DECADENT TAYLOR FLADGATE SINGLE HARVEST TAWNY PORTS

I don't remember much wine around as a child, with the major exception of Port. At Christmas or special suppers, I have vivid memories of the sweet, dark, red wine that I might have a sip of after pleading with my Dad.

In the years since, I've always kept Port in the house, and not just for the holidays. This inherited fondness might also have been the repeated references to laying down wine in JRR Tolkien.

My first true 'investment' bottles bought to start a wine collection were Vintage Port, and I continue to add several more a year with the goal of starting to open them in a decade or so. Tawny Port, which spends much more time mellowing in cask, is a particular favourite, with almost universal appeal: smooth, with caramel and spice flavours. If you're a dinner guest at my home, you're being offered Port at the end of the meal!

So, it was with particular excitement that I was invited to taste a selection of Taylor Fladgate single harvest tawnies from the vintages 1964 through 1967. Think of what was happening in the world 50 years ago, and consider that all this time these wines have been alive, just waiting to be enjoyed. 

The tasting room, holding a table decked with variously hued amber wines, was filled with Port perfume, reminiscent of a spice cake baking in the oven.

The following are my tasting notes, but first I'd like to mention, all were delicious and I'd be happy to purchase any of them even at their premium price point - they are well worth the money and would make excellent gifts. How many 50 year old wines can you buy that offer this kind of value... not many. 

Taylor Faldgate Very Old Single Harvest Port 1966.jpg

Taylor Fladgate 1964 Single Harvest Port - $256

Remarkably intense bouquet. Cognac-like nose. Fig, vanilla, plum, sweet spice, bright, lifted, wow. Crème caramel, cedar. Striking show up front.

Taylor Fladgate 1965 Single Harvest Port - $260

Orange tawny hue. Corsican wildflower honey, soft, feminine, seductive. Tobacco, marzipan. Opens up nicely.

Taylor Fladgate 1966 Single Harvest Port - $260

Deep amber brown. Cigar box, caramel, orange peel, pomander, roast coffee and hazelnut. Masculine, cologne-like complexity. Surprising whiff of jasmine and honeysuckle. A full rounded nose, complete.

Taylor Fladgate 1967 Single Harvest Port - $260

Deepest tawny colour. Sweet on the nose, with spicebox, cigar, clove; a robust presence on the palate. Vibrant orange and zest notes, sultanas, allspice, incense. Quiet power and confidence. 

 Casks of aging Port biding their time

Casks of aging Port biding their time

Port Serving Tips

~ Ideally your Port is lightly chilled. 15 minutes in the fridge should do the trick.

~ Can you save some for later once you open the bottle? As a rule, older vintage Port is good for a few days after being opened, but best to drink it in one sitting. More sturdy recent vintages from the 2000's+ will last a week or so before fading. Tawnies are already oxidised so they hold up better, a pleasing 6 months or so after opening. Late Bottled Vintage or Ruby styles are good for 8-12 weeks before they lose their freshness.

~ Let your fancy Ports have a little room to breathe before enjoying. Give your wine an hour or so to open up before tasting. I don't make a fuss about doing this with White, Ruby, LBV, or 10/20 year olds.

~ The more the merrier. Port isn't exactly low alcohol, so explore half bottle formats for small dinner parties, or serve them to a large or appreciative group. Tawnies are an exception, as they're quite long lived once opened. I keep several formats of tawny Port on hand (10 year, 20 year, etc), to serve at the end of meals. If I were to serve one of these Single Harvest Tawnies, I'd plan a special dessert to pair with it: a selection of cheeses (Manchego, Stilton, Brie de Meaux), plus something sweet like caramel spice cake with crème Anglaise.

The History of Port by TF

Taylor's has a great selection of videos about Port on their Youtube channel.

Tidbits In The World of Port & TF

We had the pleasure of hearing from Jorge Ramos, Sales & Marketing Manager for the Fladgate Partnership (which owns TF, Croft, & Fonseca) at the tasting. Here are some tidbits for those interested in learning more about Port and TF:

  • Did you know that the Late-Bottled Vintage category was invented for the Canadian market? Apparently it was especially produced for the restaurant trade, who wanted the flavour profile of Vintage Port but with no need for further aging, ie: ready to sell and drink right away. The first vintage offered was 1965, for sale in 1970.

  • Taylor Fladgate's house style aims for a 'balanced' and consistent flavour profile. These Single Harvest Tawnies, however, are issued especially to emphasize varietal character.

  • Taylor's is the only British Port house never to be bought or sold! In 2001, it re-purchased Croft (which had been theirs previously until 1865 when it had been sold off). It's said to have one of the largest reserves of very old cask aged Ports of any house.
  • Technically, a '50 year old' Tawny Port is not allowed, so these Single Harvest Tawnies were issued vintage dated. That's why you'll see 10-20-30-40 but not 50 on shelves. PS: technically, the name for a vintage dated tawny is a Colheita

  • The best Ports TF makes are still foot trodden in granite lagares (stone troughs), not mechanically/piston trodden. This very old fashioned but gentle technique is said to produce the finest results.
  • Ports are made from a blend of 40 or so native Portuguese grapes, including: Touriga Nacional (adds concentrated dark fruit flavour and tannins), Tinta Amarela (finess and balance), and Tinto Cão (acidity, ageability), among others. Older plantings have a mix of varieties in the field, but new vineyards are uniformly planted by varietal.

  • New plantings in the Douro are using laser guided trenching to create a 7 degree angled slope to preserve water. Viticultural issues in the area are erosion and weed control, so cover crops like clover are being used.

  • Tawnies aging in cask lose about 3% of their volume each year as they rest in 600 litre neutral oak barrels.
  • Port spirit can come from anywhere, it's not required to be from Portugal. There's been a big improvement in the quality of brandy used in recent decades. 

  • When a large order comes in to TF, their master blenders produce a batch on demand. So, if a liquor board or large store sends in a request for 20 Year, it's made to order!
  • Canadian customers can keep their eyes out for a special Confederation edition of the label of the 1967, celebrating our 150th birthday. There's also an 1863 Very Old Tawny on the market, for the spectacular price of $3,650CAD!

All images/video courtesy of Taylor Fladgate. Thank you to Pacific Wine & Spirits for the opportunity to taste these Single Harvest Ports.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED AT MISSION HILL FAMILY ESTATE?

Winery Visits: Daily 9:30-7

Location: 1730 Mission Hill Rd, West Kelowna

Website: www.missionhillwinery.com

Phone: 250-768-7611

Located in West Kelowna, with a commanding view over Okanagan Lake, this iconic winery is a place of pilgrimage for wine lovers touring the Okanagan, its soaring Tuscan profile and bell tower visible from miles away.

If you'll be visiting the area, Mission Hill is a benchmark setter, and you'll want to have lunch on the Terrace just for the view, or catch a concert in the grass-stepped amphitheatre; the extensive cellars make it a memorable place to take a tour, where you can spot the antique drinking cups, admire the barrel-vaulted ceilings and dramatic lighting, and peek into the winemaking area to see a wide variety of fermentation vessels: the Italian amphorae, concrete eggs, and big German oak tanks, bubbling away with the many wines produced here.

 Behold: the Mission Hill bat cave!

Behold: the Mission Hill bat cave!

 Mission Hill's Chief Winemaker Darryl Brooker

Mission Hill's Chief Winemaker Darryl Brooker

Owner Anthony von Mandl made a fortune with Mike's Hard Lemonade, and used the considerable funds to build Mission Hill. In 2014, Kelowna's CedarCreek Estate Winery was purchased, becoming part of the von Mandl Family Estates, joining Mark Anthony Wine Merchants, along with CheckMate Artisanal Winery (focused on ultra premium small lot wines) later in 2015. 

Darryl Brooker, who was Chief Winemaker at CedarCreek, took over winemaking from John Simes as of the 2015 Mission Hill vintage, after assisting with the 2013 and 2014 blending. Darryl has worked all over the world, including Villa Maria Estate in New Zealand, recognized as a leader in sustainable wine production.  John is now in charge of viticulture for all the von Mandl properties.

According to Darryl, he's excited by the wines produced in "what may prove to be the best harvests ever in British Columbia from 2013 to 2015". You heard it here, it's time to stock the cellars!

 The impressive entry to Mission Hill winery

The impressive entry to Mission Hill winery

Being one of the largest producers in the province, it might be assumed that this is a bulk wine operation, but that's far from the case. I'm very impressed by Darryl and Mission Hill's commitment to improving farming techniques and sustainability, along with making small lot and site specific wines. They're one of the first BC wineries to use drones to map vigour (very cool), by flying over vineyards to measure how the vines are growing.

They're now releasing their first organic Merlot, which comes from a special spot in Oliver. The 2013 Terroir Collection Whispering Hill Organic Merlot, is not just grown in a certified organic vineyard, but also meets Canada's tricky organic wine production rules.

If such a large company is willing to make a commitment in moving to biodynamic and organic production, I say kudos to them.

 A view over Okanagan Lake as twilight turns the sky violet 

A view over Okanagan Lake as twilight turns the sky violet 

Mission Hill makes wine in several ranges, tasted below are wines in the following categories:

Terroir: Very premium, made with the top 3% of their estate grown fruit in small lots $$$$.

Reserve: Well made wines from select vineyards and special sites, in limited quantities. Offering a good balance of quality and cost. $$

Five Vineyards: Larger production wines and keenly priced, from the five Okanagan Mission Hill vineyards, offering full flavour and surprisingly good value for money! Look out for the appealing new redesign on the labels in shades of blue and rose. $

2013 Mission Hill Family Estate Whispering Hill Organic Merlot

Picking up the bottle, I'm struck by the substantial weight, and the sense of craft in the embossed golden crest, and sepia vineyard photo. Being part of the Terroir series, it's noted up front that only 19 barrels were produced, and there's a nice level of detail on the back label about the making of the wine including site, clone, and winemaker (John Simes).

A romantic deep garnet red shade, with notes of mocha cocoa out of the glass, along with spiced plums. On the palate, soft and full with dense yet fine tannins. Cocoa with dried mint, and black cherry in the background. The glass is pleading with me for a food pairing: cherry sauced duck, Dijon mustard sauteed mushrooms, or slivers of crumbly Manchego cheese. PS: this wine opened up quite a bit after two hours of decanting, and gained an added dimension of cherry and plum fruit.

2015 Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Limited Edition Viognier

An unctuous and mouthcoating wine, delightfully textured, with honeysuckle, baking spices and ripest peach (reminding me of sneaking a slice of peach from the pie dish). Has a hint of sweetness, but balanced.

2015 Mission Hill Family Estate Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio

You had me at hello, lemon citrusy nose. A very zesty Mandarin orange flavour is joined by honeyed pear at first sip. Fuller bodied, this might be heading in to richer Pinot Gris territory. A little heat on the finish at 14% ABV. Delivers lots of flavour and very good value for money. 

2015 Mission Hill Family Estate Five Vineyards Rosé

A vivid watermelon pink hue, and strawberry nose. It might be the power of suggestion, but the flavour is decidedly watermelon, zingy, with red cherry and a snippet of red rose. Dry, but generous. Could stand up to roast chicken, but best shared with friends at a Friday sunset.

 

All images courtesy of Mission Hill Family Estate. Wines samples were provided by Mission Hill. Please see my Sample Policy for more information. Cheers!

VINHO VERDE RISING

 Mists in Melgaco, Minho 

Mists in Melgaco, Minho 

The white wines of Vinho Verde have a reputation: they're spritzy, light, and refreshing. But lately, there's been rising interest in the wine world as quality improves. 

If you've been looking for a wine to while away the Summer heat, say hello to 'veen-o vaird'. Or, 'veen-o vair-day', if you prefer. In the glass, this lower alcohol wine can be shockingly zesty and flavourful with lime, melon, kiwi, and a uniquely juicy salinity. Just remember that some wines are meant to be enjoyed in their youth, and this is one of them.

