Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wine Tasting Circle, Vancouver

Well all, just a moment to toot my own horn~! I've been lucky enough to be able to start my own wine tastings in the beautiful Moda Hotel downtown, in the private dining salon of Uva winebar/Cibo restaurant (

The Chef and The

Wine Tasting Circle

A series of wine tastings featuring rare vintages
and unique wines to the BC marketplace.

These tastings are designed for professional wine stewards/sommeliers, wine-merchants, writers as well as the serious amateur. Involving food components rather then full dishes, this is designed to allow participants to evolve their understanding of how flavors will affect, marry and contrast with each other.

Held in the private dining salon of Cibo/Uva @ the Moda Hotel (900 Seymour st) @ 7pm the first Wednesday of each month, participation is limited to 12 people. Payment can be made through the Paypal link @

August 07th, 2013
2000 Bordeaux $99/person

1. Chateau Perron (Lalande de Pomerol)
2. Chateau Saint Yves (Premier Cotes du Bordeaux)
3. Fonreaud (Listrac-Medoc)
4. Monregard la Croix (Pomerol)
5. Croix de Marbuzet (St Estephe)
6. Bernadotte (Haut-Medoc)

Chef Kristof
Journeyman Chef, Wine Steward, FWS (student)
604.339.6921 (cell)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Schug Pinot Noir, Carneros, Sonoma Coast, California (merchants in Western Canada)

If you don't know who Walter Schug is, then you my friend need to learn one more name today. Herr Schug is, to me and many others, a veritable pantheon in the wine industry, in American wine, and in the nonsensical world of Pinot Noir.

Walter Schug was born with his feet stained red from the grapes... at least, that's what he told me at the 2013 Vancouver International Wine Festival ( You see, Walter's Dad was also in the wine industry and used to take young Walter, when he was very, very young - to the vineyards and into the cellar. Walter told me, with his infectious grin, that they were some of his absolute fondest memories. And Walter has lead quite a life~!

How do I begin to tell the story of this man? Do I start with "Insignia"; the inaugural, iconic Bordeaux-styled blend that set the bar - - - and set it higher then most have been able to reach since? Do I start with Syrah?? Walter was the first winemaker to work with it in the USA. Do I start with late-harvest techniques? Once again - trailblazer. Perhaps you're expecting me to start to tell Walter's story by saying that this year marks his 60th vintage as a winemaker.

You would be wrong.

Of all of the things that there are to respect and admire about Walter Schug, perhaps the greatest- (asides from his steadfast devotion to his childhood grape varietal Pinot Noir which was quite out of fashion during the 80's)- yes the greatest characteristic I admire is his commitment to family. Walter has built everything that we see; built reputation, collaborated to create a community,  crafted a winery from a modest 2,000 cases/year to over 30,000 cases - for family.

Daughter, daughters' twin, son, daughter-in-law... all working in the family business. I come from a big family and I know that families don't always see eye-to-eye, and yet all three children work in the winery. How can this be?

Well just as I said in my last article, I believe in Reaganomics; I believe in trickle-down-theory. Someone at the top in this company (not saying who) must have laid down a foundation of respect, acceptance and even - love. Love? "You must be thinking ardor or passion" I hear you thinking. But, you would be wrong. For I mean love.

Walter crossed from Germany to California in 1961, and he came with his wife Gertrud. His blushing-bride also had a wine-maker as a father and so she knew the lifestyle she was getting herself into... crossing the ocean to the (then) unknown wilderness of central California. There were less then 50 wineries in the entire state at the time. Now there are over 450 in Sonoma County and 700 in Napa Valley. Gertrud came for love.

And it is an Old-Fashioned kind-of-love that lets a husband and wife work together as well as live together. Gertrud became Chief Financial Officer for Schug Wines in 1980 and remained in that onerous position until she passed away in 2007. She and her husband were willing slaves to the promise that they were building something for their children (and now grand-children).

I was reminded of my mentor/inspiration James Conaway (New York Times best-selling author @ when I read about Walter and Gertrud packing their 3 kids into the car and moving to the rural community (at the time) of St Helena, Napa Valley in 1966... The Judgement of Paris was still a decade away, Chateau Montelena and Stag's Leap Wines? Kids just learning to walk... and this was where Walter wanted to bring his kids. This was where he wanted to build their future.

And why? Yes, for love. But also, in Walter's words

“It was the great potential I saw here, and the opportunity to be part of its development, that convinced me to come to California.”

