Sunday, November 5, 2017

Wine for Drinking, Wine for Food - A Bordeaux from Paulliac

One thing that has really been made apparent to me since I have taken my WSET and since I have been sampling wines a bit more critically. Some wines are meant to be drunk all on their own, and some wines cry out for food.

A simplistic view of this - but one that is not completely out of line - is that Old World wines - say, from France, Italy, etc. - are meant to be drunk with food and so they have a taste that's fine on its own but they really need, for example, shellfish or coq au vin, or a big, juicy steak. A Chablis from France (which is a Chardonnay) has a certain flavour - an almost steely taste - that perfectly compliments a plate of scallops or some grilled shrimp. It just tastes a whole lot better with food and doesn't really sing on its own.

A lot of New World wines, on the other hand, are made for sipping before dinner or, maybe, with an appetizer. A bold Napa Valley Cab Sauv or a tasty Cab Franc from the Okanagan is great on its own at a party. Yes, these wines pair well with different foods but you don't really need the food to taste their character.  It's a different drinking experience.

I really noticed this when I first tried a Chablis just before taking my WSET course (link is here). The taste of that wine was definitely good but soared when I had it with the garlic shrimp I had prepared.

Last night, both kids were home (a rather unusual experience) so I threw on some tasty top sirloin steaks on the BBQ and decanted some wine.

During the summer, I spent a few days in Birch Bay in the US and was fortunate enough to stop at the American Costco where wine is bountiful (as opposed to Canada where wine is tightly controlled). I picked up a few bottles including a Nebbiolo that I drank last month and a Bordeaux,  last night's beverage.

The wine was a 2014 Chateau d"Armailhac Grand Cru Classé from Paulliac. Incidentally, Paulliac, the village which the area takes its name from, is actually a small port with about 5000 people on the left bank of the Gironde. This is the first Grand Cru that I have ever bought but it will definitely not be my last! It cost me around $40 - $45 US at Costco but is listed at $72 CDN in Canada according to Vivino.

I decanted this wine for an hour before, knowing that I should have probably waited a few more years, rather than a few months, before drinking this wine. However, I wanted to try it and the occasion seemed right.

The colour was deep and clear and was ruby. The nose was complex  and, because we were eating dinner, I didn't take the time to pick out all of the different characteristics although I did smell some wonderful black fruits. I poured wine for the table and then tasted. This wine has some solid structure. It had black fruits on the palate as well as a richness that was lovely. However, it had fairly strong tannins and I worried that they would overwhelm the rest of the wine.

Then I had some rare steak. And drank another sip.

It was an amazing transformation. The tannins disappeared due to the salt and fat in the steak and the wine took on a taste that was almost ethereal. This is a wine made for food. Steak definitely fit the bill but I think that other rich dishes like roast beef, duck and game would also be magnificent with this wine. This wine also had a wonderful, long finish.

The wine was a mix of Cab Sauv (50%), Merlot (36%), Cab Franc (12%) and Petit Verdot (2%).

I probably seemed a little strange, taking a piece of steak, eating it, then sipping the wine, and repeat. But this was truly fantastic! The experience alone would have me rate this wine as Exceptional. Now, where can I find another bottle?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Chianti Classico Cries out for Pasta!

Since things have settled down in my life (i.e., my daughter has had her wedding), it's time to get back to looking at wine!

Today, I discovered a store that has been on my radar for the last little while - Everything Wine.

In the past, when I've seen their ads, it has seemed that most of the product is pretty inexpensive and, I assumed, a lot of cheap-o jug wine. Granted, there were a few wines that were a little more expensive but I had, in my mind, decided that this was a No Frills version of a liquor store.

Then I cam across an ad yesterday in the newspaper where Everything Wine advertised their latest Bordeaux wines. I was intrigued.

After my wife and I stopped off at Bosa Foods for some pasta and a new, fancy decanter, we made our way to Everything Wine in North Vancouver. I entered the door and was very impressed! They have a large assortment of wines ranging from the cheap jug wines all the way to fancy vintage wines.  I did manage to pick up a couple of bottles of Bordeaux wines but will blog about those later.
Previously, while at Bosa, we bought some fresh pasta and needed something to go with it. I found, in the rather large Italian section of Everything Wine, a Cafaggio 2013 Single Estate Chianti Classico for a mere $26. Single estate means that the wine was made with grapes from only the winery and  bottled on the estate. Chianti wines, by the way, are made in the Chianti region with Sangiovese grapes. Chianti Classico wines are from a smaller region within Chianti where the wines are usually better quality then regular Chianti wines.

Back at home, I poured the wine into the decanter. We had bought the decanter at Bosa and it was a Trudeau Ova Carafe - very nice design and a good price - $29. After about 5 minutes, I decided that we needed to at least have a taste so I poured a couple of small glasses.

The colour was ruby and clear. There was red fruit on the nose including cherry and raspberry. When I tasted it, there were some tannins as well as black currant, cassis and definitely some cherries. Unfortunately, it tasted a bit thin - almost a bit watery - which was initially a disappointment.
Then, I remembered - in places like France and Italy, you are meant to drink the wine with food. Maybe some food would help this wine? I had a couple of olives (our fancy appetizer) and took a sip. What a difference! The wine complimented the olives perfectly.

After another half hour, we tried the pasta (mushroom ravioli with a tomato, basil and pancetta sauce) and, again, the wine was a glorious pairing with the food! The thinness or wateriness was now a refreshing accompaniment to the pasta and the light tannins paired well with the tomatoes in the sauce.

The decanter made a difference, too. It tasted even better after a half hour!

After trying the pasta with food, I would rate it like this:
Balance - it was actually beautifully balanced when served with food
Length - it was a tasty wine but the taste did not linger very long
Intensity - not that intense
Complexity - there were some great flavours and, the way it meshed with the food, was definitely complex.
Expressive - I think this is how Chianti Classico is meant to be drunk - with a tasty bowl of pasta!

Overall, a good to very good wine - Cin Cin!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Oh, oh, oh! Sweet Wine O' Mine!

Last weekend, on Sunday, the whole family was home for dinner - and that doesn't happen all too often with one kid in Vancouver and one in Kelowna. It was a great excuse to pick up some nice rib eye steaks, lots of mushrooms, a few cobs of fresh corn while the season is waning, and some wine to make the meal just a little bit special.

After pouring over the collection of wine that I had in the 'ready to drink now' rack, I decided to try the Barolo I had purchased at Costco in the US a month ago.

Barolo is an Italian wine with a bit of a reputation. It is a grape that I have heard referred to as the Cabernet Sauvignon of Italy - rich, structured and up to a thick, rare steak. It is also famous for tasting of 'tar and roses' (not Guns and Roses) and I was intrigued by the idea of trying this wine. I had only tried a Nebbiolo grape once, and that was during my first class of my WSET course.

The wine I had bought was a 2011 Fontana Fredda Serralunga D'Alba Barolo which cost around $30 US at Costco but is listed in Vivino at $50. I did find a 2012 on the BC Liquor web site for $45. The wine is from Alba in the Piedmont area of Italy and is made from Nebbiolo grapes.

I didn't know what to expect - although, maybe I did. I think I expected this wine to be a lot like a Cabernet Sauvignon. But it was not!

My first hint that this was not what I had thought was right away when I decanted the wine. The colour was not dark and deep but, instead, was more ruby and light - very much like a Pinot Noir or a Grenache. This continued to be noticeable after I had poured the wine into glasses and examined the colour in the wine glass.

On the nose, there was cherry, black currant, and, yes, roses! It was quite odd to smell roses in a wine! The aroma had a medium intensity.

Finally, on the palate, I tasted the same red and black fruits with the addition of raspberries and black plums  as well as some leather. And then, there it was, tar! That tar combined with the darker fruit gave this wine quite a bit of a punch - something that I didn't taste at first but by the third sip, I was impressed with the impact of the wine.

The Barolo looks like it's kind of thin and has a rose scent to it so I really was fooled into thinking that it was going to be a disappointment. After tasting it, I started to  adjust my opinion. When I had a chuck of steak with the Barolo, I realized that this was a great pairing. The tannins weren't all that strong but the flavours in the wine really complemented the flavours in the steak.

Overall, I would say that it was balanced, had a medium finish, was OK in intensity, had a complex taste and was expressive for a Barolo - as I said, the Nebbiolo grape, which Barolo is made from, is famous for its 'tar and roses' taste and I clearly tasted it. This wine would be rated as Very Good.

Finally, would I buy it again?

I would definitely drink it again, especially if given a bottle, but dropping $50 at the liquor store would be a little more difficult. Maybe next time I'm in Costco in the US, I'll pick one up - or maybe I need to travel to Piedmont area in Northwest Italy and go to Alba and then buy some!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Pass the Appassimento - Pentage Makes Me Lucky!

Sometimes, I'm just lucky.

Earlier this summer, I bought John Schreiner's excellent book, Okanagan Wine Tour Guide (here's a link to his blog). Each page features a different winery in the Okanagan and gives a bit of the low down of the winery, what kinds of wine they produce, and his picks for wines to buy. It's the 5th edition published in 2014 so it's a little out of date (it was in the bargain section of my favourite Kelowna book store) but it gives a lot of great information on the different wineries. I throw it in the car whenever we go up to the Okanagan and refer to it when we talk about visiting different wineries.

