available in stores so don’t miss this chance to try a bottle before it disappears for what could be a long time!

Finally the entree I had planned on all along could make its appearance, paired with Mission Hill’s (2006) Select Lot Collection Chardonnay. On our plates was a fully vegan Cauliflower & Mushroom Potpie with Kalamata Olive Crust. We’ve enjoyed this particular recipe many times before as the rich and creamy (yes, creamy!) filling soothes while the biscuit-style crust surprises you with mouth-watering savoury olive bites. The potpie was a natural match with the buttery Chardonnay, and the wine held its own against the tart olive flavours due to good natural acidity. The SLC Chardonnays from Mission Hill are consistently an excellent value for a premium wine only one step removed from their top-tier Perpetua. The price difference is rather staggering at $22 versus $40 to step up to Perpetua. Although I add a bottle of Perpetua to my collection each year the Select Lot Collection is a clear value winner when looking for excellent BC Chardonnay.

We ended the meal with assorted Christmas cookies I’d been baking all week (and only just finished eating a week into January) and another Quails’ Gate winner – the Fortified Vintage Foch (2007). Following Quails’ Gate’s advice I’d cellared this Port-style dessert wine until now, although it would still have been fine for a few more years no doubt. The FVF is sweet and rich, but not at all cloying or syrupy; it was an excellent end to the meal alongside some fruitcake, rum-balls, Nanaimo bars, and many other sweet treats. For fans and collectors of BC dessert wines, in particular the rare Port-style variety, the FVF is a must-try.

Soon to come is an account of our Christmas dinner feast in all its over-indulgent glory. Could seven side dishes been too many? Never!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Quadruple Tasting Conclusion

When we last saw our heroes they were leaving Village Wines Kitsilano and headed downtown. There was a Blasted Church tasting at Liberty Wines Robson I was looking forward to, and with our group now five-strong we rolled into Liberty’s snug surroundings to hear more about those wonderful wines. First up was the deliciously fragrant Chardonnay Musqué, an unoaked marvel that turns common notions of Chardonnay on their head. Blasted Church has earned a slew of awards for their 2009 vintage of this Chardonnay clone, including Best of Class at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival, followed by Gold at the All Canadian Wine Championships and Silver at the Canadian Wine Awards. They only made 372 cases and are sold-out according to the winery’s online store, but I’ve seen a few bottles remaining in shops around town. The Musqué has very nice acidity to pair with food, and Blasted Church suggests some creative creamy seafood dishes.

In addition to the aforementioned Chardonnay there were also two reds from Blasted Church’s extensive portfolio present, starting with the unique red blend “Big Bang”. Big Bang’s predecessor was known as The Dam Flood, a blend of Merlot and the rarely-seen Lemberger. The 2008 Dam Flood took home a Double Gold (Best of Class) at this summer’s All Canadian Wine Championships, just shortly before Big Bang was released in July. The name change this year was the result of a dramatic reduction in Lemberger content due to winter damage, and thus Gamay and a bit of Foch was sourced to replace it. The newly-minted blend has pleasant mocha and vanilla notes with a toasty finish, and is a noble follow-up to the much-loved Dam Flood. Finally we tried the Blasted Church Merlot (2007); fruit-forward and smoky it was awarded a Silver medal at the Canadian Wine Awards.

If you are interested in learning more about Blasted Church wines I would highly recommend visiting their website: it is very well-put-together and provides full page wine profiles, plus detailed tasting notes and food pairings. The online store is excellent, and even indicates how many cases remain from the total produced for each wine. Release dates are shown for each wine, as well as anticipated dates for future vintages. As a student of wine websites I would rank Blasted Church at the top; they have done everything right and as a customer I am extremely impressed.

Our growth continued as we picked up a sixth team member when she finished work downtown, and we headed to our final destination at Taylorwood Wines in Yaletown. Along the way I took a detour to Okanagan Estate Wine Cellar, an out-of-the-way store found in the basement of The Bay. Okanagan Estate carries mostly Vincor wines such as Sumac Ridge, See Ya Later, and Nk’Mip; I’m assuming they have some sort of connection to the corporate parent. I was looking for new vintages of Jackson-Triggs Sunrock wines and stumbled upon a tasting of Nk’Mip’s new icon red blend called Mer’r’iym. This Meritage-blend comes from the 2008 vintage, and can obviously use some more aging, but tasted pretty great at the time. I needn’t go into extensive detail as John Schreiner has written an entire column about Mer’r’iym quite recently. Suffice to say, getting in on the ground floor of what should be a very successful new wine is a good idea in my book!

