Archive for the ‘Contributing Writer’ Category

Peruvian Wine Adventure

March 27, 2010

By Lisa Stefan

Lisa’s adventures take her way down south, to Peru, where, like most other travelers, she heads to the southern portion of the country, where Cusco and Macchu Picchu act like magnets and attract every other foreigner. Most leave back to Lima’s airport and back home. Lisa, victim to her love of wine, takes a detour to check out the Peruvian wine capital, the Ica province….

“…After a week of exploring Cusco and the surrounding Inca ruins by bus, foot, bike and raft and an exhausting 4 day trek along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I was in serious need of some R&R… and a glass of wine!  So, with 4 extra days to spare on my solo journey to Peru, I hopped on a bus and headed south to Huacachina, a movie-like oasis in Ica.

Ica, located 300 km south of Lima along the Pan-American highway, is considered the premier wine producing area of the country. The area is known by locals as “the land of the sun”, with a hot & dry climate year round this is the perfect place to grow grapes. The area has sandy soil with a rich underground water source that has been tapped for drip irrigation. In addition to grapes, many crops are grown in the area including cotton, asparagus, table grapes and olives.  Though there are traditional wines made in Peru, a large amount of the industry is Pisco production.  Pisco is a distilled spirit, or brandy, made from grapes.  Back in the 1500s the Spaniards brought grapes to the area from Europe, but in the 17th Century the King of Spain banned wine entirely, which forced the locals to come up with another way of making alcohol from the grapes.

The national cocktail of Peru is the Pisco Sour, a scrumptious little concoction containing Pisco, lime juice, egg whites, simple syrup, and regional bitters.  It is served up in local bars and restaurants and even in the local Bodegas (wineries).  I was fortunate enough to taste a few different versions of the national cocktail, and even had a “Pisco Collins” – like a Tom Collins but made with Pisco instead of Gin.

I stayed in Huacachina, the little Oasis in the desert (literally a small green lake surrounded by enormous sand dunes), located about 5km south of the town of Ica, and from there it was easy to hire a local driver to take me and a friend I met at the hotel on a “wine tour”.  Our first stop was at El Catador, a small roadside operation clearly marketed to tourists. The tour guide spoke broken English and spent a good portion of the time trying to charm us foreign ladies.  We were, however, able to see the traditional wine presses –lagares– where the grapes are stomped by foot, and the unique clay pots in which they store wine and pisco. The “wines” were all sweet and unremarkable, however I did pick up a small souvenir bottle of “Perfecto Amor”, a unique dessert wine, a mixture of pisco and sweet white wine (side note – I opened this bottle with a group of wine lovers and there were mixed reviews).

Next we were off to a “real” winery, founded in 1857, Bodegas Vista Alegre.  Pulling up to the 18 foot wooden gate at one notices the contrast between the affluent wine industry and the local agricultural industry.  There is security at the gate, and when you enter through the elegant archway, you enter a completely different environment.  Completely enclosed and separated from the town, one can see the surrounding sand dunes above the walls.  There are green grape vines planted along both sides of the long driveway leading up to the tasting room, and behind the tasting room sits the onsite modern wine making facility.

I took a tour, offered only in Spanish, and though my Spanish is limited, I have done enough winery tours to be able to piece together what was being said.   The wine tasting was held at the end of the tour in the beautifully decorated tasting room/sales office.  I enjoyed the wines and the vistas while a little old man spoke too fast in Spanish for me to understand.  I don’t have notes on the wines as I was in vacation mode on this tour, but Bodega Vista Alegre left a great taste in my mouth, and was a great way to wrap up my time in Peru.

I headed back to Huacachina, did a little dune buggying and sandboarding, went out for a few Pisco Sours and called it a wrap.  I had to head back to Lima the next day to get my flight home and managed to pick up a $40 bottle of 2005 Tacama Cabernet Sauvignon at the duty free shop at the airport. This wine proved to be a beauty.  Dark fruit, currant, cedar & tobacco notes with firm tannins and a lengthy finish.  Too bad you can’t find that one in Canada!

Note of Winecouver. Two Peruvian wineries have products available in Canada (not in BC). Tacama and Tabernero. Tabernero’s Malbec Merlot blend is arguably Peru’s best today. With Argentinian investment and technology, we should expect better wines coming from the Inca nation. Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat are the most promising black grapes. Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier are the white varieties to keep an eye on.

ps. Text and Photos by Lisa Stefan


Warehouse Wines in Washington Act II

March 25, 2010

By Lisa Stefan*

The late afternoon found us traveling a little ways up the road, maybe 5 minutes, to the Warehouse District where we stumbled upon some fantastic small production operations.  Young, hip winemakers have rented warehouse space, and filled the back with their barrels and set up cozy little tasting rooms/salescounters in the front.  You could literally park in the parking lot and walk to 15 different tasting rooms if you wanted… definitely get the number for the local taxi service before attempting this! The feel was urban, grunge…with an understated and unjudgemental crowd, and very different from any wineries we’ve visited before. As I mentioned, the young, trendy, 30-40 something winemakers are the ones pouring their wines for locals and tourists alike. Everyone seems to know each other and say fabulous things about each other’s wines.  In fact, we were lucky enough to stumble upon 2 release parties that day. The first party was at Efeste (pronounced F-S-T), where winemaker Brennan Leighton was pouring, for the first time, his 2007 Jolie Bouche and Ceidleigh Syrahs. The other at Darby, where wine maker Darby was debuting his 2007 Darkside Syrah.  Darby even poured us the Efeste wine to compare the difference in style as they source their grapes from the same vineyard. Side note, Efeste 2006 “Ceidleigh” Syrah was rated #36 in Wine Spectator‘s top 100 of 2009, and Darby 2006 “Darkside” Syrah received 92 points from Wine Spectator.  We can’t wait to hear the reviews on the 2007 vintage.

Probably one of the favorites for us was Barrage.  Wine maker Kevin Correll, his partner Susana and their dog Murphy, welcomed us, poured us all their wines and spent close to an hour chit-chatting with us and everyone else who seemed to linger for a very long time over their wines, all with great names like Double Barrel and Secret Weapon.  We loved the 2005 Alias Cabernet Franc, a 100% Cab Franc from the Horse Heaven Hills area, aged 41 months in oak (50% new French oak and 50% once used French oak). This wine is big and bold, well balanced, with great fruit and aromas of cinammon, cocoa, clove and white pepper, a nice vanilla undertone and lengthy finish. This was one of only 4 bottles (duty free limit) we were able to bring back into Canada with us, and at a price of $38 we couldn’t resist.

I should mention that my wine adventure sidekick is Daniel Collins. In addition to being a wine lover, my partner, Dan is a real beer enthusiast, so the Red Hook Brewery was a perfect Sunday afternoon adventure.  Daniel shares his love of brews with his other passion, which is Latin America. Fluent in Spanish and with friends everywhere South of Rio Grande, he is the Director of All Access Volunteers, an organization that helps match volunteers with non-governmental organizations throughout Latin America, and he so kindly posed for a couple pictures to help me capture the day on camera.

Exhausted after the day’s tasting, we retired to our hotel in Lynnwood, only about a 10-15 minute drive from Woodinville, and a great place to stay if you want to shop, dine out or catch a flick while you are across the line (where everything is so much cheaper, especially right now considering the strength of our dollar).

Our lazy Sunday took us back to the Woodinville area just in time for the one o’clock tour of Red Hook Brewery.  Yes, I said Brewery.  There is a fantastic craft-brewery located right in the heart of Woodinville and right next door to Willows Lodge where we had lunch the previous day.  Red Hook brewery offers a tour and tasting of 5 beers for $1.00 –the best $1.00 I think I’ve ever spent!  Valerie, our tour guide, was fantastic, funny, outgoing and knowledgeable about the history of the brewery and beer making. She kept everyone entertained by leading us in a cheerful and blasting music while we all lined up for our beer samples.  Of the 5 beers poured our favorite was the Red Hook ESB, Extra Special Bitter, and with an a/v of 5.8% this beer is not like many low alcohol beers we know of from the United States.  We had lunch at the on-site pub and bought ourselves a couple single bottles at the souvenir shop, full of all kinds of Red Hook apparel, to bring home and enjoy in the complimentary beer tasting glasses we received on the tour.

Our last stop on the way out of town to head home was at Brian Carter wine shop.  He has some great red blends, but we had to pick up the $58 bottle of 2005 Solesce, a Bordeaux blend (50% Cab Sauv. 34% Merlot) made from the best of the best grapes sourced throughout Southeastern Washington, that spent 28 months in oak, and was just released in November 2009.  Though drinking well now, with strong aromas of blackberry, currant, cedar, tar, chocolate, and earth, it is a bit tannic, but still quite smooth, and this wine will only improve with some age. We are assured it has the potential to age 12 years so I think we’ll sit on this one for a while.

We were so impressed with the Woodinville area’s wine culture, food, people  and of course – wine, we can’t wait to go back in the spring or summer time, when the weather is a little nicer, and perhaps this time we’ll bike the local river trail, which seemed popular even in rainy January, and stop at a few more winery tasting rooms along the way, and of course at the Pub for more Red Hook Ale.

To find out more about the Woodinville area and wineries, check out

Jump to Warehouse Wines in Washington Act I

Warehouse Wines in Washington Act I

March 22, 2010
By Lisa Stefan*

When plans to visit a friend in the Okanagan fell through last week, we found ourselves with a wide open weekend.  Being the kind of people that love to go-go-go, the Sunshine Coast was not going to work for us – it’s too sleepy, Whistler – too busy, and Vegas just a little over budget after the holidays. So with wine on the mind, as usual, I was quick to hop on the internet and search out a weekend get-away for us that met these three criteria: inexpensive, within reasonable driving distance, and something different.

What I found was Washington, our neighbour to the South.  With over 700 wineries and growing, Washington is #2 (behind California) in wine production in all of the United States.  And only 25 minutes North East of Seattle is the small community of Woodinville.  The Woodinville area is home to about 50 small wineries and tasting rooms, and after only a 2.5 hour drive (from Vancouver), we found ourselves in a wine lover’s paradise.

The first on our list were the large production operations of Columbia Winery and Chateau St. Michelle.  Located across the street from one another, how convenient, and with gorgeous grounds, grand tasting rooms, boutique shops and an array of flatbreads, cheese and crackers for purchase – these two wineries were very much what we are used to from our many visits to the Okanagan and Niagara regions in Canada.  There was however, one huge difference…. NO VINEYARDS?!?! That’s right, all of Washington’s wine grapes are grown in the south eastern part of the State, where the climate is much warmer and dryer than the cool and wet North West. So, to pull up to a winery where there were no gorgeous grapes or vineyard vistas was a little foreign to us, but what they lacked in scenery, they certainly made up for in service and selection.

At Columbia Winery the knowledgeable tasting bar staff provided us with a full sampling of what was available, waived our tasting fee, and gave us a 30% discount on any purchases – as we came to find, this is an industry standard, as long as we provided a business card, we were completely taken care of – talk about Southern hospitality! Our wine educator even gave us a map of the area and circled a few competitors to check out.  We ended up falling in love with the Semillion Ice Wine, 375 ml for only $20, what a steal!  Flavours of sweet apricot and honey abound, and with great acidity and a clean finish this is an exceptional value ice wine!

Chateau St. Michelle staff was equally friendly and knowledgeable and we were able to taste the entry level wines compared side by side with the Ethos and Eroica wines.  The Chateau has quite the line-up of wines, including collaborations with Antinori and Ernst Loosen.  Our favorites were the entry level dry Riesling which sells for $8.99 and is definitely comparable in terms of value with some of the $15-20 Canadian Rieslings, the 2005 Ethos Cabernet Sauvignon $38, and the 2006 and 2007 Limited Release Mourverdre that we tasted side by side and spent at least 20 minutes savouring and comparing the very different noses.  Mesquite bar-b-que on one vs. goat cheese on the other – unique and interesting.

After 2 hours of tasting at only 2 wineries, our palates were tiring, and our stomachs growling, so we stopped in at the Barking Frog restaurant at Willows Lodge for lunch.  Ambiance = A+, service  = A+, food  = A, wine selection  = A, highly recommended and definitely a must visit if you are in the area.  I had the chicken breast served with butternut squash stuffed spinach ravioli, swiss chard and pearl onions in a gorgonzola cream sauce.  Fabulous Gourmet for $16.

Note of Winecouver.  More to come in the second installment of Lisa’s wine explorations South of the border soon.

*Contributing writer Lisa Stefan has a passion for travel, wine, food and all things combining the three! Besides writing Lisa works part time as a wine sales consultant at Everything Wine in North Vancouver.  Lisa completed her Intermediate Certificates through the International Sommelier Guild in 2009.  Full Sommelier Diploma certification, wine travel, wine writing and more wine tasting  are part of her plans for the near future.

ps. Photos: Chicken butternut squash, Lisa Stefan Headshot, Dan Collins