Monthly Archives: February 2014

Fontanafredda Briccotondo Barbera


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


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 I’m pretty sure this was made by the excellent winemaker Lawrence Herder (he’s since been replaced by the also excellent Tom DiBello) and I can maybe see this big wine (15.1% alcohol) maybe coming from Herder’s former stomping grounds of Paso Robles.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


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


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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