Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Monks might be Gray but the food and wine are Gold

Four about-to-be-very-happy diners
This was our fourth, maybe fifth, trip to The Grapevine Restaurant at Gray Monk, and it has shown to be universally excellent. This was actually, by far, my least favorite meal there, but that is not a reflection of the quality of the food, it was due to the idiot who ordered himself the wrong thing, mistakenly ordering Tuna which I don't much like. Can't blame the restaurant because one of the diners is a moron.

Anyway, before lunch we enjoyed a tasting of their portfolio of wines. It was busy and we were being helped by a friendly young gentleman who, by his own admission, didn't know anything about wine. He was filling in, and didn't usually work the tasting room! Aye, carumba. Anyway, he did his best.

We have been huge fans of a few Gray Monk wines, particularly their sweet whites: Kerner, and a Muscat called "Reflection", as well as their tasty Pinot Auxerrois.  I don't remember if they were tasting these but we didn't taste them as we are already very familiar. On to the wines!

Prices exclude taxes, and this visit was made before last week's huge announcement about the purchase of this winery by Andrew Peller.

Gray Monk Odyssey White Meritage ($16.49)

At the winery we were told this was a blend of Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay, which I knew couldn't possibly be right. A White Meritage (which rhymes with "heritage", BTW), by definition, is the same as a White Bordeaux: Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (sometimes, not in this case, also Muscadelle). Notes of white flowers, tropical fruit, gooseberry and grass. Gooseberry, lemongrass and a hint of grapefruit on the palate. 86.

Gray Monk 2015 Pinot Gris ($16.99)

The nose is dominated by citrus with some herbaceous notes hanging around. Peach, pear and apple with a hint of spice on the finish. 88.

Gray Monk 2015 Riesling ($14.99)

Intense aromas of green apple, pineapple and a slight hint of petrol. Flavors include green apple, pineapple and key lime pie. A good bargain at this price. 89.

Gray Monk L50 Rosé ($12.99)

Aromas and flavors of raspberry and strawberry. A touch of cranberry comes through on the palate as well. This isn't going to make anyone's "top 10" list, but hey, it's $13, and it's perfectly drinkable for the price. 87.

Gray Monk 2016 Ehrenfelser ($17.39)

Elderflower and citrus on the nose. Palate is almost oily, with pronounced flavors of banana, apricot and tropical fruit. Off dry and really tasty. 89.

Gray Monk 2016 Siegerrebe ($16.59)

Beautiful aromas of white flowers, orchard fruit and lychee. The palate doesn't quite compare. Gooseberry, tangarine and a touch of grapefruit. Slightly off-dry. 87.

Gray Monk 2014 Odyssey Pinot Noir ($23.49)

Aromas of earth, smoke, leather and red cherry. The palate seems slightly underripe and flabby, with very light flavors of plum, raspberry and red cherry. 85.

Gray Monk 2013 Odyssey Meritage ($30.49)

48% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot

Aromas of black cherry, vanilla and mocha. Flavors are juicy and intense, red cherry, mocha, vanilla and a touch of spice. 88.

Gray Monk 2013 Cabernet Merlot ($17.39)

Light, almost imperceptible nose of mint and mocha. The palate shows up where the nose does not, black cherry, dark chocolate and oak. Nice finish, a decent bargain. 88.

Gray Monk 2012 Odyssey Merlot ($20.89)

Aromas of red cherry and a touch of earth. Cherry and earth notes on the palate, finishes well with a touch of spice. Tannins are firm, suggesting this needs a bit more time to open up. 88-89.

So that's it for today. This tasting confirmed for me what I already expected; this is a good winery, with a wide selection of varietals, but nothing that really knocks me over. Kind of a "jack of all trades, master of none" situation.

Up next on the tour, an enjoyable seated tasting just up the road, at Ex Nihilo!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Okanagan Trip, Part 6, The Little Engine that Could, and Did, and Continues to Do......

Regular readers of my blog might remember that we discovered a fantastic new winery, quite by accident, on our trip up here in April. If you don't remember, the notes are here.

We returned here to taste some new stuff that we didn't get to sample the first time. This time, seated outside on a brand new, beautiful patio.

Little Engine 2016 Silver Sauvignon Blanc ($30.00)

Intriguing aromas of fresh cut grass, coconut and pineapple. Citrus fruit dominates the almost-chalky palate, which features bright acidity and a long finish. Very nice already and some more time in the bottle will even improve. 89.

Little Engine 2015 Platinum Chardonnay ($75.00)

Citrus notes dominate the nose but some butterscotch lurks in the background, you need to give it time to get there. Flavors of lemon, pear, baking spice and creme brulee. Acidity is high and this one, although drinking nicely now, is going to get so much better in a few years. 91-94.

Little Engine 2016 Caboose Rosé ($22.00)

Cranberry, strawberry and rhubarb on the nose and they follow through to the palate. Just a tinge of spice shows up on the finish. 88.

Little Engine 2015 Platinum Merlot ($75.00)

Intoxicating nose of raspberry jam, vanilla, toasted oak, mocha and licorice. Red berries, dark chocolate and a touch of tobacco on the palate. Although this will certainly improve with age, it's already so delicious now. 93.

Little Engine French Family Cabernet ($45.00 - not yet released, wine club only)

Blackberry, eucalyptus, mocha and blueberry on the nose. Black fruit and mocha dominate the superb palate, which finishes long and impressively. A real treat. 93.

That was it for today, I believe we've tasted just about their entire portfolio over the course of our two visits, and there wasn't a bad wine in the bunch - and most of them were simply outstanding. What a terrific new winery, one to definitely watch.

Next up: We start our day in Lake Country at with a tasting and lunch at Gray Monk!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Okanagan Trip part 5, with our second trip to La Frenz this year!

I wouldn't normally taste wines at the same place twice in the same year, but I noticed that since our first visit in April (reviews here), all of the wines had a new why not?

And last time we tasted only the reserve level wines, this time I requested a tasting of their entire portfolio and they were happy to oblige. It was a terrific tasting that lasted a total of TWO AND A HALF HOURS!!!

Lots to report on, so let's get right to it. Prices below DO include taxes.

La Frenz 2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($22.00)

Aromas of gooseberry, Meyer lemon, apricot, grass and passion fruit. Citrus fruit on the palate, well balanced acidity, and a hint of grassy and herbaceous notes. 88.

La Frenz 2016 Semillon ($22.00)

Fresh pear and lemon aromas. Pear, fig, lemon, honeysuckle and orange blossom flavors. Beautiful and ageable, with a lush mid-palate and creamy mouthfeel. A top notch Semillon. 90.

La Frenz 2016 Riesling ($22.00)

Made in the tradition of Alsace, with notes of lime, pineapple, honeysuckle, green apple a hint of diesel. Slightly off-dry with tart green apple and key lime pie flavors. 87.

La Frenz 2016 Chardonnay ($22.00)

Aromas of stone fruit, vanilla and oak. Juicy red apple, peach and vanilla flavors. Creamy mouthfeel. 87.

La Frenz 2016 Viognier ($24.00)

Peach, papaya, coconut and herbs tantalize your olfactory senses. Banana, stone fruit, sage, honey and limestone on the palate. Juicy and delicious. 90.

La Frenz 2015 Ensemble Reserve ($25.00)

78% Sauvignon Blanc/22% Semillon

Who needs Bordeaux when you have this beauty? Passion fruit, lemongrass and peach on the nose. Complex and delicious flavors include orange blossom, gooseberry, straw and a touch of honey. 91.

La Frenz 2015 Reserve Chardonnay ($29.00)

Arresting white peach, guava and wet stone on the nose. Barreled in 100% French Oak, 30% new, it picks up just a touch of toasty oak flavors to go with melon and baking spice and minerality. 88.

La Frenz 2015 Reserve Vivant ($25.00)

56% Viognier, 22% Roussanne, 22% Chardonnay

Aromas of baked pears and papaya with just a hint of hazelnut. Papaya and pear flavors in the first wave, followed up by a hint of caramel and touch of spice on the finish. 89.

La Frenz 2015 Desperation Hill Pinot Noir ($25.00)

Red berries dominate the nose, giving way to darker berries, licorice and a touch of spice on the palate. 88.

La Frenz 2015 Reserve Pinot Noir ($35.00)

Intense and pretty aromas of forest floor, leather, black fruit and baking spice. Red cherry, nutmeg, and is that a hint of chocolate cake on the palate? Just delicious. 91.

La Frenz 2015 Syrah ($30.00)

Sweet violets, blueberry and blackberry aromas. Ripe and juicy flavors include licorice, blueberry, cold cuts, white pepper and a very long finish. 90.

La Frenz 2015 Malbec ($28.00)

Raspberry jam, black fruit and earth on the nose. Rich mouthfeel, with flavors of dark chocolate, roasted herbs, black cherry and charred meat. Long finish. 89.

La Frenz 2015 Merlot ($28.00)

Blackberry, vanilla, plum and mocha on the nose. Flavors of black cherry, Christmas cake and black cherry. Really terrific with a very juicy mid-palate. 91.

La Frenz 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30.00)

Intense aromas of eucalyptus, vanilla, plum, thyme and black licorice. Beautiful, lingering flavors include eucalyptus, espresso, blackberry and earth. 91.

La Frenz 2014 Grand Total Reserve ($45.00)

42% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc

Black plum, cassis and mocha on the nose. Flavors of earth, leather, vanilla and dark chocolate. This is a big, closed, hairy beast, which is going to get much better with age. If you have to drink it now, decant it for at least 2 hours; but better to lay it down and let it get to where it is going. 91-93.

La Frenz NV Tawny (Bottled 2017) $22.00

Aromas include dark fruit cake and butterscotch. The cake doesn't go away on the palate, joined by all kinds of candied fruit, dates, walnuts and butterscotch. Pull up a chair to a warm cozy fire, wrap yourself in a blanket, and enjoy a glass of this on a cold winter day. 90.

La Frenz NV Liqueur Muscat (Bottled 2017) $22.00

Vanilla, Earl Gray tea, brown sugar and raisins on the nose. Beautiful, rich, throat-coating flavors of butterscotch, raisins, cinnamon and orange marmalade. There should be a law against something so odd being so good. 91.

La Frenz 2016 Vintage Port Style ($26.00)

Aromas of blueberry and white pepper. Flavors of dark plum, blueberry and licorice. By all that is good and holy, don't open this now, let it sit for a year, or five,  or twenty, and it will be very special. 90-92.

Whew. My hands are sore from all that typing! What a terrific experience and we left with QUITE A BIT of wine, as you can imagine.

Next up: Just down the street for our second experience at Little Engine!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Okanagan Trip, Part 8 and 4th, part 4 at 8th Generation...something like that

On the recommendation from Heaven's Gate, down to 8th Generation where we had not been in many years. We were pretty unimpressed with most of their wines on our last visit, but they've had lots of time to improve, and so have we! Let's see how things turned out this time.

Beautiful new tasting room (not that new, open for a couple years but new to us).

8th Generation 2016 Chardonnay Barrique ($20.00)

Lots of stone fruit, apple and melon on the nose. Beautiful, round palate with notes of toasty oak, nectarine, hazelnut and a hint of butterscotch. Not a huge buttery Chardonnay but really beautiful and a great deal. 89.

8th Generation 2016 Riesling Classic ($19.50)

Intense notes of lemon, green apple and minerality on the nose. Apples dominate the palate, both red and green. Strong backbone of minerality. Would be a beautiful food wine and should improve with further aging. 89.

8th Generation 2015 Riesling Selection ($25.50)

Red apple, melon, lemon and minerality on the nose. Creamy mouthfeel, tons of minerality and a long finish. Open this one well before serving it, aerate and decant it, or lay it down for a few more years. Lots of potential. 89-91.

8th Generation 2016 Riesling ($19.50)

Beautiful nose of tropical fruit, particularly pineapple and passion fruit. Pear, guava, pineapple and stone fruit on the juicy palate. Slightly off-dry and delicious. 90.

