Vinos De Finca Losada Bierzo 2009

 

vinos-de-finca-losada-bierzo-2009Spain, $25

 

I’m writing this from spring break in Kauai and amid the swell weather, bathwater warm water and soring peaks exists the depressing reality that even here, 4000 kilometers from the nearest wine-producing region, wine is cheaper than it is in Western Canada. On the plus side, I’m here and enjoying it—on behalf of all of us, I like to think. Last night at the surprisingly sophisticated Bar Acuda in the chill little village of Hanalei, they had wine from the very up-and-coming Bierzo region of Spain by the glass and it seemed like an oasis in a sea of the mass market California Cabs that dominate the wine lists on the Islands. Bierzo reds normally use the relatively obscure Mencia grape (the Portuguese call it Jaen), which is a little like Cabernet Franc (in the nose) and a little like Barbera (in the body). They’re tough to find in Western Canada but this week’s wine is a nice (if a tiny bit pricey) entry into the region and the grape. Expect some really zippy acidity and great freshness with some wild strawberry notes.

 

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Bartier Scholefield Red 2011

bartier-scholefield-red

BC, $20

“Respect for tradition.” It’s a line on the back of this bottle of wine and it’s by all means an admirable sentiment in the wine world—I just don’t have any idea how it found itself on the back of a wine that blends Merlot with Syrah (a little odd), Gamay (supremely odd) and Pinot Noir (Zelda Fitzgerald crazy). Thankfully, when you know the rules, then you can break them and there are few teams more aware of how unorthodox this blend is than winemaker Michael Bartier and partner David Scholefield. And what they’ve created is a wine that by defying convention has become one of the more memorable BC wines out there. If the Loire made Merlot it would taste like this—light and supremely fresh—but I find that there’s a not-subtle undercurrent of pepper and spice that keeps the wine from being more than “summer sipper”. It’s a wine that I can see Jon Rimmerman, the globetrotting wine merchant behind garagiste, raving about. It’s unique, it’s handcrafted and speaks to a place. Oh, and it’s $20. Not bad for a vanguard.

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Periquita 2011

periquita

Portugal, $10
A group of esteemed restaurant judges were in the offices last week and choosing wine for them is always a trick—their palates are pampered and they’re used to a pretty rarified level of imbibing. To make matters worse, the wine room at the office was at a near all time low in terms of variety. And then I found it, tucked away and forgotten at the bottom of one shelf was this bottle—a 2005 Periquita with the foil removed. For those of you who don’t know Periquita, it’s a workhouse value Portuguese red that’s been over-delivering to the under $10 crowd for years. It’s a blend of castelao (a grape few outside of Portugal have ever heard of), trincadeira (a grape that sounds like a deadly bacteria) and aragonez (actually tempranillo but the Portuguese like to call it something else just to complicate matters) and it’s decidedly not modern—it delivers a rustic idea of red fruit—and it’s not meant for aging. It’s own tasting notes say it has a shelf life of 6 years after bottling and the bottle I had was already on year 9.

And it was great. It was a little tired and most of its freshness had long gone, but it retained an earthy elegance and the years had rubbed all its elbows smooth. It was like a little Hobbit who had made an incredible journey and I couldn’t help but be impressed by it. I weekly drink scores of $20+ wine that wouldn’t make this journey with the same grace that this under $10 had done.

 

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Pascal Bouchard Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume 2010

pascal-bouchard-fourchaume

France, $54 

The greatest white wine in the world has been announced! Well, announced by me, but still. Last week the Chablis gang was in town and I couldn’t have been more excited had the Beatles gotten back together (maybe a little more surprised I suppose). The fact is that notwithstanding my excitement at tasting new wines from new regions, the honest truth is that no white wine region is closer to my heart in Chablis. It’s beautiful, it’s hellishly hard to grow grapes there (it gets so cold that they will often water the grapes so the water will freeze and forma protective barrier) and the wines that come out are a relative bargain given all the factors they deal with. You can get a basic Chablis for $25—cheaper than any California Chardonnay with any sort of connection to an identifiable plot of land—a Premier Cru starting at about $40 and a Grand Cru at about $75 (and up). And for that money you get the purest most nuanced handling of the Chardonnay grape in the world. I’m choosing a wonderful Premier Cru from Pascal Bouchard from the Fourchaume vineyard (there are 89 Premier Crus and I don’t pretend to know the difference between all of them) and it sees some time with some used oak, enough to impart some structure but not make it okay by any stretch. Instead you get a wave a crisp, green apples, both fresh and serious with asmall linger of white fruit. What a wine, what a region.

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Fontanafredda Briccotondo Barbera

fontanafredda-briccotondo

Italy, $15

It took me a little while to come around to Piedmont. The wines were difficult to understand, generally pricey and didn’t seem to care one bit whether I liked them or not. But like the cute loner in physics class, the truth is once I took the time to get to know them they were infinitely more interesting than the bland, popular wines/kids. For starters, while nebbiolo-based big boys—Barolo and Barbaresco—are pricey, the area serves up some other grapes that are easier on the pocketbook but heavy on the personality. There’s the wonderful Dolcetto and the even better Barbera. Barbera has the high acid of nebbiolo but very few of its tannins, which means it goes well with food (it would be amazing with the ragu recipe we’re running this week) but doesn’t need much in the way of aging. I feel I always get the subtle nod of approval from somms when I order Barbera, probably because they don’t have the money to drink Barolo on Wednesdays either. All of these attributes are present in this week’s wine, a well-made and well-priced bottle from the behemoth producer Fontanafredda. I was turned onto this wine from Sebastien Le Goff who is not only the director of service at Cactus Club but in possession of one of the scariest, most astute palettes I know. He probably does drink Barolo on Wednesday—but he also drinks this Barbera.

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Perseus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

perseus

BC, $50

Perseus is a relatively new operation right on the border of Penticton (you can walk from downtown) and the Naramata Bench, and I love that they do things just a little but differently. They do a really cool Pinot Blanc in a box, which is 3.0L for the smoking deal of $42; they have kooky lightly-oaked—which is not common— Sauvignon Blanc for $17 that I find sort of enduring; and then they have this $50 Cabernet, which looks almost identical to the $20 Cab/Shiraz and has no vineyard designation (other than it’s from Oliver) which is something I’d generally like in my $50 Okanagan Cabs. But that aside, it’s a pretty impressive wine with waves of spicy black fruits with some spice coming through in a long finish. I’m pretty sure this was made by the excellent winemaker Lawrence Herder (he’s since been replaced by the also excellent Tom DiBello) and I can maybe see this big wine (15.1% alcohol) maybe coming from Herder’s former stomping grounds of Paso Robles.

1998 Silver Oak Alexander Valley

silver-oak-98

California, $84

I was at a Halloween party a few months back with an open bar, but a particularly uncouth guest had brought a few bottles of his own “special” wine that he tucked around the corner for him and his pals to partake. He asked me if I wanted some and winked “It’s Silver Oak” and it was all I could do a stifle a small laugh. Silver Oak was one of the great CaliforniaCabernet stars back in the day but has had a much tougher time finding its place in the world of California Cult Cabs like Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate; not only did this guy have poor manners, but he used a 1991 copy ofThe Wine Spectator to help him buy his fancy wine.

This incident was on my mind last night when a group of friends got together to drink a few cabs side-by-side in the name of science. (And drinking.) There was a 2005 Bordeaux from Chateau Cantemerle (nice, but oddly subdued), an insanely muscular wine from Washington’s Doubleback (owned by Drew Bledsoe, and big and pricey) and Burrowing Owl, which held up not badly against wines that were twice the price. And then there was my bottle, a 1998 Silver Oak that had been in my cellar forever. I only had one, and my expectations were that, given the vintage, it might be less than stellar. Boy was I wrong—it was still dark and full with great classic cabernet notes of cassis and bitter cherry and an integrated long finish. What a great wine. The weird thing is I think I paid $60 for it all those years ago, and the current vintage is only $84, making it a pretty great deal.

So I was wrong about the Silver Oak. But that guy at the party was still a horse’s ass.

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Township 7 Pinot Gris 2012

township-7-pinot-gris

BC, $22

These days the average diner I run into seems slightly embarrassed ordering Chardonnay in a restaurant, but the reality is that if there’s one varietal that most wine geeks eschew it’s Pinot Gris, and Pinot Gris from the Okanagan is maybe the worst offender. It’s not that it’s bad—it’s not at all—it’s that it often has a uniform taste profile that, while reliable, is often less than exciting. But there’s excitement out there and when it comes—as it did with this bottle—it’s a pleasant surprise.

Even before I opened it there were a few hints of something different. The first is that Township 7 has gone and created themselves a snappy new logo that’s still classic yet not sedate. Secondly they’ve chosen to bottle the Pinot Gris in the long bottle that the Alsatians favour. “What difference does a bottle make?” you no doubt scoff, and you’re right. But the choice of bottle often gives a hint of where the winemaker wants to go with a wine, the same way electing to call your Syrah Shiraz gives me an idea of what style the winemaker prefers. It’s a great hint because Alsatian Pinot Gris is the gold standard and this wine goes for some of the great Alsace trademarks—deeper colour, fuller body and some nice subtle floral notes (courtesy of some gewürztraminer). And unlike Alsatian wine, all this can be had for under $20, making it a worthy bottle to source.

 

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Chapoutier Hermitage Blanc Chante Alouette

hermitage-blancFrance, $76

Michel Chapoutier has become one of the giants of the wine world and his early and large-scale adoption of biodynamics in winemaking is like Nixon in China big for the wine industry. What’s amazing about Chapoutier is that they’ve been able to bring such artisanal quality control to an enourmous wine operation. You’ll be reading a lot about him in the coming month—he’s what amount to the keynote speaker at be this year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival—but unlike other titans, there’s a Chapoutier wine whether you’re spending $15 or $750. Try asking for a $15 wine from Angelo Gaja and see how far you get.

Choosing a wine to highlight here is a trick—there’s just so many worthy candidates. For me it comes down to the question: what do you look for in a wine? It’s a simple question that elicits answers that anything but. Usually it’s some combination of taste, value, prestige, but when it comes right down to it, there an x-factor that I’m looking for, that frisson of excitement as to what is to come when the cork (or cap) comes off. This week’s wine has that spark in spades. Hermitage is one of the benchmark wines of the Rhone, but Hermitage Blanc (its pale-complexioned brethren, hardly gets any notice). Not a lot of it is made and the stuff that is is relatively expensive. But what you get in this bottle is something you don’t get elsewhere—an amazing amalgam of a waxy texture cut with citrus notes, and more than any wine I can recall, a pure expression of quince. It works well in winter—this is the antithesis of a patio wine in the very best sense.

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TNT Chardonnay 2012

TNT-Chardonnay

BC, $22.90

The last few years have seen a welcome backlash against the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay), which is good. Excluding an entire grape because you don’t like some of its expression is just plain crazy, but…I confess my heart falls a bit when I open the door to dinner guests and see a bottle ofChardonnay in their hands. It’s not that I don’t like the grape, it’s just that I often have trouble getting excited about it. As with any rules there are dozens of exceptions, but for me the greatest of all of them is my love of Chablis. I sometimes think that I love Chablis more than I love White Burgundy from the Cote de Beaune, which is sort of like saying you like Porsche Boxters more than Porsche 911s. But for me the steely, gravely expression of Chardonnay that Chablis has mastered is a revelation every time. And while lots of new world producers shoot for this style with their unoaked Chardonnays precious few get near. That’s why this bottle grabs me. It’s crafted by Sommelier Terry Threlfall (late of Hawksworth) in partnership with Okanagan Crush Pad and it’s the closest wine to a true Chablis that the Okanagan has produced in a while. It’s zippy and alive but has that underlying body and subtle creaminess that tells you you’re not drinking Sauvignon Blanc. And know it’s not named after either the AC/DC song (which would be sort of awesome) or the Swedish explosive compound—”TNT” are Terry’s initials. Only 150 cases were made—they may have it at you local wine store or you can buy it from OKC okanagancrushpad.com

 

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