Bravo my friend. Your wines speak for themselves;

2009 Carneros Pinot Noir
92+ Points
$30 USD, winery club price $24 USD
  • visual:   clear; medium ruby core with slightly bricking wide and light ruby/cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; medium+ to fully intense and youthful bouquet of red cherries and raspberries, cherry blossoms, wild herbs such as thyme/sage/savory, a little forest aroma (French call this sous-bois), dark tea notes and a hint of menthol/eucalyptus
  • palate:   clean; dry, medium+ crisp red currant acid, medium+ chewy tannin, medium- body, medium+ alcohol (14% ABV), medium+ intense youthful flavors that are much in-line with the aromas; a bright red burst of young berry flavors is carried by waves of savory herbs, dense wood tones and a strong presence of dark tea minerality. Before today I have never paired tea with mineral, but in this instance the two flavors are nigh congruent and to me deserve to be spoken of as a pair. Excellent balance and structure, medium+ length
  • conclusion: to be enjoyed now. This is a (in my opinion) an excellent expression of Carneros and is just hitting its prime; enjoy 2013-2018
  • FOOD PAIRING:   the presence of wild herbs and sous-bois in the wine really make me want to pair this with Pork; slow roast bacon wrapped pork loin with maple-mustard glaze, sweet potato pave, fresh English peas... the pork is a natural for Pinot Noir, the sweet of the maple balances slightly hot alcohol, the mustard cuts through it, the sweet potato enhances natural fruit flavors and the bright green notes of the peas play counter-part to the savory/herbaceous qualities

2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
93+ Points 
$24 USD, winery-club price $19.20 USD
  • visual:   clear; light ruby core fading quickly to lighter ruby/cherry rim, no bricking
  • nose:   clean; fully intense youthful spicy savory herb bouquet; every herb under the sun~! Thyme, rosemary, Italian parsley, sage, savory... a kaleidoscope mixed with musky wood tones like sandalwood, the minerality is a delicate thread of spun steel that threads throughout
  • palate:   clean; dry, full red currant acid, medium grippy tannin, medium- body, medium alcohol (13.5%), medium+ to fully intense youthful flavors perfectly in-line with the aromas; the quick burst of red berry tones quickly gives way to a rich abundance of savory herbs and musky wood tones... the minerality which seemed delicate in the nose shows it's full force here and is finessed as much as it is puissant. Excellent balance and Stunning structure, medium+ to long length
  • conclusion:   still a babe; drink now once through the aerator or a 30-minute decant. Enjoy 2015-2020++
  • FOOD PAIRING:   be big, be bold, because this wine most certainly is as well~! Consider an authentic lamb/venison Poblano mole over Manitoba wild rice pilaf, Chiliwack corn succotash, steamed collard greens (Swiss Chard)... you  might never have thought of Pinot Noir and chocolate (and neither did I for a long time), but in some instances.... Magic!!!
Schug Carneros vineyards
Wine is more then passion, it is more then devotion, it is even more then love. Wine is also business.

And Walter Schug knows that as well, if not better, then anyone. Walter took years - literally years - to discover the place that was going to be best for him to work with the grapes that his father had introduced  him to when he was a child in Germany. Pinot Noir; the heart-break grape. It is his passion, even if it was Chardonnay that paid the bills for many of those first years of the winery.

Walter knew he had found the place at last when he came to the Carneros appellation, just south of the town of Sonoma. It's a place where the fog is replaced at midday by summertime winds that come rushing through  the Petaluma Gap. It's this wind-stress that causes the skin of the grapes to thicken, particularly the higher Pinot Noir plantings, a characteristic that adds pepper and spice nuances to the wine. Perhaps it also toughens the skins of its inhabitants, allowing them to work side by side with family which must be a stress all of it's own... yes, the wind comes and does this all so that you and I get to taste this World-Class wine for pennies, and the Schug family gets to keep building a future. Together.

As always, I welcome your comments here or on Twitter @ AStudentofWine

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

Monday, July 8, 2013

Mud House single vineyard Pinot Noir, Otago, New Zealand (merchants)

I believe in Reaganomics. I believe in "trickle-down" theory and that whatever happens at the top will make its way to the bottom.

grapes at Mud House harvest
So when my friend and colleague from Renaissance Wine Merchants came over for our ritual bottle (or two) of wine and a good cigar, I felt inspired to find out who was leading the charge at Mud House Wines. I've never claimed to be an expert on Pinot Noir... oh sure I love a good one as much as the next wine-geek, but sometimes the subtleties escape me.

Nothing escaped my attention when I tried this wine. It's big, bold and beautiful, lined with a precise minerality worthy of Burgundy, and yet the expression is pure New Zealand. My researcher instincts got me asking the usual Who, What, Where, When and Why. Of course, I already knew everything except for the Who. Or did I?

Ben Glover is one of the two winemakers for this winery that exemplifies holistic and sustainable viticulture. I almost wasn't surprised when I found out that Ben was selected as the New Zealand representative scholar to the inaugural Lee Evans Tutorial ( ). If you've never heard of this outrageously high-powered week of wine tastings and seminars, fret not, only a dozen applicants are selected to participate from the entire World of Wine and this years' attendees include a Master of Wine and a Master Sommelier...

The list of wines these fine folks get to swirl, sip and spit (or not) would make any budding oenophile dizzy with jealousy: Haut-Brion, Salon, Chave Hermitage, RomanĂ©e Conti... I was completely humbled when I started reading the list. And by the end? By the end of the list I think I understood Ben Glover and his wine-making a little bit better.

