Thursday, August 31, 2017

Okanagan Wine Trip, Part 1, our first ever visit to Ciao Bella!!

So, SO much to report on from last weekend's Okanagan trip. The main event of the trip was the 2nd Annual Quails' Gate Barrel Party.....but lots more great stuff to tell you about, including our first visit to 8-9 wineries.

Just to shake it up a bit, I'm going to present the reviews to you in no particular order. In fact, this review is actually from the LAST winery we visited this trip.

On your way out of Kelowna, if you follow the signs, you can find yourself in a quaint little tasting room (in the kitchen of a remodeled basement suite, in fact) called Ciao Bella Winery. They used to sell their grapes to Arrowleaf, but at some point decided to make it a go on their own. This is the definition of a family-run winery.

The Fiume family - Roberto and Sharon, with children Antonio and Olivia. And dog.

Prices do not include tax.

Ciao Bella 2016 Pinot Grigio ($18.95)

Arresting notes of red apple, citrus and green apple on the nose and palate, followed by a touch of apricot on the finish. Crisp and refreshing. 88.

Ciao Bella 2015 Pinot Noir Rosé ($19.95)

A nose of watermelon, strawberry and rhubarb. The palate mirrors the nose, with a hint of raspberry thrown in for good measure. Perfectly pleasant and if you are a bigger fan of watermelon than I am, you will enjoy. 87.

Ciao Bella 2015 Pinot Nero (Noir) ($24.95)

Pleasant aromas of black cherry, blackberry and mocha. The palate is complex, with blackberry flavors dominating notes of vanilla, smoke and dark chocolate. Very terroir-driven, as this is only one of two Pinots we sampled this trip that features dark chocolate flavors. The other one was their next-door neighbor. 88.

Their only other offering was a 2014 Pinot Nero, which was named Best Pinot Noir at the Spring Wine Festival. We didn't get to taste it, but picked up a bottle anyway and I'll let you know how we liked it once we have opened it.

Sharon couldn't have been friendlier, and the wines show tremendous promise. Drop by if you are in the neighborhood!

Up next: we'll go down the road to their closest neighbor, Kalala!


Ciao Bella 2014 Pinot Nero ($29.95)

Drinking this as we speak, paired with a beautiful piece of Halibut with a lemon agrodolce sauce. You think a red wine can't pair with white fish or lemon? Think again.

Wild strawberry aromas jump from the glass (and the bottle as it's being poured). Give it a second and it gets more earthy and herbaceous. Flavors of strawberry, raspberry, cranberry and a hint of smoke. The dark chocolate that was so incredibly prevalent in the above was almost non-existent here. 89.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Time to give Trump DAS BOOT....but until then, let's talk about German wine....

...and given the current political climate in the country directly south of us, I'm going to refrain from making the obligatory jokes about Germany and their past history of being......say......not so nice.....

But they are nice now. Who would have ever thought we would live to see the day that the Chancellor of Germany would be the de facto "Leader of the free world"?? Hitler just rolled over in his grave.

And I mean ACTUAL Hitler, not the buffoon currently occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Our most recent "theme" night, as our dear friends hosted a simply fabulous night of German food and wine. Now, I'm fairly familiar with German wine, but when I think "Germany", well, great food doesn't necessarily jump to mind. That was about to change.

Prices listed below are estimates.

Erster Kurs (first course)

The wine beer: German wheat beer

Not a beer guy at all, but this was pretty damn good and it went beautifully with the pretzels, which were the best I've ever had. By a mile. Even though I knew there was a lot of food coming, I had to have a couple of these. Incredible.

For fun, we opened up this adorable little bottle:

Moselland Black Cat 2015 Riesling, Qualitatswein Rhein ($11ish)

Sure, it's a gimmicky bottle, but the wine was  tasty. Not particularly sophisticated, but perfectly flavorful. Green apple, pear and minerality abound. 86.

Zweiter Kurs

The wine:

Domdechant Werner'sches Weingut 2009 Hochheimer Holle Riesling Kabinett ($25ish)

Nice pairing with this delicious dip. Lots of petrol aromas developing as this bottle nears a decade. Fruity and well-balanced acidity, flavors of pineapple and a hint of spice at the end. 88.

Dritter Kurs

The wine:

Reichsrat Von Buhl 2014 Rose Spatburgunder ($20ish)

This didn't pair well with the food, but it's not the food's just wasn't very good. None of the diners enjoyed this bottle. 77.

The dumplings were terrific, wine notwithstanding.

Vierten Kurs

The wine:

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt 2014 Riesling Spatlese ($40ish)

So this is kinda what I think of when I think of German food: big hunks of meat, boiled, which takes a lot of the colour out of them, so they all end up looking a bit grey. That was sort of the case here too...but then I tasted them!! Oh my. I can't remember how many kinds of meat there were (I lost count), but they were all terrific and the ham might have been the best I've ever had. If not, definitely in the top 3. So delicious.

