Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A Postcard from Penticton...

As you would expect, the one region best represented in my store in Vancouver are the wines of BC, the production of which is centred in the Okanagan Valley about 400km east. A glacially-carved valley strecting 150km, the Okagan Valley is the northern tip of the Sonoran Desert, and is as such Canada's hottest and driest region. Tempered by the cooling (and in winter, warming) effects of several lakes, the temperature is ideal for not only holiday-makers, but winemakers as well. What's surprising is that this is my first trip to the Okanagan Valley; I've spent more time in Spain or Chile than here.
Naturally, the 3-day visit is crammed with appointments to a few select wineries with spare time to fit in as many others as possible. Driving down Highway 97, signs reminding visitors of the Wine Route are a list of labels that grace my shelves: Tinhorn Creek, Stag's Hollow, Hester Creek, Nk'Mip, Burrowing Owl, Laughing Stock, Lake Breeze....just a handful of the 100 wineries in the area.
Nevertheless, there are still a few things beyond this carte des vins that now make more sense to me:
1) Road 13 Winery - there is actually a Road 13 (between Roads 12 andd 14), so the name of the winery was not just a gimick;
2) Peachland - a town located on the shores of Lake Okanagan, and guess what.....there's alot of peach treest here;
3) Summerland - with a daytime high of 32C on Monday, 23 April, I'm thinking it really is rather summery here compared to everywhere else in the Great White North;
4) Distances - as a Canadian, I should have a better sense of distance; Osoyoos (the hottest region, located on the American border) is not the 30 minutes away from Kelowna (the largest city in the region) I had expected: 130km of windy mountain roads separate these centres, covering a wide range of climatic, soil, and altitude variances, each of which has a significant viticultural impact;
5) Destination - having traveled the world in search of great wines and wine regions, I have to admit that the unique scenery, climate, and of course, wines, truly make it a destination worthy of any wordly wine lover.
Who knew all this was just down the road from home?
Apparently, alot of Canadians other than me!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Raider of the Lost Block...

As you may have read in my previous entry, I hosted an "Australian Drink-About" featuring wines I 'discovered' on my trip Down Under in February. Among these wines was a Hunter Valley Semillon from Tyrell's, labelled "Lost Block." The name comes from a certain vineyard that viticulturalists forgot about at harvest. By the time they remembered the block was not harvested, the longer "hang-time" on the vines created a wine slightly higher in sugar levels, and so the idea of a slightly fruitier Semillon was born.
Knowing this wine was in my line-up but unable to attend the event, one of my staff went left work for a quiet evening at home before opening the next day. With not much on the tele that night, he stumbled across an airing of the third installment of "Raiders of the Lost Arc" series (ie. the one with Sean Connery. I can't think of the subtitle, but I remember it had something to do with a quest for the Holy Grail, but that sounds too Monty Python-ish to be right...). 
After watching the tales of one Indiana Jones, teacher-by-day, drinker-by-night, quester-by-vacation time, said staff went to bed. As he trailed off to sleep, a sudden thought occured to him: "Egad! I work for the Indiana Jones of Wine!"
The logic of said thought, so I'm told, is as follows: I have my day job as Manager of a wine shop. By night (sometimes), I teach eager students and consumers on the ways of the wine world. Should a vacation present itself, I'm off to a far-flung corner of the world discovering new regions and bringing back treasured relics and rarities that rest collecting dust as museum artifacts in my cellar. That one of these is a "Lost Block" is but the lynch-pin in the thought process.
I am none but humbled that someone would think of me as an Indiana Jones of Wine (I don't wear Stetsons; the only whips I crack are on lazy staff, not on lazy-eyed marauders; I never named our dogs "Indiana"...). Suffice to say that the most adventurous thing that has happened to me on my wine travels is having the chain of my rented bicycle in Tokaj (Hungary) snap in half 15km from where it was rented, and having to walk said bicyle 3km to the nearest, non-anything-but-Hungarian-speaking village for help. The hardship of this tale ends with being welcomed at Chateau Dereszla where not only did they call for a new bicycle but take me on a tour of the cellars and offer multiple shots of sumptious wines.
Nonetheless, I think I like the image of being a structured businessman by day/world-savvy adventurer by night kind-of-guy. I would have to work on a name, though; Indiana is just too mid-western, so suggestions are most welcome.
Da-da-da-daaaaa, da-da-daaaaaaa.....

