Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas at the BC Wine Appreciation Society

The mood was festive, as it always is, at the BCWAS Christmas party and tasting. Plenty of sparkles and bling were in evidence as our usual gang of suspects gathered to check out a selection of Christmas offerings from around the province.

Naturally, there was sparkling wine to start the evening – Steller’s Jay from Sumac Ridge and as you can see at the right, owner Harry McWatters himself was pouring. Wonderfully yeasty and a perfect complement to the freshly shucked oysters that were part of the smorgasbord of delectable nibbles. And Frank said he was going to be late… snicker. So of course, I just had to check that particular pairing again on my own.

During the course of the evening the food seemed endless and conversations delightfully varied – wandering from the newest VQA stores in everyone’s ’hood to the emerging trend of creating strata housing developments amid the vines of established wineries to which grape varietals are best suited to BC and how that varies between the Okanagan and Vancouver Islands. But always, we came back to the main event – the wines themselves. Picking a favourite was, as expect, a tough call, but by the time Frank got there, it seemed pretty much narrowed down to two.

From one of our favourite Gulf Island Wineries, Morning Bay, Keith (shown below with Francis, BCWAS' financial wizard) and Barbara had brought an unannounced bottle of their new release Bianco. Crisp and clean, with medium plus intensity of citrus with a hint of floral on the nose, Frank’s eyes took on that glint of appreciation when we went back to this one, and he was soon deep in conversation with Keith about the four strains of yeast used – one for each of the grapes that make up this summer sipper blend: Schonberger, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and a touch of Riesling. All are vinified separately with the Riesling adding just a touch of orchard fruit. Made in a bone dry, Alsace style, Frank’s first thought was oysters or shellfish – especially if you can’t find a Muscadet. At that point I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the earlier nibblies he’d missed.

A highlight of the evening, one that had attracted a huge amount of anticipation was the 2004 Nota Bene from Black Hills. Considered something of a cult wine among BC wine fans, this Bordeaux blend (43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc) is filled with black fruit plus a hint of cherry with cedar and pencil shavings. We agreed it was well balanced with fine-grained tannins.

Unfortunately, if you’re thinking of nipping down to the store to grab a bottle or two, think again. This wine sells out year after year – unless you’re on their list, you likely won’t find any unless you can snag a bottle at a local restaurant or visit their Okanagan winery for yourself. Admittedly it was quite delicious. Still, at $35 seemed a bit pricy and in many ways remains an example of one of the biggest issues many (both of us included) believe the BC wine industry in general needs to consider carefully as it continues its evolution onto the world stage – how to be competitive in an increasingly savvy, discriminating marketplace.

PS: Happy Birthday to Leah. Thanks for pouring on your special day and you did a great job with the candle on your cupcake.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wine in the Digital Age: Cyber Surfing Nightmares

I’ve just spent a few hours researching some wines Susan and I are tasting next week. Well, attempting to research would more appropriately describe this exercise in frustration. I’m still astonished how many winery websites are hard to find, poorly laid out, and then give little or no information. Sometimes I dig through page after page after page and finally discover a two-line tasting note – how exciting.

To all you wineries, if you think this amount of information will have wines flying off the shelves, think again. First of all, by the time most consumers are looking up a wine on the Internet they’ve already tasted it, so they’re after more detail than “black cherries and leather.” And could you include just a few words on your different vintages? Your 2001 tasting notes are getting a little dated. Besides, I’m sure your 2006 will taste different – different weather, different harvest conditions, different wine.

How about a little technical information? French Oak or American Oak for example. A few lines covering pH, harvest dates, Brix at harvest, and residual sugar would be nice. Wine geeks will love you and talk up your wines – free promotion.

I’d also think you would have your labels available for download – after all, your design person’s already done the graphics in digital format, so just get a copy. Buyers could then print the label and take it to their favorite store as a reminder of what they’re looking for. Wine reviewers would be able add a label to their review or blog – more free promotion. People could share copies with their friends and family: look at this great wine I just found. Even more free promotion.

People viewing your site aren’t usually there to read all about the owners and how wonderful they are – at least not at first. Surprise – top of most people’s hit list are the wines themselves. What grape varieties? What quantities in your Bordeaux style blend? Can we have a little story on the style of wines you are trying to produce? Who is the winemaker and what’s their philosophy, experience, and technique. What does your winery look like – a picture or two might be nice especially for the folks buying your wine who live across the country.

Oh, and some way of getting a hold of you would be nice – an email address or phone number would be cool. How can you except to answer questions – like “where do I buy your wines?” Or maybe you just like seeing your wines sitting in the warehouse.

None of this actually takes that much effort. Really, it doesn’t. All you need to do is spend a little time and money on your website to make it stand out among the rest. If you want to see what I mean, here are links to a couple of websites that get it right.

Arrow Leaf Cellars in BC’s Okanagan has a site that’s easy to negotiate and includes a contact list, newsletter, pictures of the vineyard, and a great tech sheet. There’s even info on screw caps with a link to the New Zealand Screwcap Wine Seal Initiative – just in case you haven’t been converted yet.

Down under, Peter Lehmann Wines has another fantastic site – history, descriptions of the area, info about the winemakers and the wines. After spending time on the site, you want to buy rush out to the store and buy a bottle or two.

And to the winery in Australia who will not put info on their web site because it is too “techie,” it’s time to get with the Digital Age. You say you’d rather have people come to the cellar door to get info than surf the Net. Yeah, right. I’ll just hop on a plane from Canada right away. Lots of luck selling wines in our local market and no reviews from this quarter.


I confess, I have a severe love/hate relationship with the web. I admire Frank’s ability to search through layers and layers until he comes up with some nugget of information, but I certainly don’t share it. No results after a couple of Google searches and I’m on to something else. And sites that give me no contact information put me into orbit – Frank usually doesn’t even bother telling me about them any more because then he has to listen to my usually loud, always colourful verbal tirades.

However, one interesting thing did come out of his visit to the “We don’t believe in an Internet presence” Aussie site. Our debate on whether the owner was simply stupid or was being blatantly arrogant was lively, thoroughly entertaining, and will certainly keep them at the top of our “Do Not Visit or Buy From” list for a long, long time. FYI: arrogant won hands down.

Note: Photos show the Arrow Leaf Cellars' vineyards and porch area. Wine bottles show Arrow Leaf's Zweigelt and Peter Lehmann's Semillon. Enjoy.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Taste of Argentina: Two Wines from Patagonia

This was originally going to be one of those quick and dirty reviews. Two Argentinean wines, a snack provided by Chef Tim (that would be Tim Ellison, one of our favourite local sommeliers and co-founder of the BC Wine Appreciation Society), followed by a fast dash through the Cambie Liquor store to stock up on a few winter staples like Cognac and Champagne. Oh well, things change.

Uncharacteristically for a Saturday, there was plenty of parking – must be something to do with the snow. Vancouver + Snow = Mass Panic.

Tim and I do our usual three-kiss-on-the-cheek greeting – that’s right cheek to right cheek, left to left, and right to right in case you’ve ever wondered. The beef he’s carving with Melissa Popp from Hills Foods smells wonderful and the Chimichurri Sauce looks even better. Both wines on offer are from Bodega del Fin del Mundo from Patagonia, Argentinean – Southern most White and Southern most Red. Hmmm. White and Red. That tells me a lot, but what the heck.

Turns out our white is a 60/40 Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay blend. Surprisingly crisp with a pleasing length to the finish – not huge but pleasing. Today, however, this wine seemed just a bit too citrus without food – or maybe I’m just cantankerous from the snow. Still, at the price point of $12.95, this is one worth stocking for when you need a sipper with light nibblies. I’m already thinking summer sailing and it’s only December.

The red is 70/15/15 Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Once again priced at $12.95, this is one good value. A hint of tobacco and a nice, round mouth feel. I was surprised I liked it as much as I did. And it went fabulously well with the beef – although I had to check that particular pairing twice just to be sure. Tim and Melissa Popp from Hills Foods were happy to provide a photo op for the results of their combined cooking talents.

Tasting Aftermath at the Computer

Arriving home, I thought it would be fun to find out more about a winery located – literally – at the end of the world. One thing lead to another – like good surfing usually does. I spent, let’s just say “a while,” including a browse about through the Hills Foods site (who generously provided today’s beef) – some great recipes and cool organic meat products. But here’s the summary about the wines.

Bodega del Fin del Mundo was founded in 1999 when the owners planted vines on a deserted plot of land in Patagonia, Argentina. First problem – no water. From the pictures on the website, there’s not only no water, there isn’t much of anything here – think bleak, windswept, and desolated. Twenty kilometers of irrigation canal with computerized pumping system later, there was water, but now each plant needed its own windbreak to protect it from the gales that swept across the land on a seemingly daily basis. These folks clearly have plenty of the stubborn gene.

In 2002, their first vinification produced 30,000 bottles and netted a silver medal for Malbec. The owners began constructing a new, contemporary winery so they could move out of the small warehouse they’d been using to date. By 2004 were winning gold and silver medals at the Brussels Wine Expo and the Mondial du Pinot Noir in Switzerland, and their list of medals gets longer every year.

Also interesting, Bodega del Fin del Mundo continues to consider itself an experimental vineyard and is researching the viability of grape varieties seldom associated with Argentina – Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Aspirant Boushet, and Viognier.

And here’s a bonus, Tim even shared his recipe for his Chimichurri Sauce. Check it out. Thanks Tim!


A light oil and vinegar sauce with chopped parsley, cilantro, and garlic. Use as a garnish on your favourite cut of grilled beef. Makes 1 cup and would be wicked with fish and chicken too.

1/2 cup vegetable or olive oil
1/4 cup red wine or sherry vinegar
1 med white onion, minced
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
2 tbsp oregano, fresh, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 tsp chili pepper flakes
1/4 tsp black pepper, coarse grind
1 tsp lemon juice
salt to taste

Whisk together oil and vinegar in non-reactive bowl.
Add the rest of the ingredients and combine thoroughly.
Season with salt to taste.
Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours to allow flavours to develop.
Serve as a garnish with all types of grilled meats and fish.
Will keep covered in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Chateau Petrogasm: Visual Wine Tasting Notes

Over the weekend we revisited a site we discovered in the summer. Based on the classic premise of a picture being worth a thousand words – yes, we know it’s a cliché, but it’s still valid – Chateau Petrogasm uses images to convey both the experience of drinking and the impression of a wine. Some are concrete – crème brule for a Montrachet or a moldy strawberry for an Eschzeaux. After all, if a wine smells overbearingly like honeydew, then we must trust that honeydew will stain one’s imagination and thus the image.

Some stretch the imagination – ocean waves crashing against the coast for a Taittinger Champagne or a sultry brunette for the Sicilian 2005 Tenuta di Trinoro (yes, the contrast between the image from the ’40s and ’60s created some interesting debate).

Dr Debs, who we discovered runs an intriguing blog focusing on wines under $20 (that would be $20 in the States unfortunately), notes “visiting Chateau Petrogasm has become my preferred morning brain exercise. It beats Sudoku, no question. It gets the old synapses firing better than caffeine. And it’s the only wine review site that can put forward a reasonable claim that philosophers from Plato to Wittgenstein (were they still living) would vote for it in the American Wine Blog Awards.”

While we were both originally equally entranced, some of the later entries seem to be getting “out there” simply for the sake of being “out there.” Still, it’s a fun cruise around – especially on a snowy, winter afternoon like we had today. Be sure to check through the archives for some of the images that initially captured our attention.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Port and Chocolate Extravaganza

Decadence arrived in a new form at the Liberty Wine Merchants 16th Annual Port and Chocolate Extravaganza. Over 40 ports interspersed with sherries and dessert wines plus one of the tastiest food groups ever – chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

Following tradition, this delicious event was a fundraiser for Amateur Sports BC and brought together an eclectic selection of fortified wines and chocolate – oh yeah, I already mentioned the chocolate… right.

We quickly agreed there was no way we were going to be able to sample everything on offer, so a two-point plan of attack emerged – different and high end. Our first official “Oh Wow” was a 1987 Vintage Kopke. Luxuriously smoky and sinfully smooth, this port instantly conjured images of bespeckled gentlemen in brocade morning coats pausing between pages of the morning paper for a sip of coffee and a puff on their cigar. There was even a long, fat cigar reclining with elegant abandon on the table – just in case you missed the tobacco on the nose.

We tried some of the Penfold’s Grandfather Fine Old Liqueur Tawny and Peter Lehman’s The King – no wonder the Aussies call these ports “The Stickies.” The King, with its big time fruity nose and strawberry notes, practically begged to be paired with cheesecake – a dessert that sadly made no appearance here. Oh well, just have to settle for a Grand Marnier chocolate truffle.

Next up was a Barolo Chinato Cocchi from Piedmont, Italy. Frank’s eyes immediately got that “Oh my god” glint to them indicating something spectacular. “Now that’s a noseful! You won’t believe how much is going on here.” No kidding. Made from an eclectic selection of herbs including quinine bark, rhubarb, and gentian, this is like nothing either of us have smelled – or tasted.

I was just attempting to sort out whether the undertone was cardamom or fennel when Frank disappeared – simply vanished into the crowd. A couple of minutes later, he reemerged with a large chunk of dark chocolate in hand. Now you have to appreciate Frank doesn’t have quite the same relationship with chocolate I do – so this in itself was unusual. When he took a second bite, I was shocked. “This is the best chocolate pairing ever,” he announced. “Try it.” And he was right. The combination of exotic spiciness in the Cocchi and the rich, semi-sweet chocolate from Mink Chocolates was sensual and seductive – a perfect, if totally unexpected pairing and without question The Find of the Evening.

