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.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

1996 Prado Enea from Bodegas Muga

Sometimes we figure we just need a treat – no special occasion, just a treat for the sake of it. One such evening a couple of weeks ago, we popped the cork on a bottle of 1996 Prado Enea from Bodegas Muga.

Massive fruit, subtlety, maturity, complexity, and elegance” was the descriptor in John Radford’s classic book The Wines of Rioja. Massive fruit indeed. The aroma was like jumping feet first into an ocean of dark, luscious berries without a life preserver – but then, who’d want one when you’re surrounded by this much heady fragrance?

“The notes from the winemaker said ‘medium depth’,” Frank volunteered, naturally having already done the research. “So why do I want to say: oh go on, learn to toot your own horn?”

We soon discovered this wine stands up to even the ISO glasses. Chocolate and a subtle note of leather began to emerge as the evening wore on, but it was the contemplative nature we perhaps enjoyed most – feeling the heart and soul of the winemaker and the soil.

At one point, Frank brought out two Amarone/Burgundy glasses just because. His eyes went wide as he sniffed. “Oh god, if you thought this was in your face berry, it’s slap your cheek berry out of these ones.” Still, we agreed it was also a bit sloppy on the tongue and went back to our Riedel Tempranillo stemware.

No question, this is a wine to linger over. It needs conversation more than food but goes well with either. One to remember.

- Prado Enea Gran Reserva 1996
- 80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano
- Aged for 12 months in wooden vats, 36 months in oak barrels, and at least 36 months in bottle
- This bottle cost $63 and was found at our local BC Liquor Store

- Bodegas Muga employs four full-time coopers to repair and rebuild their 18,000-litre tinas as well as to look after the bodega’s casks
- All wines are in oak – this wine producer uses no stainless steel, fiberglass, or concrete tanks
- The bodega was founded in 1932 when most people were sitting back waiting for the next upturn in Spain’s economy

Monday, June 18, 2007

Jackson-Triggs Wines Help Support Canadian Olympic Team

When we discover a chance to drink wine and support a good cause at the same time, it’s a foregone conclusion that we’ll be heading to the liquor store. And here’s one we just had to pass along.

Making a debut on the July long weekend (Saturday, June 30) are two commemorative wines from Jackson-Triggs. Named Esprit to capture both the French and English connotations of the word ‘spirit,’ Jackson-Triggs hopes these wines will also symbolize the dedication, passion, and artistry of that venerable tradition, the Olympic Games.

Launching with a Merlot and a Chardonnay, Esprit is the result of a partnership between Jackson-Triggs and the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC). Every bottle sports a stylish label as well as the Vancouver 2010 emblem. And on June 30, some of Canada’s top Olympic hopefuls will be on hand to autograph bottles and hand out limited edition collector pins.

At $12.95, we expect these wines to be a solid deal, but the really cool part is that a portion of the proceeds from each bottle will be donated to help support the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and our Canadian Olympic Team in 2010. Besides, the labels look neat as well.

Special signings occur at the following BC Liquor Stores:
Park Royal Store, West Vancouver, from noon to 3:00pm
Cambie Store, Vancouver, from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Fort Street Store, Victoria, from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Orchard Park Store, Kelowna, from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Pine Centre Store, Prince George, from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm

Monday, June 11, 2007

Indian Summers, Spice, and Mangalore

Jodi Rogers, our illustrious wizard of special events at the Cambie Liquor store, has been poking fun at us of late. “You guys are just all about wine, aren’t you?” she said to me when I bumped into her a few weeks ago. “You never come to any of our other tastings – it’s just wine for you two.” We laughed as she looked pointedly at my shopping basket brimming over with bottles of Rioja, Riesling, Douro, and a couple of the Gruner Vetliners we’ve both fallen hopelessly in love with.

So this weekend, with Frank not yet back from his pre-holiday business trip, I figured I’d roust myself out of this apparent complaisance and made tracks to the 41st and Cambie LCB store to check out Jodi’s Indian Summer Cocktail event. I had no idea what an Indian Summer Cocktail actually is other than it is not made with wine. Turns out it was the most delicious decision I made all weekend.

A delightful ruby red, this sipper was created at Watermark on Kits Beach – a local restaurant with great food, spectacular ocean views, and an innovative outlook on fine cuisine and cocktails. It’s made from equal parts Mangalore Liquor, aloe juice, and cranberry juice, and even in plastic glasses it looks quite wonderful.

Mangalore liquor, I discovered, is an unexpected, spicy blend of pepper, cinnamon, and cardamom. It danced across my palate and then took up residence with a long, lingering finish. This is a cocktail that would definitely take a star role when paired with hot Indian or Thai food – hardly surprising since this drink is one of southwest India’s most popular. Mind you, the four chocolate bonbons that accompanied this tasting would officially qualify as a yummy pairing – not that I have a chocolate fetish… well not much.

“And try adding just a splash of vodka,” suggested Watermark’s junior bar manager Brian Davies (shown right along with assistant David Simes who were both happy to pose so I had photographic evidence that sometimes Frank and I really aren’t “just about wine”). A bottle of Mangalore is $39.95, a bargain when you consider that with a 40% alcohol content, you’re likely not going to use more than one ounce per drink.

