Becky's Best Bets - Wine & Cocktails

My philosophy is that any yahoo with a credit card can buy a great bottle of wine when money's no object, so the excitement for me comes from finding a great value, and sharing it with you. After all, a terrific wine is made better when shared with friends. (Same with cocktails!)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saint Cosme, Cotes-du-Rhone, 2011

It's not often that I find something French in the $20 price  range that I like, but this is totally worthwhile. It's the little sister to the $44-$85 Saint Cosme that you can find in town - and I love that. I'm not always going to shop in the $40+ range, and it's nice to be able to find a more approachable and affordable option from a producer that's making some higher end wines. Once you've been introduced at this price point and you like it, then you can feel very comfortable spending more with the same producer. I wouldn't hesitate to pick up their more expensive wines when the occasion calls for it.

Here's a list of what they have on offer in the government stores.

As for their Cotes-du-Rhone, it's medium bodied and easy to sip or pair, with lots of ripe red fruit,  star anise, and some toasty oak that gives a hint of caramel on the finish. We had it with a simple slow-cooker dinner of pot roast and root vegetables, and they got on like old friends. This is a short and sweet post for a wine that you shouldn't have to put that much thought into. Just go enjoy a bottle or two with friends and let your high school French start coming back to you as the night goes on. C'est bien, mon ami!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Casa Planeta, Grecanico-Chardonnay, IGT Sicilia, 2011

At $16 this is your new best friend. It's bright and tropical with tangy pineapple and loads of juicy citrus. I really want to be on Maui, sitting by the pool with a glass of this while Alex BBQs some mahi-mahi. While you can pick this up an enjoy it yourself anytime, it's one I recommend when you need to bring a bottle to the friends who've tried everything, but you don't want to break the budget. The reason is that this is a blend of Grecanico and Chardonnay, and unless they're all over Sicilian wines the Greciano might be new to them. And it's always fun to try something new, especially when it's this delicious and it's just $16.

Check out the winery, which I believe is family run. It's available in 10 Lower Mainland government stores.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Our New Party Wines $10-12

We discovered two new inexpensive-but-good wines this past holiday season that satisfied the crowd at our big holiday party, and will help you get through bill paying season.

We tasted a few others before we settled on these two. The criteria were that they had to be sippable on their own and work well with the wide variety of food we served, they had to please a diverse group of guests with a wide range of tastes - from people who have formal wine training to those who couldn't care less - (i.e. no oddball wines, no petrol-y Rieslings, no super oaky Chardonnays) and they had to be very budget friendly since we were buying a lot. A particular consideration with the red was that I didn't want any massive 14.5%-15% alcohol bombs, because many guests were driving and we didn't want a high alcohol wine sneaking up on them. Both wines we chose are a more reasonable and responsible 12.5%. Also, I needed them to be well stocked at multiple government stores, so they were convenient to pick up regardless of whether I was at home or at the office.

White: The Beach House, Sauvignon Blanc Semillion, 2011, South Africa
I love Sauvignon Blanc, but I realize not everyone shares my taste. Plus, while it may be awesome on a hot day, it's not always what people want in the middle of December. Still, I was serving a lot of latkes (friend potato pancakes, traditional at Chanukah) and I wanted something that would cut through the richness and still work well with the accompanying sour cream and applesauce. This did the trick.

This a is a very citrusy wine with lots of grapefruit and lemon up front, but it's balanced by the richer tones of the Semillion.There's loads of white fruit like gooseberry, pear and white peach. A lot of bang for your $12 bucks. So, you know, if you spent all your money buying buying a real beach house, you could still afford this. Definitely load up on this for your summertime entertaining, too.

Red: Castillo de Monseran, Garnacha (Grenache), 2011, Spain
This is a light-medium bodied wine that's very food-friendly. It's fresh and juicy with tons of ripe red fruit, nice acidity, and a hint of black liquorice and oak. A simple, straight-forward and very pleasant wine for $10.

Ok, now go call your friends and throw a party!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Three Great Aussie Wines and a Vegemite Sandwich

I'm so embarrassed. Not by anything I did at the Aussie Rules Australia Day tasting, but by how long it's been since my last post. Have I even told you that I finished my WSET Level III? I keep swearing I'm going to find the time to get back into this. So special thanks to Shelley Hamer Jackson of Wine Australia who invited me out to celebrate Australia Day with House Wine at the Stanely Park Pavilion this weekend. It was a terrific event - well attended but not overly crowded, with plenty of familiar faces - and in a great location.

What was interesting to me about this event was that so many of the wines were in the $15-25 range, and quite a few were lower than $15. Definitely not snobby territory here, and plenty of wines you'd happily drink on a regular day and find in your regular wine store. How very Australian.

One of my favourite Australian wineries, d'Arenberg, was there pouring their Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne, Custodian Grenache and Laughing Magpie Viognier Shiraz. All three are excellent and good value ($25-30). You simply cannot go wrong with anything they produce at any price point, at least not in my experience. If you're going to look for any of these I'd say go search out the Hermit Crab (try Firefly on Cambie, $27.15), although the other two are in government stores and will be easier to find. The Hermit Crab is a blend of grapes you'd normally find in the Southern Rhone, so finding it from Australia is going to give you a unique experience that's still super approachable with apricot and floral notes, a bit of nuttiness and sweet spice. I just can't imagine anyone not liking this wine.

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir was my favourite Pinot of the night. To be fair, it's not like I tried them all, but I really did love this one. Bright but not overripe strawberry, dried fall leaves and a hint of vanilla make this ridiculously easy to drink and pair. It's $30 and I suspect you should look in private shops, because I can't find it on the government stores' website.

The same reps were pouring Greg Norman sparkling, which I did not have high hopes for at all. Is it snooty that I shy away from celebrity and sports stars' wineries? If so, I'm sorry, but it seems self-serving and that leaves me feeling a bit icky. It just does. Drew Barrymore has a Pinot Grigio out now, which considering she was in rehab at something like 12 years old, well, major ick factor. But back to Greg Norman. I was wrong - it was delicious, and I'm telling you it pairs with a Vegemite sandwich on toasty buttered white bread something fierce! Vegemite is seriously crazy stuff, all super salty and yeasty. It's not for everyone, but if you're into umami it's your new best friend. I pretty much dared myself to try one of the Vegemite sandwiches they were passing around, and the next challenge immediately became to find something to pair it with. The thought process went like this: "Vegemite's salty and so is caviar, which is classic with Champagne. I'm not going to find Champagne because it's an Australian tasting, but on the other side of the room I saw that Greg Norman sparkling made from Chardonnay, Pinor Noir and Pinot Meunier. The toasted bread in the sandwich will mirror the toasty characteristics of the wine. Let's do it." I'm so glad I did. It's a pretty creamy wine, so it worked well. But the umami of the Vegemite did something really special when it met the wine, and the whole thing was magic. Again, I can't find this on the government website, so check the private shops. It'll run you about $30. Vegemite is available all over, even at London Drugs.

Happy Australia Day!

Friday, December 30, 2011

2007 Burrowing Owl Merlot

We opened a bottle of sparkling tonight that was off - slightly oxidized and bitter. Such a disappointment. The bottle details shall go unnamed, as it can happen to any producer and it was a gift. As we head into New Year's Eve, it's a good reminder that sparkling wines can have faults just like still wines. Keep your wits about you; life's too short to suffer through a glass of tainted wine.

Plan B ended up being the 2007 Burrowing Owl Merlot, which many of you may have hidden in a corner of your "cellar" from an old summer trip to the Okanagan. It definitely made up for the earlier let-down. Plum pie, stewed prunes, black liquorice, sweet spice, and age-softened tannins make for a silky mouthfeel. Sip on its own or pair with a roast. But drink it soon, it's at its peak now and won't benefit form further aging.

