Archive for January, 2012

January 23, 2012

Is life worth living?

Q: Is life worth living?

A: It depends on the liver.


I read it was Iris Murdoch’s favourite joke.


We are taking a wine-out, some booze-free mid-winter faux-detox time away from the plonk but will be back renewed and more vigorous than ever in February.


January 20, 2012

L’Ecole No 1 Chenin Blanc 2010

I defy someone not to like this wine.  It would be like finding Will Rogers abrasive or Queen Elizabeth vulgar.  Sure, chenin isn’t to everyone’s taste, but neither is tap water: You should still give it a go before you make the decision.  I would also like to line up a panel of experts and blind test them on a selection of Loire whites and have them guess which one is L’Ecole.  This is one wonderful Pacific Northwest white.


Apart from a little too much acid for our liking, and perhaps not being quite as magisterial as, say, a classic Huet Vouvray, this is a delectable white, with depth, character, lovely fruit, and a long finish.  It was super easy to drink, alone or with food, and it lasted no time.


Price: $17 USD in Washington, but I haven’t been able to source it locally (L’Ecole’s reds go for $50+ at private YVR wine stores though).


Market Liquidity: Very classy.

January 19, 2012

Apothic Red, 2009

Problem: You are in a generic government liquor store.  You have $20.  Not $20 and ten cents, to cover the deposit on a $19.99 bottle, but $20, so your ceiling is $19.89, a price that almost no wine is priced at.  You are buying a wine to match a not too spicy pork goulash.  If money was no object you’d pick up a cru Beaujolais or, if money was really no object, you’d pick up one of those pricey Austrian Gruner Vetliner’s.  But price is an object.  Maybe a mild California Zin.  What?  They’re all over 14% alcohol?  How did that happen Robert Parker?  Shurely shome mishtake…  So you settle on an unknown blend that is a pocket-pleasing $16.99.

In the end this red blend (that was apparently Syrah, Merlot and Zin, but tasted pretty Merlot-y to us) was smooth and easy to drink but ridiculously floral.  It really had a boudoir kick.  Yes, it paired well with the Hungarian paprika notes in the goulash but none of us liked it as a sipper.  The aroma reminded me of those rose guest soaps that you’d sometimes see in the bathroom of spinsters, growing up, when they did a fancy touch up for guests.  Still, better than a lot of plonk in that price range and not too high in the alcohol content, which, in California, must be radical in and of itself.  On a budget and for the right meal it’s not a bad choice, just not our first.

Price: $16.99 at BC Liquor.

Market Liquidity: You could do worse.

January 18, 2012

Haras de Pirque Equus Chardonnay, 2008

A very pleasant chardonnay.  Which I write with a touch of condescension.

Imagine a science fair event: Take an inexpensive not-very-palatable chardonnay as a constant.  Let’s arbitrarily call the constant Lynn Deeman.  And let’s say someone was able to chemically alter the constant to make something more palatable.  Something drinkable and very much like a better wine but still not a better wine as such.  Presto: Equus.  (Peter Schaffer’s favourite quaff?)  I would score it high on the skill but low on the presentation: A stinking 14.8 per cent alcohol.  Cripes, whatever happened to 12 per cent white wine?

So, very pleasant, “periodic” moments of OK drinking, but nothing to warrant a letter to Scientific American.

Price: $19.99 at Everything Wine, $18.99 with the case discount

Market Liquidity: One bottle can’t be alkynes to all people…

January 17, 2012

Bodegas Alto Almanzora Este Monastrell Tempranillo Syrah Garnacha, 2009

Este is a bit of an American Idol “out in the Hollywood round” red.  I think I would imagine, back in the day, Paula fawning over it and loving its sincerity, Randy praising its versatility as a blend but not finding it unique or idol-worthy and Simon calling it a pretender, like any old red in any old wine bar.  Sure it hits the notes, but this is no Spanish Tenor.  There is a bit of truth to each and, yes, this is just a table wine, but wouldn’t it be great if all table wines were this good?  Este is like an old dependable friend, and sometimes you don’t need the latest thing, sometimes you hear an old Tom Petty track in a bar or Bobbie Gentry in an elevator and there’s no need to worry about Bordeaux futures.


Hard to find in YVR, but when I do I usually buy it by the six.  It tastes better the next day even if I forget to “suction-cork” it, goes with virtually anything we cook up, and has yet to disappoint.  You can’t go wrong at the price.


Price: $21.99 at Everything Wine, $20.89 with the case discount.


Market Liquidity: It’s a yes.

January 12, 2012

Concannon Conservancy Chardonnay, Livermore Valley, 2009

Restrained.  In every sense.  Sort of like basic black with pearls.

For us, we really liked the refinement to this wine, some oak, some minerality, pure chardonnay.  It does not, however, have heft, or the depth to stand up to anything but “gentle” cuisine: Superlative with poached white fish, bland and non-eventful with an orzo salad dressed with lemon zest, dill and feta.  Kudos to 13.5% alcohol.


(Full disclosure: I bought this, with no prior knowledge of the wine, based on the label, which claimed they financially support efforts to preserve agricultural land from urban sprawl.  So they got my buck based on something I feel worthy rather than knowing anything about the vineyard.)


Price: $17.99 USD (in Washington state); not available in BC


Market Liquidity: A Lovely Sipper.

January 10, 2012

Morandé Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010

93 points from Wine and Spirits.  Huh.  After tasting how much wine?  Slow day on the abacus?


First, sauv blanc is our go-to white and we love it, even (sometimes) cheap crap and even (sometimes) hugely overpriced OK sb (witness the nine pounds sterling for a decent glass at the Covent Garden opera…).  A week does’nt seem to go by without at least a glass, at home or out.  New world, old world, local, international.


The Mornadé is OK, I guess.  Comparable to dozens of other SB’s on the market.  There is nothing terribly unique or memorable; in fact, we found it a touch too acid.  It proved a good foil for Greek fish (baked tilapia with fresh dill, tomato, shallots, feta and lemon) but not a satisfying pre-dinner sipper.


Price: $19.99 from Everything Wine ($18.99 with the case discount)


Market Liquidity: Easy come, easy go.

January 9, 2012

Sandhill Small Lots “One”

Three of us drank this with a prime rib dinner and none of us liked it.  The wine that is; the dinner was superb.  The One we all found it over the top, forceful, trying too hard to be too many things to too few people.  It was as if they had focus-grouped this wine to death, adding all the elements of a Wine Spectator 90 pointer, a Wine Advocate 90 pointer, an Anthony Gismondi 90 pointer, etc., etc., tweaking the blend so many times, so much, as to losing focus altogether.  Oh sure, it was rich, ripe, fruity, oaky, but such a mish mash and so mixed up as to be irritating not harmonious.  Afterwards we opened a bottle of Piper Heidseck and everyone calmed down.  (Which sells in the US, I might add, for just a few bucks more than the One.)

This wine brought to mind the Simpsons O Brother Where Art Thou episode where Homer, upon discovering he has a half-brother who owns a car manufacturing plant, designs a car with “everything.”  It turns out to cost $80k and is a disaster.

As you can see from various previous posts we a) lean toward a good blend, b) love love love the Small Lots Barbera and c) are more than partial to the Small Lots cab sauv syrah.  But our experience with the One will put us off ever trying the Two or Three.  And at $35 we really felt on the hook.

Having said all that, this wine is awash in accolades and respect, so far be it from me to say this won’t impress when you need to be, obviously, trying to impress.

Price: $35 at various outlets.

Market Liquidity: Like a Lamborghini.  Like a Lamborghini Cheetah.

January 5, 2012

From the cellar: Olivier Leflaive Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Clos Saint Marc 2007

At Christmas I was one of the very few Canadians drinking Olivier Leflaive white burgundy.  How do I know?  You can’t get it in Canada.  I felt very, very special.  Hey: I’m now one of the “one per cent”!

We visited Leflaive a year or so ago for an exceptional degustation meal (the food pretty good, the wine over the top) and bought a case of wine which kept us company for our travels through France.  Fortunately, some made it home.  Leflaive would sell to Canada if not for the cumbersome, irritating, bureaucratic and ridiculous systems in place in BC and Ontario.  This wine was good.  Truthfully, it wasn’t the best wine we tasted (and bought) at the chateau, but it was still wonderful, really opened up with some air and as it warmed.  A stunning buttery finish.

Here’s what I blogged following our visit: For lunch we drove west then south to Puligny Montrachet.  Part of coming to Burgundy is to taste the best white wine in the world which is the home of the chardonnay grape.  Since our interest isn’t to drop by each and every “cave” for tasting we decided to take a “degustation” menu at one of the premier producers, Olivier Leflaive.  Puligny Montrachet is just off the beaten track, a charming little village with a couple of central squares and hugely appealing homes and “chateaux”.

Our lunch began with instructions: We were going to have four courses and samples of 14 wines, 11 white, three red, always lined up left to right, and were to sample each wine with each dish and report back.  But before I go on let me say that there was a spittoon on the table!  Our first three were an Aligote (a white grape which gives a basic dry wine of not too much interest), a Chablis and a special Bourgogne also from chardonnay grapes.  While the Chablis was the most expensive, the Bourgogne was tastier.  We enjoyed gurgling these with some cheese gougeres (puffs).  Next a Rully and a Saint Romain.  Rully is considered a “lesser” Burgundy but in fact sells in YVR at a reasonable price point and is nothing to be sneered at.  We were served a terrine of tuna and parsley alongside smoked salmon with a herbed mayonnaise.  Both of us agreed that the St Romaine was perfect with the tuna but, when our waiter was speaking French to some Germans nearby, and they agreed with us, he mockingly said “oh so you agree with the Canadians?” as if to imply we were daft.  But it was in fun.  We moved on to the heavy hitters: Chassagne-Montrachet, Merusault and Puligny-Montrachet.  These are whites for the well-to-do, who think of nothing about dropping big bucks on vino.

It was about this time that Olivier’s brother Patrick Leflaive stopped by.  He made an appearance at all the tables, speaking French with the Germans, Italian with the Italians, and English with the Kiwis and us.  When he found out we were Canadian he rolled his eyes and moaned about the government bureaucracy that controls wine distribution in the provinces.  In Ontario, for instance, they demand abundant free samples and a multitude of paperwork before even considering distribution.  He told us they asked some very important questions relevant to the consumer such as, most recently, “What is the weight of your cork?”  When we asked him what indeed was the weight of the Leflaive cork, and he couldn’t remember, it reminded me of the Orwellian system that for some reason sucks freely on the taxpayers’ teat back home.  I told him it was virtually impossible to find Leflaive in BC, although I did once spot a St. Romain at an independent (retail $65, needless to say I didn’t buy it; which, btw, sells for 16 euros at the vineyard and I might add, our whole lunch, all in, was less than the single bottle would have been in YVR!  Pave my roads on Saturna Mr Taxman!).  We enjoyed our pricey, elegant wines with a chicken breast baked in puff pastry and a potato puree (aka soft and milky mashed potatoes).  That would have been enough, that would have been more than enough, but out came the really big guns: First growth (or “premier cru”) Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet.  With these we had three soft cheeses.  Now to be fair, even at the vineyard prices (47-49 Euros a bottle) I wouldn’t buy any.  But that said, the PM was about as perfect as anything you can imagine; buttery and with a hint of oak, some nuttiness like hazelnuts, a touch of peach, essentially magic.  Each wine was grown from vineyards within a five km stretch and yet each was unique.  But although different each was very close to perfection.  I guess this is how the top 400 Americans paying 16.6 per cent income tax live…  After these came three reds, a table red, a Pommard and a Volnay, along with two strong semi-soft cheeses and one hard cheese.  The reds are very respectable, Pommard and Volnay hold a lot of esteem in the wine world (the Italians skipped some of the whites demanding reds), but the reality is that the previous three whites are as if parents were presented with three of their children and asked to choose their favourite.  The three reds were like asking those same parents which of their three children is tallest.  The latter would be much easier to do.  And, fortunately (or not) those reds went down the spittoon.

We moved on to a small but very dense Valrhona chocolate mousse, followed by coffee, then a very long walk!

Price: Don’t remember.  The equivalent of $25?  $40?  Half what a Puligny or Chassagne Montrachet would be in BC anyway.

Market Liquidity: When I win the lottery I buy a place in Beaune…

January 3, 2012

SANDHILL Small Lots Barbera (ba-beautiful)

Let me get this straight: No one in Canada grows Barbera.  Except, in one tiny little corner of the Okanagan, where Sandhill, in their exquisite small lots program, churns out a miraculous red.  So this begs the question, if one tiny plot of grapes can produce such an exquisite bottle, why are winemakers across the region bending over backwards to perfect Pinot which, more times than not, is shallow, pasty and all “miss” in Canada?  Or, in the alternative, quite wonderful (witness the OK and overpriced Le Vieux Pin) but astronomically expensive?

Actually, I know the answer to that question.  The answer is that winemaker’s tend to be pretty far removed from the people who love wine, the regular wine buyer and regular wine drinker.  Rather, they are focussed on market share and accolades—from their peers, the tight-knit wine community, the “con-no-sirs” that use a point system, critics on high and plain old glory.  That’s why there are so many movie metaphors on this blog.  Winemakers tend towards “art” and “mass-market” plonk the same way Hollywood does.  But once in a while a great movie comes along with not too much violence or sex, great performances, character and enough lasting value that you want to own it and watch it over again.  That, my friends, is this Barbera.  And all I can say is that despite the $30, and the fact that I was hard pressed to ever see a decent published review (one running theme on reviews of this particular Small Lots wine is the word “medium” as if to implicitly let you know it’s not the “hot” or “trendy” wine), this is a sturdy, practical red that goes with everything from tapas to pizza to red meats, from Tuesday night to Thanksgiving, and to date has never failed to disappoint.  We still have several bottles left, but the VQA stores have, at least temporarily, run out.


Update: March 2012.  This review was based on the 2007 vintage which we loved.  The most recent available, 2009, is still good, we still like it a lot, but at $30 we don’t like it as much or, in the case of our pocket books, enough.

Price: $30 at VQA stores or direct from Sandhill.

Market Liquidity: It’s a monetary indulgence.  Think Tom and Donna’s Parks & Recreation “treat yourself” day and it’s easier to bear.