What cocktail are you drinking this summer?

Words: Henry Yuen

Imagination and creativity are the backbones behind every new dish constructed by chefs, regardless of the cuisine and the local ingredients available. They often tweak the dishes to search for flavour uniqueness. This is no difference when it comes to creating smashing cocktails!

These days, an integral job of the bar mangers, or “Mixologist” or “Drink Directors”, is to create new cocktails by mixing and matching available ingredients. Sure they don’t mind following the exact recipes traditional cocktails since they are no brainers, but the urge to create some amazing drinks that provide that “wow” factor is the given chance to grasp that artistic instinct mixologists possess and the result is always yummy.

A pot of icy cool smoky cocktail

The bar program at Earls is one successful example judging by the number of cocktails on most tables, not to mention that they are now featuring $5 cocktails this whole summer (Sunday to Thursday) nights! Diners seem to embrace the starter drinks and cocktails are taking centre stage. Those colourful; delicious cocktails tend to liven up the atmosphere to another level. I tried and enjoyed the “Mad Hatter” very much. This drink belongs to the creative cocktail category and the creativity is well-presented by serving it in a teapot with dry ice inside. The “pot” of cocktail is delivered to our table with foggy smokes escaping the lid; more smoked accompanied the liquid emitted through the sprout when poured into the glass. It’s a delightful and mighty refreshing drink of Smirnoff Vodka, pear, black tea, lime leaf and coconut water;  how dramatic! The black tea adds a profound South East Asian mood to this cocktail. Interestingly, Mad Hatter is a good fit with the hot and fluffy BBQ buns served in a bamboo basket. They both get a 10 for visual effect and flavour from me for sure.

At Cactus Club Café, their 98 Days of Summer Cocktails program is in full swing. According to bar operation manager, Sam Zavari, “guest can enjoy these refreshing cocktails which include the Watermelon Margarita and the Sunset Soda throughout the summer”.  The focus of the  their cocktails is summer’s favourite flavours and this year the cocktails feature watermelon and peach. Summer, watermelon and juice-dripping fruits do go hand-in-hand teamwork to fight the heat, more so these days when the sun is scorching and our bodies particularly crave for watermelon. “Fresh watermelon is a summer staple and the ultimate refresher on hot summer days. The bartenders are juicing twice daily which ensures optimal freshness and flavour.” Other cocktail creations include the Sunset Soda which is made with Smirnoff Orange Vodka; and the Watermelon Margarita made with Cuervo Gold Tequila.

Cactus Club Cafe Watermelon Margarita, 98 Days of Summer, 2014

Recommend bites to make the cocktail sipping more enjoyable are fresh seafood, light and uplifting such as Rob Feenie signature ceviche with Ocean Wise Lois Lake steelhead and sustainably harvested prawns. There are always the ever popular Tuna Tataki and Fish Tacos – good excuses to go grab a table and cocktail drinks.

The “Super Drinks” and Crafted Slush at Joey have been gaining momentum as the full-blown west coast sun decides to stay on.  Take the Stiff Lemonade for instance, made with Pearl Vodka, fresh lemon-lime slush and limoncello liqueur, is the great escape under the hot sun. The Blueberry Mojito, with muddled blueberries, fresh lime juice and the must  — mint leaves is so fruity and inviting, it tingles away the summer heat like a garden breeze.  Sip this with the Japanese dumplings served with hot mustards, you would end up ordering more of each.

JoeyDrinkStiffLemonadeWeb1-1024x682

 

 

Premium Sake – Warm or cold?

Words: Henry Yuen   Pix: S. Yuen

I am a novice when it comes to Sake but do enjoy a vial or two of chilled ones with Japanese food. I also find warm Sake and hotpot go quite well together, especially in cold evenings. I like my Sake warmed since hot was how it was served to me back when and somehow became a habitual thing. However, according to Sake experts, warming the Sake is not the proper way to appreciate Sake, especially for premium grade!

Rashiko Daiginjo

Applying too much heat will likely destroy the delicacy of Sake,  but when served slightly chilled, the flavour and charm of the wine will express fully; more so for Premium Sake whose flavour is so complex. “Certain Premium Sake is brilliant at room temperature but slightly chilled is the norm. If you must warm up your Sake, just consume regular Sake” states Ken Watai , President of Jizake Japan Canada, a well-established Premium Sake Importer in BC. “Traditionally, only lower quality Sake is served warm to mask the insipidity so it could still be desirable to some consumers.” He added. “If you insist to warm up your Sake, do so by immersing the vial of Sake in a container of warm water that is way below the boiling point.  Never heat Sake up in the microwave.” Ken advised.

Crispy cold sake for divine food pairing

Like wine, pairing food with Premium Sake is an uprising trend. A recent Premium Sake pairing tasting at Kamei Royale organized by Mr. Watai and Kamei’s very own Sake Sommelier and Executive Director Shingo Masuda showcased the why and how important these advices were in order to embrace the delicate yet luscious Premium Sake. This tasting event turned extraordinary with the presence of a visiting true Sake expert – the Sake Master Kazunori Sato of Yamatogawa Sake Brewery who is behind a gold-award winning Sake that we were lucky enough to taste that evening.

 

Sake glasses

Five crisp-coloured wines were poured into different sake glasses and served with modern Japanese fares.

The Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Sake has subtle fruit flavour with a clean and soft finish. The flaky Teriyaki Yellowtail steak with its sweetness complements this Sake very well. Next up was the Kissho Zuiyo Ginjo Sake, slightly dry on entry but gentle on the finish, this pairs perfectly with the dense yet soft scallop. Karakuchi Junmai Yauemon is bold and attention grabbing. If you like your Sake not chilled; this wine is awesome in room temperature or even lightly warmed. The enticing flavour of the smoked salmon marinade tuned in nicely with the boldness of this Karakuchi.

The four time Gold Award winner (A huge honour in Japan’s Premium Sake world) Daiginjo Yaemon, an exquisitely balanced, full flavour profile that lingers and seduces is served. With beautiful aroma and layers of flavours that keep on surfacing, this wine does exemplify what Premium Sake is all about. Black sesame tuna tataki with ponzu gelee brings out the sweetness and complexity of this Sake. Changing pace and the naturally soft, unfiltered Sake with a clear and sweet note – Nigori Northern Light is served. A shy yet engaging aroma brings out the crispy sensation the chef created the prawn okura tempura the chefs created to pair with the Northern Light.

Sake Master Sato and gold winner

According to Ken, the rice grains used to make Sake is the same throughout Japan; the difference is the water, the fermentation process and the skilled hands and experiences of the Sake Master. Water source makes a significant difference in the basic form and texture of the Sake; the traditional fermentation process each Sake house adopts and applies dictates the flavour and character profile of the Sake.

Compared to other alcoholic beverages, Sake is definitely more delicate, gentle and caressing. Instead of drinking Sake in a party-like and raucous environment, I prefer to sip mine with a different mood in a quieter, more relaxing temperament to fully enjoy the premium sake moment.

 

A shot or two of Mezcal – Mexican Elation

Mezcal wines

Words: Henry Yuen           Pix: Santiago Barreiro & S. Yuen

When communication methods were so primitive and languages so different; and nations lived so far apart and never even once encountered each other, there was no way for them to share any culture and knowledge. The theory derived here is also the fact – centuries ago and even in ancient times, our ancestors of different cultures of different continents; cultivated similar traditions and developed similar wisdom in the science of doing things, all on their own!

Each label tells a story

What am I referring to here, you wonder?  Distillation of various ingredients to make alcoholic beverages, that is. Regardless of what language they spoke and where they were, our ancestors knew how to make wines and spirits using what nature had given them. The Chinese produce rice wine, the Japanese brews Sake, the Italians make Grappa, the French have Cognac; Scotts have Whisky,  and the Mexicans? Oh yes, they have Tequila and Mezcal!  And I am pretty sure; other ethnic cultures have their very own national drinks. The ingredients, methods, alcohol contents and flavours may be different, but they do share more or less of the same principles.

Captura de pantalla 2012-08-24 a la(s) 19.20.59

Let’s talk Mexican Mezcal. A popular and well-regarded spirit on home soil, Mezcal is distilled from agave plants. Like grapes, agave plants offer various species. Different species of different regions with different soils and climates will render different taste profiles. They stand to create their own uniqueness once distilled. Many of the Mezcal houses are still using organic and traditional methods to dig, roast, ferment and distill.  Behind each Mezcal logo, there are histories, habits and folklores to tell.

To make Mezcal, the base portion of the agave plant known as the “head” is harvested after the stem or flower portion has been removed for over a year. It takes 8 or 9 years, sometimes 20, 30 years before the plant is ready for harvesting. The plant is then roasted in the oven for up to 8 days. The roasted plant is ground manually in a stone mill to extract the juice. Water is now added to the juice to obtain the desired consistency, followed by the fermentation process in order to get the concentrated mixture ready for distillation. The Mezcal is now ready for enjoyment.

Captura de pantalla 2012-08-24 a la(s) 19.21.20

Certain Mezcal master-makers prefer to conduct one more step by aging the Mezcal in oak barrel to achieve complexity, smoothness and smokiness; as well as his own signature onto the spirit.

Mezcal tasting is no different than wine tasting. The “nose” is important so grasping the aroma of the drink is only the beginning. The final product in Mezcal bottles usually contains over 40% of alcohol, it is important to take it easy, allow time for the nose, tongue and palate to get use to the strong alcoholic flavour and burn sensation. First take a small sip but let it sit in your month for 8 to 10 seconds before swallowing.  This is to condition the mouth and the palate to receive the flavour and let the contact do the job slowly. Once swallowed and mesmerized by the profound structure of Mezcal, feel free to take a bigger sip. Not a bad idea at all to enjoy with colourful Mexican fares.

authentic maxican gourmet

Do talk to the Mezcal pourer who often is a member of the production team and kows the story and the people behind that particular bottle of Mezcal. Listening to their description of the agave, the harvesting patience and distilling process is part of the enjoyment. The fact is, different agave plant species produce unique flavours and characters, and different master-makers apply their own traditions and culture throughout the process, ergo not all Mezcal is the same. A side-by-side comparison is a good way to enhance the taste profile each wine brings forward and that’s truly is an integral part of the fun.

A different shape of Mezcal bottle

 

BC Wine Industry Blooming with International Awards

bloom 2014 -4

Words: Henry Yuen ( Chinese blog post: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/379905 )

Whether you go to a government liquor store or a private wine store, you should have noticed the latest releases from     various BC wineries by now. The BC VQA wineries celebrate their annual releases through a tasting event called “Bloom”. BC wine industry grew from 17 to 235 wineries in less than 25 years. It is still growing as new wine sub-regions are being discovered. There are over 9,800 acres planted in the five designated viticultural areas (Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands). Even though small in international scale, non-the-less it is extremely important to the BC economy from an employment and revenue generating perspective. Even though some wineries jobs are seasonal, there are lot of subsidiary and indirect jobs created such as restaurants, tourism and hospitality positions benefiting from this particular industry.

What about the BC wines you might ask. It is ever improving as far as I am concern judging by the over 2000 awards garnered annually through international wine competitions. Of course there are outstanding ones and there are mediocre ones and also those from new wineries with potential to improve over time. With competition from New World wines, I can expect prices of BC wines to stay competitive as the economy of scale improves and the unit cost of production coming down.

bloom 2014 -2

However, don’t expect premium tier wines to be cheaper as those are in limited production with exceptional care from viticulturalists and winemakers. Wines destined for cellaring will always be hot items for collectors.  The list, including award-winners such as Mission Hill’s “World Best Pinot Noir”, Joie Farm’s list of awarded wines, and Haywire Winery’s Haywire Canyonview Vineyard Pinot Noir that just received the Lieutenant Governor Award, is too long. The best way to find out is to visit a specialty BC VQA stores, consider your budget and feel free to ask for advice. If you come across these wines, don’t miss the chance.  These are some of the gems to your liking!

http://winebc.com

http://missionhillwinery.com

http://joiefarm.com

http://haywirewinery.com

bloom 2014    Haywire-Canyonview-PN-2011-770x770Haywire-Canyonview-PN-2011-770x770

Mission Hill World's best Pinot Noir

The Rosé of Provence

VI-8

TP-060815Words: Henry Yuen

Pix: Vins de Provence

Besides Paris, what other part of France would tourists like to visit? The south of France has always been considered a charming place. With its Mediterranean climate, sun-lit blue sky and lush countryside, Provence is most likely on the top of the list. More so for food and wine lovers!

The cuisine of Provence is world famous! According to Francois Millo, Author of “Provence Food and Wine – The art of living” a printed illustration of the beauty and bounty of Provence, “Provencal food is at the core of what is known as the Mediterranean diet!” The abundance of fresh vegetables, herbs, fruits, farm produce and seafood provides the foundation for the cuisine that chefs and foodies from around the world aspire to.

For me, the wine of Provence is the clincher; the region is after all, responsible for 40% of the wine production of country. And when it comes to the wines of Provence; how can we not talk about Rosé? Over 87% of the wines produced in Provence are Rosé, which represents 5.6% of the global market!

With 152 million bottles of Rosé currently produced each year, it means this colourful wine is a demanded beverage not only in France but throughout the world. Inevitably, French Rosé is held in high regard, perhaps due to its strict production guidelines that follow the traditional methods; or simply because of the drier style of wines that most drinkers enjoy! Generally speaking, Rosé from Provence is not as sweet as other Rosé or blush wines from the rest of the world, yet each sip is full of Provence characters.

With its attractive pinkish, light orange and salmon colour; Rosé is often regarded as a romantic, even sexy wine! The mood is easy and mellow; likely the reason why most drinkers identify it as a refreshing patio or poolside wine. Surely belonging to balmy lazy late afternoons,  Rosé is a perfect wind-down sipper, while drifting away in a rattan chair set under a canopy overlooking rolling mountains or blue wide horizon!

CONSO-120729-1-rosé

Rosé, however, does pack in a lot of punches! The added bonus is that this wine is more versatile than most people think. There is the citrus and berries aroma, juicy yet delicate to keep the palate fresh and lively, therefore a good companion to be had with food.  At one of my favourite French restaurants in town Bistro Pastis, we did just that, the two Rosé wines poured that evening were Domaine Houchart 2013 and the Miraval 2013.

GV-0508 Rosé Verre 1

 

The breezy and refreshing Domaine HouchartRosé; filled with floral and fruity aroma and a slight hint of minerality upon entry; is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Hailed from the Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt famed winery with the collaboration and guidance from the Perrin Family, the Miraval 2013 emits subtle fruity nose and a balanced citrus aroma caresses not just the palate but the moment nicely. The entry is soft and smooth with shy shades of spices and enough concentration to provide a lingering finish.

Chilled properly, Rosé can be a tantalizing welcoming drink,  sipped with canapés and antipasti, it will also go well with salads and can be served with the first course or a seafood dish as well.

When it comes to embracing Rosé, a little bit of imagination will open a world of possibility for you and your guests. From Old World to New World, there are all kinds of Rosé produced to caress your mood and palate, so why not a tasting and food pairing of Rosé of different style and sweetness? Do taste them alongside the Rosé from Provence and you will taste the subtle differences and appreciate what the strict traditional method of crafting Provence Rosé is all about.

VEN-100915-63

 

Tormaresca

tormeresca vineyardsWords: Henry Yuen
(Chinese version: http://taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/?variant=zh-hans )
My exposure to Italian wines is quite limited and admittedly, so is my knowledge. Other than Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio, there are not many Italian varietals that I am familiar with.

I have heard of popular wine regions such as Tuscany and Piedmont but have scant knowledge of other wine-producing regions, let alone their appellations and geographic systems. Yes, I have been to Rome and Florence but not much was picked up as far as wine was concerned since it was not a wine focus tour, I did fortunately enjoy numerous glasses of fine Italian wines during the trip. When the opportunity to have a close-up wine tasting dinner with, Vito Plaumbo, the export manager of Tormaresca arose, I jump at the chance.

Tormaresca has two estate vineyards in Puglia located at the “heel” of Italy in the southeastern part of the country and is a fast rowing wine region with lots of potential to produce quality wines. It  has been a prolific region known for its strong agricultural background therefore not exactly a new wine region and is slowly gaining global recognition. Besides native varietals such as Primitivo and Negroamaro, Tormarseca also focuses on non-native varietals such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that flourish in the terroir of the area.

Tormaresca Chardonnay
Being one of the estate wineries belonging to the Antinori family, Tormaresca has good DNA. Established in 1998, Tormaresca is following the path of Antinori to produce superior quality wines with sound viticulture practices. The result is delicious wines with affordable price points that wine lovers in Canada will soon take notice.
The Chardonnay 2012 Puglia I.G.T. is a 100 % Chardonnay harvested from both vineyards. 100% stainless steel fermentation means no oak influence that brings forward a crisp, slight minerality and refreshing mouth feel with good citrus and melon aroma with a juicy finish. At $12.99 it will be a hit once becomes widely available when off the spec list.

The Neprica 2011 Puglia I.G.T. is a medium bodied blend of Primitivo, Negroamaro and Cabernet Sauvignon. Lots of juicy, dry prune aroma and a touch of earthiness makes this an easy and lively sipper. Once again, the stainless steel tank treatment prevents any oak influence but the finish is a smooth one. At $13.99, there is every reason to like this wine. These two wines paired surprisingly well with the antipasto served at Nicli Antica Pizzeria in Gastown.
The next wine is the Torcicoda 2010 at $26.99. A 100% Primotivo, this organic wine is full-bodied due to its 8 to 10 months in French and Hungarian oak barrels. Harvested with good ripeness thanks to the warm summer, it attacks the nose with lots of cherry and hints of mint and herbs in the aroma. On the palate are elegant black fruit and a bit of cocoa in the end. This is a true representation of the terroir of the Salento appellation.

Tormaresca Neil, Henry, Gloria
As more delicious pizza is served, so are more wine. The next up Trentangeli 2010 (available at BCLDB for $19.99 ) is a 65% Aglianico, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Syrah with 10 months in oak and another 9 months bottle aging. The result is a full-bodied wine with silky richness that lingers on the palate. It’s a great wine to pair with not only Italian dishes but a wide variety of other cuisines.

Tormaresca Neprica

To further understand the wine-making philosophy of Tormaresca, the Bocca di Lupo 2008 is served. 100% Aglianico, this luscious, earthy wine is fused with minty aroma and layered of ripened fruit and a hint of chocolate on the finish. A great wine with cellaring potential for sure but at the same time, it is a challenge to resist drinking it right away. A medium-bodied Masseria Maime 2010 is the last wine of the evening. This wine is 100% Negroamaro with 12 months in French oak featuring lovely tannins and good acidity laced with submissive sweetness and dry prune and berries aroma.
Tormaresca may not be Tuscan or Piedmont appellation wines but does deserve wine lovers’ close attention since Antinori puts a lot of faith on this up and coming wine region of Puglia.

Sunshine and BBQ with wine

June has always been weather-finicky, but when the sun comes out, it’s all about roof top, patio, beach and BBQ! Recent wine-tasting events brought my attention to a few new-releases I quite enjoyed. BBQ is more than burgers and hot-dogs and these wines will be great sippers under the sun.

Joie - pinot blanc & roseJoieFarm new releases

Just celebrated their 10 year anniversary, JoieFarm wines have been my favourites over the years and it is the consistency that wins me over. Sure they have garnered quite a few awards, Gold, Silver, Bronze etc. but that’s not the main point here. What is important is that their wines are always good, awards or not; and that I have yet to be disappointed. The style is fresh, lively with a bit of Burgundy style and expresses the terroir of the various vineyards and Joie’s very own portfolio very well. A great amount of work is done in the vineyards even though the winemaking team of Heidi Noble and Robert Thielicke brings local and international experience and knowledge to the table. The front of the house under Michael Dinn ensures everything else is in the right hands. Their 2013 & 2011 whites have just been released followed by the 2011 Reds. The whites include Riesling 2013, Pinot Blanc 2013, Rose 2013 and the ever popular Noble Blend 2013. The 2011 line-ups are Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay. The reds include Gamay 2011, Pinot Noir 2011 and the PTG 2011 plus the Reserve wines. All are ready to drink and available at most private wine stores and restaurant establishments since the production is around 15,000 cases. It’s worth the while to find them and if you do, grab them! JoieFarm.com would be the best place to locate the outlets around town.

InceptionInception 2012

“Inception”2012 is a blend of 81% Shiraz, 10% Petit Verdot and 9% Mourvedre sourced from vineyards in the Western Cape region in South Africa. At $14.99, the price point is afforded by most consumers and for restaurants looking for a drinkable, fun and not-too-hefty wine on their wine list. This wine certainly fits the bill for fruit forward, pleasant and good value. The entry is full of berries and plum and a bit of sweetness. On the nose, you will find a hit of mint and herb with a slight touch of smokiness (12 to 14 months in oak barrel) and medium-bodied to round out the finish. It’s definitely a delightful sip for everyday and for the barbecue and patio. It’s availability at BC Liquor stores makes it easily accessible.

 

 

Anciano Tempranillo Grand Reserva

A Spanish Tempranillo with Old World charm. This wine is aged 10 years in cellar before releasing. Luscious with typical Spanish Tempranillo characteristics, the deep-layered and full-bodied with berries and dark fruit concentration is indeed delightful with BBQ ribs and steaks. It has smooth tannins due to the length of aging, especially 24 months in oak barrels, and a soft palate to round off in the mouth. The 100% Tempranillo from the Valdepenas DO in the south central of Spain enjoys the higher altitude with warm days and cool nights resulting in ripened fruits with adequate concentration to balance the tannins. Produced by Bodega Navalon, the Anciano Tempranillo Grand Reserve is ready to drink now even though cellaring for another 5 years would elevate its prime. At a price point in the $15 range, it’s another excellent value wine where one can enjoy the Old World grace while not breaking the bank.   Anciano Tempranillo

 

C.C. Jentsch Cellars – The Chase 2012

The new kid in the Okanagan Valley is The Chase 2012 from C.C. Jentsch Cellars. While new to wine making, the family has been fruit grower since 1929 who decided to switch to vines in 2002, amassing tremendous amount of experience in producing premium fruits essential for crafting good wines. They have 63 acres in the Golden Mile Bench and smaller plots in the other area around Okanagan. The Chase 2012 is a Bordeaux style red wine with 35% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.5% Petit Verdot, 11% Cabernet Franc and 7.5% Malbec. The result is a well-balanced medium-bodied wine with enough fruits upon entry. Black berries and dry plum sensation is prominent to attract attention. A bit of spice and toastiness on the mouth feel to appreciate the round tannins. Good to drink now but will show well for another 5 years or so. A wine at $19.99, it is a well-crafted Okanagan Valley product worth bringing home.      cc. JENTSCH CELLARS

 

Hello Sonoma!

California CS vines

Words: Henry Yuen          Pix: S. Yuen

Chinese blog: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/357811/

Last year, we spent a two-day holiday in Napa and we kept saying we needed a few more days towards the end. This time, we spent a total of five days in both Napa and Sonoma and once again, we told ourselves we needed another week. The fact is no matter how many times we have been, we still anxious to take in as much as possible; quite often, we leave with the same feeling it is too hasty and that we probably miss a few things here and there.  I guess this is a common feeling California most famous wine regions have on visiting wine lovers; that a holiday there almost always seems too short regardless how many days you have. Under the California sun, there are indeed many things to do; place to visit and interesting stories to tell, both indoor and outdoor; no holiday ever seems long enough.  Getting up each morning brings in the anticipation of another day of food and wine exploration.wine bars & tasting rooms everywhere

Are we complaining? Certainly not! Who would complain about all the wine tastings and delicious meals at rustic towns full of histories! Spending time in galleries and quaint shops looking for one of a kind artifact, fashions and jewelleries, and feeling the vibe of the nightlife of bustling towns are all bonuses.inviting wine bars

Though it is impossible to even scratch the surface of the over 600 wineries combined and pockets of tasting rooms here and there, the wines at Sonoma were as impressive as her natural beauty. What we did was to take our time at each tasting and not feel obligated to rush to the next winery. This turned out to be a wise strategy as we enjoyed each stop a lot more and got to know some of the wines and their stories better.

We did a loop start from the southern part of Napa and headed north from downtown Napa to Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga where we managed to stroll relaxingly and dined like the locals. From there, we drove to Sonoma region touching on Geyserville, Healdsburg, Sebastopol and back down south to Petaluma. It was really an enjoyable road trip as the weather was a charmer and lush green was everywhere. Heading south from Geyersville to Petaluma, Sonoma was picturesque with rolling hills, farm houses, uniform vines and lazy farm animals grazing on endless fields.Rodney Strong Vineyards

I am a big fan of Cabernet Sauvignon so let’s get that out of the way. First up on the tasting list were a series of Cabernet Sauvignon from Rodney Strong Vineyards. With over 1000 acres planted in the Sonoma County that practices sustainable and carbon neutral farming, Rodney Strong Vineyards has a few tiers of well-crafted Cabernet Sauvignons that represent the terroir of Sonoma well. The 2011 Estate Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is rich and bold with plum and cherries aroma and a hint of smokiness due to the 17 months in oak. The 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon also from Alexander Valley is sensational, smooth on entry with a hint of licorice and cocoa. Both are ready to drink now but will improve for the next five to ten years. Not to be missed is the Rodney Strong Brothers Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Single Vineyard, Alexander Valley. This big, powerful cab is rich and velvety with delicious dry plum and cherries on the palate and a smooth finish due to the 25 months in 49% new French oak. Ready to drink now as well but will hold up superbly for special occasions to come. R.S. Cab Sauv

To further appreciate their efforts in terms of crafting well-balanced Cabernet Sauvignon, we were led to the cellar for some barrel sampling of the 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Gorgeous aroma of dry cherries and black fruit with a silky mouth feel, the 2012; still waiting for the winemaker’s final attention before bottling; will definitely be amongst Rodney’s top lineups upon released.  Barrel labelOther Cab tasted included the Pine Ridge Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. A forward, smooth Napa Cabernet with exquisite aroma of dry plum, a hint of mint and herbs. On the palate, it has lots of black fruits, currents and a big finish. If you want to find a good representation of what Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is all about, this is it. Another Napa Valley product is the Honrama Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, also a full-bodied cabernet that is round with lots of black currents and plum aroma and will go well with a thick slice of juicy rib eye. For fans of intense oak treatment in their wines, the Farm Collective Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 would be a good choice. Black fruits, spice and vanilla give way to smoky and cedar earth aroma. A few years in the cellar would tame the oak intensity to render a more balanced profile. The Renteria Vineyard Salva Tierra Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2007 has a smooth entry and balanced mouth feel with enough black fruit sweetness and a long finish. The Benzinger Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2009 portrays lots of dark fruit and dry plum on entry with a hint of cocoa and leafy aroma.

A visit to Napa and Sonoma would not be complete without tasting luscious California Zinfandels. At Rodney Strong, we tasted the 2012 Estate Zinfandel Knotty Vines, Northern Sonoma Valley. This is a smooth Zinfandel with juicy red fruit aroma. The 2011 Estate Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley has ripe black fruit and herb aroma and enough depth due to the 8 months in French oak. The Cline Cellars 2011 Big Break Zinfandel is a delightful Zinfandel with a full-bodied texture that packs blackberry, cocoa and spice aroma.  The 2011 EOS Reserve Rossini Zinfandel, Napa Valley is full-bodied with raspberry and earthy aroma that ends in a long finish. The Seghesio Old Vines Zinfandel 2011 is a well-crafted luscious wine with supple and smoothness on entry and lots of dark fruits aroma that lingers. Those average 90 years and older vines have a huge stamp on them and are truly significance of the best Zinfandel California has to offer.

While at Rodney Strong, we couldn’t resist tasting a few Pinot Noirs too. The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley is medium-bodied but packs lots of fruity aroma and a silky, toasty finish. The 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley is crafted with the best fruit from the Valley and is elegantly soft due to the 100% French oak treatment.  The posh mouth feel easy has lots of cherries, licorice and dry herb aroma. We also tasted the Red Lava Vineyards Lake County Reserve Syrah 2004. Equally attractive, it is also full-bodied with a smooth entry and enticing cherries and spice aroma with a hint of oak. Another interesting encounter was the Cline Cellar 2012 Ancient Vines Mourvedre where the vines are 100 years old giving the wine the added depth and concentration. Across the street from Cline Cellar is the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards with its lineup of Italian grape varietals. The grandfather was the one who invented the famed Jacuzzi bathtub that we spa in. I particular liked their 2011 Lake County Primitivo with its balanced mouth feel and bright fruit aroma on a smooth finish. Russian River Valley Pino Noir

All in all during the trip, I had enough Cabernet Sauvignon to satisfy my big Cab craving for a while.  As for the California whites and Rosés, let’s say they are the perfect excuse for another California trip!

 

 

 

One evening, Nine Chablis

Chablis map

Words: Henry Yuen ( Chinese post: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/348262 )

I recently talked about the cache and status that Champagne brings forward and how the whole sparkling wine world look up to Champagne with awe and revere. Champagne’s esteemed reputation has always been invariably shared by imitators who liberally use the name and by novice drinkers who misuse it.

Evidently, Chablis is in the same boat. Chablis takes on the same challenge to convince to the world that only wines made from Chardonnay grapes grown in the Chablis region in France can be called Chablis. Other Chardonnays around the world should never have the word “Chablis” in their labels!  So why is Chablis so unique that a lot of other Chardonnay wines want to associate with it?

For one, Chardonnay is the only grape varietal produced in the area surrounding the village of Chablis in France. Located in the northern part of Burgundy, it has about 10,000 acres of vines planted in a relatively cool climate region. Soil is predominately clay and limestone as a result of the area being under sea level million years ago and yielding in lots of fossils such as sea shells and oyster sediments. The unique terroir generally produces wines that carry handsome crispness with bright acidity, minerality and a hint of wet earth. It is this distinct characteristic that makes Chablis famous!

Usually un-oaked and 100% Chardonnay, Chablis is fresh, lively yet elegant.  The word ‘elegant’ is aptly and frequently used to describe Chablis for its tantalizing flavour profile and lush golden colour. Usage of oak aging introduced by certain contemporary winemakers recently started to give the wines a more balanced profile. While the region has warm days and cool nights, early spring frost can sometimes wipe out substantial crops, hence the importance of selecting good vintages. Needless to say, such year by year fluctuation pushes up the demand for preferred vintages and consequently, higher price points.

I had the chance to learn more about the wines of Chablis at a wine-pairing 3 course dinner at Secret Location Restaurant in Gastown.  Conducted by three of Vancouver’s celebrated sommeliers – Brooke Delves from Wildebeest; Jason Yamasaki of Chambar and Roger Maniwa of Hawksworth. Each chef recommended one Chablis to pair with each course and asked the guests to choose their preferences. The refreshing La CHABLISIENNE, Chablis La Pierrelee 2010 we sipped with fresh oysters prior dinner has already heightened our anticipation.  The nine smartly selected Chablis were indeed the perfect presentation for a fun and educational evening.

Wines

  1. Domaine DROUHIN VAUDON, Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir 2009
  2. Domaine BILLAUD-SIMON, Chablis Premier Cru Montee de Tonnerre 2009
  3. Domanie A’DAIR, Chablis 2008
  4. PASCAL BOUCHARD, Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume 2010
  5. Domaine LOUIS MOREAU, Chablis 2011
  6. Domaine CHRISTIAN MOREAU Pere et Fils, Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons Cuvee Guy Morneau 2011
  7. Domaine PATTES LOUP, Chablis 2011
  8. Jean-Marc BROCARD, Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2010
  9. Domaine William Fevre, Chablis Grand Cru Valmur 2008 

Seldom do we have the chance to taste these wines all in one session! These Chablis were poured and discussed to provide the comparison and understanding of Chablis throughout the evening. Such well-organized wine event that allowed us to expand our horizon in the world of Chablis is truly enjoyed and appreciated. It takes wine-drinking to a higher level, for both wine-lovers and novices alike!

Meyer’s wines

Meyer wine pix

Words: Henry Yuen       Pix: Stephanie Yuen

Chinese blog: http://taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/?variant=zh-hans/

A recent wine-pairing dinner hosted by the Meyer Family Vineyards at Forage comported wine lovers to fully appreciate what terroir in wine-making was all about!

Meyer Family Vineyards of the Okanagan Valley owns vineyards in both the Naramata Bench and Okanagan Falls. Their philosophy; which they diligently practise is to concentrate on producing what is best for the terroir instead of casting a wide net to plant and use every varietal possible. As a result, the vineyards dedicate their efforts on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Proprietor Jak Meyer, an astute businessman with background in investment banking, understands and grasps the importance of quality over quantity. Different tiers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to best embrace and utilize what Mother Nature granted the two benches are their strongholds.

To wet our palate, we tasted the 2012 Rose along with the very tender braised octopus salad. The evening got more serious when a line-up of four different Chardonnays came on board to be sipped with the moist and flaky Pacific spring salmon with leeks, squash gnocchi and shrimp chowder sauce. They were: 2012 Okanagan Valley Chardonnay, the 2011 McLean Creek Chardonnay, the 2011Tribute Series Chardonnay and the Micro Cuvee Chardonnay. The wines, each with its own subtly-unique flavour and body, were there to demonstrate how different terroir produced diversed grapes, though they belonged to the same varietal. And of course, the detail orientation; timely observation and wine-making techniques of Chris Carson the winemaker, was the other key element behind these delicious Chardonnays.

Jak Mayer and Chef Whittaker

The entry level 2012 Okanagan Valley Chardonnay is sourced from both the McLean Creek Vineyard and the Old Main Road Vineyard in the Naramata Bench. It is a crispy, uncomplicated Chardonnay which is fresh on the palate with a hint of apple sauce and warm citrus profile. The 2011 Tribute Series Chardonnay is 100% made from 15 year old vines in the Naramata Bench that is known for its distinct soil profile of clay and loam. The grapes were gently pressed and the light French oak treatment gave the wine the creamy golden colour. Clean entrance with   refreshing citrus notes and peach aroma; and a hint of oak and buttery in mid-palate. This is definitely a signature Naramata Bench product. The 2011 McLean Creek Chardonnay made with 100% grapes from the vineyard in the Okanagan Falls. The winemaking technique is perhaps more or less the same, but the fruits here render its own character due to the different soil profile, elevation and slope angle. A creamy entry with hints of peach and honey, this Chardonnay benefits from the oak treatment but not enough to weight it down. Finally, the 2011 Micro Cuvee Chardonnay is produced only from the best juice worthy for the quality demanded of this tier. When a particular vintage is deemed not good enough; no Micro Cuvee will be produce. The aroma is of tropical fruits, citrus and a lovely peach note with good creamy mouth feel and proper weight and balance.

Pork due + 4 Pinot Noir

Next came the flight of four Pinot Noir to pair with The Geiderman Farms Pork Duo. The 2011 Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir was sourced from different contracted growers throughout the Okanagan Valley. The aroma is full of berries and black fruits. It is a juicy Pinot with a lighter profile with decent acidity. The 2011 McLean Creek Pinot Noir is 100% from the Naramata Bench with 10 months in 100% French oak to give it the structure and depth and is fumed with oma of black fruits; has adequate acidity and good balance. The 2011 Reimer Pinot Noir came from the vineyard in the Kelowna region. Using 100% French oak and 10 months in barrels, this wine has lots of depth, balanced acidity and fruit components. Luckily, the 2012 was considered good enough and Micro Cuvee Pinot Noir was produced for this vintage. With aroma of plum and berries, this Pinot Noir is smooth and well balanced, thanks to the 100% new French oak treatment. A decidedly Okanagan Pinot Noir that is jammy with sensual acidity with enough structure. This Pinot is cellar worth quality!