Archive for ‘White wine’

December 25, 2020

2020 Wine of the Year: Domaine Huet Le Haut-Lieu Sec Vouvray, 2015

From the cellar: Hands down the best wine we drank in 2020.  Wow.  Words simply aren’t necessary.

As a tradition, we open a bottle of Vouvray sometime in December, celebratory style.  Usually it’s a demi-sec, and more often than not it’s Huet.  The Wine Advocate gave this 2015 a comfortable 93 points, and in some semi-effectual way tried to describe its fruit aromas and subtle herbal aromas.  Unfortunately, their prose couldn’t match the majesty.  This was eloquence, diplomacy, mysterious, a John Le Carre, may he rest in peace.  The WA did write “”a very long and grippy, tension-filled finish” to which I would echo and say it’s Escher-esque.

Chenin Blanc is perhaps the most mysterious (or unpredictable?) of white grapes; it can be coarse and edgy, it can be cloyingly sweet, but it can also age into a deliriously good state.  Witness this spectacular vintage.  I wish we had more.  I wish we had more laying down. But be grateful for small mercies I suppose.

Price: In October 2017, $48 from Marquis, and so less than a bottle of Culmina’s Hypothesis.  Cin cin.

Market Liquidity: The weft and warp of the finest silk in a bottled beverage.

December 17, 2020

Naramata Bench Wineries

Last weekend of October we went to the Okanagan for a wine weekend.  It was archetypally fall; cool, crisp, sunny, quiet.  Trees had turned, apples were being harvested in the orchards, and the BC Lieutenant Governor’s wine awards had just been released—the vineyards were well stocked with award winners.  We ate good food, we drank good wine, there should have been a million November wine posts.  There was one, unrelated post.  So, here’s a short, er, wordy summary from October.

Above clockwise: Lunch at Poplar Grove, two views from the Naramata Inn, the view from Poplar Grove, Blue Moon on Halloween, 2020, and dinner at the Naramata Inn.

In this post:

  • Hillside Cabernet Franc, 2017, LG Bronze winner!
  • Van Westen Viscous, 2019, LG Bronze winner!
  • Hillside Syrah, 2017, LG Bronze winner!
  • Therapy Chardonnay, 2018, LG Platinum winner!
  • Ruby Blues Peace Love & Bubbles, not an LG winner!
  • Hillside Estate Old Vines Gamay Noir, 2008 (2008! look at us!)

Where to start?  Something real, like the size of the Okanagan.  It’s a small area (relative to, say, Italy or Spain or the colossus of the US, when it comes to vineyards in production).  That means that there will be less good wine than a bigger region, it’s just math, and that good wine will command a premium, and it does, and that good wine will be in short supply, and it is.

When you hit upon some wine you like, on your tasting tours, you are likely to be reminded that the bottle you’re tasting is a “wine club member” bottling only.  OK, fair enough.  But how many wine clubs can a person join?  BC Okanagan wine clubs demand a kind of brand loyalty.  What happens if you end up with Sunderland or Watford or Ipswich?  I’ll take my chances with Australia and Chile and France.

Let’s go on to something less real, like the BC Lieutenant Governor awards, or LGs.  The judges, heaps and heaps of judges, pile into a hotel, then drink hundred of wines in a sitting.  Sip after sip after sip after sip.  A gazillion Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays and maybe some Cabernet Franc and whatnot.  Word was that the hotel staff couldn’t keep up with clean glasses.  And then after all that intensive volume sipping they select winners, but not first, second and third, oh no, there is platinum, gold, silver and bronze. Do four wines win?  Shurely you jest?

Now, wait for it, there are a lot of winners to take home a prize; it could be junior soccer bootcamp the number of winners. 236 bronze winners alone.  Jeepers, what didn’t make the cut? 119 silver.  You get the picture.  The LG wine awards are a way to highlight the industry and get people to buy more wine; they are like when real estate agents host a banquet and realtors get awarded medallions and then advertise as medallion winners.  The intent might be sincere (or in fact pure commerce) but the outcome is somewhere between exaggeration and Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump.

So there we were, able to taste a number of these winners.  But back to back, repeatedly, award winners at a vineyard were not always as good as an alternative, at the same vineyard.  Which is another weird thing about the LG awards, the vineyards don’t list what they submit, what they don’t.

We stayed at arguably the nicest accommodation in in the south Okanagan, the Naramata Inn (pictured above), which is rustic, and a tad simple, and could use a once over in the bathrooms, and doesn’t have any pool or gym or spa, and even a large room doesn’t have a chair, but it’s beautifully situated and has a sensational restaurant.  Just as a comparison, there is nowhere to stay like we stayed in Western Australia or the South African garden route or ate and drank in Burgundy.  There is nowhere comparable to Healdsburg in California or the Loire.  The Okanagan is lovely, Naramata is quaint and sleepily picturesque, but loathe as I am to say it, a touch of gentrification for visitors would go a long, long ways.

Here’s an unexpected surprise: Ruby Blues sparkling.  It’s nowhere near the better bubbles available across the Okanagan, but it’s lively and fun, it’s not too dear.  Plus it comes in brunch-ready half bottles. When we were tasting a woman walked in and bought a case.  I can think of no better way to Zoom socialize Covid-style and share the love around.  It’s Goldie Hawn on Laugh-in, half naked and adorable and with zero pretense.

Start to finish Hillside wowed (which was a little weird given that what’s available “OTC” if you will, in Vancouver, is rarely their best).  First, their restaurant was just plain satisfying, deeply satisfying, from the bread to the olives to the archived treasures you can purchase on the way out (but be cautious: wines you buy after dinner end up on the restaurant tab and will incur your tip).  We drank an absolutely drop dead 12 year old Gamay Noir at dinner and went home with two very appealing, food friendly reds, a Syrah and a Cab Franc, the former spicy with an acidic nip, the latter, with air, a decent mellow barnyard funk.  The tasting room is a tad robotic, but very well set up and decently diverse.

Over at Van Westen, at 11 a.m. in the morning, their tasting room gave us pours of such generous proportion I was an inch away from a siesta.  I liked, but didn’t love their reds, but the whites were lively, nuanced and felt lovingly crafted.  There are silly names (the V for viscous is a Riesling), and the rustic-ness of it all might not be every wino’s cup of tea (witness the moose head above the bar; remember when Moe opened up a family restaurant and Marg walks in and sees a moose head with sunglasses and proclaims “A moose wearing sunglasses.  Now I’ve seen everything.” Well, it’s a bit like that), but there was nothing shabby chic about the wines.

The outrageously spectacular Poplar Grove restaurant, cliffside, it’s like climbing Mt. Rushmore in North by Northwest.  Zsa Zsa would have adored the view.  The food was good, the tasting corporate, and the wine a tad ho-hum, comparatively. It was the only vineyard we passed on a take away purchase.

Therapy stunned us with their Chardonnay, but even here I’m not going to say it was an award winner better than so many other wonderful Okanagan Chardonnays.  Even the base model Meyer is good, the Blue Mountain lovely, the Burrowing Owl reliable, and of course Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Chardonnay, now we’re talking platinum.

So there you have it.  A lot of good wine, some very good food, great weather, friendly people. Then we came back to Vancouver and spent less money on older Rioja and more refined whites.

October 20, 2020

Sea Star Ortega, 2019

A whack of stone fruit, notably apple and pear, with an apple cider acidity that rounds out the syrupy weight.  Delightfully light and weighty all at once; heaps more likable than the Salish Sea, which we dissed a few weeks back…

Sea Star generally grows the right grapes in the right region and makes wines that are complementary to so much west coast cuisine, most commonly low in alcohol, and inherently social.  But they can miss, as well.  For a light lunch, an afternoon aperitif, or just to pair with a nibble of cheese, the Ortega fits the bill.

Price: $24.27 at the Saturna General Store.

Market Liquidity: Easy on the palate and the pocketbook.

September 18, 2020

Sea Star Salish Sea, 2019

We have waxed poetic on Sea Star.  Oh my goodness have we said some fine things about Sea Star.  But alas we are parting ways on this year’s Salish Sea.

Where to begin?  Sweet but not pleasant.  Light, but watery (look at the wine glass, it could be flat Perrier).  Thin without redemption.  Mediocre with food and banal as a sipper.  I don’t know if there’s too much tropical with not enough weight, so you get that phoniness of canned fruit cocktail, or whether it was just a bad year.

It pains me to write this.  Seriously.

Check out the archive, it was total infatuation: The Siegerrebe, 2014, hats off.  The Stella Maris 2015, we were pragmatic but adoring.  The Ortega, 2016, absolutely loved it.  The Pinot Gris 2016; went ga ga. Ga ga. We drooled. So it was crushing to end up with half a case of duds.

Plus, you know, Sea Star is impossible to find.  We pick up a case every year on the Southern Gulf Islands, but outside the SGI good luck.  Oh well, the remainder will make a fine risotto.

Price: $24.27 at Saturna General Store. A very reasonable price I should add

Market Liquidity: Double bogey.

September 18, 2020

Culmina Skin Contact Gewurztraminer No 008

Despite the literal and slightly ludicrous name and number (not a bad thing I guess, Mutiny on the Bunny was, obviously, the Bugs Bunny take on Mutiny on the Bounty) an unusual and striking wine.  As per a few Culmina bottlings it comes with the glass stopper.  The first place I saw this was Alsace, over 10 years ago, but I do think it’s a brilliant idea on light whites where, generally, they get drunk in one go like Kool-Aid.

We opened this to to drink with a poached halibut in light curry; cumin, ginger, garlic, turmeric, coriander, and basil.  It was magnificent.  Often wine works with food, sometimes it clashes (peanuts anyone?) but once in a while you get that marriage, that yin and yang of a wine up to the task but not overpowering the food.  Everything just tastes better together.  It was this stellar complement, this quirky Gewurtz, that made the dinner so much better. If this had occurred in a restaurant the post would end here; five stars.

Of course we didn’t finish the bottle at dinner and later, having another glass just as a sipper, it fell apart. And then another glass, and more disappointment. I don’t know what petroleum tastes like but my guess is something like Vaseline, or this wine, and as a sipper this was harsh and pungent with a fruity attack that cloyed and ridiculously unpleasant on the palate.

So there you go, we loved it and we lost it.

Price: $24 direct from vineyard.

Market Liquidity: More fair weather friend than BFF.

September 3, 2020

Tantalus Old Vines Riesling, 2017 & Tantalus Riesling, 2019

Gismondi gave an over the top review for the 2019 Tantalus Riesling, suggesting we horde; it is after all the current trent. He said “back up the truck” so we took him at his word and got a case of the 2019 and then at private stores sourced some old vines. And I gotta say, it’s good, it’s worth it, but it just didn’t knock our socks off the way his review did.

The OV is sharp and acidic and striking. If there’s a barbed wire Riesling, this is it. The 2019 is more overtly approachable and, on the palate, has plenty of depth and is determined to proclaim itself RIESLING. Both are decently low alcohol and superbly food friendly. But, overall, we reserve judgement. The 2019, after a sample, went “into the cellar” to revisit post-Covid, sometime down the road in the new normal. I’m calling it something to look forward to.

Price: An extremely reasonable $21.75 at the vineyard for the 2019; nearly double for the OV at private stores.

Market Liquidity: At less than $22 a bottle it’s a science experiment; only time will tell.

August 31, 2020

Bartier Brothers Chardonnay, 2016

Don and Michael Bartier make good wines (word on the street they may help Saturna make good wines!).  In general, bottle after bottle, vintage after vintage, they have a sincerity and forwardness that is usually very likeable and almost always easy on the pocketbook.  Their Semillon is a smash (if you can get your friends to drink Semillon).  True, we’ve been indifferent to some of the reds, but each year we give some a go and each year we usually find a varietal or blend worth blogging about. And all hail the screw tops for a picnic.

The Chardonnay is good.  It’s gentle, lightly fruity, sips well, makes a very nice lunch accompaniment; top heavy in tropical notes with perhaps a little too much guava/pineapple.  No oak.  Product specialists raved.  It’s probably an ideal if not addictive white for many people, at an exceptional price point.  But it drinks sweet.  It drinks a little too syrupy and without the crisp, lean, sharpness you (or many people) want in a Chardonnay.

Price: You can find it in private stores for around $25.

Market Liquidity: It’s a subjective A but an objective B.

August 31, 2020

Mare Magnum Crudo Prosecco

The bottle says party up.  The wine says better than most Prosecco at the local liquor store.  Organic plays another trump card.  So all round, pretty good value, and fun times.  Good fizz, maybe too assertive (look at the photo; that’s some dense conglomeration of bubbles).  Dry (ish), dryer than the bubbly from up in the Italian north that adorns BC Liquor shelves. 

We tend to veer away from Prosecco: BC and any number of “new world” options at or around the same price point win out, but this (although not stellar) was very pleasing and drank with cheese, crudites, crackers and olives very well.  There is a tongue feel not unlike a bowl of stewed rhubarb. Appealing acidity.

Price: $26 before taxes at Legacy Liquor.

Market Liquidity: $10 less in Manitoba where it would be, literally, a steal.

July 29, 2020

Peter Lehman Margaret, Limited Release Barossa Semillon, 2012

Peter Lehman Margaret, Limited Release Barossa Semillon, 2012

This should be an absolute find.  An eight-year-old Semillon, under $30, at 11% alcohol.  Did anyone say patio sipper?  Semillon holds up to fish, cured meats, cheese.  It’s a workhorse white.  Or it should be.

 

We found it wanting.  The beeswax and minerality clashed rather than melded, the dryness made us pucker, the citrus was jarring.

 

The label says it is the pinnacle expression of this classic varietal.  Methinks some people in Bordeaux might take exception.

 

What’s the old Seinfeld joke about the Ford LTD?  “Limited.  The only thing limited about the LTD was how many they could sell.”

 

Price: An extremely reasonable $28 at BC Liquor.

 

Market Liquidity: It has limited appeal.

July 29, 2020

Tenuta Di Tavignano Costa Verde, 2018

Tenuta Di Tavignano Costa Verde, 2018

Anthony Gismondi called this wine crazy delicious and I’d be hard pressed to disagree.  It’s refreshing, zesty, ridiculously food friendly, a light 12.5% on the alcohol.  Look at that gorgeous ochre tone in the glass!  We got more citrus and a hazelnut as opposed to almond than AG remarked, but the tropical notes shine through bright and appealing.  Shame it doesn’t come in the curvaceous bottles common in corner shops in Italy.  And thanks to AG because (generally) cheap Italian whites in BC are, well, usually cheap (forgettable) Italian whites.  This is lip smacking lovely.

 

Price: $27 at BC Liquor

 

Market Liquidity: Now it’s just a matter of getting Canadians to drink Verdicchio…