Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bloom BC 2009: Celebrating BC Wines

Bloom BC is always one of our favourite BC wine events because it’s a quick opportunity to sample what’s new and fresh in the province. And this year was no exception with some old friends as well as new faces – 50 wineries in all participating.

For whites we gravitated primarily to the Pinot Gris on offer from virtually every vineyard, and the varietal Frank has long suggested could become BC’s signature grape. One surprise was the Rocky Creek Winery ($17.90) from Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island. Good minerality and well structured, we agreed this one is a contender for picnic season staples. But it was Hester Creek’s Pinot Gris that garnered top marks among all of the Pinot Gris offering with its great aromatics and fruity taste, and ended up with Frank’s Two-Star, Go Buy It Now rating.

Then we tried their Trebbiano… and realized winemaker Robert Summers had made this the hands down winner of the day. At $18.99 it’s full-bodied and smooth. “Give up all your preconceived notions of Italy being the only solid Trebbiano producer,” Frank said just as Leo (one of the regulars) arrived on the scene. They both kept it in their glass for a long time. According to rumour, Hester Creek’s original vines were illegally imported as vine cuttings for Christmas wreaths, but however it arrived from Italy, it’s a deliciously good thing it did. Only downside is that it’s going to be tough to find – extremely limited production and even more limited distribution.

Naturally, a stop for some Riesling from Tantalus Vineyards was also in order. The 2008 was, as anticipated, wonderfully full, crisp, and practically begging for a seafood salad. For fun, Jane Hatch had also brought some of the Old Vines 2007 that I’d tried several months ago at a blind tasting. This one lingered in the glass almost as long as the Trebbiano. Made in the traditional style, it’s a dead ringer for a German Riesling, totally delicious, and at $29.90 worth stocking to see how it ages.

We zipped through a few of the reds before leaving with a final stop back at Hester Creek for their Reserve Cabernet Franc 2005 ($27.99) – another winner with none of the stemmy greenness neither of us particularly care for.

All in all, the day was another reason to celebrate BC’s finest.


Hester Creek’s Trebbiano is available in limited supply from Liberty Wines in Vancouver. Neither of us have seen it anywhere else, so if you do, please drop us a note.

Although we haven’t actively searched, the only place Rocky Creek Winery’s Pinot Gris seems to appear is Bellevue Wines in West Vancouver where we also found a very few of the Tantalus Old Vine Riesling – their 2008 Reisling is readily available in most VQA stores.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Great Champagne Quandary: An Afternoon with Pol Roger

Do we really need a celebration to have Champagne? Why is it that typically there has to be a wedding, birthday, or New Years to pop open a bottle of bubbly? Champagne pairs well with food, so why not open a bottle simply while prepping dinner?

Somehow, though, most people feel as if they need some rational to reach for a bottle of bubbly.

Mind you there have been some who could find excuses easily. Coco Chanel is said to have only drunk Champagne on two occasions – when she was in love or when she was not. Churchill started his day with Pol Roger – a bottle a day just to get things going. Someone, I’m not sure who, said you needed Champagne as much in defeat as in victory.

Last week, I decided that being a sunny Sunday afternoon was reason enough to have a bottle of Champagne. But not just any bottle, the day merited a great bottle of bubbles.

Surprisingly, I experienced a nagging sense that I was being decadent or doing something over the top. There were, after all, accomplishments and achievements over the last few months that I hadn’t yet taken time to acknowledge or celebrate. To hell with it, it was Sunday afternoon and I was alive and well – that was reason enough.

Now all that was over with, the question became what to have? Something with just a little edge – a Blanc de Blanc with a little power to it. I considered the two bottles of Salon but they need a little age. I’m also still using the notion that they are investments to justify the inclusion in the cellar.

Since there were no other bottles of Champagne in the wine fridge or in the rack, it was off to the liquor store. On the way, I still had to fight off that annoying sense of needing a reason.

After exploring the latest new arrivals at the liquor store, I found a bottle of Pol Roger vintage Blanc de Blanc – a 1999. All the grapes from this cuvee are from grand cru vineyards in the Cotes de Blancs. All the bottles have undergone hand remuage. The 1999 vintage was warm, and the rain came at the right time. Good vintage, good grapes, good producer. This was just what I was looking for. By the time I got home, the nagging went away.

