Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Back from the Okanagan

Sorry for the lack of activity but August has been a busy month, what with hot weather pushing business at the restaurant through the roof, an extended visit from my in laws and a trip to the Okanagan I've just been too busy to write but here goes.

As I mentioned we spent some time in the Okanagan Valley recently, Summerland mostly, courtesy of friends who have been gracious enough to loan us their cottage near the lake for the past four summers. It is an absolute joy to just get away from the city for a week or so and do, well really nothing. We generally spend the time beaching and reading with a movie viewing each evening before bed at around 11pm. Food is, for once, secondary although the fruit and vegetables available are just beyond my wildest dreams and dirt cheap. We returned with a case of unbelievable Red Haven peaches which I paid 79 cents a pound for, yesterday on Granville Island I saw the same fruit at $2.99 a pound.

We visited the Farmer's Market in Summerland and although the market was mostly void of farmers, full of crafts and baked goods, I did spend some time talking with the owner of a small organic farm and sampling his produce. Beautiful heirloom tomatoes at $2 a pound, a massive bag of fresh basil for $2, lemon cucumbers so sweet I ate one like an apple for $2 a pound and the list goes on.

I also spent a full morning tasting, and buying, wines on the Naramata bench and once again with mixed feelings. The problem, as I've stated many times, with the Okanagan wines are the price/quality ratio, many of the wines I tasted were very good but rarely did I feel they were worth the price tag and there is virtually no "entry level" wines from the smaller estate wineries. I know that limited production and high land/labour costs mean that $12 wines from 10,000 case wineries aren't going to happen but almost all these wines start north of $20 and go rapidly up from there meaning that they just aren't likely to be on the average dinner table too often.

The best wines I tasted were, once again, from LaFrenz Winery, consistently they seem to produce quality across the board but I was also pleasantly surprised by Lake Breeze for their overall quality and Hillside Winery, especially for their white wines. It also became apparent that Syrah is becoming the signature red grape on the Naramata bench, which is a good thing as far as marketing goes. I ended up picking up a mixed case or so of wines, mostly reds but with some Hillside Viognier tossed in as well.

For the second year running however my favourite wine from the trip was the delightful frizzante Rose from 8th Generation Vineyard. This nondescript winery situated right on Highway 97 produces a wide variety of wine but their frizzante Confidence Rose is just perfect for deck chairs after a hot day at the beach. Frizzante wines are sparkling but not too sparkling, as they have the secondary fermentation halted to create less bubbles. The 2011 Confidence is a blend of Syrah, Pinot Gris and Dunkenfelder, a grape so obscure that it's actual parentage is unknown, but who cares. The wine is a burst of strawberries with a hint of something sharper in the background, cranberry maybe, and although it contains a fair bit of residual sugar it's crisp acidity keeps it from being sweet. Once agin, as is typical of the Okanagan, the wine is a little pricey at $22.50 a bottle but in this case I don't mind paying. They make less than 650 cases of Confidence a year so if you get the chance to grab a bottle do so, but drink it quickly before the summer fades away.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The Wild Olive "Old Vines" Chenin Blanc 2011

In laws are in town for an extended visit and father in law is a traditionalist, to say the least, when it comes to wine pairing so even though Sockeye Salmon on the grill screams Pinot Noir to me I knew that we'd have to pour something white for "Grand Dad".  In order to keep peace in the family I headed to the South African section of the Arbutus Village store while doing my Friday morning run around.

I headed to South Africa because I find South African Chenin Blanc, or Steen as the old timers call it, to be one of the best all purpose white wines in the market place. Chenin is a bit like Riesling in that it can be bone dry to uber sweet and almost anything in between and still produce quality wines. The South African take on Chenin generally accentuates the floral, fruity character but is still made dry, Chenin should exhibit honeysuckle (floral) notes as well as citrus, green apple and a mineral quality, if unoaked the wine will be clean, fresh and best drunk young while oaked Chenin will have a smoky character with more of the honeyed complexity and hints of cooked citrus, think marmalade. I will also admit that there's probably lots of really indifferent South African Chenin on the market so I generally avoid the real bottom end of the price points.

I decided to try something new and, based on my previous success with their Pinotage, selected The Wild Olive "Old Vines" Chenin Blanc 2011 from The Grape Grinders. The wine retails for $12.99 and has broad distribution, it's nicely packaged and is conveniently closed with a screw cap. In the glass the wine shows a pale yellow with green edge for colour and a slightly sweet floral nose, in the mouth it's more about green apple than citrus but there's a reasonable acidity and a medium to log finish.

The wine was paired with grilled Sockeye, which is rich and full flavoured and while in a perfect world I'd like a bit more acidity in reality for $12.99 the wine is very good value and would be a welcome addition to any summer barbecue featuring grilled fish or poultry. In my mind it's not as good an example of South African Chenin as the Spier Signature but the Wild Olive is a bit easier to find and a bit cheaper so it's a reasonable alternative.