Archive for ‘Fortified wine’

June 15, 2018

The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Madeira, Charleston Sercial, Special Reserve

An ode to those who make a profound difference.


If you know who Kermit Lynch is you’re most likely not reading this blog, but if you are reading this blog and you know who KL is you are, like me, a disgruntled fan, having no access to how he’s contributed to reshaping wine consumption in North America and almost single-handedly helping wine drinkers rethink what good wine is.  But not in BC.  Sigh.


To a lesser extent, the Rare Wine Company is really “the Kermit Lynch companion” and, founded by Mannie Berk nearly three decades ago, does for wine what the socialized Canadian system is unable, ill-equipped and totally not structured to do: Bring to prominence wines threatened with extinction and offer wine lovers a glimpse beyond the Wine Advocate’s blessing.


Enter the Charleston Sercial.


This Madeira, this dry, evocative and overwhelmingly captivating wine, which I had the good fortune to drink (by the glass!) in New York this spring, was simply beyond sensational.  I saw it on the menu at a pokey wine bar in Hell’s Kitchen and ordered a glass and then, if I’d stroked out, keeled over, and never been revived, it would have been in a state of Nirvana.


Far be it from me to wax on about how brilliant this wine is.  And it is brilliant.  Uber.  Super.  Mega.  Here’s a cut and paste from the merchant’s web site:


This is the driest wine in the series and a wine that has been served throughout meals in America for nearly 300 years. Chef Mario Batali won over 1000+ guests at the 2009 New York Wine Experience by boldly pairing Charleston Sercial with a wild boar dish of Wolfgang Puck’s creation.

Just two weeks later, in the Wall Street Journal, Alice Feiring picked the same Madeira as a wine of choice for chestnut soup, noting that it “is like a salted caramel without its sugar.”

But Mario and Alice were not the first to discover Charleston Sercial’s charms. In 2005, Grant Achatz, whom many believe is America’s most inventive chef, attracted national press for his cutting-edge pairings of Charleston Sercial with dishes at Alinea in Chicago.

Josh Raynolds, International Wine Cellar 92 rating

Wow.  And Wow.  And Wow.


Price: Online at $50 USD a bottle.


Market Liquidity: If only it was even on the market in Canada.

November 13, 2016

Sherry. Lot’s of Sherry. And Lustau Amontillado Los Arcos Dry, in particular.


Sherry is my desert island wine.  I am baffled by the fear or reservation or misunderstanding or just plain dislike of fortified wine.  I would trade in my desert island book for an additional cask.  Sherry can earn plaudits of 95 points from the pointsters with nothing but raves, stars and medallions yet still languish on the wine store shelf.


I would ditch most of the heavy reds any day for a well stocked sherry bar.  You need, first, some Alvear in the house.  The medium is a must have for any vegetarian risotto, but particularly the first ladle in classic porcini after the Arborio has been sautéed.  But it’s nice too, even if when you sip it your friends ask if you have a tissue shoved up the sleeve of your cardigan.


bamboo-cocktail The dry Alvear Fino is something found more often in my fridge than eggs or butter.  One of the finest cocktails ever invented, the Bamboo (1902 I think, but I didn’t Google it), captures the versatility of sherry in a breath: it’s half sherry, half vermouth.  I make it with dry and a twist in the summer, with sweet and a dash of orange bitters in the winter.  Equal parts.  On ice.  Screw Manhattans.


Those two Alvear sherries, I should add, cost less than most BC blends.


Sherry is versatile, indispensable, incomprehensibly complex and nothing if not pleasurable.  You can even find it on one per cent of the finest wine lists (I write with some open hostility).


