Don’t Go To Maui For The Wine

Maui Soils

Well, who does, really? I certainly go for the surf, sand and sun, but on my recent trip to this island paradise, me being me, I had to suss out the wine scenario…

There are two things you are not going to get when visiting Maui: wineries and good-valued wine.

I didn’t expect to find any vineyards, given the soil is a giant lava rock in the middle of the Pacific, sitting on top of the equator. It’s no surprise grapes don’t grow here. Or so I thought. There is actually one winery in Maui and it’s surprisingly very well advertised and promoted, front and centre in the grocery stores and plastered across most tourism brochures. The hard sell.

Ulupalakua Ranch is coined as “Maui’s Winery” – notice the singular. “Step right up and get your crisp, well-balanced pineapple wine!”. That’s their “Maui Blanc” (the top-seller). They also have “Maui Splash”: pineapple and passion fruit, they sell a red wine, “smooth and creamy”, a sparkling pineapple (of course) and a sparkling dry rose. Last but not least, they produce “Framboise de Maui”, a raspberry specialty wine with 20% alcohol, ready to poor over ice cream. This one is interesting as it is totally organic: no chemical additives, stabilizers, fining agents, or sulfites. Bless them. “A” for effort, and though I didn’t make it to the winery, I bet it’s a cool slab of ancient rock on the side of a volcano.

The wine experience I was anxious for was the vast and excellent selection of well-priced, good-valued wine at the grocery store. In Vancouver, we are forced to purchase at the wine shops or liquor stores. What a treat it is to go to the States and stroll the grocery aisles for milk and eggs while also filling your bin with booze!

On our first day we hit the local Safeway to stock up on supplies for the week’s menu and headed straight to the FOUR aisles of alcohol, mostly wine. I couldn’t wait to fill my cart with inexpensive excellent wines. Boy, was I disappointed.

Firstly, any wine worth drinking was nowhere near economically priced. If anything, the wines were way over priced. Ah, right, an island. I’m on an island. I had not considered the cost of importing food and wine to this remote location. Or maybe this was another case of the Maui “stickin’ it to the tourist” fees which we gradually learned about over the course of our stay.

Secondly, the selection was so disappointing. Quite literally there was an entire wall of Kendall-Jackson. About ¾ of the whole wine section was Californian. That’s not a complaint, there’s plenty to love, but given the locale, you can imagine the markups. Aussie wines made up about 80% of the remaining ¼ of the overall selection, with enough Yellow Tail to set you straight for a year, and there was a measly 3 shelves dedicated to  every other wine region: some decent French, zero Riesling to be found, and Argentinean Malbecs mixed in with the Chilean. Rough go. Redeeming feature: the sake section was out of this world!

The laugh-out-loud wine moment was the very large display of “Matthew Fox Vineyards” wine. Being in Hawaii with the whole “Lost” tv thing, this was funny. Turns out it’s not the same guy, is it? My research (if you can call it that) tells me it’s some priest in California, but nobody really knows. Either way, reds and whites for 3 bucks? Sold! I had to try it. The shiraz knocked me in the side of the face but it was pretty drinkable. Perfect for a Hawaiian beach grilled-meat dinner. Let it also be known: there are some fantastic restaurants with some amazing wine lists. Search ‘top restaurants Maui’ for user reviews.

We did enjoy plenty of French Rosé, had our fair share of classic Kiwi Sauvy B.’s and some easy drinkin’ Cali Cabs – all with glorious food as we filled our boots with fresh fish every day and local fruits and veg from the Farmer’s market just steps from our abode. Given the wine circumstance and the fact that it was pleasantly sweltering hot, there was more gin, ceasars and good ol’ 6-packs of Bud consumed!

My top tip for travelers and wine drinkers heading to Maui: don’t rent a Jeep for a week (a classic rip-off, but that’s another post for some other blog). Save your money and spend it on over-priced, marked-up fantastic wines at the grocery store. Or, just drink Bud.

How Sweet It Is

What is it about sweet wines getting such a bad rep? When offered a sweet wine, in my experience most people respond with a “No thanks. I don’t like sweet wines.”. Really? Are you sure about that, or are you basing that on the one cheap Asti you tried 15 years ago or the infamous Black Tower days of the 70s era? It’s kind of like the “I don’t drink white wine” syndrome that is purely based on the lesser, usually heavily-oaked Chardonnays we all had to choke down at weddings.

If you’re not drinking sweet wines, you are missing a big party in your mouth.

I recently took a few wine courses and tasted more than 30 wines at one go or over the course of a few hours – every kind of wine across the board. Reds, whites, cheap, expensive, sparkling, fortified, sweet… you name it, we tried it. It’s easy to swirl, swish, taste and spit when you’re on a mission. With a lot of wines to get through when you’re learning about this stuff, you want to spit and be sober at the end to know what end is up or down, for the most part. It’s the sweet wines that sneak by you, or rather, by your mouth. The “whoops, had to let that one slip down” wines – the mouth feel and taste on these guys are just so damn good you can’t spit them out.

So what is a sweet wine? Well, a few things. Firstly, a sweet wine is commonly referred to as dessert wine, simply because it’s nicely matched with, you guessed it, dessert. Sweet with sweet – a classic pairing. Sweet wines can be fortified, distilled, late harvest, Nobel Rot, enjoyed as an aperitif or with dessert.

I am hoping that laying out sweet wines in a bit of a mish-mash list might help to inspire you to hunt down and try some of these suggestions, starting with some fortified. Port is a perfect place to begin.

Port and Sherry are perhaps the better known fortified wines. Wines can also be made as dry and semi-dry, but my point here is to direct you to the excellence of the sweet ones. These can be strong and maybe even an acquired taste, but like all grape varietals and wines, you can always find one you like.

Port is typically sweet, can only be called Port if it is produced in Portugal (in the Duoro Valley in the north) and is made by adding a neutral spirit such as Brandy to the fermentation process. Other countries make fortified wines in the port-style but cannot be called Port, such as Rutherglen Muscat, a dark-sweet syrupy wine from Victoria in Australia. You’re not going to find a specific varietal on a bottle of Port; they are made as a blend. Try these:

  • Late Bottled Vintage (Noval Quinta do Noval)
  • 10 Year Old Tawny (Graham’s)
  • 20 Year Old Tawny (Taylor Fladgate)
  • Vintage Port

Like port, Sherry can only be called Sherry if it comes from a specific region. This time it’s Jerez, Spain, and like port it’s fortified with a grape spirit, but after fermentation. To most it is an acquired taste, but it’s so fine if you can get there. For the sickly sweet ones, look for Oloroso or PX on the label. It’s one of those things you just need to try it to believe it:

  • Lustao Pedro Ximénez
  • Sacromonte Oloroso

Very similar to port, this is a fortified wine but specifically made on the island of Madeira, off the coast of Portugal. Ranging from bone dry to luscious, these fine wines are most famous for their high refreshing acidity and their longevity, some able to last a 100 years+. The sweeter styles are sometimes labeled with the grape Malmsey or ‘Doce’, which means sweet. Next time, rather than a bottle of port, give Madeira a shot.

Frozen grapes on the vine typically only happens in cold climate countries, Canada and Germany being the most famous for their ice wines. The grapes used are often Riesling, Vidal, Cabernet Franc, Gewurtztraminer. Some Made In Canada picks:

  • Henry of Pelham Cab Franc Ice Wine
  • Inniskillin’s Vidal
  • Tinhorn Creek

A little sweet bubbly never goes astray. Your cheap and fresh recommendation is Moscato d’Asti. Try Cava dulce from Spain and of course there’s much to choose from in the Champagne aisle. Look for “Doux” on the label for the sweetest you can find.

Saving the best until last. I love late harvest anything: Luscious and mouth-watering. Late harvest simply means the grapes were left on the vine longer than a typical harvest in the hopes of developing Nobel Rot, or “Botrytis Cinerea”. Yes, a thing called Nobel Rot is a very good thing when it comes to these grapes and wines. Some of my favourites and must-tries:

  • Sauternes – from the Sauterne wine region in France, these wines are arguably the finest created (made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes). Hunt down a Chateau d’Yquem. You’ll pay dearly, but it’s worth every cent.
  • Tokaji from Hungary, a National Pride. Try Oremus Tokaji Aszu 3 Puttonyos.
  • Late Harvest Riesling – Winery Schloss Johannisberg from the Rheingau is a good place to start.
  • Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc – look for the affordable Errazuriz Late Harvest from Chile.
  • German Wines – check for Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese on the label – these are harder to find specialty items, age-worthy, and absolutely delectable.

Best pairings for some of these luscious wines are some of the best foods that by no coincidence also melt in your mouth: cheese (stilton for Ports, soft cheese for ice wines), rich chocolate, nutty desserts with Sherry works well, or match up sweet or fruity desserts – and foie gras can definitely slip down with it all!

Published, Kinda

Book Done and In The Flesh!So I wrote a children’s book. Actually, co-wrote. My step-mother-in-law and I put our heads together over some wine (shocker) on a wine-filled Napa weekend last year and came up with a plan to write a book based on our dogs. Evil, the affectionate name for my step-mother-in-law (my husband coined it, Evil loves it. It’s a name that is quite the contrary to her true self. Her name is actually Sara), knows a guy who knows a girl who happens to be an unbelievable illustrator Erin Wainscott.

So we got to mapping out this book on our dogs. We love our dogs, but why would anyone else? I guess that’s a question anyone who writes a book around themselves or their lives must ask. Who cares? This didn’t matter to us getting started – it was the process, not the end result, we were excited about. If we printed two copies for our own bookshelves and that was it, so be it. We decided to bring back the animals-have-an-owner aka Christopher Robbins style, get these dogs up to no good, have their confident and carefree female Irish red head 10-year old owner Sam (Sara And Megan) teach the dogs (and the kids out there!) good values and life lessons. Basic, yes. But kids’ books are pretty basic.

Seven months later and after a lot of story-boarding, research, many edits, ample phone calls, several in-person meetings (she lives in San Francisco and I in Vancouver), lots of wine, an enormous amount of back-and-forth on the illustrations, more edits, advisory phone calls, publisher calls, and then some, we have a book.

And it’s beautiful!

We used a service called Blurb – it’s an easy way to print and self publish – and we’ve started cracking on more books in the series. This stuff becomes addictive. The market is incredibly saturated with a TON of competition. It’s not the goal to become a rich kid’s writer – does that even exist outside of JK and Dr. Suess? But this project was a blast. The site and being able to purchase the book (and dare I say the series) is coming down the pipes in 2010. Then we’ll start knocking on some publishers doors…

And this is a look at the real Capo and Jasper.

Winter Wines and Comfort Foods

Cornucopia Food and Wine Festival in Whistler

Given the recent blasting of snow on the east coast of Canada and the US, along with some rainy, foggy days of winter in the west, it’s definitely a time to shake off the cold, lock the doors, light the fire and crack into some seriously delicious wines with steaming hot comfort food.

Shorter days with the sun setting at 5pm in most parts of Canada is reason enough for dinner to be relatively quick and easy, but this does not mean the food has to be blazé. And it certainly is no excuse for not balancing your palate with the right wine. Think of it as a reward for your hard day and an escape from the ugliness happening outside. It really does enrich the food experience when you’ve got the right wine to match. And it goes both ways – wine tastes that much better with the right food. It seems a lot of people don’t pay particular attention to food and wine pairing. Maybe it’s a mix of not being properly equipped with the knowledge, a general misunderstanding and plain ol’ laziness after a long day of work. Time to add a few suggestions into the weekly menu rotation and to start to think about balancing meals with wine pairings.

A heaping bowl of pasta is pretty easy for most to whip up after a few hours of shoveling snow. A very easy and basic fresh tomato, basil and parmesan recipe goes a long way when you pair it with the classic match: Chianti. There are a lot out there to choose from, but here’s one that will definitely please: Castello di Bossi, Chianti Classico ($35).

Nothing says comfort food like a big pot of stew. Provided you’ve gone with beef, bring out a big gun like a Syrah, a Zin or a Cab. Try this: Cote-du-Rhone Domaine de la Veille Julienne ($30). There’s a savoury note in the wine that brings out the salt in the dish.

Homemade soup is always an easy bet. Make it when you have the time and stick it in the freezer for those nights when all you really want is to polish off a whole bottle. Whether it’s roasted pepper, leek and potato, or hearty vegetable, piping hot winter soups would be fantastic with this 80-year-old Grenache vines wine Capcanes Vall del Calas ($25)

How about a little roast chicken dinner? A Sunday meal on a Wednesday sounds good. Pop a few herbs, onion and garlic in the chicken and the roaster, cover the chicken in butter and huck in a pile of veg. The oven does the rest. A beautiful red with soft tannins to pair with this dish is the Vietti Tre Vigne Barbera d’Alba ($45). Keeping with the softer tannins, try a Merlot or a fruity Beaujolais. Whites that work are dry Rieslings, Alsatian Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

Some would consider making a traditional cassoulet without duck confit is sacrilege, but a vegetarian cassoulet dish can be as tasty. I’m not a veggie, I love my meat, but either way you definitely have to enjoy it with a French wine. A Burgundy or Rhone Valley works. The classic for this dish is a Gigondas – a well-balanced, full body red from Southern Rhone.

Ordering something spicy for take-out? Forget about the reds. People who love their red wine have a hard time getting around this one, but it makes such a difference if you head straight for a Gewürztraminer with spicy food. Gewurtz means ‘spice’ in German, so there is something to the madness. Choose a wine that is refreshing with crisp acidity and also look for wines leaning toward off-dry. You need a wine that can cut through the heat and the spice of the dishes. My personal favourites include German and Alsace Rieslings. There are several levels of sweetness in these wines. Lucky for you: to find the one that suits your taste, you get to try them all. Bubbly and rose are great choices for spice as well.

I, for one, have occasionally resorted to the straight-up chocolate and cheese dinner. It’s incredibly liberating, not to mention satisfying. Taste-test the various dark chocolate options in your grocery and pop into your local cheese shop for a few samples of soft, hard and stinky. You are sure to melt your mouth with a side dish of Late Bottled Vintage Port.

Creating a list of dishes with one wine choice for each can be a challenge. There are so many great wines to try. This is a barely-touching-the-surface starter list. Let me know what you’ve paired and tried. I’m always up for getting through some tough home work assignments.

Navigational Nightmare Made Easy

Sonoma Wine TourFinding your way through dusty aisles, stacked shelves and a blur of labels to choose that perfect bottle with the ideal price tag has to be one of the more challenging shopping experiences. Ah yes, navigating the wine shop. Picking a wine can be intimidating and daunting. It’s right up there with painting on new jeans or examining the “fit” of a potential bikini in the change room.

And even if you know a little bit about wine and have been in the same wine shop a hundred times, we’ve all wandered the aisles aimlessly trying to find a sign of inspiration.

Shopping for wine is supposed to be a fun event, not an overwhelming one. There are a few things to do and consider in conquering this wine store conundrum. First things first: find your people. Take some time to visit all of the wine stores near your work and home. It will be evident which ones you prefer just based on the vibe. Once you get to know these stores, and the wine, and the prices of course, chances are you’ll go with the location that has the best selection and valued wines for you. And like any kind of store, you’ll return to the place you want to give your business to because of how it makes you feel.

Quick Checklist

Before heading out to buy wine, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What’s the wine for: easy drinking or paired with a meal?
  • What’s on the menu?
  • Is the wine for yourself, a generic gift or are you buying for a wine aficionado?
  • And most importantly, what is your budget?

If you know the answers to these questions, you’re ahead of the game before crossing the doorstep.

“Can I Help You?”

We spend so much of our days on the phone and emailing – communicating online and on mobiles has taken over 24-7. So when we walk into any store, a lot of the time we just want to be left to our own devices. However in a wine shop, you most definitely should speak with the people that work there. Typically they are extremely helpful, they have a wide range of knowledge and chances are they love wine more most (they are working in a wine shop after all). Ask for help. Tell them how much you want to spend and for what or whom the wine is intended. They will point you in the right direction and a lot of the time will introduce you to a wine you have yet to try.

My Region, My Country

Most wine stores are organized by country and region, with some form of signage. Occasionally you will wander into a store that has chosen to display their wines in another fashion, such as by grape varietal, which can be helpful but comes with its own challenges. Have a look around to see if the organized creative chaos suits your style. Generally speaking it’s much easier to scan for wine when it’s organized by country, which most stores are. Wines are often shelved based on price as well with the higher price points at eye level. Pay attention to those small labels on some wines called “shelf talkers” – they give you the Coles’ Notes on the wine; things like what’s in the wine, what it best pairs with, a rating and discount information. Every store varies but once you find the store you enjoy, you’ll get to know what’s what soon enough.

You’ll likely find both red and white under most countries. Know what you like or don’t like. Reading and understanding wine labels from every wine region of the world takes time and effort (and drinking!). Again, talk to a staff member. If you need a ready-to-drink chilled white or sparkling, there are normally a few gems to choose from in the cooler section. Some specialty stores have a “staff’s picks” section – definitely check this out. It often means good wine at great value, chosen by the experts. And if you really want to spend the bucks, there’s always a few Barolos and Brunellos behind lock and key!

What Was The Name Of That Wine…?

How many times have you stumbled around a wine store hunting for that label you know you will recognize when you see it? When you find a good wine, record it. There’s an app for that. Or get a Moleskine. Whatever your preference, start to take notes. This way you’ll have your favourite go-to wines right at your fingertips. I use an iPhone and I like to snap the labels of the wines I like (or don’t like) wherever I am – this makes it easy when shopping for wine. Check out Wine Snob which allows you to record the image of the label and the details of a wine, plus your own tasting note, in less than a minute. The Wine Guide is an app of reviews and ratings from Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s editors – literally a wine expert in your hands. I also use an app for tracking and storing wine called powered by CellarTracker – easy and excellent.

In short, being surrounded by hundreds of bottles of wine has to be a good thing. The real trick to feeling comfortable and confident in a wine store is quite simple: buy and drink more wine!

Update: Great tip from Madeline re a new Moleskine wine journal – it’s about time! Get it via Amazon here.

Fancy Cars and “Select” Wines

Warning: When tasting delectable wines in a Mercedes-Benz showroom, spit as much as humanly possible. At the end of the night, you’re walking out with at least a case of wine… oh, and look: it comes in the truck of a shiny new S65 AMG Sedan. How did that happen? (Oddly, I now know what a S65 AMG Sedan is.)

Select Wines has it going on. As a pre-holiday tasting event, the Canada-wide agency held a customer appreciation night this week in Vancouver at the Mercedes Benz dealership in Kits. Oo-la-la. Smart move. What else gets you in the mood to pick up a case or 2 other than flashy hot-rods, a shiny black grand piano crankin’ out not-sick-of-them-yet Christmas tunes and several stations of big reds, crisp whites and happy bubbly to keep the room buzzing for hours? This was a great event. Small, casual and nicely orchestrated by the fine people of Select who kept those glasses full…

They had a selection of about 15 wines in total. We were greeted at the door with a little bubbly to kick it off – their Piper-Heidieck Brut Reserve ($55.98 | #462432) – excellent start to the evening. After we wandered through the dangerously available for spontaneous radical purchasing autos, we hit the whites and enjoyed a classic Riesling, 07 from Hugel, Alsace ($24.99 | #365486), the Wither Hills straight-down-the-middle classic Kiwi Sauvy B. ($18.99 | #493619 ), and the seemingly more trendy wine of 2009: a 07 Grüner Veltliner from Austria’s Salomon Undhof ($26.99 | #843045) – nuts and honey, fantastic mouth-feel.

Moving into the reds, there were 10 on hand and we of course tasted a healthy portion of each one. Here were a few of my big-body fav’s:

  • 06 Sicilian Merlot Collezione di Famiglia. Full body, chocolatey, balanced, smooth, smooth, smooth. Nice to discover from the south of Italy. Great for any heavy sauce or meaty Christmas dish ($19.99 | #760223)
  • 05 Barbaresco Ricossa – Great value for this big-bodied, complex guy ($21.99 | #929406)
  • 07 Firesteed Pinot Noir – One of the better valued new world Pinots under $25, thanks to those Oregon winemakers who know a thing or two on old world Pinot style ($22.99 | #361782)
  • 06 Shiraz Viognier from Yering Station in Oz – this was my favourite of the night. A great find. It’s got a pleasantly unsuspecting mouth feel and an intensity from different directions, giving way for varying flavours. A must try. ($26.99 | #699785)

Thankfully, plenty of wine and hours later, we didn’t end up with a car. We did however end up with a Christmas mixed case of great wines. Thanks to everyone at Select, especially Risha, and to the Mercedes crew for a very memorable night.

My Brief Interlude at Cornucopia

Cornucopia Food and Wine Festival in WhistlerMy pal Tracey and I headed up to the Friday afternoon industry tasting at Cornucopia in Whistler a few weeks back. (Thank Judas there is a mountain getaway wine event in the dreary November rainy season.) We decided to make a quick day trip of it, just to wet our lips at this year’s event… that was, until the snow came and the mountain announced its opening two weeks ahead of schedule; my plans quickly changed. Fresh snow equals staying in the mountains, which was the perfect excuse to also take full advantage of the food and wine festival. My intention was to attend as much as I could, meet more people and soak up the scene (and the wine). It’s the intention that counts, right? I chose bombing down a mountain on a board in new, perfect, buttery snow rather than the former intention. Instead of spending a small fortune on all of the festival’s wine and food events, I spent a small fortune après, fireside at the Chateau’s Mallard lobby bar.

Rasoul Salehi, Executive Director of Le Vieux Pin and La Stella (Okanagan), was kind enough to offer me a bottle of his 2007 LaStella Fortissimo for us to enjoy. Crafted from two agreeable palates, this is a bold but soft Italian-inspired blend, a deep, rich ruby (52% Merlot, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc) with a whole lot of black fruits on the nose and even more on the palate, balanced nicely with hints of chocolate and cedar. Soft and velvety throughout, it’s got some tight tannins, but this is one that’ll do well with a few years, or why not right now with a juicy hunk o’ meat? I quite enjoyed it, white robe and mountain room aside slightly persuading the mood… ($35)

I did manage to snap off a few pics of the festival and my new mountain “wine fridge”. Sorry Rasoul – a portion of your Fortissimo ended up on the roof of the Chateau. But not before I enjoyed most of it. Not a bad branding tactic perhaps?

This is the part where I link to all the fabulous posts on the event’s site so you can dig for more great info, but it doesn’t seem they have an official blog space, or photos on Flickr?… in doing a quick search I found Degan’s piece on and Jennifer was covering things for Miss 604 in this post. Let me know if I’ve missed others. Here’s a few more pics from “Culinary Fool” on Flickr.

IVSA: So Many Wines… You Know The Rest

Honeymoon In FranceSo *this* is where all the kids hang out. IVSA (Import Vintners & Spirits Association of BC) in Vancouver was a good time had by all at the Four Seasons downtown. If you are in the wine industry, you should consider joining the mobs of wine agents and buyers. If you’re not, you should find a way to get there next time around.

Roaming the room, taking it all in and chatting with familiar and new faces, you couldn’t help notice the serious on-a-mission tasters for wine columns, blogs, party recommendations, surrounded by the not-so-serious having a grand ol’ time, not spitting. Everyone was in great spirits and it felt a bit like Christmas in early November.

I met some lovely people, tasted some doozy wines, but there was no hope you could even dream of tasting half of the room in the 3 short hours, so I tried to stick to some bubbly plus a few bonus tracks for the holidays:

  • Bastianich Flor Prosecco – $19.99 – easy to drink and your fills the mouth with florals and light, lovely bubbles
  • Codorniu Pinot Noir Sparkling Brut, Cava, $19.99 – full of zest and soft mouthfeel, with a pinky-orange hue for all of you pink fans out there
  • Nicolas Feuillatte Particuliere Brut, Champagne, $59.99 – Gismondi 90 pts.
  • Champagne Moutardier Carte d’Or, $58.99 – unique 85% Pinot Meunier must try – 90 pts Burghound

  • Bonus Tracks:

  • Penfolds Grandfather Port, $84.99 – nutty and rich, melts in your mouth and hangs around for a long time, but not long enough!
  • Chateau d’Orignac Pineau des Charentes, $39.99 – Wow. Two-thirds Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, one-third Cognac and ten years to produce – think thick, rich honey in a beautiful wine. Excellent value.
  • Blue Raspberry Vodka, $23.75 – And why not add a little fun bubble-gum-esque blue vodka into the Christmas stocking? Goes with every typical mix I’d imagine or on its own on the rocks.

Thanks to Catherine at Rare Finds and Risha at Select Wines for making certain I made it out.

My Week In France

Honeymoon In France… in Vancouver.

What to do when you can’t jet off to France every other month? Seek France out in a hotel or community centre near you.

Last week I stopped into two local tasting events. The first, an industry tasting of Bordeaux reds and whites at the Roundhouse called Bordeaux Under One Roof. The second, the Rhône Valley at the Four Seasons Hotel at an event called Warm Winter Rhône – a benefit for the Children’s Hospital.

Great thing about my “afternoon in Bordeaux”: all wines presented were under $30. Beat that. Pretty decent value. It was a quiet room of just nine local agencies which made it easy to meet and greet and move around.

Before the tasting got started, it was optional to slip into the theatre adjacent to the tasting room and listen to an hour on Bordeaux from Montrealer and Bordeaux expert Nick Hamilton. It was a basic 101 on the region, terroir, grapes and wines, but served as very informative if you knew zero to very little.

Bordeaux wines are the true art of blending.
— Nick Hamilton

A Few Bordeaux Picks:

  • Red: Chateau Mayne-Vieil 2005, $27.99 – rich, full body, lovely tannins, balanced and drinkable now / Merlot, Cab Franc
  • White: Dourthe No 1 Sauvignon Blanc, $16.99 – Holy New Zealand! Very typical flare of a Sauvy B from NZ – citrus, grapefruit, fresh, zesty, yum – from France.
  • Best deal of the day: Chateau Loupiac Gaudiet 2003, $17.99 (375ml) – sweet gem you could sip on all afternoon!

Across town and two days later, my “evening in the Rhône Valley” was splendid. This night was a benefit for the Children’s Hospital, so wonderful to see a packed room with eager note-takers and the “occasional” no-spitters… always entertaining. It was an easy room to try most wines, and that I did, along with my very-happy-to-taste-at-anytime-fellow-wine-enthusiast Tracey. Definitely found it easier to taste with one other person along for the ride, rather than a solo trek or a +1 +1 +1 etc. You can block out some crowds and get down to the task at hand with a second nose and set of taste buds.

Treats From The Rhône:

  • Le Compagnie Rhodanienne 206 Les Combelles, $13.49 – easy drinking, light tannins and body with a nice balance – perfect entry into Rhône wine.
  • Chapoutier 2005 Muscat Beaumes de Venise – other than the small twang of *slight* high alcohol at 15.5%, really, really lovely.
  • Perrin Les Christins 2007 Vacqueyras, $26.99 – their marketing says it better than I: “rock-solid”.

Bringing Napa Home To You

Vancouver played host to Napa Valley at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel this month as part of “Wine Arts”, an event hosted by Arts Umbrella. Lucky me got to join and transport myself from bad lighting and industrial carpeting to some of the Greats from Calistoga, St. Helena and Rutherford.

In speaking with some of the winemakers, winery owners and reps and local agents, the wines fell under categories of a. available in Vancouver, b. never going to be available in Vancouver and c. “We’ve been trying for years to get into Vancouver!”. So good luck finding them. Locally, try the private wine shops first. If nothing else, head down to Napa and try them all in person.

My Highlight Reel:

  • Trefethen 2003 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – deep purple, dark fruits, beautifully balanced, long smokey finish.
  • 2006 Diamond Creek “Gravelly Meadow” Cabernet Sauvignon – most expensive wine of the night and one of the best.
  • 2007 Laird Family Estate Cold Creek Ranch Chardonnay – just the way you’d expect a full-bodied, toasty, buttery Cali Chardonnay. This one was a treat.
  • 2006 Quintessa (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, & 1% Carmenere) – A lot going on with this rich and beautiful wine with black fruits and plenty of spice. This one needs some meat or put it away for down the road.
  • Heitz Cellars Ink Grade Port – Holy Purple! This is one smoooooth porto. From Portuguese varietals Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Sausao, Tinta Cao, Tinta Bairada, Tinta Madeira, Tinta Amarela, Bastardo – These read something like Russian for the rookie, alas Heitz Cellars says it perfectly: “The perfect reason to linger over dinner.”.