Sunday 22 January 2012

January Wine Club: Upping the Ante

After spending much of the past few weeks travelling for the holidays and various work-related tasks, the members of our wine club were eager to get back together this month to catch up and share more great food and drink. It’s amusing to see how the club has progressed over the past year, with few of us willing to settle for bringing just one bottle anymore; two bottles per couple has now become almost the norm (not to mention a “dinner” that seems to last for many hours!). As we are all gaining more familiarity with the myriad excellent wineries in BC it’s hard to settle on just one wine to pair with the unique and exciting dish one is contributing to the meal; this month proved to be no exception to our newly developed pattern.


After enjoying a very appetizing and creamy sparkling wine from See Ya Later Ranch before dinner we tucked into the first course with gusto upon seeing individual cast-iron ramekins coming out of the kitchen. Those appealing dishes turned out to contain the most amazing vegetarian French onion soup, and we relished hearing about the chef’s success in retaining the soup’s traditional richness while also accommodating our varied dietary preferences. In place of the typical beef stock he had substituted vegetable stock, and found the secret ingredient to be soy sauce, which guaranteed the rich, meaty umami flavour that such a dish requires. In our glasses we found two completely different wines that each complemented the soup in different ways. Black Hills’ 2010 Viognier (only their second vintage) expressed floral and citrus aromas along with tart acidity and a long finish that emphasized the sweetness found in the heavily caramelized onions. Pairing such a fresh wine with a heavy dish such as this may not be immediately apparent, but the experience showed that – gastronomically – opposites can attract quite well indeed.

The citrus and spice in the Viognier provided a lovely lead-in to a wine that I practically jumped out of my seat to enjoy: CedarCreek’s 2005 Platinum ‘M’. This very rare fortified wine is the only Madeira-style produced in the Okanagan, and required five years of cask aging before only 100 cases were bottled in 2010. CedarCreek has a fairly long history of Madeira-style wines, having produced a non-vintage version described as “very close in style to the real thing” since the early 1990’s. I’ve personally been hoping to thoroughly taste this exciting wine since hearing about it when the 2004 vintage appeared on the market. It’s not an inexpensive proposition – selling for $65 at the winery – but for that price you do get a full-size bottle (750ml) at nearly 20% alcohol! The fortification is immediately apparent upon smelling it, but with more consideration caramel and cherry notes emerge, which reminded some of us of Amaretto liqueur. Although recommended as an after-dinner wine the ‘M’ paired marvellously with the soup, as it brought out the richness of the broth and baked cheese, leaving you with a warm, content feeling – no doubt helped along by the alcohol and 72g/L of residual sugar! Although the 2005 ‘M’ is now sold out on CedarCreek’s website, I have high hopes that they will continue to produce it on an annual basis, to enjoy at any time with or without food.


As we continued to slowly sip at our Madeira, we were invited to guess at the contents of two unmarked paper bags containing our entree wines. We were only told that both wines were the same (red) varietal, and one was from BC: our host has enjoyed challenging us in the past with BC vs. International pairings such as this, if you’ll recall our Barbera blind tasting last spring. With plates full of brightly coloured mushroom and rapini curry alongside navy bean and celery salad, courtesy of Vij’s cookbooks, we sniffed and sipped with discerning senses. The first wine smelled fresh and floral, with dark fruit and hints of balsamic carrying through to the palate. Notes of wet greenery and mushrooms were suggested as we took note of the youthful tannins. Wine number two was quite different, incorporating a sweeter palate along with aromas of chocolate, blueberry, and “cinnamon raisin bread”. It was richer in flavour due in large part to the chocolate notes, and slightly tighter and more tannic than the first wine; suggestion was made that this wine could stand more time in the cellar.

Without further ado the wines were unmasked to reveal Zinfandels from BC’s own Inniskillin as well as California’s Ravens Wood Winery. I had actually just tasted the Inniskillin days before at Village VQA Wines Kitsilano, so was pleased to see it again as part of our meal, in an unexpectedly successful pairing with curry. The big character and spicy notes of Zinfandel make it a natural pairing, but there being so little found in BC (Road 13 used to produce a varietal version, and Desert Hills still does) we were all surprised and impressed. It turns out the fresh and floral first wine was the Inniskillin version, from the 2009 vintage, and the second wine – a candidate for further aging – came from California’s 2007 vintage. Given the differences between the two wines it was hard to pick a favourite, although many of us leaned towards the richer Ravens Wood version. In any case, it was another illuminating investigation into how BC can put a unique spin on the signature grape varieties of other regions from around the world.


I have to admit I was looking forward to the dessert course in particular – it being my own contribution to the meal – and I could see that my wine selection would continue with the rarities theme we were developing. Unlike in many other cases, for this dish I had the food selected long before the wine: having not had the chance to enjoy Dark Chocolate Tart with Gingersnap Crust over the holidays I was very happy to finally get to share this mouth-watering recipe. Finding a wine pairing for this recipe was quite the challenge, as chocolate often demands red, while ginger flavours pair best with aromatic whites. I also wanted to contribute something entirely unique, so I soon settled on icewine – a style which had not yet been served as part of our wine club. Although some of the highly regarded Riesling icewines from Mission Hill and Nk’Mip were originally on my radar I was excited to discover that Tantalus produces a rare Syrah icewine. A quick call to the winery put me in touch with Swirl Yaletown where one of the last bottles in Vancouver could be found!

The rich dark chocolate tart dusted with cocoa was naturally spectacular – hard to go wrong with a recipe like that – but the icewine was the star of the course. A touch of white cranberry balsamic on the nose revealed an extremely well balanced nectar with bright fruit and crisp acidity, rich in flavours of grape and crab apple jelly. In fact, we were all a little dismayed at how much we liked it: I think we secretly hoped it wouldn’t be so impressive, and then none of us would be tempted to buy more icewine in the future! Unfortunately now that we have a taste for excellence we’ll have to be extra judicious with our budgets as we begin to taste our way through the heretofore unexplored realm of these pricey Canadian gems. Although the challenge to surprise and stump each other continues to increase in difficulty, I’m looking forward to more treats such as these as we begin another year!

Saturday 7 January 2012

Holiday Wine with Friends and Family

For fans of great wine the holiday season represents an excellent opportunity to open up some of those special bottles you’ve been saving all year long, or perhaps significantly longer! While you don’t need a particular reason to share and savour a great bottle of wine, I know that I find myself looking for an excuse that Christmastime joyously provides. While we partook in more than a few delicious wines throughout the month of December below are a few of the standouts from closer to Christmas Day itself.

Holiday Wines

Road 13 2007 Jackpot Chardonnay: On Christmas Eve we noshed on butternut squash and spinach risotto alongside a bottle of Road 13’s top-tier Chardonnay. Now that the winery has shifted to blends, it’s actually their only Chardonnay, as the “Stemwinder” Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc blend takes the place of an entry-level varietal. The current (2009) vintage won gold at the fall BC Wine Awards, and at the time of release the 2007 received some high praise as well from reviewers such as Anthony Gismondi, John Schreiner, and Daenna Van Mulligen. Opening the bottle it becomes obvious that this is an oaked Chardonnay that is not ashamed to admit it. While at first the oak notes were a little too dominant, they became more subdued with breathing time in the glass, and the orchard fruit notes – apple in particular – emerged for us to enjoy. I’ve got a bottle of the 2008 vintage, which won gold at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards, but may not ever see the 2009 vintage as only 115 cases were produced. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that our local VQA stores manage to acquire a little bit!

8th Generation 2010 “Integrity” Frizzante: We enjoyed this wine on Christmas day as we brunched on sourdough French Toast and opened gifts through the afternoon. The successor to 8th Generation’s first Frizzante from 2009 added Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc to Chardonnay. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when I first tried it last spring, as it didn’t seem to show the mouth-watering purity of flavour that the first Frizzante Chardonnay did. However, after several months aging I think the blend has settled into much greater harmony, and the sharp edges following bottling have smoothed out. The delicate fruit flavours have emerged, and the creamy palate and fine bubbles make it very food friendly. Considering the winery is not yet sold out (as they are with the Pinot Noir-based Frizzante Rose “Confidence”), now may be the best time to buy some – I know I’m motivated to search for what remains in stores around town.

Tinhorn Creek 2009 2Bench White: Our Christmas dinner white wine, suggested by Icon Wines to pair with a vegetarian Christmas. Although I have a bottle of the 2010 vintage they initially recommended, I felt it was a good time to open the 2009 I had been saving. Winemaker Sandra Oldfield produces her white blend to be relatively ageable, so there’s no need to drink the current vintage immediately out of concern the fruit will fade over time. It seems obvious that Sandra makes the 2Bench White as an ideal food-pairing for West Coast dishes, as it’s said to partner well with creamy dishes, seafood, and sushi; with other reviewers recommending Asian cuisine and Indian food, all quite prevalent here in Vancouver! I always love the approachability and balance of this wine, regardless of vintage – it’s one of those few “go-to” wines I can always depend on for many situations. The 2009 still has plenty of life left in it, while perhaps harder to find in stores than the equally tasty 2010, which still appears on shelves.

Orofino 2010 Gamay: I picked out this small lot (only 75 cases) Gamay several weeks in advance as our Christmas dinner red. It was an easy choice given the high-quality approach I know Orofino takes in their winemaking, and the bottle notes even suggested “roast turkey with savoury side dishes”! We were planning on Tofurkey, but I was fairly confident the wine wouldn’t discriminate too severely, and we weren’t disappointed: unlike the (great bargain) Mt. Boucherie Gamay Noir with which I made a most delicious maple cranberry sauce, Orofino’s take was much drier. It was an ideal pairing for the type of meal one enjoys on Christmas, with bright fresh flavours to balance the food, and some fun little touches like the cream-soda aromas rightfully mentioned on the label. Although a painfully small amount was produced, it might still be found in some private stores such as Firefly, where I got my bottle; turkey dinner not required for enjoyment!

Mission Hill 2007 Perpetua: This Chardonnay comes from Mission Hill’s highest tier of wines and with the $40 price to match. For the price you get a wine considered by many to be one of the province’s best and most representative Chardonnays – which is Mission Hill’s goal no doubt. I get at least one bottle each year to cellar for a special occasion, and on Boxing Day we hosted an old friend of mine for some baked brie, and creamy cauliflower-mushroom pot pie – as special an occasion as any. I recall the 2006 being more to my liking, similar to the verdict of Liam Carrier at Icon Wines, but I think a little oxidation may have complicated the situation. The closed nose and unusually deep colour suggested some sort of imperfection, but it did clear up with time and became cleaner and fruitier, with strong hints of the complexity that Anthony Gismondi described in 2009. Fortunately I have two bottles of the 2008 vintage so I should stand a much better chance of ensuring an unbiased sample when I open them over the next year.

CedarCreek 2008 Platinum Pinot Noir: My friend brought this acclaimed bottle alongside an Osoyoos Larose 2007 Grand Vin; although I had to disappoint him in suggesting we cellar the Grand Vin a little while longer, the CedarCreek quickly soothed us all. CedarCreek received a well-deserved gold medal for this wine at the InterVin International Wine Awards, along with silver at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards, but only just released the wine recently after selling off the 2007 vintage (itself no slouch in the quality department). The winery released it at just the right time however, as I tend to agree with Daenna Van Mulligen that it is an outstanding wine. We really enjoyed the smooth texture and clean juicy berry flavours, and I was particularly pleased knowing that another bottle would likely soon be on its way to me in the February shipment of the CedarCreek Platinum Club.