Pinot Noir, Scott Paul, Azana, Chehalem Mountains AVA, Oregon, 2013, 12.9% abv., US$60

We visited the tasting room for this graceful Pinot Noir in tiny Carlton, Oregon in August 2016.

The Chehalem Mountains AVA where the grapes for this wine are grown is located entirely within the larger Willamette Valley AVA, just south of Portland.

Carlton is a charming village and is highly recommended if you’re looking for a long weekend escape with seriously excellent dining and drinking choices – all located on a two block stretch of the main drag.

We took a bottle of this home and enjoyed it with west coast salmon, wild rice and heirloom tomatoes with basil.

On the eyes, it’s a translucent garnet.  The nose shows tart pomegranate, strawberry, red cherry and moss with vanilla bean, and the palate is dry with mouth-watering acidity, strained tannins and flavours of more green strawberry with cherry, fern, light anise and fennel.

WSET Very Good – deliciously elegant – enough to make me want to return to get more and visit Carlton for a third time…

Posted in Oregon, Pinot Noir, RED | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana, Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO, Spain, 15% abv, €15

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana is located 30 km east of Jerez in the Spanish seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda housed in a set of cathedral-like buildings built originally on the oceanfront.  The Atlantic started receding in the 1800s and now it’s a walk of several blocks to the beach (left).

This is a bodega that is still family owned (6th generation) with its own organically farmed vineyards (about 170 ha).  It also maintains many of the traditional sherry-making methods and unlike other bodegas, sells very old and rare sherries at its on premise store.

We had a private tour with Victor, whom we tried (unsuccessfully) to entice to practice his flamenco singing. 

The specialty from Sanlúcar de Barrameda is Manzanilla – essentially Fino that has aged on the salty coast – and Hidalgo La Gitana is famous for this classic.  We tasted the 4-5 yo Manzanilla bottled En Rama (unfiltered) with its delicate sea breeze, green olive and salt profile, an Amontillado VORS Napoleon (42-45 yo) along with others.

But the Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana was unique.  Made from Palomino Fino grapes from a single vineyard – the Miraflores, located halfway between Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Jerez.  This sherry is an average of 11-12 yo and exudes dried flowers and grass, pine nuts, soft salt, seaside, olive and herbs.

We enjoyed some later at a local restaurant with the traditional pairings – dried red tuna, octopus and langoustines, and took a bottle of the La Gitana En Rama up to the rooftop of our hotel to enjoy with new friends.

Good times all around.

WSET Very Good Plus
You can buy Hidalgo La Gitana products all over the world (including BC).

Posted in FORTIFIED WINE, OTHER, Palomino, Sherry, Spain, WHITE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cream, Bodegas El Maestro Sierra, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO, Spain, 375ml, 17.5% abv.

To say the Sherry Spirit Enotourism vineyard tour was unique and picturesque would be an understatement.  Cecilia and Isabel arrived at our small hotel in Jerez to pick us up at 6pm.

Four hours of albariza soil, palomino grapes and a full tasting of Bodegas El Maestro Sierra barrel samples followed, complete with tasty pairings – all in the middle of the Pagos Aniña vineyard.

Sherry Spirit Enotourism is a petite tour company run by Cecilia Rodriguez and Eduardo Valderas.  Eduardo also happens to work at Bodegas El Maestro Sierra, a small (2000 barrel) sherry bodega in Jerez  dating to 1830.

We had a walking tour of the  vineyard to see the white, powdery, calcium carbonate (30-80-%) albariza soils up close.  It’s amazing that anyone ever thought, “Gee, let’s plant some vines here and grow grapes.” Expert interpretation and analysis were provided by Cecilia in Spanish and Isabel in English, and then we moved to our tasting.

We started with some Infinito Palmira, their unfiltered 100% Palomino, dry, white with notes of guava and pomelo.  Then, some 5 year old (yo) Fino paired with sunflower seeds and the Amontillado which had the best pairing yet – BBQ corn nuts. 

