Sunday, July 24, 2011

Abuelo Anejo 7anos rum, Panama

I love a good story... who doesn't? And what could be a better story then one of a stranger to a new land - defying the odds and making a success of himself?
   In 1908 a young man by the name of Don Jose Varela Blanco landed in the newly established Republic of Panama by way of Spain. He ended up in the small town of Pese (population approximately 10,000) and opened the first sugar plantation amid the lush sugarcane fields rampant in that central part of the country. He did what many people (including myself) dream of: he opened a business, ran it well and started a family.

   Fast forward almost 30 years and in 1936 Don Jose finally succumbed to the fervent wishes of his three sons (Jose Manuel, Plinio and Julio: los Hermanos Varela and started the regions first sugarcane distillery.

   Sugarcane has a long history in the Americas... turns out that Christopher Columbus brought sugarcane on his return visit and it turned into a massive cash crop virtually wherever it went. Sugarcane became such a commodity that France even traded part of what it controlled in my dear old Canada to the British Empire for their islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia~! 

   Well times change, and sugar became overproduced and less of a commodity. It all came to a head for such countries as Cuba when the former Soviet Union dissolved and Cuba's sugar production found itself without a market. So what does one do with sugarcane when no one wants sugar? Make alcohol young man...
   But alcohol isn't the only use... sugarcane actually gets used in non-alcoholic drinks, in food and candy, and nowadays in ethanol production. To wit - Brazil is the largest grower of sugarcane in the world and is also co-incidentally the largest producer of gasahol which is a blend of ethanol and gasoline.
   Back to Abuelo rum and Varela Hermanos S.A., who made a name for themselves by creating a premium sugarcane spirit where before it had been rough and clumsy. The company, in it's third generation as a family owned and run business, now produces over 1,000,000 boxes of spirit annually or over 90% of the nation's liquer.
   Now that's a good story.

Ron Abuelo Anejo 7-anos
$51 CAD (BC)   *** Good Value ***
maturation:   7 years in small white oak barrels
  • visual:   clear; light coppery-gold throughout
  • nose:   clean; fully intense spice with orange zest, light clove notes and dried summer and exotic flowers... rich background of aged honey and light butterscotch... molasses is felt keenly
  • palate:   clean; taste is reminiscent of a fine Scotch: light oaky-vanilla opens the palate to dried apple, dried florals and the faint buzz of orange peel in the background... the finish is smooth with a hint of spice sparking the tongue and a rich, robust earthiness. A sipper, I found the flavors turned to nothing quickly with too much ice and I much prefer this as a quality Scotch: neat. If you must add ice, let it be one cube only.
  • PAIRINGS:   the sweetness in rum usually lends itself to certain types of cigars, but because to me this drinks like a Scotch then it must be paired with other cigars. Suggestions anyone??

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

    Saturday, July 23, 2011

    Zorzal Reserve, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina

    The Mendoza region in Argentina is no longer a region known only to South Americans and sommeliers... people the world over are rapidly coming to know the region's name as being synonymous with great quality Malbec, and usually for a great price as well.

    Tupungato Department
       But Mendoza is a huge region and with over 1200 wineries producing almost 2/3rds of Argentina's wine, people in the wine-industry are immersing themselves in the sub-regions of western Argentina where it boarders Chile and the Andes Mountains. One of these sub-regions calling for attention is Tupungato and the Valle de Uco.

       Within the Valle de Uco is a new winery with high hopes. Zorzal winery ( is the brain-child of Argentian wunderkinder winemakers Juan Pablo Michellini, his brother Maurizio and a small group of Calgarian investors. Zorzal books itself as being the highest elevation winery in all Mendoza at over 1300 metres. High elevation of course leads to the positive effects of cooler nights, greater differential in temperature between day and night and the (negative) possibility of  under-ripened fruit.

