Salish Sea, Sea Star Vineyards and Winery, Pender Island, BC, 11.5% abv, C$23

Salish?  So delish.

Recently, I went on a long weekend escape on the Salish Sea, and enjoyed a bottle of Sea Star Vineyards and Winery’s aptly named ‘Salish Sea,’ a delicious wine made from Ortega and Siegerrebe grapes organically grown on Pender Island.

These are hybrid grapes originally created in Germany and known especially for their ability to handle short, wet growing seasons because they ripen early and can survive surprise frosts.

Siegerrebe is the child of Madeleine Angevine and Gewürztraminer and Ortega’s parents are Müller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe.  Traditionally, neither are known to produce particularly interesting individual wines, and other versions I’ve come across have tended toward bitter flavours and flabbiness.

This Ortega-Siegerrebe blend, however, is a very happy anomaly.  Winemaker Ian Baker has clearly figured out how to grow weirdo grapes adept to the Pacific west coast climate, pick them at the right moment, and create a delicate 11.5% abv wine with juicy acidity and a tasty palate out of them.  Come to think of it, these grapes are cool because they are so uncool.

Pale lemon on the eyes with aromas of yellow peach, ripe apricot and lemon verbena, the palate is juicy with more Clingstone peach and pear, punctuated by lemongrass and bergamot, a pinch of green kiwi and some soft spring leaf.

Food-friendly and perfect with seafood, salads, chicken and summer fare, the Salish Sea is absolutely ….cool, and delish.

Posted in British Columbia, Ortega, Siegerrebe, WHITE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Merlot, L’Ecole No. 41, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley AVA, Washington, 2009, 14.5% abv, US$30

Next month I’m going to attend my fifth Wine Writer’s Conference in Walla Walla, Washington.

I’ve been to this AVA before, and visited many of their fabulous wineries.  One of the flagships I’m looking forward to seeing again – indeed it has even earned a mention in the World Atlas of Wine – is L’Ecole No. 41.

Housed in a beautifully renovated heritage building complete with school bell, chalk boards (you can write on them at the tasting bar), and a playground, this is a winery with extremely knowledgeable hosts, and delicious wines.

Back in 2013, our tasting consisted of 8 wines, starting with the 2011 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend from the Seven Hills Vineyard showing kiwi, starfruit and lime, followed by the 2011 Chardonnay.

The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from their Walla Walla Vineyard (which actually stretches down across the border into Oregon), the 2009 Estate Périgée from Seven Hills Vineyard, and then the 2009 Apogée were next.  From the Pepper Ridge Vineyard, the Apogée is a 60% Cabernet Sauvignon with 30% Merlot and Malbec offering grippy tannins, smoke, black plum, cherry and berries.

Washington State is well known generally speaking for their Syrah, and here we tasted two.  From 2009 and 2010 – both were fruity and spicy with black pepper and olives, but it was the 2009 Estate Merlot from Seven Hills Vineyard that I bought a bottle of.

Ruby turning garnet in colour, there’s 12% each of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon blended into the Merlot. With 14.5% abv, you may expect it to be hot, but it’s nicely integrated and there’s no heat. Cedar, bramble, marionberry and java, along with a dusty set of tannins makes this WSET Very Good wine.

It’s September and school’s back in.
Walla Walla, here I come!

Posted in Merlot, OTHER, RED, Washington State | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Rosé, Whispering Angel, Caves D’Esclans, Domaines Sacha Lichine, Côtes-de-Provence, France, 2017, US$21

I drank it all.  Every drop.  By myself.  And I was so distracted, I even forgot to take a picture of the bottle before I drained it.

But I think this is what happens with the easily quaffable Whispering Angel.

Sacha Lichine has been involved in the wine industry virtually his entire life.  So, when he purchased Caves D’Esclans in 2006 with the goal of making inroads into the global Rosé market, no one was very surprised.

Since then, he has been rather prolific – and successful.  In 2017, a whopping 4.8 million bottles of this were produced – compared to its first 2006 bottling of 160,000.  Available at numerable US vendors including Trader Joe’s and Costco, this is one globally popular Rosé.

