Monday, January 24, 2011

Introducing Cachet Wines

What were you doing on September 24, 2010? If the answer wasn't "enjoying a lovely glass of Grenache" then you likely missed International Grenache Day altogether or, perhaps, you simply didn't partake in the celebration of one of the world's most over-looked grapes due to the limited selection of Canadian wines with Grenache in the lead or even amongst the blend. Stag's Hollow Winery has a new line of exceptional wines that will solve this problem for BC and Alberta residents in preparation of the 2011 Grenache-lauding festivities.

The winery, based in Okanagan Falls, has given winemaker Dwight Sick full creative freedom to express his inner Spanish and Rhone Valley-self in the form of two small lot wines that have been released under the branding of Cachet Wines. Each release, and every subsequent release, will be identified numerically.

I had the pleasure of barrel sampling the first two releases in October but have yet to taste the finished product, now bottled and available directly from Stag's Hollow here.

2008 Limited Edition No. 1 - $49.90
A "Super-Duero", if you will, blend of 40% Tempranillo, 35% Merlot, 20% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. A fine example of constructing a unique taste out of different components and techniques. Showed fairly 'butch' in the barrel (American Oak), yet had elements of refinement and was oh-so tasty! 250 half-cases available (6X750ml).

2009 Limited Edition No. 2 - $49.90
A blend of 50% Grenache, 46% Syrah, 3% Viognier and 1% Marsanne is Dwight Sick's take on the many blends on offer in the Southern Rhone. A special wine with layers of complex aromas and flavours that delivers wide-ranging, Carmenere-like food pairing options. There's simply nothing else like it on the market today, a true original. Restaurants may be stocking up so you'll have to act quickly if you want a fantastic, Canadian-grown wine for the next International Grenache Day. Only 80 half-cases available (6X750ml).
 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

They grow grapes in Lillooet?

Yes, they do. However, with the inaugural release from Lillooet-based Fort Berens Estate Winery we aren't yet able to judge the quality, as the grapes for the wines have been sourced from the Okanagan Valley. The reasons are threefold: one, the youthful vines planted in the Fraser Canyon, although promising, are not yet producing up to the quality the winery desires. Two, using grapes from established vines allows the winery to showcase and communicate their future house style. Three, the winery is able to enter the market early and generate some revenue.

The winery has released 6 wines to market which are designed to preview the house style and which ultimately, showcase the skill of winemaker (and co-proprietor) Heleen Pannekoek, rather than the terroir of Lillooet. We will have to wait until next year to taste any wines produced from their estate vineyard site.

2008 Pinot Noir - $22
A winner. The nose offers complex aromas of dark cherry, raspberry, vanilla and forest funk with loads of allspice and earth notes. Savoury earth and oak characters take a starring role on the bone-dry palate with supple tannins and red fruits supporting. Well balanced with food-friendly, mouth-watering acidity and a long finish with lingering sweet spice.
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2008 Cabernet Franc - $25
A subtle nose of dark fruits, coffee grinds, tomato stock and aromatic flower aromas. Bone-dry and smoky-textured on the palate, yet decently balanced by juicy, dark berries and savoury oak. The acid kick would benefit from touch more residual sugar to truly stand-alone as a sipping wine, however, the balance as is makes for an excellent food-pairing wine.
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2009 Chardonnay - $18
There are individual elements of this wine that are compelling, but the complete package left me a little wanting. This Chardonnay shows that the winemaker understands the varietal and has something to say via the finished product. Exactly what that is will be much clearer to understand with future releases made from the estate grown grapes in Lillooet.
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2008 Meritage - $28
A gorgeous nose of delicate dark fruit, blueberry pie, spice and aromatic flower aromas is followed by a dry, fruity palate of similar flavours within a supportive framing of toasted oak. An easy-drinking, but far from "simple", wine which pairs well with food but can also be enjoyed on its own.
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2009 Rose - $18
A dry rosé whose light-cranberry hue hints at the prominent tart fruit at the core of the flavour profile. Light in body and complexity but well balanced and easy-drinking with a touch of residual sugar and a tart, moderate finish.
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2009 Late Harvest Riesling - $20
Packaged and presented as a desert wine, however, this lovely sipping wine reminds one more of a Spätlese from the Rheingau of Germany and should be treated as such when pairing with food. Well balanced with moderate sweetness offset by pineapple acidity.
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As a whole, this inaugural release is an excellent first effort with three well above-average wines showcasing the winemaking talent of the team. Having chosen to plant Pinot Noir in the home vineyard, we will know, soon enough, the character of the Lillooet terroir once the vines begin producing usable fruit as no other grape translates the nuance and distinct qualities of the land quite like the heartbreak grape. I look forward to discovering this new region's character as Fort Berens Estate Winery transitions into full production over the next two years.

The wines can be purchased from the winery direct (click here) or via your local VQA store.
 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2011

Friday, January 7, 2011

4 Tips to Throwing the Perfect Wine Party

Here’s a familiar scenario, I know, I’ve lived it. You’re a wine geek. Simple. Concise. But you are anything but socially inept. In fact, you have lots of friends and family, and many of them like, no, LOVE wine – nearly as much as you do. You think to yourself, “Self! Let’s throw a wine party.” And why not? It’s a great way to expand your own and your guests’ knowledge of wine. You may even turn a few of your on-the-fence wine drinking friends into fully-fledged winos. One can hope. Follow these 4 tips to hosting the perfect wine party and you may succeed.

1. Pick a Theme

The process of choosing a theme for your party may, at first, feel a little juvenile like you’re channeling your inner 8-year-old-child, but it can also be a lot of fun. Personally, I like to start with a name and move on from there. Whether it’s “Zin-appaloosa” or “Merlot Madness” or simply a “Pinot Party”, the title of your get-together helps frame everything you’ll need from the perfect food pairings to the appropriate glassware and everything in between. Don’t underestimate the inspiration that can be found in the creation of gracefully strung together and made-up words.

A few more suggested themes:
“Single White Varietal”
“Münster Mass”

2. Pick a Price Range

Announcing your cleverly constructed theme name is easy as you’re eager to show-off your well-earned wit to your friends – you haven’t spent hours watching the complete Woody Allen back catalog for nothing. On the other hand, telling folks how much to spend can be tricky, but ultimately you’ll be better-off doing so. Nobody wants to be the jerk that brings a $10 “White Burgundy” to a “Beaune Beauties” party because you didn’t know how much everyone else would likely be spending. Likewise, you may not feel like sharing your d’Arenberg 2006 The Dead Arm Shiraz when everyone shows-up with a collection of Yellow Tail offerings to your “Awesome Aussies” party. Better to set the expected standard, clearly, up-front.

You know your friends and family, so pick a price range that they will feel comfortable with and stick to. Don’t feel bad about stretching the budget a little as your guests will be rewarded, assuming everyone steps up. Offer suggestions and be specific if your theme requires it.

3. Keep the Alcohol in Check

For a recent “Hoo-rah for Syrah!” party we had selected varietal friendly nibblies and cheeses to keep our guests from “peaking” too early. Providing spittoons, although unseemly to some, can also help prolong the insightful conversation and buys you a few hours before the group intelligence dissolves and someone uses the proverbial “I get a distinct aroma of fermented grapes” joke. Although classic, it is a strong litmus test of the collective blood-alcohol level.

Make sure your guests have a safe ride home and be prepared for overnighters. Send everyone off with a bottle of Gatorade to abate the cursing of your very existence the next day.

4. Don't Forget the "Party" in Wine Party

Unless all of your friends are big wine geeks as you are, don’t forget it’s a party first! Don’t overdo it with talk about the presumed Brix levels at harvest or the use of Hungarian oak during “élevage”. Stick to the basics and don’t correct people. If one of your guests smell “rain” don’t interject with the meaning and correct pronunciation of the word “Petrichor” – you’ll look like a pompous ass and the wine world has enough of them. Wine should be enjoyed communally, not dictatorially. The folks whom you are hoping to turn from “wine likers” into “wine lovers” will be turned off and may return to buying Baby Duck or Black Tower – and it will be YOUR FAULT!

Follow these tips and you’ll have a blast. There’s really nothing better than having loved-ones bring you lots of good wine to open and enjoy.
 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2011