The bottle went into the ice bucket immediately, and after what seemed to be a suitable interval to show some decorum, the bottle was opened.

The bubbles were very fine and persistent to the eye, a wonderful light gold colour. The nose was at first toast and almonds, then after a few moments floral notes started coming to the forefront with a secondary note of iodine or seashore if you prefer. All good so far, in fact the nose was quite wonderful.

On the palate the acidity was well balanced by the 10.5 grams of residual sugar. The palate as well started out toasty, but not as yeasty as I’d expected. The floral got a little more specific and became all violets. The bubbles remained persistent in the glass. The finish was long, and it had a nice edge right till the end of the bottle. Seafood – oysters especially – would be a good food match.

And there’s no question that being Sunday afternoon was reason enough to have this excellent Blanc de Blanc.

Retail was $88 at the LCB, but this Champagne seems to be available for around $80 on the net.

Susan’s Note:
Personally, I’ve always thought of Coco as having had a remarkably astute attitude to life in addition to exquisite taste.

I’ve heard Frank’s quote of uncertain origin – in victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it – attributed to Winston Church but more often to Napoleon. Who knows, perhaps it was a grand case of plagiarism. Regardless, it’s got a charm, wit, and wisdom that I like.

However, one of my favourite quotes is from the grand lady of Champagne herself – Lily Bollinger. When asked when she drank Champagne, her famous reply was:

I only drink Champagne when I’m happy… and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – I unless I’m thirsty.

So now it’s the Monday of a long weekend – sounds like an excellent reason for another bottle of good bubbles.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Cacique: Costa Rican Adventures and Vodkas

April 16th had finally arrived, and my sister and I were winging our way off on our annual vacation. These tropical jaunts are strictly a girls only event and typically involve some really tough, daily decisions – whether to suntan on the beach or beside the pool, are we having afternoon cocktails and appies on the patio or the open air lounge, and, of course, which wine to drink with dinner. Yes, it’s often difficult, but someone has to accept these challenges.

This year, Anita and I chose Costa Rica, a place neither of us have visited before. So get set for the first of several installments about our culinary adventures in South America.

My one goal for this trip had been to be ensconced at the Flamingo Beach Resort’s swim up bar( seen below) with Piña Colada in hand no more than 30 minutes after arrival at the hotel. In the end, though, I only had one Piña Colada the entire trip because that first evening I discovered Cacique, the locally produced, clear spirit that Costa Rica has claimed as its national drink.

Made from cane sugar – of which there is a whole lot growing everywhere – Cacique is sometimes called the Tico Vodka (Tico referring to all things Costa Rican). Over the course of the week, we tried it straight up, on ice, and in Pura Vidas – a delicious tropical cocktail made from crushed lime, OJ, Cacique, and just enough Grenadine to give it a lovely pinky-red colour. Miguel, one of our bartenders (shown left) was always delighted to pour another version or demonstrate the technique of crushing limes to make the flavour just so.

Ultimately, though, we decided Cacique is best served on the rocks perhaps with a twist of lime. It has an uncluttered, refreshing taste, and with a 35% alcohol content, it’s a little lighter than most comparable spirits so it’s easy to drink.

Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get anywhere except Costa Rica. We both spent some considerable amount of time after getting back home and only came up with one possibility. Actually, as an American, Anita has one possibility: as a Canadian, I appear to have none because they don’t ship here. Check out the Guaro website and let us know if you figure it out.

At the duty free on the way home, I picked up a bottle of VSOP Hennessy and one $6 bottle of Cacique. Anita went all out, snagging two bottles of Tico Vodka. In retrospect, perhaps she made the better choice. Guess we’ll just have to head back to Costa Rica when our supplies run out.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Of Siegerrebe, Cribbage, and Norsemen

Frank and I often talk about how sometimes a wine just tastes better because of where you are and who you’re with. It’s one of those marvelous, magical qualities of wine that continue to defy description. You won’t see it in a tasting note, because it’s even more ephemeral than the illusive terroir – but we’re both true believers in its reality.

Case in point was a recent bottle of 2007 Gray Monk Siegerrebe. The occasion was a cribbage contest with one of my favourite opponents. Phil’s wit is totally off-the-wall and endlessly entertaining, so these contests are always laughter filled. Plus we have a long-standing tradition of opening a bottle of wine – usually one that’s a bit out of the ordinary – and then simply playing till it’s empty. Although he claims to know virtually nothing about wine, Phil’s palate is actually quite good. Unfortunately for me, so is his luck with cards.

We pour the first two glasses and cut the deck. I lose – horribly. “That’s got a rather peachy nose doesn’t it?” Phil says. Since he’s not of the demographic who use the word peachy as an expression of enjoyment or approval, I take him literally and decide I’d better investigate the contents of my glass more closely as the content of my hand could in no way be described as peachy.

Yup, peach and apricot with some pear – I’m thinking it might work well with the apple-pear, blue cheese, and balsamic vinegar reduction salad I have in mind for dinner. We swirl, sip, and agree there’s lots of fruit going on. It also feels thick and I can taste it all the way from front to back of my tongue. “I’m not sure why, but I keep thinking grass,” Phil says as he pegs a couple more points.

After several more hands, I still don’t get the grass, but I do get just a hint of lavender. And somewhere in my mind is an echo of floral “stuff.” Okay, maybe – just maybe, you understand – I’m actually concentrating more on the 16-point hand I’ve just been dealt than on the experience of the wine.

“Hmmm. This really has a lingering finish,” Phil says turning up the Jack of Spades for two more points. “Guess that would be a deadbeat Norseman, right?”

Somehow I manage not to spit out my mouthful of wine.

“And I’ve got that damned, lazy Viking right in my sights,” Phil continues, not missing a beat as he lays down a seven giving him “31 for two” and moves confidently to within four points of the “Finish” line.

Sure, I’ve only had a couple of decent hands for the entire round. But I’m only 15 behind and… I count first. Since the wine is really starting to open pleasantly, I pause to inhale – the apricot notes are really coming out now. No, honest, I’m not taunting my opponent – well not much. Phil pegs three more points and is starting to look pretty chuff. Until I put down my last card – the one that gives away the fact I have a double run for eight points plus a 15-8 count in fifteens – and the realization dawns that with his single point for last card, Phil may be poised right next to the Norseman but I’m going to get to snuggle up to him first.

On this occasion, we play another two rounds ending up with two losses for me before we upend the bottle.

Was the wine outstanding? Not really. It was pleasant enough – a great patio sipper or something to take on a summer picnic. For $17 it was pretty good value and would go well with Thai or other spicy foods thanks to its 10.8% alcohol and fruity sweetness.

Was it a memorable wine? Definitely. But it was made so because it was blended liberally with good company, abundant laughter, and friendly competition. I tried another bottle, alone, several days later and although still pleasing enough, it wasn’t nearly as much to write home about.

Jancis Robinson doesn’t seem to be much of a Siegerrebe fan. “A modern German vine crossing grown, like certain giant vegetables, purely by exhibitionists… so rich and oppressively flavoured it’s usually a chore to drink,” she says in The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oz Clarke doesn’t even mention the grape in his Encyclopedia of Grapes or Grapes and Wines.

Still, Siegerrebe is one wine I will always think of fondly because it recalls a time and place. But next time, revenge will be mine. I’m going to get to the Norseman first every time!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

1982 Vignaveja: An Elegant Old Vintage

Old wines are always something of a mystery. Case in point, the bottle of 1982 Vignaveja we’re about to uncork. What is going to happen when I open this vintage? Will it be dead, oxidized, or will it be a wonderful old bottle full of life still?

This particular bottle is actually Susan’s – a semi bribe and pay back for some editing she did for me at very last minute. The “fee” was two older bottles of wine from my cellar preferable at least one of them a Gaja that she’s always wanted to try. However, she very graciously decided to share this bottle with me. Wonderful woman.

There where problems from the start. A very long cork that really didn’t want to allow itself to be removed from the bottle where it had rested for quite sometime – almost 27 years to be exact. With a lot of work, we finally managed to remove the cork although in many pieces – many, many very small pieces.

As we decanted the wine – surprisingly there was just a little sediment in the bottom of the bottle – a wonderful smell of fruit and leather filled the room. The color was a deep dark red, also very surprising. But would it hold up? Sometimes with older wines, I’ve had them die as soon as soon as they get hit with air.

The colour, too, was amazing for its age – a deep red with a brick red rim and no hints of orange or brown at all. How long would the color last?

Mentally, I was trying to do a WSET tasting note – impossible. Each sip, every glass changed by the minute. The first glass started out as dried roses, dark cherry, and vanilla. Half way through, a little bit of smoky notes made an appearance. The second glass became all about leather and tar, truffles and forest floor. There where still some tannins, but with the corners rounded off, then pure silk. The acidity was present all the way through. Very long finish, quite amazingly long, in fact. The third and final glass started out all truffles, mushrooms, saddle leather, and earth. Then suddenly, with an ounce or so left in the glass, it died and became all sherry notes and acid.

Still, there’s no question this was an amazing wine – Nebbiolo (seen left) again showing remarkably well for its age. Apparently it originally sold for less than $30 although I could find very little about this vintage on the web. Wine Spectator rated the 1983 at 94 points. If any one has any information on this wine, we’d love to hear about it.

Susan’s Note:

Okay, sure I’ll often do Frank’s editing for free but this one was a bit “extreme” – half an hour to take care of some promotional material that should have been at least a four hour job – so I figured it was the perfect opportunity to snag the Gaja I’ve had my eye on for over a year. Success at last.

But I have to confess that somehow this wine would have been much diminished if drunk solo. Just like the older Barolo that will likely be the cost of his next extreme edit.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Kiwi Chocolate Time

Okay, we confess. We have an apology to make to all our faithful subscribers. Even though we posted on the correct day, cyber-gremlins ran amok to delay our critically timed info about the new Kiwi sensation: Pinot Chocolat. So you probably received our last post in your inbox a day late.

Still, you have to hand it to Kim and Erica Crawford owners of Kim Crawford Wines who had what it takes to pull off this worldwide event straight-faced with the same casual elegance and class you’ll find in their wines. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did – although we can’t quite figure out why they weren’t sending samples as well. Maybe the Easter Bunny got them all.

PS: The video is worth watching on any April day (or any day of the year for that matter). If you’re trying to find it, you now have to go to It was only up front and center on their website for April 1st. But then you knew that didn’t you?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Wine Meets Chocolate: Taste Sensation of the Year

Where on earth has almost a year gone. We’ve both been away and busier than ever. But thought we'd start getting back in touch with everyone by passing along something fun to get your day going. Hot off the wire!

The French use it to seduce, the English for comfort. Mexicans revel in its healing properties, and the Aztecs thought it more precious than gold. Just in time for Easter, trust the Kiwis to successfully combine chocolate and wine – a decadent marriage of quality and taste.

“We are very excited about this new varietal,” says Erica Crawford, co-founder of Kim Crawford Wines, via a news release. “The 09 Pinot Chocolat is unique and another world first for New Zealand.”

Apparently developed under a shroud of secrecy using only the finest Ghana cocoa beans, it took eight gooey months of testing before the essence of chocolate from cocoa beans could be extracted at the right acidity to successfully infuse with the pinot grapes.

“There was some controversy in the beginning,” Erica admits. “Although it tastes delicious, many stalwarts in the Kim Crawford Wines team wanted to veto the idea as they felt it would mar the integrity of the brand. However, in the interests of starting something new, we decided to emulate our forefathers who brought the first vines to this country. We threw caution to the wind and jumped in.”

Once poured, the difference between the colour of Pinot Chocolate and Pinot Noir is subtle. The wine retains the walnut plum of the red grape but, when held up to the light, you can see just a hint of russet. Consistency is a little more viscous but it appears to hang nicely on the glass with the weight adding an air of decadence.

Kim Crawford Wines has timed the release for Easter and is working on a limited edition, Easter-egg style foil wrapped packaging for the first 1,000 bottles. The remainder will look much like the rest of Kim Crawford wines, except for the quirky new foil lid.

Kim Crawford Wines indicates there are plans to add to the Vino Chocolat range with seasonal flavours: Sauvignon Blanc Chocolat with a distinctive winter white colour, Suisse Chardonnay for a clever balance of sweet and buttery notes, and an indulgent Merlot Lait Chocolat.

For a sneak preview go to: