Canadian Gamay Noir Eh? 40 Knots Winery At World’s End Vancouver Island BC

Last post (read here), we gave Vancouver Island VQA a stab at Chardonnay, and they squeaked by with a passable but tart and wild one. Time for to raise the bar with a red grape: Gamay Noir. This grape can handle the cold, short seasons of Beaujolais. Why not the Northern edge of civilization:

40 Knots Winery Drive

We might be staying in Victoria, but since our toddler won’t handle the 2 hour 40 minute drive without making our ears bleed with her elephant song on repeat, I buy a bottle of 40 Knots Gamay for $25.00.

Now, 40 Knots claims 24 stunning acres, which make it the largest winery in the Comox Valley and one of the largest on Vancouver Island. Yes, 24 acres makes you massive up here. Context. They only made 225 cases of Gamay in 2017. But that scale allows them to farm organic and carry a gold Green Tourism certification.

But how is their wine.

40 Knots Gamay Noir

The APPEARANCE looks a clear, bright cranberry ruby.

Mild AROMAS range from cherry snow cone syrup, cranberry, flint, steel, to peppercorn.

The PALATE feels somehow dry, even at 10.3% alcohol (news flash: grapes do not get very ripe this north). The body is light, lean, and ringing with high acidity. Good bye enamel!

Flavors twang with acidity, green cranberry (yes, trust me), strawberry pith, grass, pepper, and a dash of dry vanilla from French barrels.

Blind, you might think 40 Knots Gamay is a white wine. Actually, a white wine drinker might be willing to come to the darker side. Yet, it still tastes and looks like Gamay. Think cool vintage, village Beaujolais and you might be on the right track. I hesitate to give it a good rating (3 of 5), yet 40 Knots Gamay speaks the tongue of its terrior: cold, marginal, trying. But charge $25 for this experiment, really?

40 Knots recommends drinking this on its own lightly chilled. But sticking with terroir, local Spoke potato flour salt and pepper chips tame it a bit.

Spokes Chips

A salty soft pretzel works well with it. From our armory of local cheese Natural Pastures’ Aged Farmhouse: creamy, nutty, honeyed, floral and a bit peppery worked best. But honestly anything mild, cold cut turkey sandwiches, goat cheese, and so on should save it.

We save the bottle for the next day. But even my love for high toned, tart wine cannot handle all this acidity. It is a miracle that 40 Knots can pull off a Gamay at all. Just know what you are getting into.

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Canadian Chardonnay Eh!? Vancouver Island Wine Tour #1

Check here over the next few weeks, I am tasting through Vancouver Island’s wines, ciders, and beers to see who rises to the top.

Wife, kid, and I (sounds like a musical) have driven a day to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. And yes, they grow enough grapes here to claim a Vancouver Island appellation or VQA. Sure, vines only started in 1992, today boasting 432 planted acres and 32 wineries (even Oregon’s tiny Willamette Valley claims 19,000 acres and over 500 wineries). But what that youth and extremely small scale means, however, is focus: most wineries are estate only, often organic, and handled by families from vineyard to bottle.

Vancouver Island needs that focus, because this climate is far removed from many a grape’s Mediterranean origin.

BC VQA Winery

Vancouver Island VQA in purple (

Although extremely North for grape growing, Vancouver Island, surprisingly, has Canada’s mildest climate. The island’s mountains shield the Saanich Peninsula and Cowichan Valley from the Pacific’s worst weather, granting merely 900 to 1,200 growing degree days (less than Denmark).

Let us test the Island on the straw gold standard of cool climate white wine: Chardonnay.

Luckily, I find a bottle from Chateau Wolff Estate: one of the first and few wineries to plant Chardonnay here. The Riga family sold their restaurant to buy Wolff up in the region’s northernmost Nanaimo. Like Chablis and Burgundy in general, Chardonnay keeps so much acidity that 100% Malolactic Fermentation and six months in French barrels will only tame it.

Chateau Wolff Estate, Chardonnay, Vancouver Island 2016

Chateau Wolff Estate Chardonnay 2016

Slight haze, medium minus straw color

Lemon water leads the medium intense AROMAS of brie and white mushroom, white pepper musk, wax, and honeysuckle aromas.

The PALATE is lean and dry, with medium plus acidity, a medium body, and a light 11.5% alcohol all reflect the limits of ripening Chardonnay this far North.

The wine tastes like an odd, somewhat tired Chablis. Around a core of lemon water, flavors run from flinty, salty, waxy, to grassy and a bit feral.  The medium finish tastes a bit odd, plastic and again of citrus and mushroom.

Wolff’s 2016 Chardonnay is a twangy, odd, if a bit hollow, but still quite good (3 of 5 rating). For $22 it represents a good value for its rarity. I cannot imagine how 44 cases is profitable.

But it needs something. In desperation, we turn to local food.

Wolff Chardonnay and Brie Cheese

The plush, smooth and coating “Island Brie” by Little Qualicum Cheeseworks from Morningstar Farm matches it well (great cheese). The mushroom qualities cancel each other out, emphasizing the citrus of Wolff’s Chardonnay while taming its acidity.

Wolff’s Chardonnay needs food to rise to a 4 rating, but has enough Chablis-like verve to get there.

Not a bad start.


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Jancis Robinson’s Seminal Wine Writing Competition

I woke up this morning, checked my inbox, and was shocked into silence. Jancis Robinson, the Jancis Robinson, goddess of wine writing, had published on her Purple Pages my entry of my seminal wine experience.  The winner gets a set of her One Wine Glasses: a single glass fashioned to work best with every wine style. Deal with it Reidel-tower-of-babble and your billions of glass styles.

If I win her glasses or not, the greatest honor was getting featured as a Guest Contributor by one of my wine idols. Thank you.

Read my entry by clicking here: Jancis Robinson Competition


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1948 Birthday Wine: 70 Year Old Blandy’s Madeira Bual Review

70 years ago:

Harry Truman

(Photo by W. Eugene Smith//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Dewey did not defeat Truman. Babe Ruth died. Gandhi fasted one last time. A young Laurence Olivier premiered Hamlet. Mary Leaky found the missing link in Kenya.

Also, in 1948, my mother in law was born.

Now choosing any birthday gift presents challenges. What do they like, want, or really need? How much is too much or too little? But a 70th birthday…for my mother in law? We had to impress her. She did not need more stuff.  She likes wine. But then again, she lives in wine country, and has access to tons. What could my wife and I possibly get her that she could not?

Luckily, I work for a wine distributor. After days of dead-end gift discussions, tired, knowing nothing would work (and after a few glasses), I typed “48” into my warehouse wine search. Up popped a Bual Madeira by Blandy’s from 1948. Only one bottle remained in stock. “No way” I thought. It must be an error. If real, it must be dead (our old warehouse killed older wines). But maybe, just maybe, this fortified wine had survived seven decades.

I did some research. The island of Madeira had developed mad ways of aging wine to cross the British Empire’s seas intact. Like Port, they halted fermentation with spirit, this trapped the wine in time, slowing its oxidation. On top of that, Madeira aged wine in casks, where it baked in the lodge’s sunny top floors, then went down floors gradually, cooling following the Canteiro system.  This pasteurized and pre-aged the wine, like a mummy, altered but built to last.

Blandy’s ’48 was a single harvest. As a Bual, spirit stopped yeast fermentation with 45-63 grams/liter of sugar left: making for a rich, raisin-like desert wine. They aged it for 56 years in seasoned American oak casks (a nice touch for our American mother in law) with regular rackings. Once happy with its maturity in 2012, Blandy’s filled 1,667 bottles for release. Oregon got a six pack but still had one bottle. I risked it and bought it.

1948 Blandy's Back Label

The bottle looked fine: the fill level, the cork, the seal were all pristine. When her big day came, we had no back up gift.  Once unwrapped, she was in a quiet shock.  She was flying out that day. We wanted her to take it home to share with her wine country friends.  But  our only beg was that we try it with her (gods forbid the flight damage it).

Front Blandys Bual Madiera 1948

The APPEARANCE had a medium intense amber brown color, some haziness, sprinkled with black and brown particulates, and muscular legs.

1948 Apperance Blandys Madeira
But the AROMAS: Whomph! My eyelashes curl. Extremely heady, bourbon, dried lemon peel and orange peel, coconut, cooked figs, white pepper, and Tahitian vanilla pour out of the bowl and all over the house. Over time, it mellows into smoky, creme brulee, smoky.
The PALATE feels off dry, with medium acidity, fine, completely resolved medium tannins, a toasty medium plus alcohol (20% abv) that coats around a lithe medium body.
Intense FLAVORS: range from the zippy and citrusy, to black oolong tea, candied orange peel, dried lavender, figgy pudding, and creme brûlée. Length? Well, I still could taste it the next day.
Blandy’s 1948 remained somehow delicate, intricate, silken, yet edgy and intense, with toasty alcohol like a figgy creme brûlée. My wife said it tasted of a time long past. I can not imagine any other 70 year old thing tasting this good. An outstanding (5 of 5) ranking almost cheapens how beyond normal this wine is.
As for the birthday girl, well, she was pretty impressed.
Grandma Bual 1948 Madiera
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A Rosé to Slay Summer: Clos Cibonne Tibouren Rose France 2016 Wine Review

Long time no see, internet. Who knew parenting would eat up my wine writing hobby? Well, mommy and daddy could use a drink.

The summer sun demands chilled wines. So let us dip a toe into sunny Provence with a rare grape: Tibouren. The vine likely originates from Greece, possibly the Middle East, and it is tricky, subject to coulure, so consistent heat is key. Intense aromas and earthiness push it into a blending grape and rosés. Thus, today, mainly small plots in Provence and Liguria grow Tibouren.

Clos Cibonne Map Provence

Lucky for us, winery Clos Cibonne lives and breaths Tibouren.  The estate is a bowl shaped 37 acres (15 hectares) of vineyards that face the Med only 800 meters away.  The Roux Family bought the it in 1797, and in 1930, André Roux modernized the winery and made Tibouren rosé its core. Out went Mourvèdre, in went Tibouren. Fame came. But the winery slipped in the 1980s, and by the late 1990s Bridget, André’s granddaughter, and her husband, Claude Deforge, took it over, renovated but kept the old foudres. They returned Clos Cibonne to one of the 18 Cru Classés in Côtes de Provence.

We could try their classic rosé, or red, but I splurge on their $32 2016 Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes: the estate’s oldest vines.

Cibonne Tibouron Provence 2016

What makes Cibonne even more special, post harvest, they ferment the wines in stainless steel and then age it under fleurette (a thin veil of yeast) in 100-year-old, 500L foudres. Let us see what old vine Tibouren tamed by these methods tastes like:

The APPEARANCE looks a crystal clear peach.

Big AROMAS smell of golden raisins, Turkish delight, dried chamomile, strawberry pith, vanilla wafers

The PALATE feels dry, with medium plus acidity, light tannins, a sneaky warm medium alcohol, medium bodied, silky with a light powder.

FLAVORS glow with Silk Road spices and exotica: white fig, orange peel, underripe strawberry, cardamon seed, brine, ending in a medium plus long finish of pebbles, a light paper machee, and dried oak.

So, um, well, wow! Cibonne’s old vine Tibouron rosé is outstanding wine (5 of 5). It is filigreed with complexity, asks for your attention, casually, with a great but not overwhelming intensity.

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