PS: Jodi, you would have been proud – this trip, I really did walked out of the store with something other than wine in my basket.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Cruising West Coast Wine Country Sideways

I am tired, grouchy, and as one of my crew said, “man, you need a holiday so bad.” Okay, so his grammar’s not the greatest, but when my entire crew – and Susan as well – seem to be conspiring to convince me I need some time off, I take note.

I have to admit, it’s been a few years since I took a real vacation. True, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately – but all of it business. When you travel on business, every airport and hotel room look pretty much the same.

So what to do and where to go when it’s just for fun? My crew came up with the suggestion of a road trip and wine tour. “You know, like those two guys in Sideways.” Road trip it is then.

The plan is to have no plan – no set itinerary, nowhere I have to be on a given date or time. In a few days – after yet another business trip – I’ll pack my bags and head south with California my ultimate, if somewhat vague, destination. Along the way, I’ll be stopping in Washington and Oregon, exploring their wineries and tasting rooms as fancy guides me. I might even take a balloon ride to get an aerial view of the Oregon vineyards.

My work in the movie business revolves around planning – often to the minute, always to meticulous detail – for days on end. This holiday my only planning has been to download a few maps and general information about the various regions and to buy a new digital camera. If you’ve got any suggestions or stories about favourite wineries and restaurants along the way, I’d love to hear them. I’ll be posting intermittently along the way and will be back home sometime later in the month… or maybe not.

Photos from Tyee Winery in Oregon.

Susan’s Note:

Here are some of the links Frank found plus a few extra and some neat info gleaned from the various websites mentioned.

Oregon Wine Quick Facts:
- Oregon ranks second in number of wineries in the US and third in wine production.
- In less than 30 years, Oregon increased from 5 to over 300 wineries and from 35 acres under vines to over 13,400.
- Sales of Oregon wine has increased 1,200% since 1989.
- 40 different types of wine grapes are grown in Oregon.

Washington Wine Quick Facts:
- Washington is ranked second largest premium wine producer in the United States.
- More than 460 wineries grow over 20 grape varietals. Leading red varietals: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese. Leading white varietals: Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier.
- Ratio of red to white: 57% red / 43% white
(No there is no – we checked) (info on the Russian River Valley)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Love and Wine: A Thirst for Romance?

The classic fairy tale of discovering a message in a bottle just took a new turn – a pretty weird one.

Here’s the premise. You’re lonely and looking for romance. Grab yourself a bottle of Soif de Coeur wine – the blue label for guys, pink for girls (give me strength) – in your choice of red (Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon), rosé (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot), or white (Sauvignon, which presumably means Sauvignon Blanc but we’re not promising that).

Pour yourself a glass – a big one, because what you’re really trying to do isn’t to sip some vino, it’s to find the secret code printed on the back of the label. Dick Tracy get out the decoder ring – quick! Once you have the special code, you register online and get matched up with the person of the opposite gender who is presumably also sitting at home, alone, lonely, and bored – not to mention feeling a bit lightheaded.

Apparently the wine costs a mere three Euros – cheap to find your soul mate but you might still have more success with a pumpkin and a glass slipper.

PS: reports 350,000 bottles of Soif de Coeur wine have been sold to participating supermarkets since the product’s soft launch on March 21st,2007, and that the site claims 90 visitors per day with ten per day registering and three meetings per day resulting.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Book Review: The Hog Island Oyster Lover’s Cookbook

Oyster lovers rejoice. There is a new book on the market that you should rush out to buy. Not next week, not even tomorrow – go and buy this book right now.

Written by Jairemaire Pomo, The Hog Island Oyster Lover’s Cookbook is a delightful romp through the world of oysters in general and Hog Island’s offerings in particular. Jairemaire has succeeded admirably in capturing the passion, enchantment, and mystic that have surround oysters throughout history. It’s an easy read that will probably make you laugh out loud at times.
The crowd is well-heeled, elegant, and mannered – that is until they spy the Hog Island Oyster bar. Women approach with flirtatious and seductive body language that suggests they’re going after a Calvin Klein underwear model. Men stand at the corners and surreptitiously snatch oysters from the ice. (Jairemaire’s description of a tony wine and food event in the Napa Valley)

But make no mistake, this 168-page volume is packed with information. From step-by-step instructions on safely shucking oysters with flair to a concise overview of the varieties, history, and even how to order oysters in a restaurant, once you’ve finished The Hog Island Oyster Lover’s Cookbook, you’ll be in oyster heaven.

Only one cautionary note. If, like both of us, you’re already an oyster aficionado, you will definitely be heading to your nearest supplier. There are 40 recipes for oysters – both raw and cooked. Oysters with cucumber, lime, and sake; oysters with lemon ice and caviar; oyster and shrimp gumbo; poached oysters with crème fraiche and caviar – okay, so we enjoy caviar almost as much as oysters. This is a problem?

What You Need to Know
Title: The Hog Island Oyster Lover’s Cookbook: A Guide to Choosing and Savoring Oysters, with 40 Recipes
Author: Jairemaire Pomo, also known as the self-appointed Empress of Oysters
Published: 2007 by Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 58008-735-3
Cost: $24.95 (Cdn)
Available in Vancouver, BC, at Barbara Jo’s Books to Cooks and other fine bookshops