Thursday, December 13, 2007

Young's Double Chocolate Stout

I hadn't had this in a while but felt like a stout tonight so I picked one up from my local BC liquor store. I forgot how tasty this was. Moderate roasted malts coupled with a nice creamy chocolatey flavour. The texture is great and this is very easy and very tasty drinking. Highly recommended as an every day tasty stout. I will be away for the holidays so I won't be posting here for a while. I will resume the tastings when I return. Happy Holidays!

$3.25 at BCLDB
Very Good

Fuller's Vintage Ale 2007

I generally like Fuller's ales, and so when I saw this limited edition vintage ale at the local BC liquor store I was excited to give it a try. These are bottle fermeted and supposedly age well; however, I found this beer to be overly alcoholic and not balanced very well. Maybe with time the intense alcohol flavour will mellow, but this was very dissapointing and very overpriced.

$6.99 at BCLDB

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Earthquake Petite Sirah 2003

Just yesterday I decided to take part in "Wine Blogging Wednesday" ( since the theme of the week happened to be petite sirah, which is one of my favourite 'underdog' varietals. I got into petite sirah when I took a trip to Napa last summer and I discovered that many of the smaller wineries were producing an inky, powerful, and yet amazingly structured little wine from a varietal I had only seen used in blending. During my trip I discovered great petite sirahs from Miner, Arroyo, Broken Spur and the grand daddy of them all: David Fulton. After my trip I got so excited about the varietal that, even though I brought back maybe 4 bottles of the stuff, I spent the next several weeks seeking out every petite sirah I could in the city. This bottle is a result of that treck and I have been meaning to try it for some time.

This wine hails from the Lodi Appellation in California and has a wonderfully intense nose that explodes from the glass - having intensity a good 30 cm above the Riedel Cab Sauv glass I used to drink this out of. I would describe the flavours as consisting of chocolate, plum, loads of dark red berry, and slightly burnt caramalized fruit (which I find characteristic of my favourite petite sirahs). This is quite smooth given the high alcohol content (15.5%), but the fruit finishes with a bit of gooseberry, which isn't what I like wines to finish with, as I think the bitterness takes away from the 'upward' development of the wine. Also, I find that the structure is a bit all over the place and the wine could use a lot more balance between the fruit, oak, and tannin. I have read critiques of the petite sirah varietal as being generally unstructured, even if powerful and flavourful. I think, though, that in the hands of a master a petite sirah can be very refined and balanced. I don't know much about wine making, but I imagine that making a superb petite sirah might be a test of a winemaker's skills since so few bottles show the potential of the best I've had.

However, overall this is a well above average petite sirah and a very good example of the varietal, even if there are others out there that take it to another level. A bit expensive in Canada, I think it's a decent price in the US. However, overall this is a bit over-priced for what you get. I still had a lot of fun drinking it, though.

$50 at Kitsilano Wine Cellars
Very Good+

Heatherale Alba Scots Pine Ale

This is the second beer I tried from the Scottish ale sampler I bought from Liberty. This is a nicely coloured amber ale with a really nice pine and cedar fragrance in every sip and is very refreshing. Short, but smooth malty finish. Easy drinking and coming in at a surprising 7.5% alcohol for the lightness of the ale.

Very Good
$6 at Liberty

McEewan's Scotch Ale

On the trend of Scottish ale, this dark and strong ale is made in the malt-liquor style, meaning it is kind of cidery and sweet with a big dose of alcohol (8%). The ale consists of strong apple cider and molasses flavours built over a great deal of heat from the alcohol. It finishes with a slight bitterness that helps to temper the malt flavours. Overall this is pretty nice, although it is too sweet for my tastes. Ultimately I think it is over-priced for what it is and that there are much better beers available for the same price.

$16.99/6-pack at BCLDB

Heatherale Grozet Gooseberry & Wheat Ale

This was part of a pack of 4 beers, all made with a different unique element in place of the hops. This was Scotlands way of thumbing their nose at the English, whose brewing laws demanded that everyone in the UK use hops to brew beer. Ah, those pesky scots. This particular ale uses gooseberry in place of hops.