One of the wineries that I have visited in the past is the Pentage Winery in Penticton.  A relative of mine helps out with the books at that winery so, when we visit her, we sometimes are fortunate enough to  try one of Pentage's tasty wines. While I was visiting with said relative, I read in John's book that Pentage made a 2011 Cabernet Franc Appassimento wine.

Don't worry, I'm still getting to why I'm lucky.

The appassimento style wine that most people have heard of is Amarome wine from the Veneto region (around Venice) of Italy. Basically, they pick the (mostly Corvina) grapes and leave them on straw mats to dry - usually around 120 days - and then they shrivel up (which is what appassimento translates to). Then the raisin-y grapes are pressed and left to ferment for up to 50 days. It's a bit tricky but if successful, there should be a wonderful wine that is a little sweet and has about 15% or more of alcohol with low acid that has had some aging in barriques.

After reading about Pentage appassimento style wine, I mentioned to my relative that I was curious if they still made that particular wine. I wondered - next time she was at the winery, maybe she could investigate that for me?

Well, she did - and the owner gave her a bottle of appassimento wine. And here comes the lucky part - she gave it to me!

After a lovely family dinner last night, we had mini cheesecake tarts from Hansel and Gretel bakery - just a short walk from where we live. I thought, what would go better with this then that appassimento I had just acquired?

This wine comes in a half bottle and is a 2013 Pentage Cabernet Reserve Appassimento ($35). The back of the bottle had some information but the best was on their website. This is what they had to say about the wine:

The purpose of partially drying the grapes is to concentrate sugars, and thus increase the alcohol and/or residual sugar – as well as to develop more complex aromas and flavors.
Ripe plum, raisin and vanilla dominate this intense nose with subtle herbal notes linger in the background.  The palate is rich and viscous, flavors of sweet dried plum and raisins mingle on the palate with a long fruit finish.  Would pair perfectly with dark chocolate dessert or well aged cheese.

By the way, according to John's book, Pentage dries their grapes for 58 days - at least that's what they did for the 2011 vintage.

It happened to go pretty well with cheesecake, as well!

The colour was a deep ruby and was clear. No little bits in this wine. I definitely smelled the plum and raisin - and a bit of vanilla. There also seemed to be a bit of cherry pie on the nose as well.

On the palate, there was lovely sweetness - not overly so but definitely there. The cherry pie still was evident for me as well as plum jam, raisins, fig and a touch of black currant. There was a richness that was amazing with this wine. There was low acidity, low tannins, and a medium to long finish. I am a big lover of Cabernet Franc wines and this was a great expression of that grape.

Thinking back to my WSET course, the wine was balanced, had a medium plus finish, had intense flavours, was complex and, I believe, was expressive for an appassimento style of wine. Overall, I would rate it as Outstanding - something that doesn't happen all that often!

See how lucky I was?

I haven't had a lot of appassimento styled wines such as Amarone because they are rather pricey. However, after having this tasty wine, I am going to have to investigate drinking appassimento wines a bit more regularly.

Oh, what a lucky man, I am!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hosting a Wine Tasting Party - How It Went!

Everything was almost ready - the pulled pork smelled heavenly, the cheeses were all laid out, water on the table, wine tasting mats all ready. I just needed to put the tasting glasses out that I had bought at IKEA. OK - ten guests means 2 glasses each so 20 glasses....

Oh no, I only have ten! Ugh....

Luckily, I had bought some other glasses that I was going to use for after the tasting but they would have to be tasting glasses as well!

The guests arrived, bringing the required bottle of wine as well as a tasty cheese and some crackers. Luckily, all arrived around 6pm and I had them drop off their cheese and wine at the kitchen counter and have a seat at the table where everything was set up.

I explained the tasting mat and what we could do to help us compare the wines. Above all, I cautioned, this is about friends getting together and having fun - and that is exactly what happened!

I had purchased wine pourers from the local liquor store - and these helped a lot. They slowed down the rate of wine coming out of the bottle and looked very professional as well! I bought two different colours so it was easy to differentiate who was pouring which wine. All wines were placed in paper bags with a label of what kind of wine it was. Due to the rather warm day (26°C.) the Sauvignon Blancs were refrigerated until needed, the Pinots were refrigerated for 20 minutes before serving, and the Shiraz wines were refrigerated for just 7 minutes.

The first two wines were Sauvignon Blancs. I didn't know if there were any big drinkers of SB but I thought that this would be a good one to start off with.

The first was an 2016 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($20)  from New Zealand. It tasted crisp and had nice fruit flavours with some complexity. It was medium in intensity and our group rated it between Good and Very Good. One of our number, Anna, said that she thought is was a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand - Oyster Bay! Truly amazing! Apparently that is one of her 'go to' wines but, still!

The second of the pair was a 2016 Les Fumées Blanches ($15)  from France. It is a Vin de France so is classified as table wine. This Sauvignon Blanc had a low intensity nose and lacked much of the fruit and flavours of the Oyster Bay. There was a subtle minerality underlying this wine but the overall taste was just not that great. Combined with a short finish, it was a bit of a disappointment.

Of our group of ten, nine were in agreement that the Oyster Bay was the better Sauvignon Blanc due to its nose, taste, balance and complexity.

The second two wines were both Pinot Noirs, one Old World,, and one New World.

The first was a local wine from the Okanagan - a 2016 See Ya Later Ranch Pinot Noir ($20). It had some very nice red fruit both on the nose and on the palate. It had a good long finish and was fairly complex. This was a very enjoyable Pinot Noir and was rated Very Good.

The second was a 2014 Joseph Drouhin Pinot Noir from Burgundy ($26). I had bought this one and I thought that it would be a great choice. As it turned out, it was Ok but the flavours seemed a bit too subtle and a bit overwhelmed with the acidity of the wine. There was almost an astringent taste on the finish which was really noticeable to most of us. The harsh finish and lack of real character put this one between adequate and good - it wasn't balanced, nor complex, nor had a good finish. The aroma was a bit intense and the wine was somewhat expressive of Pinot Nor.

Overall, it was another no brainer - nine of ten agreed that the Okanagan Pinot Noir was much better due to its taste, complexity, finish, and balance.

Our final two wines were Shiraz/Syrah. I had intentionally gone from less bold wines to more bold wines so I felt that the Shiraz/Syrah would be a nice way to finish off.

The first was a 2011 Domaine des Lises (no website found - owned by Maxim Graillot)  Crozes-Hermitage ($34) that I also had bought. I had purchased a Crozes-Hermitage last month (surprisingly, an Ogier Heritage Crozes-Hermitage - might have been a 2012) and it was super disappointing - flabby, watery and characterless. I was worried about shelling out $34 for what could be another stinker but thought I'd give it a try.

This was a whole different animal. It had great structure, complex taste of black cherries, black berries and tobacco. The only thing that really stopped it from being an outstanding wine was the fact that it smelled like canned peas! Yes, that's right - canned peas! Once you got through that initial aroma, however, it was an amazing wine. Actually, it was a little short on the finish as well. Still, a Very Good wine.

The second Shiraz was a 2015 Shingleback Red Knot from the McLaren Vale of Australia ($20). This started out very promising with a great bouquet but lost that boldness on the palate where it was rather average. It had some structure but not a lot of complexity of flavours. For all that I've heard of Australian Shiraz's, this one was not overly impressive. It did have a nice, deep, dark purple colour, though. This was rated as a Good wine.

Finally, in the third round, France came up with a victory. This was a bold drinking wine that would do justice to barbecued meats and even a nice, juicy steak.

After our tasting, I set up the bottles with the remaining wine ( about half in each) and we had a variety of cheeses while we chatted, discussed the wines, laughed, and generally had a great time. Another hour later, we brought out the pulled pork and cole slaw and our guests tucked into this offering. Finally, another hour later, out came the peach crisp, coffee, tea and some nice port.

It was past eleven when the last wave of guests left. I high-fived my wife after such a good evening and we went to bed, content in our first-time hosting of a wine tasting party.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hosting a Wine Tasting - How to Prepare

When I was camping with a few friends earlier this summer, as we drank our wine in the evening after some light hiking, we talked about the possibility of getting together every so often to taste wine. We did this at the camp each night we were there and it was a lot of fun. We also learned about wine and came up with some common ground in terms of smells and tastes.

Shortly after the trip was over I invited my friends and their wives for a tasting evening - and that is happening tonight.

There will be five couples in all so this is how I organized it:

First pair of wines will be Sauvignon Blanc - I asked one couple to bring one from the New World and one from the Old World.
Next pair of wines will be Pinot Noir - I asked one couple to bring one from the New World and I will supply one from the Old World.
Finally, -we are going to do Syrah/Shiraz -  I asked one couple to bring one from the Australia and I will supply one from the Old World.

Yes, I have to supply two bottles but I figured that's the host's responsibility with an odd number of people.

I asked that people spend between $20 and $30 so we will be hopefully getting a decent representation. If a person were to do this themselves, they could pick anything - it doesn't have to be the same varietal in each pair or they could do six different Pinot Noir wines in one night. Since this is the first time I have hosted, I thought doing three different wines would make it a little more interesting.

Next thing I did was to make up a wine mat. I went online and took some information from a couple of different mats and then added my own. Here's what I had:

  • two circles for the wine glasses (I bought the small ones from IKEA - 6 for $5) so that everyone had two glasses and could compare. The IKEA ones are fairly small and super cheap so if you break them, it's not the end of the world.
  • a box with columns for the number of the wine and rows for appearance, nose, palate and finish. I didn't want to make this overly complicated - in fact, I will suggest that people just put a high, medium or low rating - if they rate each wine at all. Perhaps people can just check the box after we talk about each row.aromas to draw from - although I'm not sure about gooseberry
  • overall rating - BLICE - this is the overall rating that we used in WSET 2 to decide if a wine was outstanding (all 5 rated high), very good (3 or 4 rated high), good (2 rated high), adequate (1 rated high) or poor (none rated high). 
Well, you might thing, that's all well and good, but what does BLICE stand for?

  • Balance - are the flavours balanced? Is the acidity balanced with some sweetness? Is the alcohol the right strength? Is it overly oaked? 
  • Length - is the finish long enough? Can you still taste the wine after 30 seconds? a minute? The taste of the wine should be pleasant.
  • Intensity - is the aroma strong? Does the taste really impact your mouth?
  • Complexity - are there several flavours/aromas in the wine? If it just tastes of strawberries or oak, it is probably not very complex.
  • Expressiveness - from what you know about this type of wine, does it taste similar to them.

I set up the wine mats, and then put the two IKEA glasses down, a water glass, a Solo cup for a spit cup, some crackers and a jug of water.

When guests arrive, I will take their wine and put each bottle in a paper bag that I procured from the BC Liquor store. Hopefully, I will remember to label each bag as well. The plan is to go over what is on the wine tasting mat, then pour two of the Sauvignon Blanc (the first wine) and discuss. Then repeat. And again!  I bought wine pourers from the liquor store so I will have to see if that makes a difference.

I plan to do all six wines at the beginning of the evening. If I make fairly small pours, hopefully there will be enough for people to be able to get another glass of their favourites.

After we taste all of the wines (and people are encouraged to spit, if need be) we will serve a number of cheeses, meats and pulled pork sandwiches as well. This is meant to be an informal night so we wanted to serve food that will be easy to prepare and that people can dig into while they drink their wine.  We also bought some regular sized universal wine glasses (from Costco - and they were not all that expensive) for guests to use as they sip and nosh.

We do have a couple other bottles of wine on hand as we really don't know how this will go. And you certainly don't want to run out of wine!

I''m pretty excited about this evening - I think it will be a lot of fun and I hope that we will all learn something!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Trip to Birch Bay - Awesome Wine in the USA

I recently spent a few days just south of the border, in Birch Bay, Washington.

There was sun, fun and family but there was also wine.

It's no secret that wine prices in Canada are much higher than the US. There are also some amazing wines available in the US that I don't even know if BC carries in our own liquor stores.

The first place we went to was Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's is famous (or infamous) for its 'Two Buck Chuck' which is Charles Shaw wine. This comes in a variety of styles and prices. I bought a bottle of something for about $3 a few years ago and, even without any wine experience and several years of making my own wine in the basement, 'Two Buck Chuck' was truly a hideous wine that was not worth drinking. It has truly turned me off the entire Charles Shaw line.

However, during this trip, I looked around at some of the other wines and there was a wine that intrigued me. I have just started listening to a podcast called, "Wine for Normal People" which has good information although the host of the program is a bit annoying because she often interrupts the guests that she has on the show. "Let them speak!" he complained, derisively. As I said, though, the podcast has good information and one of the episodes I listened to was on rosé. The host, Elizabeth Schneider, did a great job discussing rosé in general and one style that she really liked was a French rosé from Tavel - an appellation that only makes rosé.
Well, in Trader Joe's, there was a Tavel rosé that cost under $20 so I thought I'd give it a try. My apologies for the photo, but it was a Réserve de Chastelles 2016 Tavel Rosé.

This Tavel had some nice red fruit taste and was very interesting. The colour was not your pale, pinkish rosé colour that is so common - it was definitely reddish pink and actually looked quite appetizing! At first on the palate, it tasted a bit sweet - but then the acidity hit my palate and - wow! It balanced beautifully with the sweetness to make a very delicious, crisp rosé. It is a blend of Grenache and Syrah grapes. We enjoyed it very much and had some nice cheese and charcuterie to accompany the wine. I will definitely try a Tavel Rosé again.

After Trader Joe's we headed to that wonderful giant of warehouse shopping, Costco. I picked up two wines for our trip at this mega store.

The first was a Vouvray which is made from Chenin Blanc. It was a Domaine le Peu de la Moriette which cost around $20 US. This Vouvray had apple and honey on the nose and more so on the pallet with nice fruit forward flavours. It also had a touch of a bready taste due to the wine lying sur lees (basically absorbing the taste of the dead yeast cells). The finish was medium. Overall, it was a very crisp chenin blanc which was enjoyable to drink. It  accompanied our barbecued chicken very well and would also be good to sip on the patio.
The final wine cost close to $25 US at Costco. I really enjoy a good Pinot Noir but have had my share of these wines that have not been that great - thin or watery or just lacking in character or structure. In my WSET studies,  I learned about Oregon's Willamette Valley and how their wines are giving Burgundy wines tough competition, and for a better price. This gave me the perfect opportunity try one so I bought a 2013 Lange Pinot Noir from the Williamette Valley in Oregon.

This was an amazing wine - it was definitely up with some of the better Pinot Noir wines that I have tasted. It was rich and tasted of red fruit. There were many different tastes including red cherry, blackberry, leather and tobacco. There was also a vanilla taste and an earthiness that you don't always get with Pinot Noir. There were light to medium tannins but the wine was structured enough to easily pair with a grilled rib eye steak. It had a medium finish, was complex, expressive of the varietal, balanced and intense. I would rate it very good or excellent. I will have to try this one again. Unfortunately, I couldn't find this one on the BC Liquor Board website so I may have to bop down to the US Costco on a regular basis!

Finally, in amongst all of the liquor at Costco (that makes this Canadian drool terribly), there is a locked case with some of the higher priced alcohol items. I had just finished the section on Bordeaux in Karen McNeil's wonderful resource, The Wine Bible. Near the end of the chapter, she suggested several wines as stand outs for Bordeaux including two that were at Costco. I didn't buy them, but I thought I'd briefly comment on them and maybe, just maybe, I will find a reason to spend over $100 US on a fine vintage....

The first was  2014 Chateau Leoville Las Cases Grand Vin de Leoville du Marquis de Las Cases from St. Julien in Medoc. It was priced at $125 US and could be found on anywhere between $75 to over $200 - and lists it at $150. More tellingly, the older vintages are well into the $400 or $500 range - a 2005 will set you back $900!
The second was a 2014 Cos D'Estournel from Saint-Estéphe for $115. A bottle, online, ranged from $70 to close to $200 and the vintages available at the BC Liquor store ranged from 2004 ($290) to 2009 ( $800) to 2010 ($600) and 2011 and 2012 ($270).  Maybe buying this and hanging on would have been a good idea?

Despite what you may think about warehouse stores like Costco, it seems that, along with the $6 bottles of Yellowtail, there are some very nice wines to be had. I've purchased a couple more that were in the $30 to $40US range and look forward to blogging about them at a later date.

Hope you enjoyed this look at US warehouse wines - salut!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Camp Wine - Tasting in a Tent

Pyramid Lake, Jasper National Park
Oh, how times have changed.

It didn't seem that long ago when having a drink while camping meant cracking open a six pack or passing around a flask of 'camp scotch'.

It seems that my friends and I have all become a bit more refined - or at least we think we are. During my last camping trip to Jasper National Park in Alberta with my three friends, we drank mostly wine, especially when the day's activities were done and we were sitting around in the mosquito tent, relaxing.

I, admittedly, contributed to the wine focus by bringing along wine tasting info based on the WSET 2 tasting sheet I used for my course. Just Google "WSET tasting sheet" to find out what we used to taste the wines. The tasting sheet is extremely useful because it gives everyone the same vocabulary when you taste something in a wine. Sure, there really isn't apple or peach in a glass of white wine, but there are flavours and aromas that are similar to apple or peach and that's what you are trying to figure out.

One member of our group brought 3 bottles of Pinot Gris. I really enjoy a good bottle of Pinot Gris, especially when it is crisp, fresh, and fruity, and has those apple, pear and/or peach flavours along with a bit of honey. On a recent trip back east, I made the mistake of ordering a glass of Pinot Grigio (my wife didn't feel like wine for this meal). Pinot Grigio is the same grape as Pinot Gris but it is much more neutral in style. The wine I had was flat and watery and tasted nothing like the wonderful Pinot Gris's that I have had, such as Fort Beren's Pinot Gris.

All of the Pinot Gris's that we had at camp were good - the had some complexity, were balanced and expressive as a Pinot Gris. What made a difference, though, was the next day.
As we were trying both a red and a white each night, we didn't finish the Pinot Gris that we had opened each night and put it in the cooler (on ice) until the next day. Out of the three Pinot Gris's that we tasted, only the Pfaff Pinot Gris from Alsace still tasted good the next day. The other two completely lost their fruitiness and we were left with a harshness and acidity that was not balanced. They went from good wines to almost unacceptable.
I was especially disappointed with the Summerhill Organic Pinot Gris as I am usually quite impressed by their wines. However, this one was just ok when fresh and was actually unacceptable after a day on ice. But the Pfaff, I would definitely buy again!

Our go to place in Jasper was the Jasper Wine Cellar. The owner and other employees that we met were great to talk to and they did suggest some good wines - and we did some selections are our own.
 I was excited to see a Pinotage from South Africa in the Jasper store. The only straight up Pinotage that you can buy in BC from South Africa is The Grinder (which I thoroughly enjoyed) but I wanted to try another example. This did not disappoint. The Niel Joubert 2014 Pinotage had the same hints of coffee but not quite so strong. Pinotage is such a full bodied, flavourful wine and I was so pleased to have another really good one. This one was less in your face which made it a bit more pleasant to drink.
The one selection that was the worst, for a number of reasons, was the Chateau Meric Bordeaux. I was truly excited about this wine (~$25) as it was from the Graves region and I had had a nice Chateau Callac a few weeks ago, also from Graves - so imagine my disappointment when we opened this bottle and tasted a wine that was watery! The aroma had been a bit promising with dark fruits and tobacco on the nose but when tasting the wine, the fruit taste disappeared and the wine just seemed to taste like water and tannins. It was a huge disappointment. I'm not sure if there was a fault or if it was a bad year but all four of us were unimpressed by the wine.
Happily, on our next trip to the Jasper Wine Cellar, the woman suggested a different wine - just $15  - but also a Bordeaux. The 2015 Chateau de Courteillac actually had the type of wine (Merlot-Cab Sauv) on the label, which is kind of unusual. However, the wine tasted very nice - plummy with red and black fruits and a nice tobacco hint with medium tannins. It was sooo much better than the Chateau Meric!
Probably the best selection was the Layer Cake Zinfandel. No, this isn't your grandma's White Zinfandel, that hideous, candy-like embarrassment to rosé. This Zinfandel is deep red, rich, full bodied and tastes wonderful. Fun fact -  in Italy, it is usually referred to as Primitive, not Zinfandel. There were medium tannins and just the right amount of acidity as we tasted berries, black cherries, and pepper. It was a bold wine and I will definitely buy this one again. I would rate it as a very good wine.

Despite the fact that we were drinking out of lucite glasses, we enjoyed tasting - and drinking - this wide variety of wines of the week that we were camping. It really added to the experience to swish and swirl the wines (not a lot of spitting with this group) and being thoughtful tasters made this a very rewarding experience. I am much more likely to remember the wines that were great and the wines that were awful after tasting - dare I say - mindfully. It also adds to the overall enjoyment of drinking wine. Finally, it sure makes camping a lot of fun!

Monday, August 14, 2017


Recently, I had the very fortunate opportunity to go to Checkmate Winery in the Okanagan. Situated in Oliver, it is a very small winery owned by Mission Hill. The word on the street is that Anthony Von Mandl, owner of Mission Hill, wanted to further the already very good reputation of Okanagan wines with a passion project.

I was very fortunate to be able to be part of a private tasting and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The winery is small at this point. There is a tasting area, shop floor and aging cellar - none of them that big but all having state of the art technology. There is also a pop up tasting room under construction that hadn't opened yet but had almost all of the necessary parts including wine fridge, counter, etc. as well as fantastic views. If not open yet. it should be open soon.

For our tasting, the woman from Checkmate set up a tasting mat with a variety of different wine glasses on the corresponding spot with the wine's name.

She then proceeded to pour - and rather generous pours.

The first type of white was Chardonnay. All of the wines have a chess themed name. They were similar in taste but also different. I didn't take tasting notes but the wines were all very nice. I particularly like the Queen Taken Chardonnay - it had some nice peach and even pineapple tastes to it and had a super long finish. However, at $125 a bottle, I resisted purchasing the bottle.

As a special bonus, the woman brought out a bottle of Bear Move. This wine was not actually ready to sell yet - close but not close enough - but she was happy to let us taste it. It was wine that was left outside in a vat to ferment and age (I believe) and a bear managed to wander over to the container it was contained in. Apparently, the bear knocked off the top of the container and was scared away by the strong gases (CoO2?) releasing out of the container. The staff then found bear paw prints and nose prints on the container the next day and thus became Bear Move. It was a very interesting Chardonnay - and had an almost wild taste to it! It's hard to explain in terms of taste but I have never had a Chardonnay quite like it! Unfortunately, I haven't seen it on sale but have my fingers crossed that it will be available before the summer

The other type of wine that the winery does is Merlot It was amazing that one winery can make so many different types of Merlot that taste similar but different. All of these were $65 so after tasting them all, I chose a 2013 End Game that I promptly stuffed in the cellar when I returned home. This had a hint of vanilla, some nice plum and currant tastes, and a wonderful long finish.

I would have liked to have one of each of the Chardonnays and the Merlots and then do some tasting with friends at home, but the budget just wasn't there. I would strongly suggest taking advantage of the tasting room when it opens. This is a different kind of winery and well worth a visit.

If only that bear wine would hurry up and be available...

Friday, August 4, 2017

Bottle of white, bottle of red - wine to accompany a nice steak

Fresh off the heady results of my WSET 2 Exam, I thought it was time to start blogging about wine again. I've got to keep those tasting skills up, after all.

I had selected a nice rib eye steak to barbecue for last night's dinner. I turned on the barbecue, and took a look at what we had to drink. Luckily there were a couple of happy choices waiting for us, both from the Okanagan.

In the fridge was the last bit of a great white wine we had opened the previous night so I poured a couple of small glasses of Tinhorn Creek's 2015 2Bench White.

I bought this wine as part of their Canada 150 special - 3 bottles of 2Bench Red and 3 Bottles o 2Bench White for around $150 which was a great deal.

The 2Bench White was still delicious even after being opened the night before. There were aromas and tastes of peach, pear and an amazing apple taste with this wine. The flavours were all quite strong and were balanced with a hint of sweetness that was like honey. The wine was very crisp and refreshing. At $30 a bottle, it's not a cheap wine but definitely a pleasing wine.

We slowly nursed our small drink until the steak was ready. While it sat on the counter, resting, I opened a bottle of The Hatch's Hobo Series 2015 Cabernet Franc.

This was another amazing choice - there were strong flavours of black currant, dark plums, cranberries and medium minus tannins as well as definite tastes of tobacco, leather and a bit of smoke. But the real magic happened when I had the steak with the wine. These two were made for each other! This Cab Franc was definitely up to the challenge of the a big, bold steak.

I am so impressed with Cabernet Franc - something that the Okanagan does extremely well - as it can be a great wine to drink on its own and a wonderful wine to pair with BBQ meats like steak, lamb and game.

If only I had a glass of port to finish off!

Monday, July 31, 2017

WSET Level 2 Exam - The Results Are In!

It's been a while.....

School had to end, then we were off on a trip to Eastern Canada for a couple of weeks

Then a fishing trip and a couple trips to Kelowna.

Of course, during all that time, I drank wine. Not only did I drink wine, but, thanks to the WSET course, I really tasted what I was drinking.

There was Pinot Noir from Ontario, Port flights at the Chateau Laurier, Prosecco for Canada Day and magnums of really nice Italian wine at my daughter's engagement party. And I took the time to try to really taste what I was drinking.

I have recorded some information on some of the wines that I tasted - I certainly recorded a star rating at minimum in the Vivino app and will blog about some of these at a later date - but today was a special day.

I received a call that Canada Post was at the door of my building with a package. I rushed down to the front door, wondering what it was. There, in the postie's hand, was a large, flat envelope. It was from Fine Vintage, the place where I took my WSET course. It was my exam results.

After thanking the man, I rushed back upstairs and showed my wife the unopened envelope. Although I've given my share of tests and exams as a teacher, it is rather rare for me to write them and, as I showed my wife the envelope, she commented that my hands were shaking. I guess I was a little excited!

When you write the WSET 2 exam, there are four possible outcomes - Fail (below 55%), Pass (55% - 69%), Merit (70%-84%), and Distinction (85% and above).

I was confident that I passed the test. I studied pretty hard and knew my information well.

I thought that I had a pretty good chance of passing with Merit. There were some tricky questions but I really thought them through.

I thought there was a slim chance that I passed with Distinction. There are only 50 questions so if you have 8 wrong, you've missed Distinction and I already knew of one question where I was wrong.

I carefully opened the envelope and slid out the paper.

I passed with Distinction with a mark of 96%!

I let out such a yelp! It was beyond my expectations!

Now, time to crack open a nice wine and really really taste it!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Blueberry Bliss!!! An amazing martini!


As summer approaches, sometimes there is room for a beverage that isn't wine. Like a frosty beer or a chilled drink.

My wife and I have been working on this one the past few summers and I think we have it down now.

This is a martini drink so dust off those martini glasses, grab your shaker, and prepare this wonderful drink.

In a shaker combine:
- half a shaker of ice
- 3 ounces of blueberry vodka - we use Stolichnaya
- 1 ounce of Triple Sec - the one in the rectangular bottle is preferred
- top up with Blueberry Pomegranate juice (the Pom stuff is all we drink)

Shake it for a while - try to make it to a minute (anticipation makes this length of time difficult).

Pour shaken drink into 2 martini glasses and enjoy.

This also can make a nice cocktail drink by adding this to an old fashioned glass or a tall glass and adding ice. It lasts longer, isn't quite as strong, but is a bit less - impressive!

Now, where did my shaker go?

Yes, that's my authentic Starfleet Academy shaker...