Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Vancouver Playhouse warm-up from the Christopher Stewart Agency

I love a good plate of sushi, and living in Vancouver I can find it more often then not. What, might you ask, is the best accompaniment for sushi? Is it sake? A smokey pouilly-fuisse for the rockfish, a lean Cote d'Or for the tuna? No my friends, the best thing with great sushi is great company.

How lucky was I last Friday then, when two colleagues from the Christopher Stewart Agency (http://www.christopherstewartwineandspirits.com/ ) invited me out for lunch to discuss the upcoming 2013 Vancouver International Wine Festival  (http://www.playhousewinefest.com/).

This year marks a prestigious year for my career; not only am I attending with a much-coveted trade pass, but also being invited as a member of media and as a buyer! A colleague has only just recently asked that I help oversee the formation of his new import agency, a task that fills me with as much trepidation as it does enthusiasm.

Why the two mixed emotions? Because I see what my learned colleagues are doing at other agencies, and am quite honestly impressed. My friends from Christopher Stewart came to the informal luncheon armed with four bottle of great wine and an entire sheaf of substantial support information. We chatted over chirashi-don over the importance of strategic media releases and before I knew it I was was home with my new treasures. And treasures they are, rest assured.

To start with, a lighter white wine; filled with nuances of the rocky soil and clean air that was it's home. I can almost taste the brine!

2011 Astrolabe Sauvignon-Blanc
Marlborough, New Zealand
$24 CAD (BC) listed in the www.BCLDB.com
91+ points

locale:   Awatere Valley, Wairau Valley, and Kekerengu Coast, Marlborough, NZ
soil:    Free-draining stony, silty loam, with some vineyards having  clay or limestone content
  • visual:   clear; pale straw core with silver highlights
  • nose:   clean; fully intense youthful aromas of warm hay, brine sea-air, rich tropical fruit such as pineapple/melon
  • palate:   clean; dry, fully intense green apple acid, light+ body, light+ ABV (13.5%), medium intensity youthful flavor mimicking the nose with green apple and tart citrus notes dominating the front palate and briney/mineral tones the end. Excellent balance and structure with medium+ length
  • conclusion:   drink now~! This wine will not develop appreciably with age and is a brilliant example of varietal and area typicity
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   the long, lean acids in this wine ache for rich, fatty seafood... consider butter poached prawns with orange marmalade glaze. I would want to serve this wine at the beginning of a meal to open the palate, and prawns would be a natural marriage. Stay clear of spicy food however, as they will enhance the already ample alcohol

And so after what is widely regarded as one of the top Sauvignon-Blanc in the world, my friends treated me to an entry-level, easy-sipping Chardonnay from the Winemen of Gotham ( http://winemenofgotham.com.au/gotham ). Started by two friends with a long and varied history in many facets of the wine industry, these intrepid voyagers dared to "charge-the-rapids" of business, and open a winery only a few years before what we now see as one of the greatest financial collapses of modern times.

And they succeeded.

But why? What could possibly lead these two Aussies to succeed at a time when many others had failed? And believe me, though it's true that we as a culture have experienced more growth in the wine industry then possibly any other time in history... there are still many businesses that have failed. But Bruce Clugston and Fiona White have followed in the mighty footsteps of Henry Ford by providing the best quality product  possible and at the best price possible. In fact, many people in the industry would say that the prices are virtually impossible given the quality.

A few days ago, I would have been one of those people, and let me show you why:

2011 Wine men of Gotham Chardonnay
South Australia, Australia
$14 CAD (BC) listed in the www.BCLDB.com
88+ points

locale(s):   Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and The Riverlands
vine-age:   10-20 years average
  • visual:   clear; pale lemon core with light watery rim, gold highlights
  • nose:    clean; moderate+ intense and youthful aromas of young tropical fruit, lemon zest
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ lemon/yellow grapefruit acid, light+ body, moderate+ ABV (12%), moderately intense and youthful flavors that play heavily on citrus tones. Well balanced and good structure, medium length
  • conclusion:   drink now, drink often in Summer
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   I make a sandwich, the recipe I stole and modified from a colleague: grilled chicken baguette with melted brie and fresh  berries ... use whatever is fresh and seasonal - I've made this with blackberries, raspberries, or arugula instead of berries. Brilliantly Summer~!!!

And so after the pangs of hunger had faded, my two colleagues and I got down to the meat-and-bones of talking about the upcoming Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. I love talking about this event, because it usually means that the event has arrived! And with the Christopher Stewart Agency hosting more visiting winemakers then any other company in attendance, I really wanted their take on this year's event. One of the visitors that they were most excited to be bringing in was Canepa Vineyards from Chile ( http://www.canepawines.cl/?legal_age_agree ).

 Self-billed as "Italian Soul. Chilean Soil." they really should add "French vines!". As some of you may know, Chile actually has some of the oldest, and truest, French vines on the planet. Because of that dreaded louse phylloxera, most of France's vines are actually on grafted root-stock from American vines. Chile never had an issue with that most devastating of pests and so was left with the original root-stock that many wineries had purchased from France at the end of the 1800's. What does this mean to the wine-geeks? Only that some of Chile's wines can be considered to be more French than France (from a certain point-of-view). And what does it mean for the average consumer? Stupendous quality, especially as is seen with many of the overtly French varietals (think Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc).

