The Festival Approaches…The Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival 2011

Earlier this week, we had a chance to have a little preview of this year’s Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. This year’s feature region is Spain and the varietal theme is fortified wine. It looks to be a great event again this year.

The gathering at the Shore Club restaurant gave us an opportunity to sample a few of the wines and get a “sneak peek” of some of the key events being held throughout the festival.

The great thing about Spain being the star of this year’s festival is the breadth of choice we will be able to enjoy. From the crisp minerality of Albariño, the delicious value bubbles of Cava, let alone white Rioja, the offerings in white are really exciting. In terms of the reds, full fruity Garnacha, deep, bold Priorat and rich complex Riojas are just a few of the sips bound to test and tempt the palate.

The great thing about this year is that the choices with Spain go one step further. As mentioned, the feature theme is fortified wine, and there stands to be an amazing array of choices. If you’ve never tried the broad ranges of Sherries or Ports, this is your chance. Many will challenge your tastes and are an experience not to be missed. We had the opportunity to sample some Solera and Fino sherry, along with some tawny and late bottle vintage port that were perfect on a chilly evening.

Tickets go on sale on Tuesday and needless to say, many of the events will sell out quickly. Based in Vancouver’s Convention Centre, the Festival runs from March 28th through April 3 in various venues around town. Check out the Events page on the Festival’s web site for the where and whens.

One of the many highlights include the Vega Sicilia vertical tasting which may venture back 50 vintages. Their 2004 Bodegas Alion was one of the superb sips of our evening, look out for them in the tasting room too!

In addition, many of the winemakers’ events or seminars are very reasonable and give a great chance to learn from the experts in a smaller scale. There are where you can learn more about bubbly, a region of interest, pairings and of course, fortified wine! I always enjoy these guided tastings as they can lend so much insight into wines and their stories. As part of your festival experience this year, check one out!

We hope to see you there. Cheers!

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Summerhill Winery Cipes Pinot Noir Rose NV and 2007 Robert Bateman Organic ‘Get To Know’ Merlot

Summerhill Winery Cipes Pinot Noir Rose NV

It’s that time of year – when you may be looking to have  glass of celebratory bubbly, but don’t want to break your newly minted 2011 budget. Well, there are a number of decent sparkling wines out there in the under-$30 range that can fit the bill. If you’re a fan of rosé wines, this one may just be the ticket.

Summerhill Winery, near Kelowna, crafts this wine from certified organic 100% Pinot Noir grapes. In the glass, this has a nice salmon-rosé colour, with a nose of light strawberry and citrus. A sip has a mouthful of fine bubbles and light berry fruit with a crisp citrus/green apple edge to the finish.

Hmmm, it’s quite nice. What we have here is actually a pretty solid sparkler for the money. It has more depth to its flavours than some of the cheaper Cavas from Spain or Proseccos from Italy – as well it should, as it costs ~ $10 more.

$29.95 and according to the winery, it’s available at private BC wine stores and restaurants, Alberta wine stores and restaurants, and Saskatchewan and Manitoba in limited quantities.

3 1/2 stars

2007 Robert Bateman Organic ‘Get To Know’ Merlot

OK, so here it goes. I’m a bit torn on how I feel about this wine. To be honest, I expected to not like it… and at first I didn’t. It’s a bit too full and round for me. It feels like the wine has been tampered with to achieve a too-full level of ripeness and booze (it clocks in at 15%) – but if the winery is to be believed, it was made with, “Minimal intervention winemaking…”.

If that’s true, then this is a decent BC Merlot, made with 100% organic grapes grown in Kaleden, which is south of Penticton in BC’s Okanagan valley. The nose is full of blackberry, currant and vanilla. The flavours are a robust and full mix of what the nose hinted at.

I’m guessing there are plenty of folks out there who would really like this. For me, it’s a bit too far on the ripe side. It needs a bit more complexity to keep my mouth interested. Having said that, it is a full-bodied red with ripe fruit and some nice tannins on the finish that would allow it to pair quite nicely with some hard cheeses or a good steak.

$29.95 and it’s available at private BC wine stores and restaurants, Alberta wine stores and restaurants, and Saskatchewan and Manitoba in limited quantities.

3 stars

Note: $1 donation with the sale of each of these for every bottle sold supports ‘Get to Know your Wild Neighbours’ non‐profit organization. I received both these bottles as samples.

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2005 Dominio DosTares Cumal

Every time I’ve drunk a wine lately, I feel a bit guilty that I haven’t been posting. I originally started this site as my online wine journal and now it’s time for to get back to that – it doesn’t always have to be an article-like write-up; I just have to get them done. I’ve got a HUGE backlog, so I’ll try to get some of them online in the next while.

This bottle is as good a place to start as any. I’m sitting here sipping and it’s pinging parts of my taste buds that haven’t been tickled in a while. It’s 100% Prieto Picudo from vines of more than 90 years of age and is from Spain’s Castilla y León region. You’d have to be forgiven for not knowing that grape. Heck, I didn’t but wow it’s tasty.

The wine is a deep, slightly opaque red, with a brilliant ruby edge. It’s big. More so than what I’m used to seeing when I think of wine from this area of Spain (near Bierzo). When I stuff my nose into the glass, I smell a seductive mix of aromas – dark plum, black currants and berries, black pepper, tobacco and some felt tip marker. A juicy sip loads my mouth with a beautiful mix of that ripe fruit and it finishes with a firm dose of tannin.

This is my kind of wine. It’s funky, interesting and most of all, tasty. In a word, it’s delicious.

$50 at Marquis Wine Cellars here in Vancouver.

4    1/2 stars

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Loma Larga Vineyards and Viña El Principal – Two to watch from Taste Chile!

As I mentioned in the previous post, I really enjoyed exploring the wines of Chile a couple of weeks ago.  I ended up tasting at a couple of tables that I had never had before, but ended up being the highlights of the tasting for me, thus warranting a separate post.

The two wineries are Loma Larga Vineyards, and Viña El Principal.  Decidedly different from each other, I eagerly anticipate their arrivals in our local market.

Loma Larga Vineyards

Loma Larga Vineyards is located in the Casablanca Valley and has been producing a variety of wines for the last ten years or so.  I had a chance to sample through all their offerings with their winemaker, Cedric Nicolle and found each the wines to be unique from almost all the others in the room.

Chardonnay 2009, Casablanca Valley – made with no malolactic fermentation, and spending 9-10 months on 30% new oak, there’s beautiful apple and pear with some nice herb hints.  Delicious!

Lomas Del Valle Chardonnay 2009 Casablanca Valley – Chablis style, very clean with great mineral and tight citrus.

Merlot 2008, Casablanca Valley – Beautiful green leaf and dark berry on the nose with full raspberry on the palate.  This will make a merlot lover out of me.

Cabernet Franc 2007, Casablanca Valley – This was my favorite of the line up, a unique wine, full of fresh cracked pepper and nice currants. You definitely get a sense of a Loire influence on this wine.  Mmm…

These wines will all apparently be $17-28 when they hit the shelf; in my mind this equals fantastic value for unique wines.

El Principal

El Principal is a partnership between the owner of Hacienda El Principal and the owner of Chateau Pavie in St. Emillion.  The wines are being grown at elevation in the Maipo Valley at the foot of the Andes Mountains.  The focus is on only three wines based on Cabernet and Carménère.

Calicanto 2008 Maipo Valley – A blend of 63% Cab and 37% Carménère, spice draws you in from the first sniff.  Beautiful mint and pepper followed by plum and currants.  Great value – $20

Memorias 2007 – 80% Cab and 20% Carm, this one have much more of a vegetal and peppery nose that is followed up by a whack of juicy cassis and some nice oak through the finish.  My fave of the three – $38

– Cab is upped to 83% on this one and 18 months on new oak pumps up a lovely earthy, toasty nose with exceptionally elegant dark plum and cherry with almost a floral hint.  Maybe this one is my favorite?  $70.

Both of these wineries were true highlights where lovely wine was shared by folks who are clearly committed to showing the diversity of terroir and varietals in Chile.  Look for these wines!

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Taste Chile 2010, Vancouver

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the “Taste Chile” event held at the former Storyeum in Gastown.  The tasting gave me a chance to re-connect with the wines of Chile, as I have somewhat neglected these choices lately in favour of the Old World wines my palate has come to crave.

The afternoon began with a sit-down tutorial of 13 wines of biodynamic and organic origin.  The discussion began with a rather lengthy overview of the process of biodynamics, perhaps a little more detailed than was necessary given the short time frame and solid knowledge base of those in attendance.

The first two wines sparked quite a debate over whether or not organic means better wine.  This waged on for quite a period of time, and while interesting, did move the focus away from the actual tasting tutorial.  That said, the topic is of great interest.  Many of the wines do not state that they are in fact organic and biodynamic anywhere on their labels.  It appears they want the wines to speak louder than the process.

Interesting…   The discussion then moved to “does the fact that it is organic mean that it is better wine?”  At this point I reflected back to the words of Alan Meadows who asserts that “organic and biodynamic ultimately mean greater attention to detail.”  From there, questions about sustainability after production with regard to packaging and shipping were addressed, but it was a little hard to hear, as the room had no PA.

These are all very interesting topics surrounding the ethics of wine.  The conclusions I drew from this were that Chile has quite an opportunity in its grasp.   The fact that the world particularly our local community has amorous pursuit of all things organic (a good thing for sure, provided our eyes are wide open), and the market is such that many of these wines are truly exceptional values for under $20.

Given the extended discussion, the actual guided part of tasting the remaining 11 wines was packed into the last 20 or so minutes.  At this point, most in the room had self-guided through what proved to be some really interesting choices.  A few of my favorites included:

Emiliana Vineyards Adobe Chardonnay 2010 – Really crisp and clean with nice mineral citrus and grassy.  For $16 this is a really nice wine for a seafood dinner.

Nativa Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 – Great spice on the nose, loads of mint, and almost cumin hints.  Really dark cherry and currant through to a nice balanced finish.

Vina San Pedro Tarapaca Tarapaca Plus 2008 – Again, this has a really nice spice mix on the nose with pine, rosemary and tobacco with a hint of orange peel after a swirl.  Just a few sniffs of this one sold me, and for $20 I’ll be on the lookout for this one.

The tasting room itself had a fantastic layout, but as with the Playhouse festival last year, the low lighting was a challenge in approaching the wines.  The wineries ringed the room, with a few specialty stations in the center.

Highlights for me included:

Whites

Chardonnay dominated my white tasting, and I really enjoyed the mix of unoaked, Chablis styles and the more toasty rich ones.  Some highlights included:

  • Amanya Chardonnay, 2008 Ledya Valley
  • Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay, 2009 Aconcagua Valley
  • Montes Alpha Chardonnay, 2008 Colchagua Valley

Reds

The reds were a great mix of Cabs, Carménère and tasty blends.  Standouts for me included:

  • Errazuriz Don Maximiano 2006, Aconcagua Valley
  • De Martino Single Vineyard “El Leon” Carignan 2007 Maule Valley
  • Vina Santa Alicia Millantu Premium Red Wine 2006 Maipo Valley
  • Viu Manent Malbec Single Vineyard San Carlos 2008 Colchagua Valley

The whole tasting was a great way to revisit some tasty value wines that are paying close attention to the land from which they grown.  Thanks to CCLTD for a really enjoyable event.

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2006 Buty Winery Columbia Rediviva, Phinny Hill Vineyard Horse Heaven Hills

This summer, while Graham and I were at the 2010 version of the Wine Bloggers’ Conference, we spent some time hanging out with John Clerides, the owner of Vancouver’s killer wine shop, Marquis Wine Cellars. One of the days, John grabbed us and said something along the lines of, “Do you guys want to taste something great? Come with me.” We headed out to Walla Walla’s airport wine area and made our way into Buty Winery’s tasting room. Thanks, John!

He had been there the day before and wanted us to taste the wines that had grabbed his attention. So we did… and really liked them all. I grabbed a bottle (or 3) of each, so I’ll review them as I pop ’em open. This is the first of the reds that I’ve opened and, wow… it’s even better than I had remembered.

The nose has vanilla-tinged ripe dark red cherry/berry fruit with a floral cracked pepper edge. The flavours? Wow…. so much going on. The ripe cherry and blackberry fruit have a distinct bit of floral violet with a bit of coffee and black pepper in there too. The finish goes on and on – and on… leaving flavours of the fruit and pepper. The tannins are firm but soft; the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove.

Overall, the wine is very balanced and pretty exceptional. It can easily be stuck in your cellar (or closet) for the next 5 years and would only be better for it.

$48 USD at the winery.

4    1/2 stars

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Wine Event – Port and Chocolate

Liberty Wine Merchants is pleased to present their 19th annual Port and Chocolate tasting event at the Vancouver Rowing Club.  The evening will explore new and classic pairings, featuring a wide range of ports with decadent chocolates from local vendors.  Don’t pass on this perfect excuse to indulge!

How much?: $29.99/person. Tickets on sale now at all Liberty Wine Merchants stores.

When and where?: September 30th from 7:30 – 9:30pm at the Vancouver Rowing Club, Stanley Park (directions & map).

It should be fun. I’ll see you there.

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2008 Joseph Drouhin Mâcon-Villages

This is a crisp glassful of flinty and lemony goodness. We had it last night with fresh BC Sockeye salmon and it was a delicious pairing. The citrus of the wine really hit it off with the fish.

The nose is like freshly squeezed lemon drizzled on a freshly cracked rock. A sip gives flavors of slight tropical fruit along with the tart lemon flavor that leads out to a crisp and flinty finish that goes on for a minute.

It may not be the most complex wine, but on a warm night with some grilled salmon, it was really nice.

$25 at Kitsilano Wine Cellars here in Vancouver.

3 1/2 stars

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“Perfect Pairings” Event at Township 7 Vineyards

Recently we attended “Perfect Pairings,” an evening of food and wine at Township 7’s Langley location that certainly highlighted the food and wine world of the valley is heading in the right direction.

A Fraser Valley resident by choice, I often look on with envy at the opportunities for food and wine available on a daily basis in the city. Someone calls and says “we’re driving through, where is a good place to eat?” Um…

Events like this affirm that there are great choices available out here; they just require a little rooting around. After a trip to the ever-expanding Langley Farmer’s Market, we made our way to the tables set up in the vineyard at Township.

While the grapes (save for the sparkling) are not grown on this property, I find a sense of the local community present in the wines. Perhaps because I watched the vineyard start, now in its tenth year of operation.

To start our evening, we were given the 2008 Rose and asked by winemaker Brad Cooper to connect the aroma of the wine with a scent from childhood Connecting the wine to our personal experience, Brad created a comfortable environment for all levels of wine lovers. Honest, open and willing to share his passion, everyone left feeling good about BC wine.

Back to the rose, it had a nice strawberry, citrus mix with a vegetal undertone (Allison from Okanagan Taste said “strawberry rhubarb pie”) that matched really well with the pulled-pork slider provided by Angie Quaale from Well Seasoned. The pairing initially surprised me, but the sweet – savory balance was great.

From there we were treated to a number of decadent snacks with really well paired wine choices. We appreciated how Brad encouraged us to try the other wines with the various food items to find our own match.

The highlight for me was the “7 Blanc,” Township’s 50/50 blend of Gewürztraminer and Pinot Blanc. The nice blend of tropical fruit was killer with the amazing prawn atop a kiwi-cilantro-lime salsa. For $19, this is an ideal summer sip. I made sure to take a couple bottles home.

My wife loved the 2006 Syrah with both the incredible baked beans (best I’ve ever had) and Township’s house dark chocolate with peppercorns. She felt the smoky dark fruit of the wine. We also were given a barrel sample of the ’08 syrah, which I am definitely looking forward to.

The evening closed with a taste of Brad’s own 2008 Black Cloud Pinot Noir. My first sips were really tasty and I look forward to sitting down with a bottle (and a glass!) to fully explore it. From here we pried ourselves away from the truffle butter popcorn and closed a lovely evening.

Thanks to Brad Cooper and Township 7, and also Well-Seasoned, and 1Fish 2Fish (who provided my favorite – the prawns) – local Langley folks who deserve regular visits.

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2009 Road 13 Winery + Vineyard Honest John’s White, Okanagan Valley

It’s been so long between posts… Well, it’s not like I haven’t been drinking wine. It’s just that I’ve just been too busy to sit down and write about them. Hi there. I received this wine as a sample this week, so that’s enough to prompt me back into the blog. Off we go.

Road 13 Winery + Vineyard – this winery dates back to 1998, when it was originally Golden Mile Cellars. I was a closet fan of their wines for years and after the name change and re-focusing on varietals, I’ve been curious to see how things would shape up.

Owners Mick & Pam Luckhurst took over the winery in 2003. Knowing that the “Golden Mile Bench” could be soon BC’s newest viticultural area, they wisely changed the name of the winery a *couple of years ago (*I could be a little off here, but visited them back in 2008 just before the change). According to the winery, the name Road 13 was chosen because, “Road 13 is the location of our winery and two of our vineyard sites: the Home and the Castle.

The blend is, as they say on the label, “Riesling heavy, which is always a good thing…“, and it is. I see this as a patio aperitif sipper that would also pair really well with salads and Asian foods.

What’s it like? Well, a big sniff gives up a floral (that’s the Gewurztraminer peeking through), tangerine citrus and ripe peach nose (from the botrytis-affected Riesling grapes). A sip shows the ripe peach/tangerine thing going on as well as some honeysuckle and mineral. There’s a bracing acidity on the finish that shows the promise of a food-friendly wine.

It’s good. Heck, for the money ($16.99 CDN), it’s really nice. I’ll be pointing folks to it when they ask for something local, good and patio-friendly over the next month or so (hopefully) of our sunny season.

$16.99 winery direct, BCLDB, VQA stores and select private retail and restaurant accounts in BC and Alberta.

3 1/2 stars

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