Friday, February 28, 2014

2014 Vancouver International Wine Festival: Trade Tasting

There's a reason why the viticulture Illuminati descend on Vancouver at the end of February each and every year: pantheons whose names are carved on the modern history of wine. Mondavi, Antinori, Chapoutier, Perrin, Tattinger... the list goes on. And why? Why do these giants come to the far side of the globe, to a (relatively) small city with a very new wine market; historically predispositioned to drink beer rather then savor sparkling wine?
One important reason is the voracity of local wine professionals to grow, to learn, to absorb as much as possible from these families and businesses who count their experience not in years but in generations. 7000 tickets are sold each and every year for only two days of Trade Events which means that, for the principals from the wineries, this is an opportunity for them as well! The opportunity to sample their well-loved, hand-crafted, more-then-slightly-doted-on Reserves and Gran Reservas for a throng of informed consumers who (mostly) appreciate the hard work and dedication that went into creating them.
For the wineries, this is the chance to influence the influencers: to dazzle with the creamy mousse of Champagne, titillate with cheeky rose and gratify with gutsy Cab-Sauv. The Public Tasting will sell cases upon cases of wine, but the Trade Tasting sells containers of wine and can shift the very tide of the Industry for those willing to put their best foot forward.
And what of the insiders from BC and surroundings who flock to the events? If you haven't been able to make the time for this yet, then you've been missing out and there's no nicer way to say it. Winemakers, viticulturists, principals from the top wineries in the world here to pour for us but, more important, to answer our questions! What is the hidden value in Bordeaux? What's the next exciting project for Chateau Ste Michelle? How is Ray Signorello working in the vineyard to evolve the already iconic "Hope's Cuvee" Chardonnay? Over 175 wineries here this year and over 175 rare opportunities to speak one-on-one with these game-changers. Oh, and they all bring one private reserve just to pour for the Trade Tastings... as if we needed another incentive. 
I was absolutely stunned by the level of quality this year in all price-points and hope that you get the opportunity to taste them as well.

IMG_49991. Chateau la Maroutine, white Bordeaux

90 points

What a beautiful wine and brilliant value too at around $20 CAD... "Summer in a glass" was how I first described it, and I still can't find a better way to summarize: rich, fully intense youthful aromas of ripe apricot compote, fresh grass and warm hay, an entire garden of white and yellow flowers. The bouquet is followed by a palate of crisp, clean minerality and approachable acids. Great balance, structure and concentration, this wine over-delivers. Worthy of note; Sandrine Darriet, eonologist/winemaker for the winery, is also a professor at the illustrious Universite de Bordeaux!

IMG_50012. Chateau Ste. Michelle, sparkling Pinot Noir rose

90+ points

Clean, crisp, mineral-driven Pinot Noir with the blush of young raspberries and the savory hints of wild thyme growing in the garden... an utterly delightful way to start the day, this is such a perfect representation of what Washington is capable of. Pair this with some fresh WestCoast salmon and your tastebuds will thank-you! I love that this is a winery humble enough to ask for guidance from some of those "iconic" producers: Loosen and Antinori. And the result? A "String-of-Pearls" of plots throughout Washington producing true representation of the soil, the varietal and the winery. Terroir may be a French concept, but it's alive and well in America.

3. Signorello, "Hope's Cuvee" ChardonnayIMG_5003

92+/93 points

Not the first time that I've mentioned this producer from Napa Valley ( ), nor the last as evidenced by the current vintage of their reserve Chardonnay. Consistently excellent and over-delivering quality, Ray Signorello drives that value of terroir in his vineyard. The site for the "Hope's Cuvee" is, in his opinion, one of the best plots on the entire property. Signorello leaves the work of crafting this wine to the vines themselves and remains out of the picture as much s possible: very low yields (2 tons/HA), wild yeast fermentation, no cold stabilization, 16 months in barrel all go towards creating a living testament from  a son to the memory of his mother.

4. Tenuta Argentiera

IMG_5009Bolgheri Superiore

91+ points

A new classic: this wine was to me utterly Bordeaux. A traditional Left-Bank blending of Cab-Sauv, Merlot and Cab-Franc it sings with aromas of fresh red raspberries, black currants, hints of graphite and the warmth of wood... gentle sous-bois undergrowth tones round it out. The palate is crisp, clean and in the words of a mentor "Tastes like more" meaning that there is no palate-fatigue with this wine. Great balance and structure I would never have guessed it to be Italian (not meant as derogatory). I asked Jeanette Servidio the Sales and Marketing Director why a Tenuta in Livorno, Italy would be crafting a Cab-blend, gorgeous as it is. Her response: "why make mediocre Sangiovese when we can make World-Class Bordeaux??" It turns out that when the humble owners took possession of the property, neighbors suggested something along the lines of "Hey - those guys down the road making Sassicaia have done a good job with Cabernet... you should try too!" And, they listened... calcareous soil with lots of limestone makes their site a perfect match and, after tasting it, how could anyone argue?

5. Santa Rita "Casa Real"

Bordeaux styled blendIMG_5010

93 points

Cecilia Torres, winemaker for Santa Rita, has been the artisanal guiding force behind this signature wine since its inception in 1989. The vineyard in Alto Jahuel however, has been been doing it's work for much, much longer... the median age of the vines is around 85 years old and the sheer weight, concentration and complexity of the wine speaks to that legacy. In the glass it offeres rich, textured aromas of roast beef, wild sage, currant jelly and a pinch of Thai chili. The palate is full; dynamic yet approachable and oh-so-inviting with it's chewy yet fully integrated tannin. An absolute World-Class Cab, it offers fantastic value at just over $100 for if you've ever tried to purchase 1st Growth Bordeaux, $100 doesn't get you very far. A sophisticated vintage, this is marked by the coolness of the year and it's immense ability to continue developing in savvy-cellars for decades.
And the list goes on. "To see is to experience" as they say, but perhaps in this instance it should read "To taste". Every year the Vancouver International Wine Festival keeps growing, keeps attracting more winemakers, more chefs, more sommeliers and more great wine. The question is no longer why you should be here next year, only why shouldn't you?
My thanks to the @VanWineFest and Heth PR ( ) for access to the Trade Tasting room and for coordinating such a stellar event so close to home.
As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
on Twitter @AStudentofWine

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Right-Banks of the world: comparing St Emilion

When I started the #WineTastingCircle of Vancouver, it was with the aim of furthering my wine-education. I wanted the opportunity to taste wines with my colleagues in a private setting of cooperation and discovery... it was my Dad, really, who set me on this path when he told me "Don't save your special bottles of wine for special occasions, use them to create special occasions"
And so in the Summer of 2013 I held my first #WineTastingCircle with a total of 4 attendees. We compared the superlative vintage of 2000 Bordeaux with six different regions represented, with the goal of understanding not only how the vintage affected the areas, but the blends as well, and how well those iconic wines were aging. But in the back of my mind I always knew I wanted to take that concept one step further.
Right-Banks of the World: comparing St Emilion vs other regions making similar styled-blends. A bold idea I was told by colleagues, especially as we would be tasting the wines blind, but an educated palate would be able to decipher California from Bordeaux, Washington from Chile... right?
Well, that what I set out to learn and to make it a proper comparative I needed to make a level playing field.


Varietals: Merlot, Merlot with Cab Franc, perhaps a hint of Cab-Sauv
Price-point: (BC dollars) $40-$80
Vintage: variable... as its not all from the same area - vintage isn't really a factor
Attendees: 10 sommeliers, wine-judges, journalists, importers and merchants. Total experience about a century in the industry and another century as non-professional wine lovers (wine-geeks in training?)
And of course I had my venue, the inimitable Uva Winebar wine cellar/private room ( ). I must make mention of their genuine hospitality and professionalism, and my personal gratitude for their continued patronage of our quarterly event. Small wonder that the hospitality industry in Vancouver drops in at Uva on a regular basis... industry folks always know the best spots :)
And so you may be forgiven for thinking that at this point I had it all figured out: all the technical minutia of time and place, the wines, the people. What more could there be? My friends, what we really had to overcome - when we got to the room and started pouring the wines wrapped in paper, no hint of what lay beneath... what we had to challenge in those 4 minutes we were given per wine to dissect: to analyze with our eyes, our noses, our taste, was: our own prejudice.
For who could be more prejudiced about wine then wine-lovers, professionals or neophytes? We read the trade-papers, we listen to the experts, the winemakers, the critics. We are the ones who scan for changes in weather patterns. Why? So we better know whether to invest in the vintage or not: is this going to be the big one ? The stellar year that lurks in grand cellars for decades to come and savvy people buy now for a pittance and open decades from now to rounds of applause? Who could have more preconceptions about wine then the very people who are supposed to be immune?
But it's the nature of life: we get a little education and then we get an opinion, and Heaven help us when we get one of those! It was my very first wine-guru, the gifted DJ Kearney who taught that, whilst she was studying for the Master of Wine program (of which we have 3 in Canada) she was, after all, still just learning. A pantheon in the wine-industry who this Spring is a judge at the Argentina Wine Awards told us that she was basically the same as we students of the ISG Level 1. She was learning, growing, developing and hungry for more.
always respected Chateau Pipeau, St Emilion
always respected Chateau Pipeau, St Emilion
I knew that I needed to bring that energy to the #WineTastingCircle and, in fact, my colleagues all brought the same fire in their bellies. We had veterans of 25+ years experience and novices only 2 or 3 years into the hallowed halls of professional wine critiquing. It was as wide an array as could be imagined for one table but we were all pulled by the same force which was: To Learn. We fulfilled that role judiciously.
St Emilion is considered by some to be the "heart" of the Right Bank of Bordeaux and has been producing wine for centuries. Soft, plush, fruit-driven Merlot; some with dynamic structure and concentration to last decades and be worthy of their stratospheric price-tags, some juicy little gems intended for fast consumption on lazy afternoons and chic Saturday night parties. Would we be able to tell which two of the ten wines assembled were from reputable, Grande Cru Classe chateau?


2005 Chateau Pipeau, St Emilion Grand Cru Classe
2005 Jean-Faure, St Emilion Grand Cru Controlee
2003 Duckhorn, Napa Valley, California
2003 Stags Leap, Napa Valley, California
2008 Domaine de Chaberton "AC 50", BC, Canada
2007 Painted Rock, Skaha Lake, Okanagan Valley DVA, BC
2011 Painted Rock, Skaha Lake, Okanagan Valley DVA, BC
2010 Tinhorn Creek "Oldfield Series", BC, Canada
2011 Ghost Pines, 62% Sonoma County / 38% Napa Valley
there was a 10th wine, sadly corked...
LESSON #1   Could we tell the Bordeaux?
utterly brilliant Jean-Faure, St Emilion, 92 points
utterly brilliant Jean-Faure, St Emilion, 92 points
No. Out of all of the professionals, and all the skilled palates, differing experiences, etc etc not one person could tell which wine came from Bordeaux. But beyond that, some wines were so similar that they could have passed for "twins" or two bottles from the same vintage and same winery thrown into the mix as a test.
2005 Jean-Faure, Grand Cru Classe St Emilion VS 2011 Tinhorn Creek reserve Merlot, Okanagan Valley DVA, BC
In the glass we could see that the Jean-Faure was older, but in all other respects these wines were identical. One member of the panel pointed out the similarities and so we all tried them side-by-side (myself I was inclined to disprove him) and damned it all but he was right! 10 people, 10 votes that the "little" winery from BC had produced a Merlot of such character, such concentration, such finesse that no one could tell it from the Bordeaux. But I knew the difference:
2005 Jean-Faure at auction in California approximately $40+ making it about $100+ in BC. 2010 Tinhorn "Oldfield Series" about $30 at the winery: one-third the price. That was the difference.
an elegant wine; complex, seductive
an elegant wine; complex, seductive
LESSON#2   Would the California wines be our top-scoring wines?
No. Easy to believe that New World palates would crave that "classic" (to some) California over-ripe fruit, but Parker-esque devotees we were not. Top-score went to a winery that is relatively unknown even in BC - but I need to qualify that. The highest scoring wine of the night was from Domaine de Chaberton which is in our farming belt in the Lower Mainland: Langley. Better known for their excellent value-for-money white wines, the reds from this winery have for the most part fallen off the radar of industry-insiders. I was fortunate enough to be gifted a bottle of this "AC50" which is made by the owner, about 125 cases per year. It is an Ode to everything that is brilliant in St Emilion style blending and reminded  me of Chateau La Gaffelierre, 1er Grand Cru Classe the very first time I tried it. Should you not be familiar with Gaffelierre, it is enough to understand that they have  incredible legacy in France and are owned by nobility.
Asides from the many differences such as vineyard age, pedigree, etc which are all just back-story, the big difference to me is that Chaberton AC50 runs about $50-$60 in BC whilst Gaffelierre runs over $150 if memory serves... once again, triple the price.
LESSON#3   Would the iconic wineries produce the highest scoring wines?
Once again, no. Whilst it's true that some of the more prestigious wineries crafted product that was impressive to all: deep, rich, concentrated wines with superb balance, structure and length on the palate it was in fact a bevvy of new producers who took or tied for first, second and third place.
I have long been a proponent of the notion that when one practices something for a considerable length of time, one gains skills. It's just a fact. The equation has always been explained to me as the "10,000 hour rule": anyone who practices a skill, any skill, for 10,000 hours will become a master at it... baseball, physics, agriculture. All skills follow the "10,000 hour" rule. And we as consumers believe that intrinsically! We cling to businesses with longevity because, instinctively, we believe that their quality of product or service must be superior. In the world of wine, that has long been a Belief.
But we must also be cognizant of the fact that we have entered a New Age of Wine. The entire industry has been turned upside-down in less then 20 years and virtually every rule that was etched in stone has been (successfully) broken. Wine is being produced in regions that no one thought possible, at altitudes considered unproductive, with varietals that had "no place being grown there". Really, when we consider the wine industry as a whole, who would have ever given credence before 1976 to the idea that the French would consider a Napa Valley Chardonnay more classical, more elegant, more "French" then France?
Clare gorging herself age 2 years Painted Rock
Clare gorging herself at Painted Rock
But that is the lay of the land today. Today it isn't just Bordeaux creating great Bordeaux, and we as educated consumers should be willing ( with due diligence) to open our eyes, our tastebuds and our wallets to the potential of these new ventures. St Emilion has a very special place in my heart and I will always cherish the producers there who have branded quality on their viticulture for centuries. But if there was one message that was hammered home to me time and time again in this tasting it was something my two-year old daughter taught me when last we visited Painted Rock vineyards on the bluffs above Lake Skaha.
It was a beautiful early Fall day; we got to the winery and Clare ran straight for the vineyard. She clambered over rocks and tramped through the rows until she found what she considered to be the perfect spot and then stopped to apply herself to the task of eating as many grapes as possible. It was brilliant! I see now, many months later, that she didn't stop to ask herself where the grapes were from: she tasted, she loved, she continued. We all of us have fallen prey to attractive packaging and weighty lineages, but just like my child (and a blind tasting) showed me:
It's what's inside that counts!


