I was skeptical.
Wandering the aisles of the 39th & Cambie location of B.C. Liquor Stores here in Vancouver, I glanced over and saw this Spanish red from Jumilla I hadn't noticed before. Listed at $9.99, which is pretty much the (very) lowest price you'll ever find a (barely) drinkable wine selling at in our heavily-taxed market.
A double-take had me noticing that this already-cheap wine is on sale as a limited-time-offer for $7.99 (!) through March 31, which for ANY bottle is pretty much unheard of in our neck-of-the-woods.
I decided to give it a try because, worse comes to worst, I'll have only spent eight bucks on a bottle of cooking wine.
Bodegas Luzon Jumilla Castillo de Madax 'Mediterranean Blend' is a blend of Monastrell, Tempranillo, and Garnacha. All three varieties are represented by black licorice-y fruit, cherries and leather, plus opulent, round purple fruit with a good smattering of black pepper on the finish. It's medium-bodied, and though there's no oak treatment, a few days macerating with the skins provides well-integrated tannins bringing proper, balanced structure. It's juicy. It's tasty. If I tasted it blind, I think I'd quite possibly nail both the country and region; it's that legit. (I'm always EXCELLENT at blind tasting in hindsight!)
Have a wedding you're planning? (I can help with that, by the way.) Need a case of something tasty to have on hand for occasional unexpected guests? Only have a ten-dollar bill on ya?
Seriously. Go. It's available all over town and I don't think I've seen, or will see, a crazy value like this anytime in the past or near future.
One of my most favourite, expressive grape varieties grown in British Columbia is Syrah. Perennial favourites include the outings from Nichol Vineyard, Le Vieux Pin, Black Hills Estate Winery, and Moon Curser Vineyards.
I'm really digging that Rust Wine Co.'s zooming in on the variety as of late. I recently got to taste through a quartet of Syrahs they'll be releasing in April, each one grown in a different part of B.C. wine country, and solid expressions of their vineyard provenance.
Also. Can we talk about how STUNNING their South Okanagan home base is?!?
Here are my two faves:
Rust Wine Co. 2019 Syrah – South Rock Vineyard – Golden Mile Bench is pretty on-point for varietal typicity Syrah fans are hoping for. Violets and dark purple fruit on the nose lead to gobs of fresh-picked, still-sun-warmed blackberries on the palate, with a real good helpin' of bacon fat and white pepper laced throughout. It's well-woven; this is decidedly a Syrah with good tannin integration (particularly considering it's right out of the gates), and hardly a big, jammy, clumsy Shiraz.
Rust Wine Co. 2019 Syrah – Lazy River Vineyard – Similkameen Valley is for those wanting that opulent, juicy, stain-your-teeth kinda style but still expect things nice and balanced. More baking spice on the nose with this one (What's up, cinnamon, star anise and cloves?), and plenty of brambly black fruit, On the palate there's suddenly a wave of fresh ginger cresting over it all, then it finishes with a good lashing of sarsaparilla. A cheeky kiss (JUST a kiss) of sweet character on the finish.
Also, bonus points for easy-to-read back labels with a the geeky stuff:
How fun is this?
The folks from British Columbia's Road 13 in Oliver wine country have unleashed a trio of double-wine packs just in time for Valentine's Day, which not only brings the delicious, but some cheeky fun as well.
The 'Love Is Blind' trio offers wine duos that have been (pretty smartly) wrapped so you don't know what each bottle contains. There are three sets: The Perfect Pair, Sea of Red, and the Dynamic Duo, priced at $61, $66, and $117 respectively.
Once you give each of 'em a whirl, you can pull that tab and see what you've got; there's a QR code on the label for those wanting to dig deeper.
So, the one I was sent was pretty fun, but I can't spoil the fun now, can I?
My Dynamic Duo started with a white chock-full of stone fruit like peaches and apricots, with a little squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of honey. The red was VERY peppery with plenty of blueberries and plums. 🤐
Wanna play around? You should. Vancouverites can pick up Love Is Blind wines at Artisan Wines at Lonsdale Quay.
Late last year I had the opportunity to visit the Bordeaux of France (for the first time), and while it was my first wine trip since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it would have been just as exciting an experience even if it were yet another trip sandwiched between other international ventures in a normal year. Was I tucking into big hunks of beef drenched in marrow-and-broth-laden Bordelaise sauce, and washing it all down with big, bold reds?
This tour was all about the sweet wines of Bordeaux, and let me tell you - it fascinated. That was mostly because, and I say this as someone coming from the land of Icewine, I'm usually not into sweet stuff; way more of a savoury guy. In saying that, the reason I opted for the venture was because the focus was all about food pairing, from pastry to poultry, from cheese to sushi. It was a head-turning experience, so much so that for this Valentine's Day I'm recommending straying from the sparkling and pink wine clichés, and venturing to the world of sweet Bordeaux.
Here's what you need to know:
Shake it things up a bit and give sweet Bordeaux wines a whirl. Just ask your local wine shop pro for recommendations in the category. The sip away and enjoy having another fun and tasty wine style in your arsenal.
In 'You-Know-Harry-McWatters-Would-Be-Beaming' news, the late pioneer of Canadian wine's daughters Christa-Lee and Darrien McWatters have been named two of Wine’s Most Inspiring People by Wine Industry Network Advisor, a leading industry online publication.
Both Christa-Lee and Darrien grew up in the industry as their father spearheaded everything from quality wineries (Sumac Ridge, See Ya Later Ranch, etc.) to launching the B.C. Wine Institute as its initial chair, to his position as founding chair of the B.C. Hospitality Foundation. Harry was an inspiration to many, as exemplified by Christa-Lee and Darrien following in those footsteps, now helming senior management roles of the family-founded TIME Family of Wines.
One of my favourite things in the British Columbian wine industry is the strong sense of comradery, community, and cooperation. "A rising tide floats all boats," and all that. Were it not for their father planting those roots, our industry might look quite different these days. It is people like those discussed here who propel our local industry forward.
This is probably a good time to mention how STUNNING the McWatters Collection 2017 Brut is. A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc that spent 42 MONTHS ON THE LEES! That lemon curd and honey is SO comfy and nestled well into buttery brioche.
Cheers to both Christa-Lee and Darrien, for being an important part of our past, present, and future.
For on this well-deserved acclaim, click here.
I was recently on CBC Radio discussing some zero-proof (or extremely low ABV) options for those looking to expand their booze-free universe. I'm so stoked that their are FINALLY, NUMEROUS opportunities for those looking to abstain for a day, a week, a month, or forever! Here are a few favourites mentioned, and where you can find them in B.C.
Starting top-left, clockwise:
Red Racer 'Street Legal' IPA - A zesty, hoppy fruit-driven refresher.
B.C. Liquor Stores, AFBev.ca
OPUS Aperitivo Spritz - SO close to a Aperol Spritz; so fun!
Major Supermarkets like Nesters and Whole Foods. Sansorium.com
Casamara Club Sparkling Amaro Soft Drinks - Kinda between a fernet and an amaro-style fizz. Ultra-complex.
Leitz Wines - The Riesling! The Pink! The Sparkling! The Cans! Collect 'em all! To me, the best non-alcoholic wines yet.
AFBev,ca, Vancouver: Drive Canteen, Kelowna: Wine & Beyond
Oddbird Sparkling Rosé - Chardonnay & Pinot Noir goodness from the Languedoc in France.
Benjamin Bridge Piquette Zero - A Nova Scotian take on the ever-growing, super-tasting Piquette category.
SofterDrink.ca, Victoria: Vessel
Big Drop Brewing Co. Ales - Given blind, I dunno if I'd automatically assume they're like 0.4% alcohol.
OPUS Gin & Tonic - Just what you'd hope for in the category.
Major Supermarkets like Nesters and Whole Foods. Sansorium.com
Undone Spirits - Like the real things, but a little less weight and concentration.
Victoria: Vintage Spirits, Kelowna: Wine & Beyond, SofterDrink.ca
A couple others you may have caught me mentioning, both from our friends on Vancouver Island.
Phillips iota Hazy IPA - Is this one of my absolute favourite, palate-deceiving, non-alcoholic craft beers out there? Yes!
AFBev.ca, Local Liquor Stores, PhillipsBeer.com
Lumette London Dry - Juniper berry, lemon, star anise, and all class. Take a bow, Team Lumette!
EnjoyLumette.com, Other Retail HERE
So, I'm doing the Dry January thing.
I've done it before, a few times. I've never done the whole month. Last year's American shenanigans on January 6 had me reaching for a Pinot Noir right quick. (I know, I know.)
But here I am again. So why do I do it?
First off, being in the wine industry, it is ALWAYS around. It's easy to pay no mind to consistency, but a couple glasses a day add up. And, of course, there are the days where we really go for it. It's easy to not give that much thought to 30-60-90 days of having drinks in a row.
Normally (NORMALLY!) it's in check, but I'm always hyper-sensitive to how wine/booze affects me. I get paranoid. I check in with my family doctor and get bloodwork done often, mainly to keep tabs on the ol' liver. It's always fine and healthy, which I attribute to eating well, a bit of exercise, and - I dunno - luck?
But more than anything, a break from booze certainly can't hurt. I find it's a good way of recalibrating myself.
What makes things MUCH easier these days is the accessibility of well-crafted, zero-proof beer, wine, and spirits. The category has exploded over the last few years and I'm sure the benefits reverberate wide.
So here we are, with a couple German drops I sourced locally at The Drive Canteen, here in Vancouver.
Leitz Zero Point Five Pinot Noir is tasty, but to me it's really not that much of a departure from really good (like really good) grape juice. It's not particularly sweet like Welch's, but it definitely tastes VERY PURPLE with not much else going on. It's not particularly 'wine'-y, but I'd imagine with something rich and salty - a wild mushroom and parmesan risotto, maybe - it'd balance things well.
Leitz 'Eins Zwei Zero' Sparkling Non-Alcoholic Riesling, simply put, blew me away. My (admittedly odd) marker of how good a low-booze/no-booze option is to think if I was at an event or party, a drink or two in, and someone passed me said drink. Were I to take an initial sip or two of this wine without paying too much attention, I can pretty much assure I'd think it was a legit Riesling that happened to be low-alcohol. That touch of spritz to it lifts up all those key limes, Granny Smith apples, and dollops of marmalade well.
There's no way I can remember the first time (or first few times, really) I had wines from Oxford Landing of Australia.
It would have been in the 1990's, but even though I can't recall specifics, I can pretty much tell you why I had them.
I didn't know much about wine when I knocked 'em back way back when, but they likely acted as a step in my self-education of grape varieties and a little food pairing, too.
I went on from there, getting certified by WSET and various other educational bodies, while climbing the industry ladder from serving, to managing, to wine director roles and beyond. I learned and tasted everything from Bonarda to Beaujolais, from Fino to Falanghina, from Pinot to Pet-Nat. While I enjoyed the Oxford Landing wines back in the day, I guess you could say I simply moved on and never looked back.
It had been many years since I'd even thought about them, until a few weeks back when the folks from Pacific Wine & Spirits, a local wine importer, offered to send me a quartet of their new releases which featured a complete aesthetic brand refresh.
First off: how sharp are those bottles? Well done to all involved in that. They're quite handsome, super-clean, and will likely jump off the shelf, hardly being mistaken for other brands.
Truth be told, I didn't hold much hope. If I liked them in my early-twenties; what are the odds they'd suit my mid-forties palate? Frankly, I wasn't even sure if Oxford Landing was an actual winery, a co-op kinda scenario, or a virtual brand produced by some skyscraper-dwelling board of directors, hardly tethered to anything authentic.
Egg. Meet face.
The (very real) winery based in the Riverland region, South Australia along the Murray River was started by Wyndham Hill-Smith (known as 'Wyndy,' natch) in 1958?
Hill-Smith? As in the founding family of Australian wine who are still at the helm of Pewsey Vale, Heggies, Yalumba, and so on? Yeah, THAT family! In fact, Oxford Landing used to be known as Yalumba River Estate.
Well, as the Hill-Smith family are wont to do, they're progressive in their winegrowing approach and overall business practices. They're certified sustainable, bottle in lightweight glass, recycle 100% of their wastewater, and in 2007 embarked on a revegetation project planting 200,000 native trees and shrubs in 600 hectares of surrounding farmland, with all vines split into 150 two-hectare blocks, creating many whole ecosystems throughout the property. For the sake of ticking another box, I'll share that the wines are vegan, too.
Is it a big brand? Yeah, kinda. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Particularly if an entity of this size can demonstrate that sustainability and quality can co-exist in authentic wines of place. Untwisting caps and getting into them, I was quite impressed by their quality. Since they were wines of my youth I thought they'd be, I dunno, too sweet, confected, or simple for my ALL-GROWED UP PALATE.
Nope. They're solid. They carry varietal typicity and offer a sense of (sunny, breezy) place. For a good dollop of icing on the cake, they're line-priced at around 16 bucks on private store shelves around Vancouver. Need an armload of crowd-pleasing, tasty wines that won't break the bank? Here you go.
