Archive for the ‘God Bless America’ Category

Stars of the Playhouse Festival: Trefethen

April 19, 2011

Trefethen 2007 Estate Merlot

This Merlot, which I mentioned in my previous post, is here to turn heads. The 93 points by Wine Enthusiast Magazine are fully justified, if by that they mean a mean, firm and complex red. Big and bold, Californian in and out, I came back to this booth to taste it again. Great addition to thewinesyndicate portfolio. $39.99.

Trefethen 2007 Estate Cabernet Savignon

The Trefethen label also brought this Cabernet Sauvignon   to the show, defying the big Californian style that we all are so used to. Definitely more subtle than its stable mate, this wine is more about finesse than muscle and should be a great addition to any cellar as it will but improve with a few years of guarda. Robert Parker, my favorite wine point-giver, sanctioned 91 pts for this baby.


Sauvignon Blanc is In

July 6, 2010

When it comes to wine, nothing says summer like Sauvignon Blanc. Well, there is Pinot Grigio, Unoaked Chardonnay, Tocai, Moschofilero, and all those delicious whites. But talking about Sauvignon Blanc, what a wonderful grape it is. Regardless where the wine is made, it always welcomes your nose with a brushtroke, an aromatic draft of vegetable nature, be it freshly cut grass, rue, lemongrass, gooseberry or a myriad other herbs. Properly made it delivers on that promise, lightning up your palate with shiny acidity and more or less fruit, again, depending on the origin. Some make your eyes tear with citric, limey quality; others are apt at imparting fully ripened apples, pears and peaches, while others offer subtle -or blunt- tropical flavors like guava, banana, passion or even dragon fruit.

More minerally versions, where terroir is highlighted and fruit -though firm- is more subdued, come from the Loire Valley, in the heart of France. Sancerre -right guess- but not the only apellation in the area where you will get delicious Sauv Blanc.  Try Chateau de Sancerre, Pascal Jolivet, Levin. A little less mineral and also riding an deliciously acidic wave, Northern Italy can be home to lovely Sauvignon Blanc. One bottle of Bastianich B will send you looking for more good renditions from the top of the boot-shaped country.

There’s no need to say much about New Zealand’s Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, not much that haven’t been said already. Perhaps the most popular appellation for Sauvignon Blanc these days, the region’s wines are easy to drink, with a purity of fruit that is seldom found elsewhere. A Kiwi winemaker once told me that the high level of aseptique technique developed in the farm and dairy industries was behind this. Apparently, when New Zealand farmers lost some of their international markets due to competition, they redirected their skills at the wine industry. True or not, memorable whites come from the land of tongue-show-off warriors, unidentifiable national flag and bad soccer. Try the spark-studded  acidity of the Matua’s Paretai. Or the savory backdrop of the Wither Hills Rarangi. Or Jackson’s Stich. Not to mention the well known Kim Crawford, Scott or Villa Maria,plus all kind of  wines by names of critter and small mammals pissing on gooseberry bushes or monkeying around bays. Whoa, they sure  are taking after their Australian cousins when it comes to label originality.

Chile does a great job too. Their Sauvignon Blancs are second to none, except to Sancerre and Marlborough, and Pouilly Fume. And…just kidding.  Casas del Bosque is a gem of a finding at 17 dollars. Firm fruit, impeccable acidity (Impeccable. Im starting to sound like Bobby Parker) and 90 WE points make my point. Brilliant. Veramonte and Errazuriz make truly good stuff under 15 dollars. They will shine any night at any party.

Malbec comes next. Er, I meant to say, Argentina. Who would’ve thought they can make anything other than red? Well, think again. Mapema (the only thing going against this delicious wine is its name. And its price @ $21) is a big surprise. Ripe fruit weaved into the firm acidic frame, this Sauvingon Blanc is a sign of better whites to come from Mendoza. And from further north in the country. Paula is another solid Sauv Blanc, leaner on the fruit and with remarkable, kiwi-esque acidity. Trophee winner Pascual Toso, after delighting us with Cab Sauvs and Malbecs, makes a pretty decent SauvBlanc for 13 dollars. And a solid rose, although, that is another matter.

How to finish this without a mention of California? With a touch of oak, Grgich makes a simply beautiful Fumee Blanc. Beautiful, memorable, remarkable. The similarly lightly oaked Supery comes close. And for those with deeper pockets, don’t let the summer go by without trying the superb Spring Mountain Sauvignon Blanc. We’ll taste vicariously through you.


Vancouver California Wine Fair 2010

April 8, 2010

Holyfornia! A real show of what the wines of California can do. Vancouver’s Convention Center was the venue for the 10th Annual edition of the event and it was teeming with people. The Golden State wineries showed they can make red, white and bubbly with equal elan. Their wines see no limitations in style; some taste French, some taste Italian, some even taste Californian!

We all know that California has been making quality wines for a long time. But now they are making it cheaper. Some of the entry level wines impressed for both quality and affordability. It must be the pool of inexpensive Mexican labor. Watch out Chile, watch out Argentina. Watch out Mexico! Im sorry, Im too funny today. It must be the wind storm that rattled my old house’s windows all night long.

I really tasted this time and spent little time socializing. So I got to check out a lot of whites and reds. Now I wonder, where were the roses? It will take me a while to go through my notes -and the fog of wine war- before I can share with you all the great Sauvignon Blancs, all the tasty Chardonnays, all the intoxicatingly scrumptious Pinot Noirs and big rich Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots and Zinfandels. So, for now, I will only scribble a few lines on the ones that stand out, for flavor, for novelty or impressive value.

Birichino Malvasia Bianca $24.99. Who makes wine out of this not well known white grape? The Italians, of course. And their descendants in Monterrey. Que profumo! really perfumed, intensely so. Smells sweet but drinks dry and as you do (drink it) you cannot stop thinking of pasta al pesto, kalamari, Thai or Vietnamese food. I had a morsel of sushied smoked eel and I was Californicating. Good stuff, good stuff.

Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2008. $47.99. Once a customer told me “If I have to spend 40 dollars on a bottle I’d buy red, not white.” I wish he was around to have him taste this Sauvignon Blanc. The nose is a tidal wave of aromatics which include lemongrass, rue and tropicality. Unleashed acidity and a spark of minerality turn this wine into a winner. Wow.

Candor Zinfandel Lot 2. $29.99. Being a California tasting I had to try a bunch of Zinfandels until I found this fantastic one. Bright, ripe red fruit, spcie and a Zinfandel zing. Back in Vancouver after a hiatus, May 1st. Make sure you get your hands on a bottle.

Peter Franus Merlot, Napa Valley. $44.99. The Franus winery booth had more than a few good wines so it was hard to pick this Merlot.  A sweet nose of fruit and a big silky palate. The way Merlot should be.

The 2007 Sixth Sense Syrah gets its ripe fruit, tobacco and  earthy aromas and flavors from a blend of 84% Syrah and 16% Petite Sirah. Full, rich and with a bit of pepper.

The last one for this post is a humble, $9.99 dollar Pinot Noir. For value wine lovers this will be a bliss. Cheap Chilean Pinots rule in this category but here comes a serious challenger. The Stonewood Cellars Pinot has firm fruit and a decent longish finish. I think this is going to sell by the case in Vancouver.

Gotta go. Its too sunny out there (and windy) to stay indoors.


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


Liberty School Portfolio

August 27, 2009

Thanks to Altovin International, a British Columbia based wine agency, I had the opportunity to try their Californian Liberty School wines. For the last few years, LS Cabernet Sauvignon has gained notoriety as a good pick in the 20-25 CDN bracket. I enjoyed it and can see why it is so popular. I tried their Syrah as well, but my high mark goes to their 2007 Chardonnay. Here my notes on these three popular wines.

Chardonnay 2007. $23.99. 13.5%. Bright nose with apple, dragon fruit, clarified butter. Nice, creamy texture, medium bodied, good acidity of lemony character. Alcohol well integrated, overall oak is subtle and the finish is long, riding on apple skin. A very good California style Chardonnay for the price.

Syrah 2007. $23.99. 13.5%. Purple legs, young looking wine. Green waft on the nose, pepper, cough syrup. On the palate a tad sour. Medium bodied, tannins angular. I am not ready to pick this Syrah yet.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. $23.99. 13.5%. Purple ruby robe, nice sweet nose with blackcurrant, spice and lavender. Medium body, juicy and soft. Good acidity and nice finish. Easy to understand why it is so popular.

Zinfandelis Part One

August 8, 2009

Oh the much ridiculed grape from California. The grape only Californians love. The grape that Vancouverites love to hate. Well, here they were, the Zinfandel ambassadors, those pesky Americans, full of sound and fury, full of grandiloquence, celebrating their beloved Zinfandel, spreading the good news, the word, as if spreading the gospel, perhaps, being Americans, that is the way they know well, fundamentalist Christian style, even when the subject is just wine. When the issue of Primitivo being the same grape was raised, oh yes, oh they reacted like zealous keepers of the faith. It was fun to watch.

Passion, passion, a word that was pronounced again and again by the speakers, winemakers, who came to Vancouver to show us that, yes, Zinfandel can, yes it can, and it certainly does, not to the degree they would like to, but yes, I enjoyed many of the Zins tasted and for sure, I can see it as great food wine.

British Columbians will resist Zinfandel for a while. They are stuck with the image of Zin being a sweet blush cheap wine. Humans resist new things, resist change, like no other species. British Columbian humans oh they love to hate America, they love to hate Americans and things American. Perhaps because there are no discernible differences between the two cultures, the only way to set themselves apart is by negation. Anyway, going back to the subject of interest. I am certain the gospel of Zin will eventually spread, taken by the hand of Vancouver’s cuisine, which is, surprise, Asian. Zinfandel is the perfect red wine to marry the spicy, sweet, tangy, hot dishes that come from Guangdon to Hanoi, from Bangalore to Bangkok, the whole arch of far eastern cultures.

For those who dare to try:

Ironstone 2007 Old Vine. Lodi. 14.5%, 19.99.
Simple, packed with red and dark berries, spice, medium bodied juicy, easy drinking.

Ridge Lytton Springs. 2006. 14.7%. 49.99.
A dash of Syrah and a bit of Carignan make this Zin very interesting, with beau coffeeish red fruit and great acidity plus a subtle vegetal streak. Delicious, but ay, there is the rub, fifty bucks.

Ridge Three Valleys 2007 14.3%. 39.99.
It doesn’t deliver like its older sibling. The acidity sags behind the fruit and the alcohol.

Robert Biale Black Chicken 2006. Napa Valley. 15.8 %. 84.99.
A fantastic Zifandel, with great acidity, beautiful balance and structure, elegant. The price, again, goes against it.

Robert Biale Black Chicken 2007. Napa Valley. 15.8 %. 84.99.
Not as bright as its 2006 partner.

Seghesio Home Ranch. 2007. Alexander Valley. 15.5%. 49.99
Full bodied, fruit forward, velvety Zin. Yes, despite the price.

Seghesio Cortina 2006. Creek Valley, N. Sonoma. 15.2%. 49.99.
A more astringent wine that its stable mate above, a more “Italian” feeling to it. High acidity bordering with unpleasant, but then, just not crossing that line, and making it very interesting, very challenging, with a long finish, one of the stars of the show. Yes, go and get one.