If you’re ever in London, there is a wine bar on Villiers St at Embankment tube in a lock of the Thames with water dripping off the bricks and candlelit tables where the wine is diverse and thoughtful but nothing beats the casks of sherry.  Glasses from the spigot.gordon-wine-bar-sherry-casks


The next best thing about Sherry is how you don’t need to sleep out five nights in front of the government liquor store (as recently happened with the rare whiskey release in Vancouver), or compete with the X7 driving hordes on the Bordeaux release, as happens annually, to get a rare bottle.  Sherry: It will be sitting there, waiting for you, beckoning you (probably dusty to boot).


Witness the Amontillado Los Arcos dry.  Where to begin?  This is nothing if not a Mary Berry British Bake Off Technical Challenge extraordinaire.  It’s basically a master class in dry sherry.  Inimitable and luscious and pure pleasure; room temperature, chilled, or on ice.


Sherry is so many things; rough and smooth, strong and hearty, unique and indescribable; one sip can be like Carol Channing singing then Neal Young singing then Lou Reed singing then the jarring Glass soundtrack of Koyaanisqatsi then the trance like repetition of Tubular Bells and finally just the Arvo Pärt ish minimalist note of hazelnut skin left on the tongue.  And sometimes it’s bad and boring and MMMBop, sweet and cloying, like a clown nose squeaker.  Still, more often than not, it’s an adventure.


Price: The Los Arcos can be found for around $30 in Vancouver.


Market Liquidity: Decanter magazine once voted the Los Arcos as one of the ten best in the world.  Who am I to disagree?

September 27, 2015

Domaine des Gorges du Soleil Rivesaltes Rouge, 1963

From the cellar: A somewhat spectacular bottle of Grenache in the Muscat style. Burnt chocolate, an array of dried fruit Turkish bazaar style, caramel and Australian Leatherwood honey (a most spectacular and distinct honey if you’ve never had it).

Rivesaltes 1963

But it’s not port. It’s not Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. It’s not sweet Sherry. It might remind a connoisseur of some Madeira, with that light nutty note, but even then, it is all the way different.


Superlatives fail. Share with friends? We did; something of a letdown. The expectations ran high. It’s not as sweet as some sweet wines, it’s complex and layered and not as wine-y as many after dinner bottles.  Some people expected port, some were taken aback by the masculinity.


Not sure where I stand with this.


Price: $80 USD.


Market Liquidity: Like a bucket list item.

March 24, 2013

Zuccardi: Alma 4 Pinot Chardonnay; Series A Chardonnay Viognier 2011; Q Chardonnay 2011; Z Blend 2009; Malamado Viognier 2009

Continuing the week in Buenos Aires…

We took a ten course tasting menu paired with five Zuccardi wines at El Baqueano, a superb restaurant in the (somewhat dodgy) San Telmo neighbourhood.  The courses went Fernando Rivarola, Porteno, representing EB, and Rodrigo Oliveira, Brazilian, from Mocoto in Sao Paulo.  It was a sort of Iron Chef standoff.  First the good news: The food was beyond description.  Now the bad news: The wine was hit and miss.

zuccardi zeta

Zuccardi isn’t well-represented in BC.  The BC liquor stores carry a so-so Tempranillo.  I think there might be a Torrontes in some of the private stores.  Nothing to write a blog about.  Plus, they make too many “labels” with their A series, their Q series, their Z.  Plus other labels.  It feels like the Tom Ford perfume counter.

We started with their sparkling, a pinot noir/chardonnay blend, vintage 2010.  It seemed a bit pretentious to make it a vintage, “the 2010 Alma 4” versus the “2009” etc.  I would call this a very good Prosecco, enjoyable, social, not much more.

Our second wine was a Series A Chardonnay Viognier blend, 2011.  This would definitely have to be well under $20 for me to take an interest again.  It was lacking depth, rather flat, and not hugely food friendly.  It drank like many house wines drink; like innocuous wine.

The third wine was quite good.  Their Q Chardonnay 2011 hit the glass a tad too cold, but as it warmed it opened up and revealed some delicate butterscotch and pear nuances that perfectly suited some vegetarian mains.  Barrel fermented, not uber new world.

