Thursday 22 December 2011

December Wine Club: Holiday Festivities

Christmas was on everyone’s mind when the three couples that comprise our wine/dinner club gathered for the final event of 2011 earlier this month. As hosts, my wife and I sought out a festive entree that helped to celebrate the season, and made sure to decorate with gusto, from the tablecloth to the Christmas Crackers. As a bonus appetizer I whipped up a little baked Brie with cranberry caramelized onions to enjoy while we exchanged gifts before everyone split up for their holiday travel: we were honoured to receive a valuable Edible Canada gift card, and my wife received a handy book light and a beautiful pen. As for myself, since the exchange I’ve been busy with tryouts for the contents of my new flask – can you believe I didn’t have one – and have settled on Madeira; could there be a bottle of CedarCreek Platinum “M” in my future? We loved picking out gifts for our friends, including Whiskey Stones, Evan Williams Egg Nog, and a very exciting Molecular Gastronomy Kit, plus a few treats for the new baby: can anyone resist buying a baby toque with antlers on it?


Finally one of our guests (who shall remain unnamed) began to recover from what sounded like a truly horrific hangover – courtesy of enthusiastically hosting his own Christmas party the night before – and we sat down to the appetizer course accompanied by Stag’s Hollow 2010 Viognier. The floral and spicy aromas of the wine nicely complemented the rice paper wraps stuffed with broccoli, coconut, tofu, and lime mayonnaise. Stag’s Hollow recently received a Silver Medal for their Viognier at the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards, and we all appreciated the smooth texture and balanced acidity from a wine that expresses its varietal character very well.


For the main course I had elected on Pumpkin Baked Ziti with Caramelized Onion Sage Crumb Topping, an easy and delicious holiday comfort food from the excellent cookbook “Veganomicon” (ironically “un-veganized” through the use of Ricotta cheese instead of the equally tasty tofu-based substitute in the original recipe). To balance the creamy pasta we served on the side a light mixed green salad with cranberry vinaigrette and candied pecans. It being such a festive season I couldn’t stop at just one wine pairing, especially as I had just received my first Painted Rock Wine Club shipment mere days before, which included the delicious 2010 Chardonnay. Although it’s a Chardonnay that can easily age for a few years I wanted to share a bottle with my friends at present so we could all try it together. John Schreiner reviewed Painted Rock’s new releases last month and reported that the new Chardonnay possesses dramatic aromas and lively flavours, and we certainly enjoyed the golden colour and creamy texture alongside aromas and flavours of lemon pie, pineapple, and dried mango. Following up the tropical freshness of the Painted Rock I brought out a more mature Chardonnay from the 2007 vintage of Nk’Mip’s Qwam Qwmt series. Back in 2009 Anthony Gismondi suggested it would continue to improve in bottle, and judging by his descriptors of hazelnut, baked apple, vanilla, and orange rind it was quite apt that our guests declared “it tastes like Christmas!” The soft and creamy mouthfeel conjured up additional comparisons to vanilla ice cream with maple syrup, and gave everyone a warm and cozy feeling inside as we finished our entrees.


The meal wasn’t complete yet though, and the festive theme continued into dessert with a cranberry bonanza helped along by The Fort Wine Company. We certainly don’t have any hard and fast rules mandating grape wine, so the dessert crew decided to try out a red cranberry wine from this Langley winery to pair with their cranberry upside-down cake. On top of the brightly coloured cake were generous heaps of whipped cream and some bright fresh cranberries. The wine was a bit of a surprise as it smelled sweeter than it actually tastes, which is fairly tart and dry. Overall the pairing worked well because the relatively low sugar in the cake was in balance with the flavour profile of the wine, which certainly wouldn’t have complemented a sweeter dish nearly as well.

With our final mutual meal of 2011 complete we toasted to a hugely entertaining, educational, and successful year together sharing so many great wines. The new release of Sumac Ridge’s Steller’s Jay Brut (2007) served our toasting purposes admirably with lots of citrus blossom aromas and a pleasing mousse texture that was very easy to enjoy. There are currently a fair number of magnums of the similar 2006 Steller’s Jay to be found around town for very reasonable prices ($35-$45), which holds a lot of potential for a great value New Year’s wine. I know I’ll be celebrating the upcoming year as an opportunity to experience even more of the passion and talent shown throughout the BC wine industry!

Wednesday 14 December 2011

BCWAS: Fairview Cellars Vertical Tasting

Earlier this month the BC Wine Appreciation Society hosted a tasting of wines by Fairview Cellars, the small but celebrated winery run by Bill Eggert. The tasting was focused on a very rare seven-year vertical of Bill’s premier Meritage blend “The Bear”, ranging from 2003-2009 vintages: a “Meritage Christmas” if you will! This event was particularly noteworthy as it represented the first tasting since I joined BCWAS that has focused on just one wine; most tastings cover a winery’s larger portfolio, often spread across just one or two vintages. Getting the chance to watch one wine, under one winemaker develop over seven years was a valuable lesson in winemaking and British Columbian viticulture.

I myself have been collecting Fairview Cellars wines for only a couple of years, having been first turned on to Bill’s talents by Icon Wines. After getting the chance to actually taste the wines at several events, and finally at the winery itself this summer, I’ve been hooked on the many superb small lot wines Bill produces. Icon Wines’ Liam Carrier visited Fairview Cellars last year for a barrel tasting, and I bumped into him in person at Bill’s table at the VQA Fall Release “Colour”, where we both thoroughly enjoyed the 2009 wines. (Icon Wines recently named Fairview Cellars’ “The Wrath” Cabernet Sauvignon their 2011 Icon Wine of the Year.) For even more information about Fairview Cellars and Bill Eggert have a look at the December BCWAS Newsletter, which features not only an interview with Bill, but a story by BCWAS Events Coordinator Kristal Kaulbach about the ageability of Bill’s wines.

Fairview Cellars Vertical

Going into the tasting this month attendees were not only treated to seven different vintages of The Bear, but also component tastings of the 2008 Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, the primary components of the blend (starting in 2008 Bill introduced Malbec and Petit Verdot in small quantities). The Listel Hotel provided delicious appetizers to complement the wines, and guests enjoyed beef tenderloin with smoked chocolate and cumin, grilled mushroom & eggplant Aranncini with sweet smoked tomato puree, Little Qualicum Blue Claire cheese and stone fruit compote, and braised Peace Country lamb with caramelized onion tart. Once again the staff at the Listel, along with the many BCWAS volunteers who set up the room provided for an excellent experience – good thing too as the event was sold out to one of the largest audiences yet!

Similar tastings hosted by the BCWAS have typically involved the winemaker and/or proprietor guiding guests through the wine flight glass by glass, but Bill – true to his nature – threw caution to the wind and let us individually taste however we wished after a short introduction. Walking around the room he interjected now and then with factoids but mostly just chatted with individual tables on a one-to-one basis. As we tasted through the Bear vertical one thing became immediately obvious: Bill’s consistency was going to make for a challenging experience differentiating the wines. Limited vintage variation was present (Bill pointed out 2003, 2005, and 2009 were particularly hot years) but overall the wines were unusually similar year to year – even the colour remained remarkably consistent! Having tasted some BC reds from vintages in the early 2000’s I’ve seen the loss of primary fruit that can occur at times, so it was very relieving to smell the rich, almost Port-like, aromas coming off the 2003 Bear. The wines slowly got more tannic as they got younger, but overall they all showed the ability to continue to age well for years to come. Even Bill was pleasantly surprised, having not engaged in such a vertical tasting himself for quiet a while!

While Bill doesn’t often widely publicize the release of single varietal bottlings, they do show up in stores from time to time, the varietal Cabernet Sauvignon being the most highly publicized and available. Our three varietal samples from the 2008 vintage were all quite tasty on their own, and helped illustrate how the final blend is constructed. The Cabernet Franc showed herbal characteristics and possessed the brightest fruit, while the Cabernet Sauvignon was rich and smoky, with a hint of sulphur on the nose. The most exciting varietal for me was the Merlot, as had I not know its identity in advance I might have been tempted to suggest it was Syrah given the spicy, peppery notes that sprung forth from the glass. In combination with the highly talked-about delicious Bear samples the varietals showed off the talents of an industry veteran that we all felt honoured to have enjoyed. Thanks for sharing, Bill!

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Birthday Beverages

To celebrate my birthday last week I opened a few bottles of great BC wine with friends: some were new releases I was eager to share, and others came out of the cellar for our enjoyment. A Rhone theme became apparent when we started with a three-year vertical of Viognier, and moved on to a bevy of Syrah; finally finishing with a Meritage blend and a delicious fortified wine from the Naramata Bench.


A late lunch of sushi was an excellent opener for the Sandhill Small Lots Viognier I had collected over the past couple of years. At the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards Sandhill dominated the competition by winning Winery of the Year and scooping both Red and White Wines of the Year. The 2007 Small Lots Syrah was Red of the Year, and the 2008 Small Lots Viognier was named White Wine of the Year, prompting me to find a few bottles. My final bottle was now ready to be opened along with the 2009 and 2010 Small Lots Viogniers. The 2008 was first and I was happy to see that two and half years of bottle age had done little to dampen the complex, honeyed flavour profile. The golden colour was quite appealing, and while the wine was sweet, the acidity kept it balanced and retained the freshness for which it received so many accolades two years ago.

When it came time to serve the 2009 Viognier I was dismayed to see a much darker-coloured wine in the glass – not a good sign. Whatever fault (likely oxidation) had assaulted this bottle had led to a flat and flabby texture with none of the bright fruit and intense flavours of the earlier, much more well-preserved vintage. Although I was disappointed it also represented an exciting learning opportunity to witness how a wine can go bad – the photo below barely does justice to the striking difference in colour (from left to right: 2008, 2009, 2010). Fortunately the 2010 vintage redeemed the flight and cleansed our palate with the brightest, freshest flavours and an almost slightly effervescent texture. I was glad to have enjoyed the final wine as recommended – in it’s youth.


As the night grew longer it came time for a few richer reds to complement the dizzying cheese platter we assembled – arranged geographically for our own amusement. I was able to pull another Canadian Wine Awards champion from the cellar in the form of Jackson Triggs’ 2006 Sunrock Vineyard Shiraz, the 2008 Red Wine of the Year. With a nose rich in dark berries and peppery mesquite it lived up to the glowing review Anthony Gismondi had given it back in 2008, with equally impressive “glossy textures” today.

Those smooth tannins were not expected in the other two Syrahs available – both from the 2009 vintage – but each represented wines I wanted to test with friends in the present before aging my remaining bottles. The Church & State Coyote Bowl Syrah continued the Canadian Wine Awards theme, as it only recently was announced as the 2011 Red Wine of the Year. The group described a wide variety of characteristics including aromas of blueberries, blue cheese, and toast, while the flavour profile after decanting took on an herbal, floral note somewhat reminiscent of Cabernet Franc. It was much mellower than I recalled from earlier tastings, and showed how decanting can sometimes change a wine substantially. A change had also taken place in the Fairview Cellars Bucket o’ Blood we enjoyed next: from initial aromas of blood, balsamic vinegar, toffee, and dried roses it actually became fruitier after decanting. This Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon blend is likely a promising cellar-dweller, and winemaker Bill Eggert suggests opening after 2013, but I just couldn’t wait to share a wine with such an entertaining name! Although we didn’t have any tangy ribs to pair with it as Liam Carrier suggests, some of the more flavourful cheeses did just fine alongside this rich and delicious wine.

With our short exploration of the grapes of Rhone complete we moved on to the big blend of CedarCreek 2006 “Colbert Edition” Meritage. A few years ago CedarCreek acquired some very hard-to-get barrels made from 350-year-old French oak and carefully selected a Merlot-dominant blend to age for 21 months. The 144 cases produced are few and far between but as a Platinum Club member I was very pleased to receive this storied wine. Aromas of smoky berries gave way to a powerful wine, brighter than expected, and quite smooth and approachable already. The Colbert Meritage recently ranked sixth at the Sip Wines Icon Red Tasting, as well as receiving a silver medal at the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards. Although we were surprised at the approachability (albeit after decanting) the consensus seems to be that it could continue to age a few more years.

It being my birthday I decided on a final wine to sweeten the evening: Kettle Valley Starboard. This Port-style fortified wine is made from Malbec and Petit Verdot grapes, and has recently been renamed “Caboose” to fit with other train-themed names from Kettle Valley. It’s hard to go wrong with a fortified blend of those two rich grapes, and the “long elegant finish” of Starboard provided for some mellow reflecting time as we surveyed the decimated cheese platter and numerous empty glasses and decanters. With even more great wines in the cellar – and always in need of room for more – I see no reason not to make this an annual celebration!