Sunday, June 28, 2015

Okanagan Trip, Part Three.... up the road to Ex Nihilo

Continuing our journey in Lake Country, just up the road from Gray Monk to Ex Nihilo.

First thing I want to point out is that they use varietal-specific glasses for the tasting, which makes such a difference in enhancing the entire experience. Bravo to them and the other wineries who do this.

But let's see if the wine is any good....

Ex Nihilo 2014 Pinot Gris ($19.00)

Pears, grapefruit and nectarine on the nose. The palate is enveloped by tropical fruit with a touch of spice on the finish. Young but lots of potential. 86.

Ex Nihilo 2012 Riesling ($19.00)

Done in the classic Alsatian style. Pear, lemon, lime, with lots of minerality. Apple joins in on the palate. Will improve with a bit more aging. 86.

Ex Nihilo 2014 SX Tous ($25.00)

This is a Sparkling Pinot Noir done to resemble a Prosecco. Strawberries and cherries dominate the nose and palate. This is well made, and if you are a bigger fan of Prosecco than I am, you will enjoy. 85.

Ex Nihilo 2013 Pinot Noir ($32.00)

Now we are talking. Hints of cherry, vanilla and coffee on the nose. Strawberry notes on the palate with a touch of spice on the finish. Absolutely lovely now and I wonder how good it will get with a bit more time? We took one of these home so I will let you know. 90-92.

Ex Nihilo 2012 Journey of Hope IceWine ($150 but the website now says it is sold out)

100% Merlot. Strong aromas of strawberry, honey and just the slightest bit of cedar. Dried cherries, raspberries and a touch of raisin on the palate. It's expensive, for sure, but it's also very, very good. 94.

All good wines and a fabulous tasting experience. In addition to the wine, they feature some spectacular art from local artists (which is all for sale, if you are an art lover), a small bistro that features some small plates and pizza, and beautiful grounds to marvel at as you enjoy your lunch or your wine. We really enjoyed our time here!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Okanagan Trip, Part Deux. Gray Monk wine and a fabulous lunch.

When we left for the Okanagan last Wednesday, we headed directly for Gray Monk and the Grapevine Restaurant. We had reservations at noon but were hoping we would have time to get to the tasting room before that if traffic allowed, and it did; we had lots of time to taste their entire portfolio and still make our lunch reservations.

Gray Monk has long been a favorite of ours, particularly for their sweeter whites, but all the wines are a solid value. Let's see how the new vintages fared.

Gray Monk 2011 Odyssey White Meritage ($16.49)

Some grassy aromas intermingling with a touch of grapefruit and vanilla. Grapefruit comes back to the palate with some lemongrass and a bit of apple. 87.

Gray Monk 2013 Unwooded Chardonnay ($14.79)

Tropical fruit, apple and floral aromas. A hint of melon joins in on the palate. A really nice un-oaked effort. 88.

Gray Monk 2013 Pinot Blanc ($14.79)

Rich and full bodied with hints of melon and apples. Finishes dry and would be best with food, especially some nice seafood or even chicken. 87.

Gray Monk 2013 Pinot Auxerrios ($14.79)

A perennial favorite of mine, lots of fruit on the nose with some peach flavors and nicely balanced acidity. This one works by itself but also would pair lovely with seafood. 88.

Gray Monk 2013 Gewürztraminer  ($14.79)

Notes of lychee, peaches and herbs. Tropical fruits join the lychee on the palate. Just a tiny amount of spice finishes it off. 87.

Gray Monk 2014 Siegerrebe ($16.59)

Peach, honeysuckle and a floral nose. The palate brings some tangerine and a bit of spice. Supple and slightly off-dry, 88.

Gray Monk 2014 Ehrenfelser ($17.39)

Citrus dominates the nose and palate. Off-dry with apricot and lemon flavors. Could use a bit of time in the bottle to fully develop the flavors. 86.

Gray Monk 2012 Odyssey Pinot Noir ($15.69)

Blackberry, cherry and vanilla notes. Touches of raspberry and vanilla on the palate. Definitely needs some more time in the bottle to improve to it's potential. 84.