*scores are my own and not representative of each individual member of the #WineTastingCircle, but do reflect the consensus 
unanimously voted the top wine of the evening
unanimously voted the top wine of the evening

1st place

2008 Domaine de Chaberton "AC50"     93 points
...on the nose offers rich aromas of sous-bois or wild under-growth, tobacco leaf, fresh red currants/raspberries. The palate is awash in well-integrated fine tannin and lean/well-focused medium+ acid... still young in it's life, this wine has years for development and a decade plus in the cellar. Big concentration on the palate with the same musky/sandalwood edge and a kaleidoscope of fresh red berry/sour cherry flavors colored ever so slightly by a hint of young blackberry/huckleberry. Merits serious decanting or two runs through the aerator.

2nd place (TIE)

2007 Painted Rock Merlot                         92+ points
...Big, bold, beautiful! Fully intense aromas pouring from the glass: rich red and dark berries, a whole bouquet of flowers and gentle teasings of black peppercorn at the end... ultra-fresh palate with crisp, clean acid, silky-smooth tannin integrated thoroughly and an overall impression of seamlessness. Drinking brilliantly now, it will continue to evolve for years and will cellar for a decade with ease. Of note: most people at the table thought this to be top-tier California...
2003 Stags Leap Merlot                               92+ points
...beautifully intense and textured nose of warm winter spices, candied almonds, hints of pink peppercorn and dark flowers. Medium+ crisp acids with tons of life left and a generous fruit driven palate with complimentary tones of pencil shavings, sous-bois forest floor and wild herbs. Very well balanced, with good concentration, this Merlot will last for several years still but not develop further.

3rd place (TIE)

2005 Jean-Faure                                            92 points
...a classic: complex marriage between honeyed almond aromas and a bouquet of perfumed red and dark flowers mixing with fresh berries in the garden. Crisp, fresh, tastes like it's a new wine! I was so certain that this was only a few years old, I'm certain that there are years of development and a solid decade plus of cellaring for this exquisite wine. Fine, well-integrated tannin, medium+ concentration of bruised plum/red and black raspberry flavors but not quite as developed as the sublime aromas.
2010 Tinhorn Creek Merlot                      92 points pretty! To my mind, this was what most people think of when they think "Merlot". Bright red berry aromas mixing with soft floral tones, a hint of warm earth and the lightest fresh herb tint. Ultra-crisp red berry acid, incredibly well-integrated tannin structure, the palate is a mirror of the nose (always an indication of quality to me). Great balance, structure and concentration. Beautiful for drinking now and can be held in the cellar for several years.
the slopes above Lake Skaha: brilliant Bordeaux from BC
the slopes above Lake Skaha: brilliant Bordeaux from BC
As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
on Twitter @AStudentofWine

Friday, February 21, 2014

to my son Adam on the day he was born: 1968 Marcel Trepout Armagnac

Dear Adam,
 today I watched you being brought into the light of day.
I held your mother's hand, the two of us utterly spent by long sleepless nights and too much worrying. But I held her hand in that operating theatre, managing a wane grin under the surgical mask, and promised her with my eyes that everything was going to be ok. It was a hope, a prayer, and I dreaded that I was making a promise I couldn't keep.
Adam 3 hours old
But out you came, "safe and sound" as your older sister likes to sing. You won't know that song - it will be many many years until you read this letter and by then much will have been forgotten... Canada won Gold today at the Sochi Olympics, but you may never read about it: how the Women's Hockey team fueled national pride and a curler carved a niche for herself in history. You may, however, hear more then once about how your grandpa Pecora drove 13 hours through the snow, across the high mountain passes, so that he could see you today.
One of the few times I've ever seen that man moved to silence. Because you were so still, so peaceful, and so very beautiful if you don't mind your Dad being effusive. But how could I not be? Your older sister is the sparkle in my eye, and the very breath of life, but today I found my heart breaking because it had split to make room for even more Love. I tell you truthfully son, that you will never know the boundaries of your heart until you have children and only then will you learn that there are no boundaries when it comes to Love. There is only more.
And now the point of this letter: to give you a gift on this, your very first birthday. The gift I choose is, as my father would say, the most dangerous of all gifts: advice. And as is my want, the advice comes in the form of a parable or a story, about wine - or in this case a spirit.

Marcel Trepout 1968 Armagnac

Bas-Armagnac, France

94+ points

... liquid gold in my glass, like amber with bronze highlights1968 MarcelTrepout
... aromas that blend and intertwine so seductively as to make the word "bouquet" utterly inept: salt-water toffee, white truffle shavings, a cacophony of Summer flowers melding into potpourri with fresh peaches/nectarines/pears and hints of wild thyme/bay leaf/sage/lavender growing on the hills
... on the palate lively acids dance across the palate in a bewildering pattern of tap/jazz/ballet, the myriad of aromas translating with precision to this new medium. I can taste the pears ripening nearby, and the wild herbs in the garden. I can sense the rich minerality in the soil and the sheer weight of the years it spent in barrel whilst it transformed from simple fortified spirit to sublime creature.
You see Adam, much of life can be compared to how you choose what you drink and thus my advice (advice I follow myself, which is a rarity) is drink half as much but twice as good... Drinking cheap wines and spirits to excess is like doing anything to excess: temporarily satisfying, it will leave a lasting impression on you and those you are with that is anything but positive.
I bought this bottle of Armagnac in 2008, or maybe 2009. I've held onto it for those five years plus, rationing it out to moments of triumph and only the best of friends. It's been more then a treat to me, it's been a celebration and as your grandpa Gillese taught me "Don't save your special bottles for special occasions, use them - to create special occasions!"
With this bottle I celebrated your mother agreeing to be my wife, I cherished the start of my new writing career and raised a glass when we found out that we were expecting your sister: our first child. And now I'm polishing it off with the feeling of your tiny hand still clutching my finger as you slept on my chest and I'm thanking god for all the riches in my life. Was it worth the price? The extra cost? Couldn't I have appreciated the moments just as much without the brandy?
Perhaps, but then again, perhaps not. Not all people are the same and I don't claim to be most people: I don't eat McDonald's, I don't drink Coke and I don't celebrate life with water. I celebrate with wine because wine, to me, is a celebration of life in itself.
Armagnac isn't as prestigious as Cognac; for every 6 bottles of Armagnac sold, 100 bottles of the other are. It's far more fashionable to buy Cognac, I know that. But wouldn't I be just the same then as those people who eat McDonald's and drink Coke? Isn't it preferable to do our own research, come to our own conclusions, and have our own sense of taste? Armagnac is one of the oldest centres for spirit production in Europe and was making brandy 200 years before Cognac was and you know that I believe "practice makes perfect".
Half as much, twice as good.
I like that I can stand behind the producers of Armagnac; small, family-run businesses that are passed down generation to generation with a genuine appreciation for the land. Quality-control isn't a motto here, it's a way of life that has ingrained itself into the collective psyche... you'll sense it in the markets and feel it when you walk into a patissiere and walk out with a fresh baguette. In some cultures, quality is still more highly prized then quantity and this is one of them.
If I were to make brandy, I would want - I would need to make something that I would be proud of. It's no less when I'm drinking: I'ld much rather one glass of something brilliant then two glass of mediocrity that leave a hollow feeling and make me hungry for more. Don't kiss two girls! I waited a long time to marry so that I could marry the most beautiful, the strongest, the most self-less woman I had ever met. Don't waste your time in dead-end jobs where you sell your soul each time you punch the clock! Let yourself work hard at your passion... when the quality is there, the money will come. I promise you!
This is a fleet and fragile thing we call life, Adam. Far too short to do anything but choose the best men you know as your friends, find a woman who makes your heart sing and never be too scared to tell her how you feel, and, when you drink - drink well!


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Seven Terraces wines, Christchurch, NZ

 rossendale logo large
It is the oldest city in New Zealand, this port to the Antarctic called Christchurch.
With a population of about 350,000 it's also the second largest in the country and the largest city on the Southern Island. It sits on the Pacific Ocean, at the edge of the known world, and is teeming with life... dairy farms, sheep ranchers, deer farms, barley, wheat, clover. And now grapes. Some of the most beautiful and kinetic vineyards in the world are on this strip of land that before the 1840's was a native kings retreat (true story).
Not so dis-similar to my new home of Vancouver, BC, the area around Christchurch revels in a moderate, oceanic climate: cool summers (the hottest ever was about 41c/107F) and mild winters with only the occasional dusting of snow. Sometimes not even that much! Hardly a climate that should give any winemaker concern for the health and safety of his vineyards, right?
Well, except for the Nor'Wester you mean: that gale-force wind that tears off the water, ripping through anything in it's path. The people here have immured themselves to it for the most part. And the homes, the businesses, are solid enough to escape injury. But what of young grape vines just beginning their struggle through the soil? What of tender buds in the most fragile part of their cycle of life? 100 mile per hour winds can devastate a new vineyard. And that's without the added pressure of the earthquakes.
You remember the earthquakes, don't you? The entire world remembers that black part of 2011 when the streets of Christchurch trembled and 185 souls perished. What most of us don't remember, what we never knew, is that the region actually suffered over 4,400 earthquakes above a magnitude 3.0, from September 2010 to September 2012. When one considered the havoc wreaked upon life, upon home, upon livelihood, then it seems a whimsical notion to consider the stress it must have caused these vines.
But we must also remember that the vines are life. They are business, passion and legacy to countless families here - the way that hundreds and thousands of New Zealanders are bringing home the bacon... I don't imagine that chief Te Potiki Tautahi could have imagined the change that would come to his summer home with the turning of only two centuries; after all, the indigenous people had been living and fighting for this land for almost three millennium.
But then again, perhaps the chief did see what would come. Perhaps he saw the coming wineries and smiled. "These people," he thought, "these people know how to fight for the land too." So in my imagination he saw winemaker John Belsham walk the seven terraces of his vineyard that overlooks the Awatere Valley, he sensed Johns passion and conviction that this was one of the premier wine-growing regions of the world. He saw this and was pleased that people would come and care for this place as much as he had.
But all the caring in the world doesn't matter very much to you or I if the quality isn't there! The proof of it? Well, the proof is in the glass my friends...

Seven Terraces Sauv Blanc 20132013 Sauvignon Blanc

90+ points

Bright, refreshing... "Tastes like more" as a colleague/mentor of mine says. My favorite aspect to this wine isn't the flavors themselves, rich as they are: lively yellow grapefruit and aromatic Meyer lemon tones balanced by wild floral aromatics, long grass, pure minerality. I love the flavors but they are typical NZ/Christchurch - what isn't typical for this price-point is the purity of those flavors. This is an exceptional wine for the price and represents great value for those who love NZ wine.
FOOD PAIRING: Though realistically this pairs with white fish and lean seafood admirably, the grassy tones made me want to try fresh, local pork as an option. With it's relatively low price, I felt comfortable serving it with comfort food: locally-raised pork sautéed with apples & sweet onions, homemade sweet & sour sauce, roasted squash from our garden

Seven Terraces Pinot Noir 2012

2012 Pinot Noir

91 points

For Pinot-lovers, this is a dream: plump red berry aromas are moderated by savory leather tones, wood notes and a musky/earthy backbone. Burgundian-styled bright red currant/young raspberry acid sings with mineral precision, depth and concentration. Delightful on its own, brilliant with a mid-afternoon snack of fresh bread and pate. Too high-brow? This is perfect for your next pot-roast... the bright young acid in the wine will cosy to any of your richer, meaty dishes.

Some of you may be raising an eyebrow, or two or three, at my suggestion to aerate or decant a Sauv-Blanc. Well "to each their own" as we've heard many times before. I loved this wine, loved the flavors, the acid, the balance... I just felt that it was actually a more harmonious wine after the bottle had been open an hour or more and as such would use an aerator next time round. The Pinot Noir as well is just a tad young in it's life and will sit comfortably in your cellar or wine-cooler, or just as easily open with just a hint of aeration or decanting.
Never forget that there are no more had and fast rules in the world of wine! Red wine with fish? Absolutely: Pinot Noir loves salmon and tuna. White wine with red meat? Have you had Chateau Mussar? One of the most highly skilled and talented sommeliers I know always says of that wine "Just treat it like a big red, and you'll be fine." Decant a white? Did you know that there's a trend in Paris, has been for awhile now in certain circles, to decant Champagne... very expensive Champagne. The sommeliers there say that too many bubbles interfere with tasting the true flavor of the wine.
And world-class wines coming from the ends-of-the-earth for a damned reasonable price.
Amen to that.
Many thanks to Empson Canada, representatives in Canada for "Seven Terraces": produced by Rossendale wines, for the sample bottles.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
on Twitter @AStudentofWine

Monday, February 10, 2014

Valentine's Special

As I am a trained chef, I get a lot of people asking me for suggestions for what to serve their significant other on Valentine's Day.

Oh it's a dangerous thing to give advice~! And with this in particular, so much depends on personal taste and so I often say "Make them something you know they love." I mean, what's the point of grilling steak for a vegetarian??

With that out of the way, I love oysters. Absolutely love them. And what could me more classically Valentines then a little oyster-aphrodisiac appetizer? I've got a few easy ways to prepare them and some brilliant wines to pair that won't break the bank.


Oysters Rockefeller
An utter classic, this recipe has been around for almost two centuries, and this is my adaptation of it. Not brave enough for raw oysters? Give this a try... I've even given this to "non-oyster" eaters who declared "Hey - this is actually pretty good!"

6 oysters on the half-shell, shells cleaned
1 cup    36% cream
1/2 cup sparkling wine
            cornstarch to thicken
1 Tbsp butter
1 cup blanched spinach
1/2 cup home-made bacon bits, cut large
6 large slices of medium-firm white cheese like: Jarlsberg/Gruyere/Fontina

  1. bring the cream just under a boil in a saute pan. Add the wine, whisk thoroughly, and as it returns to a low-boil add the butter and whisk again.
  2. add the oysters and poach 2 minutes, turning them as necessary to ensure even cooking
  3. place the spinach on the bottom of the oyster shells to provide a stable base and put the oysters on top of the spinach 
  4. thicken the poaching liquid with cornstarch and spoon a small amount of the sauce over
  5. place some bacon over the oysters, top with the cheese and place under the broiler in your oven under the cheese starts to brown (gratinée in French)

Jaume Sera Cristalino Brut, $12.91
Bold. Fresh citrus notes in this wine will cut through the dishes richness and bring it into focus. A keen mineral edge to the wine will harmonize perfectly with the mineral-tang of fresh oysters.
89 points

"Au Naturel"
Those who truly love oysters though, will adore fresh fresh oysters with nothing more then a bed of coarse sea-salt, a great glass of wine, and pleasant company. I know that restaurants are full of fresh oysters with "Mignonette" sauces, lemon, cocktail sauce, fresh horseradish, pickled daikon and the like. Infidels! Oyster connoisseurs around the world enjoy the fresh ocean-brine quality of great oysters and most of the above simply overpower these more subtle flavors. 

Of course, it's not for me to tell you that you can't or even shouldn't enjoy oysters with a condiment, but if you spend $2 per oyster for something that is only a mouthful, why wouldn't you want to savor the flavor??

Jaume Sera Cristalino Rose, approximately $15 **specialty wine/liquor stores**
First-place finisher at the Whistler Cornucopia wine-festival, this was my choice for Top Sparkling Wine (under $50) for 2013. Worth the work to find, it's bright red berry tones of cranberry/raspberry/young strawberry will delight! Very approachable acids mean that it works well with slightly leaner seafood/fish dishes.

The Option
And if oysters just aren't your thing, and cooking is the last priority for Valentine's, then consider a plate of fresh fruit: your local grocer is bound to have some special goodies this week so (as I do) pile a plate with grapes, cut melon, ripe pear and garnish with a few long-stem strawberries (yes a real thing), maybe some blackberries or raspberries, a wedge or two of starfruit or mango and a little chocolate dipping sauce on the side.

Riondo Prosecco, $14.93
A decidedly feminine wine, small wonder this is the #1 sparkling wine of Italy! Ripe flavors of melon, tangerines and lemons are cut by mild yet zesty acids and an ultra-creamy mousse. Truly addictive you may want to purchase an extra bottle for mimosas the next morning and this will surely make your list of what to keep on-hand for romantic evenings or Monday nights watching "Castle"
90 points

So enjoy your Valentine's Day in your way, with some good food, great wine and even better company. Treat yourself, spoil someone else, and above all: savor the moment~!

As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
on Twitter @AStudentofWine

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Wente vineyards Nth Degree Cab-Sauv, Livermore Valley AVA

wente vineyard big logo
Wente vineyards. The very name is synonymous with the highest caliber of wine-making and the upper echelon of pedigree in the New World. What, then, does one say about their work, their craftsmanship, that has not been said a hundred times or a hundred-hundred times before?
Well. Sometimes we need to repeat ourselves in order for the message to sink in. And so I relieve myself of the burden of trying to find something novel, something unique, to say about this illustrious family which has literally carved itself a permanent fixture in the North American wine culture. And I will continue by repeating what sommeliers more learned then myself have been saying for decades and more:
This is amazing wine.
A trite statement? Methinks not my friends. Sometimes the simplest phrase carries the strongest message. Let me re-iterate:
This is absolutely amazing wine.
The only questions that you should be asking are A) why? and B) how do I get my hands on some? And not necessarily in that order. Let me respond to the easy question first:
B) How do I get my hands on some?? Well when one is talking about a winery that’s been producing for as long a Wente has, the lines of distribution are like a well-tuned orchestra. Lucky you, it seems that Wente is in pretty much every state of the union. Lucky still if you happen to live outside of the USA (as over half of my readers do) as Wente exports to over 70 countries world-wide, negating the need to order directly from the winery. Now as for vintage wines, those are scarce. It seems that “people-in-the-know” are always making room in their wine cellar/storage locker for yet another case or three and laying them down for a spell.
Why’s that? Because as much fun as they are when fresh, these wines have strength, concentration and vigor to last for years… which brings me back to the first question.
A) Why? Why are these wines consistently rated as some of The Best not only in the Livermore Valley, or California, but in all of the USA. *Note that Wine Enthusiast, eminently qualified to say so, voted Wente as the American Winery of the Year-
wente vineyard logo with sketchYou all know that I’m a firm believer that what starts at the top works it’s way to the bottom: great leaders, great troops. And so when I read the history of Wente Vineyards I knew instinctively that I had found both a company and a family that believe the same. Carl Wente came to California in 1883 and immediately found 40 acres of land in the Livermore Valley to call his own. In a time when the calling-card of California was the great Gold Rush, Carl sought fortune in grapes.
I’ve spoken many time of the utter need for we as wine-consumers to consider longevity of production when trying to assess the potential quality and value of wines we haven’t tried before. Look at a label, pull out your Iphone and Google: “how long have these folks been in business?” Whilst not always certain to be a mark of value, more times then not when a family or company has been working at a thing for 50, 60, 200 years – well, they get pretty good at it.
You all know that I’ve declared my admiration and respect for the brave adventurers who forged the California “wine-community” in the 1960′s and 70′s: such iconic names as Schug, Winiarski, Mondavi and Tchelistcheff. I look for great value in California and continually return to those houses who now have 40,50 years or more of working with their land and coming to that Grande Burgundian sense of terroir. So then consider this: when Warren Winiarski created Stags Leap in 1970 the Wente family had already been learning the lay of their land for 90 years.
Five generations of Wentes have poured their sweat, their hearts, their passion into the soil. Results? The Wente family were co-founders of the California Wine Institute. They created the first varietal-labelled wines in the country. Ever. These were the pioneers who set the framework for men like Andre Tchelistcheff to come in 1938 and raise the entire industry to a new level. Were it not for families like the Wentes, perhaps Andre would have stayed in Europe and The Judgement of Paris would have gone very differently.
vineyards @ Wente
vineyards @ Wente
Many of us know that Chateau Montelena was voted the best Chardonnay at that infamous blind-tasting, and Stags Leap voted best red. Fewer remember that California actually won (for whites) first place, third place and fourth place. Stunning the world, California had won 3 of the top four spots for Chardonnay.
The clone that almost everyone in California (and now all of the Americas) was (and is) using: Wente clone.
And so as I’m a “Cab-man” when I found this treasure of a wine I couldn’t pass on it. Just as I know that, powerful as they are, these words are frail compared to the wine itself… the proof is in the glass!

2004 Nth Degree Cabernet Sauvignon2004 Wente CabSauv

Livermore Valley AVA, Alameda County, California

92+/93 points

$75+++ USD (back-vintages are scarce)
indicative blend: 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 3% Petite Syrah
  • an impressive wine; immediately upon opening the bottle aromas pour forth: fine tobacco, dark chocolate, pencil lead, darkening blackberries and raspberries, a warm savory herbaceousness. Truly World-Class bouquet by any standards, and the nose is followed by an equally well structured palate with crisp/vibrant young acid, fine/well-integrated tannin and flavors that will develop for a good 30 seconds and longer. Rich flavors indeed but the palate is perhaps more subtle then the nose, which should not be taken as criticism. Brilliant quality, this would easily sell for $100 more if it came from Margaux or Pauillac.
  • a long life left in it still, this wine has years of development and an easy decade further cellaring. Enjoy 2014-2024+

Karl Wente, winemaker
Karl Wente, winemaker

Impressive. The first vintage of the “Nth Degree” stands out as a testament to  dedication and, really, as a testament to its founder. For fifth-generation family winemaker Karl D. Wente, great-great grandson of Carl Wente, has created a new label for the vineyard that declares: excellence is a pursuit that never dies, never grows old. I respect that Wente vineyards was created by a brave man with strong vision for the future and a need to create a legacy for his family. I respect even more the generations that followed and carried that vision to the next level, but I love that all of this comes with a price-tag that even a writer can afford~!
As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
on Twitter @AStudentofWine