Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bigger is not always better

Tonight's focus is one of the "little guys", a small, family boutique winery in Summerland called Silkscarf.

We've visited them a few times. The winery isn't flashy. It's not big. It doesn't have the cachet of some of the well known Okanagan wineries. It's not a member of the VQA. They don't make a ton of varietals.

All they do is make great, award winning wines.

You can get their wines from the winery itself or online at their website (, or you may come across them at some of the finer restaurants in Vancouver or the Okanagan (and some in other cities in Canada, as well as Tokyo!), or a handful of retail locations (a list of the restaurants and retail outlets is on the website).

You'll probably have trouble finding these specific vintages anywhere, I'm writing this from notes I made after tasting these 2 years ago (and I bought all three of these varietals). If you are lucky enough to come across them, especially the Shiraz Reserve, BUY THEM!

2010 Ensemble Blanc

A nice, crisp blend of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Riesling, it features a lovely floral bouquet with notes of peach and pears on the palate. Comes at a very reasonable price point around $20.

Rating: 7/10

2010 Viognier

Smooth and silky on the palate with just the right hint of acidity. This is, no exaggeration, the only single-varietal Viognier I have ever liked enough to purchase and bring home. Also has an excellent price point of around $20.

Rating: 7.5/10

2007 Shiraz Reserve

In 2011, this won the Gold Medal at the Grand-Cru Culinary Wine Festival in Long Beach, California.

Notes of blackberries and spice, smooth as ice and ready to drink now (although a couple more years in the bottle would only enhance), if this isn't the best Shiraz I've ever tasted, it's in the top 2-3. Simply outstanding.

Rating: 9/10

Next time you are up in the Okanagan, I highly recommend searching them out and going in to taste their portfolio. I know we'll be stopping by on our next wine tour. Maybe we'll see you there!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Tonight's dinner and wine pairing, a great BC Pinot

For dinner tonight, I went back to an old favorite wine cookbook:

Pepper Crusted Filet Mignon, with 4-cheese Macaroni and Cheese. Both recipes from the above cookbook. Oh, and some sautéed garlic and lime shrimp too.

To top it off, a bottle of 2011 Gehringer Brothers Optimum Pinot Noir

I hadn't tasted this wine when I chose it to pair with the peppery steak; but last year's vintage was the most peppery Pinot Noir I had ever tasted. I honestly would have never thought it was a Pinot Noir if I didn't see the bottle!

This edition wasn't the same at all; don't get me wrong, there is a nice hint of spice, but nowhere near what there was in the 2010 vintage. This vintage had black cherries front and centre on the nose, with a palate that screams ripe berries, with a hint of chocolate and the aforementioned pepper on the finish. Although it wasn't what I was expecting, and probably wasn't the perfect wine to pair with this particular meal, it was still an exceptional Pinot Noir, and a steal at the $20.99 price point.

Rating: 7.5/10

No question the wine was the best part of this meal; the macaroni and cheese was OK, nothing special, and although the filet was tasty, I have several Filet recipes that I like better. Every time I cook something like this I'm shooting for top notch restaurant quality, and this one didn't even come close.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Somebody help me, my Laundry is so, so Dirty

I've visited Dirty Laundry Vineyards in Summerland, BC, a couple of times. It's a beautiful winery, with terrific staff and a large selection of quality wines.

Tonight for dinner, I prepared a kick-ass grilled chicken sandwich, with bacon, on 3-cheese focaccia bread that was grilled in garlic butter. To compliment the sweetness of the bread, I opened up a 2012 Dirty Laundry Woo Woo Gewürztraminer.

Dirty Laundry makes three different Gewürztraminers. The "Woo Woo" is in the middle of the three in terms of sweetness. I get hints of cloves amongst the tropical fruits on the nose. On the palate this wine satisfies my passion for off-dry white wines, without being overbearing. Fruity and crisp, if you like a sweeter white wine, this is for you.

Rating: 7/10

This isn't actually my favorite of their three offerings in this varietal; their Madam's Vines is the sweetest of the three and given my preference for sweet whites, is naturally my favorite. The floral notes are staggering and overpowering, and I mean that in a good way. It's a fabulous wine to enjoy while sitting on the patio watching the world go by.

Rating: 7.5/10

The third of the trilogy is the Threadbare Vines, and I can't really rate the 2012 version as I haven't tried it yet; The 2011 version was good but it is by far the driest of the three, so it's not the one I would personally pick up. If you are a fan of a drier Gewürztraminer, however, you would likely enjoy this one.

All three retail for around $20.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

BC Award winning wine tasting

Another tasting at Sardis Park VQA wine store, tonight's theme being some recent top BC Award winners.

Fort Berens 2012 Riesling

I haven't found many BC Rieslings that can match up to the best I've had from Europe; and while I wouldn't suggest this one measures up to the best from that "other" region of the wine world, it was not without intrigue. Not as dry as many BC Rieslings, with notes of lime and orange.


Rating: 6/10

Church & State Coyote Bowl 2011 Chardonnay

Honey and vanilla on the nose, with a rich yet restrained palate. Lacks the intense buttery taste that I like in a big bold Chardonnay, but if you are a fan of Chardonnay with a lighter oak profile, you may enjoy this one.


Rating: 5.5/10

Calona Artist Series Reserve 2011 Pinot Noir

A nice summer sipper; delicate, not overwhelming. Not the kind of Pinot Noir that I look for, but if you are into lighter reds at a reasonable price point, this might be for you.