8th Generation 2016 Integrity ($21.00)

50% Chardonnay / 25% Pinot Gris / 25% Kerner

Citrus, yeast, apricot and pear on the nose. Citrus, green apple, pineapple and just a touch of honey on the palate. Light bubbles, more of a Prosecco-style than traditional Sparkling. 88.

8th Generation 2015 Cab-Merlot ($22.00)

70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon

Beautiful aromas of vanilla, blackberry, mint, smoke, black pepper and plum. Complex flavors include black cherry, vanilla, bell pepper, black plum, with touches of cassis and cocoa. Very nice and will improve with another 2-3 years of careful cellaring. 89-91.

Thoroughly enjoyed our experience here and we will be back on our next visit to Summerland. Highly recommended, particularly if you are a fan of BC Riesling!

Next up in the Okanagan trip, we are into Penticton for a full portfolio tasting at La Frenz!

And at some point, I still plan to get all my thoughts together on Monday's huge announcement. Still to come!

Friday, September 15, 2017

My turn for theme night, and this one was all about our neighbors to the South


Interestingly, I read a poll recently that for the first time in history (or at least the first time in the 40ish year history of this poll), Canadians have a negative opinion of the United States. Can't imagine what happened to cause that.

Anyhoo.......doesn't mean they don't make some damn great wine and food. I went searching for some very traditional recipes from different corners of the US, and tried to pair them with wines from all around the country, not just a bunch of Napa Cabernet (although an evening full of Napa Cabernet would not be too shabby). Here is what I was able to come up with. Seven guests attended.

The first two courses were paired with a Magnum of 2012 Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay, that I picked up on for $40. I've reviewed it a couple of times, most recently here, and my opinion has not changed. It's delicious, and has some more time to age if you can wait.

Course 1

It was more difficult than you might think to find a traditional New Orleans dish that didn't include shellfish (which would kill my wife and put a damper on the evening). This soup, which I had made previously, was delicious, but was NOT a good pair with the wine. 

 Course 2

These were really terrific, and they went with the wine much better than the above. Still not a perfect pairing, they would have been better off with a Riesling probably. Even my seafood-hating wife loved these. They were made with gluten-free flour and I couldn't tell the difference. 

Course 3

These were tasty but I didn't like the texture of the chicken, it was almost mealy, as if it had marinated too long. They paired well with the wine. I had two vintages of Caymus Zinfandel but when I decanted the wine I wasn't sure if we were going to have too much, so I only decanted the 2014. With the speed that we buried the Magnum of Mer Soleil, it was clear we weren't going to have too much wine, so I served them both. The 2014 decanted for a couple of hours, the 2015 only for 15-20 minutes. 

Caymus Vineyards 2014 Zinfandel (Napa Valley – California) $48.99

Bright fruit aromas of black cherry, blackberry and plum. Smooth and full bodied, but avoids the overly jammy notes that so many Zins can provide. Delicious. 93.

Caymus Vineyards 2015 Zinfandel (Napa Valley - California) $48.99 

So different than the above. Dark raisins, black cherry and a hint of burned popcorn on the nose. Black cherry and dark chocolate on the palate which finishes very well. 92.

Course 4

These were delicious and a bit of a debacle at the same time. Let me explain. I was making the waffles early, first making a gluten-free waffle for my wife. It turned out OK but not great, but I chalked that up to the gluten-free flour. But when I went to make the regular ones, they kept sticking to my really-old-and-cheap waffle iron. So.........thank goodness for Eggo!!!!

That was the debacle. The fried chicken was INCREDIBLE. The only thing I added to the recipe was a touch of dried rosemary just before frying. SO good. I made these with regular flour (gluten free for the wife only) and they were fantastic; so good that I made more the next day, using gluten free flour for both of us, and they weren't quite as good. As I originally thought, the gluten free flour didn't give them quite the same flavor. I'd use the real stuff next time for sure.

We finally left California for both wine pairings and one of them was a fabulous surprise.

Angela Estate 2011 Pinot Noir (Yamhill-Carlton - Oregon) $49.99

We had been saving this for a couple of years and it was a disappointment. Light aromas of cherry and strawberry and flavors to match, with just a hint of herbaceous notes on the finish. 87.