We probably sampled close to three dozen wines before sugar overload kicked, but fortunately for us, we paused for one final taste just before heading out the door – a Riesling Icewine from Chateau de Charmes. Named Wine of the Year at the 2006 Ontario Wine Awards, this is the one to refer to if someone wants to experience the full-on, buxom nose of petrol in a Riesling. A great balance between ripe fruit, texture, and acidity made this a close runner up for favourite of the evening.

Kopke: Vintage1987
Portugal ($66.99)

Penfold: Grandfather Fine Old Liqueur Tawny
Australia ($84.99)

Peter Lehman
: The King

Barolo Chinato Cocchi
Italy ($50.99)

Chateau de Charmes: Riesling Icewine
Ontario, Canada ($65.00 – 375ml)


Mink Chocolates
Teas Me Truffles

Monday, November 26, 2007

We’re Back with New Releases from BC's Morning Bay Vineyard

We know, it’s been a long time. Thanks to everyone for your patience as we went through a period of vanishing off the radar. Here comes the first of many events we’re going to be spending the next while getting our readers caught up on.

Last week was the Vancouver launch of Morning Bay’s new releases – including four wines made from 100% estate grapes grown on their seven-acre vineyard on Pender Island. Owners Keith Watt and Barbara Reid (shown left)have been producing wines since 2002, but until the 2006 release they relied on grapes from the southern Okanagan Valley. “Wines from the Gulf Islands are lighter with more acidity and are hugely aromatic,” Keith says noting consumers are only now coming to realize just how well these wines pair well with food.

First up was the 2006 Estate Bianco ($16.99) a blend of 50% Schonberger, 22.5% Gewürztraminer, 22.5% Pinot Gris, and 5% Riesling. “Clean and coyly off-dry” is how Keith likes to describe this crisp, thirst quencher. Pleasing aromatics and a satisfying mouth feel, but this is one I’d like to have tried with food – I’m sure Frank would have come up with some interesting combinations.

The 2006 Estate Gewürztraminer Riesling ($20.99) was my hands down favourite of the afternoon. Granny Smith apples, a hint of peach, and that lovely petrol undertone – this one is a winner. With only 75 cases made, I made sure to snag a couple of bottles. Good thing too, because a few days later it proved, as expected, to be a perfect match with the spice Thai chicken stir fry that was one of those “oh no, what on earth have we got in the house” impromptu dinners.

Sassy and a bit cheeky, the 2006 Estate Pinot Gris ($22.99) hinted at carmel and coffee spread on a toasty baguette and served on a sunny day by a dashingly good looking Italian waiter – especially somewhere on a Mediterranean piazza. Would probably make a great Christmas turkey dinner wine, but with only 35 cases made, you’ll have a tough time finding it.

The 2006 Estate Chiaretto ($16.99) was the afternoon’s only disappointment. After surreptitiously polling a few of the other people gathered, the consensus was this 100% Pinot Noir rose seemed to have trouble deciding whether it wanted to be red or white and was too thin to work well with food.

We moved to red with the 2004 Merlot ($31.99) made from grapes out of southwest Osoyoos. On the nose, this wine immediately took me back to childhood when I could horrify my mother by climbing the plum tree in our backyard and stuffing myself with the sweet, juicy fruit. A delicious, lingering pepper finish at the back of the mouth.

And finally, Keith shared some of the 2004 Reserve Merlot ($37.99) that recently garnered Morning Bay their first Bronze Award at the 2007 Canadian Wine Awards – a competition where this year no Gold was awarded. Our group was unanimous this wine had softer, more integrated tannins with a hint of chocolate added to the pepper for a pleasing, and lengthy finish.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Are BC Wines Going to the Dogs?

You bet they are – for the fifth year in a row. Sure we are being a bit tongue-in-cheek here, but this is still one heck of a fun idea. On September 29, from noon to 6:00 pm, See Ya Later Ranch in Okanagan Falls will host the fifth annual Dog Days of Summer afternoon bash. This by donation event in support of the Penticton Chapter of the BC SPCA has now become a favourite family-friendly highlight of the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival.

Over the years, more than 1,000 dogs have brought their owners to this celebration of the See Ya Later Ranch’s quirky history and unleashing of the winery’s newest vintages – all now bottled under screw cap. No dog of your own? No problem say the folks at See Ya Later Ranch. Despite your disadvantaged status, you’re still welcome to raise a glass of 2006 Riesling or Gewürztraminer – two of the just released wines featured at this year’s Dog Days of Summer – in salute of your own favourite four-footed companion.

Above, winemaker Dave Carson poses with one of the See Ya Later spaniels.


In 2003, the winery released a series of wines under the See Ya Later Ranch label in honour of Major Hugh Fraser, one of the ranch’s first inhabitants. A confirmed dog lover, the Major gave his pets free-range of his ranch and house so, in keeping with his philosophy of making the property a dog-friendly place, the new wine labels featured a small, white, flying angel dog and the winery grounds have been outfitted with a Barking Lot where dogs can romp and play in the shade while their humans tour the winery.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Muscadet Meets European Flats or They Took My Oysters

I went down to our local seafood supplier on the weekend to pick up some oysters to take to a backyard party. For the first time in months, they had European Flats in stock. European flats are my favorites (Susan’s as well), and there were only a few left. Threw a dozen or so in a bag pronto before anyone else could grab them and made a call to Susan to say there was a few left – hopefully to save my butt for not sharing. A quick trip to my favorite wine shop to pick up a bottle of Chateau Chasseloir Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur Liethe perfect match for just about every type of oyster but especially good with European flats. So far so good.

This being a potluck, the hostess and host were wondering what I’d brought. Needless to say, since they’d never had these before, they got the first couple I shucked. Naturally, they also had to try the wine I’d brought with the oysters. There was some discussion about what a wonderful match the oysters and wine made.

Another couple were listening – two more oysters vanished. Now you have to appreciate European flats are like potato chips – you can’t just have one. It simply doesn’t work. So now there are four people eating oysters and drinking wine. Next thing I know, there are six gathered around the table where I’m shucking. I look down and there a two oysters left. That’s it, two left for me out of a dozen. The bottle of wine has one glass left – maybe. Total elapsed time – less than fifteen minutes.

Okay, one of the things I was counting on is that there usually aren’t a lot of people who eat raw oysters, so I’d probably have most of them for myself. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Went back the next day to get some more but there were none left. Nothing, nada, zip. Susan will probably think this is justice served.

Susan’s Note:

Yup. I’m trying to hide the snigger – but not too hard. What more need I say?

The Details You Need To Know:

The Wine: Chateau Chasseloir Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur Lie. Lots of lemon and lemon peel with a tangy, mineral finish. Perfect raw oyster wine. Available in Vancouver at Marquis Wine Cellar for $19.95.

The Oysters: European Flats (ostera edulis) also known as Belons or French Plates. Slight copper color, sweet with a slight copper finish, with just a touch of brine. Somewhat rare in North America. When they’re available, we usually find them at The Lobsterman on Granville Island.

For a great reference book on everything to do with oysters check out The Hog Island Oyster Lover’s Cookbook published by Ten Speed Press that we reviewed in June. Available in Vancouver at Barbara Jo’s Books to Cooks or through

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sipping Riesling with Johannes Selbach

I’m still on the quest for one of the Toro wines from Frank’s Spanish Wine Educators course. Nothing at the BC Liquor Store, nothing at the two private wine stores located geographically closest to home. By the time I snag a scarcer-than-Toro-wine parking spot outside the Kitsilano Wine Cellar – one of my favourite though slightly farther away private wine shops – I’ve become what diplomatic friends call “focused.” The less diplomatic ones tend to use the term “obsessed.”

“It’s a great day for tasting Rieslings,” says a cheery woman with suspiciously frizzy, red hair and a glass already in hand. Like there’s a bad day for Riesling? It takes a second to register that I’ve apparently stumbled on an unexpected in-house tasting. Okay, time for a detour from the Toro especially since, according to my chatty, beaming companion, the vineyard owner himself, Johannes Selbach – “such a lovely, daaarling man” – is pouring. Hey, serendipity is good.

All four wines are from the Selbach-Oster winery in Germany’s Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region – one of the world’s prime Riesling areas. Selbach-Oster has been growing grapes there since the 1600s and Riesling is the only wine they produce. Frank’s going to be really choked he missed out on this one.

Halbtrocken Riesling 2005 (1-Litre)
A popular restaurant offering in Germany, this wine gives plenty of slate on the nose. Dry, firm, and “crunchy” as Johannes describes it. Good acidity but certainly not overpowering – great to have on hand for when guests show up unexpectedly. Solid value at $27.99

Zeltinger Himmelreigh QBA Riesling 2001
A bit fruitier and rounder, this wine presents more petrol on the nose and more sweetness on the palate. I attempt, without success, to find the hint of fizz Johannes experiences but we soon settle for simply agreeing this is a pleasing, comfortable wine – especially at the price point of $17.99.

Bernkaestler Kabinett Riesling 2005

Big mouth feel ensures this wine would pair well with a diverse selection of foods – pastas, tomato and vinaigrette salad, and paella. Easy to see why, at $22.99, this is Selbach-Oster’s most popular wine.

Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Spatlese 2003
“A big step up” Johannes says as he pours the last wine. No kidding. Immediately presenting the nose-tickling petrol fragrance that’s synonymous with classic Riesling, this old vine beauty is well balanced, rich, and complex. Peaches dance at the back of the tongue like kids playing in an orchard where fruit laden branches dip low to the ground. Thanks to the hot 2003 summer, there’s a mouth-cleansing acidity that would pair well with a broad range of foods… or simply with the delights of good company. Definitely one to stock at $39.99.

Epilogue: Kitsilano Wine Cellar does indeed have some of the elusive Toro wines – two in fact. Two bottles of the 2003 Vetus are already tucked away for the next barbeque, but they are sharing shelf space with a couple of newly discovered whites from Selbach-Oster. Like the woman said, it really was a great day to savour some Rieslings.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Crazy for Spanish Wines: Tempranillo Meets Toro

We have both been busy lately – a little too busy actually and, regretfully, not much of it to do with wine. The wine shelves are almost bare, dirty laundry piling up, and unanswered emails clogging our inboxes.

However, somewhere in the blur that has been this summer, I did manage to attend – survive might be a more accurate description – an intensive weekend seminar with Pancho Campo (left) and Javier Arana (right) from the Wine Academy of Spain. This was one jam-packed weekend of learning more about Spanish wines. Trust me, there is nothing quite like tasting a big, bold Rioja red at nine o’clock on a Saturday morning. Susan would have been in heaven.

The classes ran an exhausting eight hours a day over Saturday and Sunday. During the two days we learned about the climate, topography, history, food, and culture of Spanish wine regions – all 20-plus of them. We tasted more than 45 wines including a couple of big, fat reds from Toro, one of Spain’s lesser-known regions. Made from Tempranillo (that here the Spaniards call Tinta de Toro), these wines are huge and tannic and cry out for roast pig on a spit.

On Monday, we subjected ourselves to a multiple-choice exam and a blind tasting exam – six wines, five questions on each wine. The multiple-choice questions were difficult, but the blind tasting… well excruciating is probably a slight understatement. Several of the 23 participants are working sommeliers already, one woman teaches the entry level WSET training, others have years of experience in the wine industry – all agreed this was the toughest course they’d ever taken.

I passed and am now an official Spanish Wine Educator. But one thing I learned, I’m definitely going to have to drink more Spanish reds.


Shell-shocked is how I’d best describe Frank on Saturday evening after the first eight hours. He was up at 5:00 am the next two mornings to follow the time honoured tradition of cramming – every book on Spanish wines off the shelves and open.

I still haven’t quite found an accurate descriptor for how he appeared after emerging from the exam, but he was positively vibrating. For several days, he’d just shake his head and look a bit – well, stunned is what comes to mind – every time he poured a glass of red wine and stared into its depths. He was convinced he’d failed the blind tastings miserably.

About a week later, we were at a wine event where we ran into four of five of the participants from the class. Now you have to appreciate, Frank is extremely diplomatic, so it took a few minutes of conversation before he actually asked the first woman how she thought she’d done on the blind tasting – this was, after all, a well respected local sommelier and wine rep with many years of experience. She flashed a devil-may-care smile, threw her hands up in the air, and announced “I blew it – totally, absolutely, completely blew it.” She proceeded to list off the mistakes she’d made. As we walked toward the next table, Frank raised his eyebrows ever-so-slightly and mutter “humph” – that was it, just “humph.”

By the time we’d talked to two more people who had apparently also made significant numbers of wrong calls, Frank was looking much more chuff. The “humph” was replaced with “well, I’ll be damned.” In the end, though we’re still waiting for the actual certificate, the Academy sent an email to say he’d passed with a significantly above average mark on the theory and a solidly above average one on the tasting. Okay, so if he doesn’t boast, I’ll just have to do it for him. But you can be sure I’ll be reminding him frequently that to fill the lack in his education, we need to raise a few more glasses filled with Spanish reds – especially those big, fat, tannic Toros that we’re still trying to track down.

FYI: The seminar was a joint effort between the Society Of Wine Educators and the Wine Academy of Spain and was offered in Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and Vancouver. If you missed it, we’ve heard it will soon be offered on the East Coast.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Voga Italia: Hooked on the Italian Wine Marketing Machine

Most of my friends can tell when I’m really bored. I pace, I punctuate my conversation with gestures that are even more flamboyant and sweeping than usual, and I go window-shopping. Okay, okay, frequently I go a bit beyond just window-shopping – I don’t mind admitting it’s probably a “girl thing.”

But still, a product has to capture my attention before I’ll actually part with cold, hard cash. So with Frank away on a particularly intense business trip to St Louis, the wine display of Voga at Mark Anthony’s, one of our local private liquor stores, unexpectedly came up with just the ticket.

At first I thought it was a case of mistaken identity. In my mind, the neatly stacked bottles of Pinot Grigio resembled nothing as much as bottles of aftershave on steroids. Was I simply even more bored than I suspected? No, they really did remind me of some sort of mega flask of perfumed liquid for splashing on sundry body parts.

I’d already found the two Pinot Noirs and the Tyrrell’s Verdelho I’d come in to buy, so what was another bottle in the grand scheme of things – especially at a price point of under $15. If it was all simply marketing drama, I’d chuck it with no regrets.

At home, I was surprised to discover more fragrance in my glass than I’d expected – even in its current significantly over-chilled state. Floral with some interesting background notes of grapefruit, there was also an elusive quality that made me think of sitting on a Mediterranean stone wall in the cool of evening. Frank would have been able to say whether it was flint or mineral or something totally different, but at that point in a long day, the image simply brought me a ridiculous amount of enjoyment from what I’d expected to be, at best, a cheap-and-cheerful patio sipper.

Now curiosity took over. I checked out the website. Sex and the City move over – this marketing machine is cranked up into high gear. Flashing images of slinky women interspersed with a few muscular male torsos, it’s clear someone is engaging in a superb advertising strategy, and one that persuaded me to opt in.

Would I buy this wine again? You bet. Would I buy it often? Probably not. But then again, it was a fun experiment, and for scientific accuracy an experiment should always be repeated – at least once.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Chablis, Romance, and Just Plain Fun: Weekend Wine Quizzes

The weather’s hot, the wine’s cool, and these two sites were just so much tongue-in-cheek fun we couldn’t resist. Sure, this is pure indulgence, but hey, sometimes we all need to just sit back and have a good laugh. And if the Chablis videos don’t get you doing exactly that, you definitely need to pour yourself a couple more glasses.


Test out your Chablis-savvy nature – from trendy to sophisticated. ’Fess up about how you’ll handle the waiter who spills the bisque on your lap or whether you’ll spill the beans when your best friend needs a shoulder to cry on, and this quick quiz will fill you in on your FC-quotient.

But it’s the three videos we found most fun. Sassy, silly, and guaranteed to bring a smile, we got the second and third installment through Watch out for the blond’s backhand.


Last month it was Soif de Coeurfind your soul mate by revealing the secret number under the label. This month, we discovered a kind of cyber-cross between horoscope, wine guru, and psychic. Apparently if you’re willing to share your preference of ideal date scenario and comfort with a wine list – along with a couple of minor details like age and personality type – you’ll get a personalized synopsis telling you how to “make understanding, buying, and drinking” wine more fun. Like we need an excuse? Still, this is just one of those cute ways to spend a few minutes.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

New Standards for BC’s Wine Industry

Although there’s been little fanfare, British Columbia’s wine industry has a new set of standards and regulations. Thanks to a provincial law passed on July 18, 2007, and named the Wines of Marked Quality Regulation, these new standards come under the umbrella of the BC Wine Authority (BCWA) which will implement the newly enacted regulations and recommend future changes.

The BC Wine Authority regulations will require all wineries to be registered and meet a core set of standards for both winemaking and labeling. The mandatory level of Wines of Marked Quality does not, however, include VQA certification which will continue to be an optional program.

Previously, the BC wine industry was governed by the Wine Act that legally created the VQA standard which the BC Wine Institute has overseen since 1990. “The BC Wine Institute and its winery members are extremely proud of how the VQA program evolved and believe these standards have driven the positive, quality-directed growth of our industry,” says Scott Fraser, BC Wine Institute chair. “We believe moving standards into a separate organization – an organization independent of the wineries themselves and one that has enforcement powers – will strengthen the standards’ credibility even more and will overall serve consumers’ interests better.”

“Many of the best minds in the BC wine industry have been working tirelessly to establish the Wine Authority,” says Shaun Everest, marketing manager at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards (vineyards at harvest time shown above). With so many players involved, it was a long and difficult process. Now that the BC Wine Authority is officially in the picture, everyone can get on with what they do best… which is continue to make our fabulous BC wines.”

FYI: There are over 130 wineries in British Columbia – almost double the number from just six years ago – and over 410 grape growers. The BC wine industry employs more than 3,000 full- and part-time workers, and by sales, is Canada’s number one producer of premium wine grapes.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Domaine des Corbillieres 2005 Touraine Sauvignon: Mint Mysteries

We’re having a bit of a conundrum with this wine. Actually it’s becoming more than just a bit of a conundrum – it’s an out and out mystery. About a month ago we discovered the 2005 Touraine Sauvignon at White and Gold: An Afternoon with Wines of the Loire Valley, a summer tasting organized by Liberty Wine Merchants.

It was an instant hit – not just with the two of us but with almost everyone in attendance – because of its subtle yet distinct mint undertone. Yes, at first we questioned whether our palates were playing tricks, but everyone in the room had the same reaction. Mint, definitely. Very unusual, deliciously refreshing.

A week later we bought half a case.

Frank had the first bottle the next evening. No mint. Nada. A pleasant enough Sauvignon Blanc, but where was the mint that had captured our attention? A couple of days later, I took a second bottle to a patio party. I neglected to mention the mint to my fellow party goers, just asked if anyone could taste something unusual. Nope, just a nice, pleasant wine. No mint.

It was beginning to sound like a classic case of bottle variation. The big question now becoming: was it the bottle at the tasting or the ones we bought that have the variation? Two to one against the tasting – a bit of a disappointment because we really did like the unique flavour.

A call to Drew at Liberty got us no closer to a possible solution. He remembered the wine as being grassy and herbaceous – pretty much like you’d expect it to be – but no mint. Still we could certainly exchange the wine if we weren’t happy with it. Okay, we’d think about that option.

We’d almost decided to take Drew up on his exchange offer when one of Frank’s co-workers and an always looking for something new in the wine world person phoned to thank him for the bottle of wine he’d passed along. She loved the minty taste – hadn’t actually believed him when he told her about it. Uh-oh, we’re back to two for two for the mint.

Three bottles remain from our initial purchase. The good news is we know there can’t be a tie – and Drew definitely won’t be getting our bottles of this wine back. This is one mystery that’s proving far too much fun to give up on yet.

- The wine: Domaine des Corbillieres 2005 Touraine Sauvignon
- The grape: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
- The price: $19.99
- Available at Liberty Wine Merchants and BC Liquor Stores
- The Domaine des Corbillieres estate encompasses 23 hectares: 13 hectares of Touraine Blanc Sauvignon, eight hectares of Touraine Rouge (Gamay, Pinot Noir, Cot, and Cabernet Franc), one hectare of Touraine Rosé (Pineau D'Aunis), and one hectare of Crémant de Loire (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir)
- The picture above left was taken in 1923 and is of Fabel Barbou and his wife, great grandfather to Dominique Barbou who, with his wife Véronique, now runs Domaine des Corbillieres.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Forchini’s 2004 Zinfandel Proprietor’s Reserve: Zin-fully Delicious

Frank’s back from his road trip and it was an undisputed success. In fact, he’s still raving about the wineries, the people, and the climate. Now I just need to get him to apply fingers to keyboard… not that I’m hinting you understand.

Meanwhile, though, there’s one story that already has a sequel, hopefully the first of many – that’s many stories about the trip and many sequels to this particular story.

The winery was Forchini Vineyards (their Petit Verdot vines shown left). Frank had stumbled on it by accident while he was looking for a spot to take pictures of the Dry Creek Valley. This particular winery is located at the top of the steepest driveway, so naturally that was where he pointed the truck. When he arrived at the peak, he spotted a father and son hanging out – well, not just hanging out. Jim and Michael were actually watching their power meter run backwards. Seems they’d just installed solar panels and were now feeding power back into California’s power grid.

At first they were a trifle suspicious. Later Michael confided he and his dad had been trying to figure out whether this guy at the end of their drive was a grower hoping to sell them grapes. It was a theme that would be repeated often – apparently the combination of truck, Daytons, and jeans spells “Grower” to most vineyard owners.

But they soon warmed up when Frank explained he was working toward his WSET Diploma and genuinely only wanted to snap a few photos of the valley. One thing led to another – again, a recurring theme of the trip. Jim left early, but seemingly in no time, Frank and Michael were ensconced on the patio sipping wines under the adoring gaze of two golden labs made famous on the pages of Wine Dogs: The Original Winery Dog Book.

Now you have to appreciate that Frank tasted hundreds of wine during his all too brief, five-day sojourn. But the Forchini 2004 Zinfandel Proprietor’s Reserve was one of the wines he chose to fulfill his meager allotment of two bottles – the maximum the Canadian government will allow you to bring back after even an extended visit outside the country without paying almost 150% in duties and taxes.

One, the Potter’s Viognier, never made it home. He drank it – yes, the whole bottle – enroute. But the Forchini 2004 Zinfandel Proprietor’s Reserve did arrive safe and sound in Vancouver. And he’s been telling me about it ever since he put it on the wine rack – not like any Zin I’ve ever tried, it’s going to change the way I think of Zins, I’ll love this one.

Finally I couldn’t stand it, I called his bluff. Open the bottle and let me taste for myself.

Thing is, it was no bluff. This is one amazing wine and truly is unlike any other Zinfandel we’ve ever tasted. The aromatics are lush – bordering on contemplative – and filled with spice plus something that seems elusively like licorice but isn’t. Over the evening, the spices intensified but never overwhelmed.

There’s no disappointment on the palate either. Tons of big, bold berry with an undertone of spice and still that unknown licorice or perhaps anise. Frank got just a hint of vanilla too – most likely from the 35% new American oak – but I was too infatuated to really care about the oak. This was, quite simply, everything he’d said and more.

Definitely created in a traditional Italian style, the finish is long, lingering, and smooth. As Frank put it, you can swish it around in your mouth all you like and you won’t get any tannins or harshness. It covers the entire tongue from front to back with no hot spots anywhere. Yet surprisingly, this wine packs 15.2% alcohol – very uncharacteristically, Frank was off by 2% pegging it at 13%.

As we were savouring the last glass, Frank finally confessed. “I’m really glad this was as good as I remember it being. I’ve been talking it up to you for so long now I was starting to wonder if it was actually more to do with the time and the place – you know, the dogs flopped out in the tasting room, the sunshine, the conversation. But it really is just as wonderful as I remembered.” And although this wine is sold out far in advance, sometime in the future we agreed a return visit with Jim and Michael is now high up on our “must make time for” list.


- The Wine: 2004 Zinfandel Proprietor’s Reserve
- Cost: $25.00 (US)
- The Forchini Vineyard produces a total of only 3,000 cases of wine per year. They own 24 acres along the Russian River and 67 acres in Dry Creek.
- Only 350 cases of the 2004 Zinfandel Proprietor’s Reserve were produced. This vintage is made from 100 year old, dry farmed vines grown on the eastern Dry Creek Valley benchland.
- The Forchini wine labels are portraits painted by the Italian artist Caravaggio. Born in 1571,Caravaggio lived a controversial, passionate life and was renown for his impressionistic work with its still life realism and dramatic contrasts between light and dark.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

White and Gold: An Afternoon with Wines of the Loire Valley

Sunday afternoon and what better place to be than a wine tasting? This one had particularly caught our attention with the vintages on offer – all from the Loire Valley, all whites. With nary a red in sight, we figured this would be close to Frank’s idea of heaven – especially with the vintages on offer.

We couldn’t quite place the address, but set off regardless never suspecting that tucked away in the basement of a classically subdued, black building in a somewhat nondescript Vancouver neighbourhood, Liberty Wine Merchants would have a traditional, cellar-style tasting room. It was just the first surprise of the afternoon.

Following the tradition of an afternoon garden party, we were greeted by a glass of Moncontour n/v Touraine Tete de Cuvee Brut. A blend of 95% Chenin Blanc and 5% Chardonnay, this sparkler offered good acidity, a traditionally yeasty nose, and the crisp Chenin flavour. At $24.99, we agreed this is a pleasant wine and a good value.

Next up was a Coing de Saint Fiarce 2005 Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie that immediately garnered the first star of our evolving Frank’s Rating System – that’s one star for good enough to stock, two stars for a wine that will definitely become a regular, and two stars with a “B” for rush out and buy this wine right now! Frank immediately said lime apple with a touch of iodine. I passed on the apple component. But we both agreed this is one to stock and a perfect match with seafood. At $23.99, it will also likely replace our current standard Muscadet for everyday sipping.

We felt the Chesnanie 2005 Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie that came next was, while still pleasant and typical of a Muscadet, was overall less balanced than the previous wine – especially as the price point was identical. With the slight briny background taste, it would be worth trying with salty oysters – in other words, we’ll probably have to be heading down to Granville Island for a visit to The Lobster Man, our favourite oyster supplier.

However, our eyes popped with the first swirl of the Domaine des Corbillieres 2005 Touraine Sauvignon that was next. Mint – no question about it. Subtle yet distinct, this wine actually has a note of mint. By far the most unusual wine of the afternoon, this one ranked the coveted two stars with a “B” designation. A steal at $19.99.

We were disappointed by the Valery Renaudat 2003 Quincy that followed. Little nose and dull on the palate. At $34.99, we’ll stick with a Sancerre or Pouilly. Turns out there is also no information on the web – at least none we could find.

A Tinel Blondelet 2005 Sancerre la Croix Canat was next, and our taste buds were soon revived. Bright, crisp, and flinty, this one is a good example of Sancerre. Absolutely cries out for goat cheese. Frank also detected a hint of gooseberry and fresh cut grass. $34.99.