       But the fruit seem to be ripening just fine for Juan Pablo and Maurizio... Zorzal wines have been scoring very well in Argentina and around the world. At the 2010 Argentina wine awards, Zorzal wines were awarded a gold and bronze medal, as well as a trophy for their work with their Climax red blend. This came right on the heels of their showing at the Venus wine awards which saw them receiving both a gold medal and a double-gold. But it's not just South Americans taking note; the wine press was quite favorable in their review at the London Wine Festival 2011 as well.

       Founded in 2007, Zorzal winery is a symbol of the dynamic growth happening in Mendoza today. The Tupungato Department where the winery is located is a small place; small in area and small in population. Named for the famous volcano rising out of the Andes, the population of Tupungato grew by an astounding 27% from 1991 to 2001. Why such staggering growth?

    Zorzal winery


       Winemakers from the world over are excited about the possiblities in this region, and investors are literally lining up to cash in. This entire department is over 1000m, with little organic material in the rocky soil and an average rainfall less then 200 mm per year. What does all this mean?? It means wine-country, and Zorzal winery is proving that.
    2009 Cabernet Sauvignon - Malbec, Reserve
    Zorzal estate winery, Tupungato, Mendoza
    • visual:   clear; fully intense bruised plum core with slightest cherry rim
    • nose:   clean; fully intense and youthful aromas of red and blue berries (red cherries, blueberries, slight black cherry, red raspberry and a hint of black raspberry), rich nuances of savory Mendoza herbs, light perfumed vanilla background
    • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (red currant) acids, moderate+ to fully intense (green, grippy) tannins, moderate+ intense and youthful flavors that mimick the nose with prevelant red currant notes at the beginning and a distinct "Mendoza" savory herbaceousness and end notes of mocha and mild wintery spice. Medium+ body, Very good balance, Excellent structure, very good length
    • conclusion:   this is a wine for the cellar... I don't think this starts to peak until 5 or 6 years old and so I would drink 2014-2019
    • PAIRINGS:   once this wine has some age and is properly decanted, I would use this with lighter red meat dishes like coffee crusted CAB beef carpaccio with truffled aioli and grilled baguette
    Zorzal winery

    As always, I look forward to your comments and questions.

    CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

      Sunday, July 10, 2011

      VistAlba Corte C by Carlos Pulenta, Mendoza, Argentina

      I've written about the Lujan de Coyo DOC of Mendoza, Argentina before... but am growing to learn more about this diverse area (as any good student should do).

         I should start by saying that the province of Mendoza is a vast wine region. By comparison the province of British Columbia in Canada has approximately 210 wineries, yet Mendoza has over 1100. Yes, that's right: 1100 wineries producing more then 1 billion litres of wine; 70% of the total production of Argentina.

      courtesy Wikipedia: Lujan de Cuyo

         Nestled in the north-west corner of Mendoza, situated against the mighty Cordón de Plata mountain range (and thus- Chile) is Lujan de Coyo DOC. I for one am glad that Mendoza/Argentina is smart enough to divide their intricate and infinite wine-region... it certainly makes my studies easier and more efficient, though I doubt they thought of me when they emulated the regional structure of France and the AOC system.

         In Luyan de Coyo is an even smaller sub-region called VistAlba, and in this region a noted Argentian winemaker named Carlos Pulenta has set-up shop. Carlos' family has been involved in the wine industry here in Mendoza for generations, and Carlos himself was the former president and CEO of Salentein (a Dutch company with 3 bodegas). His recently constructed winery is constructed largely of marble, slate, inert concrete and dark woods and has received many favorable write-ups on it's architecture. Pulenta owns 53 hectares of red grapes around the winery, 80% of which is malbec planted in 1948 and the rest being more recent plantings of more Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Bonarda.

