Pilgrimage to Domaine Weinbach

Photo 1-19-2014, 6 50 01.jpg

Every wine lover has their 'Ah ha' moment. The moment you realize wine is not just booze, that there is something special happening in the glass that drives you to seek more. Mine came nearly a decade ago in a bottle of 1998 Tokay Pinot Gris 'Selecions de Grains Nobles' from Domaine Weinbach. At the time I had no idea the greatness I happened to be drinking, but it has stayed with me ever since. Because of this glass, then the many subsequent bottles that have followed through the years, Weinbach has become my wine Nirvana. I've been extremely proud to be able to sell these wines, as they are one of the highlights of our Lifford Wine portfolio, and for years I've been eagerly waiting to visit. The anticipation was finally realized this past January with what seemed like my personal wine pilgrimage to mecca when I visited the estate along with Norman Hardie and his crew as we were traveling enroute to Burgundy.

Weinbach is not only one of the most important wineries in Alsace, but it might be the most important white winery in the world. Names like Trimbach, Zind-Humbrecht, Beyer, Hugel, Mann, etc are all very famous and produce great wines, but there is something special about the Weinbach wines that set them apart from nearly everything else in the world of aromatic white wines. Today the winery is owned and operated by the Faller women: the mother Collette and her daughters Catherine and Laurence. The home estate of Weinbach was first planted with grapes in 890 AD and was established as a monastery for the Capucin order of monks in 1612. The walled vineyard which includes their home and winery is known as the 'Clos des Capucins' and was acquired by the Faller family when all the religious estates were auctioned off to the public after the French revolution. Collette's late husband Theo was at the fore of increasing the quality and reputation of Alsatian wines and helped the movement to include Alsace in the AOC system and classifying the Grand Cru sites. When Theo died in the 1970s the women decided to carry on his legacy and bring the Domaine to greatness. In the years since the Faller women become some of the biggest proponents of biodynamic viticulture and produced some of the most acclaimed wines from the region. They have inspired critics like Robert Parker to regularly rate their wines in the 96-100 range and make remarks like: "Quintessence de Grains Nobles is liquid perfection"..."delivers Montrachet-like portions of flavor and complexity"..."this wine is sure to make your toes curl!"..."Projected maturity: now-doomsday."

The Domaine is nestled in the Kayersberg valley and owns 75 acres including Grand Cru parcels on Schlossberg, Mambourg and Furstentum, producing about 10'000 cases annually from entirely estate owned grapes including Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Muscat and some Pinot Noir. Their philosophy is to be as minimal as possible: biodynamic viticulture, hand harvesting, very slow pressing from whole clusters, entirely native yeast fermentation, and vinification in large neutral oak casks (1500-6000L) only. Laurence Faller (pictured left with her mother Colette) is the winemaker and viticulturalist, and she spent nearly six hours giving us a thorough tasting and tour, followed by a magnificent lunch with all of their wines.

The tasting included a complete horizontal tasting of their production, as well as verticals of their Grand Cru Rieslings, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminers. All the wines and tasting notes are too numerous to list here, but here are a few picture highlights of the visit, and the current availability of these special wines. For more information on Weinbach please check out their website, Lifford Wines website, or leave me a message on the Services page. The wines are not often available in Ontario, but the below three wines are currently in stock with free delivery on 6 bottles or more. If you're a fan of incredibly complex and elegant white wines, I encourage you to become acquainted with Domaine Weinbach, it might change your perception of what white wines can be.

2012 Sylvaner 'Clos des Capucins', Domaine Weinbach, Alsace                                                          $34.95 x6

2012 Riesling 'Cuvee Theo', Domaine Weinbach, Alsace                                                                        $51.95 x6

2008 Gewurztraminer 'Grand Cru Furstentum', Vendages Tardives, Domaine Weinbach, Alsace     $75.00

Capital Wine in 'Power & Influence'

P&I Screen Shot copy.jpg

The Hill Times is the weekly heartbeat of Ottawa's Parliament Hill featuring the insider goings on of federal politics in Canada. Once a year they publish their 'Power & Influence' issue featuring Canada's biggest movers and shakers in the political and financial world. This year Cabinet Minister Michelle Rempel was asked to give an interview about wine for the yearly publication. Michelle is unique on The Hill in a number of ways (including being the youngest female Cabinet Minister ever) but also because she's a certified sommelier, earning her WSET Diploma back in Calgary before her life in politics. Coupled with the fact that her Cabinet post is Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, she has become one of the most astute proponents of our domestic wine business and was at the forefront of Bill C-311 attempting to open Provincial borders to domestic wine trade.

Michelle and I have gotten to know each other really well through a variety of wine events, tastings, dinners and even started the Society tastings for Capital Wine together. Sharing a similar philosophy in wine, and having two different market/legislative positions in the industry, Michelle asked if I could help out and bring some top wines from our favourite Canadian producers for a tasting we'd do along with the interview. We decided to theme the tasting "The Best of Canada: More Than Just Ice Wine", and it turned out to be quite a fun afternoon. The reporter was Asha Hinorangi, a great young journalist for The Hill Times who just happens to be working on her own sommelier certification through Algonquin College. She was the perfect person to conduct an interview on Canadian wine for a political publication.

The tasting included wines from: Hinterland Wine Co, Joie Farm Winery, Clos du Soleil, Thomas Bachelder, Tawse Winery, Painted Rock Winery, and Antolino Brongo. Take a peek at the article and let me know what you think. For a pdf of the full article click here or find the issue on newsstands now.

Introducing Capital Provisions Verjus

As an irrecoverable cookbook addict, I've seen over several years increased calls for verjus in recipes where you'd often see white wine vinegar used--salad dressings, sauces, de-glazing, etc. But it was surprisingly difficult to find any verjus for sale anywhere. Having scoured Ottawa's fine food shops to no avail, and even failing in Toronto at Whole Foods, Pusateri's, etc. I decided I'd make my own.

For those that don't know, verjus (or verjuice) is simply "green juice", the acidic unripe juice of grapes, pressed before they reach maturity. Historically it was a staple of classic French cuisine dating back to Medieval times and into the Renaissance. Part of its appeal is that although it is often used interchangeably with white wine vinegar, it is less acerbic and pairs better with wine. Vinegar can often clash with wine in food pairings.

An inherited part of the lush vegetable garden we planted this year, was a row of grapes (unidentified variety) that were planted by the former owner. Considering the void of verjus in our marketplace, and since we were already growing and canning a garden full of vegetables it only made sense to do the same with our grapes. So I purchased a basket press, car boys, filtering and bottling equipment to make some verjus in Ottawa. The back alley behind our standalone garage and garden was transformed into The Hintonburg Crush Pad. I borrowed a refractometer from Norman Hardie to measure the brix level on the grapes, seeing where their sugar levels were at in order to pick at optimal under-ripeness.

It turns out even at an unripe level I had competition for the grapes. In Price Edward County they compete with the birds, in Hintonburg we compete with the squirrels. By the time the grapes were reaching 12 and 13 degrees brix (a sugar level of roughly half that of ripe grapes) squirrels were quickly making off with the grape clusters. What I had left to press only yielded six 375ml bottles and has come to be known as the smaller batch "Estate" Verjus.

Since I had invested in all this winemaking equipment I could not rest with only 2.25 L of verjus. I called up Norman Hardie in Prince Edward County (whose wine I represent in Eastern Ontario) and asked if I could come help thin clusters they were cropping to decrease yields. Vineyards often thin a certain amount of unripe clusters from the vines in order to increase the ratio of photosynthesis and ripening to the remaining clusters. This extra energy helps increase their ripeness and concentration. As common practice the unripe clusters are cut and just dropped to the ground. So I went in to help with the thinning and collected myself an SUV full of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and headed back to Ottawa.

That evening I called up a few friends, and with the help of some Bourbon and a few beers we set to work crushing grapes into the early hours of the morning. Here's some pictures of the verjus process:

While our efforts only yielded forty five 375ml bottles in our first vintage, it was an outstanding learning process and we're gearing up for a bigger and better vintage next year. Unfortunately our small first vintage has already sold out, but you may see it on the menu of some of Ottawa's top restaurants in the meantime. Please submit a request if you'd like to be put on the waiting list for some verjus next year. Pricing and availability to come.

Tasting note:   Our 2013 County Verjus is clear, pale lemon colour with a slight effervescence from a minute amount of fermentation. On the nose it has aromas of citrus fruit, ripe pears, fresh grape juice and wet stone. The palate is lightly sparkling up front, with a bracing acidity throughout with notes of lemon, lime and green apple. A wonderful substitute for vinegar in salad dressings, vinaigrettes and sauces that will be accompanied with wine pairings. Also great for deglazing pans and ingredient in basting roasted meats.

80% Pinot Noir 20% Chardonnay from Prince Edward County, harvested at 14 degrees brix on September 13, 2013. Pressed and bottled onsite in Ottawa at The Hintonburg Crush Pad. Contains sulphides.

An Autumn Defense of Rosé

Thanksgiving is upon us and this is surely the best time of year for rosé -- What, in the autumn?? As it's getting cold and we're eating roast veg, game, and preserves?? -- Yes. This is when great rosé is at its best.  

Many people incorrectly think of rosé only as a cheap semi sweet wine, like White Zinfandel; or as something pink, crisp, and ideal only for summer drinking on patios in the heat. Which it definitely is good for, but I'd argue that the best time of year to enjoy great rosé is in the fall amidst thanksgiving-like feasts when we're eating turkey, sweet potatoes, roast beets, cranberry sauce, etc.  What is a better pairing for these dishes than a high quality rosé? Maybe Champagne or a good Burgundy? Otherwise, nothing.

I call rosé the 'wild card', or 'joker' of the wine world, it can sub in and pair with almost anything. Good rosés are versatile enough to go with a multitude of foods (similar to sparkling wine). It works with salads, soups, a variety of cured, raw or roasted meats and the accompanying fruit sauces. Roasted beets and goat cheese might be the most perfect pairing alongside turkey and cranberry sauce. Here's a few of my favourite rosés:

2012 Joie Farm Rosé

Rosé is one of the flagship wines by Joie Farm on the Naramata Bench in the Okanagan. This means they grow these red varietals specifically for the rose, it's not a 2ndary wine with juice left over from a red wine. The makeup is 60% Pinot Noir, 30% Gamay, 5% Pinot Meunier, 5% Pinot Gris. I've loved this wine so much in the past, last year I went to help make it and lived with Heidi and Michael for a week, an unforgettable experience that I can recall everytime I crack a bottle of the 2012! Here's my post from last year on harvest at Joie Farm. Their Rose is available online at Lifford Wine.

2012 Norman Hardie Rosé:

Last year was my 'year of rosé', in that I helped make two great roses on different sides of the country. Before taking off to BC for two weeks of crush, I spent every weekend at Norman Hardie's in Prince Edward County and took the lead on producing his first rosé. It's 100% County Pinot Noir and we wanted to make something light, dry and a bit earthy...almost an oyster rosé if you will. And it certainly became that. Here's my post from making this rosé last year at Norm's. There is very little of this wine left, but if you're near The County you can pick some up at the cellar door for $20/bottle.

2012 Tawse 'Sketches' Rosé

Tawse has been named Winery of The Year three times in a row for a very good reason. Their best wines are epic and even their least expensive wines still get top accolades from writers and restaurants. Their 'Sketches' Rosé is a really interesting blend of Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zweigelt, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Pinot Gris! A dry wine, but with lots of fruit character and an excellent expression of Niagara. This one is available at the LCBO for $15.95

There you have it, my three favourite rosés from British Columbia, Prince Edward County and Niagara. Give rosé a try with your Thanksgiving feast!

The Night That Was: The Garden Dinner

Better late than never! Last month's Garden Dinner organized by Katie Worobeck at the Whalesbone Supply Shop was a huge success! The collaborative culinary effort of Jamie Stunt and Charlotte Langley was backed up by Michael Portugal (Wellington Gastropub), Simon Bell (Oz Cafe) and Caroline Murphy (The Max Pub, Glebe Meat Market). Norman Hardie's wines showed excellently, and as always he told some great stories. Hopefully Katie organizes another dinner soon!

Here's a few photographic highlights shot by Ottawa's very talented Christopher Schlesak. For the rest of his pics from the night check out: http://www.christopherschlesak.ca/gardendinner/

The Garden Dinner at Whalesbone

With harvest upon us, we're getting to the most exciting dining season of the year! To celebrate all the delicious produce coming out of their garden and the sustainable seafood procured by Whalesbone, Chefs Jamie Stunt, and Charlotte Langley, are partnering with Prince Edward County winemaker Norman Hardie for an epic feast in the garden at the Whalesbone Supply Shop on Kent St.

Charotte Langley is the former Executive Chef at the Whalesbone Oyster House and now heads up the kitchen at Toronto's Catch Restaurant. Jamie Stunt, formerly of OZ Cafe is fresh of his Silver Medal win at the Canadian Culinary Championships and winning Ottawa's Gold Medal Plates. These two great culinary minds are the perfect match for Prince Edward County's Norman Hardie who needs no introduction on this website as arguably one of Ontario's and Canada's finest winemakers.

The evening will feature a set tasting menu served family style (think Au Pied du Cochon Sugar Shack) with veg fresh from the Whalesbone garden and the best seafood Whalesbone brings in. The inventively flavourful and rustic culinary styles of Jamie and Charlotte are the perfect match with Norm's famously earthy, Burgundian-style wines. And because everything is better from magnums, most of the wine that night will be served from large format wax top bottles for maximum enjoyment.

$150 all-inclusive is a steal for a dinner of this caliber! For all the details please check out the attached poster and get your tickets at www.gardendinner.eventbrite.com - If you're interested, do it now, as this dinner will sell out fast! 

Road Trip to Charles Smith & K Vintners

Since Walla Walla, Washington is exactly 4 hours from Portland we pretty much had to take a couple days and road trip out to see Charles Smith and the crew at K Vintners. Following the incredibly scenic drive from Portland along the Columbia River Gorge, we arrived in Walla Walla late Sunday afternoon with just enough time to crush a cheese board and a few glasses of wine before they closed down the tasting room. Olson Kundig Architects did an outstanding job with Charles Smith's Walla Walla headquarters, a clear statement of the edgy industrial design that perfectly reflects the aesthetic of the brand.

In the morning we met with Charles' sufficiently rock'n'roll winemakers Andrew Latta (K Vintners) an Brennon Leighton (Charles Smith Wines) for breakfast at Bacon and Eggs. After chatting politics and Walla Walla history over coffee and breakfast cocktails for a few hours we headed out to the vineyards, had a barrel tasting at the winery, and then Charles caught up with us for some lunch at a convenience store taqueria. An all around authentically Walla Walla experience. Here some photographic highlights:

72 Hours in Portland, Oregon

Like Loretta Lynn in 2004, last week I too lost my heart in Oregon. Top to bottom one of my favourite cities anywhere, we didn't want to leave at the end. And frankly, if it wasn't located in America with the risk of bankruptcy from healthcare, I'd consider moving there. While there we heard several times about the growing idea of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia seceding and becoming their own nation, Cascadia. It would include socialized healthcare and chief exports would be craft beer, wine, and bad people. I'd live there for sure.

We loved everything about this town. The architecture/city planning, the culture, the dining, the coffee, the wine...all high end and very unpretentious. For Ottawa folks, it's pretty similar to our city, but less government and more as if Centretown, Chinatown, Hintonburg, Westboro and Aylmer became a city with tulips instead of roses and Gatineau Hills or Tremblant instead of Mt Hood.

We tried to fit in as many coffees, beers, cocktails, lunches, dinners and brunches as possible to get a feel for the scene. Here are some highlights:

Visit to the Willamette Valley, Oregon

Oregon has been staging as a vacation destination for a few years, not only for the restaurants and culture in Portland, but also to visit some of my favourite wineries in the Willamette Valley. Last week my girlfriend and I took a trip to Oregon to get a feel for the Willamette and then check out the wine and dining scene in Portland. Here's a few wine country highlights.

The first night we stayed at Archery Summit's guest house which really set a high bar for the whole trip. Archery Summit is no meek endevour. It is one of the most state-of-the-art wineries with the only traditional caves dug into the hillside for their cellar in Oregon. Each of the estate single vineyard wines have such distinct characteristics and are physically some of the most gorgeous and meticulously maintained estates in the valley. It is obvious why their wines command such premium prices and sell out annually.

Next was onto the Westrey Wine Company with co-owner/winemaker David Autrey. David was one of the coolest guys we met on this trip, his truly garagiste operation offers no BS, fluff or fancy showroom from a warehouse in McMinnville, they are 100% about what goes on in the vineyard, then into the bottle and it shows! These wines are very popular in the Ontario market and I see why. David joked that in one day we were going to see the three extremes of the Willamette wine industry with Archery Summit's billion dollar ownership, Westrey's garagiste operation in McMinnville, and John Paul's extremely philosophical operation at Cameron Winery where we were off to next.

What an interesting guy John Paul was to listen to...almost an Oregon version of Jacques Lardiere from Louis Jadot. He had endless things to say about global warming, indigenous yeasts, and dry farming--he's so anti-irrigation, he even started the tongue-in-cheek DRC (Deep Roots Coalition). And to say John Paul's wines have a cult following would be an understatement, as the wines are fantastic and perpetually sold-out. So unfortunately we likely won't see any in Ontario for another few years until we get another small allocation...but be ready with your chequebooks when we do!

After day 1 it was clear that the Willamette is certainly dynamic and there is lots of exceptionally good wine being produced. Here are highlights from the rest of our visit:

Lifford Fete du Pinot Noir

Lifford's triennial Fete du Pinot Noir is modeled after the Pinot Noir festival that happens in New Zealand every three years. We put an educational focus on our event for the trade by putting sommeliers in group seminars with a panel of top Pinot Noir producers around the world where they discuss a topic and take questions from the audience. This year's topics were terroir, rootstalks and cool climates. At the risk of sounding like an extreme wine geek--It definitely gets emphatic when a lineup of principals from Joseph Phelps, Staete Landt, Louis Jadot, Bachelder Wine and Frescobaldi get debating their own takes on natural ferments or clonal selection!

After the morning seminars we all have lunch together and move into a room for a walk around tasting with all the suppliers wines. Here are a few highlights from this years event. All pictures were taken by Lifford's Andrew Sainsbury, the man who writes our tasting notes, helps produce the Wines of the Week and makes our website run at Lifford!