Made from Grenache, Cinsault, Rolle (Vermentino), Syrah and Tibouren growing in vineyards surrounding the winery at La Motte-en-Provence, Lichine has positioned his Whispering Angel Rosé as ‘the’ wine to drink in the US and other markets.

Just as an example, 92% of the D’Esclans wines are exported – while just 16% of Provence wines are in general.  And in the US where 800,000 cases of Provence Rosé are imported each year, a full 20% of them are from D’Esclans!  A total of 2.4 million bottles of Whispering Angel will be sold in the US this year.

On the eyes, it’s a translucent, orangey-pink onion skin, with a delicately floral nose, and juicy flavours of pomegranate juice, white blossom and watermelon rind.

This is a modern and accessible style that is sweeping palates worldwide.  So much so that it’s making sales of some styles difficult – like the meatier, deeper hued Rosés from Tavel, France.

See if you can find a bottle or two of it somewhere to try.  Which do you prefer?


Posted in Cinsault, France, Grenache / Garnacha, OTHER, Rolle, ROSE, Shiraz / Syrah, Vermentino | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard, Livermore Valley AVA, California

Next time you are in San Francisco – or somewhere around the Bay area – here’s a winery you can plan a trip to and be at in about 2 hours.

Murrieta’s Well is one of the original wineries of the Livermore Valley AVA where they’ve been growing grapes since the 1880s.

Since 1933, Murrieta’s Well has been part of the Wente family’s estate – neighbours and famed producers of the Wente Chardonnay clone which the majority of Chardonnay grown in California hails from.

In the early 1960s, Livermore had as much area under vine as Napa Valley did. However, it remained largely unknown, while Napa eventually became world famous, largely because of its wines that were part of the Judgement of Paris in 1976.

The Livermore Valley, which lies in an unusual east/west pattern (most lie north/south) gets cool breezes from San Francisco Bay which ensures it has good diurnal temperature swings (cool nights and mornings, followed by hot days).  This is absolutely vital for premium grape growing – which is obviously happening here, because these are high quality, delicious wines.

I tasted through some of their 2016s and 2015s.  All are available for direct shipping off their website to American addresses, and at various restaurants throughout the USA.

The Whip (US$26) – Whip it good.  This 2016 13.5% abv blend of 33% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Semillon, 21% Chardonnay, 12% Orange Muscat and 10% Viognier has a grassy and floral nose with accents of orange oil, stone fruit and kernel.  The fresh palate is dry but fruity with good acidity and flavours of gooseberry, mandarin, apricot and green leaf.

Sauvignon Blanc, Small Lot  (US$35) – Get this – the vines producing these grapes are descendants of cuttings from Chateau d’Yquem planted at Murrieta’s Well in the 1880s.  100% Sauvignon Blanc means this wine shows pink grapefruit and lime blossom, but I also found mango and other tropical fruit.  Some barrel time on the lees has created subtle complexity and great mouth feel.

Dry Rosé (US$30) – Mostly Grenache and Counoise with some Mourvèdre, this wine is a beautiful shade of pink cotton candy with a subtle nose.  The palate shows strawberry cream, white peppery spice, and watermelon.  Dangerously drinkable.

The Spur (US$35) – Mostly Cab Sav, this 2015 also includes equal parts of Merlot and Petite Sirah, as well as some Petit Verdot and Cab Franc.  Green pepper, blueberry and plum mix with vanilla, clove and light leather.  Delicious.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Small Lot (US$58, 2015) – Last but not least, I opened this one with my Coravin.  A vast majority of Cab Sav is complemented by touches of Petit Verdot and Malbec to produce a nose and palate of black cherry and blackberry with mocha and green pepper on a basalmic base.  Soft tannins make this accessible and drinking now.

Small bottle shots reproduced with permission of Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard

Posted in California, OTHER, RED, ROSE, WHITE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shiraz, Mast, Rare Reserve Block, Mount Langi Ghiran, Victoria, Australia, 2002, 14% abv, C$53

I want to go to Australia.  Like, right now.

When I eventually do get there, there will be several wineries I will make a point of visiting – and this will be one of them.

Located against the backdrop of the Grampian Mountains (yes, Australia has mountains) near Ballarat and way northwest of Melbourne in Victoria, Mount Langi Ghiran is in one of Australia’s finest cool climate grape-growing regions.

Like many Australian vineyards, Italian immigrants planted vines hoping to recreate a little of their homeland.  These vines were planted originally in 1963 by the Fratin family, and then replanted later to make this iconic old block of vines.

In 1980, the Fratins hired a consultant named Trevor Mast who had a vision for Shiraz as ‘the’ grape for this part of Australia.  They’ve created award winning, cool climate Shiraz wines ever since – and were accorded great honours in 1996 when the Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz appeared on the cover of Wine Spectator beside the famous Penfolds Grange and Henschke’s Mount Edelstone Shiraz.

It’s that good.

Ten years later, Trevor Mast became ill with early onset Alzheimer’s disease and this perennial award winner has been named for him.

On the eyes, it is a translucent garnet with a shockingly fresh and fragrant nose – showing just picked berry and cedar, with fern and leather.  For a 16 year old wine, this really surprised me.  Clearly nothing but the best grapes and most careful winemaking went into this bottle.

The palate is dry with dusty tannins, high acidity and loads of fresh berry with black pepper, cedar frond, green leaf, dried herbs and leather.

This is a top quality, developing, elegant wine – clean and clear, complex, and absolutely delicious.   The drinking window for this wine is wide open.  If you’re holding, you’re lucky. Take care of it and it will be last easily until 2022-2023.  Although there was some sediment, there is no need to decant long prior to enjoying.  It unwound beautifully from the bottle straight into the glass.

WSET Outstanding

Posted in Australia, RED, Shiraz / Syrah | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rosé, Domaine Houchart, Côtes de Provence AC, France, 13% abv, 2016, C$20++

It’s so warm these days, I can’t bring myself to drink anything other than gin and tonic … or perhaps a bottle of Rosé.

This Rosé, made of typical Provençal grapes – Cinsault, GrenacheMourvèdre and Syrah – is bottled at the Domaines Famille Quiot (est. 1748) for Houchart.

On the eyes, it’s a pretty, pale salmon with a soft nose and dry palate of strawberry juice, honeysuckle blossom, soft white pepper and green leaf.

There is not a lot of complexity which makes the $20 price tag a little hard to take; this is basic Rosé.

But, it’s good for the porch – which is where we enjoyed it on a hot, summer afternoon.


Picture courtesy of BCLB website.

Posted in Cinsault, France, Grenache / Garnacha, Mouvedre, Monastrell, OTHER, RED, ROSE, Shiraz / Syrah | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rosé, Bastide Blanche, Château de Castillon, Bandol AC, France, 2015, 13.5% abv. US$20

Rosé and summer go swell together.  Consider adding this one to your long weekend activities.

Ro is the best known style of wine from Bandol – a tiny wine region on the French shores of the Mediterranean.  Bandol is part of Provence where the difficult-to-grow Mourvèdre grape is king.

Also known as Mataro or Monastrell, depending on where you’re growing and drinking it, Mourvèdre is difficult to ripen completely because it requires a long, extremely dry growing season.  In addition, the evenings must be cool so the grapes aren’t overly sweet and the wines too alcoholic.

There are not too many parts of the world where it grows well – but it is well suited to Bandol and the Southern Rhône Valley, as well as Paso Robles, Australia and its native land, Spain.

The Bronzo family owns this Bandol-based winery perched on the shores of the Mediterranean between Marseilles and Saint-Tropez.

On the eyes, it’s the colour of orangey-pink salmon with a rhubarb, pink grapefruit, and herbed strawberry nose.

The palate is creamy and dry with juicy acidity and flavours of more strawberry juice and fresh rhubarb with dried thyme, more pink grapefruit and crushed rock.

WSET Good Plus, this wine could be laid down for a couple of years for additional development. Drink it with anything, all day long – and consider serving it with salmon.


Posted in Cinsault, France, Grenache / Garnacha, Mouvedre, Monastrell, ROSE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments