2008 Produttori Del Barbaresco

produttori-del-barbarescoItaly, $43

I was in Trader Joe’s in Southern California just before Christmas and I saw a bottle of Barbaresco for $9.99. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Barbaresco for less than $20 and even though I had never heard of the producer and the foil on the cap looked super cheap I bought it. It was both the worst Barbaresco I’ve had and still a pretty awesome deal—I’d totally buy it again because the confluence of the Nebbiolo grape and the soil of Piedmont is one of the great duo in all of wineopolis. If you want a good laugh roll into your local liquor store and state your looking for a Barbaresco for under $10 and look at their reaction. But just because we don’t get the bottom of the barrel doesn’t mean we don’t have some relatively good deals. Over the holidays I had two bottles from the rock solid producer Produttori del Barbaresco, which is actually a large winegrowers co-operative that cranks out about half a million bottles a year. That’s nothing compared to Yellowtail but that’s massive by Piedmont standards and that level helps keep the price low. For $43 you get some really classic Nebbiolo— an earthy wine with some tar and black cherries and what can only be called a seductive, sexy nose. It’s too young by a solid measure— I decanted for 3-4 hours before consuming and the wine opened up nicely

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Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Millesime 2002

pierre-paillandFrance, $79

I appreciate that the first newsletter of 2014 should probably start on a more affordable, approachable note—but let’s save that for next week. This week I want to brag about great bottles enjoyed over the holidays. Like vintage Italian sports cars, aged Champagne is one of those things that’s equally enchanting and generally unattainable. And while there’s no denying the charm of a bottle of the recent release from one of the prestige houses, it’s also true that Cremant from France or Cava from Spain offer a pretty excellent facsimile of the experience at a fraction of the cost. There’s no replicating the taste of aged champagne—the yeasty, toasty, soul warming yellow-hued glow that replace the zip and freshness after a few years simply doesn’t exist anywhere outside of Champagne. The downside: You can imagine the costs of buying a bottle of Dom Perignon—which hovers around $200+ on release— that’s been aged. Crazy. Expensive. But for New Year’s my brother-in-law Clarke showed up with the above bottle. Small producer, great pedigree, 12 years of bottle age. It was amazing with a gorgeous deep golden hue and a long rich finish. I wasn’t familiar with the bottle, so I had the good grace to wait until Clarke left to look up the price, which at $79 isn’t cheap, but it’s a bargain for all these elements coming together in one bottle.

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Black Sage Merlot

BC, $110

A few months back I gushed a bit (ok, a lot) over the amazing deal that is the magnum of Jadot Moulin a Vent Cru Beaujolais—at $80 one of my favourite deals out there. Magnums are festive, celebratory but serious. Double magnums (or the Jeroboam if we’re using Christian names) are all that and then some. The corks are tough to get out and they’re really difficult to pour but I guarantee that every one of your guests will remember this bottle long after thousands of others have faded from their memories. The downside is that they are usually ungodly expensive— bottle of Cristal in this format is $2,730 at the BCLDB. But what I did run across the other day strolling the aisles is this behemoth from relative newcomer (who owns some seriously old vines) Black Sage. A giant with a gentle $110 price, it’s a merlot which seems like it sees a fair bit of oak, which adds some structure to it’s juicy dark fruit palate, and it’s drinking well right now. This isn’t the stuff Miles hated in Sideways, and Lord knows he would appreciate someone arriving at his place this Christmas with a Jeroboam tucked under their arm.

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Meyer Family Vineyards McLean Creek Pinot Noir 2011

Okanagan BC, $40

I was in Oregon’s Willamette Valley two weeks ago, and two things struck me. The first is it’s amazing to see what specialization can do for a region. Both Oregon and BC started seriously growing around the same but whereas they hitched their wagon early-on to Pinot Noir, we bounced around trying all sorts of varietals. As a result they’re known for world-class Pinot while we’re still seeking our place. True, they could never successfully grow some of the varietals we can (like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc….) but I don’t think you can underestimate the power of a tighter focus.

The other thing is how good a value our Pinot is at the top end. Most estate wine in Oregon starts at $50 US and the single vineyard varietals can be easily double that. In BC, our high-end single vineyard isgenerally in the $40-45 range and while it’s a small group, they produce wines I’d be proud to serve alongside their American brethren. A case in point is this $40 Pinot for Meyer Family Vineyards. This is one of my favourite wineries in BC and this wine is elegant and fresh, but not thin. Great dark cherry and cedar notes. It’s not as big as a Russian River Pinot, but not as austere as Oregon—and sweet spot where all of our great Pinots seem to land. A seriously good gift bottle for any BC skeptic.

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Taittinger Nocturne Series

France, $90


There’s no wine I’m more conflicted by than true French Champagne. On the one hand, it’s by definition expensive and its creation doesn’t follow the rules of vintage and terrior that we expect from everybody else. On the other hand, there’s nothing more exciting than getting a bottle of great champagne as a gift. And choosing your brand is no small choice. In this way it has more in common with cars and fashion that it does with other wine. Are you a BMW or a Bentley person, Boss or Zegna, Dom or Cristal? My personal choice was birthed by two occasions—the privatization of liquor stores in Alberta in the early 90s which made it, for a while, one of the cheapest places to buy Champagne in the world. And my childhood love of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Forget what you see in the movies —especially the Roger Moore ones—James Bond drank Taittinger.

