Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Banée 2011


Dates have just been announced for the 2011 Banée dinner in Osoyoos. This year's dinner will be held April 16, 2011 at Spirit Ridge Resort.

Tickets for the evening are $200. The event includes a wine reception, a family style feast and live auction. Call Denice at Oliver Twist, 250.485.0227, to purchase your tickets.

Banée marks the end of pruning and the beginning of a new growing season. The dinner is a winemaker's event that gives you the opportunity to dine and celebrate as part of the South Okanagan wine family, as everyone in the industry gears up for the hard season of work ahead.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wine for dinner with a vampire

Just in time for Halloween, leading wine blogger Dr. Debs of Good Wine Under $20 (aka author and university professor Deborah Harkness) tells us how to choose wine for dinner with a vampire.

The video was made by Viking Books in support of her upcoming fantasy novel
A Discovery of Witches. Now, you know that publishers don't spend this kind of money promoting a book unless they are very very VERY excited about it.

Here's a description from the author's official site:
When historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library it represents an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordinary life. Though descended from a long line of witches, she is determined to remain untouched by her family’s legacy. She banishes the manuscript to the stacks, but Diana finds it impossible to hold the world of magic at bay any longer.

For witches are not the only otherworldly creatures living alongside humans. There are also creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires who become interested in the witch’s discovery. They believe that the manuscript contains important clues about the past and the future, and want to know how Diana Bishop has been able to get her hands on the elusive volume.

Chief among the creatures who gather around Diana is vampire Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin. Together, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. But the relationship that develops between the ages-old vampire and the spellbound witch threatens to unravel the fragile peace that has long existed between creatures and humans—and will certainly transform Diana’s world as well.
Sounds delicious. I can't wait to read it, Dr. Debs!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In praise of wine dinners


Fall is a terrific time for winery dinners. There are at least five coming up in late October and early November. I've posted a list in Vancouver Wine Events, but here it is again:

Thursday, October 28 - Northwest Flavours: Mission Hill at Fleuri Restaurant ($120), 604-642-2900

Friday, October 29 - Gildas d’Ollone (Château Pichon Longueville Baron) at Le Gavroche ($250), 604 685 3924

Thursday, November 4 - Desert Hills Winery at La Terrazza ($98), (604) 899-4449

Tuesday, November 9 - Tinhorn Creek at Le Gavroche ($95), (604) 685-3924

Wednesday, November 10 - Sandra Oldfield Women in Wine at C ($95), (604) 681-1164. Word to the wise: this event will sell out in a flash.

Winery dinners are always a terrific wine-and-dine deal. Usually they run about $75 to $150, and guests can always count on getting great bang for their buck. Why?

Restaurants and wineries both see a wine dinner as an opportunity to capture the attention of new customers who are both passionate connoisseurs and responsive foodies. It's an opportunity for them to strut their stuff before a select group of discerning public. But the restaurant and winery are also showing off for each other. "This is what I can do!" they say. "Look at how well I can do it!"

But when they do it together, that's when the real magic happens.

At a wine dinner, Chef will always -- always -- pull out the stops to create fantastic starters, mains, amuse bouches, and desserts specifically crafted to complement the gorgeous wines. The ingredients will usually be locally sourced and often surprising. Winemakers will always bring their best bottles, and you can usually count on getting a taste of something rare and special. Every bottle will have a story behind it.

The only down side to a wine dinner is that you really must count on taking a cab home, because you won't want to ration your sips.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2009

Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2009

This is one of my favourite wines, from one of my all-time favourite wineries -- the pale, very dry (for Gewürztraminer, that is), lean and delicate Gewürztraminer from Tinhorn Creek. Winemaker Sandra Oldfield says that she strives for a Gewürztraminer that is not overblown, not over perfumed, nothing reminiscent of an old lady's lingerie drawer. This wine is certainly nothing near overblown. It's elegant, lean, understated, and totally addictive.

Delicate and mineral on the nose with notes of lychee and mountain stream. On the palate, lychee and grapefruit. Though technically only off dry, compared to many Gewürztraminers this is dry indeed. Sandra says that she would like to try fermenting it down to bone dry some year, and because she very carefully makes sure her fruit doesn't get overripe, she may be able to accomplish that without creating a high alcohol level that would get in the way of the flavours.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sumac Ridge Sparkling Gewürztraminer (NV)

Sumac Ridge Sparkling Gewürztraminer

Here's another wine I was excited to try, but never expected to find. Sumac Ridge announced their Sparkling Gewürztraminer way back in March, saying that it was only available in their wine shop. When I was at Baneé, the South Okanagan Secret Wine Festival in April I wanted to head north on the way out of the valley in order to pass through Summerland and hit the Sumac Ridge winery tasting room, but it didn't work out -- I had to leave the Okanagan without my Sparkling Gew.

Sumac Ridge winemaker Mark Wendenburg has a true passion for methode classique sparkling wine making. In February I was lucky enough to spend an hour or two with him in February, and he explained the whole process to me. I took detailed notes, and though I can't explain the process off the top of my head, I am pretty sure I could write a graduate level thesis on the subject by referring to what Mark told me.

Smells like Gewürztraminer, tastes like Champagne

I happened into Yaletown's Taylorwood Wines on Thursday, and they had just received a few bottles of the Sparkling Gew. I jumped on it!

Pouring Sumac Ridge Sparkling Gewürztraminer

So how did it go down? Well, after a quick Google search, it seems that Sparkling Gewürztraminer is not quite as unknown to the world as one would initially expect. It's one of the varietals that comprise Crémant d'Alsace, which I think most people would agree is just delicious.

On the nose, this smells like Gewürztraminer: apple blossom, pear, lychee, and honey. Beautiful and aromatic.

On the palate, this is definitely a sparkling wine: Off dry, but definitely not sweet, with pineapple, lychee, and lots of grapefruit followed by a hint of biscuity yeast. Big, generous mousse. I perceived none of the typical Gewürztraminer spicyness, no ginger, no clove. It tastes true and pure, not concocted. I loved it but my honey didn't -- vive le différence.

Once again, thank you Mark Wendenburg, Jason James, and the Sumac Ridge team for pushing the envelope! I'll buy this whenever you have it!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Quinta Ferreira Mistura Branca 2008

Quinta Ferreira Mistura Branca

Big applause for the utterly delicious Mistura Branca from the South Okanagan's Quinta Ferreira. This is a German blend of Muscat (65%) and Gewürztraminer (35%), and it's utterly delicious.

It's very floral on the nose, with rose and honeysuckle -- a very honeyed scent but not oversweet, with some mineral. On the palate: off dry and very nicely balanced, with good energy and quite an assertive length. This is not ephemeral at all. There's fennel, rose, stone, and tangerine. It's quite simple, but it stood up well when I was munching dried Moroccan olives. There was a wonderful contrast between the salty, strongly-flavoured savoury olives and floral wine.

Quinta Ferreira's welcoming tasting room
Quinta Ferreira's welcoming tasting room

Quinta Ferreira is a family-run winery, producing wonderful wines just on the edge of Oliver in the norther edges of the South Okanagan. Here is a shot of their tasting room, showing their east-facing patio:

Quinta Ferreira

If you were sitting on that patio, this would be your view to the left, looking north-east:

Quinta Ferreira

Cheers, Quinta Ferreira family! This is a beautiful wine!

Vive le Muscat!

I'm a sucker for Muscat when and wherever it pops up, and there aren't very many offerings in the Okanagan. Hillside Estates has a Muscat Ottonel, and La Frenz has a Rutherglen-style fortified Muscat. Joie Farms has a Muscat as well, and the 2009 is already sold out. I believe there must be a healthy amount of muscat in Wild Goose's Autumn Gold blend.

I believe that might be the full rundown of muscats in the Okanagan, but I will always hope for more!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Written in the sand of Osoyoos Lake, but written forever on my heart (oh, I am sappy, but it's true).

The Banée weekend was an insane whirlwind. I felt so privileged to be invited to spend the weekend with the wonderful, passionate, eccentric, individualistic folks who make up the South Okanagan Wineries Association. They treated our gang of media guests like gold, and we so pleased to be there.

Vines at Fairview Cellars
Vines at Fairview Cellars.

It's impossible to overstate this: These people have passion for what they do. Full-on, hot blooded, Mediterranean-style, operatic, run-with-the-bulls passion.

Run-with-the-bulls is an appropriate metaphor, actually, because the business of making wine isn't for the faint hearted. It's dangerous. Fortunes are lost and hearts are broken. It takes faith, perseverance, and a hell of a lot of luck. Most of the time winemakers must feel like all the forces are arrayed against them -- rain, wind, hail, frost, wildlife, government regulations -- yet they keep making their wine with dedication, humour, and love.

Words of Wisdom
Words of wisdom at Road 13 Vineyards.

And what makes it all worth it to them comes down to one simple thing: You enjoying their wine. You pour one glass, take one sip, and love what they've worked so hard to make.

Quinta Ferreira
Maria Ferreira of Quinta Ferreira pours a glass.

The land is beautiful, heartbreakingly glorious. But making wine starts with farming, and farming brings no guarantees. Even on a beautiful, perfect grape growing day, the next change in wind can bring a weather change that will turn your crop's potential to ashes.

The northern boundary of the South Okanagan, as viewed from Quinta Ferreira.

The one thing the wine folk can count on is their soil, so it's no surprise that they get all romantic about their dirt. They know it intimately. Road 13's Mick Luckhurst told us that it changes in composition every ten meters. To me it looks the same, but to them, the every rock is individual.

South Okanagan soil
South Okanagan soil at Road 13.

And in a place like the Okanagan, which has only been growing grapes for a few generations, the right techniques for the climate are still being discovered. Bill Eggert from Fairview Cellars told us a story that illustrates this. When he first planted his vinifera vines, he ruined his back training them low to the ground. He did this because it had been the right technique to use with the native North American labrusca varietals -- the low training was a technique for controlling acidity, which is a problem with labrusca. Now he has a problem with low acidity in his grapes (though it doesn't seem to keep him from making stunning Cabernet Sauvignon), so now he's beginning to train new cordons upward.

Fairview Cellars vines
Fairview Cellars vines, showing new cordons being trained upward.

I got to taste at least 80 different wines on the weekend. It was a heck of a lot of spitting, so I really got to practice my pucker. Here are some of my favourites from the weekend. This is not a comprehensive list, because sometimes the wines were just going by so fast that I didn't get the chance to take notes.

I don't want to be mealy-mouthed about this: Yes, some wineries are more accomplished and produce better wines than others. I have my own personal favourites. But the fact is, each one of these wineries has their own following, and each produces unique and highly individual wines.

Oliver Twist Estate Winery 2009 Viognier and 2008 Chardonnay (barely oaked)

Quinta Ferreira 2007 Obra-Prima and 2008 Mistura Branca (I also really enjoy their Viognier)

Jackson Triggs 2009 Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (nice restrained 12.5% alcohol), 2009 Rosé, 2007 Grand Reserve Shiraz

Fairview Cellars Crooked Post Pinot Noir, 2008 Iconoclast Cabernet Sauvignon (tank sample), and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Premium Series

Tinhorn Creek 2009 Pinot Gris, 2009 2 Bench Rosé, 2006 Syrah, and 2009 Gewürztraminer (which I tasted at the winery, and it's fab)

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2009 Auxerrois

Hester Creek 2007 Pinot Blanc, 2006 Cabernet Franc, and 2008 Trebbiano (old vines!)

Inniskillin Discovery Series 2009 Marsanne Rousanne, 2009 Tempranillo, and 2008 Malbec (stunning violet scents)

Cassini Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir and 2008 Reserve Chardonnay (time to get your website up, folks!)

Road 13 Vineyards 2009 Home Vineyard Chenin Blanc (one of my all time faves), 2009 Stemwinder (reviewed here), 2008 Rockpile

Rustico Farm and Cellars Last Chance (Zinfandel, Merlot, Chancellor -- props to them for putting a labrusca in the blend!)

Golden Beaver Winery 2009 Heart of Gold

Nk'Mip Cellars 2008 Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay (muscular!)

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery 2007 Cabernet Franc (very powerful and extracted)

Desert Hills Estate Winery 2009 Gamay Noir

Silver Sage Winery The Flame (Gewürztraminer and jalapeño peppers!)

Stoneboat Vineyards 2008 Pinotage (stunning fresh berry finish)