Okanagan trip continues with an impromptu visit @CassiniCellars!

Our tasting at Checkmate didn’t take as long as expected (this was a theme of the trip, most wineries didn’t really know how long everything would take, so when booking experiences, we were booked for longer than necessary), so we had some time to stop in at an old favorite, without an appointment. I’ve always loved the tasting room here. Huge vaulted ceilings, tons of space, it’s almost majestic. With COVID-19 top of mind, they have made significant changes to the look of the tasting room, without sacrificing the feel of the room.

We entered to an empty tasting room, just one staff member there to greet us. They had a few tasting ‘stations’ set up, all socially distanced, and the staff member poured the wine for us, and slid it across the long tasting bar. We were never close to anyone, and felt perfectly safe the entire time.

To the wine!

Cassini Cellars 2017 Roussanne Marsanne

Cassini Cellars 2019 Mamma Mia!Cassini Cellars 2018 ChardonnayCassini Cellars 2018 Pinot NoirCassini Cellars 2016 Quattro RossoCassini Cellars 2016 The AristocratCassini Cellars 2016 Cabernet FrancCassini Cellars 2016 Maximus

SAFETY SCORE: 9

They’ve done everything they can, but it’s indoors with no special ventilation so there is no doubt guests are more susceptible to other guests not following the rules and getting too close. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a tasting here, however.

Next up, we headed to Le Vieux Pin which I already reported on, out of order, so now we head over to their sister winery, La Stella!

 

 

Okanagan trip continues as we visit an old friend, @LeVieuxPin!

In planning this trip, I E-mailed all the wineries we wanted to visit, explaining to them our risk circumstances and trying to get a feel for what they could offer us, and what their plans were to deal with COVID-19. Almost all of the wineries responded quickly, and with detail, but none with the detail we received from Alex at Le Vieux Pin.

We’ve known Alex for quite some time, as we were members of the Wine Society at Le Vieux Pin and their sister winery, La Stella, for years. Alex handles the wine clubs for both wineries, as well as setting up a lot of tastings at LVP. He’s a good guy, and always takes excellent care of us; in fact, we get treated just like we are still club members. We left the clubs simply because we have so much wine and just couldn’t keep buying so much, but we still get a case here and there of their excellent product. Alex’s detailed response plan to COVID-19 was so thorough, so well thought-out, we knew instantly we were going to be safe, and we planned a visit.

A bit of a bonus: We were going to be able to have this tasting in their cement tank room, where we would be the only guests. As almost all of our tastings were outside (as we wanted it), it was nice to have one inside, away from the summer heat.

As we arrived, we noticed a group of wild horses coming down from the vineyard adjacent to the property. Majestic animals, but apparently quite a nuisance. Although they don’t eat the grapes, I guess they are still quite disruptive.

We tasted a host of their fine wines, so let’s get to it.

Le Vieux Pin 2019 Sauvignon BlancLe Vieux Pin 2018 AvaLe Vieux Pin 2018 Cuvée VioletteLe Vieux Pin 2016 Equinoxe SyrahLe Vieux Pin 2017 RetouchéLe Vieux Pin 2016 Equinoxe Merlot

 

Safety rating: 10

Alex had us set up in the tank room, a large table to ourselves, and he was masked for the entire visit and never got close enough to us for that to matter much anyway. Hand sanitizer was available, individual spittoons, tables sanitized between every visit. Tough to imagine they could do much more. And if you want to sit outside, there is a lot of space for that as well. Highly recommended; but you need to book an appointment, they are not accepting walk-ins.

Up next: Going to go back in time a bit. As I was pulling out my notes on this tasting, I remembered that we had some time between our Checkmate tasting and this one, and in that time we hit up a winery we didn’t have an appointment at (our only drop in visit of the trip), so Cassini Cellars, you’re up!

 

THEME NIGHTS are back, people! Let’s pay a little visit to Germany, and take a bite out of Austria while we are at it.

Ah, COVID-19, the gift that just keeps on taking and taking.

No parties, no family BBQ’s, no leaving the house much, just a wild, wild ride.

I actually can’t remember the last one of these that we had; I would literally have to look it up in previous blog posts. This was originally scheduled for mid-April, but we had to cancel when COVID upended all of our lives.

Now that we know a little bit more about how this virus reacts, and what is dangerous and what is less-so, we rescheduled this event for last weekend. I was the host, in that I prepared the food and supplied the wine, but we are very fortunate to have friends with a huge HUGE backyard, so we had the event there, so that we could all enjoy the evening without getting too close, or spending hours inside. The weather cooperated, and we had a lovely evening.

This was the second time we have featured Germany, but I decided to throw Austria in there as well as it would be challenging to find enough food and wine specific to Austria to use them as a standalone. To be clear, they make TONS of wine in Austria, but it might be tough to source in the current climate, especially being unable to hop down to our PO Box in the USA to pick up bottles we could order online. I had a couple bottles from Austria, and a ton from Germany, already purchased, so the wine supply was in good hands. The pairings were set up by moi, and honestly I mostly just tried to wing it. On to the event!

Course 1

Pickled Beet, Onion and Pepper Salad

Total coincidence, I had pickled some beets, onions and peppers about three weeks ago. I had no idea that I was going to come across this traditional German recipe. It was actually pretty decent, although the vegetables weren’t totally pickled yet – they were still a bit crispy. I think everyone liked it, though.

Today I pickled some more beets and onions, so now I know to wait 6-8 weeks to eat them.

This pairing actually worked quite well, I must say.

Selbach Oster 2017 Pinot Blanc

Course 2

Kielbasa and Cabbage

This was about as traditional a dish as I could serve, I think, and it was pretty good. I am not a huge fan of cooked green cabbage, but others likes this dish more than I did.

Another pretty good pairing.

Weszeli 2016 Langenlois Gruner Veltliner

I must say, the first two wines have made BC wine look really, really good. We just had a Pinot Blanc from BC (Screaming Frenzy – Black Swift) that is much better than the first wine, and the Grüner Veltliner from Culmina Family Winery is miles above this one.

Course 3

Chicken Fricassee & Rice Pilaf

As I was putting this food together (the morning of the event, and in some cases the day before) I said to my wife “with all the work it is making all of these dishes, the star of the show is going to be the freaking RICE PILAF!”. It was that good.

Fortunately, the Fricassee turned out just as good. This was the dish of the night, and it wasn’t close, IMO.

This dish was paired with two wines. The first one, the one I was looking forward to most, as it was the most expensive and well-regarded. The second one was what a lot of people would consider a dessert wine, and only a crazy person would pair that with this dish…but I had a hunch (and noticed a comment by Jancis Robinson that she had paired this wine with a creamy dish).

What a huge disappointment the first one was, and what a great hunch on the second one!

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The second bottle I have previously reviewed, here.  St. Urbans HOF 2007 Spatlese Riesling.  My score remains unchanged, and it was a surprisingly delightful pairing with the creamy chicken dish.

Course 4

German Potato Dumplings

So, this was OK. The flavors were good, but I didn’t care for the gummy consistency. Others disagreed and they thought that was how German dumplings were supposed to be like. The wine was better than the food.

This was paired with a wine that we tasted and enjoyed at the 2020 Vancouver International Wine Festival. At that time, I gave it 92+ points, and I would stick with that. It still has time to improve but was tasty now as well.

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Course 5

Vienna Schnitzel

This was BEYOND BLAND….but not a surprise, I expected that. These were premium veal cutlets but this recipe just didn’t add enough flavor. Some of the guests grabbed some sriracha or mustard to make them better. I just didn’t eat much of mine.

I have a couple cutlets left, this weekend I am going to make the same recipe again, and smother it in an onion gravy. We will see if that does the trick.

