Merlot, Upper Bench Estate Winery, Okanagan Valley VQA, BC, 2012, 14.3% abv, C$26

DSCF2860I visited this winery in mid-August 2015 on the day they were actually harvesting Chardonnay for sparkling wine out back.  Yes, in August!

While I had real trouble getting the attention of those behind the bar for tastings, eventually I managed to leave with a variety of bottles.

On the eyes, this one is deep ruby with blueberry, sandalwood, pine and crushed rock aromas.

The palate is dry with medium acidity and grippy tannins.  Flavours show more blueberry and boysenberry, pine and eucalyptus, all offset by great minerality.  Near the end of the evening, it opened up with some tropical coconut.

WSET Good – this is a layered and tasty wine, but with slightly hot alcohol.  Located just outside of Penticton on the Naramata Bench, they have a great creamery as well where their handmade cheeses are crafted.

Photo credit: Mike Woods Photography

Posted in British Columbia, Merlot, RED | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tarima, Organic, Monastrell, Alicante DO, Spain, 14.5% abv, 2012, C$14++

What exactly is Monastrell?  In France it’s called Mourvèdre, and in Australia, Mataro.  In those two countries, the grape is part the common blend called GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) with each of the grapes bringing something special to the blend. 

These days, Monastrell is often made into wine on its own in Spain, although historically it was far more likely to be used for blending to deepen a wine with its dark colour and strong tannins.  

IMG_7194 This wine is ‘organic’, but that only means the grapes used are grown according to organic standards.  Don’t mistake this with a biodynamic wine which has to be grown and made according even more demanding standards.

On the eyes, it’s a dense, deep purple with even legs.  The nose is a little hot and shows aromas of dark berries, cinnamon, cigar box and wet earth.

The palate is dry with average acidity and tiny, tamed tannins; these were not the tannins I was expecting! Flavours include more of the nose – mulberry, dark chocolate, baking spice, tobacco and earth.

The alcohol is high on this but that’s common for Monastrell.  The back of the palate fades quickly, but this is wine and it’s doing its winey job.

WSET Good – and would be happily paired with Thanksgiving burgers on the BBQ.

Posted in Mouvedre, Monastrell, RED, Spain | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pinot Noir, The Princess and the Peasant, Signal Ridge Vineyard, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California, 2014, 13.9% abv.

We’ve been to Napa and Sonoma before and for sure, they’ve got the storied, now chi-chi vineyards – all buttressed by the legacy of that 1976 double blind Judgement of Paris tasting that introduced California to Europe.  They have their place.img_7781

But, the Alexander Valley is still real.  It’s dusty and quaint, friendly and down-to-earth.  Things are changing (local Duckhorn Wine Co. was just sold to TSG Consumer Partners) and behemoths Treasury and Constellation are moving in.  Alexander Valley wines are just too good to pass up.

But for now, it is still a gorgeous little wine region, located a bit to the northwest off that beaten Napa track.  The other cool thing about the area is it actually has a bona fide second language – Boontling.  Including “phonologically changed words borrowed from regional Appalachian dialect, Spanish, and the local Pomo Indian language; it later expanded to include invented figures of speech, nouns turned into verbs, onomatopoeia, and other neologisms.”  It’s still used today – mostly to confuse outsiders.

Kendra McEwen, our gracious and thoroughly engaged guide, grew up local but was born just south of BC’s Okanagan Valley in tiny Tonasket, Washington.  She actually came in to open up on what was her weekend just for us.  And yes, Kendra is a boonter – she speaks the language – who seems to know virtually every single person in Philo and Boonville.

The wines are made by talented Stephanie Rivin and their marketing is done by a print maker – check out that gorgeous label.  The norm at most wineries is to hire a big crew for harvest who then leave.  However, Signal Ridge – as part of their local engagement commitment – has created opportunities for employees who stay and work full time to benefit the community on SR’s pepper fields, olive orchard, in a landscaping company and also the winery.

We started off with the delicately sparkling Chardonnay, 2015.  Sourced from the deep end of the valley, they’re technically part of the Mendocino Ridge with vineyards at an astonishing 2700 feet (823m).

Next, the White Zin, 2015.  I almost laughed out loud.  And then Kendra did.  Anyone who lived through the ’80s knows this is just not cool – which is exactly why they made it.  Apparently some people see it on the counter, turn around and literally walk out the door.  Judgey, judgey.  The difference?  This dry wine with its crisp watermelon and rhubarb aromas and flavours has been made on purpose – do not mistake it for the sweetened, crappy version of alcoholic fruit juice you drank in the school bathroom when you were 16.

The (traditional) Zinfandel 2014, is purple with saline and high blackberry notes.  This vineyard is only 8 miles in from the cool coast which makes it hard to ripen the Zin.  Despite dry farming and double pruning to force ripening, they’ve only been able to bottle two vintages.

We left with this Pinot Noir – the Princess and the Peasant.  Grown up high on the Mendocino Ridge, all vineyard work has to be done by hand, it’s that steep.  On a dry palate with high acidity and strained tannins, the flavours and aromas show ripe bing cherry, dried herb, Chinese allspice and pine tree.

The flavours, acidity and tannins complimented our pulled pork, pickles, red pepper bread and fresh picked corn-on-the-cob.

WSET Very Good– beautifully balanced and expressive, high altitude wine.  Wish I’d bought a pile.

Bahl hornin’ as they’d say in Boonville.


Posted in California, OTHER, Pinot Noir, RED | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Muscat Ottonel, Hillside Winery, Okanagan Valley VQA, BC,13.2% abv, 2014

I’ve never been there, but it’s not for lack of trying.  It hasimg_7738 just never worked out – yet.