Then the heavy hitter came out.  Ooh la la.  This was a hit.  Following the Chardonnay, the Z Blend, a “mostly Malbec” blend with Cabernet and Tempranillo, was paired with two meat courses.  It was hugely appealing, deeply, wonderfully and even spectacularly food friendly, a gorgeous sipper, and although the oak and purple fruits shone through it didn’t linger too long.  This was served with a braised goat on couscous followed by nandu.

nanduNandu, for those not in the know, is a South American three toed flightless bird akin to ostrich.  The chef had created a roast nandu on a house-made chimichurri, a light salsa, and a potato so special I have to explain it: It looked like a chocolate cube.  It was in fact caramel.  If you cracked the caramel with your knife a “yolk” of truffle oil oozed out.  The sweet, starch and tart all combined superbly.  And the wine carried this off with perfection.  Astonishing considering it was only a 2009.  This is a premium wine of the first order which, unfortunately, I have no idea how to source.  I did find it later at a Buenos
Aires private wine store for the equivalent of $60 CDN.  I figure in
BC, with the duties and taxes all factored in, we’re talking Brunello prices.


We wrapped it up with their Malamado fortified Viognier, 2009.  Most appealing.  A great host offering instead of Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, say.  A little on the heavy side but not a lot to complain about.  It washed down a mango sorbet with aplomb.

Wine aside: If you’re in BA, check out El Baqueano.  It might be your priciest dinner but you won’t regret it.  Oh, and they were very generous with the pouts.

Price: All in, including tax and tip, $100 per.

Market Liquidity: The Zeta stole the show.

February 21, 2012

Gonzalez Byass Palo Cortado Viejo Apostoles, 30 years old

Context is everything.  When I went to Petra, for example, I hadn’t seen it in an Indiana Jones movie, or any movie, or read about it, or knew what I was getting into.  Then you round the corner in a narrow canyon and before you lies the Treasury.  It was the proverbial “awesome.”  And unlike Giza, which is on the map so to speak, Petra isn’t surrounded by suburbs or littered with vendors like an over-hyped Bordeaux.  The Disney Haunted Mansion has its charms, just like a cold beer on a hot day, but Petra has an authenticity.  To which I must add, there are no words to explain that feeling I had on discovering Petra just as there are no words to say how exceptional I feel about this Byass Apostoles 30 year old sherry.  On its own it might have been different but paired with food it blooms to exception.  It is not something prone to wine words or typical descriptives.  It really is nectar from the gods.

We served it with a cheese course.  As I say, it was context.  There were five options:

  • Salt Spring Island (soft) goat cheese: Too subtle and gentle a flavour to stand up to the sherry but OK.
  • Rembrandt Aged Gouda: Very nice.  A bit of a battle between the inherent nuttiness of the cheese and sherry, but good.
  • Tiger Blue (from Poplar Grove, Naramatta): I believe Canada’s best blue cheese and a formidable choice for the sherry.
  • Chevre Fermier (a raw milk firm goat’s cheese from the Pyrenees): Truly nirvana.  One guest held up the sherry, the chevre, and a piece of our homemade apple bread (Jim Lahey’s My Bread homemade bread, also exceptional, if you haven’t bought his book I highly recommend it) and asked the gods to package the sensation.
  • Chateau de Bourgogne (a cow triple cream brie): My favourite.  All the heavy lusciousness of cheese delineated by the complex depth of the sherry.


There was also some chestnut honey, mission fig spread, a few Medjool dates and Duchy oaten biscuits on the plate, but Jim Lahey’s bread, the cheese, the sherry, were sufficient.  I honestly can’t imagine a better pairing.  This was one of those rare instances where the heights of food and wine artistry married perfectly.  There is really nothing more to say about this magnificent wine.  As Hugh Johnson has many times pointed out, aged sherry and Madeiras are the best wine values on the planet.


Price: An unfortunately very steep $34.99 for 375 mls.


Market Liquidity: In context, worth every last after tax penny.