The 15 yo Oloroso was stunning, but it was the Cream that impressed me.  This is a blend of 70% of the 15 yo Oloroso and 30% of the 5 yo Pedro Ximénez.  The two are then put into US oak barrels for 4 more years to age and the Cream is the culmination.

Burnt orange zest with toffee and toasted almond rest on a base of butter, coffee and biscuit.  Refreshing with its high acidity, it paired beautifully with peach jam and pâté on fresh telera bread.

WSET Very Good Plus

That’s Life Gourmet Ltd. imports El Maestro Sierra products for sale at select BC private liquor stores, including Marquis Wines and Kits Wine Cellar.


Posted in Palomino, Pedro Ximenez / Pedro Gimenez, Sherry, Spain, WHITE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amontillado Viejo Del Duque VORS, Bodegas González Byass, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO, Spain, 21.5% abv, €22

Next time you plan to enjoy, say, some manchego cheese and mushroom risotto, pull out the Amontillado Viejo del Duque VORS (Very Old Rare Sherry) from González Byass to pair up with it.

This delicious tip was provided by Maribel, our private guide at the largest bodega we visited in Jerez, González Byass.  González Byass is part of a huge, global wine empire that ships to virtually every country on the planet.

The solera was started in 1835 with 16 butts that formed the original base of the current solera.

We tasted through 9 sherries with Maribel, including a yeasty, briny Fino En Rama, an Apostoles Palo Cortado (30 yo) laced with orange blossom, salted caramel, cinnamon, raisins and oak, and the profoundly sweet and intense Noé VORS PX (30 yo) with loads of cocoa, coffee, raisin, date and Dutch licorice.

Amontillado is a style that starts out as a Fino and then after about 8 years, the layer of flor that protects the wine from oxidation dies.  The resultant wine turns darker and acquires more complexity and structure.

The Amontillado Del Duque requires special certification from the Consejo Regulador of the DO, is an average of 30 yo, is naturally dry and may not be sweetened.

A deep gold with amber tones, the Amontillado Del Duque has light yeast and seaspray with salted caramel, toasted almond, and toffee notes.  Dried apricot and cinnamon polish up the long and rich finish that ends with walnut and wood.

Absolutely delicious, a smoking deal at only 22, and aged 30 years.

WSET Very Good Plus and the best reason, apart from Maribel, to have visited González Byass in Jerez De La Frontera.




Posted in FORTIFIED WINE, OTHER, Palomino, Sherry, Spain, WHITE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moscatel, Emilín, Bodegas Lustau, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO, Spain, 17% abv, €25

During a recent trip to Jerez De La Frontera to learn more about sherry, we planned ahead and were lucky to have the @delfgroup assist with making an appointment at Bodegas Lustau.

Originally founded in 1896, today Lustau is a medium sized enterprise that exports sherry on a global scale.

Our guide through the 20,000 sq/m of the Los Arcos cathedral complex was Isabel (the iconic white buildings which all face westward to the Atlantic ocean, and where sherry is aged in the solera system, are called cathedrals).

She explained all the details everyone was there to devour about sherry – including one I hadn’t known; Lustau is the only bodega which ages wine in all three cities of the sherry triangle – Jerez De La Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto De Santa Maria.  Each venue gives a different palate and aromatic profile to the wine because of differences in humidity levels and grapes used, among other factors.

We tasted through 9 sherries with Isabel, including the only one made of Moscatel grapes we had while in Jerez.  Three white grapes are allowed in the DO for making sherry – Palomino Fino, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel (Muscat of Alexandria). 

The Moscatel Emilín is an average of 8 years old and is surprisingly elegant and refined with good acidity to balance the 200 g/l of residual sugar.  First impressions include almonds with raisins and figs, followed by orange blossom, lime, sweet marzipan and creamy coffee.

WSET Very Good and part of what made the trip to Spain so worthwhile.



Posted in FORTIFIED WINE, Moscatel / Muscat of Alexandria, OTHER, Sherry, Spain, WHITE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pedro Ximénez, Bodegas Mons Urium, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO, Spain, 15% abv, €82.50

The very first thing that hit us was the overwhelming smell of the yeasty velo de flor as we walked through the bodega doors.  Flor is a layer of yeast that protects the developing wine from oxidation – and it has a particular aroma.  Now this is a sherry bodega!

Our research had indicated that Mons Urium (or simply, Urium) is a premium bodega we should visit during our trip to the sherry homeland – Jerez De La Frontera – located in Spain’s Andalusian region. It did not disappoint.

Not only was it the most hands on and private of our pre-arranged tastings – led by the incredibly gracious and lovely Rocio Ruiz – but the wines we tasted from barrel were of exceptional quality.

Urium is the Roman era name for Moguer which is Rocio’s family name.  Her father purchased this bodega about 10 years ago and asked her (trained as a financial auditor) to assist him.  Once they reordered the solera and reviewed all the casks they’d purchased, they were left with 498 (which is actually a very small solera).

Over the course of time, they’ve selected and purchased the wines they add to their solera carefully.  All their wines are bottled En Rama (unfiltered) to ensure the maximum amount of character is retained. This is uncommon; most bodegas allow only a very small number of barrels to be bottled En Rama, if any.

We tasted through the 8 year old (yo) floral Fino showing apricot, orange blossom, yeast, almonds and ripe apples, the 12 yo “Ellen’s Flor” where the flor had died but then recovered, producing a dry Fino with toffee and toast notes, and a 15 yo Amontillado with high acidity, salted caramel, dried apricot and potpourri.  At this point, two cellar hands from neighbour Bodegas Tradición dropped by to join us briefly.

Then came a Palo Cortado, a Palo Cortado VORS (‘Very Old Rare Sherry’), a 40 yo Oloroso VORS and an Amontillado VORS that was over 30 yo.  Dark amber, this was smokey with salted caramel – reportedly excellent when paired with red tuna and mango.

The bottle I brought home was the 50 yo Pedro Ximénez.  Extremely concentrated and viscous, this wine is dark brown although it’s made from raisinated white grapes.  Despite its 460 g/l of residual sugar, it’s neither cloying nor heavy because of the high acidity.  Raisins, prunes, figs and dates show alongside dark honey, creamy coffee, cloves and tiramisu.

This will pair perfectly with a sweet dessert or some Stilton and blue cheeses. Sweetly intense, elegant and complex, it’s also beautifully balanced.

WSET Outstanding

Rocio told us she often feels as though she’s an archaeologist, watching these very old, rare sherries develop, interpreting them, and then bringing them to the world.  Indeed, the world needs more Rocio.






Posted in FORTIFIED WINE, Pedro Ximenez / Pedro Gimenez, Sherry, Spain, WHITE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Torroja, Terroir Al Limit Soc. Lda., Priorat DOQ, Spain, 2012, 12.5% abv.

We visited Priorat in January 2015 after attending the WSET Diploma graduation ceremony in London.  When we were trying to put together our list of Priorat bodegas to visit, this one emerged as a bright star.

Peter, the winemaker, is a German transplant.  Although we’d made an appointment well in advance, he arrived as we were leaving.  Happily though, he held an impromptu tasting in the kitchen.

I loved his white wines.  After a week of the teeth-staining Garnacha/Carinena reds of Priorat, I was enthralled by the Garnacha Blanca whites.  And I thought I had left with one.

I was wrong.  And when the red wine poured from the bottle, I was one shocked Llama.

I’d been waiting to drink what I thought was a backboned, herbal white wine for more than 3 years.  But, this was a first world problem and the Torroja was delicious.

On the eyes, it’s translucent ruby with a stunning nose of purple violets, sweet black cherry, ripe Damson plum, dried herbs, and licorella rock dust.

The expressive palate is dry with strained tannins, flavours of deep black cherry, more purple plum, anise, thyme, tarragon, and rocky carpentry.

What a happy mistake.  WSET Very Good Plus

Posted in Grenache / Garnacha, RED, Spain | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments