Jasper & Wiley

Jasper and Wiley

A year or so ago I met a friend for drinks a few days prior to her moving abroad. Planning to be away at least a year she was rather beside herself over the issue of her two cats. “If I can’t find them a home I’ll have to give them to a shelter…” she whimpered. My heart panged but my (then-sober) brain interjected: “Oh no you don’t”. I nodded to myself and listened to my friend sympathetically, promising to help spread the word. As the night wore on and more pints were consumed, heart strings gradually squelched logic and I pledged to take said cats off her hands (should no one else want them).

Needless to say, the cats, Jasper and Wiley, were mine a few days later. And for over a year they snoozed and  shed on nearly every surface of my flat, tore my window screens, picked my furniture and barfed on my floor. If I wasn’t buying wine for neighbours to feed them while I was away, I was running to the store in the wee hours to get them food, or flea treatments, or cat litter, or whatever else they needed. But… despite the financial and domestic inconveniences, I developed quite a soft spot for the little guys. Jasper, the alpha male, was sensitve and pensive but loved to cuddle. Wiley was more aloof but liked the occasional pat and had a curious fondness for hanging out in the shower. They killed the odd mouse for me, growled at strangers and were always glad to see me.

2004 Chateau Ksara

2004 Chateau Ksara

So, as you may have gathered from my wistful prose, Jasper and Wiley are no longer with me. My friend has since returned from her nomadic spree and took them back this weekend. I’d known the day was coming for some time, but I was not prepared for the emotional upheaval that came with stuffing their little bodies into the cat carrier and handing them over. OH, IT WAS HARD. The tears flowed and noses ran as my friend thrust a bottle of 04 Chateau Ksara into my fist as a thank-you.

I hereby raise a glass of Chateau Ksara to my furry friends, Jasper and Wiley:

May all your storms be weathered. (they detest disagreeable weather)
May all that’s good get better. (expensive tinned tuna water, not the cheap stuff)
Here’s to life.
Here’s to love.
Here’s to you.*

The Ksara, I should mention, was wonderful. A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. I am pretty partial to Lebanese wine, and this is one of the better glasses I’ve had in a while. Notes:

cat eyes
A deep burgundy colour with slight browning/bricking at the edges. Starting to show age.
cat nose Intense ripe blackberry, black currant with liquorice, star anise, tobacco and cedar.
cat mouth Medium-to-full bodied. Smooth, velvety texture with a warm chutney-like spice, soft tannins, good acidity and perfectly integrated fruit. Very balanced.

*Here’s To Life by Shirley Horne

30% Carignan, 30% Cinsault, 20% Mourvèdre, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon
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2010 California Wine Fair

2010 California Wine Fair

The Halifax Society for American Wines held their annual California Wine Fair last night at Canada’s Immigration Museum, Pier 21. Pier 21 is an austere, but beautiful building refurbished in 1999 to commemorate its past life as Canada’s port of entry to over a million immigrants from the late 1920’s to the early 70’s. It’s a large, open, airy space with spashes of colour, exposed brick and wide open views of the harbour. A remarkable history and a refreshing setting for a wine show.

2010 California Wine Fair, Pier 21

2010 California Wine Fair, Pier 21

Clearly, there is no shortage of Cali wine lovers in Halifax. The show was very well attended with a good mix of professionals and enthusiasts of all ages. Over 250 wines were on show, most of which were either available for purchase in Nova Scotia already, or coming soon. Viognier & Chardonnay appeared to be the prevailing Whites, with Bordeaux blends topping the Reds. French-looking labels were the fashion as were French-sounding vineyard names a la Clos and Chateau. Big brands like Gallo and Mondavi were on hand, but so too were lots of interesting, lesser known players.

Mondavi

Mondavi Table

So, impressions of the wines overall? Officially, I cannot tell you as I did not try them all, but having made a decent dent there was, I felt, a lot of same-sameyness to most I tried. But not all. Here were some personal highlights:

Whites:

  1. Birichino Malvasia Bianca, 2008, Monterey. Very muscat-like. An incredibly floral nose, with peach, melon and citrus. Surprisingly dry, slightly grassy, limey palate with crisp acidity. Really pleasant.
  2. Sonoma Cutrer “The Cutrer”, 2005 Chardonnay. The marketing sheet says its vines were planted ‘on an ancient sea bed’… which might explain the calcium/briney like character I was getting on this wine. If they oaked this, I couldn’t smell or taste it. A very clean, crisp, mineral style of Chardonnay that made me think of Chablis.
  3. Domaine Chandon Brut Classic. My favourite of the three. Made using méthode traditionnelle this is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Aromas of almond, spice and biscuit. Fine bubbles, apples and pear on the palate, finishes dry.
Kenwood Artist Series, Cab Sauv

Kenwood Artist Series, Cab Sauv

Reds:

  1. Ferrari-Carano Merlot, 2007, Sonoma County. Full-bodied, soft and round with rich, plummy fruit, earth, cedar and just enough acid to balance it all out. None of that overpowering oakiness.
  2. Etude Pinot Noir, 2007, Cerneros. A very classy Pinot. Lively red cherry, mushroom and barnyard notes with a touch of vanilla. Light-bodied with dark cherry earthiness on the palate. Perfectly balanced.
  3. Kenwood Artist Series, Cab Sauv, 2005, Sonoma County. My favourite of the three.  Intense black currant, cassis, mint and liquorice with slight leather. Full-bodied with green, grippy tannins, black currant and great acidity. Maybe a tad young but still very drinkable.

The secret to happiness, some say,  is having an appreciation for life’s simpler delights. The secret to happinez, a tiny wine bar in Saint John, New Brunswick, is much the same: delightful simplicity.

Happinez by-the-glass

Happinez by-the-glass

This past weekend I visited happinez, not for the first time since moving back to the Maritimes. Sitting below street-level of the historical Brodie building it beckons you inside with ancient natural stone walls, low ceilings and a buzz of happy patrons. Servers make eye contact as you enter, but thankfully don’t descend on you immediately, giving you time to get settled. Even before my first glass of Yarra Valley Pinot Noir I am instantly recharged from the 4 hour car trip from Halifax.

Come A Little Closer

"Come A Little Closer" bench

What’s most refreshing to me about happinez is it’s ability to take a single concept and execute it very well. Everything from the architecture, to the furnishings, to the people working there creates an atmosphere conducive to relaxing and socializing – the wines are merely a compliment. A credit to owner and creator, Peter Smit, a native of Amsterdam who’s lived in Saint John since the early 80s.

You won’t find Budweiser or Smirnoff here (however, you might find an obscure local craft beer, or a good Russian Vodka if you ask). The main focus at happinez is wine. A good selection of reasonably priced wines by the glass, tasting flight, or bottle changes monthly (higher end bottles are also available from the cellar). Plates of local artisanal cheeses from Fromagerie Au Fond de Bois and local charcuterie from La Ferme du Diamant are on hand and pair beautifully with the wines. And everything is enjoyed amidst friendly strangers either seated communally in the back, perched near the bar, or atop the highly entertaining Come A Little Closer Bench.

happinez

some happinez'ers

Somehow it all manages to be serious, without being snobby; polished without being flashy, simple without being dull. There is little point in missing this gem next time you find yourself in Saint John, New Brunswick (but do check the time, they are only open Wed – Sat).

happinez wine bar
42 Princess Street
Saint John, NB
E2L 1K2
506.634.7340

http://www.happinezwinebar.com

Super Nova

May 6, 2010

2009 Benjamin Bridge Nova 7

Benjamin Bridge, a small Nova Scotia winery in the Gaspereau River Valley, released their 2009 Nova 7 yesterday. Following the sell-out success of the 2008, I was eager to try this year’s result so off I skipped to Port of Wines to procure myself a splash.

The scene on arrival looked promising: all in attendance seemed pleased with their bubbly bounty – lots of chatting, nodding heads and rosy cheeks. Jean Benoit, the winemaker, wasn’t present but consultant Peter Gamble was on hand to answer questions and tout the wares. He described the wine in great detail, contrasted it with the last vintage, and alerted us to the upcoming 2004 Brut Reserve and Blanc de Noirs classic-champagne-method sparkling wine due to be unveiled this autumn (read more from Sean Wood on that). So, what of the Nova 7? I thoroughly enjoyed it. And at 7.5% alcohol it’s possible to enjoy larger than normal volumes and still maintain your dignity.

Blend: NY Muscat, Perle of Csaba.
Appearance: Pale gold, fine bubbles.
Nose: Intensely aromatic. Lychee, orange and melon with orange blossom and honeysuckle florality.
Palate: Lively fizz, light-to-medium bodied, slightly sweet with balancing acidity. Peach and orange on the finish.

Delicious! Looking forward to trying this with a spicy curry or maybe some Mascarpone & fresh berries… Hmm.