North Okanagan Tasting Tour, Part 2: Planet Bee Honey Farm

Someone should really start a honey blog. It’s not going to be me but if you are reading and decide to take on honey as a topic, please let me know because I will totally read it religiously.

I’ve written about honey before and have a bit of a history with it. A neighbour of mine where I grew up had bees and made his own honey and I remember going there to get some with my dad. I learned early on that it was a very natural product but most importantly for at the time was that it was sweet and yummy and I loved it.

Fast forward a few years and I’d moved to the big city (no, not Vancouver – a big city) and honey became something that was served in little plastic bottles shaped like bears or in tiny clear plastic dipping packs with McNuggets. The honey that was available (and affordable) to me was only the highly processed stuff and I never paid it any attention at all. Until one sunny day in Port Coquitlam one fall when we were visiting a farm that sold pumpkins. They offered us a tasting of different honeys made from different flowers and that was it – I was hooked. I had no idea that different flowers produced different flavours in the honey or even that honey’s flavours could vary by so much.

IMG_0875Planet Bee Honey Farm is a short drive west of Vernon on Bella Vista Road. Even if you don’t like honey, the view is worth the trip, hence the appropriate road name. If you do like honey, or honey-derived products (candles, mead, skin care products, etc) then this place is a metaphorical Disneyland. It was a slow time of year and we were able to take our time. We were guided around the displays and told about the bees that live in the two indoor demonstration hives. There was all kinds of information about bees and how honey is made. We learned the difference between honey bees, bumblebees, yellow jackets, and hornets along with the life cycle and hierarchy of the bees in the hives.

IMG_0876Then we got to taste the honey. There were a lot of them. There was no way to get through all of them but by tag-teaming the task with the family, we were able to cover a lot of ground. There was no sequential order to the tasting in the same way that wines are tasted as none of the flavours tended to overpower any other particular flavour. That tendency seems to only exist in the wine world for some reason as I didn’t experience any flavour masking at Olive Us the previous day either. Tasting order just did not matter.

Some of the honeys were infused but most of them were made from different flowers. Pollens on different species of flowers taste different and will yield honey with distinctly different tastes. I found that the flavours of those honeys differed not by a way that is familiar to me as a wine taster. All of the honeys were equally sweet, equally textured, and similarly intense. The only difference that I found was in the retro-nasal, mid-palate flavours that weren’t always immediately apparent. Sometimes it would take a couple of seconds to really get the full effect and on the most complex honeys, they would change slightly as the flavour progressed. This was an equally amazing experience to tasting wine.

And then there was the mead. Planet Bee also makes a big selection of mead and most of it is available for tasting. While I confess that mead has never really drawn me in the way that wine has, it was at least familiar to be standing there with a wine glass chatting about some of the flavours.

Just like grape wine, they ranged in sweetness from relatively dry to very sweet. Of course the discussion turned to which was actually the oldest beverage in the world. Of course mead has a very long history and presumed archaeological evidence puts it in a dead heat with wine in some respects. However I contend that wine is the older beverage since making it requires less intervention. A vessel of grapes will turn into wine naturally and of its own accord without human intervention over time since it already contains all of the necessary ingredients – sugar and water are in the grapes, tannins in the skins and seeds to preserve it, and yeast cells on the bloom (skin) to ferment it. It’s all right there. It only needs some cave man to forget a batch of grapes for a while and then it’s party time. Mead requires obtaining the honey, deliberately mixing it with water, and adding other flavourings. All things that require deliberate human intervention and would not be able to happen naturally.

Of course, we will never know the real story of either beverage’s provenance but I still maintain my position that wine is the eldest of the two. Regardless, the mead was very good – balanced and with lots of interesting flavours. But when it comes to figuring out how those tastes and flavours fit into my family’s culinary world, I was at a bit of a loss. What would I drink it with? Does it benefit from ageing? I have made it a goal to be able to study the world of mead this year and I know that I will write more about it over the coming years.

Our purchases made, we said good-bye to the staff at Planet Bee and kept going on our drive. We were glad to have been able to take out time and see the store at our own pace as it was solidly in the off-season. Being there in the summer with many more visitors and their children running around with access to that much sugar, it’s pretty obvious that the bees wouldn’t be the only thing buzzing around the place.

Planet Bee Honey Farm is well worth the visit and it promises a taste adventure like no other. Do not miss it when travelling through Vernon. They were in the middle of a renovation while I was there so it will likely look a little different over the summer. I absolutely plan on returning to see how it will look.

