Archive for August, 2013


August 30, 2013

I decided to blog this week a great dinner we made for our friends last weekend. They are going to Paris for a month in late October, so I decided to use that as an excuse to cook some classic French dishes – and pull out some (hopefully) great French wines from my cellar.

We started off with goat cheese tartines, so I chose a French sparkling wine – a 2007 Blanc de Blanc Monmousseau by Cuvee JM from Touraine. At about $20, it is a good value substitute for Champagne, being dry, with toasty, yeasty citrus and tiny bubbles.

Next I made a Provencal classic – Soup Pistou. This French bean and vegetable soup is easy to make and, with a couple of dollops of basil pesto on top, a true rustic treat!

To try and give our friends a sense of the different kinds of wines they might experience, I pulled out two whites to have with the dish (neither from the south of France, as I am not a big fan of their white wines). The first was a 2006 Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume by William Fevre. It was highly rated, with recommendations it would age well.

What a disappointment when the wine proved to be off – either corked or too old! Not sure, but we quickly moved on to the next wine.

It was from Alsace, the 2000 Tokay Pinot Gris Furstentum by Domaine Albert Mann and…wow! A beauty! Golden yellow, a beautiful nose of sweet ripe tropical fruit, big body and fruit that was so ripe that I seemed sweet, although the wine finished dry. Our guests were quite impressed.

Next on to the main course – slow roasted duck with lentils and haricots verts. The wines chosen were a 1990 Chateauneuf du Pape from Le Vieux Donjon (one of my favourite Chateauneuf producers, and the last bottle from this great vintage) and a 2001 Savigny-Les-Beaune Vieilles Vignes by Domaine Doudet-Naudin.

I was a bit worried about the Chateauneuf; it was very highly rated (95 by Parker), but nearing the end of its drinkability range, and with the experience of the Chablis…I even pulled out a 1999 of the same producer in case there was a problem. But it was the exact opposite! The wine was amazing, classic old CHP, one of the best I have ever had, with garrigue, dried cherries, even some soft tannins. It could easily have lasted another couple of years. Our guests were amazed at this one.

After trying it, I thought that the Burgundy would pale in comparison. Doudet-Naudin is one of my favourite producers, as they make good value (for Burgundy) wines that age well. But compared to the CHP…but what a great surprise! In addition to being in great shape itself, the Savigny more than held its own for its style, with the earthy, slightly spicy red cherries still there and balancing the wood.

We had some of both reds left over for dessert – a chocolate pate, along with a selection of cheeses – and I received another surprise. The Savigny went really well with the chocolate and the Roquefort! No need to open the Banyuls I had standing by!

We talked about their trip to come, ours from 2006 and – combined with the food and wine – it did feel a bit like being in Paris. I’m still jealous they are going, but at least we got to kind of share it for a little while!


Spain Makes a Come Back at Hart House Restaurant Dinner!

August 23, 2013

It’s nice to get a pleasant wine surprise, especially when you really weren’t expecting much!

In my case it was Spanish wines. Anyone who reads this blog or my Twitter feed knows that I have been increasingly disappointed by Spain over the last few years. Whether it is a change in style or my tastes (or both), most Spanish wines have been coming off as too woody and herbal for me — even the Rioja Reservas I used to love so much. As a result, I rarely buy them to drink or put in my cellar anymore, and the ‘Spanish’ space in the cellar is getting smaller and smaller.

But that may have all changed as of a dinner at Hart House Restaurant in Burnaby, BC on Wednesday. The theme was ‘Spain’, and we (my wife and I) were going more for the food than the wine, based on our recent experience at a Provence dinner (although the wine there was also very good).

The format of these dinners is a wine tasting from 6 – 7, followed by a gourmet buffet dinner from 7 onward — all for $55 a head (plus any wine you want with dinner). It is an amazing deal and, no, ‘gourmet buffet’ is not an oxymoron – how do options like gazpacho, mackerel, paella and roast leg of lamb sound? The food was very good, served family style outside in a beautiful setting.

So we were going for the food…as for the wine, well, I thought a few glasses of Cava (which my wife loves), maybe a half decent Rioja…and that would be it.

Boy was I wrong!

The two Cavas were basic but good values — the NV Segura Viudas Brut Rose and Codorniu Classico Brut. Nice bubbles to get the night started, and meeting expectations.

Then there were a few Roses, very dry, a bit tart, certainly no challenge to Provence or even BC.

Next up were the whites and, as expected, they were nothing to write home about. A couple of Ruedas were okay, especially the ’11 Basa by Rodriguez, but at about $20 retail ($42 on the wine list), I couldn’t say it was worth it.

All that was left was reds…so I took a deep breath and headed over to the first table. And…wow!!!

First up was a 2005 Rioja Reserva from Lopez de Haro. I sniffed — hmm, nice vanilla and currants! But I expected wood and herbs to follow in the mouth — but nope! More vanilla covered ripe black currants, with dusty tannins! It could have been a mid-level California Cabernet! And about $25 retail ($46 on the list). A really nice wine!

They had another red wine, so I tried that too… it tasted younger, but maybe even better! When the guy told me it was Garnacha, I just about fell over…it tasted like a Cotes du Rhone! Which, when he showed me where it came from (the northeast corner of Spain, almost on the French border), made sense. The wine, by the way, was the 2011 Proyecto Garnachas Moncayo (from Ribera del Queiles). And it retails for about $25 as well.

And so it went! Another very nice Rioja Reserva (2005 from Beronia), a toned down version of the Los Rocas Garnacha…and then the star of the night! A 2010 named Pasion del Bobal from Utiel-Requena. It was amazing – big, ripe and smooth! Afterwards I found out Parker gave a previous vintage 91 Points, and I can see why! We both had a glass at dinner.

As we were heading home, I was trying to decide what the night’s wine experience meant.

That I should go back to tasting Spanish reds was the obvious learning. But perhaps more importantly, the lesson might be never to give up completely on a wine!


To VQA or not VQA – is that the Question?

August 15, 2013

Back from a week or so off, and during that time I read an interesting article in one of the newspapers about the sale of VQA wines in BC, which are apparently declining. For those outside the province, VQA stands for Vintners Quality Alliance, and is a program that was brought in a number of years ago to increase the standards of wine in Canada. There are strict regulations involved in making a “VQA” wine, as well as costs to the wineries to participate.

The story was more about the costs and whether they were worth it…but I am not going to get into that! Instead, I thought I would look at what I consider to be the best BC wines and see which are VQA and which aren’t. That might give some indication about whether VQA and quality go hand in hand.

When I wrote them all down, the results were a bit amazing!

My favorite overall winery – La Frenz – doesn’t make any VQA wines – white, red, rose or sweet (all 18 of them). And, as anyone who reads this blog knows, I think they make both the highest quality and best value wines in BC.

When it comes to Pinot Noir, three of my favorites – Blue Mountain Reserve, Kettle Valley Hayman and Kettle Valley – are also not VQA, and I consider them to be the best Pinots in BC. However, three relative newcomers – Eau Vivre from the Similkameen Valley, Howling Bluff from Naramata and Averill Creek from Vancouver Island, are all VQA (with the wines of the first two being multiple Lieutenant Governor Award Winners).

A similar situation exists for Syrah. My favourite Syrah – from Nichol Vineyards – isn’t VQA. But other very good Syrahs from the Okanagan (Burrowing Owl, Church and State, Cassini Cellars, Hillside, Marichel and Moon Curser) are VQA, as is the one from Mt. Lehman in Abbotsford.

Finally, while La Frenz’s white wines are not VQA, many others I consider to be very good are, including the Semillon/Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris from Howling Bluff, the Chardonnay from Cassini Cellars, the “Afraid of the Dark” Rhone blend from Moon Curser and the Viognier from Mt. Lehman.

So what does this tell us about the relationship between quality and the VQA designation?

Well, I can’t see anything conclusive here; quality can be found on both sides of the argument. It does seem interesting, however, that what I consider to be the absolute best wines in BC – the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and white wines from La Frenz; Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir; Hayman and Reserve Pinot Noir from Kettle Valley; and Syrah from Nichol – are not VQA. So that certainly seems to point to the fact that you don’t need to be VQA to be of the highest quality!

Conversely, it also seems to point out that VQA should not be seen as some kind of guarantee of a great wine.

So my final advice on this is to taste and make up your mind – and not let any designation influence what you think is good!