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.

THE WINES:
Kopke: Vintage1987
Portugal ($66.99)

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

Peter Lehman
: The King
Australia

Barolo Chinato Cocchi
Italy ($50.99)

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

THE CHOCOLATES:

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% Gew├╝rztraminer, 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 Gew├╝rztraminer 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.