Lauren, from the Visitor Center at Penticton, B.C. holds the copy of John Schreiner' Okanagan Wine Tour Guide that I just bought. The book helps find and select wineries for the visits. It offers a very wide panorama, from the major wineries to the small family winery. Remember that with the wine distribution system in Canada, visiting the wineries is essential when you want a wider picture of the wines. For the canadians, it is also sometimes the only way to purchase wines that are not distributed in their local monopoly store.
In-flight wines : ups and downs with more downs most of the time. I'll not criticize British Airways here : One of my favorite airlines, courteous, efficient and professional. I guess they are cost-minded when they select the in-flight wines of the economy class. At least they serve some, and quite generously. I did not finish this Les Pilliers 2005, Chardonnay-Viognier,vin de pays du Gard (a sip was enough), but the Bordeaux I chose on the next leg of the trip was a little more drinkable, let's say that I drank it : This was a Bordeaux Prieur des Jacobins, "les Jalles" 2004 from the Maison Sichel. I spilled the glass on my pants while shooting a picture, which I chose to take as a good omen for the whole trip (could be also Bacchus' punishment for drinking that crap), but I had to spend long minutes in the toilets trying to remove the stain with water in the tiny sink...
A great way to reverberate the heat of the day into the ground during the night : I saw these stones aligned under the vines in the Alexander valley, on highway 128 beween Calistoga and La Franchi Creek. Alexander Valley is a warm area of Sonoma County. The region has high temperatures in the day time and quite cool nights. It is considered to have a climate very close to the Rhone region. It does remind me the big stones of the Chateauneuf du Pape. Here, it seems the stones were brought from somewhere else but I am not sure.
The Mayo Family Winery has introduced a new concept in wine tasting : It opened The Reserve Room in downtown healdsburg, CA, where for 22 Dollars tax included, you can taste (with nice pours) in the best conditions : 8 wines or so (we had an extra), served with excellent food pairings prepared by the talented chef of the Zin restaurant next door. You sit at a table and when the sommelier pours the wines, he explains the qualities and making of the whites and reds. Mayo makes outstanding unfiltered wines from single vineyards in Sonoma. That's a place I'd like to visit in the future.
Plus, Healdsburg is a great community to visit, it retains its authenticity and its relaxed lifestyle. I'll make a full post on the Reserve room in a soon-to-be-created North America category.
Jack and Joanne of Fork and Bottle invited us for dinner. I know jack for a year or so and we communicate through email. I'll not forget the treat both made to us that evening, that was a great fork and great bottles... To go with the delicious Sorel soup, he opened a fresh white, then, with the lamb and red potatoes with peas, he poured first a Kistler Pinot Noir 1997 (Sonoma), all about concentration and suavity, the mouth seemed to be thinking by itself while enjoying the lasting feel. Then a Rochioli Pinot Noir 2001 (Russian River), well-structured, complex wine with black fruits and spicy aromas. With each wine served in its own glass,I could'nt but go from one glass to the other while eating. At last, Jack poured us a Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 1978, from a winery which does not make the same wines now anymore as I understand. The 12,8° on the label says a lot about the wines that were made then. While maybe peaking, the wine still had a lot to say in the mouth and gave us a lot of pleasure.
Contrary to what you might think when you see this variable-message sign in California (which reads "Report drunk drivers, call 911"), the motorists seem to be much less pressured and ostracized here in regard to alcohol than in France. We never went across breath checks spots of the french type, where the Gendarmerie pulls over all the vehicules on a given road to check drivers with breath testers. Here, the police will look for erratic driving or other traffic violations to pull over someone : According to the law the officer must have reasonable suspicion to pull over a motorist and proceed to a breath test. Seems to make more sense than the french hunt on people coming back home after dining outside...
We were indulging ourselves with burgers at the Sapp Brothers Truck Stop in Peru, Illinois, when the news on the wall-hanging TV on the right had the story about the planned remake of the 1976 blind tasting, where the Bordeaux producers (who gave samples 30 years ago) refused to participate this time. No one noticed I was french, so I did not have to abandon my meal and flee shamefully....
While I think these Bordeaux producers have only themselves to blame (what's the point to participate in blind tastings and stopping doing it when outsiders win?), I want to read excerpts from Kermit Lynch's "Adventures on the Wine Route" (which I just finished reading) where he says wise things, like :
"I began to notice that most of the blind-tasting champions in my own cellar remained untouched, because I had no desire to drink them. Just as they had overwhelmed the other wines to win a blind tasting, they overwhelm practically any cuisine.(...) Usually such wines give their all in the first whiff and sip, but great wine is about nuance, surprise, subtelty, expression, qualities that keep you coming back for another taste."
And also :"The fact that Gigondas and Saint-Joseph are lumped together in Rhone tastings is a symptom of confusion, an unfortunate confusion, because each wine expresses itself in its own language, and in the babel-like jumble of such a blind tasting one misses what each has to say. The winner is usually the most powerful wine, the one that speaks with the loudest voice, so one leaves having learned nothing."
In addition to the difficult task we all know of finding the right wine at the right budget, canadians have to play with the rules of the monopoly distribution system. In Ontario [picture : LCBO Ottawa] , a province with both prosperity and high interest for fine wines, the monopoly is the LCBO, and it has sometimes difficulty to supply all its customers as you can witness in specialized forums where dissatisfied wine lovers yearn for a more responsive and free system (see this eG forum and this Wine Spectator forum). You read about buyers having to line up long before the opening of the stores for new releases which LCBO did not buy in large enough quantities, and who discover when it's their turn that the wine is sold out. Posters give tips about ways to get around the system and buy the wines before they come for sale, or find the store whose allotment is not sold-out yet. Another poster compares the lining-up in front of LCBO Vintages stores to the waiting lines in Soviet Union. The monopoly distributors in Canada have made great efforts to improve the service though, but many consumers still envy the wide choice found in other major western countries.
Also, the 2-bottles-of-wine-only allowed when entering the country is really very restrictive. Canada would'nt endanger its wine industry by removing this limit. When I think to the 13 bottles I brought back from Hungary...When you come back from another european country, you can bring in 90 liters (or 120 bottles) in France (French Customs page)