North Okanagan Tasting Tour Part 1 – Olive Us and Tita’s

Perhaps there is more to savour than just wine tasting?

This is a shocking statement on a wine blog but it’s true. While I’ve written about other tasting experiences involving things like honey before, whenever I take a trip anywhere I’ve always taken a lot of pleasure from trying local things: cool restaurants, unique stores, and of course wineries. Challenging my taste buds with things that aren’t wine is good because I like to think that it makes me better at tasting wine. It also makes be appreciate wine even more because it reminds me that when all is said and done, wine is still the most complex, nuanced, varied, and debate-inducing thing that humans can consume. However, tasting new things is also just fun.

IMG_0878I recently went on a family trip to explore the North Okanagan, staying 4 days in Vernon, BC. After seven and a half years living in the south, it’s almost shocking that I’ve only managed to come here once before. Like most places in the Okanagan though, this place is a destination in and of itself, meaning that you have actually want to come here in order to appreciate it. While I have travelled through Vernon in 2009 on my way home from a drive across Canada, I never got a chance to stop and try out some local shops and restaurants on that trip. And I haven’t really had a reason to go back since then. There are no wineries in the immediate Vernon area and little in the way of wine culture at most of the restaurants that I was able to visit (with one notable exception – see below).

We really lucked out after we arrived. Within 5 hours we had managed to find two amazing places to challenge our taste buds.

Olive Us is an “olive oil and vinegar tasting room” on 30th Avenue in downtown Vernon. My wife discovered it listed on the Tourism Vernon website as we were planning the trip. We knew we wanted to get there at some point but with our kids in tow, making fast plans was not something that we could count on. However, it happened to be close to where we’d parked so we stopped in.

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Many flavoured salts at the Salt Bar

Refreshingly, the kids were welcomed and had a small chalkboard-painted fun room and games ready for them. My wife and I were told about the amazing selection of olive oils (fused and infused) and vinegars (white and dark or balsamic), shown the sampling spoons, and then let loose in the store to freely taste both. It was a refreshing experience and challenging at the same time. I’m used to explaining bizarre complexities of wine to people and here I was on the other side learning about the bizarre complexities of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. It was an informative and humbling at the same time. There is so much to know about it and I wanted to remember as much of it as I could.

Thankfully, there was no quiz afterwards. Spoon in hand, I tasted my way through an amazing assortment of olive oils infused with ingredients like basil, toasted almond, and tuscan herbs. One of my favourites was an oil that was fused with mandarin oranges. Fused oils, I learned that day, are created by co-pressing flavouring ingredients with the olives, in this case whole mandarin oranges, so that the flavours develop and integrate together right from the beginning. It’s hard to describe the difference between fused and infused but if I had to try, I’d say that the fused flavours are blurred together; they aren’t two distinct flavours that are joined (like infusions) but are rather a unique flavour of its own that has elements of both. I found it harder to pick out the distinct elements of the fused oils. The only exception was the distinctive tang of the mandarin rind that floated over the whole experience for that particular oil.

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Premium pasta selection

The vinegars were equally interesting. There were white vinegar infusions including coconut, peach, and cranberry pear. Dark vinegars had a list of slightly more robust infusion flavours but were equally well balanced, something that I noticed with all of the products in the store that I was able to sample. The Strawberry balsamic got my attention right away (I love spinach salad) and the flavour was pristine. The dark chocolate balsamic was unbelievable, rich as would be expected but not cloyingly so.

Interestingly, they also had the base balsamic (not infused) available for tasting, as well as the base olive oil. I think that this is the strongest testament to the high quality of their products. They are not just simply flavouring sub-standard oils and vinegars so they can synthetically increase its value (or “polishing a turd” as a winery manager I used to work with once called it, referring to wines that had been unduly processed and sold for a much higher price). These are quality products from the get-go and you can buy them in their base elements if you want. They are delicious.

The big kicker for me though was the single-variety olive oils – an amazing opportunity to try unblended oils to find out what the differences are between the varieties. This is commonplace in the wine world and occasionally you can find specialty apple juices in the Okanagan that are made from a single variety of apples, but otherwise this is a rare opportunity. Olive varieties can vary enormously based on polyphenol content (just like red wines) and other elements that make each one unique.

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Olive Us co-owner Ray Morin with the selection of single-variety olive oils.