      2008 VistAlba Corte C
      Bodega VistAlba by Carlos Pulenta
      15.1% ABV
      $19 CAD  (BC) *** Very Good Value ***

      varietals:   78% Malbec, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Bonarda
      maturation:   12 months in 20% new French oak (medium toast), 6 months in bottle at winery
      • visual:   clear; fully intense deep purple core with slightest cherry/brick rim
      • nose:    clean; fully intense and developing aromas of worn leather, drying black berries (currants, raspberries), lifted red berries (raspberries, cherries, strawberry), slight menthol-savory herb, soft dark floral
      • palate:   clean; dry, medium+ (red currant) acids, medium+ to full (chalky and slightly green-grippy) tannins, medium+ body, medium+ to fully intense developing flavors that mimick the nose with emphasis on cocoa and dark berries. Very good to excellent balance, very good structure, long- length
      • conclusion: 2008 is showing well, but would benefit from further aging. Drink 2013-2018
      • PAIRINGS:   much like any Malbec blend, I would pair this wine with grilled red meat. Keep it simple to allow the rich aromatics of the wine to showcase, but use some fat to balance the relatively high acidity. Grilled ribeye steak with smoked seasalt and wild thyme butter

      And so Carlos has returned to the family land and built himself something to be proud of. Not only a beautiful winery, with a 12-room inn and one of (if not the) most respected restaurants in the region: La Bourgogne. No, Carlos Pulenta and family haven't built a winery, they've created an experience.

      As always, I look forward to hearing your comments and questions.

      CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!


      2009 VistAlba Corte "C"
       $20, 89 points

      varietals:   80% Malbec, 20% Cabernet-Sauvignon 
      • visual:   clear; bright moderate ruby core with slightest cherry rim
      • nose:   clean; medium+ intense and youthful aromas of fresh red raspberries, cherries, currants, savory wood tones, old leather, light tones of pine resin and graphite
      • palate:   clean; dry, full (red currant) acids, moderate+ (green/grippy) tannins, moderate body, moderate+ alcohol (14.5%ABV), moderate+ intense and youthful flavors that mimick the nose with emphasis on bright red berries up front, some intriguing cedar/pine/leather mid-palate and a finish strong on red berries and earth. Good balance and structure, medium length
      • conclusion:   this cheeky little bugger is a diamond-in-the-rough waiting for someone to open it and decant twice before serving... a touch young, this will also reward patient cellaring. Best 2014-2018/2020
         Once again, a prime example of not judging to quickly, too harshly: never be afraid to let your wines sit open for a day or two or even three before deciding that they "just aren't any good". 
         There can be a number of reasons that a wine doesn't show well right away when you open it; bottle-shock, the wine can be too young, it may have suffered from travel, it may be going through an evolution (yes indeed, wines evolve sometimes more then once in the bottle)... never, ever be afraid to put the cork back in the bottle and try it again the next day. You may be pleasantly surprised by what happens!
         And the proof of this? As always, in the glass my friends.
      As always, I look forward to your comments and questions.
      CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

      Sunday, July 3, 2011

      Tinhorn Creek vineyards, Okanagan Valley DVA, BC

      I like to support local industry. I especially like supporting local industry when they are producing quality goods, but I love supporting local when they produce quality products in a responsible manner.

         Let me introduce you to Tinhorn Creek vineyards (

         Tinhorn creek is Canada's first carbon-neutral winery and, just as important, they produce quality wines. Sandra Oldfield is the newly appointed CEO and President of the winery, as well as wearing the hat of winemaker and so it truly is under the leadership and guidance of Sandra that Tinhorn Creek has become a fixture of BC winemaking.