The beer is very fragrant, floral and, of course, has a strong gooseberry flavour. It gets a little bitter on the aftertaste, but not like hops. Overall it's pretty good but I found it a little too light and lacking in structure. A fun beer that I wouldn't drink that much, and that was way too expensive (basically since it came in a gift pack from liberty). However, I still look forward to trying the other 3 beers as this was certainly a fun and unique experience.

$6 at Liberty

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Beringer Bancroft Ranch Howell Mountain Merlot 1997

Having finished my law exams today I went directly to my cellar and pulled out a special wine I had been saving for just such an occasion. I've always wanted to try the Beringer Howell Mountain Merlot as I had heard from many sources I respect that it was one of the best Merlots in the Napa Valley. While it is hard to decide what is 'best' from amongst a region with tons of absolutely amazing merlots (check out Shafer, Twomey, Pride Mountain, Nickle and Nickle, and Duckhorn), the Beringer is a beauty of a wine that definitely lives up to its reputation.

The wine is a super-dark burgundy colour, even with 10 years age on it. A stunning nose with cassis and cedar wood notes. Upon drinking the wine explodes with super-intense cassis, blackberry, dark current, pine-needles, and cedar smoke. The mid-palate has an intense burst of rich fruit with perfect acidity and subtle oak. It develops into an incredibly evolving and long finish (at least 1-2 minutes). This merlot has an absolutely supple texture and a beautiful struture with perfect balance of fruit, oak, and tannin. It's drinking great right now, but I think it will probably continue to develop for a few more years. Pure hedonism.

$90 at BCLDB for a limited time

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2005

I opened this wine for a little holiday get-together I had last night. Au Bon Climat produces some great pinots, supposedly in the Burgundy style. This is their cheapest offering coming in at around $15 in the US. At that price it is a ridiculous bargain and I would be buying it all the time. Up here it's $20 more and, while definitely very tasty, it's hard for me to get this knowing that for the same price down in the US I can get a fantastic bottle of Oregon or California pinot. I think that's the problem with most of the US wines up here - they come in at usually a 100% markup. However, if you want to buy a California pinot in BC this is probably the best quality you will get for the price.

Anyhow, this is a nicely structured pinot with much more intensity than you would expect from a 'cheaper' bottle. While it has the classic strawberry nose, this is much subdued compared to many pinots. The wine exhudes what I would call gamey fruitiness and a nice smooth rasberry-like finish. Tannins are very low as usual, but those little that do exist are very well integrated. All in all a very good wine. I had a tough time rating this one, as I do like it enough to buy it again (this was in fact my second bottle), but I've had one of Au Bon Climat's higher end pinots called "La Bauge Au-dessus" (which comes in around $60) and it just blew me away in comparison to this and it would be unfair to give them a similar rating, despite the price differential.

Very Good+
$35 at BCLDB (Marquis has a good selection of their higher end wines)

Friday, December 7, 2007

Domaine Les Pallieres Gigondas 2004

I just wrote my first exam and handed in my only paper of the semester, so this called for another yummy wine. What can I say: very very juicy. The wine seems mild but it develops into a really intense fruit bomb. And I mean that in a good way. This wine is mostly Grenache and, as a Gigondas it hails from the Rhone Valley, which is maybe my most favourite region in the world. With wines of this quality coming in at only $40 (in BC of course) who can doubt that the Rhone makes some seriously good vino. I only wish I could afford some of the $80+ wines. I'm lucky enough to have one Hermitage cellared, but that one will probably be sitting for quite a few more years.

Anyhow, back to the wine at hand. I would describe this as having a very open and fruity nose consisting mostly of dried cherries. The wine itself is heavy in cherry and plumb, a bit of leather and chocolate and with a tarry inky texture. I love this sort of thing so this wine gets a very good rating for me. I would definitely buy this again. Drinking very well right now.

Also, to clarify my rating system, I will really only end up buying wines rated excellent or higher more than once. I have very high standards for rebuying wine, since there is always more to discover. That might give you a better sense of where I'm coming from.


$40 at BCLDB and Marquis (where I got mine)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Richard Hamilton Centurion Old Vine Shiraz 2002

Continuing the trend of pairing one dose of boring exam studying with one dose of tasty vino, I opened another one of my cellared wines tonight. The Centurion Shiraz is made from 110 year old vines and hails from the McLaren Vale. 2002 was a great year in southern Australia and this wine proves that a good vintage can really add a lot of character to a wine. This is pleasantly not a typical shiraz, and although it had a fairly closed nose, the palate brought forward great flavours of cherry, chocolate and spice with a lot of structure and character. That said, it could use a more complex development of flavours and a longer, more developed finish to bring it to the 'next level'. I think, once again, that it would improve with age, but probably not extraordinarily so. It's still really tasty and probably justifies the price (given that it's BC and all prices are grossly inflated by taxes). Once again Australia proves that it can produce much more than jammy sugary shiraz.

Very Good+
$45 at BCLDB (ALthough I don't thnk they have any left)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2004

Canadian provincial wine laws have always been a pet peave of mine. In the case of Canadian made wine, bad wine laws have contributed to their general poor quality and lack of international reputation. For example, Ontario allows wine makers to import plonky leftover juice from around the world and yet label their wines Canadian. However, the state of wine production is improving somewhat, although for legal and economic reasons (lack of viable and large enough markets, lack of wide distribution) most Canadian wine is still sub-standard for the price (At least in my opinion). There are many proud supporters of Canadian wine, but I only follow my taste buds. That said, this bottle is not only an exception to what I've written above, but one that I would not be ashamed to see in other national markets.

I tried to hold on to this bottle a bit longer, but gave in to the urge to try it after only a few months of cellaring. The nose opened with a bit of cassis and cherry and these flavours continued to develop upon my first sip. The wine is pretty well integrated, but is a bit tight and overly tannic, especially in the finish. This really probably needs more time in the cellar to open up completely. However, this is definitely a very enjoyable wine.

$40 at BCLDB and Private Stores
Very Good (although probably Very Good + to Excellent with some bottle age)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Chateau La Vieille Cure 2000

Having trudged through enough exam prep to warrant a reward I decided to open a 'nicer' (i.e. more expensive) bottle tonight and decided on this nice little wine from the great 2000 vintage in Bordeaux (although now overshadowed by the 'best ever' vintage of 2005). The wine was a bit closed upon first opening the bottle but opened up to reveal notes of tar, ash, and smoke. I smelled a bit of coffee on the nose initially, but that dissipated pretty quickly. After about 30 minutes the flavours developed to include a refreshing mintyness in the finish. The best way I can describe the fruit of this wine would be 'brambly'. It was slightly tannic, but pleasantly so.

I initially thought decanting was supposed to open a wine to reveal its best side. However, I came across a wine writer a while ago that really changed my perspective. He wrote that while decanting can help to bring a wine to its peak, he rather liked thinking of wine as a flower growing from bud to full bloom. That a wine evolves as you drink it can be, and is for me, a huge part of the pleasure drinking it. It's part of the living character of wine and helps to make it much more than just boozed-up grapes.

On that note, I will conclude by saying that while I really did like this wine, it is just way too expensive in BC to justify its purchase. If I were able to pick it up in the US for roughly $20-$25 (which is what it goes for down there) then it'd be a steal. As it is I probably won't get it again just because there is always so much more to explore.

Very Good
$50 at BCLDB

2004 Quinta do Crasto Douro Riserva Old Vines

I think Portuguese wine is really underrated and generally under the radar. Douro's tend to be big and intense port-like dry red wines that can often be a great value. The BC LDB doesn't carry that much of the higher end stuff so it was a nice treat to find this bottle at the Thurlow and Alberni location. The best way I can describe this is really intense and rich chocolatey and leathery flavours that had a good measure of dark berry fruit. However, the wine wasn't jammy and I wouldn't describe the fruit as 'fresh', but maybe more as 'withered'. This was a great wine for the price and pretty much typifies the kind of wine making I love. On another note, I have a 2003 sitting around and I think this wine could be pretty interesting with a little age.

$35 at BCLDB

Rogue Chocolate Stout

First of all, I am a huge fan of stouts - so know that going into this 'review'. This is what you might call a cross between the smoother/sweeter style of stout and the really heavy duty imperial style stouts. It's got a great intense after taste, but it has added chocolate to give it a robust silky smoothness that makes it pretty darn delicious. I'm not sure if you can get this in BC yet, as I have seen some of Rogue's other products here, albeit not this one. Rogue hails from Oregon and is well stocked in Seattle so it's not too hard to make a US road trip to pick some of this up.


$? Was a gift from a friend in the US (Thanks Trevor!).

Binchoise Speciale Noel

I always love the Christmas season, despite the horrid experience of law exams, for all the festiveness and especially for all the seasonal beers. I've always found Binchoise to produce good quality but not outstanding beers, but this special christmas beer is the best of theirs I've had. It's made in the Belgian Strong Beer style but it adds a nice layer of floral notes and a tempered mild fruitiness while staying away from the over-sweetness of lesser Belgians. I definitely recommend a taste if you can find any!

Very Good+
$3.25/bottle at BCLDB; $4-$5 at private stores

Gulden Draak

The perennial Christmas favourite. While you can get this at other times of the year, Christmas brings a new batch of the frosty white bottle and nice low prices at the LDB (a good 30-40% lower than private as per usual). A darker Belgian Strong Ale that is probably the best of its kind you will find in BC. As I like to tell my friends: the all white bottle is already cool, but the golden liquid inside fills the belly with glee.

Very Good+ to Excellent (can be variable)
$3.25/bottle at BCLDB; $5+ at private stores

My Wine and Beer Philosophy

I figured my first post should impart a basic sense of where I'm coming from and how I go about evaluating things like wine and beer.

I'm a law student here in BC (hence the bad pun in naming this blog) and I basically love wine and beer. My passion for these delights developed over the years, but really started getting intense after taking a trip to the US a few years ago for a conference only to come home with a Shafer Merlot and a Duckhorn Merlot, both from Napa Valley. I had never had anything that came close to the quality of these wines and it really set my already fledgling passion into full throttle. Now my appetite is only restricted by my budget :).

What I really love about wine is the combination of visceral and intellectual experiences. I find beer a little less intellectual, but a lot of fun. I also love the 'madeness' of good beer and wine; I'm not talking about the mass produced stuff, but the basic principle that a wine or a beer is an expression of the individual(s) who made it, crafted it. Now, I know there are purists in wine who believe in the territoriality of wine - its epxression of the specific characteristics of terroir. However, for me this only really comes to life when I visit the vineyards themselves. It is only then that I feel I truly understand the ideas of soil, rock and minerals. While this greatly enhances the experience of drinking these beverages, one is usually confined to drinking bottles from far away places. This has its own pleasure, and I think it is the imaginative experience that rounds out the whole package nicely. It's always great to read about a region and look at maps when drinking a particularly fantastic bottle. On the other hand, it's also great to just sip and enjoy.

The final peg to my philosophy is that pretentiousness ruins the experience. However, the question remains: what do I mean by pretentiousness? Essentially I am talking about the posturing and inevitable 'class' dimension to wine (beer far less so, although 'fancy' beer runs into this problem too). American commercialism, as brought forth by the likes of Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator, is really, despite what they think, only another form of pretentiousness. That said, commercial wine reviewers still pick good bottles. So basically I try to run a middle path - mitigate both the elitism of the upper class association with wine and the massification of commercialism (the idea that one human's taste can dictate the price of a bottle). In the end I try to come out with something personal and meaningful. Cheers!

As a final note, here is my basic rating scale:
No good
Very Good
Very Good+