Since Vernon is not very convenient for me to just go and pick up another bottle of olive oil when my stock runs out, this will really only be a special trip for me. But for you residents of the North Okanagan, and maybe even Kelowna, this place is an absolute gem to frequent. Even occasional purchases here will result in a small collection of amazing products that will enhance any special dinner.

Speaking of a special dinner – We happened upon a small bistro called Tita’s Italian Bistro on 41st Avenue, just off Highway 97. Even the parking lot was cosy. (The parking spaces were perfect for Italian sports cars. Less so for Toyota minivans.) We walked inside and were welcomed like long-lost family. Just getting this far was a victory for my wife and I as our kids are solidly in that picky-eater phase. Once we sat down and saw the menu, things didn’t pick up for them since there was a lot of Italian words that they didn’t recognize. With help from our server and a little bribing with Italian sodas, we found two dishes that the kids would enjoy.

**I should interrupt this ‘restaurant review’ by pointing out that I don’t think I’ve ever done a restaurant review on this site at all, nor am I seeking to make this a regular feature. While I will be the first to point out that absolutely nothing qualifies me to judge restaurants, food, and / or service quality, this place was probably the best dining experience I’ve ever had with my whole family and for that reason alone, I will shout about Tita’s as loud as I can and plan my next trip to Vernon based on their business hours.**

My wife had the special of the day while I had the Filletto di Maiale Pisa. Before the kids had time to complain about anything, the sodas were on the table and there was warm focaccia and dishes of olive oil and balsamic. Soon after that, two unexpected salads with house made balsamic reduction dressing was placed in front of my wife and I. Once the salads were done, the main showed up shortly after that and they were amazing.

71416_TitasItalianBistroSo amazing in fact that my daughter proclaimed that her Fettuccini Alfredo was the best pasta that she’d ever had. She then ate 3/4 of a small adult portion of it, which is far more than the 3, possibly 4, noodles that she’ll eat at home before giving up. (I like to think that this says more about the quality of Tita’s pasta dishes than it does about our home cooking but only she knows for sure.) My son, though being less adventurous in his choice of main, was also enthusiastic about his Spaghetti Bolognese.

As for wine, Tita’s had a small but varied list of quality wines at many price points, including Larch Hills in Salmon Arm. The wines were priced fairly and nothing seemed out of place for the style of cuisine. It was also not populated only by wines from one particular corporation or supplier (e.g. Peller, Constellation, or Mission Hill) that I’ve seen often at restaurants. (Maybe I’ll write more on that subject in another post…)

Essentially, Tita’s over-delivered. We expected nothing more than a plate of food each. Instead we were treated to amazing bread, amazing salads, and amazing food. Based on that, we quickly decided to stay for dessert and guess what? It was amazing as well – Tiramisu for my wife, limoncello for me. I have no photos because I was too busy actually tasting the food and enjoying the experience and I’m glad I did because this kind of thing can’t be tweeted. (I’m not into instagramming my food although I’ve been known to tweet photos of empty plates and pizza boxes.)

So far, it was two amazing tasting experiences in one day and all within hours of arriving in Vernon. This was shaping up to be a great trip.

Part 2 will be coming soon…

Grow the Pie

winecountrybc:

If you buy wine in BC, please read this.

Originally posted on Oldfield's Wanderings:

It has been a very long time since I have blogged.  I no longer feel guilt for that.  Turns out I can’t do it all.  Today was the kind of day that changed that.  I need to get something out there–more of a vent, not a rant.

I have spent so many of my waking hours  since January discussing, fretting, planning. conferencing and lamenting the new BC liquor laws that are just 20 days from enactment.  I’m sick of it all.  Things are going to happen on April 1st and all of us in the wine, beer and spirits industries are going to sit back and watch events unfold.  That being said…

The last 24 hours have been very telling for me.

Yesterday a case of wine arrived from Marquis Wine Cellars  filled with wine I had purchased from fellow wineries who poured at the in-person #BCWineChat two weeks ago.  Right…

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Things are happening…

Hey folks, just a quick post here to let you know that I have not in fact dropped off the face of the earth. After a good couple months of solid activity here on Wine Country BC’s blog, February has not produced the same quantity of thoughts / rants / wine discussion as the previously prolific trimester. Rest assured, my muse still inspires me, however there has been some developments in the form of a large project which I hope to announce in the coming months. This is what has been occupying the better part of my time (along with dealing with people who have been stealing my articles, ostensibly for my benefit through exposure). The articles will continue shortly and I’ll be able to return to my regularly scheduled ranting.