      2010 Pinot Gris
      $18   ** Good Value **

      Awards:   SILVER - San Fransisco International Wine Competition, 2011
      Maturation:   one third sur-lies for approximately 8-10 weeks, then blended with the rest. 100% stainless steel
      • nose:   clean; fully intense and youthful aromas of dusty summer florals and orchardfruit with a light mineral backbone
      • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (green apple) acids, moderate+ intense and youthful flavors mimicking the nose. Good balance and structure, medium length
      • PAIRINGS:   vibrant yet restrained acids made me think of a lighter flavored and less fatty fish such as our local shark; dogfish... try grilled shark with salsa verde and watch the grill bring dimension through contrast and the pungent herbaceousness of the salsa open the Pinot Gris naturally light herbal notes

      2009 Chardonnay
      $17   *** Very Good Value ***

      Awards:   SILVER - World Value Wine Challenge, 2010 JUDGES CHOICE International Value Wine Awards, Wine Access Magazine, 2010
      Maturation:  28% in new French oak for 2-3 months
      • nose:   clean; moderate+ intense and youthful aromas of buttery pear, light exotic fruit and grilled pineapple... very modern BC
      • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (very well balanced lemon zest) acids, moderate+ intense and youthful flavors mimicking the nose in a cool-climate manner... refreshing~! Very good balance and structure, medium length
      • PAIRINGS:   with the acidity and nuanced buttery/exotic/stonefruit flavors my mind immediately went to roast turkey with white-truffled chestnuts and perhaps a savory focaccia, sage and apple stuffing... but that's just me

      2010 Gewurztraminer
      $18   *** Very Good Value ***

      maturation:   4 weeks stainless steel
      • nose:   clean; moderate+ intense and youthful traditional aromas: rich rosehips, lush lychee, grapefruit marmalade, apricot coulis
      • palate:   clean; dry, fully intense (very well integrated green apple) acids, moderate+ intense and youthful flavors mimicking well the nose. Very good balance and structure, medium length
      • PAIRINGS:   the rich flavors and strong structure allow this wine to be paired with stronger flavored foods, whilst the natural fruitiness will soften spicy food... consider this as a natural not only with Vietnamese or Thai foods, but also East Indian food from any number of regions (from vindaloo to tiki masala)... for myself I thought of grilled chicken with spicy peanut and cilantro dipping sauce

      2008 2-bench white
      $23   *** Very Good to EXCELLENT Value ***

      AwardsSILVER - West Coast Wine Competition, 2011
      BRONZE - NorthWest Wine Summit, 2011
      BRONZE - Canadian Wine Awards, 2010
      varietals:   44% Chardonnay, 26% Sauvignon Blanc, 17% Semillon, 12% Viognier, and 1% Muscat
      maturation:   Sauvignon Blanc was fermented in a stainless steel tank by itself, Semillon and Viognier were co-fermented together in stainless steel as were the Chardonnay and Muscat
      • nose:   clean; moderate+ intense and developing aromas of papaya, ripe stonefruit, gala apples, strawberries and dried raisins
      • palate: clean, dry, moderate+ to fully intense (green apple and lemon balm) acids, moderate+ to fully intense and developing flavors that mimick the nose. Very good balance and structure with a long length
      • PAIRINGS:   although this layering in this wine would do well with the lighter green curried dishes, my mind went to Provencal bouillabaise with slight spicy rouille and grilled flatbread

      Kenn at work in the field
      Sandra's husband, Kenn Oldfield chairman, owner and co-founder of Tinhorn Creek, started his career in Alberta working the oilfields. Not much to do with wine, but it must have given him the passion to work with something sustainable and more picturesque then Northern Alberta tarsands. Kenn worked 14 years in the oil industry before turning his attention to wine and by 1994 had taken all the courses necessary for a Master's degree in viticulture from the University of California at Davis.

      Sandra just happens to be originally from California and it was here that she got her first taste of the industry - working at the noted Rodeney Strong Vineyards in Sonoma. Sandra eventually came back from her new home in BC and finished her Master's of Enology from UC Davis as well. Together, husband and wife have a powerful amount of learning, but it is perhaps their tie with their land that sets them most apart.
      Many champions of great winemaking will talk about the necessity of working with their land; of the harmonious co-existence that should take place between viticulturist and vineyard. Sandra and Kenn have done more then talk about it.
      TLC, The Land Conservancy has recognized their work in creating a balanced ecosystem where everyone and everything is taken as having importance. Indigenous flora has been replanted in the vineyard to allow the natural system of the terroir to function as it should, and animal corridors have been created as well. Tinhorn Creek has even taken the effort to source 90% of their bottles from within 500 km (a short distance in Canadian terms) and of that, 35-50% is recycled glass.