Herman J. Wiemer 2014 Magdalena Vineyar Riesling (Finger Lakes - New York) $38.99USD on

I believe the only description for this would be "WOW". Aromas of white flowers, stone fruit, lemon and lime. Complex flavors include quince, citrus, pineapple, apple and a strong backbone of minerality. I can't imagine how good this might be in a decade or so. It's probably my all-time favorite Riesling already. 94.

Course 5

Philly Cheesesteak with garlic mayo and New England Baked Beans (Pennsylvania/Massachusetts)

Both the sandwiches and beans were terrific. The beans were so good they are going to become a common staple in the house. The recipe came from the 2017 August/September issue of Eating Well magazine, and I can't find it online to link to.

K Vintners 2014 Powerline Syrah (Walla Wally Valley - Washington) $47.99 USD from

They are making some great Syrah in Washington and this one is near the top of the list. Roasted game, dark plum, blackberry, wet earth and black pepper on the nose. Meaty, almost chewy tannins. Flavors of black licorice, blackberry, black pepper, black plum (notice a pattern?). Finishes forever. This one is already a knockout and some further aging will only enhance. A triumph. 94-96.

Maggio Family Vineyards 2015 Petite Sirah (Lodi - California) $16.99

Full disclosure: I did this wine no favors putting it next to that big, beautiful beast above. Still, it held it's own. Aromas of black cherry, raspberry, smoke, and red cherry. Dark fruit, raspberry, oak and smoke on the palate. For the price, a real solid bargain. 90

Course 6

Kansas City Steak with Bacon Cream Sauce and Steamed Asparagus (Missouri)

This could easily have been called "New York Steak" as it's the same thing, but it originated in Kansas City so I went with that, since we already had other stuff from New York. This was my least favorite thing of the night, actually. The bacon cream sauce was fine but the steak just didn't seem right. Should have used Filet Mignon as the recipe called for (but that's not really USA).

We had a Chardonnay ready to open as well, to go with the cream sauce, but we seemed to be running out of steam a bit so we stuck to just one wine for this meal.

Chateau Montelena 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley - California) $74.99

85.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, 0.5% Petit Verdot

Aromas of blackberry jam, nutmeg, perfume and plum. Red berries meet your palate right up front, and you'll find some cocoa and mint lurking in the background. Smooth texture and bright acidity. 92.


Baked Alaska (NOT Alaska)

Depending on who you asked, this dish originated at Delmonico's Steak House in New York, or Antoine's, in New Orleans. Either way, it was good but perhaps too much work. Having said that, I ate it over the course of a week and it was fantastic every time. If I made it again, I'd stick to ice cream, the sorbet doesn't really go (other than to make it look cool). This is what it looked like before adding the meringue:

Joseph Phelps 2015 Eisrebe (Napa Valley - California) $55.00 USD 

Made from the Scheurebe grape, this is icewine but not in the way we are used to it. Since it doesn't get cold enough in Napa Valley, they cheat a bit and harvest the wine as late as possible and then freeze the grapes themselves. It's tasty, don't get me wrong, but it's a far cry from the great icewines we get here in BC. Flavors of peach, creme brulée, lemon and honeysuckle. 90.

That's it for now, what a terrific night of friends, food, and wine. Next up: The blockbuster announcement from last Monday that will change the landscape of the BC wine industry forever.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Okanagan Trip, Part III, back to the beginning at the Gate of Heaven

......and that's why this winery is called Heaven's Gate.

This was our first visit here, and we were stunned to see such a beautiful space when we pulled up. Look at the beautiful fountain and patio area!

We were warmly greeted by a young man named Tyson, who I assumed was working the counter. He was doing more than that....he just bought the place! And I mean "JUST" bought it, like a week ago. Hey just figured "what the Hell, I have no experience in this industry, let's buy a winery!". LOL.

Well, I wish him the best. Oh, and he's also going to be the winemaker (with help from the former owners' consultant).

He asked for our honest opinion of things which we gave him: the tasting room is nice, bottles are kinda plain, and the glasses in the tasting room are way, way too small. It's tough to get a fair sense of a wine when you can't swirl or smell it properly.

Oh, and the website hasn't been updated in years. YEARS.

On to the wines:

Heaven's Gate 2016 Semillon ($16.43)

Pleasant aromas of guava and white flowers give way to citrus fruit notes on the palate. Juicy and lovely. 88.

Heaven's Gate 2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($16.43)

Aromas of gooseberry, nectarine and citrus. Citrus and herb on the palate, with an oily and spicy finish. 88.

Heaven's Gate 2015 Gewurztraminer ($16.43)

I got the impression that even Tyson wasn't that impressed with this one. Lychee, roses and vanilla on the nose. The flavors are....odd. Almost woody, with a lingering aftertaste. 81.

Heaven's Gate 2016 Faith Rosé ($16.43)

Pleasing aromas of cranberry, watermelon, strawberry and raspberry. Flavors of blackberry, raspberry and strawberry. Slightly off-dry and a real nice effort. 88.

Heaven's Gate 2013 Gamay Noir ($18.17)

Raspberry, vanilla and rich, dark cherry on the nose. The palate is light and delicate, with notes of cherry and blackberry. 85.

Heaven's Gate 2013 Malbec ($21.65)

Blackberry and blueberry jam on the nose. Black cherry, rose water and vanilla flavors. Palate is juicy with a decent finish. 86.

Heaven's Gate 2014 Merlot Malbec ($21.65)

Not a blend you see everyday. Blackberry, vanilla, blueberry and oak on the nose. Violets join in at the end and through the palate. Intriguing. 86.

Heaven's Gate 2013 Merlot ($17.30)

Arresting nose of cherry and mocha with a touch of dark chocolate showing up at the end. Lots of oaky vanilla flavors, blackberry, chocolate and black plum joining in. Persistent finish. By far the best of the reds. 89.

As I said above, I wish Tyson the best. There is lots to work with here, particularly with that patio and view. If he can get the wines up just a touch in quality, there is no telling how successful he might be.

Next up: A short break from the Okanagan trip for two exciting new entries in the wine blog: First, last weekend's night of USA themed food and wine which we hosted, and then my thoughts on Monday's announcement that changed the BC wine game forever.

Next up on the Okanagan trip was a winery we had not been to in years, but on Tyson's recommendation, down the hill to 8th Generation!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Okanagan Trip, Part 2, just down the road to Kalala Organic Estate Winery!

Another winery that pops up on your way out of Kelowna, this was our first visit here as well. Unlike Ciao Bella, however, we were fairly familiar with Kalala's wines, having tasted them at various tastings at our local VQA Store. Let's see how the new stuff stacked up. Prices below DO include taxes (from the website).

Kalala 2015 Pinot Gris ($20.00)

Notes of orchard fruit and tangerine on the nose. Red apple, pear, and a slight touch of spice on the finish. 86.

Kalala 2015 Harmony White ($17.00)

Pinot Gris 45%, Gewürztraminer 30%, Riesling 15% and Auxerrois 10%

Very light notes of tropical fruit on the nose. Flavors of grapefruit and papaya, with a touch of minerality showing up at the end. 86.

Kalala 2014 Pinot Noir ($25.00)

Complex nose of vanilla, red cherry, red licorice, mushroom and earth. Bright, juicy red cherry and red raspberry on the palate, joined by dark chocolate notes on the finish. 87.

Kalala 2013 Aspire ($25.00)

Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah

Black cherry, blueberry and clove aromas. Those follow through to the palate, and are joined by notes of black plum. 87.

Dostana 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($45.00)

We have tasted and enjoyed their Dostana Merlot before, but this is the first time we've ever come across the Cab Sauv. From 40 year old vines, aged 2.5 years in American oak. Aromas of mint, black cherry and black plum give way to blackberry, earth and black cherry flavors. Even at 5 years old already, the tannins are gripping. Finishes long. Pair with a big piece of red meat, and if you can lay it down for another few years, you will be rewarded. A nice effort. 89.

Next up: For no particular reason, I'm going to go back to where this trip actually started, in Summerland, at our very first visit to Heaven's Gate Winery! Quite a story to tell at this one....stay tuned!