Now that I've been writing about wines for over three years, many of the wines I scored in my first 6 months I might score differently now. It's not that the wine has changed, but my point-of-reference surely has. Perhaps it's the same for a wine-maker? I hear so many of them say time and time and time again "If you want to make great wines, you need to drink great wines."

And so here is a man, Ben, who whilst helping his wife to raise their four children (when do you sleep man??) takes a week sabbatical to the wine-Mecca. Or maybe the wine-MIT is more accurate as the Len Evans Tutorial is really about expanding knowledge! Well Ben had to go - right? As a board member for both Wine Marlborough and the great Pinot Noir 2013 Celebration, Ben had an obligation to go develop his lexicon of wine.

Yet Ben would probably be the guy first to say "Mud House making great wine is about more then just me!"

You're absolutely right Ben, but like I said; I believe in Reaganomics. I believe in trickle-down theory. I've seen what happens when great people put in the effort for someone at the top who just isn't as passionate as they are. You know what happens, right? Not very much.

There is a driving force behind Mud House wines that is creating its own ecosystem of passion, ambition and dedication. Ben Glover may only be one cog in the machinery, but what does it say about the people operating the machine that they can attract leaders like Ben?

Try a glass and find out!

2009 Mud House SWAN Pinot Noir
Riverlands Estate
Marlborough, Central Otago, New Zealand
92 points
in Canada, contact
  • visual:   clear; full garnet core with ruby/cherry rim, slight bricking
  • nose:   clean; fully intense youthful yet developing aromas of thyme and lavender infused cherry compote, red flowers (roses), peppercorns, warm earth, new leather
  • palate:   clean; dry, medium+ red cherry acid, medium+ grippy tannin, medium- body, medium+ alcohol (14% ABV), medium+ youthful flavors that are in-line with the bouquet; the fresh red berry-tones are awash in wild herbs and a savory-scrub-brush serious sous-bois undertone, minerality is a keen presence as the palate finishes with warm earth and wood notes. Very good balance, excellent structure and medium+ length
  • conclusion:   at 4 years old, this wine is still in the bloom of youth. Integrated tannin, balanced acid, concentration and layering all yield a score into the low 90's. Enjoy now with or without decanting, or cellar and enjoy 2013-2017
  • FOOD PAIRING:   these crisp red berry tones will delight with fresh fish; consider fresh BC Albacore tuna tataki with sambal-infused Kewpie mayo and miso-glazed soba noodle salad ... a little fat from the mayo, some spice to balance, the salty-miso contrasts and earthy soba noodle enhance the natural earthy tones

As always my friends, I look forward to your comments; here or on Twitter @ AStudentofWine

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

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Silverback Vineyards, Columbia Valley, Washington State

Silverback Vineyards, Walla Walla Washington

The Columbia Valley AVA in Washington State ( is a sprawling 11,000,000 acres of land - making it almost 5 times the size of the largest wine producing region of France: Bordeaux. A comparison of the two areas may seem far-fetched, but follow me on a little exploration...

Bordeaux is a "master artist" if you will; the wines of this region have been inspiring winemakers and wine-drinkers alike for decades piled upon centuries. The cousin-across-the-water Bordeaux has actually 3 times the amount of acres planted with vines, and I'm stunned by the vast difference in the number of wineries (Bordeaux has over 8,500 producers). In 1981, all of Washington State put together only had 19 wineries. Today they can claim over 750 wineries within State boundaries, exporting to over 40 countries, with a production level second in the USA behind "The Great State of" California.

Still- a dwarf beside mighty Bordeaux.

And yet, might one day young David topple the seemingly invincible Goliath?
Columbia Valley AVA
The Grande Dame of the wine-world, Jancis Robinson, has rated several Washington State wines as being truly world-class, and the man who (arguably) started the Bordeaux craze in the '80's (Robert Parker) has scored several Washington wines as worthy of the prestigious 100-point perfect score. These items alone bode well for Washington's future as a producer of serious wines.

But there's the human element, the part of the French equation of terroir which can never be predicted; for good or for bad. And here's where I enter the story~!

At the recent 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, BC (  I had the great pleasure of organizing and moderating a panel-led discussion on BC terroir and how one uses that sense in judging/scoring wines. The lecture went incredibly well, the week was a blur, and on the final night I thought to myself "Enough work Kristof - time to relax and enjoy a few too many glasses of wine with friends!" And so I put my ear to the ground, found out where the coolest after-parties were, and prepared my liver for a bit of a long night.

Little did I know what I was in for; because when I got the VIP suite in question I was greeted at the door, shady-late-nite-club-style, by a big man in casual clothes demanding to know why I was there.

"To drink wine." I responded innocently.

... a moment passed uncomfortably...

"Ok. Come on in." he waved with a grin starting to emerge. "Hey Monique!" he bellowed into the suite, "this guy's here to drink wine!"

I tried my best to squeeze past the unexpected bouncer (who brings a bouncer to a Wine Conference?) and scanned the room for a familiar face. No luck. Instead, a decidedly curvy and unnervingly beautiful short blond slid up to me in high heels.