Gray Monk 2011 Odyssey Meritage ($30.49)

Touches of vanilla and blackberries on the nose and palate. Long and lovely finish. Another one that needs some more time to develop. 85.

Gray Monk 2011 Odyssey Merlot ($20.49)

Chocolate, vanilla, nutmeg and blueberry on the nose. The palate is enveloped by black cherries with hints of dark chocolate and black cherries. Perfectly good now but has the potential to improve a lot with some cellar time. 86-89.

After our tasting, on to lunch. We never have any fun.

That is my gorgeous wife with a glass of one of our favorite wines from Gray Monk. Even though we knew it wasn't a traditionally pairing with our meals, we had not yet tried this vintage so we ordered it and love it as usual.

Gray Monk 2014 Kerner ($16.59)

Peaches, lemons and honeysuckle on the nose. This very off-dry wine is lovely and sweet (not icewine sweet, but sweet). Notes of apricot, honey and butter tarts on the palate. Another great vintage of a very reliable wine. 89.

For lunch I ordered this:

Gluten Free Tiger Prawns Provençale Au Gratin 16.00Ocean Wise Tiger Prawns, Herb Cream Sauce, Asiago

Absolutely one of the top-10 prawn dishes I have ever had. Superb cream sauce and the prawns couldn't have been cooked better. We also had an order of "breads and spreads" which was fantastic on it's own and fantastic dipped into the above cream sauce!

For our main course, I ordered this:

Gluten Free Slow Braised Beef 20.00New York Striploin, Estate Merlot Mushroom Demi, Parsnip Smashed Potato, Horseradish Aioli, Vegetable
Any my wife ordered this:
Saltimbocca Cavatappi 19.00Pancetta, Yam, Cream Sauce, Served with Cavatappi Pasta, Watercress, Vegetable Brochette, Asiago, Cheddar
I was SO MAD for ordering what I did...not because it wasn't good...far from it, it was excellent....but my wife's pasta dish (which our waitress described as "damn good pasta") was maybe the best pasta we had ever tasted.

Those orange things in the dish are yams. YAMS. Who puts yams in pasta? Well, apparently this chef does, and it was incredible. The pancetta was a perfect addition as well. Just incredible. If my beef dish was 8/10, this pasta dish was about a 42. So good.
This is the second meal we've had here and both were just beautiful, so I'm comfortable recommending that all of you make this a "must do" for your next trip to the Okanagan. This winery and restaurant is located in Lake Country, just about a half hour north of Kelowna, but it is well worth your extra time. Don't miss it!!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Okanagan Tour, Part 1 !! 50th Parallel Estate is up first.

OK I'm already lying to you, it wasn't actually up first, but it kind of was. How can that be? Well, they came to Sardis Park VQA for a tasting a week or so before we went on our even though this was actually the second winery we visited this trip, I'm going to report on it first. I like to make the rules and then break 'em. That's just how I roll.

50th Parallel winemaker Grant Stanley is basically responsible for this blog, and every bottle of wine I have ever consumed.....he was the winemaker at Quails' Gate when I discovered wine, starting with his Gewurtraminer 7-8 years ago. So if you don't like anything in this blog, blame him.

Last week, we tasted these:

50th Parallel 2014 Riesling ($18.99)

Citrus, pineapple and floral aromas give way to a strong green apple finish. Could certainly improve with some more time in the bottle. 87.

50th Parallel 2014 Pinot Gris ($19.99)

Peach, grapefruit and notes of mandarin oranges. Pear flavors mingle with stone fruit. As above, it's tasty now but a little more time would almost certainly enhance. 88.

50th Parallel 2014 Gewurztraminer ($18.99)

Lychee, peaches and ginger on the nose. Luscious mouthfeel highlighted by flavors of melon, Off-dry but far from sweet. I'll say the same thing I've said above; needs more time to fully develop, but very drinkable now. 88.

50th Parallel 2014 Pinot Noir Rose ($18.99)

Strong notes of red berries and grapefruit on the nose. The grapefruit follows through on the palate with just a slight touch of herbs travelling along. 86.

50th Parallel 2013 Pinot Noir ($32.99)

Violets permeate the nose, with a touch of cocoa and spice in addition to the flowers.
Blackberries and plums mingle on the palate with some chocolate and pepper on the finish. 89

The store happened to have a few bottles of the 2012 still on the shelf, and we were told it was just as good with a little less pepper on the finish, so we bought a bottle. It just so happens that a week or so later we would walk into the winery and get a chance to taste it!

50th Parallel 2012 Pinot Noir ($32.99)

The floral notes change slightly to roses here, with some chocolate and vanilla as well. The flavors carry through to the palate and lead to a long and smooth finish. Just the slightest hint of spice on the finish; much less than the above. Lovely. 90.

50th Parallel 2013 Chardonnay ($32.00)

The thing that caught my attention here was the smell of s'mores; well, at least the toasted marshmallow part. I've never experienced that in any wine, ever, and I loved it. There is also some vanilla and peaches there. A touch of minerality on the long and beautiful finish. I liked this enough to buy it, but I bought it more for the potential than the "right now"....don't misunderstand me, it's good now, but I have a hunch that when I pull this out of the cellar in 3-4 years, we are in for a special treat. 89-92.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Pinot Noir battle, to the death!!!

No! Not to the death!

To the pain!

If you don't get that reference, I'm sorry but we cannot be friends.

Stop reading immediately. Go and watch The Princess Bride. And then return.

You're back!

I know yesterday I posted my "last" blog post before our trip to the Okanagan, but I am a freaking liar, what can I say?

Tonight we decided to have a side-by-side tasting of a couple of Pinot Noirs from one of our new favorite California wineries, Hartford Court. If you haven't heard of them, you should (unless you are a huge Cabernet Sauvignon person, of course). They have a bunch of different vineyards in cooler climates in California, producing the wines that tend to thrive in cooler climates: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel.

Notes about the different vineyards, from the bottles:

Hailey's Block: Located within the renowned Arrendale Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, named after their daughter, Hailey.

Far Coast Vineyard: surrounded by forests located almost two hours from the Russian River on a mountain range in "the middle of nowhere".

These are two of the best Pinots I have ever had. They are almost certainly the BEST I have ever had from California.

2012 Hartford Court Hailey's Block Pinot Noir ($65 USD on website; sadly, sold out)

 Jam a bouquet of spring flowers up each nostril and you may get an idea what this is like. Throw in some cherries and strawberries and you are almost there! The berries overwhelm the palate on this medium-bodied beauty. Rich, spectacular mouthfeel. This is a real treasure. 95.

2012 Hartford Court Far Coast Vineyard Pinot Noir ($70 USD on website)

More masculine and earthy than it's counterpart above, but don't let that fool you; the beautiful floral aromas are still there, they just take a bit more time to develop. Violets, forest floor and cherries on the nose. So pure and beautiful, the earthiness is there in just the right concentrations. Silky tannins which linger forever on the finish. Would probably improve for a decade. 94.

Seemed almost fitting that we'd start off our Okanagan vacation with two spectacular examples of a grape that we do very well here, even if these specific wines are from elsewhere. Will we get any Pinot Noirs on this trip that can compare with these? We'll see.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Lots of good stuff and OHMYGOODNESS IT'S ALMOST TIME!!

Wednesday we head to the Okanagan for a great week of food and wine. And so, so, so much wine. So much.

So this will be my last blog post for a week and half or so, but I promise my loyal readers that I'll more than make up for it when I get back. We are visiting some wineries that we visited last year, some that we haven't visited for 3 years, and some that we've never visited. Oh, and the Nota Bene Release Party at Black Hills, as well. Can't wait!

The first winery we visit on Wednesday will be Gray Monk - we have lunch reservations there - so it seems fitting that I am currently drinking a 2013 Kerner as I type this entry.

So what are we talking about tonight? A couple nice bottles consumed in the past week or so that I haven't previously reported on. We'll start with a nicely aged beauty.

Le Vieux Pin 2008 Syrah ($50ish)

This came to us in our spring club offering; nice to get something already aged! The nose on this one is incredible! Blackberries, toasty oak, cedar and smoke. The berries come through on the palate, with a little bit of chewy meat and leather. Absolutely beautiful. 93.

Hartford Court 2012 Three Jacks Vineyard Chardonnay ($65.00 USD from winery)

After last week's incredible experience with this winery's other Chardonnay (read about it here if you missed it), we knew that this one was probably going to have a tough act to follow. That turned out to be true, but on it's own merits, it was still lovely.

An expressive nose of nectarine, orange, pears and a hint of butter. Nectarine, apple and a touch of butter on the palate. Finishes smooth and long. 90.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

To paraphrase Ron Swanson, if you don't like Chardonnay, you're wrong.

And if you don't know who Ron Swanson is, you should drink less wine and get out more. Oh hang on, you should NEVER drink less should just drink your wine while binge-watching Parks & Recreation.

A reasonable amount of wine has been consumed this weekend, and I'm going to report on all of it below, but I wanted to start with what I am drinking right now......



Shite.... it's a beauty.

Hartford Court 2012 Seascape Vineyard Chardonnay ($65 USD at winery; not available here as far as I know).

First of all, let's learn a little bit about the vineyard, from the website.

Vineyard Character
Seascape Vineyard is a six-acre site on a scenic ridge-top west of the town of Occidental in the Sonoma Coast AVA. The vineyard abuts an old redwood grove and faces cascading ridges to Bodega Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The well-known Coastlands Vineyard also borders the property. Because there is no ridge between the ocean and the vineyard, Seascape is in extremely cold spot – so cold that Chardonnay is often picked in November. The vineyard is cropped to about two tons per acre to ensure thorough ripening. Although a challenging spot to farm, the reward at Seascape is Chardonnay grapes brimming with personality and a very distinctive terroir.

16 months in 100% French Oak (30% new).

When we stuck our noses into our glasses, we both thought we were in for something special. Tracey and I looked at each other and grinned; but of course, we've all experienced wine that smelled like Heaven and tasted like, well, the other place.

The complexity on the nose is intoxicating. Hints of meyer lemon, hazelnut, honey, tropical fruit, butterscotch and floral aromas. The flavors are just as amazing. A touch of toasty oak, mandarin orange, pineapple, and just the slightest hint of butter. Those among you who just can't handle the big, bold, buttery Chardonnays but also aren't a fan of the over-fruity expressions from France should jump on this. To me, this is the perfect marriage of fruit and oak. The best Chardonnay I have ever tasted, and, in fact, the best white wine I have ever tasted. 97.

Some other good stuff this weekend, including a couple from one of our favorite BC wineries:

Quails' Gate 2013 The Bench Pinot Gris 25th Anniversary Series ($24.99)

The first single-varietal Pinot Gris available from Quails' Gate. Notes of pear on the slightly muted nose. A hint of toast and grapefruit joins the pear on the palate. Not a bad first effort at a very reasonable price. 86.

I'm in 6 wine clubs; and all of them ( I believe) mention that one of the perks of the club is that from "time to time" they will bring a bottle out of their library for the club members. It's a great thing to advertise....but few ever do it. These guys, however, are an exception. I get one or two library wines EVERY shipment; including this one, which we just received earlier this year.

Quails' Gate 2008 Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir ($?)

Plums, cherries, vanilla, earth and cigar box on the nose. There is no hiding the age of this beauty. A touch of tobacco and earth on the palate along with the fruit. Peaking now, I think, and it has peaked very, very well. Just terrific. 92.

So, my recommendations to all of you is to get on your computer and find a way to get some of that Hartford Chardonnay at the top of the post (oh, and join the QG wine club so you might get some of that Pinot!!!).

Happy wine-ing!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A relative newbie in the BC wine race comes to town.....

....a COMPLETE newbie to me, as I'm pretty sure I've never tasted anything from these guys, with the possible exception of their Merlot/Malbec blend that they weren't tasting today. They had just three wines to taste, so let's get right to it.

Moraine 2014 Viognier ($18.99)

Fruity nose of orange blossoms, minerals, apricots and a bit of melon. The melons and apricot are noticeable on the palate as well, with some citrus undertones. Crisp and dry and lovely. 88.

Moraine 2013 Pinot Noir ($24.99)

Floral notes of violets dominate the nose. Some cranberries, blackberries and licorice as well. Balanced acidity and juicy tannins. 89.

Moraine 2013 Malbec ($22.99)

One of my favorite BC Malbecs. Haunting aromas of blackberries, cherries and black currant. The fruit carries through on the palate with just a touch of spice on the long, beautiful finish. At this price point, a real steal. 89.

I got to chatting with Jim, the winery's VP of Sales, and he highly recommended their 2014 Riesling, of which the store had a few bottles in their cooler. In fact he gave me his business card and told me if I didn't like it, he'd make it up to me. We opened it up this afternoon.

Moraine 2014 Riesling ($19.99)

Citrus, pineapple and ginger on the nose. Fruity and delicious, with hints of pineapple that last all day long. Off dry but not really "sweet", somewhat reminiscent of a big bold Kabinett from Germany. We didn't like it, we loved it. We went back today and bought two more. 91.

Definitely a winery to watch, and when we finally get around to touring the Naramata region, we won't miss these guys!!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Good wine. And more good wine. And there may be some wine.

Getting excited for our latest foray into wine tasting in the Okanagan, which comes in less than two weeks; for now, here are some reviews of what has been in our glasses in the recent past. As always, prices listed below are estimates...with the new rules in BC Liquor Stores, I can't keep track.

I was particularly good today, so my reward as I type this is a 9 year aged Riesling from Australia.

D'Arenberg 2006 The Dry Dam ($30 ish)

Strong aromas of tropical fruit, green apple and slate hit the nose. The flavors follow through on the palate and this excellent example of a dry Riesling finishes long and has very well balanced acidity. Drinking beautifully now. 90.

This is apparently the "week of D'Arenberg" as we had two bottles of wine from this top Aussie winery last night.

d'Arenberg - 2013 The Hermit Crab Viognier/Marsanne, previously reviewed here, and

d'Arenberg - 2009 The Galvo Garage (Cab Sauv/Merlot/Petit Verdot/Cab Franc), reviewed here.

And the theme continues, as we opened this one up a couple of weeks ago:

D'Arenberg 2011 The Footbolt Shiraz ($30ish)

Notes of red fruits and lots of pepper on the nose. An earthy touch as well, which gets more prevalent as it opens. Fruity with some spice on the finish. Acidity is balanced and lively. Probably would have improved with some more aging but was very good now as well. 89.

That's just about it for Australia for now, let's come home to some good BC wine, from one of our favorite wineries, Cedarcreek. We are members of their Platinum Club for a reason. Their Estate level wines are very good and very reasonably priced. Their Platinum wines, while not as cheap, are of excellent quality. And their customer service is off the charts. Oh, and they offer free shipping to their wine club members, which is (I believe) unique to them.

Cedarcreek 2012 Chardonnay ($17.49)

 Some notes of pineapple and citrus on the nose. The pineapple disappears on the palate, leaving behind lots of citrus flavors with just the slightest hint of oak. Very good at this price point. 87.

Cedarcreek 2012 Merlot ($18.99)

Plums, anise, and a touch of mint on the nose. The mint comes from the Cabernets that are mixed in: 7% Franc, 2% Sauv. Blackberries and plums on the palate. Lovely, another example of a wine that over delivers for the price. 88.

Cedarcreek 2012 Platinum Reserve Block 5 Chardonnay ($28.99)

Apples and citrus on the nose. Very little oak. Fruity and full on the palate, with a touch of nuttiness. Lovely. 89.

Cedarcreek 2007 Platinum Reserve Malbec ($? story to follow)

So, I've been told that this originally sold at the winery for around $50. About a year ago, I wandered into the "Liquor Depot" in town and noticed that while most of their wine was crap (Hochtaler, Yellow Tail and Apothic front and centre), they had a couple of interesting aged bottles. One of them was the 2009 Quails' Gate Chardonnay which I bought about a billion of, and have reviewed previously. The other one was this one....which they were selling for $89.99. A bit rich for my blood given that I had no reason to think I'd like it, not being a big Malbec fan. But I was intrigued......

.....Intrigued enough to keep checking it out every time I was in the store. And my intrigue turned to excitement when, about a month ago, they dropped the price to $34.99!! CHA-CHING. I immediately bought a bottle, and Emailed the winery to get some details on it, since it wasn't even listed on their website.

The first Email I got back from their concierge was something along the lines of " OH MY GOD WHERE DID YOU FIND THAT? GO BUY IT ALL! BUY IT ALL!".

I'm paraphrasing, but only a bit. She was pretty excited to hear there was any of this left, as it had been long sold out at the winery. They only make a Platinum Malbec in very special years; in fact, only in 2007 and 2009 to this point, and their winemaker, Darryl Brooker, told me that although they were both good, the 2007 was the best of the two and was drinking  perfectly now. Well, OK then, we cracked it open and it was quite spectacular.

Aromas of lavender, spice and violets greet your nose, followed by black cherry, dark chocolate and a touch of spice. The finish is long, and long, and long, and it's still going. My favorite Malbec from any country, by a country mile. We went back and bought the last two bottles and I am just about to start enjoying one right now. 93.

Cedarcreek 2012 Block 4 Pinot Noir ($41.99)

If you have never read my story on our evening at Cedarcreek in late 2013, including tasting the two different Pinots from the same year, same winery, but 100 yards apart, go here to read it first.

The 2012 version, we assume, will be the same. We haven't tried the Block 2 one as of yet, but we opened up the Block 4 earlier this week and it was what we expected, similar to the 2011 vintage: masculine, earthy, and lovely, but honestly we probably cracked it a bit early. This one needs more time in the bottle to fully develop and round itself out. For now, 88. I expect I'll re-review this one next year, and beyond, as we have a few more of them aging.

Cedarcreek 2014 Pinot Noir Rosé ($18.99)

Jam one strawberry up each nostril, and you'll understand this wine. It's freaking lovely. Some cherries come to join the party on your palate. I don't like rosé. Really, I don't. OK I do now. 89.

Now let's cross the bridge into West Kelowna to another one of our very favorite BC wineries:

Quails' Gate 2010 Merlot ($19.99)

Roses, blackberry and blueberry on the nose. The fruit shines through on the palate, joined by a touch of spice and smoke. Can be enjoyed on it's own but definitely improves with food; try it with a big juicy steak. 88.

Quails' Gate 2012 The Boswell Syrah ($?)

One of the special wines produced for the winery's 25th Anniversary Series. Blackberries dominate the nose, with a hint of coffee and spice. Just a touch of cigar box on the finish. Nice, but we opened this one too early; I am looking forward to trying it again at a later date. 88

Not yet sick of wineries who's wine clubs we belong to? Good, because here is another. This one is consistently producing wines of high quality, probably under-priced by about $5/bottle. Just don't tell them that.

Tinhorn Creek 2010 Oldfield Series Pinot Noir ($29.99)

2010 was a "lousy" year for BC wines, but notsomuch for Pinot Noir, which thrives in cooler climates. Expect some plums, currants and cherries on the nose. Just a hint of sage joins in. A bit of toasty oak on the otherwise fruity palate, with just a bit of earth. 88.

Tinhorn Creek 2008 Oldfield Series Syrah ($34.99)

Beautiful nose of black fruits and spice. Fruit and spice dominate the palate and this one finishes long and lovely. 90.

Enough of BC for now, let's check out an old favorite from Germany:

St. Urbans HOF - 2010 Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett Reisling ($34.99)

In the "old days" we loved sweeter Rieslings; since our tastes have changed and we have begun to appreciate much drier Rieslings, would we still love this one? Oh yes. Oh yes.

Lots of honey, pineapple and tropical fruit on the nose and palate. Almost "sweet", but in a lovely way. Diesel aromas just starting to develop. It's just so good on it's own and would pair beautifully with any Asian dishes or spice. 93.

Oh, and before we go, let's head to Argentina for a moment. We were invited to a cabin last weekend where one of the other guests brought us this little beauty:

Bodega Norton 2012 Privada ($18.99 I believe)

A blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lots of ripe fruits, plums and mint on the nose with a touch of smoke. A hint of coffee mixes with the fruit on the palate. The Merlot adds some smoothness. A real nice example of an Argentinian blend that won't break your budget. 88.

There we have it, for the first time since, well, just about forever, I am almost caught up. That will change in about two weeks when we hit the Okanagan and have about a billion more wines to report on. And it will change again in early July when we are going to tour some of the Fraser Valley wineries. So much little time. Oh well!

Thanks for reading!