Can one man be so shallow you ask? Sort of. I love drinking other brands too, Krug and Veuve Le Grand Dame are also faves, but if you ask me what brand I identify with the most its Taittinger. So how happy am I that we now have these two new bottles just in time for Christmas? The Nocturne Rose for BC and the Sec for Alberta. Both have the same blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier but the rose gets an extra shot of red to get the rose colour (Champagne’s unique way of making rose). Both have been laid down for four year, and let’s be honest, both pretty much say it’s time to celebrate now at a fraction of the price of an Aston Martin.

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Bodega Norton Malbec Reserva 2010

Argentina, $18

Every year the Wine Spectator announces their Top 100 about this time, and every year I vow I’m not going to get sucked on go on some wild goose chase trying to track down the named bottles—and every year I get sucked into doing it notwithstanding. In my defense, I was in Oregon at Domaine Serene (whose Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir was #3) when the list was announced so I’d have to truly have been a man of principle to not buy a bottle. Back across the border in a less liberal wine-buying climate, the story is usually a bit more bleak—the wine is harder to find and when you do, it’s double the price that’s listed in the magazine. I say usually because #36 is the Bodega Norton Malbec Reserve 2010—and it’s listed as $2 more expensive than it is here. Admittedly, it’s for the newer vintage (we’re still mostly on the 2010) but look at this way: you get a free year of bottle age and Norton isn’t exactly the type of winery with discernible quality swings between vintages, so load up. The WS folks say it taste like raspberry ganache, which I suppose it does, but there’s some nice structure to go with the sweet fruit and even some nice smoky notes.

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Laughing Stock Portfolio 2006


Aging wine is such a dicey proposition. You have so many variables—temperature, light, tannins, wines entering “dumb” periods when their aromas shut down—in play that it’s always a crap shoot what the result will be. But people still do it because when it all works out, it’s such a revelation. I was thinking about all of this last week at Whistler’s Cornucopia with my nose deep in a bottle of Laughing Stock’s Portfolio from 2006. It had the heady, slightly musty nose that shows the wine has been hanging out for a long while. And while the tannins had softened, it was still a pretty formidable wine with deep black fruit notes and a muscular structure that showed just how well Merlot (which is the majority of blend) grows on the Naramata Bench. It was drinking really well, but my guess is it’ll continue to do so for the next several years. Good luck finding a bottle—though the 2011 vintage is available in magnum ($100) and the always awesome double magnum ($200) if you are in possession of just a little patience.

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2011 Romain Duverny Vacqueyras

France, $26

I hate how much we have to pay for wine in Canada—we call a bottle under $15 a “bargain” wine. But it’s not all hopeless. In the midst of our rough misery there diamonds, like this week’s wine. It sort of has everything you want. For starters, it’s priced less here than it is in most states. If you’re the type who loves high scores (which, if we’re being honest, is 98% of us) Parker has given the last two vintages 93 & 91 pts respectively. And it looks great—a beautifully understated label married to a substantial bottle. And I’m not sure there’s a wine I like ordering more, by which I mean actually saying the name than Vacqueyras. “I’ll have the Vah keh rahs.” Only its neighbor, Gigondas, holds a candle to it, linguistically speaking.

And then finally, there’s the wine, a Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre joint venture. It’s heavy duty. Big and brawny, with dark licorice and black cherries. It’s juicy without being sweet and could handle being open for three days without wilting.

In short it’s a bottle that says all is not lost BC and Alberta wine lovers.

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2010 Lake Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon

Alexander Valley, $27

I see it every summer. American tourists coming up to cruise or Stampede looking at our restaurants’ wine lists and recoiling i

n horror at the prices shown for California wines. How does a Seghesio Zinfandel go from $11.99 (with Safeway Club Card) in La Quinta to $75 on a wine list up here? “Free health care ain’t free,” one pal quipped recently and the truth is the taxes on wine are ludicrous, and no area fares worse under this sad regime than California. We get absolutely jacked when it comes to California wine up here, which kills me because I love California wine.

The result is I hardly ever get to drink good California Cabernet anymore. I don’t mean that gunk that is labeled Central Coast or some other appellation so enormous that it’s meaningless without further refinement. The best option in BC is Beringer’s excellent (and priced accordingly at $45) Knights Valley Sonoma Cab—until now.

Tony Stewart of Quail’s Gate and Ted Zepponi (formerly of ZD Winery and Mission Hill, now Valley of the Moon) brought out a Napa Cab—Plume—a few years back, and at $30 it was the best-priced Napa juice around. Now they’re back with a new offering—a Sonoma Can from the famed Alexander Valley—and it’s $27. The only other Alexander Valley Cab available at the BC Liquor stores is Silver Oak, and its $80.

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Dao Grao Vasco 2012

 Portugal, $10

I’m working on a long piece about the new high-end Portuguese wines for our upcoming issue, so I’m in an Iberian frame of mind. The dominant image I have in my mind from this week’s bottle comes from a four-hour layover I had at the Lisbon Airport last fall. As I was settling in with myless-than-exciting food court lunch, I saw a gentleman in his mid-50’s, dressed quite nicely, sit down at an adjoining table. To go with his sandwich he had purchased an entire 750 mL bottle of Dao Grao Vasco, and over the course of the next 30 mins polished off the whole thing, whereupon he courteously cleared his tray and headed off for his flight. Ah, Europe.

Generally, wine available in airport food courts is wretched the world over, but that gentleman was on to something in this case. In the past, cheap Dao wines were something to truly fear, but this oddball blend of grapes (Jaen, Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Pinheira and Touriga Nacional) manages to channel a back alley Barolo vibe that I sort of love: dry, dark cherrieswith a swack of spice and a medium body. For under $10, it’s damn near impossible to beat—just be discrete if you want to whip it out at your next Canadian food court lunch.

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