Sunday 27 March 2011

It’s Wine Week!

The upcoming week promises to be an extravaganza of wonderful wines, and I couldn’t be happier to be almost over my two-week-long cold! A stubbornly stuffy nose has made everything taste like, well, nothing for the past week, but it finally started to clear up today, just in time for some exciting upcoming events!

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Wednesday: BC Wine Appreciation Society Road 13 Tasting

The owners of Road 13 and their new winemaker will be coming to Vancouver on Wednesday to guide a tasting of twelve different wines from five different vintages (2005-2009) for the BC Wine Appreciation Society. The line-up includes a half-dozen library wines including Meritage blends Fifth Element Red and the no-longer produced Fifth Element White. I’m also looking forward to trying a couple of “Black Arts” wines – the reserve tier from when Road 13 was Golden Mile Vineyards: the 2005 Pinot Noir and 2006 Sauvignon Blanc should be quite interesting. There will be two vintages of the Road 13’s well-respected – and sadly no longer produced – Cabernet Sauvignon (2006 & 2007) plus current releases of Merlot and Pinot Noir. The new Rockpile red blend will also be available, and it appears that we’ll be tasting the about-to-be-released 2009 vintage. I’ve enjoyed a few bottles of the 2008 Rockpile this past year, and I expect an equally creative and delicious blend for 2009. A couple of Jackpot (Reserve) whites round out the tasting menu: the 2008 Chardonnay and the 2009 Riesling. The Chardonnay received a Gold Medal at the Canadian Wine Awards, and the Riesling is receiving some very positive reviews as well. I was fortunate enough to obtain a bottle of each of these small lots wines but have yet to open them, so I’m very much looking forward to tasting them for myself. As a bonus, attendees will also be enjoying some delicious appetizers to go with the wines, courtesy of the chef at the Listel Hotel, where BCWAS holds their monthly events.


Friday: Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival Tasting

This is the third year I have attended the Festival Tasting Room at the Playhouse Wine Festival and I’m practically giddy with anticipation. I consider myself extremely lucky to live in Vancouver where one of the premier wine festivals in North America takes place every year! The entire festival plays out over a week of events ranging from small intimate winemaker’s dinner to the massive Festival Tasting Room that takes place over three nights at the end of the week. This year 176 wineries will be in attendance, pouring 760 different wines! Every year there is a regional focus and a varietal focus, with this year’s foci being Spain and Fortified Wines; yikes! Those who love Port, Sherry, Madeira and the like will be in fortified heaven: just remember to spit now and then!

Having seen the program/schedule online I plan on heading to the on-site BC Liquor Store first thing and picking up a few special bottles (there is an on-site bottle check). Most of the wines being poured are also available for purchase, and many local wineries release their new vintages at the Playhouse Wine Festival. A few local priorities on my radar include Cassini Cellars Nobilus Merlot 2008, Hester Creek The Judge 2007, Jackson-Triggs Sunrock Shiraz 2008, Meyer Vineyards McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir 2008, Nk’Mip Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay 2009 and Meritage 2008, Painted Rock Merlot 2008 and Red Icon 2008, and Sandhill Small Lots Viognier 2010, among others! Fortunately the on-site store will deliver one’s purchases to the nearest BC Liquor Store, or my arms might tear off on the way home judging by that preliminary shopping list!

Saturday: BC Food & Wine Lunch

One of many events taking place during the Playhouse Wine Festival is this “Grazing Lunch” taking place at O’Doul’s Restaurant & Bar (back to the Listel hotel!). The two hour event features eighteen BC wineries, each serving two wines, plus a plethora of delicious foods too numerous to list! Although all of the wineries present are also in the Festival Tasting Room, some of the wines being poured are not available during the evening tasting sessions. Unique wines I look forward to trying with lunch include Herder’s 2008 Meritage – considered one of the best value Meritage blends in BC, Mission Hill’s 2006 Select Lot Collection Merlot – nicely aged by now no doubt, and Painted Rock’s new 2008 Syrah – likely a worthy follow-up to the fantastic 2007 inaugural vintage. There are still tickets available for this event as of this writing, one of the few still open, and it is sure to provide for a more relaxed atmosphere to explore the incredible wines of British Columbia; just make sure you aren’t too hung-over from the night before!

Friday 18 March 2011

March Wine Club with a Brandy Twist

Our wine club this month included a guest couple, bringing the total up to eight attendees, and I finally had the perfect excuse to serve my magnum of Gray Monk 2007 Odyssey Brut! I was on appetizer duty this month, and with so many potential options before me I sought some outside suggestions: an e-mail to Gray Monk produced a reply from none other than winemaker Roger Wong! Roger had the excellent idea to pair this Lt. Governor’s Award-winning sparkling wine with a hot artichoke and spinach dip. With no time to lose I set about mixing up a luxurious melange of cream cheese, Parmesan, Romano, garlic, and a touch of lemon juice. Chopped artichoke hearts and spinach were folded in and the dip baked for 30 minutes as we admired the giant bottle. The pairing was superb: the creamy texture and citrus notes of the Brut perfectly complemented similar flavours in the dip. Baked pitas and tortilla chips were useful for scooping, and some goat cheese-stuffed cherry tomatoes provided an extra touch of colour and tartness.


There isn’t much 2007 left on the market at this point, as the 2008 Brut is now available, but it too comes in Magnums for the amazing price of only $45. Nothing quite beats a magnum (except maybe a double-magnum) for dinner-party flair, and Gray Monk’s economical and high-quality take on it now has a permanent place in my heart!


Our entree of the evening came in the form of a duo of pot pies, in turkey and mushroom varieties. On my plate a crispy golden crust cradled a medley of vegetables and juicy mushroom chunks that exuded rich savoury aromas; my mouth is watering just thinking about it!   Nk’Mip’s most recently released reserve Pinot Noir – the 2008 Qwam Qwmt version – was the wine pairing, fresh off it’s Gold Medal performance at the Canadian Wine Awards. (Nk’Mip entered both their 2007 and 2008 Qwam Qwmt Pinots into the 2010 CWAs, and won Golds for both!) Nk’Mip’s vintage report for the 2008 season details myriad challenges to viticulture that year, including hailstorms, windstorms, record rainfall, and heavy frost; this Pinot Noir was clearly a labour of love! The perfumed nose had aromas of currants, cola, and earthy/leathery characteristics. There was a relatively thin mouthfeel and flavours of plum and red fruit; overall a very good complement for the pot pies.

With additional guests having joined us a second dinner wine was also “necessary”, and a bottle of Road 13 2008 Rockpile was very welcome. Rockpile is Road 13’s new Syrah-based blend, and in my experience it is a very welcome addition to the red-blend scene, being suitable for almost any occasion. We smelled raspberry and cedar, and tasted figs alongside well-balanced tannins and acidity. I would be pretty happy to drink Rockpile any day of the week, but I wish that $25 sticker price was a bit lower. If Road 13 intends this 4,500-case wine to be an everyday hero they need to get closer to $20, where some other great BC red blends and Cab-Merlots are hanging out.


For dessert we cheated a bit on the wine theme with Poire William from Okanagan Spirits; and at 40% alcohol it really was only a bit! Made from extra ripe Bartlett pears, Poire William Eau de Vie is one of several fruit brandies produced by this homegrown craft distillery, a rare gem we are lucky to have here in BC! The brandy went well with the superb apple cake that was deservedly raved about: so fresh and moist, drizzled with homemade caramel sauce and grated fresh apple shavings. I am not ashamed to say I went back for a generous second portion!


At the end of the night we continued a tradition pertaining to magnum bottles: everyone signed the bottle to remember the occasion. Earlier in the day we had all attended a shooting range in Port Coquitlam – a new experience for most of us – hence the text on the bottle, “A mag for the day of shooting mags.” It was totally unintentional to drink a magnum on the same day many of us handled a magnum, but quite poetic in the end!

Sunday 13 March 2011

Le Vieux Pin & LaStella Release New Wines

On Thursday evening Enotecca Wineries and Resorts hosted a Vancouver tasting of new releases from their South Okanagan wineries, and I was fortunate enough to attend and sample some excellent new wines. Although the new releases were primarily white and Rosé wines, some very lovely new reds and library samples were also available from Oliver-based Le Vieux Pin and Osoyoos-based LaStella.

We began by learning about LaStella’s new 2010 wines: Leggiero – an unoaked Chardonnay, Vivace – a Pinot Grigio, and LaStellina – a Merlot-based Rosé. All three wines will retail for about $25, and have been produced in relatively small lots – as are all of Enotecca’s wines. I tried both the 2009 Leggiero and LaStellina last year and enjoyed them, especially the Rosé; pure Merlot Rosé is fairly rare in these parts. The new releases of both wines continue the tradition of excellence: the Chardonnay has complex and intriguing tropical aromas and flavours; it is a really charming wine that we went back to at the end of the night to refresh our palates. The Pinot Grigio – with more acidity – had pleasant notes of pineapple and would make an excellent patio sipper, should summer ever arrive. The LaStellina Rosé is a bright red colour with significant residual sugar – be sure to serve well chilled – but a refreshing tart finish. Also available to sample was the delicious 2010 Moscato, a sweet effervescent aperitif-style wine (“inspired by the infamous Moscato d’Asti”). Not yet bottled, the Moscato will be available in 500ml bottles for $20, an increase in size from last year when it came in 375ml half-bottles.

On the Le Vieux Pin side of things, several wines were available to sample, including some 2008 reds. I can do little better than John Schreiner in his January review of the new reds, in which he covered the Pinot Noir, Merlot, and new Syrah. The “Adieu” Pinot Noir is the last Pinot from Le Vieux Pin, as they switch over production to Rhone varietals like Syrah. General Manager Rasoul Salehi explained that Le Vieux Pin aims to produce wines exclusively from Southern Okanagan grapes, and acquiring Pinot Noir from the northern end of the valley simply does not fit with that terroir-specific strategy. It is a bittersweet departure as Adieu is a wonderful wine with crisp, tart red fruit. Fortunately as one good thing comes to an end another is just beginning with the first vintage of Syrah about to be released. Le Vieux Pin’s mix of Black Sage and Golden Mile fruit provides for a ripe, meaty Syrah, but with a very smooth texture suitable for immediate consumption. At $45 it has a lot of competition from wineries like Burrowing Owl, Jackson-Triggs, and See Ya Later, all of which produce highly regarded Syrahs for $35 or less; so I’m looking forward to seeing how this new venture will play out over time.

In the same Rhone vein as Le Vieux Pin’s new Syrah comes an excellent Viognier-Roussanne with an interesting story: in addition to stainless steel and traditional oak barrels, a small amount was aged in acacia wood! The wine is aromatic with even stronger tropical flavours on the palate; but the soft, smooth texture and full mouthfeel is my favourite quality. Rasoul suggests serving this wine with sushi that includes fruits like mango or passionfruit, plus a fatty component to complement the wine’s weight – ripe avocado would certainly work well for vegetarians.

Other new releases from Le Vieux Pin include their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 Pinot Noir Rosé. The Sauvignon Blanc – just bottled on Monday – is a powerhouse of aromas; one needn’t even lift the glass to smell notes of gooseberry and grapefruit wafting upwards from the table. If you like crisp, dry, aromatic Sauvignon Blanc this is definitely a bottle to get your hands on; it went well with some tangy goat cheese that was on hand for the tasting. The Rosé complements LaStella’s Merlot-based version, with the more common use of Pinot Noir: why not try them both to compare varietals! It is drier and paler than LaStellina, and has that well-known wet-pavement Pinot character. It would be quite suitable with food, and has pleasant aromas of strawberry and rhubarb.

To conclude the evening we were provided the chance to sample some library vintages from both wineries, including Pinot Noir and Merlot from 2005 and 2006. Le Vieux Pin’s 2005 “Bella” Pinot Noir has matured quite well and still had great red fruit and acidity, along with a surprisingly meaty texture. The “Apogee” (Reserve) Merlot from the same year is also – not surprisingly – aging very well, with a soft velvety texture as the tannins have mellowed, and bright acidity. LaStella’s Reserve Merlot “Maestoso” from 2006 had more tannins, but less acidity than the Apogee; it was quite illuminating to try both vintages and wineries alongside one another. The Maestoso was our favourite, with amazing dark fruit flavours and a rich finish; it was indeed “totally sensual” as John Schreiner describes it. In fact the 2007 Maestoso received 95 points and is still available in stores – with a $90 price tag it moves slowly but surely. I doubt you’ll get your hands on one of the 22 Magnums produced however, they are certainly long gone!

Thursday 3 March 2011

February Acquisitions

I picked some special wines for the cellar in February, and a few words about these gems are worth mentioning. I’m particularly pleased with the three Fairview Cellars bottles I got from Taylorwood. This year was the first time I have spotted Bill Eggert’s rare and popular wines in a VQA store – for winery pricing – so I was very excited to add a bottle of the excellent 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon to my collection. I also have the 2006 vintage, and the 2008 has been released, but may not show up in stores for a while (only 300 cases were produced). Bill’s Cabernet is his focus, and his blends incorporate it extensively, including the Two Hoots, an ageable wine which Anthony Gismondi suggests could teach other wineries a thing or two. The other red blend – Madcap Red – is Merlot-dominant, and bottled under screwcap to suggest intended near-term enjoyment.


Speaking of Merlot I was able to acquire a couple of prize single-varietal Merlots from 2006, one of which was only just released! The Jackson-Triggs Sunrock Merlot was awarded a gold medal at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards but only just started showing up in stores. Jackson-Triggs seems to like bottle-aging their Sunrock wines for a long time: I’m still waiting for the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, as even small BC Liquor Stores are still stocking the 2005. I can only assume they release these wines very slowly, as the Sunrock series is not produced in large volumes whatsoever, yet remains on store shelves far longer than the many accolades these wines receive should suggest.

I also added to my collection a slick-looking bottle from Ex Nihilo, on the advice of Georgia Straight columnist Jurgen Gothe. Jurgen’s description of the Okanagan Falls grapes yielding a “state-of-the-art” wine is compelling, as is the first vintage in 2005 having received the People’s Choice Award at the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival. I picked up the Ex Nihilo from Taylorwood, although I know Firefly Cambie has some of the 2005 in stock if you’re interested in trying the earlier vintage as well.

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During my visit to Taylorwood for Fairview Cellars wines I also spotted the new release of Clos du Soleil’s icon red “Signature”. Clos du Soleil is a new winery in the Similkameen Valley, with a small but growing portfolio of fine wines. As John Schreiner writes, their 2007 red Meritage – called simply “Red” – was judged the best icon wine during a special tasting at the SIP VQA store in Richmond last fall. I was able to obtain a bottle of the 2007 Red – renamed Signature for 2008 – but the now Merlot-dominant blend is produced in even more limited quantities this year: only 275 cases of the 2008, down from 450 in 2007. The wine is described as having firm, ripe tannins suggestive of a long life: stick around and see how it tastes when I open it in a few years.