Rating: 5.5/10

Eau Vivre 2010 Pinot Noir

Notes of berries and a touch of spice give way to a touch of oak on the palate. Bright tannins suggest that this could improve with a couple more years in the bottle. Would probably pair nicely with a cedar planked salmon dish. Not a bad value at this price point.


Rating: 6/10

Friday, July 26, 2013

New BC winery has the TIME

Harry McWatters, the founder of BC winery giant Sumac Ridge, is back in the game in a big way with Time Estate Winery.

They have rolled out their first three wines, each of which I had a chance to taste this afternoon.

Here is a nice article about the new winery:

2012 Time Estate White Meritage

79% Sauvignon Blanc and 21% Semillon, I found this blend to be pear-heavy on the nose, fading to hints of apricot and mango on the palate (I can ALWAYS taste the mango on any wine, as I don't like mango at all....that doesn't usually affect my enjoyment of the wine though, unless it's overpowering and this was not). An enjoyable sipping wine that should improve with a little more time in the bottle.

Retails for $25.

Rating: 5.5/10

2011 Time Estates Chardonnay

Bold and buttery, just the way I like Chardonnay. It has a sophistication that belies it's young age, developed in oak with notes of tropical fruit.

I bought a bottle of this which I enjoyed with my dinner tonight. It paired very well with:
Chicken Cutlets with a chunky nectarine salsa
Steamed asparagus with beurre blanc sauce
Orzo with parmesan and basil

The tasting notes on this wine suggest it would age very well until 2016. I can attest it is pretty darn good right now, and would likely only improve with patient aging.

At $27.99 you can certainly find cheaper Chardonnays, but I doubt you'll find a better one at that price point. It is comparable to Chardonnays that I have enjoyed around the $45 price point.

Rating: 7.5/10

2010 Time Estates Red Meritage

60% Merlot
25% Cabernet Sauvignon
15% Cabernet Franc

I put my nose into the glass of this wine and smelled what I imagine Heaven would smell like. I am not sure I can recall a wine with a more pleasant, chocolaty bouquet, with some notes of black cherry to boot.

On the palate, the wine had excellent depth and was very smooth. It's fine to drink today, but the tasting notes suggest aging it as long as 2020. I'm going to have to pick up one of these to put away, I'm very curious what this will taste like in a decade. At $29.99, if it ages as I suspect it might, it will be a steal.

Rating: 7/10

All in all, a damn fine debut from this new winery located in Oliver. Check these out when they come to a VQA store near you.

Winery website:

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A top notch BC Merlot

"If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any ****ing Merlot!!!!!!!" - Miles Raymond, Sideways

That comment reportedly set back sales of Merlot about 2% after the 2004 release of the film. It seems to me that Miles had obviously never tasted this one.

2007 Le Vieux Pin Merlot Reserve

This wine is bold and smooth with just the right amount of earthiness and fruit. The wine has aged very well to this point and is a treat to drink now, and would probably even enhance further with another year or two in the bottle. This is a very special Merlot.

This wine is sold out at my local VQA store and also seems to be sold out on their website so it may not be an easy one to find, but if you come across one, I highly recommend picking it up. Despite the somewhat hefty price tag, you won't regret it.


Rating: 9/10

Le Vieux Pin website:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Vertical tasting of a cult classic

Huge thanks to legendary BC wine writer John Schreiner for allowing me to copy this column from his blog in it's entirety.

The column was originally printed in his blog on June 24, 2013.

Twelve vintages of Nota Bene

Cult wines on parade

At a recent wine tasting, one of the guests asked: “What is a cult wine?”

It is a top quality wine highly prized by collectors. They get their names onto a winery’s VIP list and get in line to buy each release when the winery announces it. They usually buy it six to 12 bottles at a time.

The most enduring cult wine from the Okanagan is Nota Bene, the flagship Bordeaux blend from Black Hills Estate Winery.

Paul Guedes (below with wife Kara) is a North Vancouver businessman who has collected Nota Bene in each vintage since that wine debuted in the 1999 vintage.

Recently, to celebrate his and wife  ninth wedding anniversary, he invited some of their closest wine-loving friends to a dinner at which 12 vintages of Nota Bene (1999 through 2010) were served. The venue was a cozy restaurant called Kitsilano Daily Kitchen where chef Brian Fowke prepared an astonishing nine-course dinner, pairing the tapas-sized courses with the wines.

Because the Okanagan is a young wine region, vertical tastings like this seldom happen. I can think of just two other cult wineries – Blue Mountain and Burrowing Owl – that began releasing wines in the 1990s. Black Hills opened in 2001, nine years after Blue Mountain and three years after Burrowing Owl. There were other excellent wineries that opened, or were open, in the 1990s but none sustained the cult following that leads to collectors cellaring each and every vintage. (I expect a few producers might take issue with.)

Black Hills was launched in 1996 when two couples – Peter and Susan McCarrell and Bob and Senka Tennant – purchased an abandoned vineyard on Black Sage Road and planted 36,000 Bordeaux varietals on 26 acres. In 1999 they decided to open a winery, making wine with half of the vineyard’s production while selling the rest. That gave them cash flow while they developed the Black Hills brand.

The first wine was Nota Bene 1999. It was well received by a number of reviewers.
In a prescient review at the time, if I may pat myself on the back, I wrote: “A Noteworthy and Collectible Wine. For collectors of British Columbia wines, the latest must-have wine is the 1999 Nota Bene from Black Hills Estate Winery, a producer near Oliver which has just opened. This has all the marks of becoming a cult red wine capable of appreciating in value."