But others I know have been and have enjoyed the award-winning restaurant, in addition to the wines made there on the Naramata Bench just up the hill from Penticton.

Muscat Ottonel was the first variety planted at Hillside, so they’ve been making wine from it for 25 years.  This grape is grown widely throughout Europe, but especially in Alsace, Germany and Hungary and produces both dry and sweet wines; this version is lightly off dry.

On the eyes, it’s a pale gold with perfumed aromas of spring blossoms, peach and apricot.

The off dry palate is not cloying at all with medium plus juicy acidity and flavours of more white flowers, nectarine, crushed rock and lightly bitter peach kernel.

With its solid finish, this is a lovely and delicately balanced WSET Good plus wine.  Pair with spicy food, noodles, stir fry with ginger, sushi and wasabi or a spicy seafood salad, as I did.

Posted in British Columbia, Muscat Ottonel / Lunel / Muscatoly, WHITE | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Viña Tondonia, White Reserva, López de Heredia, Rioja DOC, Rioja Alta, Spain, 1999, 12.5% abv, C$50++

It’s hard to share a bottle of López de Heredia.  Firstly, I would be quite happy to keep it all to myself.  So, selfishness ranks high.  But the other reason is that it’s often hard to find someone to drink it with who actually gets what this wine is all about.  img_7778

Let’s be honest, this is wacky, textured stuff and challenging for an unadventurous palate.

I’ve enjoyed several of these – reds, whites and rosés – all made by the same family that has owned this bodega since 1877.  Each review is searchable on the right hand side of this blog page by punching in López de Heredia.

These are unique wines – the current owners, the fourth generation, maintain most of the same practices established by their great grandparents.  They own every inch of every vineyard where their grapes are grown, only use indigenous yeasts, don’t filter their wines, age them for 6-8 years prior to release, and even make their own barrels.

These practices have made them a benchmark winery – and their wines are sought after from around the world.  They’re certainly on my wine bucket list – and one day, I will go there.  But for now, I found some winos willing to try this with me; I’ll make do with drinking them on this side of the ocean.

This is a white Rioja made with 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia grapes from the Tondonia vineyard.  On the eyes, it’s medium gold with strong legs and sherry-like aromas showing super ripe, yellow, just-picked-in-the-orchard apples.  Honey, brine, wool and mandarin oil are all present.

The palate is dry with a beautifully medium body, juicy acidity and flavours of compost-ready apples, dried apricot, more honey and beeswax.  Lightly bitter almonds show at the back of the palate alongside significant sherry-like brine.

The finish is enormously long – we clocked it in at 20, 26 and 31 seconds – on this complex and layered concoction.

WSET Outstanding


Posted in Malvasia, OTHER, Spain, Viura / White Rioja, WHITE | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Cairanne, Peyre Blanche, Famille Perrin, Côtes du Rhône Villages AC, France, 2012, 14.5% abv, C$24++

IMG_1208Today I ran into a friend who also reads this blog and made my day by saying she loves it!

Usually I get, “Yes, well, ummm, I’m kinda busy.  Isn’t it good enough that I subscribed?  You mean I have to read it too?”

So, in celebration of the fact that at least one person reads this blog apart from my mother (and sometimes I wonder even about that), here is a #WineWednesday post for you, faithful reader.

They’ve been making wine in and around the village of Cairanne since the 18th century.  As a ‘Villages’, this 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah blend is a step up from the lower level Côtes du Rhône AOC.

Deep purple turning garnet with deep and even legs, this is a full bodied drink perfumed by violets with tarred blackberry and cassis, glove leather and garrigue.

The palate is dry with softly strained tannins that love steak and flavours showing more violets, blackberries and cassis with black pepper, baking spices, leather and dried tarragon.

WSET Good plus – The Syrah grapes were aged in barrels while the remaining Grenache was aged in tanks.  Famille Perrin is almost always a great deal and this one follows through on that provenance.



Posted in France, Grenache / Garnacha, OTHER, RED, Shiraz / Syrah | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Merlot, Charles Shaw, California, 2012, 12.5% abv, US$2.98

The Two Buck Chuck nickname is a bit of a misnomer in this day and age of inflation.  Still, that’s about all this is worth – with its watered down body and astringent flavours and aromas.   But let’s be honest – what was I expecting?image

Actually, I was expecting that by now this would be vinegar.  So, the mere fact it wasn’t is amazing.  I was looking in the basement archives for a bottle of something to make sangria with and found this in a corner.

Really, I should pay better attention to my cataloging system.

For those who don’t know, this is a bottle of the famed Two Buck Californian Chuck.  You can read here for the background on this brand and all the intrigue and controversy surrounding it – and the MOG that’s in it (Material Other than Grapes).

A LOT of people buy Charles Shaw.  Motivated by price and perhaps needing a wine for their spaghetti sauce or chili, or whatever, they buy it.  Tons of it – like, about 5 million bottles a year of it.

That said, artisanal it is not.  Nor will it ever be. And it doesn’t taste anything like Merlot should taste.

On the eyes, it’s a thin shade of garnet. The aromas show red cherry and medicinal alcohol, which is surprising as it’s only 12.5% abv.

The palate is dry with surprisingly medium plus acidity, but it has an extremely light body as if its been watered down. Flavours show cherry juice with a whiff of cardboard.

WSET Acceptable / Faulty.   It depends how badly you want to make sangria as to whether or not this should be tossed or recycled with fruit juice and brandy.

Posted in California, Merlot, OTHER, RED | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments