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Napa Valley continues to make some outstanding wines, but the recession has meant that even some of the top wines are being heavily discounted. A trip to Costco in Bellingham could save you hundreds of dollars….officer.

As for the Okanagan, the quality and professionalism of the wineries continues to impress. From a “wine tourists” perspective, Quails Gate and Burrowing Owl do a great job with their restaurants, tours and overall experience. In another ten years this place will surely be firmly on the map.

White Burgundy

I was excited to taste a range of top class white Burgundy. To me, when you get a good one, they are the best Chardonnays in the world, hands down.

Why? Great white Burgundy can have a level of complexity and depth that you rarely find in other Chardonnays. They are also usually drier and more minerally on the palate than most New World wines, with a natural acidity that dances across the palate.

The top appellations to look for are Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. It’s often a good idea to cellar these wines for a few years, and I would also consider decanting them. Also, don’t serve them too cold, and remember they can be a beautiful way to end a meal with some soft cheeses. When these wines are on they’re some of the best white wines in the world.

Chablis

If you don’t like big oaky Chardonnay then maybe Chablis is the ticket. This region, in the northern reaches of Burgundy, makes the most minerally, crisp and lean Chardonnays on the market.

The colors are always pale and the green tones not only indicate youth but can possibly lead you to a Chablis. The nose can be very light and delicate, without much intensity or definition. I always hated Chablis in blind tasting exams because of their neutrality. But the best wines show more intensity, a purity and focus, with notes of wet stones, lemon rind, and granny smith apples.

The palate is always bone dry, with many of them in the light to medium body camp, and defined by this chalky mouthfeel and vibrant acidity. At their best these are stylish wines that are elegant and refined, without any oak, or obvious signs of it. If most Australian Chardonnay is like Dolly Parton then Chablis is more like Kate Moss, minus the coke.

If you go big and buy the Grand Cru wines then make sure you cellar them for at least 5 years before opening them. Great Chablis can cellar 1-2 decades, or more.

Winery Visits

I am halfway through the Bordeaux tour with James Lawther, MW. We are having a blast visiting (and tasting) some phenomenal chateaux. These Bordeaux chateaux are not open to visitors, unless you are a trade buyer and have a connection. The only reason that we are able to visit is because of our connections and buying activities. I get asked how to organize visits to wineries by many people, and thought it would be nice of me to share my response here.

You can email them directly with a request for a tour and tasting. Just propose a time and date and leave yourself lots of space between appointments. I would set a maximum of 3 per day.

But when it comes to visiting the top French wine estates it can be hard to get an appointment because they don’t charge for tastings, and these are quite exclusive places. So you may want to consider joining a wine tour where all the organization and transportation is dealt with by someone else. Then you can just sit back and relax.

YOUR HELP NEEDED PLEASE

Last year a mother contacted me asking for help to build awareness of her son’s tragic condition. You can read about it and how you can help below. As a Dad, I couldn’t imagine how the parents feel, let alone her son.

We have donated two 1 day Foundation courses to the silent auction and hope that you can contribute in any way you can, either by raising awareness, making a donation to the auction, or taking a table at the event in October.

Thanks,
James

In May of 2009, our 5 year old son Stephen was diagnosed with a horrible, degenerative and rare disease called MPS IV B, or Morquio B. It is one of a handful of disorders that falls under the name MPS, or Mucopolysaccharidosis.

This is not something a person comes across every day. In fact, most of the doctors we have had to visit for Stephen’s various tests haven’t seen a patient with this condition. More frightening, many have never even heard of it. We couldn’t find any information when we tried to research it ourselves.

There is precious little funding out there for the treatment of rare diseases: cash-strapped governments see no political benefit and the pharmaceutical corporations see minimal profit potential. And yet, with a proper level of funding, many rare diseases would be treatable! Our son Stephen has one of those rare diseases. And indeed, there are therapies for some forms of MPS. Just not his. It didn’t take us long to decide that it was our destiny to raise funds and awareness around the specific affliction of Morquio B – not to help just our son, but to offer hope for a better, longer life to a forgotten few around the world.

We are raising funds to support research in all areas of study relating specifically to MPS IV B (or Morquio B). It is our mission to raise funds for research and develop a better understanding of this disease. It is our hope that this research will lead to a treatment.

Our Third Annual Gala Dinner and Silent Auction will be held at The Exectutive Airport Plaza Hotel and Conference Centre in Richmond, BC on October 20, 2012. This fundraiser will benefit “The Priest Family Fund for Morquio B” at The University of British Columbia. Tickets are $75 each and all proceeds will go towards research for Morquio B at UBC.

In supporting UBC, 100% of all donations will go directly towards research efforts relating to this disease. As one of Canada’s largest research institutions, UBC doctors and researchers have the passion and expertise to uncover the mysteries of Morquio B and advance our understanding towards a cure. We are very proud to be raising funds for UBC Medicine.

For more information or to make a donation, please visit www.morquiob.com.

Wines of Alsace

Alsace never fails to impress. For me, this is the best white wine producing region in the world for Riesling, Gewurz and Pinot Gris.

ALSACE RIESLING

The Rieslings are very different from German Rieslings in that they are always higher in alcohol, fuller in body (medium to med+ bodied usually), and sometimes bone dry. The acidity is more marked, and sometimes can be bracing, but in the best wines it is a vibrant thread giving life, energy and longevity to the wine.

Weinbach is a favorite, Trimbach’s top wines are exceptional but there are so many others and you don’t have to spend a bomb to get a lovely wine. They are great by themselves or with spicy samosas or spring rolls to get the party started.

ALSACE GEWURZTRAMINER


If only Gewurz had a different name I’m sure it would be much more successful as a grape. Don’t even ask people in the wine industry to spell it. It gets butchered.

Pfaffenheim is a producer that consistently shows well in my tastings. I love the Grand Cru for about $30. I went to visit them a few years ago. It’s a co-operative, with hundreds of members, because there are so many small growers in Alsace with less than a hectare of vines. People often look down on co-ops but this one is top notch, producing excellent quality and lots of it. They generously gave me a Vendange Tardive Gewurz to take home – absolutely stunning and a shame we don’t get more VT here.

The response from Liquor Boards is typically that it doesn’t sell well enough. But that is flawed. If it’s not available in the first place then it can’t sell and a complete portfolio offer should be the goal in a Monopoly system. In fact, the selection at the LDB in several categories is lackluster so check out the private stores as an alternative.

Fine Vintage Blind Tasting at the IVSA – Vancouver New Products Salon

Congratulations to Jason Yamasaki! Jason won the Fine Vintage Blind Tasting Challenge at the IVSA-Vancouver New Products Salon. The wine was a 2005 Chateau Beaumont Haut Medoc Cru Bourgeois Superieur from France with 13.5% alcohol priced at $50.

Thanks to all those who participated, and we look forward to seeing you at the next IVSA New Products Salon.

A Taste of Italy

Chianti Classico

When you see Classico on an Italian wine label, it means that the wines come from the original wine producing district, which is typically the best area. I always find it amazing that hundreds of years ago the original vine growers knew which were the best areas.

Tasting Chianti without food is heavy sledding. These wines were meant to be drunk with food, and particularly pasta in a tomato sauce, which reduces the acidity in the wine. A nice lasagna would be the perfect match.

Sangiovese is the predominant grape in most, if not the exclusive varietal. You can often tell these in a blind tasting because of their combination of dryness, crisp acid, medium to high tannin, and a slightly bitter flavour of black cherries and earthiness. Monsanto is my favourite but you can find dozens in the $20 – $30 range that hit the mark.

Nero d’Avola
This is the most important black grape of Sicily, and takes its name from the town of Avola. The wines are sometimes compared to Syrah, but really it is unique and I find them more acidic and tannic than most Syrah.

Southern Italy is the source of large volumes of wine, usually at very low prices. But producers such as Cusumano have elevated the quality to new levels, along with much higher prices. If you want to try something a bit different then give this grape a whirl.

Barolo

“The King of Wines, the wine of Kings” is often used to describe this classic area in Piedmont that products muscular wines from the Nebbiolo grape.

Barolo is also a controversial place because some producers, the modernists, have changed production techniques to create softer wines that are aged in small barriques. The traditionalists are outraged by this, and you can imagine the heated exchanges between stubborn Italian winemakers.

Barolo, to me, is a wine with only moderate color, usually showing an orange garnet shade at the rim. This is not just because the wines usually have 5 years of age before they reach the market, but because Nebbiolo has this characteristic. The nose is typically very rustic, with gamey and leathery aromas, and often described as smelling of tar and roses.

The palate is described as full bodied but I don’t see them that way. They are more medium to full, and a far cry from Barossa Shiraz or the weight of a rich Sonoma Zin. They are always very dry, chewy to the point that the wines are not for everyone, and the best have layers of flavour such as tobacco, leathery tastes, and barnyardy notes.

What I like most is that they have character and individuality. When you buy them consider decanting them for an hour or two, and most of them need at least another 5 years cellaring. The classic match is osso buco.

California Pinot Noir

Certain parts of California are making gorgeous Pinot Noirs and the best wines are certainly on a par with the finest New World Pinots. The Russian River in Sonoma is all the rage, Carneros is another cooler area that produces excellent wines, and the Pinots from Santa Barbara inspired the movie Sideways.

I like these wines because I’m going off the barnyardy aromas of some red Burgundy. I’m getting more into wines with freshness, softer tannins and a touch sweeter fruit. Compared to red Burgundy, California Pinot is usually marked by darker colors, fuller body, higher alcohol, and a spicy flavor to the red berry fruit. Hugh Johnson, who just turned 70, must have lost his marbles when he recently said California wines were not sophisticated.

But different nationalities can have different tastes and most European palates prefer drier wines with firmer tannins. “More structure old boy”, as Hugh would say. Whereas in Oz and North America we generally prefer fruitier wines that are not quite so lean. I remember when I worked in Bordeaux we would sell all the thin, disgusting reds to the Germans, who lapped them up. The same wines never found a buyer in the States.

Washington State Meritage

Our neighbors to the south are increasingly coming out with flashy, expensive wines. There’s usually an impressive story behind each one, such as The Long Shadows project where Allen Shoup has assembled the cream of the international winemaking community to create their signature varietal wines in WA. So, for example, you have Michel Rolland making a Merlot.

There’s no question that WA makes some gorgeous wines and I’ve been a huge fan of wineries like Betz and Woodward Canyon for years. They are, frankly, light years ahead of the Okanagan and a lot of it has to do with more expertise amongst the winemakers and grape growers.

But the price of some of these new showy wines is astronomical – with many of them ranging from $65+ and up. Are they worth it? I say no. You can get so many great wines for much less than that. And these expensive WA wines often seem to be cookie cutter with the same massive amounts of concentration, almost black colors, fruit flavors that border on the sweet over-ripe style, and enough alcohol to power the UK World Cup soccer team.

Nice to taste, but not worth buying, unless you just don’t really care about value for money in which case fill your boots.