Archive for January, 2017

January 31, 2017

Culmina Dilemma, 2014


The tasting notes on this whet the appetite.  I quote the vineyard: “An elegant Chardonnay, Dilemma shows enticing aromas of nectarine, lemon curd, hazelnut, and subtle clove spice. Delicate white floral and subtle French oak flavours lead to a concentrated, mineral mid-palate, taut with crunchy acidity and fresh melon fruit. Generous yet classically structured, the finish lingers long on the palate.”


While on the one hand I don’t disagree with any of that, I simply anticipated more: Indeed, if you’d read the myriad reviews and over the top points, you would too.  And, in the end, at the price, it undelivered, if you will.


In terms of their notes, a translation might be smooth criss-crossed with acidic gives way to a woodsy funk, finishing with a long and quite luscious buttery mineral note.  I couldn’t place the labyrinth of flavours they described.  We found it a little stark chill, and, as it warmed, it didn’t open up substantially.  On the plus side it’s an unassuming (or, as the profs put it, elegant) Chardonnay without the affront of most new world whites.  I’m torn.  Lawrason’s recommendation to leave it another year is probably advice well given and poorly heeded on our part.


Price: $34 at the vineyard, substantially more in YVR shops, if indeed you can find it.


Market Liquidity: Sort of a B plus from an A student.

January 31, 2017

Van Westen Vineyards V, 2010


From the cellar: At the beginning of 2016, when Swirl in White Rock began to clear out their stock in advance of being sold to Jimmy Pattison, you could pick up some deals if your purchase was six or 12.  This Bordeaux blend spoke to me, or at least the discount did, and I laid it down.  A year passed by and we decided to uncork it.


Ever read something really impressive but find it dull?  Or see a movie that was exceptionally profound but ultimately a bit didactic?  This wine, this very, very, very good red, is a little bit like that.  Sincere, bold, brazen, but also not that appealing (and here I’m thinking of Ridge, where wine is both austere and cozy in one small sip).


As a drinkable wine I think the worst thing I can say about the V is that it has my most hated wine peeve: A wax seal over the cork.  Chip, crack, wax all over.  But once you pout it, well it really is in many ways a deep and mysterious Bordeaux blend, sort of like a chess set, with subtleties and nuances buttressed up against heavy notes of charcoal, prunes, spice cabinet.  We could not abide some of the descriptors on the label (mulberry pie? dusty cocoa?) but found it suitably complex.


Despite its majesty and enormous palatability, and oh-my-gosh was this food friendly (with a Tom Kerridge lamb stew) it somehow ended up being too much bravura and not enough warmth.  Think of the frosty demeanor of lord of the manor.


Price: $38 retail last year, before a 15% discount.


Market Liquidity: It’s the king, queen, rook, bishop, knight and pawn.  It’s just not all of those things in a linear, hierarchical fashion.

January 25, 2017

Chateau Canada, 2012


I have never bought this wine on principle: It states the varietals in English on the front of the French label (!).  Plus, and this is just my quirk, a label that reads Chateau Canada is sort of like a Ye Olde pub in Victoria, BC, with faux wainscoting and Molson Canadian on tap.  Worse, they have, in English, an explanation of why it’s called Chateau Canada.  On the front of the bottle!  However…


However, AG gave it a great little review and the price point is right in my sweet spot and I only have this to say: Is there any better bottle of French red on the liquor store shelves in this city at this price?  I think not.  Astonishingly appealing value red.  Luscious to the last drop.  A mostly Merlot blend that is a must buy.


Price: $18 at BCL before taxes.


Market Liquidity: Ignore the window dressing.

January 24, 2017

Conceito Douro Superior, 2013


I found it very hard to wrap my mind around this.  It was an intriguing if perhaps confounding white, with peaks like the butterscotch of Chardonnay but some valleys with the coarse citrus bite of a mediocre Sauvignon Blanc, and, in the middle, an earthiness reminiscent of Hunter Valley Sem.  All the complexity left me somewhat baffled, as if it had an identity but was in denial or masquerading as something else.


The professionals are gaga over this bottle.   95 points said the sticker at BCL.  “Impressive, powerful, rich, dense.”  I guess it is all those things.  So is a heavyweight champ.  So is El Chapo.  So is, it seems, half the politicians on the planet.  That doesn’t make the words explain what the wine’s identity is.  And, for us, we were left at sea.  Was it brilliant or parody?  Mark Squires in the WA wrote that it seemed a little unevolved.  That, I think, is extremely precise.


Price: Friggin’ expensive.  Like a whole lot of money.  I refuse to fess up.


Market Liquidity: When you see Amadeus on the stage you have to believe the actor playing Salieri, believe him when he’s old, believe him when he’s young, believe the transformation is plausible, and if you don’t, if you’re unsure, then the whole enterprise fails.


January 23, 2017

Claus Preisinger Basic, 2012

I finally got around to unscrewing a bottle of the Basic, which I picked up after Gismondi gave it 89 points (my “sweet spot” if you will).


Interesting and provocative.  A strange hybrid blend that straddles black forest gateau and steak a la poivre.  Enticing on the nose.  Sweet light peaks contrast with a herbaceous finish.  Not complicated but complex.  Definitely a complement to the usual merry go round of varietals on the table.


(A blend of Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch; who knew?)


Price: $28 at Kitsilano Wine Cellars, not the $20 posted in the review.


Market Liquidity: Nothing I drank in Austria last year was as intriguing as this.

January 22, 2017

Bellingham “Bernhard Series” Chenin Blanc, 2015


I was thumbing through a Decanter with about 150 Chenin recommendations and all I could easily source was this mid-priced bottle.  If they scored it 89 all I can say is wow, are BC wine drinkers ever missing out on some great CB, because we downed this bottle in record time.  Fresh, vibrant, zesty and social.


Fresh “unscrewed” cold it could be mistaken for an unoaked Chardonnay.  But there are delicious notes which run a wide gamut: caramel, coconut, maple syrup, butterscotch, and just a tinge of pine resin.  A most delectable Chenin and ludicrously food friendly (we drank it with a NY Times poached sole; scrumptious).


Price: $27 at Kitsilano Wine Cellars.


Market Liquidity: Cin cin to 89 pointers.

January 21, 2017

Casa di Malia Prosecco


Prosecco with a cork.  In other words lightly effervescent; nominally effervescent.  This certainly isn’t the “fizz” from Kim Crawford.  Organic, so kudos.  Nice label.  Utilitarian bottle with a stopper (you can rinse it and make a vinegar later).  You see where I’m going.  There’s not much to praise once you start to drink.  Using the gratis stopper we corked it and I poured a small glass the next day; still, and I mean flat, still it was peachy in a candy floss way, not terribly interesting (without orange juice or Campari or something…).  There is such a huge market for Prosecco and it’s all over the map and (in my humble view) in the majority at the less than palatable level but at least, at least it’s usually festive, as in fizzy.


Price: A very reasonable $20.


Market Liquidity: Hostess gift.

January 20, 2017

Olivier LeFlaive Volnay, 2011


Olivier LeFlaive can solve the Mideast peace process.  Can’t he?  I mean the balance, the delirious silky smoothness of this red, who couldn’t be won over?  Who couldn’t compromise?  And when I say compromise, I’m fully aware that no one is out searching for a 2011 Burgundy, certainly not a Pinot, no one is out scouring vintners to stock up the cellar; this was a bookend vintage, surrounded by stellar years that far outweigh its relevance.  And yet, here’s the rub: Let’s say you don’t give a fig for terroir, let’s say to you, terroir is the homeopathy of wine, the energetic nothingness that holds no scientific weight.  Why then, why is it that Pinot, Burgundy Pinot, even in lesser years, is so over the top exasperatingly elegant and appealing and ridiculously palatable?  I say put aside our differences and uncork a 2011.  I say we can all come together on Burgundy, even in the mediocre years.


Peppery, light, not abrasive, a twist or two of the pepper mill, a spritz of vanilla, the idea of cherry, the equanimity of it all, the absurd calmness of it, it’s like an assault on red wine: You pronounce yourself you Barolos and Brunellos and Bordeaux blends; this Pinot simply exists.  It’s a philosophical bottle of wine.  Open it, sip it, think about it.


I can’t afford wine in this tax bracket and even if I could I probably would buy twice as much of something lesser but by God was this my favorite red of the holiday season and then some.  Not particularly food friendly but I really couldn’t care.


Price: $60 (ka-ching, ka-ching) at a Vancouver independent, before taxes, and even then I balked, but I was goaded into it after winning $21 on a lottery ticket…


Market Liquidity: Like silk sheets, impractical but heavenly.

January 19, 2017

Quinta do Convento Douro, 2008


A classic Portuguese blend (Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional).  And, get this: Not the 2013 sitting on the shelves in Saskatoon but the 08.  For (just) under $30.  I read online someone called this “all structure and no fruit” and loaded with tannins.  Well not the bottle I scored.  It was weighty, but deeply considered, with layers of dark fruit and very woodsy, menthol and a little bit of char, but at 13.5% drank a dream, as in light tannins and velvety smooth.  Biodynamic to boot.  Score.


Price: $29 before taxes at Kitsilano Wine Cellars.


Market Liquidity: A savoury red with an outstanding finish.

January 18, 2017

Read Decanter Magazine. Just Do It.


Decanter is the bomb.  It’s almost impossible to find in Canada (paper, you can always get digital) but what a great, inspiring magazine, a wonderful homage to people who enjoy wine, whether collectors or bottle shop regulars.


I can wax poetic on its myriad merits but I will just point out a few.  First, the reviews trump the Wine Spectator 100 times over.  The picture of the bottle (the label) is always uber clear.  They use a general description, then tasting notes from a panel.  This is a bit like the old Siskel Ebert film reviews without the patronizing condescension.  Someone says complex, someone says weighty, another says textural: you get the picture, but you appreciate that wine reviewing is subjective, and they highlight that right on the page.  The price is right there, no mincing about.  And then they organize these reviews by points (so people who don’t necessarily need the 92 point wine can focus on what in the end will be available and not as costly).  And (this being the UK, a different market) they list stockists.  Check, check, check.  So, in short, the reviews are brilliant.


The regular columns are written by people who seem to, wait for it, actually like their jobs.  They always include a paragraph on “what I’ve been drinking” which is I think not just relevant but touching.  Reviewers rarely seem to do anything but sips and spits and contemplation but Decanter has columnists who are actually drinking wine.  Shock of shocks.  Here are two arbitrary examples from a recent issue: “A great example of the pleasure to be found in the sub-90 point space is…”  Now how about a phrase like that Wine Spectator!  The article accompanying it actually defended the points practice (which this blog doesn’t really support) but in an eloquent fashion and pointed out that it’s the vintners who dismiss an 89 point review not the drinkers.  Well, not the everyday drinkers.

Transparent and User Friendly Reviews

Transparent and User Friendly Reviews

Keeping in mind that Decanter reaches a mostly UK readership, and that BC wines although not rare are uncommon in the shops, I nearly spat out my Culmina Hypothesis when I read one columnist write about the wine he’d been drinking with this phrase: “I’ve also been enjoying the Sperling Vineyards, Old Vines Riesling 2009, grown in the Okanagan Valley.”  Well pop my Prosecco.  That’s someone who’s looking out for interesting wines from the farthest reaches and how beautiful to see a nod to the brilliant Ann Sperling.  Ever seen the Wine Spectator even acknowledge the north-of-Walla Walla marketplace?  Too esoteric I imagine.


Decanter awards retailers.  Retailers!  Decanter goes highbrow, visits the great estates, has notes for collectors, but also has a (hard to believe) “weekday wine” column.  That I really love.  They somehow just perfectly balance their content without ever falling prey to either snooty indifference or ranting hysteria.  [NB: This blog could take a few pointers, I know, I know…]


Of especial note was a wonderful essay I read recently on how our lack of storage and “drink it now” culture is losing the ability not just to store and drink aged wine but to even appreciate it.  Listen to this ridiculously beautiful phrase on early approachability versus aging: “It is sad that many wine lovers rarely have the opportunity to appreciate the more complex hues of age.  They miss out on the ethereal scent of a mature Nebbiolo, the oak-leaf earthiness of evolved Pinot Noir, the tobacco savouriness of aged Cabernet; likewise the heady camomile lift of seasoned Riesling, or even the softest mousse and honeyed languor of long-aged Champagne.”  Christ, Aaron Spelling couldn’t have done it better.


Well I can go on and on but there really is no comparison.  It’s goodbye WS and hello Decanter.  Check it out.

Weekday selections.  How novel!

Weekday selections. How novel!