      2008 Pinot Noir
      $20   *** Very Good to EXCELLENT Value ***

      maturation:   old French oak 10 months, 24 months in bottle
      • nose:   clean; moderate+ intense and developing bouquet of dry dusty soil, layers of cherries, light herbaceousness and fungal-mushroomy notes... slightly spicy finish
      • palate:   clean, dry, moderate+ (red currant) acids, moderate+ to fully intense (chalky) tannins, moderate+ intense and developing flavors that mimick well the nose. Excellent balance and structure with medium+ length
      • PAIRINGS:   Pinot Noir can be said to have one true food partner, and to me that is boeuf bourguignon... I would pair mine with spicy parmesan crisps
      2008 Merlot
      $18   *** Very Good Value ***

      AwardsGOLD - All Canadian Wine Championships, 2011
      GOLD - World Value Wine Challenge, 2010
      SILVER - NorthWest Wine Summit, 2011
      SILVER - Grand Harvest Awards, 2011
      SILVER - New World International Wine Competition, 2011
      SILVER - West Coast Wine Competition, 2011
      BRONZE - Intervin Wine Competition, 2011
      BRONZE - Canadian Wine Awards, 2010
      BRONZE - Pacific Rim International Wine Compeition, 2011
      BRONZE - San Fransisco International Wine Competition, 2011
      Honourable Mention - International Wine & Spirit Competition, 2011
      TOP100 - Vancouver Magazine Wine Awards, 2011
      maturation:   new to 3-year old French oak for 12 months
      • nose:   clean; moderate+ to fully intense and developing bouquet of cherries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, red and black currants, dry dusty soil, slightly hot cinnamon-peppery finish
      • palate:   clean, dry, fully intense (red currant) acids, moderate+ (chalky) tannins, moderate+ to fully intense and developing flavors mimicking the nose with a restrained mushroom-fungal note. Good balance, Very good structure and long- length
      • PAIRINGS:   good merlot needs good steak~~ I would grill a simple striploin and finish with an herbed butter and a Chiliwack corn salsa

      2007 Oldfield Series Merlot
      $25   **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****

      AwardsGOLD - Grand Harvest Awards, 2011
      SILVER - All Canadian Wine Competition
      BRONZE - Canadian Wine Awards, 2010
      BRONZE - Intervin Wine Competition, 2010
      BRONZE - BC Wine Awards, 2010
      varietals:   92% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Syrah
      maturation:   8 months in 100% French oak (new to two year old), then 15 months in bottle
      • nose:   clean; fully intense and developing bouquet of red and black cherries, strawberry compote, red and black currants, black roses, strong terroir
      • palate:   clean, dry, moderate+ intense (red and black currant) acids, moderate+ (very well integrated chalky) tannins, moderate+ intense and developing flavors that mimick the nose with the finish of old leather and light tobacco. Excellent balance and structure with long length
      • PAIRINGS:   I said that a good merlot needs a good steak, and thus greatness deserves greatness: spend the money and buy the best ribeye or prime-rib you can... free-range, local, organic, Kobe if you can find it... then grill it with a hint of olive oil and sea-salt. That's it... maybe a piece of parsley for garnish **grin**
      Tinhorn vines in autumn
      I certainly do believe that supporting local industry is important for sustainable business to take place. That being said, I don't believe in supporting local just for the sake of supporting local. Local businesses, to me, need to provide a commodity that is competitive on a global level. Tinhorn Creek is doing that, and doing it in an environmental responsible manner. Tinhorn Creek has my business.

      As always, I look forward to your questions and comments.

      CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!