November 26, 2013

Rustico Bonanza Old Vine Zinfandel 2009

Time to get back in the saddle with this blog, and might as well be metaphorically consistent by going to the Okanagan's wild west winery, Rustico. We spent an entertaining hour there a couple of years ago, with Cowboy Ken serving us several whiskey tumblers of wine, each with a little story to go with it. I remember the wines being average and the shtick laid on a little thick at times but it worked. Serious wine snobs can skip this place, most others would have a good time.

Maybe a couple of years in the cellar has turned this fairly good Zinfandel into a really good one. This one is a bit hot and heavy (14.3% alcohol) but it's big and mature enough to handle it. Sort of wish I had some steak tartare right now. I get some cherry and even a bit of strawberry with a whiff of sawdust, the label lists toast and cloves as well. This is a surprisingly delicious and elegant wine.

91 points. $30 or so at the wineshop across from the corral.

March 15, 2013

The Martinus

Something a little different today. Slate Magazine is running their "Martini Madness" tournament right now. I had a grand old time last night reading through seven martini-related articles and dozens of recipes while sipping one or three myself. Among other things, I learned that James Carville is a big martini aficionado. A great quote from him: "The ultimate feeling in the world is to be about two-thirds of the way through my second martini with people I like. Anything seems possible." For this tournament, the public can submit their own recipes to go head-to-head with the great martinis of the world. I may just enter this one:

The Martinus

2 oz Tanqueray Gin
1 oz Vodka
5 mists vermouth
2 jalapeno-stuffed olives

Method 1 (preferred)
Add gin and vodka to martini shaker with a handful of ice. Shake until very cold, at least 60 seconds – a metal shaker will get hard to hold with bare hands. Strain into glass, add olives (plus a few drops of olive juice for a little saltiness). Apply five or six sprays of vermouth from an atomizer on top.

Method 2
Chill gin and vodka in a freezer for at least three hours. Add measured amounts to glass, add olives and vermouth as above.

Method 3 (emergency use only)
If you have warm liquor and no martini shaker, fill glass about halfway with crushed ice. Add measured amounts of gin and vodka to glass, stir with a spoon, then add olives and vermouth as above.

I realize we all have slightly different palates and preferences, but I really don't understand people who use Bombay Sapphire or any other flowery gin in a martini. Like wine, different gins have varying levels of sweetness, and to me Tanqueray is the most bone-dry of them all. Bombay Sapphire is fine in a gin and tonic with a slice of lime. In a martini it's like standing next to a guy wearing too much cologne.

While being strict about the choice of gin, I have never been able to find much difference between vodkas, and I've done a lot of research on this topic. Use your favorite. Try a little experiment sometime: take a bottle each of Grey Goose, Smirnoff, and some local no-name vodka, chill in the freezer for a while, then do a blind tasting. See if you can tell which is which.

I use Noilly Prat vermouth because martini snobs seem to think it's the best so I bought a bottle about ten years ago. That's the last bottle of vermouth I've purchased. I don't use much vermouth.

I find shaking produces the best results, possibly because it beats up the gin and releases more of its botanicals, like tenderizing a steak. Or maybe it infuses tiny air bubbles that enhance flavour. A little melted ice may also to open up the liquor, the way scotch drinkers will add a drop or two of water to their dram. Many theories, but in practice it just tastes better.

A standard pimento-filled olive works fine, but the jalapeno really adds something unique. It's not very spicy, even when eating it at the end, and just seems to compliment the whole package. I usually just throw the olives in freestyle; you can put them on a toothpick or skewer if you feel the need. Do use green olives though. Using lemon, orange or cucumber to garnish a martini is like saying Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan is the best Bond. It's olives and Sean Connery or nothing.

A waitress once asked me if I wanted my martini dirty, and to show her I knew what it meant I said yes right away. A dirty martini means with olive juice added, and I think they must have dumped in an ounce or two. That was disgusting. I like to dribble in a little brine when fishing the olives out of the jar with a spoon.

The atomizer is just a little sprayer, similar to a perfume bottle. When done right, the vermouth floats on top of the other alcohol like gasoline in a puddle. By atomizing you get more aroma than taste and both are subtle. But don't forget to add at least one spray, otherwise you're just drinking a big glass of gin.

Finally, the name comes from a line in the classic (and classical) Wayne and Shuster sketch, "Rinse the Blood Off My Toga", set in ancient Rome. Johnny Wayne plays Flavius Maximus, "Private Roman Eye", hired to solve the murder of Julius Caesar on, coincidentally enough, the Ides of March.
Flavius: Gimme a martinus.
Cicero the Bartender: You mean martini?
Flavius: If I want two, I'll ask for them.


October 31, 2012

SOWF #18: Fairview

Fairview Cellars may be the Okanagan's best kept secret. With little fanfare or self-promotion (or staff from what I can tell), Bill Eggert manages to produce some of the best wines in BC; I believe he sells most of his wine directly from the winery to a very loyal group of followers. You have to want to find this winery up in the hills above Oliver, but it's well worth the effort.

  • Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($20)

With grapes now sourced from three different vineyards (Fairview estate, Bruce Iverson (including Semillon) and the Firman’s, this vintage is the most complex and aromatic to date.

Peach, floral nose but dry, good balance. 89 points.

  • Pinot Noir 2010 ($30)

No saigner is taken from the must during fermentation of this Pinot (bleeding off of juice to enhance colour and body).  As a result a true Pinot with a light colour, but loaded with flavour and medium body has resulted.

Nice! Well-executed pinot noir, very tasty. 90 points.

  • Cabernet Franc 2010 ($27)

With the La Nina cycle providing a cooler wetter than usual summer, the Franc from this vintage is similar to the 1999 and 2001.  Lighter and lower alcohol than the majority of the last decade.

Cherry. 89 points.

  • Two Hoots 2010 ($25)

This Cabernet Merlot (Cab 50%, Merlot 30%, Franc 20%) is the work horse for Fairview.  Most of the Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the Quail’s Wayside vineyard that Fairview leases.

Spicy, smooth, a nice blend of the three grapes. 90 points.

  • Madcap 2009 ($27)

This Merlot based winery is crafted to allowing earlier than usual imbibing.  The softness of the Merlot tannins coupled with the fruitiness of the Cabernet Franc and a small portion of Cabernet Sauvignon to complete the Palate.

Beautiful. 91 points.

  • Madcap 2007

We did a bit of a vertical tasting here. Probably because we were having orgasms after the first Madcap, Bill pulled out a couple of older Madcaps so we could compare. No winemaker notes or price information as these are no longer available, even to us at the winery except to taste. The 2007 was much softer, as one would expect. 90 points. 

  • Madcap 2006 

I got a hint of menthol in this one and said so, but no one else thought so. It wasn't unpleasant though, and the dominant taste was pepper. 90+ points. These Madcap red blends are great wines.

  • The Bear 2009 ($35)

The 2009 version of “The Bear” is a classic example of what the South Okanagan can produce.  All five Bordeaux cultivars are used in this blend with Petit Verdot and Malbec making up about 5% of the blend adding even more complexity.

Cough syrupy! Still nice but not as good as previous vintages we have tasted. 88 points.

  • The Wrath 2009 ($65)

Every now and then something special happens in winegrowing that provides us with the opportunity to provide something unique to our customers.  The Wrath is an example of this.    A hailstorm hit the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard this wine was produced from.  Instead of the expected rotting of the grapes, they dried out in the hot South Okanagan sun.  The resulting wine is very concentrated with everything from sweat cherries to dried plums found on the palate.

A little story behind this one. We were out in the Okanagan two years ago with our good friends Terri and Terry. We had previously been treated to a couple of hours with Dwight, the winemaker at Stag's Hollow, where I got an education in the art of blending. Generally winemakers seem to think everything depends on the growing (terrain, dirt, fruit, etc.) or else they believe blending is the single most important part of making wine. Dwight was definitely a blender, where Bill is more of a grower. After a bit of tasting at Fairview and discussion about blending, Bill locked the door to the wineshop and took us down into his cellar. It was more of a bunker really, we got to barrel-taste quite a few different wines. He even found one barrel he had forgotten about. As he tasted, I could see Bill putting blends together in his mind. After a few minutes, we got to one barrel that, even though it was near the back and dusty, was heavily stained from repeated tastings. I thought it tasted perfect right there, but Bill said it would need another year or so. This one was The Wrath, a one-time vintage yet to be bottled. That was best day of my wine drinking life....

Two years later, here we are back at Fairview and The Wrath is practically sold out and not available for tasting. We desperately chatted Bill up with some of this story so we could get a taste, and it worked. Although I liked the Mapcap slightly better, this was a special wine. My notes simply say "Huge. 90 points." Not only is this easily the most expensive wine I have ever purchased, we bought two. The other bottle was for Terri and Terry as a going away present - they now live in Kelowna - and to remember our once-in-a-lifetime day at Fairview.

Thank you, Bill.

July 19, 2012

SOWF #17: Stoneboat

Stoneboat is one place that I like but Kris always loves, so we rarely skip it when tooling around the south Okanagan. I like everything about this winery, I just seem to find their wines a little on the bland side.

  • Pinot Gris 2010 ($19)

A phenomenal year for whites, 2010 saw slightly cooler temperatures than normal, leading to perfect balance between sugar and flavour development in the Pinot Gris. 20% of this wine was fermented in barrel to round the mouthfeel and to provide a slight creaminess on the palate. The remainder was fermented slowly at cool temperatures to preserve lush aromatics. The 2010 Pinot Gris is brimming with stonefruit, grapefruit and honeysuckle aromas. Peach, pear and citrus burst on the palate, underscored by unabashedly crisp acidity and firm minerality. 

Found this a little thin. 88 points.

  • Chorus 2010 ($18)

Varietals: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Muller Thurgau, Kerner, Schoenburger. Chorus was created to capture the best traits of our vineyards’ white varietals. Difficult, if not impossible, to replicate in BC, this blend sets the intense aromatics of our old-vines Germanics against a tropical, mineral backdrop of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. A complex, layered wine, Chorus offers lively, fresh tropical and apple aromas with peach and citrus on the palate. Cheerful, juicy, and delicious.

Nice acidity. 89 points.

  • Faux Pas Rosé 2010 ($19)

Our 2008 rose is a saignee of Pinot Noir cold fermented in stainless steel. 2% Pinot Blanc was blended into the wine to balance the Pinot's intense berry characters. With only a touch of residual sugar, this wine derives its richness from the fruit and remains refreshing to the palate. The juice of Pinot Noir berries was allowed only fleeting contact with skins, resulting in a perfumed wine brimming with aromas of berries, cherries and peaches. A hint of sweetness restrained by bright acidity leads into a long, dry and refreshing finish.

Nice! 90 points.

  • Pinot Noir 2009 ($25)

One of our finest vintages, brought about by a long warm summer and beautiful early fall weather with warm days and cool nights. Leaning towards an old world style, this Pinot offers layered aromas of earth, cola, cherry and smoky vanilla, leading to a fresh, rounded palate rich with earthy, slightly mineral flavours of berries and spice. The finish lingers long with plentiful stewed strawberry and a hint of lavender. A tad secretive due to its youth, the 2009 Pinot Noir is showing excellent promise, and will reward those who cellar it for 6-12 months prior to opening.

Oaky, big bouquet, [something illegible]. 88+ points.

  • Duet 2009 ($20)

50% Pinot Noir and 50% Pinotage. Duet is aged in French, American and Hungarian oak for up to 15 months, displaying dark fruit, berries, toffee and vanilla characters. Plump, chewy tannins round out the palate on this inherently approachable wine.

Not bad. Contrary to the first sentence, Kris did not like this one at all. Usually she likes these more than I do. 88 points.

  • Pinotage 2009 ($25)

Because of its mixed parentage of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir, we like to think that the vine's Rhone ancestry helps it thrive in the heat, while its Burgundian roots suit it well to our rocky soils and cool nights. We have only begun to see the potential of this fantastic varietal in the Okanagan. Brambleberries and baking spice are predominant on the nose, followed by signature sweet dark fruits on the palate. Fine, supple tannins frame an exciting streak of mango, blackberry and chai tea flavours, leading to a warm, long finish. A fantastic companion to grilled red meats, sauteed green beans or kale. 

88 points.


July 13, 2012

SOWF #16: Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl is probably the best winery in BC. For several years now they have consistently produced some fantastic wines, and while each vintage is a little different from the next the quality is always superior. My scores below reflect that - every single wine was a solid 89 or 90. If you need to bring a nice bottle for dinner and don't know what to get, anything from Burrowing Owl will do nicely, particularly their big reds.

The winery itself is stunning. They are expanding into the guest house business, where they have spared no expense to build some of the more luxurious accommodation in the valley. Not that I could afford to stay there. Last year we stopped for a bite in their restaurant, and I have to say it was a little meagre, the taste was OK but not great, and the price was very expensive. Fortunately the wines are somewhat reasonably priced considering what you get, and about $8-$15 less than what we pay in Alberta. Visit the winery, take a few photos, skip the restaurant, and try as many wines as they let you.

  • Pinot Gris 2010 ($20)

The 2011 Pinot Gris grapes were harvested by hand in October 2011. The grapes were then whole bunch pressed into stainless steel tanks and some skin contact on a percentage of the grapes with the perfect profile, was permitted. A whole bunch or ‘Champagne’ type press cycle with progressive pressure increases and minimal rotations, was used. The wine was fermented naturally; only using selected yeast strains when deemed absolutely necessary. The wine is blended after ferment in stainless and kept on the lees for 3 months to increase palate weight and texture.

A soft, welcoming nose of Asian pear, cantaloupe melon, apple blossom and lemon with hints of tropical fruit and baking spice. The palate is dry with balanced acidity and a soft, full texture that leads from ripe pear through nectarine, blood orange, ruby grapefruit onto mineral and nutmeg complexities. This wine has the weight and texture to pair with rich white fish such as halibut, white wine poached chicken or mussels in a curry cream sauce.

Very well done, smooth, balanced acidity. 89+ points.

  • Chardonnay 2009 ($25)

This wine shows intense nectarine, caramelized pineapple and citrus aromas that mingle beautifully with the vanilla and crème brûlée notes from barrel fermentation. The palate is rich and viscous with ripe peach, cantaloupe, subtle and complex savoury elements from the lees contact and a fresh lemon intensity that lingers throughout. This wine has weight yet freshness making it perfectly suited to BC Dungeness crab dipped in garlic butter.

Oaky (almost too much, but it works), buttery, nice. 90 points.

  • Pinot Noir 2009 ($30)

The grapes for this wine were harvested in October 2009 from the Burrowing Owl vineyard. These blocks contain own-rooted Pinot Noir clones 114 and 115. The fruit was hand-picked, destemmed, and crushed into stainless steel tanks. It was inoculated with our preferred yeast strains and fermented at 28ºC. After pressing, the wine was transferred into oak barrels for the completion of malolactic fermentation (MLF). The wine was racked once and barrel aged for 10 months before bottling in July 2009. It is unfiltered and unfined for maximum flavour. Enjoy!

A medium bodied wine with subtle aromas of black cherry and cedary spice as the prelude to a luxurious velvet texture with silky tannins and a persistent smoky spice that fans out on the finish. Tobacco and complex earthy tones add a second layer of intrigue. A lovely, refined, and well balanced wine. Depth of flavour and complexity will build with bottle ageing.

Peppery nose, cherry, less finish but nice. 89 points.

  • Merlot 2009 ($30)

A deep youthful purple appearance with powerful, ripe and intense fruit aromas of black cherry, raspberry, plum and mulberry. The fruit overlays subtle oak notes, coffee, marzipan, chocolate, vanilla and a hint of fresh tobacco. The palate is full of mixed brambly berries, licorice, clove, cedar, graphite and sage with a long persistent finish. Approachable now with its ripe and integrated tannins, there is also the flavour intensity and structure to mature well in bottle. Try this with coq au vin or your favourite grilled red meat with a red wine demi-glace.

Tart, deep and complex. 89 points.

  • Cabernet Franc 2009 ($33)

The grapes were hand picked towards the end of October, 2009 from different parcels on Burrowing Owl Estate vineyards. The grapes were hand sorted, gently de-stemmed and slightly crushed. Gravity dropped into our tanks and left to heat on its own to 17 degrees Celsius prior to inoculation with our select yeast strains. The wine was fermented on skins for an average 20 days. Approximately 10 days of post fermentation maceration, to enhance the structure and refine the tannins, prior to draining and press of the skins. The wine received 18 months of oak barrel exposure with periodic rackings

Bright and intense aromas of ripe plums, crushed raspberries, milk chocolate, orange zest and violets. The palate is medium to full-bodied and lush - showing the richer side of this variety - with brambly mixed berries, chocolate, white pepper, clove and a varietal dried herbal note that adds a savoury complexity. The balanced acidity and dusty tannins give structure and linger on a long, complex finish. This intense and ripe Cabernet Franc is well suited to braised venison or rosemary-studded leg of lamb.

Cherry, tannins are quite sharp. Probably needs a couple of years or a good aeration to really be a superstar. 90 points.

  • Syrah 2009 ($33)

A powerful and intense wine but with an intriguing side. It shows the richness of Syrah with aromas of blueberry, blackberry and ripe plum along with the grape’s other side – an intriguing savoury, peppery meatiness. The well integrated oak adds elements of vanilla, spice and liqueur chocolate to the nose. The palate is rich and full with intense flavours of blackberry, ripe raspberry and black forest cake. The flavours then progress through coffee, chocolate, damson plum, cassis and grilled herbs. The acidity is perfectly balanced and the tannins, while firm, are ripe and integrate seamlessly so that the wine can be enjoyed young or cellared to develop further complexity. The subtleties in this wine make it perfectly suited to spiced braised meat dishes such as tagine or Asian spiced lamb shanks.

Oomph. Big and terrific. Like the cab franc, a little tight so decanting and/or aging would help, but this is too delicious to wait. 90+ points.