Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

South Okanagan 2009: MERLOT



Merlot is high on my list of favorite varietals – I’m a big fan of right-bank Bordeaux. Because it’s the most broadly planted red grape here, I figured my palate would be a shoe-in to be praising the merlots. Not so much. Barring a few exceptions, I found them very thin, very heavy-handedly oaked, and lacking complexity. And at a common asking price in the high $20’s to $30, the poor versions of Merlot proved to be some of the worst QPR in the South Okanagan. These are my notes, love them or hate them, from my tasting room visits of the vast majority of wineries in the region. They are ranked in descending order of score.

17 Wines, Mean Score: 84.2 Median Score: 86

2006 La Stella La Stella 92

Bumbleberry pie, baked, prune jam. Low-mid 90s – 93 Bloody awesome. Strawberry, tannic, dark finish, heavy. A monster of a wine, and shockingly so for this region. Interesting that they set out to make this in this price point, and seem to have achieved their goal. I’d never buy it at that price, but it likely would cellar a treat. I’m keen to follow this one.

2006 Fairview Cellars Madcap Red 91

Although a merlot blend, it would be a shame to exclude this wine from the merlot list. Super PURE red fruits, and no oak whallop typical of the region. Clearly a different class. Medium concentration, touch of pepper. Rich, fruity, tannic, and dry. Nice structure without being ridiculous. Very, very nice. The purity of fruit puts this into the 90+ territory immediately.

2006 La Stella Allegreto Merlot 89

Wood. Tight. Intersted to try in 5 years. High 80s? Shut down, nice structure, nice tannins, lack of fruit – those that are there are cooked in style. 2005 Bordeaux-esque. Really closed, suggesting cool plummy fruits, but tucked in hard. 90+. 2nd pour, more fruit showed up in general. I’m REALLY curious to see where these people takes these wines moving forward. At $38, I’ve purchased some solid Bordeaux for less.

2007 Burrowing Owl Merlot 89

Very nice fruits, dynamic – 3 different vibes in 3 sniffs. Plum, wood. Fine tannin. Solid. Very nice. Mid-palate suppleness only issue. Like the fruit, like the tannin.

2008 Hester Creek Merlot 88

Stink. But good. Clearly articulated. Spice, evergreen. Concentrated, funk evergreen, odd but round and good. Good – funky, intense merlot. Big marks for intense, big marks for cool funk.

2007 Road 13 Merlot 87

Really obvious fruit, then juniperesque wood. Very nice and pleasant. Lacking the intangible to make it a memorable wine, but certainly is a solid effort. Solid, very nice fruit on the nose, but a tad forgettable for some reason.

2006 NKMip Merlot 87

Classic Okanagan with serious bead of strawberry, no oak smash. Strawberry, light, VERY reminiscent of a good beaujolais – which is odd. Slick oak tucked behind nicely. Dig the strawberry, the beaujolais vibe was striking. Not a bad value at $20.

2005 Hester Creek Reserve Merlot 87

Graphity mineral. Very nice. Stylish.

Raspberry – super intense, very good, but not my thing really. More stlyed than the non-reserve. Quick and dry finish – disappointingly so. Thin. Loved the mineral nose, hated on the texture and finish. Aging? This one?

2005 Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Merlot 86

Tight, light cassis, nice, but forgettable. Neat spicy texture, lack of mid palate as normal, very dry, but very sleek. Interesting finish. Lacks fruit intensity, either shut down or it’s already too old, which would be shocking. Watery, typical Okanagan structure.

2007 Twisted Tree Merlot 86

Ashtray – in a not-good way. Fruit, pepper. Present and stylish. Cherry, light dry. Very stylish for this area’s merlot. Misses the mark for me. Nice. It’s good. But not as good and compelling as the other reds here. For that reason, not as good a QPR as the others.

2006 Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2006 85

Insta-sexy, but then a whallop of oak, oak, oak. Dry, oaky, stylistically not for me, but a well made wine. Oak, dry, thin – classic Okanagan merlot apparently. Really dry finish and a long one at that.

2006 Inniskillin Merlot 85

Cologne? Lovely rich raspberry, wood/stem. Really nice, dry. Lacks concentration but otherwise like the fruit and oak. Half the price of some of the other merlots around, and quite good.

2007 Cassini Cellars Merlot 83

Veggie nose! Aromatically challenged though. Rosy floral and interesting. Dry. Not super oaky. Super extracted. Might get a considerably better score if it wasn’t served in the worst glassware I can imagine.

2007 Oliver Twist Proprietor’s Reserve Merlot 80

Black licorice, in an intensity and focus that I’ve never seen before. Ever. Evergreens in the highs. Concentrated anise, with a SUPER dry finish that would put most people off. Awkward as hell wine – esp for a merlot??

2007 Oliver Twist Merlot 76

Oak. Nice fruit, but a little to tight. Aromatically challenged. Not a fan of structure Average at best, terrible QPR.

Gehringer Brothers Dry Rock Merlot 72

Little odd. Raspberry syrup tucked in. No oak over the head, thankfully. Average.

2006 Antelope Ridge Merlot 68

Flat. Dry, tannic, mouth stripping. Okay otherwise, typical, but in a med more generic style. Below average, poor aromatics on nose.

Born-Again French-Pastry-Lover

I never thought I’d write this, but I have to admit that ever since a wonderful pastry shop finally opened up in our town [ICS], I’ve been jaded about eating pastries in France. It’s a loss I’m having to deal with. ‘Not bad, but I can get it better at home‘ is a thought I wish upon nobody who loves to travel and eat. Very similar to making pistachio gelato better than I’ve had it in Italy. Blissful disappointment.

That said – France not to be outdone – showed me two new favorites that I had no idea exsited. Starting with #2 favorite: the Suisse. I had many after the one in the photo [Paris], but this one was the best. Kinda creamy [custard?], chocolate chipy, and croissanty. I’m a fan. If anyone knows how to score one in my province, please advise.

#1 spot, however, went to the Religieuse. The one in the photo had been abused by the box. But it doesn’t matter. It’s a marriage of pate a choux classics: an eclair ball topped with a cream puff. Genius. This genius happened to me in Eguisheim, Alsace.

I owe a debt to both of these items and the people who made them. Perhaps I need to go on a gelato quest to restore my faith in that department.

Canette au Vin – more Burgundy…


Important facts:

  • this was my first trip to France where I had a kitchen nearly the whole time
  • I was resolved to cook classics [ex, coq au vin was on my list]
  • the french have so many options for poultry, it will make your head spin

A ‘canette’ is a young duck, so this was a rich dish that was a popular one. Nothing fancy: browned leg of young duck, some solid Monthelie 1er Cru les Duresses [local Pinot Noir, of course], some mushrooms, some shallot, some time in the oven. Cooking ‘local’ in a foreign country that’s so passionate about food is really fun!!

I’ll get to local [as in...where I live...] food again soon, honest. I’ve been reveling in lovely baby salad greens from my new garden, and a salad is bound to make an appearance soon. Late in the growing season, I know, but that’s what happens when you leave the country for a few weeks in May/June. I only got one feed of garden asparagus in before leaving. Tragic, I know.

More Burgundy: Poulet de Bresse


Ever since reading Jacques Pepin’s memoires about cooking chicken in his home-region of Bresse, I’ve wanted to try one of the birds myself. And long before leaving for France, acquiring and cooking a Bresse bird was firmly on my list of things to do while in Burgundy. AOC chicken. I had to try it.

Admittedly, I wasn’t aware that buying such a bird would be so costly. Twenty-odd €. My inner cheap-ass cringed, but my to-do list was resolved, and we bought the bird at the market in Chagny from Ferme des Gautheys.

Luckily, for that volume of dough, the farmer will prepare the bird – removing the head, the organs, feet, trussing, and so on. They also provided us with directions to cook it for 2:15 at 180C. Precisely. No fat was to be added. Only salt and pepper.

The expectations ran high.

Verdict? Their cooking instructions were bang on, firstly. Thankfully. There is certainly a noticeable difference in intensity of flavor. They who are used to their boneless-skinless-breasts may not even recognize the flavors as chicken. It’s richer, denser, and more fragrant than I believe we’re used to here. If you appreciate intensity of flavor in your meats, this bird is for you.

The final thoughts crossing my mind as we ate the Bresse chicken soup a couple days later? [you're damn right we made stock from that bird, at that price] “I see why the fuss – definitely a difference in quality. Worth every penny to try, and have experienced. But man, it falls short on QPR [quality/price ratio]“.

Ode to Veal – Burgundy, Part I


I live in a province supposedly renowned for its high-quality beef [it seems every place that raises cattle thinks theirs is the best]. Despite all the beef around, I grew up basically with zero experience with veal. Strange.

Photo of the day is a meat-heavy dish I put together in Evelle, France. It’s a tiny village tucked just away from Montrachet in Burgundy, and as you will see in subsequent posts, we had poor weather which justified many a hearty dish enjoyed by a roaring fire in a giant hearth.

From front to back on the plate: ‘farce’ or veal stuffing, ‘poitrine’ or breast of veal, very caramelized small turnip, and roasted potato. I’ve since been on a bit of a veal binge. More veal, and Burgundy, to come.

Kenny Kaechele


This is not a restaurant critique. Although I have some experience eating at nice places through Europe and at home, I’d say I’m in kintergarden when it comes to actual critiques. Nor is that the direction I want my blog to go. I cook at home, many times, every day. Need to source some kick ass food and wine in Paris to make a killer picnic lunch? I can help you out. I’m more that guy.

So while struggling to avoid critiquing, I want to give serious big props to Chef Kenny Kaechele and his crew in Calgary. On a recent food-centric tour of the city, guided by friend, chowhounder, and blog-commentor Yen, we stopped by Ei8ht for dinner. I had no idea what to expect. At all.

My first impression of Kenny is that he’s an intense, charismatic, self-confident guy. He strikes me as the kind of guy I’d be willing to fight to the death for if he were my commanding officer in war. Which likely has something to do with his successes in the restaurant business.

So what did we eat?

A highlight-reel is required, as ten courses with wine pairings is too endeavorous even for this food blogger. Two trendy items he redefined for me were pork belly and black cod. There’s a lot of fuss about those ingredients, but Kenny showed me why that is [not that I ever doubted the merits of pork belly]. The pork was stellar [the scallop it was paired with was equally fantastic], and the black cod was some of the nicest white-fleshed fish I’ve ever had. And I’ve had an awful lot of ridiculously fresh white-fleshed fishes.

His lamb creation for the evening was artistic and extremely delicious, and his salade nicoise-meets-lyonnaise was intelligent, luxurious, well executed, and just plain enjoyable. I’ve had a lot of salads in France which would be envious of this achievement.

The five dessert courses included clean & rich, chocolate & fruit, herbs & root veg, cake & ice cream, cookies & cream, and more. There’s some serious love being served up in that kitchen. And I have to be honest. I was really surprised to be so impressed. Nevermind in my own backyard.

I do have to say that my inner wine-geek would have preferred to have paired some of the courses with my personal collection. I feel his food deserves world-class wines, and with the high wine markups I’ve been known to hate on, I simply am unwilling to pay for top-end wines in a restaurant. I’d have been happy to pay corkage. Notice that’s not a diss on his food.

I also found that I’m simply not capable of surviving such a vast tasting menu. The portions were well engineered, but it was still a staggering amount of food. But that ain’t Kenny’s fault. He brought it. And I appreciate it.

Kenny’s a rock-star foodie in my books. He even looks the part. I don’t care where he’s cooking at or what he’s making – I would eat any dish he’s proud of. He has some serious chops. Some serious talent. And some serious experience. All of which combined to raise my expectations of how highly food can be elevated. If you find yourself in Calgary and are trying to find some fine food, find Kenny.

For more about Ei8ht and Kenny, here’s the restaurant’s website.

For a summary of the rest of our culinary adventures in Calgary, check out Yen’s chowhound post here.

‘Old Fresh Chicken’


Today’s culinary discovery was the ‘old fresh chicken’ at my local asian grocer. I went to buy pork belly [they were out], and came home with ‘old fresh chicken’. So I proceeded to make chicken stock, and am enjoying a cup, seen above, as I type. What’s the big deal? Other than laughing every time I think of the name, their old fresh chickens were $1.49. Yeah. For a whole bird. I will forever keep an eye out for ‘old fresh chickens’. Makes a decent stock, and once cooked forever, the meat is actually quite usable to boot. This seriously appeals to the cheap-ass in me. I’m gleeful at my ‘find’.

I wish the photo on the left were mine, but it is not. Yen took it on his recent foodie-trip to Japan. And I do mean foodie-trip. Hardcore. A month of travel in Asia with one goal: to eat as well as one possibly can. An admirable effort. This was one of many courses at what looks like a fantastic lunch that I’m completely missing out on. So much food, so little time.

And lastly, a shot from the bodog battle that kept me busy for a day or two, and is partly responsible for some blog-absence. It’s always a pleasure to take the stage with my brothers [And when I say brother, I don't mean like an actual brother...but I mean it like the way black people use it...which is more meaningful, I think] from My Sister Ocean. It was fun to take the stage rocking a giant bass rig for once, and happily my piano/synth gear worked as intended, making for a fun set. No food though.

Food-skatchewan, Part II

This morning, before returning home, we made a quick stop at the neighbor’s place to pick up some more eggs. My dad started supplying me with them a couple weeks ago, grabbing some on his way back from his frequent visits. So I’ve been eating an awful lot of their eggs lately, and taking some photos of where they came from seemed mandatory. But these chickens were dang cagey, so you have to enjoy a photo of their..laying barn? Is that a word? I’m a city slicker. And please. Nobody tell them $1.50 for a dozen fantastic free range eggs is underpriced. I do feel a slight pang of guilt for not buying from my ‘usual’ egg supplier – but at nearly a third the price, and arguably nicer quality than what I already deemed fantastic, the cheap-ass in me demands I shift loyalties. The yolks are dark and rich, and what’s amazing is the white is so…’stiff’. It stands nearly as tall as the yolk. Very strange. Very fantastic.

And this was a lovely shot, asking to be taken. The folks who own and run the golf course, and also own the farm with the chickens, dry their onions on the fence that keeps the deer out of their fantastic garden. They also serve a Sunday buffet breakfast at the clubhouse. Tell me this. How many places do you go for breakfast where they cook you up some eggs from their farm, and some potatoes from their massive garden. Ashamedly, we did not partake this morning in their buffet, settling for french toast made with their eggs, topped with some of the local clover honey we sourced yesterday – washed down with a stiff coffee. At 5am. But next time – I’m in for some farm buffet. That’s a $9 breakfast I’m willing to pay for.

And this is evidence that having babies makes you stop to smell the roses. Or at least stop to pick the rose hips. While the little one was being fed in the truck on the way home, I jumped out, eager to see what I could pick out of the ditch this time. And hey – they’re edible, and were perfectly ripe. I think. They smell extremely similar to a crabapple. Not sure if cooking them down will yield anything worth writing about, but I’m willing to give it a shot.



When I left yesterday I had no idea I’d be on a ‘foodie trip’. Apparently I have a talent for making everything about me food. The long drive here was interrupted frequently for baby-maintenance-stops. On one of those stops, I got out and was looking at the interesting plants growing in the ditch. Some holly-looking-ground-cover-thingers. And then I noticed these: wild blueberries. I was gleeful [and still am]. I scrambled to pick as many as I could, eating furiously, and shoving whatever was left into a bag to enjoy later. I haven’t had the pleasure to eat or cook with these in my adult life, so this is a treat.

Today, at another baby-maintenance-stop while touring about, I picked some Labrador Tea. I’d been meaning to muck about with it in the kitchen for quite some time, but haven’t been in a boggy-muskegy area [when there wasn’t snow cover] in quite some time. It’s easy to pick, grows like crazy, easy to de-leaf, and is apparently healthful. It has a lemony-evergreen herb smell that’s quite interesting.

And on the way up here, my dad mentioned that one of the guys who worked for him building this great place was a bee-keeper. We went to the ‘farmer’s market’ in Goodsoil, Saskatchewan today, and he was there. Well…he was kind of ‘it’. Him and a lady with some baking = the farmer’s market. He let us taste his clover honey, and dandelion honey. The clover honey is light and fragrant – the dandelion being darker, more robust and complex. So I bought a kilo of both for dirt cheap. Between us, I think we bought 12 kilos of honey.

I think the hangovers have nearly been shaken off from last night’s wine and brandy indulgences. On the menu tonight: rotisserie chicken with a dandelion honey, garlic, and Labrador tea glaze with garden potatoes, and a 2003 Domaine de Tourraque Cotes de Provence.

Sonora – homeward


A little behind on my posts, I know. Yesterday morning Henry took us out salmon fishing. The day before, a 41 lb salmon, and a 56 lb salmon both came out of the same spot. When fishing is slow, this is a major deal. The big one was the biggest in the area since 1963. The highlight of the outing was getting our first chance to see orcas up close in the wild. A very memorable thing indeed. But no such luck for us on the salmon front, so we zipped across the channel and pulled up a bunch of rock cod to take home.
We then enjoyed a nice cockle chowder with a half crab for lunch, and proceeded to pack up to head back to Vancouver Island to catch our flight. Before heading to the flight, Hen and Gerry made up some excellent Hali-burgers. Halibut, mayo, garden lettuce, and sweet onion on a bun. Best Halibut I’ve had. The flight was fine, other than them not allowing me to take blackberry syrup, and some seafood stocks Gerry had given me – can’t have ‘liquids’ on the plane. You win some, you lose some.
But then things got shitty. We landed in Edmonton, and the airport was on ‘Red Alert’. There was such severe lightning striking the airport that they shut down all ground crews. So we sat in our plane, at midnight, for more than an hour, waiting to be able to get off the damn thing and go home. So we weren’t in bed until 2am. Which is bad news for this perm-cold I’ve had for the past month. I think I’d kick it if I got some decent sleep. Decent sleep. Yeah. Not likely gonna happen anytime soon. But I’ll try.
Overall, our trip was fantastic. We chilled. Visited. Drank all 9 bottles of wine I brought. Caught a whack of fish. Smoked some food. Dug up some wild chives. Drank some beer. Did some writing and recording. Ate crab, prawns, salmon, rock cod, ling cod, halibut – how can you go wrong? We hadn’t counted on bringing home fish, so our packed freezer is an excellent souvenir and added bonus.