This wine featured intense aromas of white flowers and citrus, particularly lime. 42g of residual sugar but it doesn't come across as sweet at all. 8.5% alcohol, so it goes down reallllly easy. 89.

Fünfter Kurs

Cheese plate4 types of cheese, candied pecans, black berries, rye crisps

The wine:

Dr. Loosen Erdener Pralate 2007 Riesling Auslese ($50ish)

Petrol is there but not as prevalent as you might think for a decade old. Aromas of honey, ripe tropical fruit, grapefruit and orange peel. Honeysuckle, pineapple and pear on the palate. Very nice. 90.

Sechster Kurs

The wine:

Selbach-Oster 2003 Riesling Auslese ($80ish for 375ml)

Intense tropical fruit and floral aromas. Stone fruit and pineapple flavors, very ripe and fruit forward. Paired perfectly with dessert, and would probably also pair well with a spicy dish. 91.

Another fun and delicious theme night! Riesling is king in Germany, no doubt about that.

Next up for the wine blog, will be another Okanagan trip report, as we head to Kelowna/Lake County/Penticton next weekend for a few days of random wine tastings and one of our favorite events of the year, the Quails' Gate Barrel Club party at their lake house. Can't wait!

Next theme night comes up in a few weeks, when it's our turn again to do the entertaining. It's going to be a big one (not that they aren't all big), as we are tackling the United States of America. You know, the country going to Hell in a handbasket right now.

Hopefully they don't get us all nuked before then.

Until then...

Auf Wiedersehen!!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Huge catch up entry, finally!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It's been so long since I did one of these random catch-up entries, but I figure I better get one done before my notes get eaten.

No, that's not a typo. We don't have livestock or anything, but we do have one of these.

That is a Sidra. She's real, and she's spectacular. And she loves to eat paper.

So, I better get to it while I can still read (most of) my notes.

Shafer Vineyards 2011 Merlot ($80.99)

Aromas of chocolate, oak, smoke, cassis, blueberry, vanilla and sage. Juicy palate features blackberry, chocolate, forest floor and cedar. Medium finish. Nice effort in what was a pretty poor year in Napa. 92.

Black Hills 2012 Addendum ($55.00)

So, Black Hills decided to do a test run by putting their 2012 Nota Bene back into the bottles for an extra 6 months to see how it worked. The result was this beauty. Aromas of blackberry, blueberry and a touch of smoke. Juicy blackberry flavors, with a touch of vanilla and black tea. Finishes very long. 93.

Turnbull 2014 Bonne Vivant Winemaker's Blend ($75.00 USD)

Blackberry, blueberry, eucalyptus, red fruit and a touch of spice on the nose. Complex palate of black cherry, dark chocolate, toasty oak, smoke, and juicy blueberry notes come up at the end as it opens. Lovely. 93.

Cedarcreek 2016 Platinum Block 1 Pinot Noir Rosé ($24.99)

Strawberry, cranberry, watermelon, a touch of pink grapefruit and some vegetative notes on the nose. Is that a soupcon of asparagus, perhaps? Strawberry, a touch of watermelon and herbs de Provence on the palate. This is juicy and delicious and a top-notch Rosé. 92.

The Hatch 2016 Lifecycle of a Hobo Muller-Thurgau ($25.99)

This hybrid is enjoying a renaissance due to the crazies at the Hatch. Aromas of red apple, papaya, guava and lemon. Citrus flavors dominate. Intriguing. 88.

The Hatch 2016 Gobsmacked Sweet P ($17.99)

Blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Auxerrois.

Light aromas of tropical fruit, pineapple and white flowers. Flavors of guava, banana, honeysuckle and red apple. Balanced acidity. 88.

Tinhorn Creek 2013 Oldfield Series Kerner Icewine ($57.99)

Aromas of lemon, white flowers, honey and apricot. Pear, citrus rind, honey and pineapple on the palate. 89.

Paul Hobbs 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($75.00)

Tropical fruit and buttery citrus abound on the nose. Butterscotch, hazelnut, pineapple and ripe apple on the palate. Finishes long. 93.

Chateau Montelena 2013 Chardonnay ($75.00)

The wine that won the Judgement in Paris in 1973, aromas of butterscotch, citrus, hazelnut, sweet oak and ripe apples. The flavors are similar to the nose, with a long finish, and vibrant acidity. 93.

Quilceda Creek 2013 CVR ($39.00 USD from winery)

This is a blend of declassified lots that don't make it into their flagship wines, and the quality of this wine is a good indication of just how good their flagship wines will be. Aromas of dark chocolate, black plum, licorice and graphite. Rounded texture, ripe tannins, juicy flavors of rich cherry and a long finish. 92.

Black Hills 2015 Roussanne ($24.99)

Light aromas of pear and melon. Creamy mouthfeel, white flowers, toasted coconut, apple and almond flavors. Delicious first effort. 89.

Ego Bodegas 2014 Goru ($21.95)

Blend of Monastrell, Syrah and Petit Verdot

Aromas of violets, blueberry, leather and sweet cedar. Herbaceous notes on the palate, with blackberry flavors and a juicy mid-palate. Short finish. 88.

Turnbull 2012 Oakville Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($85.00)

Beautiful aromas of eucalyptus, coffee, mushroom, tobacco leaf and black fruit. Beautiful, complex flavors of dark chocolate, leather, cigar box and red cherry. Really special. 94.

d'Arenberg 2009 The Laughing Magpie Shiraz/Viognier ($41.99)

92% Shiraz, 8% Viognier

Mushroom, black fruit, forest floor and tobacco on the nose. Black cherry, leather, tobacco and mushroom on the palate. Juicy and lovely finish. 92.

Culmina 2015 Decora ($24.95)

Aromas of papaya, honeysuckle, wet slate. A touch of minerality on the palate is framed by papaya, orchard fruit. Still young and will age gracefully. 89-91.

Church & State 2014 Coyote Bowl Chardonnay ($34.99)

Pretty nose of buttered toast, hazelnut and white flowers. Intense flavors of toasty oak, caramel and hazelnut. Lovely. 91.

Cedarcreek 2014 Amphora Project Meritage ($45.00)

Graphite, forest floor, red berries and wild mushroom on the nose. Black fruit and mushroom on the palate. Finishes short, and lacks some power and finesse. 86.

OK that will do it for now! Some great stuff. Next up: Germany night!

BIG HUNKS OF MEAT, and an epic vertical of Syrah, and some spectacular other stuff.....

Last night was "Big Hunks of Meat" night at our house, just an excuse to get together with friends and finally devour the Le Vieux Pin vertical we had been planning for a while. When we were up at LVP last month, they were selling some older vintages of their spectacular flagship Syrah, so we brought a few home.

Although this night was all about Syrah and red meat, we wanted to start with something lighter and refreshing so with a chicken dish, we opened this one:

Summerhill 2015 Ehrenfelser ($21.28)

Apricot is the real star on the nose, but if you pay attention you'll also get some cantaloupe and orange blossom. Off-dry and delicious, flavors of orange, honeysuckle, stone fruit and pineapple. The best one ever. 89.

At this point, it was time to start off the BIG HUNKS OF MEAT, beginning with Prime Rib with a peppercorn crust. And the vertical, each wine had been decanting for a little under 2 hours.

Le Vieux Pin 2008 Equinoxe Syrah ($129.99)

Aromas of pink and white peppercorn, lilacs, game, licorice and a hint of cigar box. This one, the oldest, was the one that was least impressive right out of the gate, but did open up and improve as the evening went on. 90.

Le Vieux Pin 2009 Equinoxe Syrah ($129.99)

A hot hot hot growing season produced a pretty wine, very feminine in it's floral notes but masculine in it's gamey and meaty notes. Red roses and lilacs abound on the nose. Beautiful, long finish which gets just a touch peppery at the end. Fabulous. 94.

Le Vieux Pin 2010 Equinoxe Syrah ($109.99)

From a much cooler vintage, this is the one that popped from the bottle while I was pouring the wines into the decanters. Unmistakable aromas of violets, blackberry, roses and cherry, with pink peppercorn also making an appearance. Beautiful black fruit dominates the juicy and complex palate. Finishes long and luscious. Universally the favorite of the night, and a real treat. 95.

Le Vieux Pin 2011 Equinoxe Syrah ($79.99)

Violets, white pepper, blackberry and a touch of red licorice on the nose. Smooth and silky mouthfeel with flavors that mirror the nose. A fairly uneven, cold growing season has produced a wine that is elegant in it's simplicity, pretty and feminine. 92.

We were well into our "steak" courses at this point, with some Filet Mignon bites alongside a grilled flank steak with chimichurri sauce, and we figured we could handle one more good bottle of Syrah. Holy cow, did we ever find one.

Shafer Vineyards 2013 Relentless Syrah ($99.99 USD)

97% Syrah, 3% Petit Sirah

An intense inky purple colour. The aromas jump from the glass and dance seductively across your olfactory senses. Black fruit and BBQ meat, cedar, licorice, mint, lavendar and sage all take their intoxicating turn. The palate is as complex as I have experienced. Blackberry, boysenberry, mushroom, cinnamon, nutmeg, blueberry, raspberry. Full-bodied and ridiculously decadent, this is a tour-de-force in winemaking and is nearly flawless. Find one (or more) of these. 98.

And if that wasn't enough, we figured we'd crack open our last bottle of my 99-point Velvet Sisters Pinot Noir (review here).

That was a pretty spectacular night of wine, I must say.

Next up: So much more wine to catch up on, and I still have to report on the terrific Germany night we had a few weeks ago. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Vegas and Wine go together like Lamb and Tuna Fish........

.....or Spaghetti and Meatballs, if you are more comfortable with that analogy.

While in Vegas, we bought a few bottles to consume in our resort, had some good wine at restaurants, and had the opportunity to attend a wine tasting at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant. Review of each are below.

All the prices are in USD, of course.

From our first dinner of the trip, at Mon Ami Gabi:

Domanie Roger & Christophe Moreux 2012 Sancerre "Les Monts Damnés" ($85 at restaurant)

100% Sauvignon Blanc

Aromatic nose of citrus, straw, and orchard fruit. Flavors of pineapple and minerality join in. Given that this is probably $30ish in a retail store, it's a real nice value. 91.

From our Duckhorn tasting at the Eiffel Tower restaurant:

Duckhorn Vineyards 2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($30 from winery)

Aromas of lychee, grass and nectarine jump from the glass. Bright and intense citrus fruit overwhelms the palate. Vibrant acidity and silky texture. For such a young wine, this is really delicious. 90.

Interesting to compare the same grape from two very different wine regions. Of course, the Sancerre had an extra 4 years of aging, so it's not a totally fair comparison.

Goldeneye 2014 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($56 from winery)

 Effortlessly combines bright red fruit with dark and brooding earth. Blackberry, cranberry, cherry and strawberry all mingle on the nose and palate. Long finish and showing great potential for development. Will improve with more aging. 90-92.

Duckhorn Vineyards 2013 Napa Valley Merlot (sold out at winery; $46.99 at

Intense aromas of ripe cherry, graphite, violets, orange peel, cedar and cigar box. Raspberry, plum, graphite and baking spices on the palate. Finish is not particularly long, which is the only drawback to an otherwise excellent Merlot. 91.

Duckhorn Vineyards 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($75 from winery)

Aromas of red and black fruit, violet, black licorice, graphite and mint. Black currant and licorice mingle with red cherry flavors. Well structured and build to improve with age, but very approachable now. Finishes long. 92-94.

From random drink-in-the-room stuff:

Chateau St. Michelle 2015 Columbia Valley Chardonnay ($15.00)

Aromas of baked apple, citrus and nutmeg. Rich mouthfeel with a touch of hazelnut and butterscotch. Unsophisticated but for the price, it's not bad. 86.

Chateau St. Michelle 2015 Riesling ($9.00)

When you spend $9 on a bottle of wine, you are lucky if you get more than turpentine and cat piss. This is much more than that. Red and green apple aromas, citrus and appealing minerality. For the price, you simply cannot do better than this. 88.

Hartford Family Winery 2015 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($25.99 from

This is their generic version that gets sold to retail outlets and restaurants, a far cry from the high quality single-vineyard offerings that we get from this winery regularly. Still, this is always a winner for the price. Aromas of ripe apple and pear, some citrus and butterscotch. Flavors include hazelnut, butterscotch, ginger and apple, with a touch of minerality. 90.

Pine Ridge 2015 Chenin Blanc/Viognier ($15.00)

80% Chenin Blanc, 20% Viognier

A simple, basic, delicious blend that we've been enjoying for years. Peach aromas leap from the glass, followed closely by some meyer lemon. Keep your nose in there and you'll notice a hint of tea, and a touch of orange blossom right at the end. Tangerine and lychee flavors start off, followed by key lime pie and golden delicious apple. Finishes quite lovely. A real bargain. 90.

Gray Monk 2015 Kerner ($16.59 CAD before taxes)

We brought this one down with us, figuring after a long day of traveling we may enjoy a very off-dry white wine to celebrate our first night in Vegas. We were not wrong. Pleasing aromas of lemons, peaches and pears. Light and full of finesse, this is about as good as it gets in terms of a patio-sipper that will pair with a ton of food. If you are eating something that you think will pair with a white wine, you are probably safe to use this one. It's just delicious year after year. 90.

Columbia Crest 2015 Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon ($13.99)

$14, and this isn't their cheapest Cab Sauv. It's one of those wineries that generally gets recognized for good value. For the money, not bad at all. Black cherry and blackberry, vanilla and anise on the nose and palate Tannins are soft and it finishes with cocoa notes. 87.