The following Tinel Blondelet 2005 Pouilly Fume had a disappointing lack of aromatics and was not at all what we’d consider typical of a Pouilly. At the same price point, the Sancerre was a far better value.

When we got home, we discovered neither of us had any notes at all on the Baumard 2004 Vin de Pays Jardin de la France La Caleche that came next. Well, not quite, but suffice it to say we simply didn’t like this wine. $19.99.

The Chamboureau 2002 Savennieres was a typical Chenin Blanc, although at $34.99 neither of us could decide whether we actually liked it. No web information was forthcoming on a search later.

We didn’t linger much over the Hureau 2003 Saumur that was next up. Pleasant enough but at $37.99 not stellar value. We moved forward in the line up quickly.

Next was the afternoon’s second two star wine – a Champalou 2003 Vouvray Cuvee de Fondraux. Great aromatics with plenty of tropical fruits, there was still enough acidity to balance the sugar nicely. Great value at $33.99.

The Baumard 2003 Savennieres Trie Speciale that followed left a somewhat bitter after taste. We both gave this one a shrug and moved on – especially at a $49.99 price point.

The final wine of our French Garden Party was a Champalou 2003 Vouvray Cuvee Moelleuse. Rich with the aromas and texture of noble rot, this was another two star favourite. Full bodied and rich, it was the perfect wine to end with – we were both still enjoying the long, lingering finish many minutes later. Same price as the previous wine but with a whole lot more personality and attitude. Two stars with a B to Buy!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Climate Change: or Dad, Maybe We Shouldn’t Sell the Ranch Just Yet

Dad, I don’t know what you’ve heard about global warming, but it looks like we might be making a mistake selling the ranch. I know cattle prices are down and all, but apparently a rock ranch might have some value about now.

There was some big study done on Climate Change, and the BC government is thinking BC can grow grapes somewhere besides the Okanagan. And they’re spending money – big money – to find out where. Fifty grand, Dad, and another forty grand from the feds – all you gotta do is plant a few grapes to see which ones survive.

Those orchard guys sure picked up on this wine thing early. Did you know they’re getting a hundred thousand dollars an acre for grapes? Sure beats a couple of grand for grazing land.

Just think, no more dealing with cattle – all we’d have to handle are busloads of tourists lining up to taste our wine. Yeah, I guess the cattle prods might still have some use after all. And how’s this? We could change the barn into one of those rustic tasting room. Yup, you can charge ’em for the tasting. Those Yanks been doing it for years – never give away anything for free.

Maybe we can hire us that cute waitress from the bar to work the tasting room. No, I don’t think she needs to know anything about wine. Hey, I could be one of those wine geeks selling hundred dollar bottles of wine. Yes, Dad, people really do spend a hundred bucks on one bottle – sometimes even more.

No, I have NOT been drinking too much this morning. When it gets too hot for California to grow all those Napa Cabs, someone’s going to have to do it. And if it gets cold, we can just make ice-wine. No, it’s a tad more complicated than just adding ice cubes. You gotta let the grapes freeze right on the vine. Remember all those veggies we lost years back? Hell, no problem now. Might have a problem getting the boys off the horses and teaching them how to prune the vines – but oh well.

I checked it out, and there’s even some place in France that’s got just about as much rock as we do – Shaaa-toe-nuff de something. We can hire us one of those French guys to show us how to make wine with lots of points. You know points – up to a hundred. Nah, I haven’t a clue what the difference between 92 and 93 points would be either. But the more points you get, the more money you get – and we want to be selling our stuff for big bucks.

Yeah, Dad, it probably is a good thing they don’t give points to Scotch, and beer might still drive the price up. Anyway, let’s keep an eye on this. Hell, maybe we’ll finally be able to get rid of them snowshoes too.


Okay, we're being even more cheeky than usual, but here are a few serious Global Warming links worth checking out. (Pancho Campo from the Spanish Wine Academy has a long-standing interest in the global warming phenomenon. In fact, Pancho's thesis, which he will present to the Institute of Masters of Wine in order to become the first Spanish Master of Wine, centres around the impacts of climate change.) (The second INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON CLIMATE CHANGE & WINE will analyse what is climate change and its impact on the wine industry. Leading world experts will gather in Barcelona for two days to conduct seminars, lectures, and discussion forums on the impact and repercussions climate change is having on the wine industry in the most important wine producing regions of the world.)

Friday, June 29, 2007

An Evening with Tinhorn Creek Wines

It was the final event of the BCWAS season and one of our favourite BC winemakers was the speaker. We can always count on Tinhorn Creek’s Sandra Oldfield to inspire lively discussion and offer intriguing insights into the BC wine industry. Tonight was no exception.

But this time, Sandra had a special treat in store for us – a vertical flight of Oldfield’s Collection Merlot – five vintages from 2001 to 2004. Now in case you’re questioning the math of five vintages and only four years, here’s the twist. Two of our glasses actually contained the same wine, from the same barrel, bottled within an hour of each other. The difference? One was under cork, the other under Stelvin. Oh yes, and one wasn’t actually pure Merlot – it had a small amount of other varietals added.

That was it, the entire sum of information we were given. Go to folks. Sip away, and do your best to figure out which year was which and what two wines were the same. Within minutes, the room was buzzing with speculation.

A single sniff and Frank pegged the fifth wine as the one under cork. Across the table Leo was, quite uncharacteristically, smirking – just a wee bit. Under some “friendly pressure” from the rest of us, he finally ‘fessed up. Frank’s nose was accurate – the last wine in the flight was definitely the one under cork. He knew for sure because, as one of our dedicated volunteers, he’d poured it. However, that was the extent of our secret edge on the rest of the crowd.

So now to match the fifth Merlot with its screw capped barrel mate? Most of us agreed the first in the flight was an odd man out. Different nose entirely with a hint of white pepper. The second was leather and a bit of barnyard or straw but seemed younger than the first wine and not a pair with number five.

It was the third wine where conversation at our table began really heating up. Frank and a couple of others thought this was the bottle we were looking for. But when we hit number four, a few of us suggested this might be “the one.” Back and forth, we sniffed, swirled, and peered into the glasses comparing rims, depth of colour, and clarity, but by the time Sandra called a halt, our group was still undecided – like every other table apparently.

In a show of hands, each wine on the table got at least some votes as the wine that was from the same barrel as wine number five which Sandra finally told us was the single vintage under cork.

And the final results? Wines four and five were the pair – a 2001Merlot and the first in Canada ever to be bottled under Stelvin, even though it was only 10% of the vintage to receive this treatment. Wine three was the 2002, wine two the 2003. The first wine we tasted was the 2004 with 2% Syrah and 10% Cabernet Franc accounting for it’s unique flavour among the rest.

