Monthly Archives: August 2013

Sparkling Wine, oui, Champagne, non

Stellars Jay Sparkling Wine


I feel like I’m generally alone amongst my peers in my general indifference to Champagne. It’s not that I don’t love it—I do—it’s just that for the $65 a bottle of Lanson Black Label set me back I’d get a red wine that I’d probably enjoy more. And don’t get met started on the $250+ for a bottle of the amazingly excellent Krug Grand Cuvee. But that doesn’t mean I skip the bubbles—I just keep it local. People often gripe about OK wine prices but a bottle of Stellar’s Jay (left) is $27—and for me Veuve Cliquot is not 3 times better, but it is 3 times pricier. Ditto the new Entourage Sparkling Chardonnay from Jackson Triggs. Its elegant lightness is evocative of Taitinger’s Comte de Champagne, but it costs $30 not $175.  And unlike really cheap bubbles that are either injected with gas or bottled under pressure (like most prosecco) these wines go through the painstaking (and expensive) method classique which is the same as the big boys. Don’t get me wrong—I do see the magic in a bottle of Bollinger RD but it’s a time (rarely) a place (hopefully someone else’s house) wine for me. These two are everyday drinkers

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Moon Curser Touriga Nacional

Moon Curser Touriga Nacional

BC, $35

Wine geeks love nothing more than the experimenting winemakers who plant all sorts of off–the–wall grapes in unexpected places. Partly, it’s respect for their pioneering spirit, and partly it’s because after a day of tasting perfectly crafted Syrahs from Washington State, you’re just happy to have an imperfectly crafted Sangiovese from Washington State. But even within this group of rule breakers, there are guidelines. Never take on Portugal’s signature grape—Touriga Nacional is one. The reasons here are a few:

1. It’s hellishly hard to grow;

2. When it does grow, its yields are low;

3. Even if everything goes perfectly, no one but a handful of geeks even care about the grape—heck, but for Port (which itself isn’t the draw it used to be), the Portuguese have trouble selling the grape for a profit.

But some dreamers have to learn the hard way, or so I thought when I opened a bottle of Touriga from Osoyoos’ Moon Curser. It’s not only the only Touriga grown in Canada, it’s the first bottle of Touriga I’ve seen from anywhere in North America for ages. But there’s always some wizard who thinks he can beat the system, I thought as I leaned in for a sniff. Classic spicy leather and earth. Heavy and intoxicating and in the mouth: whoa, baby. The tannins are there, but not overpowering and paired with exotic waves of spice, pepper and deep dark primal black fruit. It tastes like an $80 of ultra–premium wine form the Douro. An amazing accomplishment from Chris and Beata Tolley.

PS – There were only 2 barrels of this wine made so sourcing it may be a trick. My advice is:

1. Look hard;

2. Get on their list for next year;

3. If not, grab a bottle of Moon Curser’s also excellent, also unique Petit Verdot ($29) or almost anything in their portfolio. This is one of the handful of wineries in the Okanagan that are doing really exciting things so get to know them right now.

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Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc 2011


California, $55

There seem to be an endless number of acolytes of Sauvignon Blanc these days. Driven by the wines Kim Crawford and Oyster Bay, they have no problem plunking down $25 for a grape that never used to rise above $12 in any new world iteration. And I don’t really blame them—I enjoy drinking most NZ Sauvignon Blanc, and they’re as reliable as a Volvo in delivering a refreshing shot of citrus, gooseberry and just a sweet hint of melon. But it’s that very reliability that keeps me from fully joining the revolution: I need some surprise, heck, even some disappoints to keep me excited.

So when I was Sonoma Coast tasting bottle after bottle of the best cool Pinots I needed to mix things up a bit, so at Merry Edwards—whose Pinots are amazing—I took a detour and reached for a glass of her Sauvignon Blanc. My expectations were not high; California SB in general gets little respect, and who in their right mind would grow this grape in the heart of Pinot country, either stylistically or financially?

And, of course, it was amazing. Take a step back, and say “Whoa, amazing.” At $32, it was both half the price of the Pinots and the most expensive new world SB I’d had in a long while. It’s tough to find up here—my friend Paul is on their list so always seems to have a bottle, but Bin 905 and Highlander in Calgary carry it and the price is near $50. But if you’re one of those people who love SB this is your next special occasion bottle. It sees some oak and that saps some of the freshness but not that much and theBordeaux-like depth and complexity more than make up for it. There’s lychee, peach, pear, there’s all you could want frankly. It’s awesome.

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Campo de Borja Garnacha 2009


Spain, $12

The convention in reviewing wine is that if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all. While I see the joy of celebrating the good, sometimes you need a dose of the bad, just so you canappreciate the positives. All of which leads me to this week’s selection—a 89–pointer according to the BC Liquor Board, citing the judges at Wine Access as their source.

The first concern is that a check of Wine Access database shows only an 88 point rating; the bigger concern is trying decipher if they were using the 200 point system. Huge segments of the Spanish wine industry seem to be wanting to join the New World Express in producing extracted and boozy reds that speak of no particular place, and if ever there was a poster child forthis trend it’s this bottle of garnacha—or grenache to you and me.

On the plus side it’s only $12, so they’re keeping it real on the price side. They also don’t bury the wine in oak, another plus. On the downside, it’s the hottest wine I’ve had in ages—the warm, gloopy, tongue–coating liquid seems to be the product of something higher than the 14% alcohol listed on the label. Theresome spice, but it seems out of sync with the thick Fruit Roll–Up–esque swack on the palate. And though this vintage was an award–winner at the Wine Access Value awards in 2011, there’s still plenty on the shelves, which should also tell you something.

I realize cataloguing the shortcoming of a $12 wine isn’t exactly the purview of the fair fighter, but that’s where a lot of consumers try new things—and I hate for someone to think this is what even entry–level Spanish wine is like. Stay tuned for nice things to be said again next week.

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