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

An Australian Drink-About...

10:30pm and I just got home from my most recent in-store tasting event: "An Australian Drink-About," highlighting 9 wineries from my recent trip Down Under as paired with 4 "Aussie-inspired" tapas. Selecting the wines was the fun part much (narrowing the choices to just 9 down was the only hard part), but deciding what constituted "Australian Tapas" was, I admit, more of a challenge. Not that Australia is lacking in good cuisine (Sydney and Melbourne can take on any city in the world for foodies), but outside of shrimp-on-the-barbie, kangaroo, and pavlova (which could also be Kiwi) nothing really stands out to me as quintessentially Australian. Still, I think I managed to pull off a few fun surprises and found appropriate wine pairings for each.
First, "Savoury Pikelets." A pikelet is a mini-pancake served at tea that was brought to Australia by English immigrants. To pair with the Hunter Valley Semillon and Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc (FYI: those are regions, not brands with colourful kanagroos), I took out the sugar and added chopped zucchini, green onions, garlic, and corn to the batter, completed by a green apple and rosemary chutney (a fancy way of saying "homemade apple sauce). The vegetal notes of the zucchini and green onions are a natural pair to the naturally herbaceous tones of the wines; the racing acidity of each to match the green apple and cut through the weight of the batter; and the "waxy" texture of corn is roughly equivalent to the "waxy" notes often associated with Semillon.
Next, "Indonesion-Prawns-on-the-Barbie." It is worth noting here that no self-respecting Aussie outside of Paul Hogan would ever call these critters "shrimp;" any true bloke or sheila knows they are "prawns," and by golly do Aussies love their prawns! When I worked at the Skyline in Queenstown, you knew a large group of Aussies were in the restaurant when you had troubles keeping up on the prawns on the buffet (likewise could be said of Koreans and oysters, but no Aussie would dare take a whole platter intended for the entire restaurant to their table as the Koreans tended to do). To give it my own twist, however, I marinated the prawns in an Indonesian-inspired "Sambal Udang"; kaffir lime, lemongrass, galangal, chili, ginger, and most important, fresh lime juice. Lime-juice flavours are the trademark of Australian Riesling (especially from the Eden Valley or Clare Valley), so the Peter Lehman Wigan Reserve 2005 was the ideal match for these prawns.
Finally, I felt the evening needed a red-meat protein, but Canada is rather lacking in access to kangaroo or emu. So what to do? I dug deep in my memory bank and remembered that a friend's family not only raised dairy cattle but once had ostriches on the farm, so why not do ostrich? Pricy (C$60/kg), but incredibly fresh and tender. Marinating the loins overnight in wine vinegar, red wine, rosemary, salt, black pepper, and olive oil helped reduce the gamey-ness of the ostrich, but grilled to medium-rare helped preserve the natural flavours of the meat. As I was pairing the ostrich with a flight of Shiraz (one each from Langhorne Creek, Barossa Valley, and McLaren Vale), I made a sauce to reflect the flavours often associated with Australian Shiraz: black pepper, rosemary (a less pungent eucalypt, if you will), red wine, and smoked blueberries. Drizzle this sauce over your thinly-sliced ostrich and you will have, I promise, an awesome Aussie-inspired dinner! (well, at least from my prespective!)

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Ham of God?...

Whether you believe in His ultimate sacrifice to wash away our sins or the perfect long weekend to celebrate spring and start your gardening, Easter Weekend is up there with Christmas and Thanksgiving as a get-together with family and/or friends over a traditional meal.  As it comes to wine retail, it is a big weekend for people looking for the perfect wine to serve with their dinner. What interests me is that there is a clear divide over which is the classic Easter centrepiece protein: lamb or ham.
Unlike Thanksgiving (where turkey is the clear favourite) or Christmas (again, turkey is the general rule but ham and goose do appear on some tables), Easter "tradition" is split down the middle.  In a quick survey of both staff and customers at our store, there was a definate split over which is the prefered meat, and advocates for one or the other were equally passionate for why one and why not the other.  In recommending a wine for the table, however, be it lamb or ham the answer is still an easy one: Pinot Noir, especially one from Central Otago or Oregon. Light bodied with subtle fruit and easy tannin structure, the Pinot Noir is an easy crowd pleaser as it is light and approachable for fans of white wines and still rich enough for fans of reds.
In my opinion, lamb is the meat of Easter.  Fair enough that I don't eat pork, but even before I gave up the swine I still link Easter with a slow-roasted, rosemary-and-thyme crusted leg of lamb.  The reason for this is, surprisingly, Biblical. The way I see it is 2000 years ago in pastoral Palestine, lamb and goats were the protein staple of the locals, and I highly suspect that such a meat featured on the table of the Last Supper (I have no proof of this at my disposal, but I also suspect much wine was also served). To top things off, if I remember correctly, as a result of His sacrifice Jesus is refered to as the "Lamb of God." Therefore, should it not be in Judeo-Christian tradition that lamb be served on the day to celebrate His ascent to Heaven? I may be wrong on this point too, but I don't recall Jesus ever being refered to as the "Ham of God."
Amen to roast lamb and Pinot Noir!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

I'se the Buble...

This week has been a busy week leading up to Passover. That sounds like an odd statement coming from somone who is baptised Catholic but once thought he was Muslim but then realised the "no wine" thing was just not going to work out so instead does the doesn't-eat-pork-thing. Nonetheless, the store is in the heart of a community that doesn't eat pork either (one of my staff put up a "pairs well with ham!" sign by a Kosher Riesling, but it took a Gentile to notice), which means Rosh Hashanah, Hannukah, and Passover are particularly busy for our little shop. As such, my little shop has a surprisingly big Israeli/Kosher wine section, which is about as big as the Portuguese area. This keeps our Kosher consumers content, and I always like to look for what's new to the limited selection of Kosher products in the province.

My most recent addition is one that is, quite easily, the most random wine I have ever come across. As you can guess, Kosher wines are a specialty of Israel, but we also carry decent examples from France, Argentina, and Chile.  I even had a Kosher Pinot Noir while in the Rheingau (Germany). That particular wine impressed me that Kosher wine can indeed be made anywhere, but this recent wine takes the cake: the Rodrigues Kosher Blueberry Wine from.......Newfoundland.

Newfoundland? Funny thing (an expression none too overused when refering to anything pertaining to The Rock) is that I recall hearing that my grandfather used to either make or drink fruit-based wines from the barren terroir that is Newfoundland; that I had a wine made from blueberries is not too surprising. Actually, it's rather like a simple, juicy merlot: thick skins similar to those of grapes give blueberry wines a decent tannin structure.  But Kosher? In Newfoundland? And what's with the Iberian nomenclature? Apparently, the 's' at the end of Rodrigues (as opposed to a 'z') indicates Jewish heritage; a sort of Rodrigostein of Spain or Rodrigoberg of Portugal. If there was ever a society in Canada to declare itself distinct, I think the Hispanic Jews of Newfoundland damn well earn their right to do so.

Although I have only once been to Newfoundland (ancestral home to my dad's family), I don't recall much of a Jewish-thing going on there. I would imagine that kitchen party would be pretty unique; an  I'se the B'ye meets Nagila Hava as patrons kiss the gefilte cod.

And here's the fun part: in 2001, Rodrigues Winery became the first winery in Canada to gain the OUD international standard of Kosher for Passover.

Passover the Blueberry Wine indeed....followed by a chaser of Screech. Li Khaim, b'ye!