"You wanted to try some wine?"

I decided to play this situation cool - - real cool. "Um. Yeah. Wine."

She was totally enthralled by my masterful command of the English language and brought me a splash of Chardonnay in a Riedel glass. Riedel? These cats knew how to party! I prepared myself for some god-awful-liquid-oak-infused-over-cropped-crap-from-the-bottom-of-the-cellar. But then I smelled it...


Double-damn, but this was real wine. I swirled, I sipped. I couldn't have spit that wine if I wanted to - it was too good. I had to smell that wine again, but something was buzzing

"I asked if you liked it?" she murmured.

"Shhh... I'm smelling the wine."

I almost heard, like from a dream, the bouncer ask the blonde "Well does he like it?"

I couldn't stop smelling the wine, and the only thing better then smelling it was tasting it - in small sips so that I could savor it forever. I was tired of the distractions though.

"This... this is so good. Would I - could I have a bit more?" I felt like I was facing Fagan and it was the proverbial bowl-of-gruel, but Oliver Twist never had it this good.

"This is Charles. He's the owner and the winemaker." I heard that cat-like murmur again at my side. What? I thought to myself; The bouncer is the owner? I'm too tired, this isn't making sense!

You see my friends, if ever there was a wine introduced to me under poor circumstances, this would be that occasion. It turns out that Charles Herrold, the owner/winemaker, is a fantastically friendly and chatty fellow - we ended up sipping wine and talking long, long into that night. And the curvy blonde with the velvet voice? A certified sommelier no-less, who showed me with grace that she knew a thing or three about wine. A genuine lady and fellow wine-lover.

And the Chardonnay? They sent me with some wines to take home and make notes on;

2011 Chardonnay
Wallula Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills AVA
91+ Points
Barrel fermented in Burgundy Barrique and Puncheons 8.5 months, aged sur-lie
185 cases
  • visual:   clear; light gold core with watery rim, silver highlights
  • nose:   clean; medium+ to fully intense youthful bouquet reminiscent of Mersault; ultra-precise and defined minerality, warm hay, young golden apples, little white summer flowers, off-set by a hint of wild-thyme and a light finish of spicy pepper. Oak is a presence.
  • palate:   clean; dry, full golden apple acid, medium body, medium+ alcohol (13% ABV), medium+ concentration of flavors much in-line with the nose; crisp young apples are off-set by a hint of wild herbs and summer flowers, but it is the precise minerality which enthralls the palate, holding it captive as the flavors evolve. Very good balance, excellent structure and long length. 
  • conclusion:   this is a wine worth watching!If I could have scored just on bouquet alone this would have earned 93/94 points! This caliber of craftsmanship will yield truly world-class Chardonnay in the future and already should be on the "must-taste" list for anyone who appreciates Burgundian style. Enjoy 2013-2018+
  • FOOD PAIRING:   Washington wine with Washington food; consider poached Pacific salmon with fresh tarragon remoulade, steamed nugget potatoes/sweet corn/edamame salad... the salmon's natural fat will balance the active acid, the fresh tarragon will enhance the light herb-notes, the sweet corn will play off the savory characteristics
after a Chardonnay like this, I couldn't wait to try the Syrah and so planned a decadent Summer bbq at home with glazed meats, steamed and grilled veggies, and my new creation; balsamic-truffle grilled Crimini mushrooms... they're almost too much of a good thing. Almost.
Ribeye steaks and fresh rosemary from the garden

2010 Syrah
89 Points
Sara Lee and Shiraz #7 clones
blended and aged for 25 months in second fill French oak
149 cases
  • visual:   clear;   fully intense garnet core with ruby/garnet rim
  • nose:   clean; fully intense youthful yet developing aromas of white pepper, savory underbrush, wild thyme, stewing dark berries such as blackberry/black raspberry, currant undertones
  • palate:   clean; dry, full+ red currant acid, full chewy tannin, full body, medium+ alcohol (14.8% ABV), medium intense youthful flavors speaking of young vines; tart red berry flavors abound, but there is little in the way of dimension. The palate is disappointing after the highly expressive nose. Good balance, decent structure, medium+ length
  • conclusion:   I would like to think that this wine is suffering from young vines and a difficult year (2010 was not great for the Pacific NorthWest). That being said, the nose and palate aren't in unison and to me that is a basic challenge. This wine will not develop appreciably with time and with such mediocre concentration on the palate - is best consumed sooner rather then later
  • FOOD PAIRING:   high acid, rich aromatics, low concentration on the palate... consider this for the cheese course 

2011 Syrah Reserve
91 Points
Sara Lee clone
100% free run juice used in a single 500 litre puncheon and left on the lees for fifteen months
55 cases
  • visual:   clear; fully intense garnet core with cherry/ruby rim, light sediment
  • nose:   clean; fully intense youthful bouquet of blackberry/blueberry/saskatoon, wild thyme/sage, old leather, wood tones/ sandalwood, black and red Tellicherry peppercorns
  • palate:   clean; dry, full+ red currant acid, medium+ to full soft/chewy/meaty tannin, full body, full alcohol (15% ABV), fully intense youthful flavors much in-line with the aromas; opening with eager red fruit flavors, the palate has depth and dimension carried by wild herbs, leather and wood tones. Good balance, very good to excellent structure and medium+ length
  • conclusion:   this is a wine with definite cellaring potential. If you must drink it now, I advise double-decanting/double-aeration. Enjoy 2015-2019+
  • FOOD PAIRING:   play off of the wines' strengths~! The rich berry tones and wild herbs will cosy up to wild meats/venison but the full acids must be balanced with some fat. Consider venison cassoulet to be a natural in this instance
And so the Syrah, whilst good, were not on the same level as the wines I had tried that magical night in Penticton. Did I dream it all? Was the blond an enchantress? A siren luring men to their doom on the rocky shoals of wine? Or was I just that tired?? I went back to the second wine I tried in the VIP suite; a sexy little Sangiovese

2010 Sangiovese
92+ points
Aged in American oak puncheons for 24 months with 9% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Syrah added 
185 cases
  • visual:   clear; full garnet core with ruby rim and the barest hint of bricking, light sediment
  • nose:   clean; fully intense youthful bouquet like a world-class Brunello; warm spicy earth is carried by buttery oak tones, layers of savory herbs and tomato leaves drying in the Summer sun, dark cocoa background mingling with a playful peppercorn finish
  • palate:    clean; dry, fully intense red currant/raspberry acid, medium+ intense chewy/grippy tannin, medium+ body, medium alcohol (highly integrated 14.2% ABV), fully intense youthful flavors much in-line with the nose; bright red fruit dominate this young wine and are chased by wild herbs, old leather, buttery oak. Great balance and structure with medium+ length (long finish but a tad mono-dimensional after the mid-palate)
  • conclusion: still a baby! This wine was still tight after a 24-hour decant; this will live for years so, if you must drink it now, run it three times through an aerator. Enjoy 2015-2020+
  • FOOD PAIRING:    big wine? Big food~! Consider this for a traditional dish served in multiple formats all over Italy; grilled sausage, bell pepper and fresh basil baked with tagliatelle pasta, garden-fresh tomato sauce, Fontina and Asiago cheese... don't forget, a wine with acid like this wants some fat - so give it fat~! But it has depth and dimension to allow for a greater expanse of flavors on your plate to match it and enjoy discovering the multiple layers

I saved the best (?) for last of course; the Bordeaux-styled blend they call .... I'm going to be doing my Bordeaux-Master program late this year and, as such, have a great passion for those blends. I don't care where they come from, or what the price is - I care about the quality. I care about balance, I care about expression, I care about integration... let's see how Silverback Vineyards and the vast expanse of the Columbia Valley measured up (in my eyes):

2010 Reference (Bordeaux-styled blend)
Wallula Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills AVA
90 points
Cabernet Sauvignon (43%), Merlot (31%), Petit Verdot (12%), Cabernet Franc (9%), and Malbec (5%) were blended after thirteen months and re-barreled into 500 litre French puncheons for an additional year to amalgamate into our complex, flagship wine. 85% free-run juice was used 
270 cases
  • visual:   clear; medium garnet core with cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; medium+ youthful aromas of candied cherries, cherry blossoms, roses, red and black currants, old leather, wild thyme
  • palate:   clean; dry, full red currant acids, medium+ chalky tannin, med+ body, full alcohol (13.9%), medium+ intense and youthful flavors much in-line with the aromas; a generous burst of red berries is followed by earthy/woodsy notes against a backdrop of wild herbs and fresh flowers. Good balance, great structure and medium+ length
  • conclusion:   richly concentrated, this wine just needs the vines to mature. The acid will soften over time, bringing it more into balance and so I advise enjoying 2015-2018+
  • FOOD PAIRING:   this wine has decent concentration and depth (though slightly off-balance at present)... I would take one note from it and make the food accentuate; ancho-honey slow braised beef shortribs on rosemary infused gnocchi, strawberry-cucumber salad ... ancho or chipotle will enhance this wines' intense red berry notes but beware of pairing spice with high alcohol wines as the alcohol intensifies the sensation of alcohol (hence the honey for balance)

And so a decidedly excellent showing from the first vintage of a new winery. It's obvious that Charles Herrold knows what he's doing, and as these vines mature - scores in the 90's will become the standard for this winery. 

Perhaps a comparison of Bordeaux and the Columbia Valley was foolish; Bordeaux-the-Master obviously has more wineries, more awards, more prestige, more presence in the International Arena then Young-Columbia-Valley. The only area where Bordeaux does not surpass Columbia Valley is in passion; focused passion from the current generation of winemakers that are striving day-in and day-out to allow the fullest expression of their vineyards. In this, the two regions are equals.

And no perhaps about it.

As always, I look forward to your comments here or on Twitter @AStudentofWine

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

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Lifford Wines and Travaglini

Steven Campbell, owner/president of Lifford Wine
Yesterday I wanted to share with you that Painted Rock Winery ( was releasing it's much anticipated new Chardonnay. Today i want to follow in those footsteps and tell you about a wine-merchant/import company who I admire greatly; Lifford Wines (

This is a group of truly passionate and dedicated individuals who hold the wine industry to the highest standards. When they emailed me last week to tell me about their new program for the Summer, I simply had to pass along the info...

(important note: this newsletter is addressed only to private retailers and restaurants in B.C. Prices shown on the newsletters are not private consumers or retail prices.

Dear Kristof,
I am delighted to present a new program highlighting our boutique portfolio in British Columbia. This portfolio is composed of nine different wineries spanning the very best wine regions in the world, with a special focus on family-owned producers:
* Travaglini
* Il Poggione
* Staete Landt
* Hollick Wines
* Mitchell Wines
* Amity Vineyards
* Marietta Cellars
* Pine Ridge
* Arboleda

Each Wednesday throughout the summer we will be sending a brief email to tell you the story behind each of these producers and the wines they craft.

I will be staying in Vancouver from August 10 to August 23. The Lifford BC team and I will be visiting private retailers and restaurants to present this boutique portfolio. To make the best use of your time, please let me know if there are any specific products you would like to review.

Looking forward to seeing you in August,

Igal Amsallem
Certified Sommelier
Lifford Wine & Spirits

Noble Nebbiolo from Travaglini
Nebbiolo: It's all about Tannin and Acidity. Tar and Roses. Barolo and Barbaresco. Right?
This tends to be the received wisdom on Nebbiolo, the noble grape of Piemonte. But there's more to the story.

Nebbiolo is grown throughout northwest Italy, not just in the hills of the Langhe, where the famed DOCGs of Barolo and Barbaresco lie. Gattinara, Bramaterra, Lessona, Boca, Fara, Ghemme, Sizzano - each of these seven DOCs situated well north of the Langhe possesses a unique terroir capable of producing great wines from Nebbiolo, known locally as Spanna.

If you're going to remember one of these appellations, remember Gattinara. At one time, the wines of Gattinara were more prized than Barolo and Barbaresco. Awarded DOCG status in 1990, this is a mountainous region with volcanic, iron-rich soils where most vineyards face south to collect as much daylight as possible. Given the sub-alpine location, Gattinara often presents a cooler-climate expression of Nebbiolo, emphasizing the delicate and elegant side of the grape.
Travaglini is practically synonymous with Gattinara. Started in 1920s by Clemente Travaglini, the estate remains in the family today. Throughout the years, Travaglini has established itself as the most esteemed producer of traditional, limited-production wines in the region.
And about the distinctive Travaglini bottle: the trademark curves are designed to catch the sediment during pouring. Ingenious!

If you're seeking the nobility of Nebbiolo, but without the sticker shock that comes with most Barolo and Barbaresco, then you will most definitely want to check out the wines of Travaglini.

Travaglini Nebbiolo Coste della Sesia DOC 2009
6 x 750ml
SKU 479873
         The first offering in the Travaglini lineup, this wine presents an opportunity to enjoy Nebbiolo in its youth. After four months in stainless steel tank, this wine ages for 10 months in Slovenian oak casks. The result is a delicate but complex wine with lovely floral overtones and a long mineral finish. A fine match for a broad variety of foods.

The Wine Advocate calls it "a terrific entry-level wine with expressive aromatics, well-delineated fruit and gorgeous overall balance at this level...A fabulous effort."

Travaglini Gattinara DOCG 2006
*store stock only
6 x 750ml
SKU 585513

Stepping things up a notch in terms of concentration and aging time, the Gattinara DOCG 2006 presents a complex bouquet of pure red fruit, earthiness, and florality - think tar and roses with some cherries on top. On the palate, the trademark tannin and acid of Nebbiolo are present but tamed by the 3 years of aging at the winery, 2 years in Slavonian oak vessels of various age and size with the remainder of the time in bottle.

Travaglini Gattinara Riserva DOCG 2005
6 x 750ml
SKU 342329
          Only produced in the best years, the Gattinara Riserva DOCG is harvested at a lower yield and spends an additional year in oak, giving it further richness and depth. The concentration and structure makes this aristocratic Gattinara a candidate for extended aging. Drink now or cellar for up to 20 years.

Travaglini Gattinara Tre Vigne DOCG 2006
6 x 750ml
SKU 280396
          The Travaglini Tre Vigne is also produced only in the best years. A marriage of three historical vineyards, it is the result of extensive research into the varying terroirs in Gattinara. Similar aging to the Gattinara Reserva, but 20% of the wine spends 10 months in French barriques. Powerful yet supple.

To place an order, reply to
Remember, if you would like to taste any of these wines between August 12th and August 23rd, email igala@liffordwine and he will be pleased to arrange an appointment!

I have not personally tasted these wines recently, and so cannot attest to the quality. But what I can say is that in my mind, Lifford Wines is one of the premier wine importers into BC. If you are in Lifford's sales area and want to grow your Italian portfolio, Gattinara is - as they say - a fantastic value for money option over Barolo. If you are outside of Lifford's sales area, you will do yourself a favor if you check out what these savvy folks have discovered.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Painted Rock 2012 Chardonnay Release

I don't usually do this folks, but Painted Rock has just announced the release of their new Chardonnay and I was so pleased to hear about it that I thought I would pass along the information.

Get your orders in early is all I can say~! I know several restaurants who want to purchase this en masse and, for the price, I defy you to show me better quality in our marketplace.

Dear Friends,

We are thrilled to release our newest vintage of Chardonnay.

Listening to and learning from our vineyards, our evolved farming methods have enabled us to achieve extraordinary balance in the planting block. Spectacular growing conditions then allowed us to perform two harvests of approximately 50% each, 10 days apart to capture specific attributes in the fruit. These harvests were vinified separately, the second harvest undergoing malolactic fermentation, and both were then aged 5 1/2 months in 50% new French oak.

I am very proud of this wine. It has beautifully expressive aromatics, luscious mouthfeel and the characteristic bright acids and mineral quality that our Chardonnay is becoming known for.

We only produced 440 cases of this vintage so please let us know at your earliest convenience if you would like to purchase some. You can order directly from Jill (604 765 4538 or or purchase on our ecommerce website at The price has remained unchanged for the past five years at $30.00 per bottle.

I hope to see you all this summer at our temporary tasting room or in our new facility opening this August.


John W. Skinner
Painted Rock Estate Winery

Monday, July 1, 2013

Lake Chelan AVA, Washington State

"Imagine a voyage beyond sight and sound... you've just entered: The Twilight Zone"
         dum dum dum~!!! (spooky sound-effect)

Normally if I saw a wine review start with these words I would hesitate. In fact, I might even be encouraged to turn the other direction! But these words are meant in the best of all possible ways and I'll explain why I chose them as I go along...

When I went to Lake Chelan in June, it was as the guest of the Lake Chelan Winegrowers Association. When I tell my friends and colleagues that I'm going to a wine-region as their guest - the reactions are invariably predictable:
Overlooking the vines of Karma

"Ooohhhh!!! You're going to be so spoiled"
"Oh my god - it's just a big drink-fest isn't it?!"
"You're so lucky - what an amazing vacation!"

Well, it's a lot of work from sun-up until long past sun-down, we spit most of the wine we taste, and as for being spoiled... you have no idea~!

The first morning I woke up in Lake Chelan, I found myself whisked away to Karma Vineyards patio ( ) to sip Methode Champenoise sparkling wine, surrounded by vines and white linen brunch service. The sunlight bathed us as we sat like film-stars; our sunglasses on, attention doted by these passionate winemakers... and this was the first Twilight Zone moment~! True Champagne-styled wine from a region as far removed from the calcareous soils of that northerly clime of France as can be imagined. Never mind that  most wineries in this region only started planting grapes in 1998. Never mind that they were only granted AVA status in 2009. Never mind that most of the winemakers here come from backgrounds completely outside of the "World-of-Wine" as opposed to the French who trace their genealogy back multiple-multiple-generations when we think of great Champagne houses.

And this was my thinking going to Lake Chelan: new region, new wineries, new winemakers... who's showing them what to do? Who's actually leading them by the hand (or the nose) and showing them how to make proper wine with their completely unique soil and growing climate?

the wine-cave @ Karma vineyards

I thought these things until I walked into Karma vineyards wine-cave (a splendid thing just waiting for a few more vintages to fill it with age-worthy sparkling wine)... and when Julie Pittsinger (co-owner with her husband Bret) started to speak, I was transported to another place. I sipped her brilliantly executed wine with a few dozen colleagues and heard this confident woman speak of hand-riddling, dosage, and maturation as if she'ld been raised in Reims alongside Madame Cliquot. And how could this be?

Because Julie and Bret are smart people. Smart enough to know that though Julie studied viticulture at Washington State, they needed a rockstar. They needed someone with Champagne in their blood (figuratively) and so they bolstered their courage, went to the source, and asked Claude Thibaut to come on board ( ). He came, he taught, they listened, and now -  well, this is where being spoiled comes into the story!

Karma vineyards Methode Champenoise Brut-de-Brut
91 points
traditional blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay
unfortunately I recorded over my voice-notes on this wine but I later referred to it as

  • "an elegant, restrained, nuanced example of methode Champenoise with crisp golden apple tones and precise minerality, worthy of time and attention. This is world-class wine already. I can't wait to try subsequent vintages as the vines mature!"

And back to the patio I take you, where my fellow bloggers and I were sipping bubbly and eating brunch under a Tuscan sky (or so it felt). Next in our flight of Lake Chelan sparklers was a delightful Viognier;

Cairdeas Sparkling Viognier
90+ points
made in the Charmat method
Viognier from Lawrence Vineyard - Royal Slope
Marsanne from Airfield Ranch - Yakima Valley
  • small, finessed bubbles - quite elegant in a Prosecco style
  • rich warm-climate style bouquet; full of white flowers, lush stonefruit
  • rich stonefruit flavors, crisp clean mineral precision
  • absolutely perfect with your bacon-y breakfast~!!!

"Good in Bed" Blanc-de-Noirs
Hard row to Hoe vineyards
90+ points
  • somewhat coarse/large bubbles
  • beautifully rich and nuanced bouquet; raspberries, cherries, cherry blossoms, minerality
  • crisp and clean; dry, fully intense youthful palate bursting with berry flavors, keen minerality, floral tones a-plenty... truly delightful and, whilst not sweet, keeps a good measure of ripe fruit flavors that make the wine far too easy going down~! Simply excellent concentration of flavors and unabashedly exuberant Pinot Noir
#LivinTheGoodLife courtesy 
After the decadent brunch Julie and Bret toured us around their beautiful land, driving us up to a bluff they showcased the the vineyards and Lake Chelan in all it's glory. It was simply too perfect as Julie explained Karma vineyards practices in the field; unique trellising techniques (cane pruning), watering needs, canopy management, etc. Mostly what I walked away with was that here are winemakers and viticulturists who are more then just impassioned, they are committed. Committed to developing excellence in the wine, to providing the best possible value, and to showcasing their unique terroir in it's best possible light.

And terroir was certainly an operative word as I continued my journey that day to the other side of the lake and the waiting arms (or skates in this case) of Roller Girl Wines ( ). Yes - that's right - a winery inspired by Roller-derby... just when I thought things were looking up, back down the rabbit-hole I was heading.

Ah yes - those words: "A voyage beyond sight and sound..." Roller-derby wine certainly had me flashing back to the Twilight Zone... I didn't exactly smirk when they poured the first wine. Well, not exactly. And then the smirk was wiped right off my face because the wine? The wine was;

2012 Syrah Rose
89+ points
  • medium+ youthful savory/herbaceous red-berry infused aromas
  • palate is crisp and clean, medium intense youthful flavors that dance with fresh berry tones and a judicial amount of serious minerality
  • thoroughly enjoyable... thoroughly professional, good concentration and easily could sell for $20 (ish) in BC
...and this was our "walking-around-wine" as we toured their vineyard site. Steep slopes, great view, passion comes in the most unexpected forms sometimes and I should have learnt by now not to judge a book by... and so with open-mind and clear palate, I starting enjoying the juxtaposition of rollerderby and great wine and tried another wine;

2010 Kamiri Cab-Franc
(Red Mountain AVA)
91 points
  • on the nose it has HUGE depth of fruit complexity; layer upon layer of all manner of red and black berry, savory earthiness, dark floral; irises/violets
  • palate; medium+ crisp/young/red currant acid, medium (approachable) chewy tannin, velvety texture and a medium+intense complex palate that matches the bouquet admirably
  • so approachable on it's own, but with a little charcuterie platter it absolutely sings! What a delightful wine!
...and yet another...

Bordeaux blend ("Vex factor"?)
(right bank style; 60%+ Merlot, 25% Cab Franc, some Malbec)
90 points
  • the bouquet has a lot of great Cab Franc quality; savory herbaceousness, driven by wild herbs and sous-bois but in the background is massive cocoa notes
  • on the palate a tad lean, medium- concentration much in-line with the aromas; medium- to light acid, medium chewy tannin
  • seamless flavors that marry in a truly professional manner, a wine of much promise for such a young winery - these are people to watch~!
And like that, it was over.

I awoke to find myself back on the tour bus, heading north for the Canadian border and the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, BC. I can't say which part of the whirlwind trip I enjoyed the most, because all of it blended so well to create a memorable experience.

view from Sorrento's patio
The first night that we were there, Tsillan cellars ( ) treated us with such genuine hospitality and generosity. We were the lucky recipients of a luxurious 4-course meal in a private corner of the Sorrento restaurant, and many of the wineries were there to give us a chance to explore their wines and ask questions. Even Mother Nature seemed glad to see us and set the sky ablaze to wish us "good-night". 

How is this more then just words? If the quality of the wine wasn't enough, then the massive investment in the operations certainly would be. Cane pruning? Triage during harvest? Second pressings distilled into cellared 7-year brandy? These are world-class techniques, practiced by the best. Is every winery in Lake Chelan working this diligently? No, of course not.

But the fact that some are working like this, and quality like this is coming out after such a short period of time should give hope. This should make you hope that this is your next vacation; schedule a few days or a week... let the kids play in the lake, taste some brilliant wines, and finish the night off with a bbq on the beach or celebrating life with the locals at a friendly watering-hole! I can't speak for anyone else, but for me, I can't wait to bring my family back. I can't wait to try more wines and spirits from this region, and I'm excited by the idea of introducing you my passionate readers to these passionate producers.

As always I look forward to your thoughts and comments, here or on Twitter @AStudentofWine

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