An aside: we all have personally favourite years that have nothing to do with vintage, right? I'm often conflicted when thinking back on 2007, as it was a year of transitions but with the bright point of meeting my husband. This Merlot is a lot smoother than 2007 was, and now I get to enjoy it with Alex.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Book Review: Natalie MacLean's Unquenchable

It’s a rare treat to find a book that I enjoy as much for its content and spirit (pun unintentional, yet unavoidable - sorry) as for the design behind its structure. Natalie MacLean’s Unquenchable joins a very short list of personal favourites that hit all these notes and more. The others are Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, whose table of contents written in rhyming couplets hints at the author’s lustrous touch, and Donna Hay’s Flavours cookbook, whose chapters are organized by flavour (citrus, chocolate, etc.) rather than by regional influence or sweet versus savoury. As the daughter of an English professor, I’m always looking for the extra thought and effort in a book that brings greater depth to my reading experience. Without a doubt, that’s what keeps me coming back and what elevates those books to the top of my list. You’ll find Seth on my nightstand, and loads of Hay’s triple chocolate brownies giving my coworkers early onset diabetes. Recently, I had the pleasure of joining Natalie, so to speak, on a romp around some of the world’s great – and great value – wine regions.

The last time I spoke with Natalie was when I interviewed her upon the release of her first book, Red, White and Drunk All Over, and I ended by asking her what was next. Without hesitating she launched into her interest in Germany’s Mosel Valley, famous for Gewurztraminer. But instead of following up with a book of singular focus, Natalie heads to Australia, Niagara,  South Africa, Argentina, Sicily, Portugal and Provence along with the Mosel Valley in search of reliable, high quality producers whose wines are a comparable bargain. If the double dip recession has you as strapped for cash as we are, you’ll enjoy living vicariously through her adventures. Natalie introduces the best of each region, but in her typically down-to-earth style she uses her knowledge of each region’s finest offerings to present those of us back home with the best bargain options. Heck, you can always go for the top notch top dollar stuff, too, but we’re focusing on everyday selections here. Those of you who’ve read my blog know my view on bargain wines: it’s about the price-quality relationship, and not about price alone. Natalie agrees: “…while most people believe that they can taste the difference between a wine priced at $5 and one at $50, it gets trickier when the difference is between $15 and $30. And since most of us would prefer to shell out $15 rather than $30, one of the missions of this book is to demystify wine pricing in relation to quality.” Let this wine pro on a budget guide you.

There’s a chapter for each day of the week - presumably because in your house, as in ours, an open bottle doesn’t last until tomorrow - and each follows Natalie on her pilgrimages to a particular region. She really loves what she does, and her incredible knowledge level is tempered with a humbleness that puts any reader at ease. A professional in every sense, certainly, but a wine snob she is not. You’ll learn the essentials of each region, and what makes each unique, from the people to the geography and terroir, from ancient historical influences to the impact of modern politics. For example, you’ve probably enjoyed South African wines, but have you ever wondered how Apartheid and being shunned for years from the world market affects what’s in your glass today? And the next time you raise a glass of Gewurtz, consider the vineyards so steep that the pickers have to be harnessed in so they don’t plunge to the valley floor. Those must be some grapes and some wine, because that would fall would be one hell of a Workers’ Comp claim.

Since every wine writer has to put down her glass and eat at least once in a while, Natalie provides wine-friendly sample menus from her winery hosts at the end of each chapter. Ever the savvy marketer, she deftly uses the book to drive you to her website for the recipes. Even better are her lists of “Terrific Pairings”, many of which are low prep/no prep grocery items that go well with each region’s wines. Meat Lover’s pizza with Argentinean Malbec, anyone? If you’re like me and your grocer is in the same complex as your local wine shop, this makes for the world’s simplest and most husband-pleasing post-work shopping trip. Also included at the end of each chapter are these:

Insider Tips – Where to start, what to look for.

Best Value Wines – A compact and manageable list of specific wines recommended by Natalie.

Top Value Producers – Trusted wineries that consistently produce reliable, high quality, good value wines. Start your exploration of the region here.

Resources – Really into it? You can find deeper detail in this list of wine-centric reading materials.

Related Reading – A.K.A. inspired reading unrelated to wine, but nicely related to Natalie’s experience in the region. Case in point: The Godfather is the perfect pairing for that Nero d’avola you’ve just discovered from Sicily.

You might be wondering what I’m drinking as I write this. It’s the 2010 Two OceansShiraz, one of Natalie’s Top Value Producers and recently ranked #4 on The BestBottles in Canada Under $15 It’s juicy, spicy and meaty, with a hint of campfire. There are enough tannins to stand up to a roast, but it’s ridiculously sipable on its own. Oh, and it’s $10. Pairs really well with book reviews.  We’ll be serving lots of this at our holiday party next weekend. Cheers!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Natalie MacLean - New Book and Tour Dates

Hi everyone.
A quick note to let you know that Natalie MacLean's second book is being released this week, Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World's Best Bargain Wines. And she's hitting the road for a book tour to support the launch. Stand by for a review of the book, once I finish my advance copy. (Thanks, Natalie!)
Join Natalie MacLean for an unforgettable evening of wine, laughter and story-telling to celebrate the launch of her second wine book, Natalie will be hosting events in the following cities:
Okanagan/Kelowna November 8
B.C. Wine MuseumTickets: Mosaic Books 250-763-4418 or the MuseumInfo:
Whistler November 11
Cornucopia Wine FestivalTickets:
Vancouver November 21
Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel
Save the date! Tickets go on sale next week so check here for the link and more info about the event:
Named the World’s Best Drink Writer at the World food Media Awards, the Canadian journalist and sommelier Natalie is just back from a whirlwind trip to uncover the world’s best bargain wines and share them with you.She’ll also share stories about fascinating winemakers and gorgeous, remote vineyards with her quirky humour and insider smarts that made her first book, Red, White and Drunk All Over, the only wine book ever to get on the national bestseller list. The Globe & Mail also named it one of the best books of the year.Space is limited for these exclusive BC events. Reserve your tickets now. Your ticket price includes a personally signed copy of Natalie’s new book, Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World's Best Bargain Wine plus a wine tasting. Following the session, you can purchase additional copies of the book as holiday gifts and Natalie will sign them. Natalie's tour will include 14 cities across Canada:
For more information about the book and an amusing video trailer about it, please visit

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Montes Classic Series Sauvignon Blanc 2009

Whoa! Loads of citrus - lime and white grapefruit - with fresh cut grass and a hint of tinned asparagus. I was really glad we opened this just before choosing which veggies to make with tonight's dinner; it was definitely magic with fish and roasted asparagus. Even though it's got some body, there's a good hit of acidity here so it does especially well with food (as opposed to being a great sipper) unless, of course, it's a killer sunny day on the patio in which case it is exactly what you want.

I couldn't find this listed on the BC government store site, but you can find it for about $18 at Firefly in Maple Ridge, probably at Firefly on Cambie and certainly at other private shops.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cerelia Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cab Franc

Just trying some wines from Cerelia in the Similkameen Valley, and which are available at Firefly in Maple Ridge. Check them out at

Pinot Gris
Fresh, tart green apple notes, lemon and some minerality.

The oak can't mask the bright fruit, and there's generous acidity that makes this very food-friendly.

Cab Franc. Well, hello there green pepper and herbs. Pair with Italian sausage with fennel or lamb sausage from your local butcher (not your local chain grocery store). Delicious, but begs for food. Our favourite of the three, by far.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Passover wine - Galil Mountain Chardonnay

It's not your bubbe's Manischewistz.

Our seder guests brought over a bottle of 2008 Galil Mountian Chardonnay, and it was a lovely match with our roast turkey. Fresh, lively and bright with lots of crisp fruit tempered by hint creamy butter. And yes, it's kosher for Passover. As for as what that entails, really, the wine making process is not significantly different (rabbinic supervision, yeast strain that doesn't come in contact with anything leavened for Passover wines, vines of a certain minimum age, etc.) hence, there's no technical reason you wouldn't get a fabulous wine. This one proves it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Mistaken Identity Vineyards

We're about to taste Mistaken Identity Vineyard's full selection of whites and their rose tonight And when I say we, I mean a bunch of friends with a variety of wine interest and education levels - from newbies, to interested amateur collectors to a somellier who's starting her WSET diploma. Stay tuned!

Abbondante Bianco
Green fruit and white blossoms on the nose, crisp tree fruit with underlying minerality, lean palate, flavours of granny smith apple, lime zest, lots of acidity, unripe kiwi mid-palate and white grapefruit on the finish. Definitely quaffable. You could drink a ton of this blend on a hot summer day.

Fairly neutral on the nose with some pear, light lychee, pink grapefruit, very fresh, lots of acidity and green fruit with a bit of sweet ginger and maybe just a hint of smoke.

Pinot Gris
Fresh of freshly sliced pear and pineapple on the nose - refreshing! Lots of acidity again. Lean and green.

Some floral notes on the nose. This is a crisp summer sipper with its hits of cranberry and strawberry jam.

They've just released a Merlot that was very promising when I tried a barrel sample several months ago, and I cannot wait to try it now that it's ready. These grapes they brought in from a grower in the Okanagan, so think big and juicy. Like all their other wines, the Merlot is organic.

Check out their beautiful patio when you're on Saltspring this summer: www.mistakenidentity

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cornucopia 2009 - Killer Values

I'm following up on a recent article for Vendor Magazine ( and posting my notes from the events I attended the 2009 Cornucopia wine fest in Whistler. Check out these Killer Values:

Killer Values

Yellow Tail Bubbles Rosé $14
Medium sweet with big bubbles and very pronounced ripe peach and strawberry. It’s very fresh and juicy, straight forward and simple with essentially no finish. There’s a lot of pressure to not like Yellowtail, nut this would be fine with waffles and strawberry sauce or with spicy Asian fare.

Crios de Susana Balbo, Torrontes, Argentina 2008 $19
Mmmmm… perfumed with floral notes of neroli and - but not sweet - with a rich almost oily or lanolin mouthfeel and great citrusy acidity.

Anakena Viognier, Chile 2008 $16
A bit of oaky spice, toast and vanilla compliments the mandarin orange and apricot notes. Notoriously hard to grow, you wait and wait until one day Viognier grapes just turn ugly and withered, and that’s when they’re ready. Kind of an uly duckling with poor timing, as far as grapes go, but aromatic and delicious as far as wines go!

Boutari, Moschofilero, Greece 2008 $19
Greek wine hasn’t always had a stellar reputation. During the Renaissance, the Italians used Greek wine and a crusty penny loaf to clean the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel – which should give you some indication of what its modern equivalent would have been. Ahhh, but it’s not so. This Moschofilero (pr. MoskoFEELero) is surprisingly complex for $19 with a mushroomy earthiness that’s balanced by light crisp apple and lemony acidity. It shows a stony minerality, herbaceous notes, and manages to be honeyed yet dry. Serve this to your wine snob friends who’ve tried it all. You’ll almost certainly stump them.

Rodney Strong, Chardonnay, USA 2008, $20
All the creamy butteriness that makes you either love or hate Chard. And you know what, if you hate it, it’s probably because it’s the only white you drank in the ‘90s. Time to get over yourself.

Thornhaven, Pinot Noir, 2007, $18
Spicy red raspberry and dried cherry, with greens like carrot top and garden herbs. Rather Burgundian in its low 11.45% alcohol, so drink up. Try your local VQA shop.

Vina Albali Reserva, Tempranillo, Spain, 2003 $20
Dried sweet fruit like dates and berries, it’s big but the tannins are well integrated. Loads of age on this and it’s only $20. You’re not going to find that anywhere else. Grab it and run home to your cupboard full of glasses. Run!

Boekenhoutskloof, The Wolf Trap, South Africa, 2008 $15
Full and smoky, earthy and spicy with black fruit and berries. Pretty smooth and ready to roll.

La Cetto, Petit Syrah, Mexico 2004 $16
With all that juicy blueberry goodness and medium tannins, I would have guessed Australia, not Mexico. But there’s a mesquite smokiness that makes you think twice. Another good one for your wine friends who think they’ve seen it all.

Cornucopia 2009 - Wines for a Blue Moon

Check out these notes forma very special once-in-a-blue-moon wine tasting at Whistler's 2009 Cornucopia festival.

Wines for a Blue Moon

This year ended with a blue moon – the second full moon in a month, which comes along ever 17 years, always on New Years Eve. Depending on your budget, you may have some of these special wines just as rarely. If you’re like me, your taste tends to out-pace your budget, so tastings like this at about $35 are a great way to try about $900 worth of wines. Vancouver’s three favourite wine guys: Sid Cross, Anthony Gismondi and David Schoelfield dug these gems out of the cellar.

Krug Grand Cuvee NV $255
All those times we enjoyed crisp good-value bubbly were just a warm up to the Krug. Complex, with deep, full, low notes of toast, yeast, dried apricots, cashews, soft butter, cream and dried fig. Krug is blended from as many as 50 wines from three grape varieties, 20-25 growths, and 6-10 vintage years. If you’re lucky enough to have a glass (or heck a bottle) keep going back to it and marvel at how it evolves.

William Fevre, Chablis, 1er Cru, Montee de Tonnerre 2006
Very gentle, spohoisticated and subtle with stony minerality and gentle pear and apple. Fresh and juicy with plenty of acidity, this will pair easily or you could cellar it. A touch of oak, but generally there’s been little intervention.

Marcel Lapierre Morgon Cuvee MMVII (2007) $62
Morgon is a top producer in Beaujolais with impeccably managed vineyards, and ’07 was an epic year, according to our trio of tasting experts, but $62 for a bottle of Gamay?

Bouchard Pere, 1er Cru, Baune de Chateau 2005 $42
This one’s going to be great. There’s lots of potential here with flavours of fall leaves, tobacco, cherry, spice and wood. Right now though, it’s a bit young, closed and tannic.

Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir 2003 $88
Ahhh, the moment I’ve been waiting for. Just amazing. Really complex, and landing somewhere between old world and new world in terms of style. It’s leafy and vegetal with dried cherry, black pepper and well-integrated tannins. Somehow, Felton Road is albe to get their Pinot Noir skins to ripen before the juice, which means they’re able to pick at a lower sugar level, which, in turn, gives a wine with less alcohol. They’re also farming biodynamically, and David Schoelfield swears they play Schubert piano concertos in the cellar. As in, they play it to the wine in the vats. Seriously, whatever works, and this works.

Piaggia “Il Sasso” Carmignano, Italy 2006 $62
70% Sangiovese, 20% Cabertnet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. Floral and smooth with plenty of red and black fruit and solid, dusty, integrated tannins.

Guado al Tasso, Bolgheri, Italy 2006 $80
A blend of Cab Sauv, Merot and Syrah produced by Antinori. The nose id minty form the Cab, but overall it smells like Italy. There’s no mistaking that sour cherry, cassis and earth. It’s dense, and dark to nearly opaque. This is a big boy - chunky, juicy and tannic.

Mission Hill Quatrain $45
This is Mission Hill’s big red answer to what followers of their Occulus can buy from them now to enoy without waiting 10 years. It’s more Syrah-based, with delicious mocha and coffee notes. Sorry, not sure if this was the 2005 or the 2006, which was also available at the time of the tasting.

Rhone Gang “Hold-Up” 2007 $22
Hey, what’s this $22 bottle doing at their fancy tasting? Who cares; it’s good. Loads of acidity, really red, bright, crisp and light-medium bodied. It needs food, and would work well chilled just a little. Make this your go-to red for summer 2010.

Domaine de Cristia, Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2006 $105
Red and black fruit, which is typical of CdP, but here it’s super ripe. It’s earthy, meaty, balanced and smooth – what a combo. The red fruit comes from the Granache in the blend, here it’s 80% along with 15% Syrah and 5% Mourvedre. David Schoelfield called it a new-fangled Robert Parker CdP. I think his point is that there’s a certain power that comes from a lack of restraint or wish to please a certain type of palate, as opposed to following a more traditional, and perhaps restrictive style.

Sadie Family, Columella, Swartland, South Africa 2005 $80
Un-freaking believable, says Gismondi. Smoky, fruity, ripe, earthy, smooth and rich with good tannins, says Solomon. It’s complex to the point that no one grape stands out, but it’s 80% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre. So aside from this being a fantastic wine, there’s some great stuff going on behind the scenes. The winemaker’s a young guy – about 35 – and he’s trying to get back to rudimentary techniques. This year his goal is to make wine without electricity. Talk about old school.

Cornucopia 2009 - Pinot Noir

More tasting notes from Cornucopia 2009 in Whistler, and follow up from my article at

Pinot Noir

Sacchetto Pinot Rosa della Venezie IGT $19
A good-value frizzante with a sweet strawberry nose, creamy bubbles and a bright red cherry bite.

Joseph Faively “Paulée” Bourgogne AOC 2007 $23
Cherry, earth and green peppercorn with light tannins that sneak up on you on the finish. Great with food.

Blue Mountain Pinot Noir 2007 $30
Starts off with soft forward fruit like cherry and plum, with nicely spicy black pepper and cloves on the finish. Blue Mountain’s been making my favourite BC Pinots for years. Buy it at the winery and at private wine shops (if you can find it) otherwise you’ll be stuck paying double at your local restaurant.

Kim Crawford Pinot Noir 2007 $35
The first thing that’ll strike you is the colour – it’s pretty dark for a Pinot. The second is the nose – verrrry Central Otago. It’s fuller bodied with lots of cedar, spice, and velvety smooth plum and dried black cherry, and some light tannins.

Familia Schroeder “Saurus” Pinot Noir 2007 $22
As the story goes, construction workers unearthed dinosaur remains while building the winery in Patagonia, hence the name “Saurus”. Seriously, as far as brand stories go, is that a marketer’s dream, or what? Silky and easy to pair with a variety of dishes, there’s plenty of light, bright red fruit and berries, with a touch of spice and light tannins. At $22 it’s good value for the money.

Cono Sur “20 Barrels” Pinot Noir 2007 $30
A very New World Pinot with lots of darker, baked fruit, oaky spice and earth. There’s a good hit of acidity and medium tannins that dissipate on the finish. Pair it with chargrilled meats.

Yebby Lake Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006
Mmmmm, smells like a chalet with all that nice cedar wood. Lots of red berries and spice, but with a lighter nose and less fruit-forward in style than I would have expected from Australia. Love it when the Aussies show some restraint, especially in their lovely cooler climate offerings.

Cristom “Jessie Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2005 $65
If you were tasting this blind there’d be no doubt that it was New World, and in pinning it down more specifically, no doubt that it’s from Orgeon. Deep, dark, luscious fruit, and that hint of dill so often found in Oregonian Pinots give it away. This is a stunning wine, with a floral nose of violets, tobacco leaf and forest, with stems added in the winemaking process to increase the tannins. Check for it on your next cross-border read trip, where you won’t be paying BC’s 117% import tax.

Davis Bynum Pinot Noir 2005 $35
You can taste the sunny days they must have had in the Russian River Valley in the summer of ’05 in the silky smooth baked cherry pie flavours. The fruit starts off sweet and lush, but is followed up quickly by a bite of tannins.

Coruncopia Whistler 2009 - Bubble-icious

Following up on my articles on, here are tasting notes from the Cornucopia wine events I attended in Whistler in 2009.


Luna Argenta Prosecco $20
Fairly new to BC, this has been available for about two months. Crisp with a touch of sweetness and Granny Smith apple and pear drop notes.

Sumac Ridge Tribute Sparkling Brut Blanc des Blancs $30
Vincor’s Olympics sparkling contribution is 100% Chardonnay. A bit tropical on the nose with hints of mango and peach, it open up into red Macintosh apple and baked pastry.

Segura Viudas Brut Heredad Reserva Cava
A hint of rubber on the nose, reminiscent of a Riesling. Creamier and richer than the first two, with notes of yeast and almond. Delicious.

Graham Beck Brut $21
A South African blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this is nicely balanced with small, creamy bubbles. A great buy for $21. Yeasty, toasty and buttery, my event companion says, “You can taste the sun.”

Lucien Albrecht Cremant Rose $30
This versatile Alsacian was the hit of the tasting, with most people picking it as their favourite over other, much more expensive options. This one’s 100% Pinot Noir and a pretty pale salmon colour. It has a nice hit of raspberry acidity and will be great with any dish you’re serving.

Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose Brut Champagne $110
A gorgeous sunset pink with delicate bubbles, it’s got the complexity you’d expect and a lingering finish you won’t find on any budget bubbly. Strawberries and cream all the way – yum.

Penny’s Hill Black Chook Sparkling Shiraz $
Yep, it’s the colour of Shiraz. A sparkling red that goes great with Christmas, and all the chocolate you’ve got around the house that time of year. It’s pretty sweet with lots of blueberry jam and blackberry going on. Bring it out for a crowd of fun friends.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Heartland Stickleback Red 2008

Whoa. The Heartland Stickleback Red is killer, and a great value at about $20 at Firefly. We had Heartland's Shiraz last weekend in Whistler, and it was so good that I picked up whatever Firely carried. A blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dolcetto and Lagrein, this is our new go-to winter wine.

The Stickleback's vineyards are in Langhorne Creek which, owing to the influence of the Southern Ocean, is a cooler part of Australia. The Shiraz and Cab really sing in the blend, with juicy black fruit like blackberry, cassis and blueberry jumping out with lots of smoky, peppery goodness going on here too. Man, oh man. The Lagrein, an oddball little Italian grape from Northern Italy, adds tannin and colour. Not that the tannins are overwhelming, they're actually really well integrated, and the overall the Stickleback Red is very well balanced, especially for being so affordable. Dolcetto "the little sweet one" is another surprise in here. But then there are some interesting blends coming out of Langhorne (see the white blend from Langhorne that we chose for our wedding here) that are great to share with that friend who's had everything. So maybe I should stop acting so surprised.

I'm looking forward to trying every other Heartland wine carried in BC, and have high hopes that they will join D'Arenberg in my stable of I-love-everything-you-produce Aussie wineries.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2009

It's here! Beaujolais Nouveau. Once a year it's released, and when it is you'd better drink up, because Beaujolais Nouveau is meant for today. Seriously, today.

Beaujolais Nouveau goes through a process called carbonic maceration, in which whole bunches of grapes are fermented, and this gives the wine its unique cotton candy, bubble gum and banana flavour characteristics.

Tonight I tried the 2009 Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages AC, and it was pretty darned good, as far as Beaujolais Nouveau goes. The Joseph Drouhin is like skipping down the street to your neighbourhood 7-11. It has all your favourite flavours of the penny candy aisle. Soft, squishy banana candy? Check. Hubba Bubba? Check. Sour cherry blasters? Check. Cream soda Slurpee? Check and check. It's convenience store cheap, too. About $10 for a half bottle and $17 for a full bottle at private store, less for something similar in provincial stores.

Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of the stuff usually. I've just never really understood the value in rushing to bottle and distribute Beaujolais Nouveau. It always seemed like a gimicky cash grab to help with cash flow for wineries whose better products require more age. (Who're you calling cynical?) Alright, alright, I'll lighten up. Beaujolais Nouveau has its appeal, for sure. It's bright and fresh with some characteristics you probably aren't finding in whatever else you're drinking. And different is good. Maybe you won't want to drink it every day, and that's fine, it's even kind of the point since it's only released once a year. Branch out a little and get out of your Shiraz rut for a sec this November.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

How to Choose Wedding Wines

Looking for wines for your wedding? My fiance and I certainly are, and we wanted to get the most for our money.

You can save a ton of money by choosing a venue that allows you to serve your own wines, because you don't get charged the mark-up - we didn't choose that option, so it was especially important that we got great value.

Rule #1 - In order for our venue to charge us the minimum cost per bottle we were told we could select wines that were up to $13 retail. If we picked more expensive wines the venue would simply charge us more, and we'd like to stick to the minimum while getting the biggest bang for our buck.

The Wines - We selected 5 whites and 5 reds between $9-$14, and invited our friends over for a blind tasting.

The Whites:

  • Raimat Albarino Chardonnay, Spain $ 13.99
  • Bleasdale, Langhorne Crossing, Verdelho/Riesling/Chardonnay, Australia $ 12.99
  • Concha Y Toro, Sauvignon Blanc, Chile $ 12.97
  • La Vielle Ferme, Cotes du Luberon, France $ 13.99
  • Trapiche, Astica, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Argentina $ 9.00

The Reds:

La Vielle Ferme, Lasira, France $ 13.00

Bleasdale, Langhorne Crossing, Cab Sauv/Shiraz/Petit Verdot, Australia $ 12.99

Viu Manent, Malbec, Chile $ 12.99

Finca Los Primos, Malbec, Argentina $ 9.96

Paiara, Negroamaro/Cab Sauv, Italy $ 9.99

Blind Tastings - Essentials
There are two basic ways we determined the winner. First, we asked each guest to taste each wine, and rank it 1-5 with one being their favourite. For this to work they had to rank each wine, and not skip any or duplicate any. So no half marks or anything. We kept in anonymous, so people would feel comfortable and not be influenced by each other. Guests tried the wines in whatever order they wished. As a back up, we checked which bottle emptied first, second and so on. And hey, when all else fails, this is a sure-fire was to handle the most casual of blind tastings.

Blind Tastings - How To

  • Make a list of the wines, and assign each a number.
  • Wrap the bottles in tin foil to cover the labels, and write the number on each bottle.
  • Print out slips of paper with the number of each wine on it, and provide one to each guest.
  • Ask guests to rank each wine, with #1 being their favourite, and giving the highest number to their least favourite.
  • Add up the scores at the end.
  • The wine with the lowest total score wins (i.e the wine most guests have ranked as their favourite).

The Winners

These two nearly tied. The Bleasdale is more complex with an elegant texture, and the Trapiche is a ridiculously fantastic value with crowd pleasing hits of tropical fruit.

The Whites:

#1 - Bleasdale, Langhorne Crossing, Verdelho/Riesling/Chardonnay, Australia $ 12.99
#2 - Trapiche, Astica, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Argentina $ 9.00

The Reds:

#1 - Paiara, Negroamaro/Cab Sauv, Italy $ 9.99

#2 - Bleasdale, Langhorne Crossing, Cab Sauv/Shiraz/Petit Verdot, Australia $ 12.99

The Paiara came out on top, but we went with the Bleasdale because it is better balanced, a better sipper and because we felt we would get maximum value (the venue charged us the same end price whether we selected a $10 or $13 wine). You can't go wrong with the Paiara though. It's a bit rustic, but a pretty terrific value for a nice pizza wine our friends loved. The price has gone up a couple of bucks in BC since our tasting, but it's still worth it.

I love this next wine, and will definitely be buying it more often. Classic gooseberry and mouthwatering acidity that reminds me of summer. It scored high among the whites, but we didn't think it's sharp acidity would make it a wedding-style crowd pleaser other than at a warm weather outdoor affair.

#3 - Concha Y Toro, Sauvignon Blanc, Chile $ 12.97

We had high hopes for these wines, but they were completely knocked out of the scoring.

La Vielle Ferme, Cotes du Luberon, France $ 13.99
Raimat Albarino Chardonnay, Spain $ 13.99

Viu Manent, Malbec, Chile $ 12.99

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wines of Chile 2008: Part 1

On September 25th Vancouver hosted its annual Wines of Chile consumer tasting event to showcase the range of wines Chile is producing. If you were there then you had a chance to drink some amazing wines. If you weren't there, then allow me to walk you through what I tasted, and the influencers I met along the way.

This winery is a perennial favourite of mine among the Chilean wineries.

- Riserva Chardonnay 2007 is spicy and very full bodied, and this year there's no malolactic fermentation.

- For $13 their 2007 Carmenere is a steal.

- Chile makes some great cool climate wines, and Anakena's Pinot Noir has a vibrant orange zest nose with woodsy and cherry flavours.

- Check out ONA, their Bordeaux style blend. It has good balance with lots of fruit and great tannins.

Icon Wines
Chile has been known for providing value, and one of the goals of this event is to introduce you and me to their higher end offerings. It's a real shame that so few of the examples they chose are available in local liquor stores. Regardless, there are times when you'll be traveling and find these available, so you should know about them and try them when you can.

- Santa Alicia Gran Reserva de los Andes Merlot 2005. This is a big, rich Merlot that I'd like to serve to Merlot haters so I could change their minds about this grape that's so often boring.

- Erazuriz Max Reserva 2006 is a blend of 96% Cab Sauv and 4% Petit Verdot. It's got huge ripe fruit up front, and would be a good move up for new world wine drinkers who are used to middle of the road fruity Australian Shirz. It's 14.5% alcohol packs a punch. This one's available and it's only $20. A definite good buy for home and for friends.

- Santa Carolina VSC 2006 blend of Cab Sauv, Carmenere, Malbec and Petit Verdot isn't available in town, but look for it elsewhere if you have a chance. It's very dark with black fruit, berries, plum, and baking spice.

Casas del Bosque
The best of this winery isn't available locally, but it was so good that I have to rave about it.

- Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2008. Wow! Tropical fruit and gooseberry nose blasts into nectarine on the tongue. Seriously yum. Not to be confused with the Reserva Sauv Blanc 2008 which is available here, and is much lighter and not quite as elegant. $18 in BC liquor stores.

- 2007 Chardonnay is available at Liberty for about $18. Like most of the Chilean Chards I've tried it's full bodied and toasty, but this one doesn't lose the fruit which is a nice surprise.

- They also have a Reserva Syrah for $22 at private stores, and a Reserva Cab for $21 that's in government stores.

Check back soon for Part 2 featuring Concha Y Toro, Emiliana Vineyards, Geo and my interview with Juan Somavia, managing director of Wines of Chile.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sauvignon Blanc - White Hot White Wines

Summer's finally here and we're in for even more hot weather over the next two weeks, which begs the question - what should I drink? Sure, there are margaritas (I buy fresh lemon-lime juice from a local restaurant to make mine) and beer, but there are some fantastic whites that are made just for our hottest days.

Pinot Grigio is always a good bet. It's the same grape as Pinot Gris, just done in an Italian style instead of a French style. The Italians know hot, and Pinot Grigios usually have a good measure of refreshing acidity. At my wine shop we can't keep the Mission Hill PG on the shelves on hot days.

But it's not PG that I'm interested in telling you about, it's Sauvignon Blanc. IMHO it's one of the best hot weather options around.Typically characterized by green flavours (grass, peas) and tart gooseberries it's just a perfect thirst quencher on a hot day.

Here are three that I like:

Babich Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand $18 - Refreshing acidity is balanced by gorgeous tropical fruit flavours like guava. Serious yum factor here, and enough fruitiness to please a range of people - like those you invited over for a BBQ.

Astica Sauv Blanc-Semillon made by Trapiche in Argentina - It's not possible that this is $9. I kid you not, this is a seriously respectable wine for the price. In fact, my mom and step-father (who are both in the wine biz) keep pouring this blind for each other every few months to see if they still like it, and they always do. It's like they try to trick each other to see if they'll dismiss it as cheap - and they don't. It's everything you want in a crisp white, and at $9 it's practically free, people. Refreshing acidity, ripe peach and a long finish. This is a party wine, a wedding wine, a Tuesday wine, and one you could serve to wine lovers and they'll never believe what you paid. What more can you ask? I will buy it by the case for my next BBQ.

And finally one that I don't usually go for, but it recently quenched me on a ridiculously hot night in a stifling bar.

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, from New Zealand $22. OMG is this ever tart... I mean refreshing. Lemon-lime, gooseberry, super citrusy and tart. Usually, I admit that I'm not a fan of it on its own, though paired with something that's also a bit acidic (salads with vinaigrette, anything with lemon or lime) and it'll tone down a bit. It's really quite great on a super hot day, in the same way that lemonade hits the spot.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Rolf Binder Heysen Shiraz 2003

We had wine loving friends over for dinner last night, and I broke out my last bottle of Jackson Triggs Grand Reserve Shiraz - the one that won best Shiraz in the world - knowing how much they'd appreciate it. Once we killed that bottle we poured the 2003 Rolf Binder Heysen Shiraz, and one guest proclaimed it better than the best-in-the-world JT. It certainly is a big, big, juicy, jammy, smoky wine with seriously intense black liquorice flavours. There's lots of sediment so decant carefully, if that sort of thing is important to you.

This is widely available on the Lower Mainland. Interestingly, the majority of it is in West Van, probably because that's where they're most likely to sell $55 bottles of wine like this one.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pfaffenheim Grand Cru Steinert Pinot Gris 2001

Rich gold in colour, it's heady with aromas of honey, lanolin, baked red apple, dried apricot, candied pineapple, sweet spice and bitter almond. This is an incredibly complex wine, and for those who've been drinking simple young whites you'll be very pleased to see how nuanced and rich an aged white can be. Watch out for the 15% alcohol which packs a punch. There's a bit of residual sugar, but the wine has so much going on that it doesn't take anything away from it - just be aware when pairing. We had it with St. Andre triple cream brie and apple slices.

About $33 retail for the 2002. At this price it's not exactly a Tuesday wine, but it's a great choice for when your wine-loving friends and family are over for a visit and you want to wow them. I got the '02 last year and haven't tried the new vintage yet.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2006

While you can find this Washington state wine locally, it's available for a heckuva lot less at Costco in Bellingham - or at least it was when I was there.

There's some classic, pleasant petrol and plastic on the nose, along with lots of ripe fruit like apricot and peach and a bit of citrus and stone. Good acidity on the sides of the tongue help balance out some of the residual sugar in this off-dry Reisling. But don't let the off'-dry description scare you off. These sweet-tart characteristics have their place - turkey is a classic pairing.

This is worth a try, especially if you're bringing it back from Bellingham for about $6 instead of the $16 you'll find it for at the BCLDB I guess that's what happens when we tax our imported wines at 117% in this province.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wine Lovers' Dishwasher Gel

Happy Earth Day to you!
Finally, at long last, a dishwasher gel that doesn't leave a nasty chemical smell on wine glasses, and actually gets the dishes clean. Nature Clean is unscented, hypoallergenic, biodegradable, and even septic safe for those of you enjoying wine in a rustic cabin situation. Given all those enviro factors you'd think the stuff wouldn't actually get dishes clean, but it does.

I know I sound like a commercial for this stuff, but I'm too lazy to wash my wine glasses by hand (nor do I have room on the counter to dry them all) and I can't stand the smell that regular chemically dishwasher stuff leaves on them.

Nature Clean is about double the price of the regular stuff, which ran me (read: my boyfriend) about $13 for 1.8L at IGA. It's only the price of a reasonable bottle of wine, and if you really care about how your wine tastes - and smells - then it's absolutely worth it.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sonora Ranch Semillon-Chardonnay

This is my party wine. It's everything you want in a crisp, dry crowd pleaser, and it's only $9.29. When I'm having a ton of people over with vastly different wine backgrounds, I try to avoid serving the expensive stuff. I'd rather save those bottles for my friends who care about wine, and then we'll pair something to go specifically with it. This stuff will please a lot of folks, and won't offend anyone. Drink it, cook with it, make sangria - it's a versatile budget wine, and there aren't a lot of those from BC.

There's lots of baked red apple on the nose, and tangy pineapple and citrus zest on the tongue. At 12.5% alcohol it's a tiny bit hot (a.k.a. I can taste the alcohol) but at such a great price I should just drink up and stop nit picking.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Wine of the Week - Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

We're running low on plain old Tuesday wine (yes, I know it's Thursday), so tonight we opened up a bottle of Mission Hill Cab. Usually, you'll just find this one in restaurants, but I managed to get one for home. And it's delicious. With lots of cherry and black fruit flavours, and a hint of smoky bacon fat, tobacco and spice, it's full bodied and mouth-watering.

Monday, March 3, 2008

VQA Fall Release Event in Vendor Magazine

Here's the article Vendor ran about the VQA Fall release event.
Even though you've read about this event in other postings, I thought you might like to see this, since the publication only goes to people in the industry.

Earls and Joeys Wine Partnerships

Check out the latest in wine partnerships from Earls and Joeys. This article was published in the December issue of Vendor Magazine

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dining in Vancouver's West End

Here's the article I wrote for

Food Vancouver's Select Guide: West End Part One

In this issue of “Food Vancouver's Select Guide”, we will take you on a stroll of the region’s popular dining area, Vancouver’s West End which is one of the most vibrant and diverse neighborhoods in the city.

From west of Burrard Street, and bordering English Bay, Coal Harbour and Stanley Park, it’s home to many of Vancouver’s best restaurants from the very casual to the very elegant.
We start on Denman Street- the heart of the West End. Most restaurants are found between Robson Street to Davie Street and its here where you’ll find dining treasures there from around the world.

The diversity of the West End and its restaurants can be seen on any block of Denman Street. On just one block, between Robson and Haro, you’ll find African fusion delights at Simba’s, Mexican at Poncho’s, Thai at Khunnai Chang, Montreal-style rotisserie chicken at Rooster’s Quarters and mile-high cakes and pies at True Confections. And walk just on block down- to between Haro and Barclay and you’ll also find a taste of Vietnam at Vina and Indian at Desi Downtown.

Denman Street is also well known for its gelato and ice cream shops, which are even still busy in winter. Mum’s Gelati on Denman at Haro Street is the original. Don’t be surprised if you stop in and see them juicing lemons by hand for the lemon ice. Down the street you’ll find Mondo Gelato, which even has a sister location in Rome. Marble Slab Creamery is close to the beach, and mixes your choice of ice cream with your choice of fillings to create personalized favourites. And if you still need another sugar fix, try a cupcake loaded with decadent butter cream icing from Cupcakes.

And if you’re looking for Sushi, then Denman Street will also satisfy. Stop by Akira or Shima for a quick bite, or visit Tanpopo for an all-you-can-eat sushi experience. Black Tuna, just a block from beautiful English Bay, offers some creative sushi rolls for the more adventurous. And if Izakaya is more your style, try Kingyo on Denman at Barclay.

Legendary Noodles, which has had a successful operation on Vancouver’s east side for years, also now has a location on Denman at Comox. And while their noodles are really legendary, their dumplings are even better. And for even more noodle variety – and seafood, curries and roti – try Banana Leaf for a Malaysian experience just a few doors down.

Mr. Pickwick’s Fish & Chips is practically an institution on Denman, serving fresh halibut, cod, salmon and fresh-cut chips. They’ve been voted the city’s best fish and chips for three years in a row by The Georgia Straight. Follow it up with a stop at The Dover Arms to watch your favourite footballers at this neighbourhood pub.

The West End comes alive at night, and when it comes to cocktails try working your way through the Delilah’s martini list. Delilah’s, on Comox just east of Denman, made martinis very cool well before Carrie and the Sex and the City girls ever sipped their first Cosmos.
Around the corner is another West End favourite, The Central Kitchen and Euro Bar, on Denman and Comox. They serve what their chef describes as “European comfort food” at brunch and dinner.

The beach scene is one of the best parts of the West End, and you’ll find locals and tourists enjoying a walk on the seawall year round. Many an idyllic summer night has been spent watching the sunset at English Bay with friends while enjoying a burger from Vera’s Burger Shack. Fresh burgers cooked to order, toppings galore, and fries make this a year-round favourite.

Stanley Park is an absolute must-see if you’re in the West End and is a few short blocks west of Denman. This is where you’ll find The Fish House in Stanley Park. Nestled right in the park, and surrounded by gardens, it’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of a large city. They’ve partnered with The Vancouver Aquarium to serve Ocean Wise seafood, so you can feel good about your choices.

Another west-of-Denman gem is the Parkside restaurant in the Buchan Hotel. Legend has it that the hotel is haunted, but you’d never know it from the success of the Parkside. Nestled in a quiet pocket of Haro Street near Stanley Park, it has one of the most charming patios in town. Enjoy unique creations in their intimate dining room.

Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion, or grabbing a quick bite on your way to the beach, there’s something for everyone in the West End.

by Becky Solomon

Monday, October 29, 2007

Interview with Ed McNally of Big Rock

This summer I was asked to interview Ed McNally who founded Big Rock Brewery in Calgary, the quintessential microbrewery that became a macro. I was a little apprehensive. We had met once before and it hadn't been under very good circumstances. I was a fly on the wall in a meeting he had with one of his key national accounts, and they had called him in because they'd decided to end the relationship. On top of that, my editor had told me that others had found him hard to get to know, and that he usually gave one word answers. Oh that's just great, I thought.

Nothing could have been further from my experience. As it turned out, Ed's just an old Alberta cowboy. He's a charmingly gruff straight shooter who admittedly likes to "raise hell" at the office, but he's also warm with a self deprecating sense of humour. As soon as we discovered we had some mutual friends he warmed right up, and we had a great conversation (only some of which made it into the magazine). I hope you enjoy the interview - I did, and so did Ed.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Wine of the Week - Torre al Sole Pino Grigio Rosato

What a delight to happen upon this dry yet fruity Pinot Grigio rosato, with crisp red apple notes and a gorgeous pale sunset colour. Pinot Grigio grapes , or Pinot Gris as it's called in France, is on the fence in terms of its colour, being neither perfectly white nor truly black. Most of the time it's produced as a white, and while it's never really red, sometimes producers allow a little more skin contact than usual, resulting in a barely there amber toned blush.

I think fall (and spring, and summer) is the perfect season for Old World roses, and I was happy to find this one. Roses go perfectly with in between foods, like my Spaghetti Vongole (tomatoes, garlic, clams) and his rich, creamy Carbonara with pancetta. It worked well with the seafood, and cut through the cream sauce perfectly. Frankly, I don't know how anyone gets through such richness without such a wine. It had enough lemony acidity to stand up to Caesar salad, too.

You may have to go to a private wine shop, or head over to Marcello's on Commercial Drive, where I tried it this weekend. Three pretty thorough searches of the BCLDB site didn't turn up a listing for this in the government stores. It's probably in the $16 range, because we paid $32 in the restaurant.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Favourite Chilean Wines

I was lucky enough to be invited to two trade tastings of Chilean wines before the big consumer event this week. To read my article on the event click here:

Here are some of my favourites...

Montes Alpha Chardonnay is creamy and complex with a hint of asparagus. This is a great wine to try with foods that are hard to pair with. The Alpha Syrah is herbaceous, meaty, earthy, and downright terrific. Their Cherub Syrah Rose is on its way to BC liquor stores, and will surely be enjoyed by the bucket load as a sipper and paired with just about anything. Light strawberry in colour it’s a bit off dry with crisp fruitiness. Between the great product, the trendiness of Roses, and the uber cool label this is going to be a major hit.

Anakena’s Single Vineyard Viognier is fabulous value at $17.50. It’s floral with orange blossom, tangerine, white pepper and a bit of stone. Their Riesling is developing a hint of petrol on the nose and has good acidity to balance its floral fruitiness. The late harvest Muscat-Viognier is honeyed and floral with dried apricot flavours.

When you’re ready for a special night try anything from Casa Marin. Their 2004 Laurel and 2005 Cipresses Sauvignon Blancs are big and complex with rich minerality, with the Laurel showing more fruit. The 2003 Litoral Pinot Noir was a bit floral on the nose with great red berry flavours with lots of cherry, and some earthiness. The 2003 Lo Arbaca Hills Pinot Noirs was silky smooth and smoky with intense earthiness and a very long finish.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Aberlour 10 yr Single Malt Scotch

By the mists of Loch Ness, I like this scotch.

When I was about 14 my mom started getting into single malt scotches that were heavy on the peat. Then, a few years ago, an elderly acquaintance of mine started to introduce me to all kinds of scotch. Everyone knew he was a scotch fan, and would bring him bottles as gifts, which he would keep in a filing cabinet in his office. No kidding - verrrry old school. Each time I'd walk by his office he'd offer me a thimble full (ok, a mini paper Dixie cup full) of whatever was open. There was no way to refuse, and that's how I got familiar with the lighter, more floral, honeyed styles. He's since passed away, and ever since then I can't pass up a chance to try a new scotch, since I kind of feel like I'm carrying on the schooling he began.

Vanilla, orange, spice (cloves and cinnamon) honey, peat and oak on the nose. This scotch is smooth and creamy with a long spicy-sweet finish

Cool is Hot - Cool Climate Australian Wines

Cool Is Hot... according to Wine Australia's trade seminar. It was led by local wine educator, Mark Davidson, and featured Ann-Marie Battista of Hardy’s, Gordon Debbie of Rathbone Wine Group, and Wayne Stehbens, senior winemaker from Katnook Estate.

While most of the wines we tried aren't listed, try looking for others from the same regions, producers or even the same wine but different vintage. Getting a wine listed is a lengthy process, so hopefully it's just a matter of time before these are on the shelf. Check out Skillogalee Riesling which is listed in BC, and Stonier Pinot Noir which is pending.

Tasting Notes

Hungerford Hill Pinot Gris 2006 - Victoria - $23
Terrific minerality with lemon and grapefruit flavours, phenomenal acidity, a hint of plastic on the nose, and a log citrus finish.

Skillogalee Riesling 2006 - Clare Valley, South Australia - $25 - AVAILABLE
This is a gorgeous wine, and a superior vintage to the 2005 presented at the Vancouver International Playhouse Wine Festival, and would age beautifully - for 10-15 years according to Wayne. A touch of petrol on the nose (this is considered very desireable in Rieslings) with crisp red apple and lots of tangy lemon. Clare Valley gets really dramatic temperature drops at night that keeps acidity levels high. Bring on the calamari.

To see notes on the previous vintage click here

For in-store availability click here

Bay of Tigress Sauvignon Blanc 2007 - Cola River/Hobart, Tasmania $25
Nearly water white with a tinge of green on the edge. There's ripe pink guava on the nose that turns greener and less ripe on the tongue - gooseberry, lime, and green apple dominates. It's ripe and tropical on the nose, and turns into something altogether very characteristic of Sauv Blanc on the palate. Wow!

Jacob's Creek Reeves Point Chadonnay 2004 - Padthway, South Australia - $36
Very smoky nose here, with nice acidity that balances toastiness with a clean crisp apple on the very long finish. Full bodied Chard lovers only please. The ABC'ers will be quaking in their oak fearing boots and running for the safe shelter of their Pinot Grigio.

Stonier Pinot Noir 2006 - Mornington Peninsula, Victoria - $30 - BC LISTING PENDING
It's very good news for BC that this is about to be listed. This is an approachable yest complex Pinot with a very berry nose of young red cherry. It's a bit floral with a bit of dried leaf, spice, pepper and strawberry.

Yering Station Reserve Pinot Noir 2005 - Yarra Valley, Victoria - $65
Earthy, smooth, and rich, with raspberry jam, strawberry, oak, sweet fresh raspberry and cedar. Delicious, but I might take 2 bottles of the Stonier and keep the change for cab fare home instead. Not that I have much choice, since only one is about to be listed ;-)

Katnook Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 - Coonawarra, South Australia - $35
Dense and dark, I'd say this is probably unfiltered. It's very gamey with the earthy scent of horse stables (clean ones) oak, loads of rich fruit,and something green and herbaceous like eucalyptus, and slightly chewy tannins. Terrific value for $35. Can someone please get this listed?

Mount Langi Ghiran "Langi" Shiraz 2004 - Grampians, Victoria - $45
This is so different from the hot climate Aussie Shiraz I'm used to. There's a bit of cooked fruit, with gripping tannins, spice, oak and nice acidity. A lean mean Shiraz machine from a 50 year old vineyard.

Nepenthe Zinfandel 2004 - Adelaide Hills, South Australia - $30
An Aussie Zin? Oh yeah. Bright fruity plum and berry flavours with spicy pepper. California who?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Chef Meets Grape

Chef Meets Grape is the BC Wine Institute's competition where top Vancouver chefs create appetizers paired with BC wines.

Details about Chef Meets Grape can be found at

BC Pinots & Red Blends

David Scholefield, a BC Wine Institute consultant, was pouring a special selection of BC reds at his table at the trade event, Colours, and later that evening at the consumer event, Chef Meets Grape.

Ranging in price from $17-$70, he had high praise for BC’s wines. "Compare these wines to New Zealand and Bordeaux and your realize that what we're doing is pretty special. The reason these wines are here is that there's a hell of a lot of this (hold the lower priced Inniskillin and Sumac Ridge) in this (holds up the more expensive Petale and Oculus)."

Here's a combination of what Scholefield poured at both events. There's not a loser in the bunch. Buy, buy, buy, and just let your wallet dictate how high you want to go. You'll be happy whether you you dip your toe in at $17 or splurge at $70.

Inniskillin Okanagan Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - Rich plum flavours and balanced tannins.
Sumac Ridge Black Sage Cab Franc 2005 - Pepper and baking spice with lots of fruit.
Le Vieux Pin Apogee 2004 - Blackberry jam, cassis and plum. Smooooth.
Mission Hill Oculus 2004 - Intense. A knockout vintage far surpassing the '03 this is best cellared for a few years... or at least decanted. I hope you bought it for $10 less during the pre-sale period, because it's $70 now.
There were two additional products poured, and references to them have been removed until vintages can be confirmed.

Pinot Noirs
International Sommelier Guild's DJ Kearny was pouring some special picks at her end of the same table, including six Pinot Noirs. If you have a chance, try as many wines of the same variety side by side as you can. There's really no better way to compare brands and styles, and to enjoy the range of what a grape can become. Ranging from Church & State's very light, fresh cherry, to earthy Quail's Gate, to cedary Mission Hill Reserve, to herbaceous Cedar Creek.

To see the post about the New Zealand Pinot Noir seminar that Scholefield co-hosted with winemaker, Allan Scott, click here

To read my article in Vendor Magazine about Averill Creek Winery's Pinot Noir click here

Best of BC Fall Wine Releases

If you haven't tried their Old Vines Riesling, you're seriously deprived. There's no other way to say it. Get to your VQA Store and pick some up as soon as you can. Made from the oldest Riesling vines in the province, it has structure and complexity that other BC Rieslings envy. The trade knows this wine well, and consumers are in the know as well, voting it Wine of the Evening at the Chef Meets Grape event two years in a row. Jane and Heidy from Tantalus pose below with their Old VInes Riesling, moments after learning it was the crowd favourite.

Chardonnay - It's a well balanced Chard like this that makes me convinced the ABC crowd (Anything But Chardonnay) just hasn't had good Chardonnay.

Cab-Merlot - Jammy dark and red fruit with balanced tannins.

Syrah - One of my favourites with pipe tobacco and a touch of bacon. For $20 there'll be a lot of this going down at our place this winter. If it's this good now, I can't wait to see what a few more months of bottle age brings out. Wow!

See Ya Later Ranch
Brut - I love this sparkling with its fresh green apple flavours. It makes me want to invite you over for brunch just so I can serve it. It's bottle aged Chardonnay with a dosage of Gewurztraminer. No clue what that means? No worries, just check out my post on sparklings called "Champagne or Plain Jane" at

BC Fall Release Wines

Earlier this week the BC Wine Institute hosted trade and consumer events to showcase their fall releases. What does that mean, "fall releases"? Basically, it's all the new vintages that have or are just about to hit the market.

This post is dedicated to the many interesting wines I enjoyed that are worth a look and a try, while my top few favourites can be found at A selection of killer reds is posted at

Quail's Gate

Chenin Blanc - Earthy and mushroomy with good acidity. A great change for those of you drinking other whites.

Rose - 100% Gamay Noir it has raspberry and barely ripe cherry. Why I didn't drink bucket loads of this on the patio this summer, I'll never know.

Merlot - Rich and a bit herbaceous with deep dark fruit.

Old Vines Foch - Intense with gripping tannins and a hint of menthol, this is a great wine even though it's lost the bacon fat characteristic I so enjoyed in previous vintages. Perhaps this will show again with more bottle age, as this complex red deserves.

Red Rooster

Pinot Gris - Fresh, juicy green pear.

Pinot Blanc - A degree of richness to balance out the citrus, Red Roosters wines have come a log way indeed.


Pink Freud - Sometimes a Rose is just a Rose, but this one has great body to accompany its loads of fruit. Yes, I like it for its body - go ahead and analyze that.

Chardonnay - Delicious. It's the Chardonnay that keeps on giving with rich toastiness and a long finish.

Merlot - Spiced plum, big tannins and a touch of liquorice.

Syrah - Another one that I am eager to try after more bottle age. There's definitely potential here - and a lot of white pepper.

Prospect Winery

Prospect is a Mission Hill brand destined to replace their Five Vineyards line, and they're just about to release a $40 Vidal Ice Wine. I'm sure they'll sell tons of it at that price point. It's golden yellow with honeyed peach and orange. I think it fills an important gap in the market for an affordable ice wine. For $10 more though I'd take the next step up, Mission Hill's Reserve Vidal Icewine that's copper coloured and has much richer caramelized flavours and mouthfeel.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Japanese Cocktails Featuring Shochu and Sake

Another of my articles has been published in Vendor Magazine, this time featuring Japanese inspired cocktails I discovered in downtown Vancouver at Hapa Izakaya and Shiru-Bay.