The Nota Bene blend is usually anchored with Cabernet Sauvignon, but not always. The 1999 Nota Bene was 64% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. The second vintage in 2000, however, was 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc. That has generally been the template. The 2010 Nota Bene, for example, is 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot and 16% Cabernet Franc.

The predominance of Merlot in the first Nota Bene reflected the 1999 vintage. It was a cool vintage, one in which it was harder to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon than Merlot. The first Nota Bene had 13% alcohol. The 2000 vintage, from a warmer year, had 14% alcohol. Even warmer years produced a 2004 Nota Bene with 14.6% and a 2007 Nota Bene with 14.7%.

Senka Tennant, with some initial coaching by telephone from Washington consultant Rusty Figgins, made Nota Bene from 1999 through 2007. She had a hand in making the 2008 as Black Hills transitioned to new ownership and to the current winemaker, Graham Pierce (right). This comparative stability in winemaking has meant that Nota Bene’s style has been reliably consistent across all of the vintages.

When the McCarrells  wanted to retire from the wine industry, Black Hills was sold in late 2007 to Vinequest Wine Partners Limited Partnership. The Tennants took a few years off and then opened Terravista Vineyards in 2011, a Naramata boutique offering only two white wines.

Vinequest president Glenn Fawcett financed the purchases and the subsequent expansions at Black Hills through the sale of units to investors. Paul Guedes is not an investor but is an enthusiast for Black Hills wines.

Currently, Black Hills is owned by about 450 investors who, among other perquisites, get a free case of Nota Bene each year. With the wine now selling at $53 a bottle, that is a good dividend. It is just one of the privileges of ownership.

Vinequest Wine partners have doubled the winery’s total production to about 10,000 cases a year. However, the production of Nota Bene is capped around 4,500 cases a year, safeguarding the quality of the wine as well as its comparative scarcity.

At the end of the Paul Guedes vertical, his 18 guests voted on their favourites. There were six votes for the 1999, five for the 2003, four for the 2002, two for the 2005 and one for the 2006.

Obviously, Paul has a temperature-controlled cellar with excellent storage (constant 54 degrees F), because none of the wines had fallen apart.

Here are my notes:

Nota Bene 1999: The fruit aromas and flavours have matured, developing earthy notes and ephemeral fruit favours that typify a well-aged wine. The complexity reminded one taster of an aged Italian red from Tuscany.

It so happened I still had a bottle of the 1999 in my cellar. In view of the vote – it was not my top pick - I opened it the following day. The fruit in my bottle was more vibrant (one expects bottle variation as wines age), deliciously sweet up front with a spicy berry note on the finish. It has begun to slide from its peak, but with remarkable elegance.
Nota Bene 2000: The wine has notes of delicate truffle aromas, with flavours of plum, cassis and cigar box. The texture is polished and elegant.

Nota Bene 2001: The aroma is smoky and spicy but the mid-palate is lean and dried out. It reminded me very much of an old Chianti, with its short, dusty finish.

Nota Bene 2002: This is a surprisingly satisfying wine, beginning with dark hue and a texture that is big and bold. On the palate, the ripe plum flavours are juicy and generous. The wine is at its peak. I reviewed this wine when it was released and wrote that it was the best Nota Bene to that time. It still outshines the previous three, in my view.

Nota Bene 2003: This was a hot Okanagan vintage and the atmosphere was saturated with smoke from the forest fires. There is just a touch of smoke on the aroma and in the flavour of this wine, along with notes of plum, black cherry and olives.

Nota Bene 2004: The wine begins with spicy berry aromas, leading to flavours of black currants, plum and cigar box.

Nota Bene 2005: This begins with a seductive aroma of vanilla and cassis. The wine delivers a big spoonful of sweet fruit to the palate (lingonberry, cherry, raspberry) with long silky tannins and with a persistent finish. This was my favourite. I prefer the lively fruit aromas and flavours to the elusive notes of some older vintages.

Nota Bene 2006: This wine is a milestone for Black Hills, which had replaced its challenging Quonset Hut winery with a new winery, well equipped with all the tools needed for modern winemaking.  The 2006 is full on the palate, with distinctive aromas and flavours of blueberry and cassis. When the wine was released, winemaker Senka Tennant (right with Paul Tennant) described it as “appealing for its layers of dark fruit with a hint of spice, olives and cedar on the nose; full bodied and balanced with silky velvety tannins and a great lengthy rich finish.”

Nota Bene 2007: The firm structure and power of this vintage marks it as a good candidate for further cellaring. However, it is already appealing with spice and cassis aromas and with earthy plum flavours.

Nota Bene 2008: This begins with an appealing aromas of red fruit, vanilla and mocha. It is rich and ripe on the palate with flavours of plums, black cherries and vanilla. On the finish, there are hints of chocolate, red berries and spice.

Nota Bene 2009: I am surprised no one voted for this wine. I found it one of the best on the table, with dramatic aromas of vanilla and cassis, followed by flavours of black currant, coffee, mocha and cedar. At a previous tasting when this wine was released, I noted vanilla, eucalyptus and dark fruits on the nose, with flavours of plum, black cherry and chocolate. This has lots of time ahead it.