Oxford Landing Estates Pinot Gris 2020 - Naturally fermented with three months of daily lees-stirring, there's ALL the citrus with pomelo, pink grapefruit and lime and the forefront, finishing with lemon curd and a squeeze of blood orange at the end. There's a touch of river-rock salinity in there, too; I love that.
In BC: Urban Liquor (Kelowna), Fremont Liquor (Port Coquitlam), Wine & Beyond (Kelowna), Liquor Planet (Victoria)
Oxford Landing Estates Chardonnay 2020 - Wild fermented with lees contact, and a subtle dose of oak, it has the crunch, juicy acidity of fresh green grapes, but those grapes are served atop a slice of lemon meringue pie with a marzipan crust.
In BC: Kitsilano Wine Cellar (Vancouver), Newport Liquor Store (Vancouver), Everything Wine (Surrey, Victoria, North Van), Greenrock Liquor (Nanaimo)
Oxford Landing Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 - Gobs of roasted red bell pepper are lifted by fresh basil and sage, finishing off with a good smattering of fennel seeds. This is more of a medium-weight Cabernet, a juicier, softer style than what some may be used to, but this gentler structural expression should make it more dynamic at the dinner table.
In BC: New District (Vancouver), Urban Liquor (Kelowna), Liquor Plus (Saanich), Nesters (Whistler), Greenrock Liquor, (Nanaimo)
Oxford Landing Estates Shiraz 2018 - This wine comes in at a civilized 13.5% alcohol, so no need to worry about it being too bombastic. A generous helping of blueberry compote has a handful of affable sour cherries at its core. That's what I got coming out of the gate, but further sips brought a lashing of dark chocolate and a lick of spearmint towards the finish.
In BC: Liberty Wine (Commercial Drive, Vancouver), Liquor Plus (Saanich), Greenrock Liquor (Nanaimo), Everything Wine (Surrey), Spinnakers (Victoria)
Looking for 'em around your neck of the woods? Give Wine-Searcher a whirl:
We're lucky to have an assortment of varieties which excel in British Columbia; most often those in the know will point you towards Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. This isn't to say a case can't be made for Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, or hell - even Zweigelt for that matter, but that quartet are most often the most critically-acclaimed.
Many local wineries have their varietal or stylistic specialties, which is a good thing. It wasn't too long ago that way too many B.C. producers were trying to be all things to all people, individually running the scales from Auxerrois to Zinfandel.
As quality across the region has increased, focus has tightened, particularly on what does well where, and winemakers keeping their energy within their wheelhouse of expertise.
Case in point: Chris Carson, the viticulturalist and winemaker at Meyer Family Vineyards in Okanagan Falls, owned by JAK & Janice Meyer. The house specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and Carson is well-versed in the varieties, having worked extensively with them from New Zealand to Burgundy.
Dude can harness terroir like nobody's business.
The sun is shining more and more these days, and while some can enjoy balcony or backyard time, authorities have been turning a blind eye to civilized quaffing in public parks and beaches. So wherever we're cracking it, let's bust out some Chardonnays by one of B.C.'s best producers.
Meyer Family Vineyards 2017 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay comes from the winery's home vineyard in the Sub-G.I. of Okanagan Falls, a place ideally suited for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the region's G.D.D. numbers are very similar to those of Burgundy). Grown in gravel and sandy loam, a soft press and fermentation in stainless steel of the grapes were followed by a transfer to (18% new) French oak, then 11 months were spent on the lees, then bottled, unfined and unfiltred. A fairly lush style, it's quite creamy with elements of grilled limes and pineapple core, cradled by toasty gingerbread and a crack of clove.
Meyer Family Vineyards 2018 Stevens Block Chardonnay ($24.45) hails from the family's estate vineyard on the Naramata Bench Sub-G.I., north of Okanagan Falls on the east side of Okanagan Lake. A mix of silt and clay, the vineyard has a slight northerly aspect, allowing for a gentle, steady ripening and good acid preservation. The wine was whole-cluster soft-pressed, wild-fermented a couple months in stainless steel, then aged on lees six months in old French oak. The palate's awash with Gala, Honeycrisp and Granny Smith apples, citrusy acidity, a dusting of nutmeg and a dollop of meringue. Elegant and woven well. I had to double-check the price. It drinks like something in the $40 range. Get. It.
Meyer Family Vineyards 2018 Tribute Series Gordon A. Smith Chardonnay ($30.54) also comes from that Naramata vineyard and was soft-pressed, fermented in tank, then finished on the lees in (22% new) French oak for 11 months. Unfined, unfiltred. Some lovely, intoxicating aromatics here - salty sea air, lemon blossom and lemon zest lead to a decidedly tropical palate with guava, papaya, and then some lengthy green Anjou rounding things out. Further swirls and sips bring blood orange, Meyer lemon and fresh ginger. Layers upon layers upon layers. So pretty.
I've had these Chardonnays top of mind while perusing various food sites and blogs. Props need to go to my friend Jasmine who helms the @BlackFoodBloggers Instagram account, which introduced me to Toronto-based blogger Taneisha Morris. Both her Insta account (@TheSeasoned.Skillet) and website (SeasonedSkilletBlog.com) are loaded with "yummy, quick, comfort food that’s easy to repeat."
When thinking Chardonnay-friendly dishes, she had me at Jamaican Brown Stew Chicken:
"It is an extremely warm and comforting Caribbean Stew, where the chicken has been marinated in aromatic spices, braised down, an complimented with a delicious savoury gravy. The major key, and ingredient in this dish is the Browning. It is a natural food colouring sourced from a blend of caramel, vegetable concentrates and seasonings, commonly used in Caribbean households."
Any or all of these Chardonnays would hit this dish well, and it'd be portable enough for picnics! The recipe's here.
The wines can be ordered winery-direct, or can also be found at private stores around town for a few bucks more. Contact the winery to inquire about availability near you.
It was late last year when a couple friends introduced us to Absinthe Bistro on Commercial Drive, a favourite spot of theirs, here in Vancouver. While the French eatery has been around for a few years (albeit originally in a different location), for some reason we'd never made it there before, and this now fills us with regret. It's SO GOOD!
The place is the result of, well, a 'Canadian-chef-meets-Colombian-marketing-pro-in-Paris' situation, and we should consider ourselves lucky that Juliana and Cory Pearson opted to eventually put down their roots here in town.
The place is quite the charmer. Juliana's warm demeanor and spot-on service is a nightly master class in hospitality, while Cory's firing-on-all-cylinders kitchen offers French classics spun with West Coast fare.
Like many restaurants nowadays, they've been doing take-out, and that's what we opted to do the other night. Our friends chose the food (think things like Foie Gras Torchon w/ Red Onion-Apple Confit, Beef Carpaccio w/ Truffle Aioli, Parmesan, Capers & Arugula and Pan-Seared Sablefish w/ Spring Vegetable & Garlic Chive Risotto), and we brought the wine.
We decided to support the home team and go with British Columbian wines, and stick with super-small, independent producers.
Lock & Worth 2018 Whole Cluster Chardonnay is incredibly juicy with fresh lime, crunchy Granny Smith apple, and a good smattering of thyme. This wine is so bright and ALIVE; while it's tasty on its own, it really hit the spot with our starters, cutting through that foie torchon with ease.
For our mains, which also included Braised Pork Cheeks w/ Apple-Diable Sauce, Fried Potatoes, and Celery Root-Red Cabbage Remoulade (YUM!), we opted to go for a couple reds, both from Okanagan producer Anthony Buchanan.
Anthony Buchanan 2018 Pinot Noir 'Ashlyn' was de-stemmed, both partially foot-trodden and punched down, then wild-fermented over a couple weeks before spending just under a year in a mix of new, second-use, and neutral French oak. That oak offers a little toasty gingerbread, which in turn provides a nice platform for dusty red and black plums, flinty mulberries, and a smattering of anise.
Anthony Buchanan 2018 Syrah 'William Dean' is whole-cluster foot-trodden, wild-fermented over a couple weeks, and saw similar oak treatment as the Pinot, with a little American wood thrown in there, too. Gobs of peppery black fruit drench a good hunk of smoked beef brisket with the tiniest kiss of spearmint lifting the finish. Damn fine wine. Damn fine.
So there's your to-do list.
Hit up Absinthe for some amazing eats (they just reopened dine-in, too). Then make a point of finding Lock & Worth's Chardonnay (~$30 at private stores such as Brewery Creek), then track down Buchanan's Pinot and Syrah at private stores around town like Firefly on Cambie, where they retail for $42. You can always contact the wineries to find out further availability near you.