 Green as far as the eye can see

Green as far as the eye can see

The vines are located in the far northwest of Portugal on the Atlantic coast, a surprisingly mild and verdant area with plenty of rain and lush river valleys.

You might see VV labelled on the bottle as Vinho Verde DO (for Denomination of Origin) or Minho GI (for Geographical Indication).

 The wine regions of Portugal. Got them all? Good

The wine regions of Portugal. Got them all? Good

This is a hotspot for native grapes, some with challenging names, which helps to explain why we don't often hear about them. Wines are often blends of several grapes, but increasingly producers are releasing 100% varietal wines. Some white grapes you'll encounter are: Alvarinho (kin to Spain's Albarino; intense aroma, complex, floral), Arinto (minerality, vibrant acidity), Loureiro (meaning 'laurel leaf'; similarly floral nose to Gewurz), and Trajadura (peach, lower acidity, full bodied, adds weight to blends).

 Lindoso Espigueiro, Portugal

Lindoso Espigueiro, Portugal

 Over 2000 years of wine history. The Romans were here (of course)

Over 2000 years of wine history. The Romans were here (of course)

Although there are over 2000 brands made in the region, here in Canada there are two exports that dominate the market: Casal Garcia and Gazela, which are both appealingly light on the pocketbook. That's starting to change though, there's a new push to bring in more selection. The people demand Vinho Verde!

 Everyone turn to channel 13 on your headset and follow me. Mizarela, Portugal

Everyone turn to channel 13 on your headset and follow me. Mizarela, Portugal

 Terraces galore

Terraces galore

A word you might see on VV label's is Quinta ('kin-ta'), which means estate or farm.
 You want sub-regions, you get sub-regions! To the North: Minho River, South: Douro River, West: Atlantic Ocean, & East: the Marao Mtns

You want sub-regions, you get sub-regions! To the North: Minho River, South: Douro River, West: Atlantic Ocean, & East: the Marao Mtns

Notable Vinho Verde Wines to Buy:

Via Latina Vinho Verde DO Loureiro 2015: A rosey floral on the nose of this spritzy, high acidity sipper made by a wine co-op. Green mango and apple notes are the perfect antidote to rich, high fat dishes. 100% Loureiro.
Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde DO 2014: A winningly steely blend of Loureiro and Alvarinho with flashy saline acidity, and peaches 'n cream textured palate.
Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde DO 2014: Silky gunmetal and very, very mineral, with a touch of lime peel, and downright salty in the best kind of way. 95% Loureiro, 5% Arinto.
Pluma Alvarinho Vinho Regional Minho 2015: Yellow flowers are the lead into this satiny, juicily acidic wine. Lots of tasty white peach on the palate. 100% Alvarinho.
Tapada Do Marques Vinho Verde DO Arinto 2015: Green melon, tropical kiwi, and green apple skin are balanced by an appealing bitterness and white floral perfume. 100% Arinto.

Have you ever tried Vinho Verde? Do tell in the comments below!

Cheers,

Rachel

Photos courtesy of Vinho Verde & Wines of Portugal

THE CHARMING WINES OF VALPOLICELLA

 The 'valley of many cellars' is formed of several famous fingerling valleys

The 'valley of many cellars' is formed of several famous fingerling valleys

Some of you know I spent almost a month in the Verona area earlier this year, to study with the Vinitaly International Academy in becoming an Italian Wine Ambassador. While in Italy, I was happy to explore from Lake Garda all the way over to Venice, with a focus on the wines of Valpolicella.

As I walked the city and hiked the hills, my previous affection for the local red wines blossomed into full blown amore. I suppose that's not hard to believe, given the area has natural beauty in spades, a sense of romance, Roman ruins galore, and some of the best food anywhere on the planet (served from a multitude of delightfully no frills osteria: polenta with melting gorgonzola, anyone?). 

Back to those wines. There are several local grapes that are blended together to create a spectrum of styles ranging from simple and quaffable tavern fare, to richer and rounder, and some so intense they're given the distinction of being called a vino da meditazione or 'meditation wine'. What a blissful concept.

The unmistakable flavour of cherries is the foundation they all share: Valpolicella, Ripasso, Amarone, and Recioto.

 Grapes drying in traditional wooden racks (originally used in the region's production of silk)

Grapes drying in traditional wooden racks (originally used in the region's production of silk)

The main grapes are Corvina, Corvinone, and Rondinella, each adding something special to the blend. Corvina brings deep colour, Corvinone is excellent for drying, and Rondinella brings fruitiness. What makes them easy to remember is that they are all named for birds. Corvina and Corvinone are both named for the raven's black plumage (the -one in Corvinone implies greater plumpness), and Rondinella is named for the swallow. It's tempting to imagine they got their name for the birds' enthusiasm in plucking ripe grapes off the pergolas in Autumn.  You'll also hear of Oseleta (for dark colour and backbone), and Molinara (pale, adds acidity and herbal spice) playing a role in blends. 

 Golden pergolas

Golden pergolas

Valpolicella has three sub-regions centered in the hills just to the north of Verona: 1) Valpolicella DOC Classico, the historic heart of the area, with the famous finger-shaped valleys of Fumane, Marano, and Negrar (and the towns of Sant'Ambrogio and San Pietro in Cariano), 2) the Valpatena Valley (Roman writer Floro said the sweetness of Valpatena wines made them a favourite with Romans and Celts), and 3) the larger zone of Valpolicella DOC.

 Valpolicella's sub-regions, in the Verona foothills of the Eastern Alps, with Lake Garda to the west

Valpolicella's sub-regions, in the Verona foothills of the Eastern Alps, with Lake Garda to the west

If you pick up a bottle of Valpolicella DOC off the shelf, you can anticipate a light bodied cherry-flavoured red with enough natural acidity to stand up to rich regional dishes like creamy risotto or hearty bigoli ragu. If the label says Superiore, it's a step up in terms of aging, creating a little extra roundness on the palate.

Valpolicella Ripasso DOC is one of the great easy drinking wines of the world, and I'd love to see it receive more attention. Take a basic Valpolicella wine, and add the skins left from the Amarone or Recioto (more on those below). These skins give a sugar boost to the wine, which ferments a little longer for more oomph. Slightly higher alcohol, rounder body, and smoother tannins are the reward. These are available as a Superiore as well. Ripasso is sometimes called 'baby Amarone', as it's in between the lightness of a Valpol and the richness of an Amarone.

 Grapes in the fruit drying loft called a 'fruttaio' in the magical process of  appassimento

Grapes in the fruit drying loft called a 'fruttaio' in the magical process of appassimento

Now we get to the meditazione: Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG (from amaro meaning bitter). Why lie? This is one of my favourite styles of wine IN THE WORLD. I cannot hide my enthusiasm, so there it is. Bias!

Amarone is a dry to off-dry wine that evolved from the very sweet Recioto style. Take your grapes into the fruttaio, a loft where the drying winds blow coolly through the racks, and leave them to dry for 100 to 120 days or so. The water in the grapes evaporates, and the sugars remain and interact with the skins creating extra complexity. 

What you get is a powerful wine, with alcohol that can knock your socks off if you don't share the bottle. Sip slowly, friends. We're talking 16% ABV, but with all the dried cherry, tobacco, spice, and vanilla, you might not even taste it. Tannins are smooth and ripe and round in the mouth. Amarone can age for eons, but I prefer to drink it on the youthful side (under 10 years old). 

Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG is a distinctive dark red sweet wine. I like to imagine a Roman emperor sipping on it as he issues directions to his scribe by torchlight. The name derives from the ears of the grapes (those little wings that form at the top of the bunch and become super ripe), which in Italian are called orechie.

Recioto's fermentation is stopped while there are plenty of grape sugars left, making it richly unctuous, endowed with jammy cherry deliciousness, and a perfect pairing for gorgonzola.

Notable Valpolicella Wines to Buy:

Tenuta Santa Maria alla Pieve Valpolicella Ripasso DOC Superiore 2013: Soft velvet textured tannins and a plush ripe nose of summery sun-ripened fruit, spiced with clove.
Cantina Castelnuovo Del Garda Valpolicella Ripasso DOC Classico Superiore 2014 Ca' di Mori Montaer: Medium ruby with soft velvety tannins, dried cherry, plummy cinnamon spice, cocoa and licorice. A great food wine.
Domenico Fraccaroli Valpolicella Ripasso DOC Superiore 2012 Grotta del Ninfeo: Vibrant but earthy. Clove spice lifted by tart red cherry freshness. This estate dates back to a Roman farm.
Cantina Valpolicella Negrar Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2010 Domini Veneti Vigneti di Jago: Bright fruit and muscular tannic structure with cherry, plum, and warm spice from this co-op produced wine. Classic Valpol dust and peppery earth.
Corte Scaletta Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2011: Marzipan spice, purple floral, pure, fresh, bright, peppery. Unique and delicious. Grapes were dried 90 days and a natural ferment was done.
Cantina Valpatena Verona Amarone della Valpolicella 2012 Torre del Falasco: Hint of garnet colour, higher alcohol, dried fruit, licorice, vanilla, and a hint of oaky toast. A popular style that can be enjoyed young. The grapes spent four months drying before fermentation.
Scriani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2011: Very pure ripe cherry flavour, singing with baking spice, dried plums. Full bodied and intense.

What's your favourite version of Valpolicella, or favourite producer? Please share your wisdom!

Cin cin,

Rachel

Photos courtesy of Valpolicella Consorzio Tutela Vini

PROSECCO SUPERIORE & WHY IT'S WORTH SPENDING MORE FOR

 Future UNESCO site? An application is in the works

Future UNESCO site? An application is in the works

It's a truth universally acknowledged... that a chilled bottle of Prosecco must be in want of a drinker. But must it be true that all Prosecco is equally cheap and cheerful?

Dear reader, today I will try to convince you in favour of spending a smidgen more in pursuit of higher quality. I put it to you that Prosecco Superiore is not only a delicious wine, but that it's worthy of your respect and interest.

Prosecco is made in an area of Italy called Conegliano Valdobbiadene, in the Veneto region in the northeast of Italy. Perhaps you've heard it's a hilly place where the vineyards are so steep they have to be harvested by hand, as no tractor would survive the slopes, but I think this picture says it best:

 It's a leg day

It's a leg day

There are two towns which give the region its name: Conegliano (home of the famous oenology school) and Valdobbiadene. There are 15 communes in this area, and you may see the name of one of 43 individual sites, or Rive ("ree-vay") on your bottle, in addition to the words Prosecco Superiore DOCG

The most famous subzone within the DOCG area is called Cartizze ("car-teet-zay"), a tiny 107 hectares that is known for some very special bubbles. One trick I learned from a winemaker is that Cartizze often has the scent of wisteria blooms, which is very romantic, as is the touch of sweetness found on the palate.

So what sets Prosecco DOCG apart? It's these steep, steep slopes, which make the best home for quality sparkling made from the Glera grape = the best aspect, the best soils, the best ripening (ps: Glera's a distinctive creature: it has a delicate floral aroma, peaches too, especially white peach, plus green apple). 

Wines made from the best steep sites have a definite brightness and lift that is utterly refreshing, and yes, you can taste the difference in a blind test. By law, the grapes must be picked by hand. Non-DOCG wines have a huge demarcated area, including the lesser regarded valley floors. 

Aren't you curious to try more of the wines produced in these hills? I know I am.

 These slopes are mayjah (the terraces are the work of centuries)

These slopes are mayjah (the terraces are the work of centuries)

Here's where things get a little confusing: the residual sugar content. There are three levels you'll see on the label: Brut, which is the driest (0-12 grams/litre), Extra Dry is the traditional style in the middle (12-17 g/l), and the sweetest is called, wait for it... Dry (17-32 g/l). So, easy to remember: just think the reverse of dry is Dry!

Other terms you might see are: Millesimato, which is the vintage the grapes were harvested. Spumante means sparkling. Frizzante, which is semi-sparkling and aged on the lees in a traditional style, and Tranquilo, which means 'still' (the rules are that Frizzante and Tranquilo wines aren't labelled with Superiore). Demi-long refers to the wine sitting on lees for at least six months, and Long is for at least one year.

Most Prosecco is made using the Martinotti (also known as Charmat or autoclave) method, which helps glorify the Glera perfume, although interestingly there are some wines being produced in the Traditional (or Champagne) method. 

 Veneto, meet Friuli. Friuli, Veneto. Protected from north winds by the Dolomites, with the Adriatic to the east.

Veneto, meet Friuli. Friuli, Veneto. Protected from north winds by the Dolomites, with the Adriatic to the east.

Notable Prosecco DOCG Wines to buy:

Bisol Superiore di Cartizze DOCG Dry 2014: Meyer lemon meets purple floral, and sweet red apple, lightly spiced with ginger. Creamy bubbles, luxurious.
Colvendra' Prosecco Superiore Millesimato Brut DOCG 2015: Soft candied pear, white honeysuckle, refreshing acidity with harmonious mineral and green apple palate. Summery. Melon kissed with grapefruit zest.
Sorelle Bronca Particella 68 Prosecco Superiore DOCG: Delicate green melon, leesy, creamy, yet vibrant. A stony mineral core with lilac top notes.
Terre Di San Venanzio Fortunato Valdobbiadene Brut DOCG: Luscious bubbles, fuller bodied. Notes of pear drop, green apple, and floral.
Val D'Oca Le Rive Di Colbertaldo Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry DOCG 2015: Full of green apple and crisp fresh pear. Orange peel citrus, green melon. Mineral for miles. Acidity balances plush residual sugar. Notably creamy mousse. Pair with delicate foods.
Villa Sandi Valdobbiadene Superiore Di Cartizze Vigna La Rivetta Brut DOCG: Lilac and fresh bloomed purple wisteria. Leesy complexity meets red apple on the palate. A treat.

I hope I've piqued your curiosity and you'll give these wines a try. Let me know, what's your favourite Prosecco? 

Cheers & Cin Cin,

Rachel

Photos courtesy of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Consorzio

NK'MIP WINES PAIRED WITH ROAST SALMON & HAZLENUT HONEY BUTTER

 Dig in! Delicious roast salmon, berry salad, and honey hazelnut butter.

Dig in! Delicious roast salmon, berry salad, and honey hazelnut butter.

Winery Visits: April-June - Daily from 10am-6pm; July-Sept - Daily from 9am-8pm; Oct - Daily from 10am-6pm; Nov-April - Daily 10am-5pm 

Location: 1400 Ranchers Creek Road, Osoyoos, BC, V0H1V6

Website: www.nkmipcellars.com 

Phone: 250-495-2985

June 21st marks the 20th anniversary of National Aboriginal Day, which celebrates the unique heritage and cultures of Canada's First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

Nk'Mip Cellars (pronounced "in-ka-meep") was opened in 2002 by the Osoyoos Indian Band. It was the first Aboriginal owned and operated winery in all of North America. The winery tasting room features unique First Nations art, along with a stellar selection of wines to try (on my last trip I picked up a bottle of their very tasty Pinot Noir). The winery's restaurant, The Patio, is one of my favourite stops in Osoyoos, and has one of the best lake-watching perches in the whole Okanagan to enjoy a glass of wine and the sunset.

I was excited to receive a shipment from Nk'Mip Cellars  along with some delish indigenous inspired meal ideas designed to pair perfectly with their wines: roast salmon, served with savoury berry salad, and freshly made bannock topped with hazelnut honey butter. The recipes (especially the honey butter, so easy and so, so good) and wines were a big success with my dinner guests.

 

The Wines:

2015 Nk'Mip Cellars Dreamcatcher $17.49

A crowdpleasing fragrant blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Ehrenfelser, Semillon and Chardonnay comes together with just a hint of sweetness on the palate for the ultimate summer sipper. The Riesling's all about apple and pear, while the Sauv Blanc brings guava and lime.  There's a touch of honeysuckle blossom in there too. Would pair beautifully with roast salmon, salads, as well as sushi (think spicy tuna roll). 

2015 Nk'Mip Cellars Rosé $16.99

You'll taste juicy strawberry and cherry flavours in your glass of this dry saignée method rosé (a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Pinot Noir), backed by an undercurrent of warm weather minerality. A lovely match for fresh berry salad, roast chicken, or crab cakes.

2014 Nk'Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Riesling Icewine $66.99

Lush peach, apricot, wildflower honey, and mango mingle on the palate in this vibrant Icewine. Bright, playful acidity keeps the sweetness in check. A remarkably balanced yet intensely flavoured dessert wine. In the Okanagan language of the Osoyoos Band, Qwam Qwmt (pronounced "kw-em kw-empt") means 'achieving excellence', and in this wine, mission accomplished. Rich enough to enjoy on its own, or pair with stone fruit creme caramel.

 

Recipes:

Summer Berry Salad

Wash berries and set aside, in a bowl mix all other ingredients, then fold in berries. Garnish with fresh mint leaves and chopped toasted hazelnuts, served over a bed of greens.

1 Cup strawberries (hulled and sliced)

1 Cup blueberries

1 Cup raspberries

2 T finely chopped fresh mint leaves

1 T seeded, finely chopped green onion or jalapeno pepper (I used pepper)

Juice of 1 lime

Dash of olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 T chopped toasted hazelnuts

3 Cups mixed greens (arugula, dandelion, mache)

Roast BC Salmon

Take the filet out of fridge 15 minutes before cooking. Place on a lightly oiled parchment lined baking sheet. Top with olive oil, salt, pepper, and honey. Pre-heat oven to 400C, then right before cooking the salmon, turn on only the broiler at 450C. Roast the salmon mid-rack for 6-8 minutes, or until the salmon gently flakes when pressed.

1 whole filet of wild BC salmon

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 T honey

Hazelnut Honey Butter

Don't be afraid to double or triple this super easy recipe, it's so tasty that guests wanted to take some home to use for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Think topping toast, or even served warm over ice cream. Yum! Simply mix your butter and honey until combined, then fold in your chopped hazelnuts.

1/4 Cup peeled roasted hazelnuts, chopped

1/4 Cup salted butter, room temperature

1/4 Cup local honey

Cast Iron Bannock

The ideal partner for melting honey butter, these bannock are crunchy on the outside and tender in the centre. In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. In a measuring cup, add your milk and water, then microwave for 30 seconds. Add the warmed milk mixture all at once to your dry ingredients, then mix gently until just combined. Don't mix too much or you'll get tough bannock. On the stove, warm your cast iron pan on medium-low heat, adding the oil. Scoop spoonfuls of batter into the pan, letting them get light golden brown for 3-5 minutes per side. This recipe made 12 pieces. Serve warm.

2 Cups all purpose flour (or pastry flour)

2 T baking powder

1 T granulated sugar

1/2 t salt

1/2 C milk

1/2 Cup water

1/3 Cup vegetable oil (or other oil for frying)

 

Wines samples were provided by Nk'Mip Cellars. Please see my Sample Policy for more information. Cheers!

 

EVOLVE CELLARS 2015 WINE RELEASES

 Gorgeous views: Evolve's Summerland vineyard swoops down towards Okanagan Lake (photo courtesy Evolve Cellars)

Gorgeous views: Evolve's Summerland vineyard swoops down towards Okanagan Lake (photo courtesy Evolve Cellars)

Winery Visits: May-October - Daily from 10am-6pm 

Location: 20623 McDougald Road, Summerland, BC, V0H1Z6

Website: www.evolvecellars.com

Phone: 778-516-7728

With its 2015 releases, the first full vintage under winemaker Lawrence Buhler, one year old Evolve Cellars in Summerland is carving out a reputation for juicy, fruit forward, and enjoyable wines that are easy-drinking and most definitely food friendly. 

 

2015 Pinot Gris $15.99

A glass of nectarine and ripe peach, wildflower honey, and a touch of desirable grapefruity acidity to keep things fresh. Well chilled, this dry Pinot Gris is a wonderful choice for a patio sipper, served with a guest-worthy platter of antipasto, tangy chunks of aged white cheddar, and paté.

 

2015 Riesling $16.99

This off-dry Riesling tastes almost dry due to the juicy acidity that's a hallmark of the grape variety. I very much enjoyed the honeysuckle aroma, and rich guava and lime flavours packed into my glass. Would pair beautifully with summer fruit (think grilled peach and pineapple), along with corn on the cob, and sweet fresh-caught halibut, crab, or prawns.

 

2015 Gewurztraminer $15.99

A full-flavoured expression of this grape, with tropical fruit, zingy ginger, and rose on the palate. It's lightly off-dry, making it a great match for meals with pungent spices and full flavour, like curries, tajines, or sweet chili BBQ. 

 

2015 Rosé $16.99

A total crowd pleaser, this super juicy rosé has generous flavours of strawberry and melon, and just the right touch of sweetness. An ideal partner for salmon or grilled seafood, or a burger on the patio. I found it to be the perfect aperitif match for lightly spicy piquillo peppers and guacamole.

 

Wines samples were provided by Evolve Cellars. Please see my Sample Policy for more information. Cheers!

AUSTRALIA: FROM CLASSICS TO REVOLUTIONARIES

Where to start with Australia? It's a giant country, a continent, and has a continent of wine. It's almost overwhelming once you start to think about all the sub-regions that are producing an unending array of wines.

In a Wine Australia seminar engagingly hosted by Rhys Pender MW yesterday in Vancouver, we were invited to broaden our horizons past the 'sunshine in a bottle' cliché of brash Aussie Shiraz, to reconsider some of the classics that have been quietly keeping on doing what they do well, the evolution to a more modern, light, and fresh style, often in 'new to our ears' regions, and some of those young guns, the new guard revolutionaries that are delighting in breaking the rules. Beeswax-sealed amphora wine? Hmmm.

All this in a tasting of 12 wines... could it be done? Well, if we apply Betteridge's law, then I'm sure you can guess the answer is 'yes'. A fascinating peek into the world of Aussie wine, and some excellent producers to keep an eye out for below.

A Little History

Hunter Valley Semillon

Some of the oldest ungrafted vines in the world live in Australia. Gnarly, knobby survivors from a different age, these stalwart Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvedre, Riesling, Semillon, and Marsanne plants have rooted deep, deep into the soil to weather the centuries.

When you think of a classic Aussie wine, perhaps Hunter Valley Semillon comes to mind. We learned that back in the day it used to be made as three brands, when it was de rigueur to co-opt European names: Chablis, Riesling, and White Burgundy. How it worked: pick part of your Sem early, so the acid's vibrant and the wine a natural pairing for oysters, call it "Chablis". Harvest the next block a week later, it's got a bit more sugar but still lively, call it "Riesling". Another week after that, you take the last of your grapes in from the field, richer and fuller, give it a decent oaking, and you have your "White Burgundy". How functional!

Today, the Sem is harvested "Chablis" style, early in January (the equivalent of July for us Northerners), and fermented in stainless steel. Drunk young it's full of lime, and about as acidic as you can take. But something rather magical happens as it ages, even under screw cap. Taste a 10 year old HV Sem and you'd swear it'd been fermented in French oak. It's got a rich, toasty, citrus and honey flavour, with another note, the closest I can think of is fresh plastic (it doesn't sound very appealing, but in the glass it is).

We tasted the 2007 McGuigan Bin 9000, and if I was blind tasting, I would have told you it was barrel fermented cool climate Chardonnay... 

The cool thing about HV Sem is that they are released so cheaply new, that they're one of the perfect wines to start your cellar collection with. Even some of the best are under $15 a bottle as a new release. All you need is 5 or so years of patience before your collection is paying dividends.

Barossa Valley Grenache & Shiraz

Grenache might not be the first grape you think of when you picture Barossa. But we had a chance to taste the 2011 Yalumba Tri-Centenary Grenache, made from a block of 820 vines that have called Barossa home since being planted in 1889. It's not every day I get to taste a wine from such a venerable old block, and this had all the concentration of flavour you'd hope for. On the nose, preserved maraschino cherry and sweet dried sage; on the palate, tannins like melted butter, with Kalamata olive and cocoa on the finish. 

Australia is quite rich in these blocks of old vines, so even though there will never be a glut of each wine, there are great examples like this to seek out to get a taste of the dense, layered flavours a 100+ year old plant can produce.

The 2013 St. Hallett Old Block Shiraz is everything you'd wish for and more. A deep purple colour, with dark, slow tears, as I swirled the glass and raised it to my nose I got the most unique perfume. Like exotic black tea, musky violet, or rose incense. Incredibly enticing. On the palate, cassis, black pepper, and very fine tannins. It was lifted by a little oomph of acidity to keep things fresh. This wine comes from 60 to 100 year old vines.

Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon

Next up was the 2012 Hollick Ravenswood Cab Sauv. The Terra Rossa soils of Coonawarra are so famous, you'd be forgiven for thinking there was red soil as far as the eye could see, but these iron rich clays are found in only a small strip of land about 2 km wide by 15 km long. The area used to be covered by ocean, and as it retreated, it left a compact layer of marine life that's now the limestone subsoil. A cool wind blows in from the Bonney Coast to the South, bringing Antarctic shivers with it, so the region is surprisingly on par with Burgundy or Champagne for being cool climate.

That means that in addition to the classic 'Coonawarra mint' you should expect freshness and good acidity in your glass along with flavours of black fruit (I got blackcurrant in the Hollick). The tannins are chalky, mouth coating, and dusty, a key tell if you happen to find yourself blind tasting a Coonawarra Cab.

Evolution

There's been a shift to seeking out new terroir, be it to higher elevations, nearer to ocean breezes, or experimenting with unexpected grapes, all in pursuit of drinkable, refreshing wines. Especially in the pursuit of areas that will ripen fruit but not cook it.

Margaret River Chardonnay

This is a lesser-known region with some famous names firmly established: Vasse Felix, Leeuwin, Cape Mentelle. It's a big area, 100 km North to South and about 40 km wide, along the far West coast below Perth, notable for it's low diurnal shift (night and day temperatures don't swing widely). They never have to worry about frost in Margaret River, and apparently you'd have to go back to cold 2006 to find a challenging vintage.

We heard about a renewed focus on clones in the area, with Voyager planting a range including Dijon 95 for its lemon pith notes, and Mendoza, which produces hen and chick bunches, for balanced flavours.

The 2013 Voyager Estate Margaret River Chardonnay was a highlight of the whole flight. On the nose creamy and soft, but all crisp mineral, lemon curd, and silk on the palate. A delightfully pure and pleasing wine with long finish.

Yarra Valley Pinot Noir

NE of Melbourne, and below the Great Divide mountain range, you'll find the maritime influenced Yarra Valley. There are two main soil types here, in the South a rich deep volcanic soil, free-draining and fertile. In the North, a grey, silty lime that's nutrient poor, and perfect for Pinot.

The Soumah Single Vineyard 2015 Pinot from Yarra epitomizes the shift from full and fruity, to a more restrained, thoughtful Aussie PN. They're picking a bit earlier, and focusing on retaining acidity. I found cranberry and rhubarb notes in my glass, and was very taken with the floral nose of fresh iris blooms. 

Winemaker Steven Worley explained the MV6 clone they have gives a full, round flavour, while the 777 Burgundy clone has dark fruit and great tannins, and the Pommard is a bit gamey and feral. A great winery to seek out for elegant, but not austere, refreshing wines.

McLaren Vale Aglianico?

The cool kid at the party was Alpha Box & Dice, who presented their 2011 McLaren Vale Xola Aglianico. Apparently Aglianico is a natural fit for the Vale (over a dozen wineries are doing an Aglianico now), where Italian varieties are being experimented with, and Alpha Box sees itself as an R&D lab for newer varietals in the region.

This wine was made in a biodynamic fashion (not certified), then aged for three and a half years in oak. I got some red cherry cola flavours, a hint of VA, and a little tar, along with very high acidity and grippy tannins. The branding on their wines is noteworthy for being so darn cool, with graffiti touches, bright colours and primitive-chic illustrations.

McLaren Vale wines always strike me with an intensity of smooth, rich fruit that is quite distinctive, but we were reminded in the seminar that this area has some of the most diverse soils in the winemaking world. Which means there's plenty of room for different expressions. 

Strathbogie Ranges Shiraz

The 2012 Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Shiraz was a deep limpid purple, so I expected a fruit bomb, but was I ever wrong. A cool 13.2% alcohol, this was more of a Syrah, plumped full of meaty and smokey notes, blueberry fruit, and a field worth of violets. 

If this cooler region is capable of making a Syrah with all the violet and smoked meat you'd find in a Northern Rhone, but with more approachable tannins and at an attractive price point, I say game on!

Revolutionaries

You'll note this next section is, generally speaking, more about the maker than about terroir. Included in this vanguard of producers are some risk takers who are embracing the old-fashioned-is-new again (hence the amphora and beeswax reference above). Another commonality, besides the natural wine ethos, is that the names sound more like album or painting titles than wines. I'm feeling old for my age just writing that sentence.

The wines in this flight found favour with about half the crowd. Fans of the 'natural' wine philosophy were in their element, and while I enjoyed two of the wines, the others left me considering who would take a chance on a $50 bottle full of challenging-to-enjoy flavours? This is where things get interesting!

Evolution I am down with, revolution, caveat emptor.

BK Wines

We tasting their Skin n' Bones White 2015 from Adelaide Hills, made from the Savignin grape. Apparently, it was planted as Albarino, the vines being shipped over from Rias Baixas directly (does that mean lots of Savignin in RB?). In 2008, they realized what variety the vines were.

This wine had 30 days of skin contact before fermentation. On the nose, I got white floral, then a weightly apricot palate, a dense texture. It was tannic, with grapefruit, and saline. Lighter alcohol at 11.8%. My notes say 'jasmine finish'!

Jauma

The 2015 Like Raindrops Grencache from McLaren Vale was next. This is sealed with a crown cap, and it came out cloudy and pale, with a yogurty nose. On the palate it had all the tannins and less of the fruit than desirable in a Grenache.

That being said, a goodly number of people raised their hand to express they were fans of this wine.  

Ochoa Barrels

Their 2015 I Am The Owl Syrah from Adelaide Hills was up next. It had a deep purple colour, with pronounced nose of black fruit and pepper. Very appealing stemminess and violets. The tannins were lighter and more delicate than expected, and while the wine had a good weight, it had lovely flexibility on the palate. This is a style of Syrah I could get into.

Brash Higgins

Last, we reached for the 2015 Amphora Project Nero d'Avola from McLaren Vale, made using a wild ferment during six months fermenting in an amphora. In the glass a medium ruby, this had a somewhat muted nose, on the palate it had notes of green peppercorn, thin red fruit, light bodied with choppy tannins. Interesting rather than enjoyable to drink. Again, half the hands went up for this wine. 

What do you think?

Do you have a style of Aussie wine that you gravitate towards, or a region? How do you feel about revolutionaries? I await your opinions!

CHECKMATE ARTISANAL WINERY

 Photo courtesy of CheckMate Artisanal Winery

Photo courtesy of CheckMate Artisanal Winery

Winery Visits: By Appointment Only

Location: Golden Mile, Oliver, BC

Website: www.checkmatewinery.com

A no-expenses-spared undertaking funded by the Mission Hill umbrella, this top secret project is finally available to taste. The winery has released just five wines: all are 100% Chardonnay from the 2013 vintage.

CheckMate’s winery is tucked away off the road south of Oliver in the Golden Mile area - near CC Jentsch and Culmina - available to visit only through privately arranged appointment (and it sounds like those are very exclusive indeed). Actually, until recently almost everything about this project has been cloaked in a shroud of prestige and mystery, including the wines themselves.

Before we talk wine, though, a little history: in 1994, Mission Hill Winery's reserve Chardonnay won Avery's Trophy at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. This was to put it mildly, a game changer for the Okanagan. The grapes used in that wine are from some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in Canada, from a plot on the Golden Mile that’s newly under the ownership of CheckMate. The plot’s still planted with this not yet identifiable clone that's being called Heritage.

These are wines several years in the making, and no corners have been cut. From three different sites, Aussie winemaker Philip Mcgahan (a transplant by way of the Hunter and Russian River Valleys) had his pick of the best rows from the best sites. Grapes are hand picked, hand sorted, and in the winery they’re experimenting with wild ferments. Kudos for their championing of no fining or filtration, instead letting the work of gravity and time take place. The bottles themselves are a tactile person’s delight, heavy and stubbily 19th century in shape.

The five wines, in what some may consider hubris, others brilliant marketing, range from $80 to $125 per bottle, and are available only through direct purchase on their website or from a restaurant wine list. Online, they are offered in elegantly packaged sets of three or five wines.

As I tasted the wines, I had a mixture of thoughts: not wanting to be accused of provincialism, but proud that these marquee wines may further help put the Okanagan on wine lover’s minds and maps. I’ve talked with some people ready to dismiss them as outrageously priced, and others ready to drink the kool-aid before they’ve even drunk the wines.

After tasting, I’m converted. They’re impeccably made, beautiful wines with soul.

Capture $90 - 94 points

The grapes for this wine are from the Border Vista vineyard, a warm site on the east bench of Osoyoos overlooking Osoyoos Lake. The wine spent 18 months in French oak, and only seven barrel’s worth was made. 

This was my favourite of the five, peaches and cream in the mouth, mineral, then with a clementine-citrus ring of acidity that kept going and going. Just amazing.

Queen Taken $125 - 92 points

Made from those mysterious Heritage grapes, on the cooler slopes of the Golden Mile, aged in French oak for 17 months.

Pear, apple, white peach, less linear than Capture but there’s lime here, and a touch of feminine floral perfume.

Little Pawn $110 - 93 points

Grapes are from the Barn vineyard, on the sunny eastern side of the valley’s Black Sage Bench.

Playful, with mineral on the nose, then pepper and ginger spiced apples on the palate. Sophisticated, hinting at ripeness yet taut.

Fool’s Mate $80 - 91 points

A blend of all three vineyard sites, aged 17 months in French oak.

Delightful yeast and biscuit nose. Generous but balanced oak, vanilla cream, mandarine, citrus, and peach.

Attack $115 - 93 points

A blend of grapes from the Black Sage Bench and Golden Mile sites. Aged 18 months in a substantial and new French oak foudre (large oval barrel).

Restrained toast and vanilla nose, silky textured palate, with gunmetal and gravel, then a hint of lemon, almond blossom, white pepper and ginger root.

YES WAY, PORTUGUESE ROSÉ

Portugal, not just the land where Port comes from! This little country makes some delightfully refreshing rosé wine, perfect for sipping in the Summertime.

Here are a selection that range from glou-glou (think pocketbook friendly, but tasty) to ‘had me at hello’. Bonus: if you’ve been looking for some hot weather wines that won’t knock you out, these range from only 9.5-12.5% alcohol.

Mateus Original Rosé (sparkling): There’s no other way to put this… If you bring this wine to a party, any snobs present will likely be secretly judging you :O. If you’re fine with that, enjoy! It’s tasty (think strawberries), Tempranillo rosé with a little sweetness and moderate alcohol (11%), the definition of cheap & cheerful. Perk: no one will feel guilty mixing a cocktail with this. Serve well chilled. ~$8

Aveleda Casal Garcia Rosé 2014: A crisp, yet off-dry and fruity (think strawberry & rhubarb) wine from the Vinho Verde area in the North of Portugal. Pretty label and bubblegum pink colour, perfect for the beach. Only 9.5% alcohol. ~$10

Casa Santos Lima Portuga Rosé 2014: A drier style, but still fresh and fruity (raspberry & strawberry) made from the Castelao grape. Would be delicious with grilled fish or lighter Summer pastas. 12.5% alcohol. ~$12