A long time fan of Stelvin, Sandra admitted she had chosen the biggest, toughest red for Tinhorn’s initial experiments with red under an alternative to cork because “if we could make it work with the Merlot, everything else would seem so easy.” She did, however, confess to having one, growing problem with Stelvin closures. It seems her two-year-old has already figured out how to open them, thus necessitating a lock for the wine cellar back home.

FYI: here are the whites we sampled earlier in the evening before the Great Merlot Challenge began.

Gewurztraminer 2006: $15.99
Produced from grapes picked on the Golden Mile (buds shown left), this wine exhibited the classic floral Gewurztraminer nose and was slightly off-dry thanks to its 1% residual sugar. Great patio sipper on its own or would go with Thai and Indian foods – like this should come as a surprise with a Gewurtz? One to stock for when friends drop by or it’s just time to quit for the day and kick back. (Note: this Gewurztraminer was recently awarded Gold at the Taster Guild International Wine Judging in Michigan and Silver at the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition in Orange County, California.)

Pinot Gris 2006: $15.99
This is Tinhorn Creek’s first vintage of Pinot Gris that was partially fermented in stainless steel (40%) rather than neutral oak barrels. We both felt this wine lacked the structure we’d expected. However, it would have been worthwhile to see what happened over time as the wine opened up in the glass.

Chardonnay 2005: $17.99
Making its debut right here at our BCWAS event, this wine was 29% fermented in new French oak barrels – rather than the 20% Tinhorn normally uses – with the balance in stainless steel. Not overpoweringly oaky, but since I’m just not a fan of any oak in my Chardonnay at all, I’d probably take a pass in the liquor store. Still, it exhibits the buttery texture you’d expect and would be good with all kinds of summer picnic fare.

Oldfield’s Collection 2Bench 2005
: $23.00
This was a fun and just plain yummy wine. Made from 47% Semillon, 24% Chardonnay, 24% Sauvignon Blanc, and 5% Gewurztraminer, it was the evening’s only wine not from all estate-grown grapes – the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc were brought in from Oliver. Eventually, Sandra wants this to evolve into a five-varietal wine that includes 10% Viognier picked from six, select rows in the vineyard. Green apple on the nose but with a lovely floral Gewurztraminer undertone. Crisp and elegantly austere, this wine, according to Sandra herself is “absolutely meant to be served with food.”

Photo top: Tinhorn Creek's winery.
Photo middle: Sandra holding a 2001 Merlot that was the first in Canada to be bottled under screw cap.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Secret Life of Grenache

It’s one of the world’s most planted grapes but tough to find unblended in a wine bottle. Jancis Robinson describes it as “noted for brawn rather than beauty” in her classic reference book Vines, Grapes, & Wines. A quote from a reader of What To Drink with What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page says Grenache resembles “Pinot Noir but kicked up a notch.

Oz Clarke, in his Encyclopedia of Grapes, suggests Grenache is “the wild, wild woman of wine, the sex on wheels and devil take the hindmost, the don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He adds that when the Aussies gave this often underrated grape their “sexy, lush, fruit-first, high-alcohol treatment, one more irresistible, irrepressible party animal was born.

Since party animals can be fun, for this month’s Great Grape Day, we chose a bottle of 2003 Old Bush Vine Grenache from Pirramimma in South Australia’s McLaren Vale (barrel room shown below).

The winery tasting notes let us know this vintage has “aromas of plums, cherries, violets and chocolate. These characters follow through to a complex palate that is long, rounded and flavoursome.” Okay, cherry for sure – but this is a bowl of cherries sprinkled liberally with rich, warm pepper that lingers long at the back of the tongue.

We agreed this is a wine that cries out for protein, and when we added some cold roast beef to the mix, we were rewarded with a deepening of texture and richness. Parmesan cheese was three blocks away at the local deli – a trek we didn’t feel like making – but it would probably also have been a good match. And though a Texas barbeque was even more geographically distant, we agreed a grilled steak or, better yet, lamb would be perfect with this wine.

As the evening progressed, the wine opened nicely, smoothing from a “really needs food” wine into the realm of “maybe we could sip this just because.” Still, this was one of the rare occasions when we saved part of the bottle for another evening – maybe we’re both simply still too enamored with the contemplative nature of a good Amarone or Spanish Tempranillo.

- 2003 Old Bush Vine Grenache from Pirramimma
- Bought at Liberty Wine Merchants in Vancouver
- Cost: $31.95
- Alcohol: 14%
- One and a half years in new American oak
- Bottled under Stelvin closure

- Grenache (also known as Garnacha) is believed to have originated in Spain before migrating to France and, later, the new worlds of America and Australia
- Grenache is typically blended with other varietals and is one of the major components in Chateauneuf-du-Pape
- According to Tom Stevenson’s Wine Report 2006, Grenache is the third most planted red grape in the world

Monday, June 25, 2007

Chateau Pesquié: A Trio of Rhone Valley Wines

Viva the entrepreneurial spirit! Cambie Street, one of our main traffic arteries here in Vancouver, is almost closed due to construction, but that hasn’t deterred Firefly Fine Wines and Ales from opening their sassy, new liquor store. Good selection, knowledgeable staff, and a delightfully cheeky sense of humour – to date we’ve never seen a store that groups its wines into sections with names like Spicy, Crisp, and Black Teeth (the biggest, fattest, in-your-face reds in the store).

On a whim, Friday seems like a good day to check out their latest tasting: three wines from Chateau Pesquié, a family-run vineyard that operates on the principles of sustainable agriculture in the southern Rhone Valley, France.

Sujinder Juneja, from Freehouse Wine and Spirits, is pouring. First up is a 2005 Le Viognier (100% Viognier). He and I instantly agree this wine is elegant and classic with an almost austere freshness and pleasing minerality. We both suspect it may be similar to the Condrieu wines Frank is so enamored with, but since this was a spur of the moment stop for me, Frank is unfortunately not here. Still, at $29.80, I’ll pick up a bottle to see what he thinks.

Next is a 2004 Les Terrasses: 30% Syrah, 70% Grenache. Black fruits, cherry, and a hint of leather, this one is rich, full-bodied, and will be even better for the folks who arrive later after it’s had time to open up more. “Most people are shocked by the price,” Sujinder tells me. At $19.35, I am too – another bottle to take home hits the counter.

Last, we have the just released 2004 Artemia made from 70% Syrah (60 year old vines) and 30% Grenache (80 year old vines) hand picked from specific rows within the vineyard. This is the first vintage of this wine, and it’s an instant hit – especially with a couple of the Firefly staff who’ve just joined us. The consensus is that Artemia is lushly powerful fruit with a pleasing hint of chocolate on the nose, well balanced, and should age well. Tannins are soft, and the 15.5% alcohol isn’t overpowering. At $60, however, this one will have to stay in the store for another day.

And finally, just for fun, here’s an intriguing website Sujinder passed on: Three progressive winemakers clearly having a great deal of fun as they join forces to promote their wines.