But for the purpose of this article, it's the Carignan that I'll speak of; a fleshy-red wine, this varietal has commonly been used for blending. Originally from Spain, it's found most often these days in ambiguous wines from Southern France and California, but rises to prominence in my wife's decidedly favorite red wine region: Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I have also been lucky enough to sample some brilliant examples from Chile and know quite well that many winemakers there are nurturing their ancient vines (70,80 years ++).

Canepa vineyards is one such winery.

2009 Canepa "Genovino" Carignan
D.O. Cauquenes - Maule Valley, Chile
$30 CAD (BC) spec
90+ points

vine-age:   60 years+
irrigation:   dry-farmed
cultivation:   manual
maturation:   French and American oak for 12 months

  • visual:    clear; fully intense garnet core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:    clean; fully intense and youthful red cherries, bright raspberries, violets, savory cocoa, meaty-background
  • palate:   clean; dry,  full red raspberry/currant acid, full grippy/chalky tannin, moderate+ body, moderate+ ABV (14.5%), moderately intense and youthful flavors with emphasis on bright red berries on the front of the palate, followed by deep, savory earth tones. Excellent balance and very good structure with medium+ length
  • conclusion:   the wine taught me a lesson: Never, ever, let the first taste of a wine be your last impression! This wine took days to evolve and that was after aeration and decanting. My thoughts? Drinking best 2015-2020, this is as deep and sonorous as any Cab-Sauv blend and will reward further cellaring
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:  a full, rich red wine with lively acid - a natural for your beef dishes this has the acidity as a cheeky pairing for Beouf Bourguignon with caramelized pearl onions, grilled local mushrooms and steamed spaghetti squash. Let the enhanced sweetness from the onions draw out more of the sweet berry flavors whilst the dark grill tones play counter-tone and the squash acts as a palate cleanser. With an intense wine like this, something to cleanse the palate always allowed the imbiber to enjoy the wine more fully.
And then we came to the end of the "sneak-peek"; a charming Tempranillo from the area of Castilla y Leon in Spain. This wouldn't be my first taste of a rich red from this region, nor will it be my last. I've found over the past several years that the winemakers here are, by-and-large, producing very good to stunning value for the money in any price category that I've purchased in. 

There are now 9 D.O.'s in this, the largest autonomous region not only of Spain, but all the EU. I have been fortunate enough to taste reds, whites and roses from this region and am constantly caught by surprise at the bold, fresh fruit. Why so? Because this is one of the most extreme continental climates in all of Europe. Blazing heat in the summer and sub-zero temperatures in the winter, this region receives little in the way of precipitation, and were it not for the moderating effects of the river Duero would be a dustbowl. But the river flows, and the mountain ranges surround and protect the high plain from Maritime influences, and so... and so we have this almost barren landscape where all life needs struggle to survive.

The struggle creates more then just survival for the grapevine, it creates an environment that they can thrive in. For it is here the vine digs deeply, and in doing so, starts to tell a poignant story of it's surroundings - it's landscape. Just try one of these little treasures if you disbelieve...

2009 "Tridente" Tempranillo
Bodegas Trito, SL from Zamora province
the Gil Family Estates
$27 CAD(BC)  listed in the www.BCLDB.com
90 points

varietal:   100% Tempranillo aka Tinto Fino aka Tinta del Pais
vineyards:   30 small plots
vine-age:   up to 100 years
harvesting:   manual
maturation:   15 months in French oak
  • visual:    clear; fully intense garnet core with slightest cherry/brick rim
  • nose:   clean; fully intense and youthful fresh red berry aromas, layer upon layer with developing dark berry notes, savory worn leather background, complex, with a hint of winter spice
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate red currant and blackberry acid, moderate+ chalky tannin, moderate+ body, moderate+ ABV (15%), moderate+ intense and youthful flavors developing into something of true substance: the berry notes are warming into a blueberry/blackberry compote, stewed plums, hint of graphite like minerality. Very good balance and structure with long developing length
  • conclusion:   Already a treat, this will be a joy to open for years. Watch (or taste) it develop from 2013-2020. It has the persistence, concentration and acidity to withstand another 1/2 decade of cellaring
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   heathen that I am, I just want to light another cigar to match this robust wine! My choice would be a Romeo & Julieta from Cuba - something just as full of dimension and richness. If I had to choose food, then I would keep it simple: venison carpaccio with wild-berry compote on toasted dark rye and quark cheese (can substitute chevre, creme fraiche, or boursin)... the gamey venison always cosys up to Spanish reds, wild-berries will love the fresh and dark berry tones just as the dark rye will emphasize through contrast and the little dash of soft cheese will help soften the acid enough to wash your way through a bottle far too quickly :)

Every year the Playhouse Wine Festival chooses a varietal and a region as the theme, or focus. As for myself, I always find my own theme - my own focus. It's part of the joy for me; this joy at discovery and learning in one of the greatest classrooms in the world. Last year I was fortunate enough to learn the true art of cellaring great value wines, and being rewarding with an end-result worth many many times the original cost. I tasted $10 bottles of wine from the 80's and 90's worth, to my mind, several hundreds of dollars today.

What lesson do I think I'll learn at the end of this month?

Already I've learnt so much: a wine is a living, breathing entity. It takes shapes as it grows, as it develops in it's glass cocoon. Some of the families whose work I sample have been laboring for centuries so that I could enjoy this. Perhaps, just perhaps, they are deserving of more of my time before I decide that the moth will never become a butterfly. Both of these red wines, by-the-way, were sampled over a 5-day process. The evolution(s) were brilliant.

And humbling.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

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

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