This was paired with two wines, the only red wines of the evening. The first was another one that we tasted at VIWF20, and the second was one I just randomly picked up at a BC Liquor store last year.

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Thorle 2015 Saulheim Kalkstein Spätburgunder

Course 6

Assorted German Desserts

Friends supplied the desserts, some assorted German pastries and cakes. Delicious.

The first wine is a perennial favorite, and one that is easy to find in most BC Liquor Stores.

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The second one is another from VIWF20, and it’s a beauty that is not so easy to find, but it’s worth seeking out.

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That’s it for now, and it was a real delight to spend an evening with my wife and our great friends, celebrating the food and wine of Germany and Austria. Not sure when the next theme night will be, or what the host country will be, but we have lots to choose from!

Up next: Back to the Okanagan trip report, at Le Vieux Pin!

 

Okanagan trip continues, and there isn’t a much better way to start a day of wine tasting than @checkmatewinery!

After our tastings in the Similkameen, we are off to the Watermark, where we are delighted to discover that our townhouse is ready for us, three hours before the official check-in time. Checking in is easy, the staff is behind plexiglass so we don’t have to get close to any people, and we’re off to our townhouse. We are on the second floor this time, which in theory would give us a great view of the lake, but we are behind a bunch of trees so the view isn’t quite what it could be. No biggie, we are thrilled to be here and are going to have a lovely few days of wine tasting and relaxation.

After a lovely dinner at the resort, we hit the sack early as we are both exhausted, and we have a big day planned tomorrow.

And what a way to start the day……Checkmate Artisanal Winery! If not the best winery in the Okanagan, it’s right up there. They are still in the process of completing their multi-million dollar tasting and event centre, and it is going to be something else. If you have visited Checkmate in the last couple of years, you’ve probably experienced the pop-up tasting room that they had created. That is gone now because, well, because it was in the spot taken up by part of the new tasting room!

If you are not familiar with this winery, they produce only two varietals: Merlot and Chardonnay. And they do them very, very, very well.

We are taken to a spot that they have set up for tastings until the full facility is open (probably this fall). It doesn’t feel “temporary” at all, it’s well set up, the hosts are friendly, knowledgable and respectful of social distancing. We get a total of 7 wines to taste, only 1 of which I had previously tasted and reviewed. We’ll start with that one, at this link:

2014 Little Pawn Chardonnay

Now, we already own several of these wines, being club members, but they are in the cellar and we had not tasted any of them until now. It’s exciting to see what we are going to get!

Checkmate 2014 Fool's Mate ChardonnayCheckmate 2015 Attack ChardonnayCheckmate 2016 Queen Taken Chardonnay

Checkmate 2014 Black Rook MerlotCheckmate 2014 Silent Bishop MerlotCheckmate 2015 Opening Gambit Merlot

Safety rating: 9

Nothing unsafe here at all, but since it was indoors, there is always a tiny bit of risk. We got a bit of a tour at the end and got to see what this building is going to be when it’s done, and it’s going to be incredible. We did encounter a few workmen during that tour. We didn’t get too close to them, of course, but still….

Up next: A small interruption in the Okanagan tour report, as we got together with our wine friends for our first theme night in a long, long time (so long that we actually couldn’t remember the last one). A combination night, this time: Germany/Austria!

The Okanagan report will continue as well, our next stop at another perennial favorite, Le Vieux Pin!

Stay tuned!

Okanagan trip continues with our last stop in the Similkameen @LiberFarmWinery!

As has become our tradition during our trips to the Okanagan, we pack ourselves a little picnic lunch and for the last couple years, stop and eat it at Liber Farm & Winery. It’s the perfect spot, as by the time we get there we are always hungry, and there aren’t exactly a bevy of restaurant options in the area. The co-owner and winemaker, Mike Dowell, plies us with his wine while we enjoy our lunch on the patio. Mike is a good guy, and I am always hopefully that family run wineries like this are successful. Of course, no matter how much I might root for a winery, I’m going to be honest in my reviews, or there is little point of continuing with this blog. So we’ll just have to see how these wines turned out…….

This year, of course, everything has been turned upside down. As of now, Liber is one of the wineries that has NOT opened their tasting room to the public (a fact I was not aware of when we booked our visit, I didn’t realize he was making a special tasting just for us). Sometimes, it’s just nice to have a few connections in the BC wine biz.

On to the wine!

Liber Farm & Winery 2019 Hello SunshineLiber Farm & Winery 2018 Everyday ChardonnayLiber Farm & Winery 2018 Grand Reseve ChardonnayLiber Farm & Winery 2019 Grand Reserve Chardonnay (Barrell Sample)

Liber Farm & Winery 2019 Rosé

Liber Farm & Winery 2017 Off Your Rocker MerlotLiber Farm & Winery 2017 Grand Estate Reserve MerlotLiber Farm & Winery 2017 Rebil

Lots of great wine, as expected, and that Rebil is going to be something else once it totally settles down. Oh, so the one negative I would say is that the etching of the word “REBIL” on the bottle is so light, it’s actually tough to read it (not in the bottle shot above, that is probably how it is supposed to look, but IRL, the grey is really subtle). That might be something to try to correct for future vintages.

But if THAT is the biggest complaint I can come up with, they are doing something right.

SAFETY SCORE: 10*

We were outside, Mike was masked most of the time and didn’t get too close to us, there was no reason for us to be nervous at all. I put an asterisk beside the score because, well, he’s currently not open for tastings, so I’m not sure it really matters. If they do open later this summer, I’d suggest booking a table outside and you will have a great experience.

Up next: We get to the Watermark and check in to our townhouse, and get ready for our first booked tasting in the morning: Checkmate Artisanal Winery!

 

Okanagan trip begins in the Similkameen valley, @vanessavnyrd!

Two people at very high risk, traveling in the middle of a global pandemic that has killed (as of this writing) over 611,00 people. Good idea? Bad idea? Absolutely-freaking-crazy idea? I guess a case could probably be made for all three.

We are not huge risk takers. So why now? Well, a few things made us feel confident.

  1. BC had done a very good job of keeping the virus at bay (at least, until our trip was underway – more on that later)
  2. I had a relationship with most of the wineries we planned on visiting, and sent Emails asking each of them for details on exactly what they were planning to ensure we were safe. Many of them sent very good replies, a few of them were absolutely excellent.
  3. Health experts have become increasingly confident that the way to catch this virus is through prolonged indoor contact with infected persons. It seems as if there is little chance of catching it from surfaces unless you are a moron (like, the kind of moron who licks door handles and never washes their hands). We are not those kinds of morons. We were spending our first three nights in a 2-bedroom townhome at the Watermark, and our last two nights at a pet-friendly hotel in Kelowna that we have stayed in previously, and we knew that we would have little interaction with staff or other guests.
  4. Most of the responses that I mentioned in #2 indicated that we would be able to hold our tastings outside, and interact with very few people. In rare cases where we were going to be inside, staff would be wearing masks and would never get too close to us.

So, 1+2+3+4 = confidence that we could go on this trip. We were certainly not planning a “farewell tour” – we would have stayed home if we thought there was anything but a minuscule chance of either of us getting sick. So let’s get to our first tasting of the trip, as we drive through the Similkameen valley, at Vanessa Vineyards!

In addition to my regular wine reviews, I am going to give every winery that we visited a “Safety score” of 1 to 10, 10 being we felt 100% safe. For any winery that scores less than 10, I’ll make a note of why it was less than that and ways they might be able to improve.

Vanessa hosts most of their tastings inside these days, but we asked to do it outside and they easily accommodated. They don’t have a ton of space outside, hence why it would take a special request to get such a tasting, but I believe if you wanted to call them they would happily accommodate you as long as no other groups were already booked outdoors. They brought out 5 wines for us in shot glasses, which we poured into our glasses ourselves, minimizing any interaction between us and our guide. He stood 10 feet away as he took us through the wines. Two of the five wines we have previously tasted and reviewed, so I’ll stick to the three newbies.

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We picked up some Rosé and Syrah and were on our way. We also picked up a few 2014 Merlots, as they were getting very low and it’s a very good wine that we have enjoyed in the past.

SAFETY SCORE: 9

WHY NOT 10?: A minor quibble, all incoming guests have to wait outside to be greeted, and they will congregate right outside the door, meaning when we had to go inside to buy our wine, we had little choice but to walk through a crowd. As I said, a pretty minor complaint, but perhaps incoming guests could be asked to stand to one side, so anyone coming in or out of the winery does not have to interact with them.

Next up: We head down the road to a perennial favorite, Liber Farm & Winery!

A wonderful night of virtual wine tasting with @SHWineShop!

Last weekend, we, along with some friends, gathered ’round the old Zoom app for a night of virtual tasting with Stag’s Hollow. This is something I had set up weeks ago, and we finally could all agree on a date to get it done. We were joined by Erin Korpisto, who has been around the BC wine game for many years. Erin is currently the Sales & Marketing Manager at Stag’s Hollow, after similar gigs at Liquidity, among others. There aren’t too many in the BC wine game who can go toe-to-toe in terms of wine knowledge: she is currently a WSET-4 Diploma candidate!

We had arranged to purchase and taste three specific wines, and my thoughts on them are below. Two out of three ain’t bad, as they say 🙂

All of the wines were opened well in advance of the tasting, tasted, and then re-closed (all are screwcaps), and then re-opened and decanted about an hour before the tasting began.

So let’s start with the problem child of the tasting. When we opened and first tasted this, we didn’t like it at all. After decanting it and tasting it again during the tasting event, it had improved a bit, but it still felt like it was holding back. On Erin’s advice, we put it back into the bottle, and left it on our counter (capped) for a few days. We tasted it on day 2 and it didn’t get any better (the opposite, in fact), and we tried again on day 3 and gave up at that point.

Oh, and if anyone is wondering if we just had a bad bottle, our friends had similar comments with their bottle.

Enough about that wine, let’s get to the good stuff.

Both of these come from their Renaissance line, which is only produced in very good years. The Pinot is their 7th in the last 21 years. Even though Pinot Noir is what they do the most, it could be argued that the Merlot is their flagship wine, as it has produced quality fruit (and, therefore, a Renaissance-tier wine) every year.

With my three bottles above, I also purchased three more. Erin recommended their Pinot Gris, which I have not yet tasted, I also bought a Teroldego just for kicks, as I don’t think there is a single other BC winery making this varietal (haven’t yet tasted that either), and their rosé, which we enjoyed the other day.

That’s it for today. A huge ‘thanks’ to Erin for taking us through this tasting and sharing her knowledge and passion for BC wine with us. We learned a lot.

Next up: At some point in the next few weeks, I am going to have a “Part Three” of my series of reviews on BC rosé. For now, though, I have a bunch of random reviews to share. Stay tuned!

This past Wednesday was a pretty decent day of wine, including one that received a perfect 100-pt score! @LarianaCellars @HartfordWines @checkmatewinery

I don’t think there is much doubt that we’ve been drinking more wine while in quarantine, but in the past week or so, for whatever reason, I haven’t really been feeling it. That’s not so say we’ve been drinking NO wine, just less than normal.

On Wednesday, we made up for it in spades, not just in quantity, but in quality.

We started off the evening with a lovely red to pair with our dinner, Black Pepper Beef and Cabbage. The meal was FAN-TAS-TIC. Recipe here if you care to try it. It was a good pairing, but not a great one; it didn’t make the food or wine better, but they didn’t get in each others’ way, either.

Lariana Cellars 2016 Carmenere

After dinner, we decided on a Chardonnay. But not just any Chardonnay, one that John Schreiner had recently given the coveted 100-point score to. This is the second consecutive vintage of this wine that has received this honor. We decided to try it head-to-head with a Chardonnay from one of our favorite California producers. We had tried and reviewed that wine before, about 2.5 years ago. Surprisingly, it didn’t change much in that time.

I have never given a table wine 100 points. Would this be the first time? Nope.

Checkmate Artisanal Winery 2016 Little Pawn Chardonnay

Hartford Family Winery 2014 Stone Côte Vineyard Chardonnay

A beautiful night of wine, to be sure, but my search for the elusive 100-point table wine continues!

Next up: Lots more random reviews of stuff we have been enjoying in the last few weeks. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

Wine tasting during a pandemic, and a trip to @GlassHouseWine!

Ah, COVID-19. You are, for lack of a more eloquent phrase, a royal pain in the ass.

As we slowly open up our businesses and try to get out of the house a little more, it’s natural to want to get back to some of the things that bring us pleasure. For my wife and I, one thing at the top of our list is getting together with our good friends and hitting up some wineries, whether those be local or up in the Okanagan. Here’s the catch, and it’s a big one: Neither of us is likely to survive COVID-19. So……to say we have to be very careful is an understatement.

My wife has a pre-existing medical condition (asthma) AND an auto-immune disease. I have severe sleep apnea, which was just announced in a study to be a serious contributor to death from COVID-19. It wouldn’t make me more likely to GET the virus, but if I get it, I’m in real trouble. My wife would be at high risk to get the virus, since her immune system is basically non-existent, and if she gets it, well…….not a good thing.

So, for the most part, we are quarantined. When we do go out, we are very careful, and we will have to continue to be so until this virus is wiped out or a vaccine is available.

Does that mean we can’t do anything fun? No, it’s just a question of choosing the right activities. A walk with the dog along the river, enjoying a scenic drive, a picnic in an uncrowded park, or, as I took in yesterday, a wine tasting.

BC’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has called the risk of transmitting COVID-19 outdoors “negligible” and “infinitesimally small”. A recent study of cases in China found a total of ONE outbreak (which caused two cases) linked to outdoor transmission. Although there is little doubt that we don’t know everything about this virus yet, it seems as if enjoying the outdoors, as long as you take some elementary precautions, is very safe.

One of our very good friends lost her job due to COVID, as did I, so we decided it was a great opportunity to head out to the newly-reopened Glass House Estate Winery in Langley. It is about a 40-minute drive from my place, and only about 15 minutes for her. We decided it would be safest to go during a weekday, to minimize the number of guests that we might have to interact with. Oh, and it was somewhat satisfying to go wine tasting while our spouses were working, to earn the money to pay for the wine we were about to buy 🙂

Unlike a lot of wineries open in the Okanagan, they are not currently taking reservations; but we know someone there, and they knew we were coming and what time we would be there. They are in an excellent position for “pandemic tasting”, in that their space is huge. If you want to do a typical wine tasting, they have a large indoor area and tasting bar. If, like us, you want more than that, they have a patio with 8-10 tables, well spaced apart. And, if that’s not enough, they have a large open grassy area with a bunch of picnic tables, where you can take some wine and have yourself a little picnic. They currently have a small “shared plates” menu, but they are expanding that to include burgers and the like in the near future.

We were seated at the end of the patio, nowhere near the other guests. Our servers all wore masks and gloves whenever they were near anyone. We never felt unsafe for even a second.

723AA5BC-BD1B-4173-9443-2FAFE3DBD205
Charcuterie board, $29. Delicious.

Let’s get to the wine!

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Glass House Estate Winery 2017 Lustrum

It’s a real treat to have a winery producing wines of this quality less than an hour away from Chilliwack. When my wife has some time off, I’ll take her for a tasting and I know that we will both feel perfectly safe. I will investigate the other Fraser Valley wineries as well and see which ones can accommodate outdoor tastings.

Next up? More random stuff that I’ve been drinking this week, including a bunch of Okanagan wine. Stay tuned!