We finally arrived at Taylorwood to cap off the day’s excitement with a tasting of Quails’ Gate, one of my favourite wineries due to their high-quality portfolio and unique offerings including Chenin Blanc and Marechal Foch. We got to try the 2009 Chenin Blanc and it was great as usual. Quails’ Gate is proud to remind us that the 2007 vintage was served to President Obama during his first state visit to Canada, a pretty impressive achievement to be honest. Also available was the entry-level Chardonnay, a nicely balanced blend of tank- and barrel-fermented grapes that provides a good stepping stone to my favourite, the Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay. Although the Reserve Chardonnay was not being tasted that day I’ve tried the Gold-medal 2007 vintage and was extremely impressed at the time, so much so that I bought two more bottles for my collection. I’ve also added the very well reviewed 2008 vintage to my collection as well. Following the Chardonnay we tried Quails’ Gate’s take on Foch, of which they produce three different wines: the “regular” Old Vines Foch, a Family Reserve version of the same, and a Fortified Vintage Foch in 375ml bottles. The regular Foch is meaty with a nice mouthfeel and some pleasant sage flavours. The Fortified Foch was also being tasted, of which I already had a bottle at home. It is produced in the style of Port, but is not as thick or cloying as you might expect; well-priced at $23 and worth a try, especially for those interested in BC’s small but growing fortified wine sector.

WIth a number of Quails’ Gate wines already in my collection I instead purchased a couple of new releases on my shopping list: Laughing Stock’s 2009 Chardonnay, and the long-awaited 2006 Pipe from Sumac Ridge. Pipe is Sumac’s take on Port; it is a delicious fortified red blend that we consistently enjoy with chocolate anything and everything! Sumac produces Pipe in 500ml bottles, unlike the more common 375ml size used for dessert wines, so you get pretty good value, plus the extremely classy bottles look great on the table. Pipe lasts nearly forever so keep one on hand for those special guests, or when you have a luxurious chocolate dessert that needs a partner!


Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The Mythical Quadruple Tasting

On the weekend before Christmas, I suggested to some friends that we spend Saturday afternoon visiting some of our local wine stores. It being the holiday season everyone was holding tastings, and before I knew it I had come up with a list of four exciting events we could take in while stocking up for Christmas and New Years: the quadruple tasting was born!

We met up at the 39th & Cambie Signature BC Liquor Store where Mission Hill was celebrating the tenth anniversary of their bell tower with a wine tasting of their Five Vineyards wines. Mission Hill may have the most tiers of any BC winery besides Jackson-Triggs; the Five Vineyards wines represent the first of their four tiers and are suitable for day-to-day consumption. For only a few dollars more however you can upgrade to the Reserve series and experience some excellent value for money with six whites under $20 and four reds under $25.

Among the three wines being sampled that day where the Five Vineyards Chardonnay (2008), Pinot Grigio (2009), and Cabernet Merlot (2008). The Chardonnay is well priced at $14 but I would certainly rather spend my money on the Reserve Chard for $19, a Silver Medal winner at the 2010 Chardonnay du Monde. A couple dollars more yields the Pinot Grigio ($16), which has some nice tropical notes and was an 88-point Judges Choice at the 2010 Wine Access International Value Wine Awards. There are certainly more Pinot Gris (oaked) than Grigio (unoaked) in BC so it is refreshing to find one every once in a while. Lastly, the Cabernet/Merlot was mellow, but quite youthful and somewhat shallow. Credit goes to Mission Hill for including 5% Petit Verdot in the blend however, a rare component in an entry-level blend.

From Cambie we headed down to Kitsilano to visit Village VQA Wines where a triple-tasting of Thornhaven, Hester Creek, and Lake Breeze was taking place. We tried Thornhaven’s Pinot Gris (2008), Gewurztraminer (2008), and Pinot Noir (2007): the Gewurztraminer in particular had a beautiful nose and provoked an immediate purchase from one of our party, and the Pinot Noir was pleasantly fresh and fruity – good value for $18. The Hester Creek (2009) Cabernet/Merlot was young like Mission Hill’s, but more approachable in my opinion. An aggressive price of $16 and a slew of international awards shows Hester Creek is serious about value-priced wines. The final wine we tasted was Lake Breeze’s (2008) Meritage, a tart blend with a pleasantly complex nose. Lake Breeze also produces a bigger brother to their base Meritage called “Tempest”; the 2007 vintage of which just received a high Silver Medal at the Canadian Wine Awards.

While at Village Wines Kitsilano I picked up one of the last 2007 Compendium’s on shelves nearly anywhere I would imagine. Even Mission Hill themselves only sells it directly from the winery store now (i.e., not even online). I’m told yields were down in 2007 and many VQA stores only received one half case to sell! Too bad because this big red received a Gold Medal at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards alongside its sibling, the 2007 Quatrain; I consider myself lucky to have two bottles of each! I also added to my collection that day my first magnum: Gray Monk’s 2007 Odyssey White Brut, a Lt. Governor’s Award-winning sparkler that has all but disappeared from store shelves to make way for the 2008 vintage, no doubt also quite tasty. I tend to shy away from large format bottles due to storage complications but for only $45 this was a fantastic value, and will lay patiently in waiting for the right opportunity to open, hopefully sometime soon!

Joined by another friend returning from a holiday party, we took a quick hop across the Burrard Street bridge, bringing us downtown to visit Liberty Wines Robson for our third tasting event, which I shall detail tomorrow…