I hope to continue with the podcasts as well however they take up even more time and so will likely be less frequent. (Unless anyone wants to help me out with that? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?… )

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Has Wine Become a Classless Drink?

winecountrybc:

Awesome post from my friend Valerie on her blog that you really should check out. I’ll have more to say on it later (I usually do…) but please read this when you can and then check out Mike Veseeth’s book called “Wine Wars” (which I reviewed here some time ago) which offers some great economic explanations on differences surrounding the philosophy of wine quality. Cheers! ~Luke

Originally posted on The Demystified Vine:

As of late, I have been pondering the question of whether or not wine has become a “classless drink”. I am highly fascinated with how quality plays a role in this question, and if people even care about quality playing a role in whether or not wine has indeed become a “classless beverage”.

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For the record, I dislike the fact that there is a class system in the first place, but that is another topic of discussion. Thus, for the sake of this discussion, I shall use the term “classless”. By definition, this word means “not connected to a particular social or economic class” or “belonging to no particular social class” according to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary.

My instincts tell me that many of you might be immediately driven to the conclusion that yes, wine has become a classless drink. Why? Well, we can infer that many might be…

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Ageing Wines – Why Bother?

Here we go – another off-shoot of my Nota Bene vertical tasting from earlier in January. This is something that I think is an extension of many other articles that I’ve been writing lately. On we go…

Why bother buying a bottle of wine and then waiting 7 years to open it? How ridiculous is that? Why do some people do it?

20140425-193555.jpgI’ve had more than a few customers guffaw at my suggestion that this or that wine can be aged for up to 10 years. The typical reply is something like, “Wine doesn’t last more than a few days in our house!” and then they look to their spouse / friend / entourage for the requisite approving laughter.

Most wine made today isn’t meant for long-term ageing. I remember a wine teacher of mine saying that 99% of all wine produced is meant for consumption within 2 years. Most of it probably will be anyway regardless of the producers’ intent.

So what is the point of ageing wine?

Mature wine tastes different. A well made wine is smoother, more complex, and full of nearly unidentifiable aromas and flavours that would not have been apparent without age. The way that I describe it to customers is that young wine has all kinds of easily identifiable flavours – black fruits, red fruits, cocoa, chocolate, vanilla, campfire smoke, etc. As the wine ages, those flavours will change, mutate, and intertwine into things like coffee, burned almonds, and maybe blueberry teacake. As the wine gets even older, the flavours become less easy to identify. They turn into something that still smells good but for some reason just doesn’t trigger a sense memory as easily. This is where the most bizarre descriptors, that some people like to make fun of, are often used. A very good taster will be able to perceive some of these aromas earlier on in the life of the wine and be able to predict what will happen as it ages.

Up until about 50 years ago, wine making technology had not yet evolved to be able to make a wine that was palatable when it was young. Only certain areas producing softer wine styles (like Beaujolais) were able to produce wines that could be consumed very young. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, mature wine was preferred in the Roman empire and it was also possible that the Greeks aged their wines as well. It was not done in bottles as we know today but rather in casks (barrels and larger vats).

DSC_3031Bottles sealed with corks became available for ageing in the 17th century but this did not become widespread even by the time of Thomas Jefferson in the early 19th century. Bottles were (and still are) difficult to transport safely without breaking so bottling at the destination was common until the early 20th century. Even still, the wines weren’t really ready to drink.

It wasn’t until the invention of certain winery techniques and technology that people were able to make wine that was ready to drink sooner. Protecting the grapes, juice, and young wine from oxygen was a new thing in the 20th century. Fine filtering was new as well. Fermenting the whole berries or even whole bunches of grapes without crushing them first made the resulting wines fruitier with less grippy tannins and therefore, easier to drink sooner. This, I think, is the New World’s biggest stylistic contribution to the world of wine.

20150123-095548.jpgOf course, that march of technology didn’t just end with that. Membrane filters, micro-oxygenation (a technique pioneered by winemaker Patrick Ducournau in Madiran, France to tame the insane amount of tannins in that appellations’s Tannat grapes), reverse-osmosis and spinning cones, yeast nutrients, and bags of tannins, acids, and colouring agents all give wineries the ability to manipulate all kinds of aspects of a wine’s flavour profile so that the wine is smooth, tasty, and easy to drink almost immediately. The result was smooth wine in no time at all. It was wine for impatient people.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that at all. We need wine in the marketplace (and to be perfectly honest, in my house) that doesn’t have to be aged. What I am interested in here is encouraging people to try saving some of those bottles that are capable of ageing because I think they are missing out on some truly amazing wine experiences. From my point of view, it’s like watching someone purchase a Ferrari who only plans to use it to get around on slow city streets and never take it above 2nd gear. Buying a top-quality, age-worthy wine and drinking it within the next 6 months is really missing out on a great experience. I encourage everyone who buys those kinds of wines to hold on to at least one of them for a little longer.

It’s not only red wines that can age. We’re very lucky here in BC to have an abundance of natural acidity that Rhys Pender MW claims other wine regions around the world would love to have. It is acidity that helps preserve whites for long-term ageing. He mentioned that as part of the 5 year vertical of Clos du Soleil that I attended a couple of years ago. The complexity of the flavours was astounding and I enjoyed every single wine in the vertical of Capella. (I very much regretted drinking my 2007 white – it wasn’t called Capella then – far too early.)

Here is a list of some BC white wines that I’ve had success with ageing, either on my own or as part of tastings or events (in no particular order).

  • Clos du Soleil Capella (aka White)
  • Tantalus Old Vines Riesling (I’m holding onto a few of these)
  • Orofino Riesling (same with this one)
  • 8th Generation Riesling (and this one)
  • (notice a trend yet??)
  • Domain Combret Chardonnay (at 16 years it should have been salad dressing at that point, but it wasn’t)
  • Painted Rock Chardonnay
  • just about anyone’s Late Harvest or Icewine (the ’93 Riesling Icewine from Lang was beautiful but still not quite ready in 2010)
  • Road 13 Sparkling Chenin Blanc

And reds…

  • Black Hills Nota Bene
  • Clos du Soleil Signature
  • Mission Hill Oculus (and the other 1st generation of BC Meritages – Pinnacle, Osoyoos-Larose, etc)
  • Just about anything from Fairview Cellars or Kettle Valley
  • Hester Creek Cabernet Franc (and many Cab Franc – I think this is a great variety in BC for ageing.)
  • 2nd Generation Meritages (Laughing Stock Portfolio, Poplar Grove Legacy are the ones I’m familiar with)
  • Nk’Mip Syrah (always a staple at their wine maker’s dinners)
  • Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir (the ’97 in 2009 was ridiculous)
  • Painted Rock Syrah (I haven’t tried them all in a vertical yet, but if you check back here next January…hint hint)

I may have forgotten some but it’s a start. It’s not easy predicting which wines will age and which ones won’t. I’m had some go off that I thought would be sure to do well. Unless the winery has been in business longer than 10 years (which is not very many of them at this point), they won’t really know either. They can tell you what they think will happen based on what the winemaker has intended to happen, but that’s not always a sure thing either.

In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. If you haven’t ever had an aged wine, there’s a possibility that you might not like it. If you don’t like the aroma of apples and flowers soaked in kerosene, don’t age your Riesling because that’s very likely what they will become. I’ve had aged Riesling and I absolutely love those aromas so I know that’s what I’m interested in waiting for.

So I encourage you to try, just try, to put a few bottles away of wines that you enjoy and want to see through to maturity. It takes the whole wine experience to another level.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Clos du Soleil in the UK

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Contributed image

It’s so nice to see that we here in the colonies are able to rise to royal occasions and recently Clos du Soleil from the Similkameen Valley has had the opportunity for pouring wine at such an event. The event in question is the official re-opening of Canada House in London, England where where Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II presided over the opening ceremonies.

Spencer Massie

Spencer Massie

“An absolute honour”, said winery Founder Spencer Massie in a press release from London, “my fellow Director’s Winemaker Mike Clark, Les LeQuelenec, Peter Lee and our closely knit team of partners and staff are elated that we are here and able to showcase what Canada, BC specifically, can do.” (You can read the full press release here.)

The wine being showcased is the 2013 Capella, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon that is Clos du Soleil’s flagship white. Capella and other wines from Clos du Soleil have been featured numerous times on Wine Country BC podcasts and posts, notably in a podcast of the 5-year vertical tasting in 2013 that featured the first 5 vintages of Capella and Signature.

This is not the first boutique BC wine to get the royal treatment. Township 7’s Chardonnay 2007 was served at a dinner with the Queen and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in July 2010. However the resulting media around this event may be a little wider reaching in terms of visibility for Clos du Soleil within the realm of English wine media. Perhaps one of the guests has a cousin that works at Berry Bros & Rudd or a friend that works at Decanter?

Historically of course, acceptance and popularity of a wine in England represented success for the wine producer world-wide. While England may not necessarily be the largest wine consumer anymore, they are still a dominant player in the trade. Through respected publications like Decanter and writers like Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, they are also one of the most influential forces world-wide for opinionmongering. Essentially, they’ve got opinions and they’re very good at getting people to read them.

Getting a BC wine on their radar means that BC wine will be on the radar of most wine students and people in the wine trade around the globe regardless of their ability to actually try the wine. Meyer Family Vineyards started distributing with Ellis of Richmond in London a few years ago and suddenly their label appeared in the recent edition of the World Atlas of Wine. Coincidence? Maybe, but like Tantalus in Kelowna (who has been featured in the Atlas over multiple editions) they’re now on the radar of wine lovers around the world because of it and that’s not a bad thing at all. This could prove to be a similar turning point for Clos du Soleil as well.

This could be very big indeed. Congratulations to Clos du Soleil! Cheers from the colonies in wine country!

~Luke

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A Finished Product

20141108-193943.jpgWhen is a wine truly finished?

These are the crazy things that I think about while I’m driving along highway 97. It’s amazing I haven’t had a serious accident lately.

What I mean is this: When a car rolls off the assembly line at Toyota, it’s finished and ready to be used. It’s the same with any other manufactured product. In the art world, when a painter is finished a painting, it’s done. It’s a finished work of art that won’t change noticeably over time. A book is an author’s finished work. A photograph is a photographer’s. A sculptor’s final work can last hundreds of years as statues.

When a chef finishes a dish, it must be enjoyed at a particular time. Wait too long and the food gets cold or worse. There’s a short amount a time for the finished product but at least it is finished and in a presentable state.

So when is a bottle of wine a finished work? When it’s in the bottle? Just bottled? After 6 months? 6 years? Wine makers are artists of a sort as well (some of them really act like it sometimes) and it must be more than a little daunting to know that the wines that that they make will be received completely differently based on when someone opens the bottle. How many times have you bought a wine from a winery only to hear them say, “Save this one for about a year before opening it.” You won’t hear that after buying a bottle of beer, or a cola at 7-11.

There is no real definitive time when a bottle of wine is actually finished. Like a chef’s meal, it won’t last forever but some wines are capable of lasting for years.

IMG_0814Music is another art form that seems like it should have a more finished product but it isn’t. When is a piece of music finished the way that the song’s composer wants it to be? In Bach’s time, was the manuscript the finished work of art? Nobody can hear a manuscript – it needs to be played by a musician. So is that first performance the finished piece? Or is it the tenth? We’ve had commercially available recordings for only the past century so. Are the recordings the final product? Which recordings? The original vinyl version of Sgt. Pepper’s, the CD version, or the mp3 from iTunes?

What’s the Point?

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s why wine is considered to be a grand metaphor for humanity. People change and evolve over time the same way that wine does. No, we don’t lose our acidity and tannins, but we have moods and changing situations that make us react to various stimuli in different ways from day to day. We are ever evolving until the day we die. There is no definitively finished or completed human, there is always room for change of some kind (improvement, education, enlightenment, etc). The variations can be small, subtle, and barely noticeable, but over time will become obvious.

We see the changes in children more quickly because they are young and their growth (physical and intellectual) is immediately apparent. One day they can’t talk, the next day they can say words, and the next day they can tell you why they should be able to climb onto the roof of their playhouse when they were told in no uncertain terms not to do that.

20150123-095548.jpgThis whole idea is a direct result of my recent 8-year Nota Bene vertical. As I opened the bottles, some wines were aged beautifully – complex, aromatic, and smooth – while others were clearly on the young side. They were all Nota Bene but which was the real finished product? To me, the ’07 stood out but the ’05 was pretty good too. The ’12 was still showing it’s youth but was also a great tasting wine, albeit at a different stage of its life. I was concerned that some of them would be too austere for drinking this early but I needn’t have worried about it.

Just like a young child, the ’12 had changed noticeably over the past 10 months. When I first tasted the ’12 last April as part of staff training at Black Hills, it was not very complex, lacked a little structure, but was strangely smoother than previous vintages at the same age, which I ascribed to the dominance of Merlot in the blend for this vintage. Over the next 7 months, I smelled or tasted it daily for nearly 5 days each week and noticed how it changed month to month. Some of it was based on my own tasting but some of it was also based on customers’ reactions, which itself was widely variable. I had one customer say that he preferred his Nota Bene to be super-mature and was only now drinking his ’02’s! Many indicated that 5 years was about they most they could handle, more because they just couldn’t wait more than that to open it. I have a sneaking suspicion that the vast majority of the customers from last summer will have gone through all of their wines by the time next summer rolls around.

Nota Bene has a reputation for age-worthiness but the wine culture here seems to endorse early drinking rather than holding on to wines for to a more mature state. To be fair, most wines aren’t meant for long-term ageing but if the wine culture drinks everything young, then why bother?

IMG_0805Let me be clear here – I think that there is nothing wrong with drinking age-worthy wines young. It’s all a matter of taste and whatever each person wants to find from that ‘finished product’ is a personal choice. The gentlemen that bought a recent vintage of Oculus to open “tonight at the camp site” obviously knew what he was getting into and choose that wine for that reason. (If I could choose to do that with a bottle that was $90 at the time, maybe I might do that more often as well…) That ’12 Nota Bene did taste quite amazing last summer in August. It also tasted beautiful 3 full days after my vertical party, so it does have some staying power. I am interested in exploring the idea of what exactly that ‘finished product’ is, if it even exists at all.

This is part of its nebulous nature and is what keeps us interested in it. Famous wine people like Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, and Robert Parker probably all still love wine even after spending a lifetime putting it under a microscope. What other beverage can claim this? It is unlikely that there will ever be as many publications about tea or connoisseurs of root beer. (Perhaps a flawed exampled – have you tried the one at Burger 55?? Damn…)

Get on with it

I suggest that wine is not ever a ‘finished’ product like cheese or a car or a can of cola. Wine’s evolutionary nature combined with our own makes for endless possible points for intersection. Person A can taste a wine on Day X and hate it while Person B might love it. If Person A had waited a few years until Day Y, it may have been the best wine they’d ever tastes, maybe even their ‘epiphany wine’.

As if wine making isn’t already full of variables, the elusive ‘finished product’ seems to take it all to another level. The unpredictable nature of it all seems to be part of the attraction. Here’s to hoping that this never changes.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

On Subtlety

20150116-104654.jpgSubtlety is like a complex joke. You either get it or you don’t. Some people are incredibly perceptive of minute variations and changes of colours, textures, timing, or some other quality while other people can’t see the difference.

If you drive a car going to work, do you think about the weight transfer to your tires going around corner? Professional race car drivers do but most people probably don’t in the course of their daily drive. Most pro sports players, especially the big stars, are able to move in complex ways or perceive small movements in their games at a level far beyond what the armchair athletes watching on TV are capable of noticing. They’ve trained for it.

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Watching the game with Desert Hills Gamay.

I started curling a few years ago and it has always amazed me just how tiny, small variations in anything to do with the game play can cause huge difference in results. From throwing the rocks (weight, direction, spin – called ‘handle’ in curling’) to sweeping (when, how hard), one subtle difference in any variable can effect where the rock will stop. On top of then there’s all the strategies of play to consider. To be even a moderately acceptable curler (not even a pro), one has to be aware of, understand the reasons for, and be able to execute the technique for throwing rocks and sweeping. Curling is entirely a game of subtleties that are very difficult to see on television.

Um, so like, what does this have to do with wine?

Has technology has blunted our senses to a point where we are able to perceive less? I don’t think so. People are different and have always been different even before our current electronic age of smart phones and stupid people talking on them while driving. I think that digital technology is limited and that humans can perceive way more than digital technology can dish out. I think that’s why we’re starting to see vinyl records back on the market. As far as full, nuanced sound goes, vinyl can’t be beat.

It is my belief that different people have different thresholds of perception. Some people can see more details, hear different sounds, and smell more scents than other people. We are all human and humans are all different, although nobody should be judged better because of their skills. If you can’t hear a difference between vinyl and a 128kps MP3 on your iPod then don’t worry about it – you don’t need to buy a new record player. However, for some people it does matter a lot because they can perceive a difference between vinyl and MP3 and to them it is as clear as night and day. I also believe that anyone can learn to perceive anything if given the right guidance.

$5 wine and $50 wine

What’s the difference between a $5 Merlot and a $50 Merlot.

$45.

No, I mean in terms of taste. Is there a difference in taste between the two different price points?

There should be. Hopefully the $50 wine was produced from grapes grown in a high quality, low-yielding vineyard that has unique terroir and is vinified and handled with care using quality tanks and barrels. Ageing this wine in a cellar will change it slightly, smoothing the texture, integrating the many complex aromas and flavours.

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Not Beethoven’s 5th Symphony

The $5 wine was probably mass-produced from grapes grown in many vineyards anywhere (because it doesn’t matter), fermented in massive tanks, pumped through many different processes, and bottled within the year. Ageing the wine is not needed because it’s shelf life is limited to about 3 years. The wine will taste good, smooth, and pleasing but may not have a lot of different flavors or aromas.

These are both generalizations and there are a million shades of grey between the two extremes. There is also the potential for some amazing upsets on both ends of the spectrum – $50 wines that are awful or $5 wines that are beautifully complex. That’s what makes wine hunting fun. It depends on what you are looking for in a wine and how much you can perceive about it.

As I said before, I believe that anyone can really learn to perceive anything if they know what to look for. I find that as I learned about wine, the more I started to look for certain things. I really liked wines that had tannins and that had more than 2 or 3 different flavors and aromas. I wanted wines that had lots of different things going on. I wanted to be challenged with every sip.

Not everyone wants that and sometimes I just good to have a simple glass of wine without anything complicated. I think of music the same way.

Brilliance of the 5th

My music history teacher in university for my second year was an animated fellow. He was an excellent tenor who truly loved music and was oddly good at communicating that to us, his students. (I say ‘oddly’ because many music teachers were either great teachers or great musicians but rarely both.) When it came time to cover the beginnings of the Romantic era of music (the 19th Century) Beethoven occupied a huge space in the syllabus. I can’t recall any single composer that was so important in the history of western music that we studied more than Beethoven. When we started studying the 5th Symphony, I learned why that was.

IMG_0812Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is probably the single-most widely known piece of music that isn’t in a Star Wars movie. The theme of the first movement can be mimed in front of anyone and they will know what symphony it is. Even people who don’t know ‘classical’ music generally know the 5th Symphony’s first movement. It can even be typed – da da da daaaaa – and people will understand it.

This is part of its brilliance. My teacher’s theory about why this particular piece was so popular (not even recently – it’s been popular almost since its first performance, which is an interesting story, but not for a wine blog) revolves around its simplicity – it sounds simple (and loud and fun) but there are so many details for people to look for if they want to. If they don’t, it’s also awesome, bombastic music to hear an orchestra bash out for about 10 minutes. Its brilliance is that it appeals to many different people on many different levels.

The entire first movement (and parts of the other movements) use this four-note phrase as a motif. What can one person do with a motif like that? Tons. Oodles. Buckets. It is a simple motif that can be expanded upon in a million different ways. It’s so simple but complicated at the same time. The theme gets treated differently in very subtle ways over the course of the first movement and ends up a little different at the end. How is it different? You’ll have to listen to find out. That same 4-note theme can be heard in each of the other movements of the symphony as well. Listen carefully…

Come on dude, this a WINE blog. Get on with it.

The best wines are the same. They will not be obscured by details so as to seem forbidding or needlessly complex. Sometimes complexity itself doesn’t taste very good. Instead, they will be able to appeal to a wide group of people who can appreciate it at all levels. People who want to get all kinds of subtle flavors and want to challenge their palate will be able to do that. People who want something that simply tastes great will also get that.

Sometimes a wine needs to be aged for this aspect to be appreciated. That’s why some people age their wines. That’s why I (try) to age some of mine. Sometimes, I want to be challenged with those subtleties that usually only come with bottle age. Other times, I just want an inexpensive, tasty wine that probably won’t be very complex. And that’s awesome too. I like the wine to match the occasion. Nota Bene doesn’t make sense for pizza on Tuesday but it does for a special dinner party.

There’s always a range of subtleties for people who want whatever they want to perceive. From simple to complex, CPE Bach to Beethoven, AC/DC to Tool, or Two-buck Chuck to Petrus, the range of subtleties itself makes life that much more interesting. Enjoy the nuances and subtleties that wine has to offer. There’s a lot out there.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke