Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cristalino Cava, Garcia Carrion wines, Spain


 What can I, peasant that I am, say about a company that has won the prestigious award for Best Winery of Spain not once, but twice in a row? A winery that has been growing, developing, challenging the status-quo since the 1890's. A winery that has garnered more awards then a strong man could carry with ease.
I don't think that there's much I could say about such a winery that others haven't stated in a hundred different ways, and so I shan't even try. What I will do is express my admiration and respect:
All who read my work know that I have a "penchant" for telling the family story, the story of working for more then just one's self. How inadequate then I feel, reading the story of this family which in 1890 built it's first commercial winery in Spain. And why should I feel inadequate? How can a man who can barely trace his lineage back 100 years begin to understand a family business that in 1890 had already been in viticulture for centuries... in fact, the Garcia Carrion family has no idea how long they had been making wine because the records don't go back far enough.
And here I sit just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, which in 1890 got it's first steam clock, laid the first foundations for the sugar refinery and had a population of 1,000 souls. It was only 100 years before that (1892) that Captain George Vancouver set foot here for the first time.
And the Garcia Carrion family had already been in the wine business for centuries.
But it's one thing to be in business, and quite another to become the largest winery in Europe, fifth largest in the world~! And how does a family facilitate such a massive feat of business engineering? Well in their own words (to paraphrase), one needs to: "Be adaptable, listen to the customer, and be willing to Risk."
And risk they did when they sought financial backing in the early 1990's to expand their production of fruit juices, soda and fruit products. The risk paid off though when the backers sold their shares within a few years for 1.9 times the purchase price and Garcia Carrion had re-established itself as a Player. 
Gazpacho and wine? You're confused by the line of thinking? Well in business one hand scratches the other and the families growth in this segment strengthened its position to chase down growth in the wine industry. Fulfilling that objective, Cristalino Cava has now grown its sales in North America by 50% per year for two consecutive years. This translates to 60 million bottles of Cava for 2014.
Small wonder in my mind. In fact, I'll be stunned if the story doesn't remain much the same for the next year and possibly beyond. And why such a heavy prediction? Seriously: 50% growth for any company in any year is amazing, so why predict it three years in a row? It's because of something that a truly gifted businessman and winery own (John Skinner @ www.paintedrock.ca ) taught me... I'll paraphrase a bit again when I recollect John saying "Many people can make good wine, and that creates good business. But selling great wine at a great price creates a family legacy. And that's completely different."
But enough of my ranting. There's only one place to find true proof of quality and  that, my friends, is in the glass~!

Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Nature nv

Brut Nature, n/v

89 points

under$15 in BC, as low as $7 in some North America markets
  • this sparkling wine is a sommelier's dream; aged for 15 months at the winery it has developed layers and nuances far beyond its' modest price-point... aromas of green olives, apples, chalky minerality are followed by a bone-dry palate of creamy/mousse-like bubbles and lingering flavors of green apple and lemon zest. Great balance and structure - it has power to handle complex food and sophistication to be sublime on it's own. Certainly appeals to an older palate as youngsters may find it too dry on its own

Brut n/vcristalino cava nv Brut

89 points

under$15 in BC, as low as $7 in some North America markets
  • well if the BRUT NATURE is for the sommeliers, then the BRUT is for the ladies. Yes Sir, this cava opens very similarly to the predecessor, but whilst the aromas contain brine/green olive/almonds notes, they are warmed by tones of ripe peaches and apricots. The palate is dry, obviously, but not strikingly so and can easily... far too easily... be quaffed on it's own. The structure, balance and length are excellent as is the Value For Money~! Your girlfriend/wife/sister/Mom's new favorite sparkling wine - buy an extra bottle or two to have on hand because really, at this price, anyone can afford Sunday Mimosas :)

cristalino rose cava nv

Rose Brut n/v

91+ points

Under $20 in BC, as low as $10 in some North American markets
  • My choice for Top Bubbly of 2013~!!!
  • A stunning wine: crisp aromas of red berries (raspberries, cranberries) and clean mineral tones permeate my glass, transcended by a palate awash in fresh acid drenched in the same crab/raspberry flavors and always, always that distinct and utterly precise mineral focus. Much longer length on the palate then the other two wines (which are beautiful), this rose has capacity to develop on the taste-buds for 30 seconds and longer... truly an exceptional find for the price, I admit that I haven't been able to find its equal. A delight with your fish and seafood meals, it is an utter joy to consume on it's own. 

And so I conclude another year of Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Spit (optional).
These three wines represent, to me, some of the absolute best value in wine that I know of. They are eloquent, full of concentration and balance, and resonate both with food and without. But... But the part of all of this that would make my Dad most proud of the work that I do is that all three of these wines are under $20.
It's (relatively) easy to find quality in wine, sparkling or not, when one flourishes $50 or $100. For $100 I should be getting good wine! But it takes a bit more resourcefulness to track down gems such as these. And it's wine like this that can become a regular part of regular lives in the New World, where we're only just coming around to the notion that sparkling wine (in whatever form you choose: Cava, Prosecco, Champagne, etc) isn't just for special occasions. Drink bubbly with Sunday brunch! Drink bubbly with Tuesday pizza! Drink bubbly as you take the train home from work :)
As a mentor once encouraged me: Don't save your special bottles of wine for special occasions. Use your special bottles to create special occasions.
To me, Cristalino is always a special bottle, and anytime I open it becomes a special time for those I share it with.
Many thanks to the Christopher Stewart Wine Agency, representatives in Canada, for the sample bottles. www.christopherstewartwineandspirits.com

As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
on Twitter @AStudentofWine
on Facebook @www.facebook.com/TheChefandTheGrape

Monday, December 30, 2013

Maison Louis Latour, Montagny 1er cru 2009


There’s a minute group of businesses who belong to a special club; an “uber” tier to the concept of family-run companies called the Henokiens. The membership is limited to companies that are leaders in their respective fields, remain family owned, have a history of 200 years’ experience and still bares the name of the founder… you won’t be surprised now to learn that the membership is currently stuck at 30 companies. In the entire world.
So my last trip down to Las Vegas I was recommended this little gem by my good friends at the Double Helix in the Venetian ( www.doublehelixwine.com ). These are my same highly proficient colleagues who introduced me to the Chateau LaFleur St Jean which is right across a country road from Petrus and yet sells for less then $100 USD a bottle… with 3-4 years of cellar age on it~!! So anyways, when these people make a suggestion I perk both my ears and prepare to learn.
the Latour wine-making facility
the Latour wine-making facility
And opening this bottle was certainly a learning experience. This has balance, structure, precision… in short it has all of the qualities that one could ever hope for from Burgundy and it has them in ample quantity. Best part? It only runs about $50-60 USD so about half the price of what I would pay in British Columbia (the second highest liquor tax in the world).
I knew enough from my FWS (French Wine Scholar) program to know when I smelled, swirled and tasted the wine that it was something special, but it was when I read about the company that I discovered just how unique this really is. Since 1797 the family has been refining their skills as negocients or wine-brokers… but to call them brokers is really a failure in translation as there is so much more then that. This is a family that for 10 generations, from father to son, has bequeathed a legacy of winemaking that has little comparison. For how does one compare any modern winery against this kind of collective wisdom? Centuries of studying their soil, the aspect, the slope, the way the wind flows in Autumn… a thousand minute details collected, organized and put to good use. Who can really hope to equal the Burgundians when it comes to knowing one’s land?
And here is the family, still working the land and honoring tradition whilst being leaders in innovation. Of particular note is their intricate wine-making facility in which all handling of the juice from the grapes is done through gravity to eliminate unnecessary oxidization.
I could go on, but the best proof of a wineries work is still to be found – in the glass~!

maison latour Montagny 1er cru 20092009 Montagny 1er cru “La Grande Roche”

Cote Chalonaise, Cote D’Or, Burgundy

91+ points

soil: limestone, chalk, clay
  • This wine sings with precision from the initial aromas to the end of the palate: a textured bouquet of clean hay/almonds/crushed seashell minerality is brilliantly balanced by crisp/lean acids driven by that self-same seashell mineral focus. The structure is impeccable and the length a generous 20-30 seconds… a natural pairing for seafood, but especially richer Oyster Affairs such as the classic Oysters Rockefeller 
As a New World consumer, it’s difficult sometimes to truly understand the Old World systems: premier cru, grande cru, premier classe, vielle vignes, appellation… how do any of these words have bearing on California, Washington or Ontario? Well as a much wiser man explained to me, if wine were art then the French vineyards are DegasCezanne or Matisse. The vineyards, and the people who have helped shaped them into what they are, have defined a style of wine-making that all must learn if they are to ever develop their own art. Burgundy and the Cote Chalonnaise are not the be-all/end-all of what Chardonnay is~!
maison louis latour montagny 1er cru
But. But it’s families such as the Latours who inspired people like the Wente clan of California; without whom there would be little in the way of Chardonnay in the New World, and even less quality. It isn’t obligatory to honor these pantheons for their own sake, but respecting centuries of dedication seems the least we New World consumers can do. And so I raise the last of my glass to the great artists of Burgundy and invite you, when you want to taste Old School precision to do the same.
As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
on Twitter @AStudentofWine
on Facebook @www.facebook.com/TheChefandTheGrape

Desert Hills Estate Winery, BC VQA Okanagan Valley


brothers Randy and Jessie
brothers Randy and Jessie
 It’s the Holiday Season so I’m a sucker for a “feel-good” kind of story. Like 3 brothers who move in the mid ’80s to British Columbia from India and start working the new family farm…
Not a big stretch, right? They had a farm back home, Dad gets a little property in the Okanagan just outside of Oliver, and now they’re growing fruit. But the 3 brothers look around – undoubtedly noticing the large sign as one enters town that proclaims Oliver as “The Wine Capital of Canada”. True? Not for me to say, but there are a lot of wineries there… so the brothers go to Dad and say “Dad, let’s grow grapes. We can sell them for more then apples or peaches!”
Dad thinks about this, decides to go out on a limb and trust his boys. Much expense later, the family is producing wine grapes and selling them to local wineries and making more money. Good right? But not good enough for the Toor brothers who now go back to Dear Old Dad and say “Hey Dad, the grapes are really good. I mean really good… let’s start making our own wine.”
Dad goes back out on the limb, the family goes into the wine-making business now. And guess what?
Oh damned. You weren’t supposed to actually guess it… yes! The wine was also good. I mean really good. Good enough that they have won the prestigious Lieutenant Governor’s Award for excellence in winemaking (TWICE) and the winner of Canada’s Best Red.
And they planted the first Syrah in the South Okanagan.
This means that they’ve got some major determination, but also the foresight to look ahead of the curve and anticipate what might be lying there. That’s a good story in my books, and more then a little inspiring. But the best part to selfish-me is that these wines are widely available and at very reasonable prices. And my proof? Right there in the glass my friends:

2012 Chardonnay (unoaked)

solid 90 points

320 cases produced
  • bouquet that’s generous in floral and mineral tones, this wine is expressive of whence it comes from. The crisp, clean palate is rich in the same minerality and accentuated by flavors of wild summer flowers, white tea and young stonefruit (such as apricots and peaches) with a healthy dose of warm Golden Delicious apples thrown in for good measure. Well balanced, with good structure and decent length on the palate – this wine does as well on it’s own as it would with food. And what food?? As this is much more French in it’s approach then Californian, I would opt for a French classic like poulet aux quarantes l’ail (chicken roast with 40 garlic) or perhaps butter poached scallops with asparagus and hollandaise… there are enough acids to handle more robustly fatty meals :)

2011 Viognier, Sira’s vineyard

89+/90 points

1000 cases produced
  • once again, very French in it’s approach, this is an understated version of Viognierwith tight acid and a bouquet quite eloquently speaking about apricot compote, white tea and crushed-slate minerals. The balance is good, and the structure is even better with the length on the palate being considerable at 15-20 seconds before fading. I would have gladly scored this 91+ points if the bouquet was as expressive as the palate, which is as delicious as it is professional… a perfect pairing with WestCoast cuisine, this is brilliant with brown-sugar barbequed salmon, buttered fiddleheads and steamed new potatoes. And a word of caution; ensure you serve this wine under 15c/59F – too warm and the acids become unbalanced and bitter

2012 Gewurztraminer

91+ points

575 cases produced
  • an icon from the Desert Hills line-up, this varietal shines on their terroir. Bold aromas of lychee, pink and white grapefruit, exotic flowers and guava erupt from the glass with a keenly edged full acid on the palate to keep it in focus. Generous mid-palate flavors that mimic the bouquet brilliantly, good balance and structure with a medium length palate that is fun on it’s own but can pair with some serious food. This is for your gourmet Thai/Vietnamese cuisine and will make you look like a superstar when paired with the flavors of Thai basil, ginger, galangal and curry~! Once again though, a caveat: don’t serve over 15c/59F or the acids will appear unbalanced

2012 Gamay (Noir)

91+ points

  • if Gewurztraminer would be their flagship white varietal, then Gamay Noir would most certainly be (in my humble opinion) Desert Hills flagship red. Made famous, or infamous, by the Beaujolais Nouveau craze of the late 80′s/early 90′s (and modern day Japan) – Gamay Noir is capable of greatness when produced on the appropriate soil and crafted by artisans. This is certainly on the same level as many top-producers in Fleurie or Moulin-a-Vent~! A wildly expressive nose with aromas of worn leather, warm earth, pencil shavings, lightly candied blackberries and black currants, and a last hint of savory herbs… the palate follows suit with moderate acid, fine silty tannin and a generous expression that has balance, structure and medium+ length.
  • Food pairing?? Try this with your simple food to allow the wine to shine: artisanal Tuesday-night pizza with spicy Capicolla, local chevre (goat’s cheese), sun-dried tomato, artichoke hearts and a drizzle of white truffle oil

2009 Cabernet Franc

Eagle’s Nest Vineyard

88 points

302 cases produced
  • soft aromas of green pepper, warm earth and graphite-like pencil shavings greet the consumer while the palate delivers a modicum of tight red current acid overlayed by grippy young tannin. Whilst the balance is quite good, the structure is fair at best and the length on the palate is short to medium. This is an excellent candidate for Summer sangria and Winter mulled wine and, should you have some in your cellar, is best consumed sooner rather then later.

2008 “Mirage”

Cab-Sauv driven Bordeaux-styled blend (Left Bank)

91 points

980 cases produced
  • yes, Bordeaux styling can be found in the most northerly of wine-growing regions. It can even be eloquent, as exemplified by the “Mirage”; sonorous aromas of warm earth, old leather, graphite minerality, blackberry/blueberry/currant jam, wild herbs growing on the hillside all marry together quite seamlessly. The palate is driven by the bright red berry tones turning darker with the five years of aging, and held together by the clean and lean mineral edge. Very good balance and excellent structure, this palate holds well at medium+ or over 20 seconds developing on the tastebuds. Excellent now, hold in your cellar for several years
  • A wine of this structure merits food with equal thoughtfulness and consideration. Perhaps sous-vide beef tenderloin stuffed with Fraser Valley roast chestnuts and Qualicum blue cheese with a fresh rosemary jus, parsnip pave, candied eggplant crisps and charred radicchio salad…  intense flavors all, and all will draw strong notes from the wine

relaxing at the end of a hard day
Three brothers who turn a modest family business into a family legacy in the space of a generation. A good story, but then there’s the icing on the cake… it turns out that the brothers have taken some of the profits from the winery and built a sports arena in their hometown in India. Not content with merely flashing money around to look good, or assuage their egos, these fine men make a point of returning home every year to catch-up with family and friends, and ensure the arena is being run properly.
Because they care, these Toor brothers. They care about their family, they care about quality, and they care about their community: the New World and the Old, merging into something better then either was on it’s own. And that’s a good story, a really good story and more then reason enough for me to seek out their wines on a habitual basis: the Gewurztraminer a perennial treat for my beautiful wife.
Ask yourself, what do you respect about the last winery you supported with your consumer dollars?
Many thanks to Renaissance Wine Merchants, representatives of Desert Hills, for the sample bottles.  www.renaissancewine.ca

As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
on Twitter @AStudentofWine
on Facebook @www.facebook.com/TheChefandTheGrape

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Flor n/v, Prosecco DOC, Italy

flor label
What do you get when Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Lidia Bastianich decide to put their collective heads together to import Italian sparkling wine?
If your answer was anything other then “Quality”, “Value” or “Excellence” then you are wrong my friend. This trio represent some of the absolute pre-eminent Italian regional cuisine in all of the New World and have an understanding of the human palate far beyond the keen of most people. Their collective success is more then sufficient evidence to support this wild accusation and so I’ll go one step further:
If they understand how flavors interacts with the tastebuds then they understand how wine can interact with the soul.
Prosecco, Cava, sparkling wine, Champagne… all words that represent tiny bubbles of perfection captured in time by an ethereal liquid. It is a well-cut suit, a beautiful woman by your side and a well-appointed vehicle to whisk you to your destination. This glass of effervescent gems is a glamorous party with pretty people thronging to be let in and you walk past them all. Sparkling wine is the dream of something better, something prettier, something richer.
How utterly brilliant that these collective taste-gurus have imported such luxury, but at a price that the masses can appreciate. At under $20 this wine is an easy competitor for the contemporaries in France who charge twice, thrice, tenfold the cost… and also handles itself confidently against Spanish challengers with it’s ripe orchardfruit and stonefruit palate.
Brilliant value for the money? The proof is in the glass!

Flor prosecco nv

Flor n/v Prosecco DOC

90+/91 points

$16.99 limited special in BC
  • tiny pearls of air raise through the glass with movie-like perfection, bringing refreshing aromas of ripe pears and clean minerality… the palate is Springtime; peaches and apricots are warm and honey-like, emphasized by a seductively approachable medium- acid. Excellent balance and structure with medium+ length, a show-stopper for the price and an excellent way to start an evening or create Mimosas with the next morning :)
Prosecco is still a red-headed step-child in the sparkling wine market of the New World. Misunderstood, often abused, this wine is capable of greatness in the right hands but has been bastardized by some into a bubbly Koolaid beverage that stuck in the minds of many… ah the heyday of Asti Spumante right?!
Batali. Bastianich. Koolaid. Like they say on Sesame Street, “One of these words just doesn’t belong.” So don’t trust my words, or my palate, that this wine is worthy of your time and effort. Don’t even trust the literally hundreds of fellow journalists who have written words of praise for this budget-conscious jewel. Just trust your own eyes when you read that it was created by three of the savviest people in the restaurant business today.
And trust your own palate when you try it, because really, at the end of the day yours is the most important opinion.
Many thanks to the Christopher Stewart Wine Agency, representatives in Canada, for the sample bottle. www.christopherstewartwineandspirits.com
As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
on Twitter @AStudentofWine
on Facebook @www.facebook.com/TheChefandTheGrape

Friday, December 27, 2013

Kanazawa “Raku” Syrah on Viognier, Okanagan Valley, BC


Kanazawa logo
If you’ve never heard the name Kanazawa before, much less in reference to wine, be at ease… until just a few weeks ago, I had never heard of him either.
But now that I’ve tried the man’s wines I can state unequivocally that I shall never forget neither his name, nor how to spell it. For Richard Kanazawa is one of those rare breeds of winemaker: a man who makes wine not how he imagines the customers will want it, and not how some pencil-pusher tells him will garner the most points. No, Richard makes wine the way that the vineyard wants to express itself. And he does it with his own particular skill-set of flourish.
Having honed his talent in prestigious workplaces around the world, it speaks to the terroir here in British Columbia that he has chosen this place to create his signature label. And signature it is~! The Syrah that I tasted was absolutely, singularly self; by which I mean that it chooses not to look or feel like any other Syrah from the region, but to express itself in it’s own manner (and very precisely too I might add).
If you care to learn more about Richard Kanazawa, his pedigree, or his current work I invite you to read his website or the words of my colleague and eminent wine-journalist John Schreiner ( http://johnschreiner.blogspot.ca/2012/10/class-of-2012-kanazawa-wines.html ). As for me, you know I much prefer to let the wines speak for themselves:

2011 “Raku” Syrah

Kanazawa 2011 Raku syrah on viognier
85% Syrah, 15% Viognier

91+ points

200 cases produced
  • In the glass: a dark ruby core filled with bright highlights – pungent floral tones lifting from the glass with a seductive balance of rose-hips, irises, warm earth and Cab-Sauv-like graphite mineral aromas, pine trees and a last note of fresh thyme in the garden. The palate is food-focused, as the acid can seem out of balance but is simply full of the exuberance of youth. Fine tannin is beautifully integrated already and though this wine could enjoy many years in the cellar, I say drink it now and often! It’s so rare to find a New World Syrah that is so fresh, so inviting, that after one glass one simply looks for another.
  • FOOD PAIRING:  a wine like this cries out for wild game, but mostly to me I thought of duck. Duck as only the French would cook it: with Bing cherries. Consider canard au cerises, wild rice – fresh thyme latkes, sweet-soy butternut squash pave, buttered Brussel sprouts. 

I’m reminded of a famous winemaker who once told me : “Some years, only idiots can fail to make good wine. In bad years, only the best winemakers can.” Now I think to myself that perhaps that winemaker was keeping part of the equation to himself. For isn’t one of the keys to being great at something being ahead of the curve? Being that person who thinks just a little differently then everyone else – even when that very way of thinking puts them at odds with the majority?
Today I tried a very special wine from a talented winemaker, and plan on trying everything else that he’s working on. Why? Because I know that soon, very soon, every educated colleague of mine west of Montreal and north of LA is going to being talking about the exciting work of Richard Kanazawa. And I’m going to be the guy with those wines.
Many thanks to FreeHouse Wines: agents ( www.freehousewine.com ) for bringing this to my attention, and my thanks to Richard Kanazawa for the sample bottle.
As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
on Twitter @AStudentofWine
on Facebook @www.facebook.com/TheChefandTheGrape

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Schug vineyards; 1996 Heritage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon


In 1976 California was celebrating victory at "The Judgement of Paris".  Their wines took first place not only for white wine, but also for red in a blind tasting; paneled by some of the greatest palates in France. This brought an incredible influx of energy and enthusiasm for the potential of Californian wine-making as could scarcely be imagined only a few years previous.

Walter Schug had already been making wine there for 15 years.

walter schug
walter schug
Before the "hooplah", before the bright-lights of possible stardom brought people of every walk to the sun-baked valleys, fog cooled coastline and craggy hills. Before all of this, Walter had seen the potential and had brought his bride across the ocean to a new land and a new life. And in the '70s he imagined a wine that no one else believed in: a true Bordeaux-styled blend, on the same level of quality, precision and finesse as could be found anywhere in the world. But Walter saw it being made on those rocky crags, warmed by pure California sunshine and cooled by the ever-present ocean breeze. He found someone else as adventurous as he was, a winery owner named Joseph Phelps and together they charted into the unknown. The year was 1974 and they made 670 cases, uncertain as to it's future. The wine was named Insignia and successive vintages went on to receive multiple 100-point scores and become one of America's most expensive wines, and most prestigious.

But we already know that Walter's passion for wine is bigger then passion; it is ardor, combined with zealotry in the most infectious manner possible. Having shared a glass or two with him, I can say that drinking Pinot Noir  with Walter Schug is like eating chocolate with my two-year old... the smiles get bigger and bigger, the laughter begins to spread and soon I've forgotten about taxes and mortgages and anything but how much fun I'm having. Because Walter loves Pinot Noir and he loves to share the special beauty it carries.

Perhaps I love Bordeaux styled blends in the same way. I admire, then, the man who created a Bordeaux blend that rivaled the quality of France, when no one thought it possible. And he continued that work even after leaving Phelps Winery and opening his own eponymous haven to all things from the grape...

Recently Walter's son Axel who runs the family business, now that Dad is "mostly-retired" after over 50 years of wine-making, sent me a bottle of their 1996 Heritage-Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I won't preach about the merits of this wine; the score speaks for itself as does the tasting notes. But one should recognize that by 1996 Walter had been working with Cab-Sauv for over 15 years in his own winery and over 35 years in California.

They say that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. Any skill. By that token, Walter had transcended mastery and come to Artistry. And it was with a very select group of "uber-professionals" that I shared this piece of oenological history, and only the wine-Mecca of Vancouver would serve as a proper setting: www.uvawinebar.ca

IMG_4109The cork was firm, decanting barely necessary, and as we all began to swirl, swirl, swirl our glasses a heady perfume lifted from the crystal cages. This was an Experience that we would not soon forget. Steve Edwards, general manager of UVA/Cibo was as impressed as I was and couldn't stop repeating

"It's so fresh~! I just can't believe how fresh it still is but so developed~! And '96 was a cool vintage - remember??"

Steve. Dude. In 1996 I was a 25-year old from Northern Alberta... the closest I got to knowing a vintage was when they started dating the month my beer was made in. No Steve, I don't remember how cool it was in Carneros that year, but I am truly in awe of the people who do remember things like that almost 20 years later. Just as I know with certainty that I will be remembering this bottle 20 years from now.

Here are my own notes from that evening, which were very much in unison with other, more educated palates then mine:

1996 Sonoma Valley Heritage-Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon


80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc

94+/95 points

  • visual:   clear with light sediment, dark ruby core with substantial cherry/brick rim. Wears its age gracefully
  • nose:   clean; fully intense developing bouquet of a myriad of berries: dark cherries, blackberries, blueberries, dark raspberries and currants... a primal musky cologne mixed with warm evergreen trees, deep earth tones, leather, Asian peppercorn and black tea
  • palate:   clean; dry, ultra-bright full red currant acid, medium- fine yet textured tannin, medium- body, medium- alcohol (surprising 13.5% ABV), fully intense developing flavors that are brilliantly in-sync with the bouquet: a treasure-trove of flavors that combine and compliment each other. Minerality sings from start to finish and is the conductor that guides a full orchestra of components into a seamless harmony. World-class balance and structure, long+ length with flavors continuing to develop up to 60 seconds and longer
  • conclusion:   truly surprising, this wine has years of life left in it. Only to share with those you truly love, respect and admire: 2013-2018+
  • FOOD PAIRING:   what a crime to pair food with this, for what culinary creation could hope to match the concentration, balance and elegance? You must splurge my friend, for only with World-Class food can there be balance with this World-Class wine. Consider what celebrity chef Raymond Blanc is serving at the decidedly decadent le manoir aux quat'saisons:
    Roasted new season grouse, cabbage, bacon and blackberry jus
    (may contain shot)
Of course, if you don't have the opportunity to visit Le Manoir, then you could just make it yourself - substitute a cornish hen for the grouse!
Italian chickpea fritters @ UVA
We live in a time when a 95-point wine from Pomerol or Pauillac will cost you an easy $500 or more, without any degree of age on the bottle. Even that same scoring wine, coming from one of the more "prestigious" houses of California would cost $300 without breaking a sweat. It beggars belief then that there have been times in the recent past when Schug vineyards was selling its wine at cost, just to allow them to enter new markets.

I love a deal. I love great deals on wine. I adore great deals on great wine, but this borders on theft. It is a steal, I tell you, to purchase a wine of this calibre for this price. Be assured, your friends and your competitors are actively searching for the next, best deal on Bordeaux styled wine. Perhaps it is only from looking at those who first crafted these wines in the New World that you will find your competitive edge.

The proof? As I've been known to say: The proof is in the glass my friend.

many thanks to the following:
Le Manoir au Quat'Saisons  for being an un-ending source of inspiration, http://www.manoir.com
Crush Imports  for bringing Walter and Axel's wine to Western Canada, http://www.crushimports.com/

As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or: 
on Twitter @AStudentofWine
on Facebook @www.facebook.com/TheChefandTheGrape

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