Nota Bene 2010: At this stage of life, this wine is tight as a drum. It begins with aromas of raspberries and pepper and tastes of cola, coffee and vibrant red berry notes. It has the classic cigar box notes on the finish that signal the Bordeaux heritage of this wine. Opening the wine now is infanticide.
Thanks again, John!
I don't usually reprint other people's entire work (and don't intend to start on a regular basis) but this particular column fascinated me; for one, as John noted above, you aren't going to see vertical tastings of this magnitude on BC wines as there just aren't enough of them out there that have been around this long; and two, because I have this little beauty in my collection:

The 2011 vintage wasn't even part of their tasting, as it would definitely not be anywhere near it's peak at this point (John pointed out that opening up the 2010 at this point was "infanticide"). Judging by John's comments, it looks like 11-12 years is about the sweet spot for this wine; although the winning wine in terms of votes was actually the oldest vintage from 1999. I currently have this one marked to open in 2021, and I think I may push that back a year or two; we'll see. Either way, I'm sure it will be a special treat even if I open it after "ONLY" 10 years in the bottle.

Very exciting! I am pretty sure I'll be able to get at least one bottle of this wine from my local VQA store every year going forward; who knows, maybe in 13-14 years I'll be able to hold my own vertical tasting of this highly sought-after wine!

Here is a link to John's excellent wine blog:

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Deutschland - I can't think of a funny title....

....every time I try to think of a funny title about Germany it turns into something nasty and incredibly unfunny so let's just stick to wine for now.

Or we can let this fine gentleman bring the funny.

The Germans make a fine Riesling, and one in particular makes me rather excited.

2008 St. Urbans - HOF Riesling Kabinett Ockfener Bockstein

Ultra-refreshing, bordering on sweet, with notes of orange blossoms, pineapple and cherry. It's a symphony of fruit; quite simply the best Riesling I've ever tasted.

At $35, it's an outstanding value. It's beautiful to enjoy now or it will reward careful cellaring for a decade, maybe more. Riesling is one white wine that truly improves with age.

And the taste will rise HIGH!!

Rating: 8.5/10

Monday, July 22, 2013

The best wine I've ever tasted?

Someone asked me the other day what my all-time favorite wine was, and I didn't have an answer. It got me thinking, though. What is the best wine I've ever had? Now, I've only been into wine for 6-7 years so it's not like I've sampled thousands and thousands of wines, but I have been fortunate enough to taste some great (and expensive) ones.

I've had some great wines on vacation in Vegas; I had dinner with a couple friends at Japonais in the Mirage and we split an incredible (and incredibly expensive) Bordeaux blend. That bottle of 1995 Barolo from Gordon Ramsey Steak that I've talked about in previous blog entries would have to be up there as well. And I also had a fabulous Pinot Noir from a California winery called George at Prime Steakhouse in Bellagio.

And there have been some pretty brilliant wines from BC as well. Le Vieux Pin makes an amazing 2007 Merlot Reserve ($75) which I've had a couple times (and am lucky enough to have a bottle in my collection). And the Reference from Blackwood Lane ($99) that I tried at a tasting a few days ago would have to be up there as well.

The first bottle of Quails' Gate Reserve Chardonnay (2005 I believe) was outstanding and would probably be at the top of the "best white" list. And then how about some of the amazing ice wine? The Quails' Gate Riesling Icewine is akin to heaven in a bottle.

But if I had to choose one? Just one wine that would make the top of my list? I'd have to go back to our dinner at Victoria and Albert's in Orlando, and this would be the winner:

2008 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Silver Oak knows Cabernet Sauvignon; it's all they do, in fact. Ironically their wine from the Alexander Valley is the "cheap" one! It sells for a little over $100/bottle and is available up here somewhere (haven't found it yet). Their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is suppose to be even better, and it sells for a little over $150/bottle. It's also available up here (not in Chilliwack I don't think, but somewhere in the Vancouver area), and it's one that will be going into my collection once I track it down.

Rating: 9.5/10

In September of 2014 we are planning on driving down to California, and we'll be detouring on a wine tour; first through the Willamette Valley of Oregon, and then to Napa Valley. We WILL be stopping at Silver Oak and I would suspect we will be leaving that winery with a few more bottles than we arrived with. We just may have to drink them during our trip, but I'll be sure to report on them here :-)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Let's journey to Spain, with a BC twist

Today, let's chat about Tempranillo. For our purposes today, we'll stick to the red version; there is a white mutation known as Tempranillo Blanco but I have no experience with that.

Tempranillo is known mainly as one of the main grapes from Spain. Spain has a huge number of grape varieties, over 400, but 80 percent of their wine comes from only 20 grapes, of which Tempranillo is one.

Tempranillo is grown in many other wine making countries as well, including Portugal where it is known as Tinta Roriz, and it is one of the grapes contained in the Portuguese wine from the Douro region that I have previously written about.

 My first experience with Tempranillo was in Vegas at a wine bar called Onda, in the Mirage hotel. They have a "last bottle" chalk board, where they put up the last bottles they have and sell them at half price. Unfortunately I didn't make any notes on the specific winery that it came from, but it was a $350 bottle that we got for half price, and it was absolutely superb. Sure, at that price, it better be good, but price isn't always a guarantee of quality.

I was in a local liquor store and came across this one:

Valdepenas Gran Reserva - Anciano 2002

Valdepenas is the wine region, Anciano the winery. The "Gran Reserva" got me thinking that it must be good, as "Reserve" wines tend to be made from the best grapes. In this case, however, the notation of "Gran Reserva" only refers to the aging; in order to be so classified, it must be aged at least 5 years.

Still, at the bargain basement price of $12.99, I figured there was little to lose. However, in this case, I got what I paid for. It was dull and unimpressive, and so far from the Tempranillo I had previously encountered that it seemed inconceivable these two wines had come from the same grape.

"Inconceivable?? You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." - Inigo Montoya

Rating: 3/10

So I mentioned in the title of this entry there was a BC twist; well, it turns out that Canada is one of the other countries that grows Tempranillo. I am not sure how many BC wineries grow it; not many, for sure. I have tried only one to this point:

Inniskillin 2007 Discovery Series Tempranillo

I can't even find any reference to this wine on their website, which might mean they are no longer producing it; if so, that's a shame, as it was excellent.

It would pay to decant for a couple of hours, and would improve with further cellaring, but the leather and tobacco bouquet gives way nicely to a fruity finish. Certainly not as incredible as the expensive bottle I had in Vegas, but a huge, HUGE step up from the cheaper one listed above.

At $29.99 it's a pretty good value and if you are a fan of this grape, you will love this. Pick some up if you can find it.

Rating: 7.5/10

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Tonight's tasting: BC wines to pair with salmon

My local VQA wine store had a tasting tonight, the theme being wines that pair well with BC Salmon. I do really enjoy salmon, but since my wife doesn't eat seafood, I don't get to eat it very often. When I do eat it, I generally pair it with a Pinot Noir; but there was no Pinot to be found at this particular tasting.

They were featuring two Gamay Noirs and two Pinot Blancs. I don't generally like either of those grapes that much, so I wasn't particularly anticipatory, but was hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

2012 Joie Pinot Blanc


Colour me pleasantly surprised! Less overwhelming in terms of acidity and citrus (I don't care for grapefruit, so any wine that is grapefruit-heavy is starting off on the wrong foot with me) than many other Pinot Blancs, it's beautifully balanced. I loved the hint of white chocolate on the finish. My all time favorite Pinot Blanc.

Rating: 7/10

2011 Covert Farms Pinot Blanc

My nose immediately sent up the warning signs; there were notes of something I couldn't quite identify; it smelled like fire.....and upon glancing at the tasting notes, I was almost right. Matchstick! It smelled like burned matchsticks!

Hmm. Not sure why anyone would intentionally make their Pinot Blanc smell like matchsticks. As if that didn't turn me off enough, the overwhelming earthiness on the palate did the trick. I did not like this wine AT ALL.

Covert Farms used to be called Dunham and Froese, and I've enjoyed some of their red blends in the past, but they missed the mark on this one. Badly.

Rating: 3/10

2010 Sandhill Gamay Noir

I find it difficult to fairly review varietals that I just don't like; but I always try to be fair and give them a chance. Gamay is probably my least favorite varietal of all.

As far as I'm concerned, Sandhill knocked this one out of the park. I found this to be more peppery than your average Gamay; it actually reminded me of a good Syrah. A medium body and touch of acidity brought the flavors all together nicely. Definitely my favorite Gamay, and at $19.99, an excellent value. If Gamay is one of your grapes, check this one out.


Rating: 7.5/10

2010 Recline Ridge Gamay Noir.

Sorry to say, this is what I have come to expect from Gamay. The tasting notes indicate that the wine is "light and fruity". I'd call it "mild and meek". Bland and unspectacular on the nose and the palate. Nothing impressive or memorable here at all.

Rating: 2.5/10

So to finish off the topic of what to pair with BC salmon...... stick with a great Pinot Noir, in my opinion. However if these two grapes are your thing, I certainly wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Joie Pinot Blanc or the Sandhill Gamay Noir.

Cooking with wine; a great cookbook

I love wine. I love to cook. I'm reminded of the great Julia Child quote:

"I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food I'm cooking. "

Amen, sister.

I picked up this book a couple months ago:

I've made several of the recipes in it, including a few of them more than once. There are lots of good recipes I have yet to try; all of them feature BC wines pairings, and while I have not always stuck to the exact wine they recommend, I try to stay pretty close.

Last night we had one called Herb and Wine Roasted Chicken with Gravy. It's the second time I've made it, and it's just superb. Unlike most of the recipes in this book, it doesn't suggest a specific wine for the dish (just "1 cup white wine"), so I used this one:

2012 Joie A Noble Blend

Which, of course, is named after 80's character actor, best known as the Governor on Benson, James Noble.

The label says it's a wine "inspired by Alsace". Well, Alsace it isn't really all that great.

Here is a link to the specs:

I really should like this wine more, it's a blend of 6 grapes, many of which I really enjoy. It's an incredibly popular wine and an award winner, but honestly it's just OK. The 2011 vintage was a little better (and in fairness my wife loved the 2011 vintage, but even she wasn't as crazy about the 2012), but it still didn't knock me over. It's possible that the 2012 will improve with a year or two of aging, but not likely enough to make me change my mind.

At $24 a bottle, it's just not worth the money. There are many better off-dry BC white wines for less money, many of which I've already featured in previous blog posts.

Rating: 6/10

Friday, July 19, 2013

Good wine in Langley?????

Our local wine store has free tastings every Friday and Saturday; I go as often as is feasible, and today was a special treat. Some high end wines from Blackwood Lane winery in Langley.

I've had zero luck, so far, with Fraser Valley wineries; the climate should be adequate for grapes that thrive in cooler climates but what I've tasted so far has been pretty mediocre.

And although Blackwood Lane winery is located in Langley and grows grapes there, they get the grapes for their higher end wines come from vineyards in Oliver and Osoyoos.

Tonight they were tasting three of their more expensive wines:

2010 The Rebel (Syrah) - $44.00

Peppery and full-bodied, this Syrah was good but young. I think it has potential to age into a very fine wine, particularly for Syrah fans.

Rating: 7/10

2007 Alliànce - (Our signature Bordeaux Blend) - $59.00

I have one of these in my cellar and I had never tasted it until now, so this was an exciting opportunity (of course, if it was no good, it would be very disappointing!!!).

This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc did not disappoint. Smooth and supple with a long, silky finish and notes of cherries and spices, this wine is already terrific and would be an excellent wine for a special occasion.

I'm going to keep mine in the cellar for another two or three years, maybe could easily age for another decade.....but I doubt I'll be able to hold out that long.

Rating: 9/10

2007 The Referènce - (Cuvee Bordeaux Blend) - $99.00

I almost bought this one, instead of the one above, but was advised that it wasn't much better than the one above and was probably not worth the extra money. I disagree, I must say; this wine was absolutely sublime.

A true Bordeaux blend of the same three grapes above, plus Petit Verdot and Malbec, this is the kind of wine we should be exporting to the world to get the word out about BC wines. It's one of the top 5 Bordeaux blends I've ever had, comparable with some I've tasted in the $300-$400 range.

It is already incredibly smooth and approachable, but will age brilliantly for at least 20 more years. I'll be picking one of these up to put into the cellar, and maybe we'll crack it open for our 20th wedding anniversary in 2024.

Rating: 9.5/10

I'm going to take the wife on a tour of this winery one of these days, and will report back on more of their portfolio. Curious to try their other wines, including Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mission Hill: The good, the bad, and the really freaking ugly

Ask even the neophyte BC wine drinker, and chances are they will know about Mission Hill Estate Wineries. Their wines are everywhere, and the winery itself is renowned for it's beauty.

The question is, are the wines any good? Well, let's see.

The good:

2005 Mission Hill Select Lot Collection (SLC) Merlot

We've tried several vintages of this wine (05/06/07/08) and all are top-notch. Sure, aging helps, so the '05 was my favorite so far, but you can't go wrong here. Merlot has never been our favorite grape (we are Pinot Noir people first and foremost) but when it's done right, it can be enchanting. This retails for $30.

Rating: 8/10

Oh, and the grounds of this winery really are spectacular. Next time you are in Kelowna, they are really a "must-see". Picturesque and spectacular views.

I was going to post some pictures here from their website, which doesn't have any! Their website is pretty poor, just basic info. Which leads me to:

The bad:

This winery is the BC version of Frass Canyon; for those of you who haven't seen "Sideways", you need to see it....then you'll get the reference.

It's a beautiful, popular winery, that makes really shitty wine. Sorry, I said it, Mission Hill's wines are pretty average at best. I've tried several of them and with the exception noted above, none of them are any good.

And, the winery charges for all tastings, something that a lot really good wineries in the Okanagan don't do. Last time we were up there we didn't even taste there, because the tasting room was expensive and way too crowded.

The ugly:

2009 Mission Hill Perpetua

This was recommended to us by Kim, the proprietor of our local wine shop, and her recommendations are golden. Usually.

I like a big, bold, buttery Chardonnay. This couldn't have been much farther from that. Weak, flabby, and unimpressive, 3/4 of the bottle went down the sink. Absolutely undrinkable. At $40/bottle, this is the MOST overpriced bottle of wine I have ever unfortunately experienced.

Perhaps further aging would have helped it a bit, but I doubt it.

Rating: 3.5/10

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Ciao, Italia!!!

Alrighty, wine lovers, today we are going to take a long trip East, to Italy, and discuss this:


 A good friend of mine used to date a girl that worked in the wine industry; he told me that she had once called Barolo the "King of Grapes". Since I trusted her wine knowledge, I thought I'd find one and try it as soon as I could.

Interestingly enough, she didn't know quite as much as I thought, not only is Barolo not the "King of Grapes", it's not a grape at all! More on that later.

The same friend and I were down in Vegas last November, having dinner at Gordon Ramsey Steak in the Paris hotel. Their wine list, which was extensive (and came out on an Ipad!!), featured this little beauty:

That's right, 1995. A 17 year old (at the time) bottle of wine, from Bruno Giacosa, one of Italy's finest Barolo makers. The price? Actually not nearly as much as you think. $150. Yes, I know that's hardly cheap, but remember this is in a very posh restaurant, where the price is likely doubled from the retail price (maybe more). If I could find another bottle of this stuff on a shelf for $75, I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

My rating on this wine would be 9.5/10. It's simply outstanding, as you would expect.

After I was home, I was at a high-end wine store in West Vancouver and I thought I'd buy a nice bottle of wine to give to Tracey for Christmas. See, I give her a great bottle of wine, which she will love, but I get to enjoy it as well. I'm tricky that way.

So I found this:

So for a reasonable price of $90, I picked it up. Needless to say, she was excited to get the bottle under the tree, even though she will probably have long forgotten about it before we ever get to drink it. Barolo wines are generally very tannin-heavy, and aging them is a must. This one sits in our cellar, to come out in 2019 for our 15th wedding anniversary. By then, it should be freaking amazing.

Since I've got some time on my hands, I thought I'd do a little research on this particular bottle of wine, and also on wines of the world in general. It was during such research that I discovered that Barolo, as I mentioned above, is not a grape at all. From the Wikipedia page:

<<<Barolo is a red Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) wine produced in the northern Italian region of Piedmont. It is made from the Nebbiolo grape and is often described as one of Italy's greatest wines.[1] The zone of production extends into the communes of Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d'Alba and parts of the communes of Cherasco, Diano d'Alba, Grinzane Cavour, La Morra, Monforte d'Alba, Novello, Roddi, Verduno, all in the province of Cuneo, south-west of Alba. Only vineyards planted in primarily calcareous-clay soils in the hills with suitable slopes and orientations are considered suitable for Barolo production. Barolo is often described as having the aromas of tar and roses, and the wines are noted for their ability to age and usually take on a rust red tinge as they mature. When subjected to aging of at least five years before release, the wine can be labeled a Riserva.[2]>>>

I found this quite interesting; as someone who learned about wine from mostly local wines, I'm used to seeing the name of the grape on the wine. When I walk into a wine store, I'm looking for a Pinot Noir, or a Chardonnay.....but those of you who know wines of the world will know what I have recently learned; most of the wine making world doesn't do it that way.

The grape is Nebbiolo; but nowhere on this bottle of wine, front or back, does that word appear. I decided to try to figure out what everything on the bottle is. I know that the phrase right under the word "Barolo" indicated that the wine qualifies as a DOCG wine, which is the highest rating an Italian wine can get; and I know that ABBONA is the winemaker/winery, Marziano Abbona. Dogiani is a town in Piedmont, the region where the grapes are grown, and PRESSENDA is the name of the wine, and indicates which of the Abbona vineyards the grapes were grown in.

That's a lot of information on the label of a wine, WITHOUT mentioning what grape is actually in the bottle!!

If you are interested in reading more about Barolo wines in general, here is a link to the Wikipedia page:

And some information on this particular winery:

I'll let you know how we enjoy this 2019 :-)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Goldilocks and the three bottles of wine.....

Today's entry comes from BC winery Fairview Cellars. It is called The Bear (see what I did there with the title of this blog entry??).

From their website:

The Bear: Previously call “The Bear’s Meritage” this is part of the “Premier Series” wines (along with the higher end Cabs).  A blend of five of the classic Bordeaux cultivars (Cab. Sauv., Merlot, Cab. Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot) with Cabernet Sauvignon being at least 50% of the blend, sometimes reaching as high as 75% of the blend in exceptional Cab. years.  The best barrels are always chosen for this wine, with the Cab. Sauv. grapes usually coming from a later picking to add to the complexity.  The wine is stored for longer periods of time in the barrel. (anywhere from 14 to 20 months)  The time “on the skins” is usually longer, again to achieve higher extraction from the skins.
At a retail of around $40 it might not be everyone's "everyday" red wine but it's a beautiful bottle, full of robust flavors. Tonight we are cracking open a 2008 vintage, to be paired with pork tenderloin. It will be a fantastic pairing, we've had it before. If you like bold BC reds, this is for you.
Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tonight's white.....

....a beautiful white blend from Sperling Vineyards called "The Market White". It's a blend of Pinot Blanc, Bacchus and Gewürztraminer. Off-dry but not sweet, it is crisp and clean with fruity undertones.

Very pleasant with tonight's dinner of chicken sautéed in wine and cream.

Goes for a very respectable $19 in VQA wine stores.

Rating: 6/10

Monday, July 8, 2013

Madeira.....the verdict

So we finally decided to pop open that Madeira-style wine, the 2004 Cedarcreek Platinum M, that I've had in the cellar for a little while.

It was.......interesting.

It has been described as a port-style wine, and I'd say that's a decent description. It's a little thicker and more syrupy than a normal wine. It's stronger than a normal wine too. Tracey described it as "whiskey-like going down your throat". At first, I agree with that description, but after a couple of sips you get used to that and it's actually very nice.

It has a small amount of sweetness to it, but it's not a dessert wine. It's perfect as a digestif, before a nice meal, which is what we used it for. Would probably be good after a meal too.

Is it worth the hefty $65 price point? Hmm. If you like port (or if you've had Madeira wines from Portugal and want one you can find more easily), then this is probably for you and worth the money. And, keep in mind that the process this wine has undergone allows us to consume this bottle a little bit at a time, so that is a huge plus; we'll be having a little bit of this before every nice dinner we have for the next year, and that would not be something you could do with a normal port.

I like it!!

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Big, bold BC red

2009 Pocket Kings, from ACES winery.

Aces winery, founded by BC professional poker player Holger Clausen, makes some excellent wine, none better than this one.

Aged 18 months in French and American oak, this Meritage (Cab Franc/Cab Sauv./Merlot) blend offers a fabulous combination of black cherry and dark chocolate on the palate. It is a perfect pairing with red meats and a good burger (in fact, I published a recipe for a burger that I called the "Pocket Kings" burger on my normal blog a few months back). I had one this afternoon, accompanied by this beautiful wine. At $35 it is not cheap, but is worth every penny. It will also age beautifully for a few years, if you have the patience and the cellar for it.

Rating: 8.5/10    

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Madeira, you are such a tease.....

Follow up to my blog entry a few days ago about the 2004 Cedarcreek Platinum "M" wine I have in my cellar; big thanks to Darryl Brooker, the winemaker at Cedarcreek, for answering my questions as below. My questions are in black, his responses in blue:

1. How long can we age this bottle before it deteriorates? – The wine has had 5 years in barrel, in the sun.  It will last indefinitely.  We recently tried a M from the 1990’s and it was looking great.  You are safe for up to 15 years from vintage.

2. The bottle says it should be an after dinner wine, how sweet is it? As sweet as dessert ice wine? – it is nothing like an ice wine.  It is hard to even call it sweet.  It can be used as an aperitif or after dinner.  It has approximately 20g/L of residual sugar, which is about 10% of an ice wine.

3. What temperature should we be serving this at? – I would serve at room temperature, between 15-20oC would be ideal.

4. Madeira wines are supposed to be stored upright to protect the cork, but this bottle is a screw cap, so I presume it's not important how it is stored? – You can store it anyway you like.  The screw cap allows for easy storage and easy re-sealing.  Remember that you can have some and put the cap back on and keep on ‘sampling’ for as long as you like.  The wine will not spoil as it has been exposed to oxygen and the elements during its aging.

5. Once it is opened, how long will it stay good in the fridge? the wine does not need to be refrigerated.  It has seen a lot of oxygen during its aging and will not be affected.  You should be good for up to 1 year open

As a follow up to his Email, I asked one more question:

6. oh I might as well ask one more say we have a good 15 years from vintage, is there a reason to age it longer? In other words, will aging further enhance the wine? Will it be better in 2015 than it is today?

Good question and the answer is probably not.  The wines does go through minor changes as it gets older, however I think the improvements from bottling to 10 years in the bottle are very minor and it is not a wine I would deliberately age.  The bottom line is that there is no hurry to drink it (even after opening) however there is no real advantage to aging it either.

Wow, it's great to get that kind of detailed information directly from the winemaker! Excellent service, IMO.

And even more exciting is the opportunity we have to pop this baby open, have a little, and re-seal it with no ill-effects! I think this weekend is going to have to be the time that we try it out!

I will report on our findings!


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

when Pinot Noir is done right......

It looks a little bit like this:

Tonight I cracked open a 2010 Quails' Gate Pinot Noir, and it was pretty much the same as every other one I've had, terrific.

This is definitely our "go-to" red, and it doesn't really seem to matter the vintage, it's fabulous. Sure, like any good red, it ages well (and I have several in my cellar from 2006/07/08/09 that we'll be opening eventually), but I'm fine with opening up a newer one when I feel like a good red.

Here are the specs:

Their "Stewart Family Reserve" Pinot Noir are ridiculously good, and we have several of them in the cellar as well....but their regular PN are so good it almost doesn't matter.

Retail on their regular Pinot is only $24.95, which is a complete steal for a wine of this quality.

Since my seafood hating wife is in Vegas right now, I paired this with the following:

Cedar planked salmon in lemon, garlic and dill, asparagus sautéed in butter and onion sugar, and coconut rice. Freaking amazing.

If you need a reliable Pinot Noir at a reasonable ticket, this is the one for you. If you have the patience to age it for 4-5 years, it will pay off.

And if you have the funds to get the Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir ($45), you won't regret it. Age it a few years and you will be in heaven.

Rating (regular Pinot Noir): 8/10
Rating (Reserve Pinot Noir): 9/10

Monday, July 1, 2013

Why does Canadian wine get no respect in the world?

So I'm on the winespectator site the other day, and I notice that they have virtually no information on any Canadian wine. Given how good many BC wines have become (and I'm sure Ontario has good wine too), that seems odd to me.....almost prejudicial, in fact. Frankly, it pissed me off.

On the weekend I'm walking through Safeway and I see a magazine on the shelf called "MacLean's Wine in Canada". Hmm. OK so I pick it up and thought it might be interesting to check it out.

One of the introductory articles mentions how much success Canadian wine has been having at competitions and how many world renowned wine critics have been praising our wine. Renowned English critic and author Jancis Robinson has chronicled the steady improvement in Canadian wines. "In her latest testing, her highest praise went to Okanagan's offerings, both whites like chardonnay and dry Rieslings, and especially the 'strapping' reds from the semi-desert of the South Okanagan. Okanagan vines, she's written, 'almost punch you between the eyes with their frankness' ".

The article continues: "The problem is, few people outside Ontario and B.C. have the opportunity to get smacked with the fruits of the Canadian winemakers' labour. Canada has just 11,000 hectares of wine vineyards, compared to more than 34,000 in New Zealand, which has a population slightly smaller than B.C. and a ripping export business - the 11th highest by volume in the world".

Hmm. New Zealand, which has less people than B.C., clobbers Canada in the export business? Why would that be?

Sandhill Wines winemaker Howard Soon makes the point that New Zealand has more sheep than people. "If they get the sheep to drink wine, New Zealand's got it made, domestically. They have to export because they have few people and lots of friggin' wine."

OK, so that's a fair point; New Zealand makes more wine than their population could possibly handle, so exporting it is clearly paramount to the success of their industry.

So since Canada has more people, that means we don't need to export our wine? It seems so. In 2010, Canada exported a paltry $28M, and $12M of that was ice wine.

I had always assumed we were just getting overlooked by the world, but is it possible that it's our fault? Would the world embrace our wines if we'd just get them into their hands? Not being a winemaker, I can't definitively answer that, but the evidence is compelling.

On, many people (presumably Canadians) have lauded our wines, and admonished the site in the comments sections for overlooking them. Lots and lots of complaints. And I mean lots. Then I got to a response from the site, which basically said (and I'm paraphrasing a bit), "we'd be happy to include your wines, if you guys would just f**king send them to us!!!".

That seemed so odd until I thought about it. We've been to some huge wine stores in California, Vegas and Florida, and there is no sign of ANY Canadian wine except for the occasional ice wine. We've had dinner at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Vegas with a wine list that takes about a month to peruse, yet there are no Canadian wines on the list at all, to my recollection. I just always assumed that was due to their prejudices, but I'm beginning to think that our wineries need to rethink their strategies and reach out to other countries. If we are having success with wine critics and in competitions, why on Earth would we not be able to successfully sell our wines to other countries?

That seems like the $28M question, doesn't it?