Saison: 3 Farmhouse Saison, County Road Beer Co., PEC

I am not exactly sure of this beer’s name. In its fullest, it is County Road 3 Farmhouse Saison. And it is a saison made out in a farming district. But as it is made by County Road Beer Co. of my wonderful nearby neighbouring wine region, Prince Edward County, I will just call it “3” entirely out of endearment. Careful readers will recall how I visited the site of its brewing almost two years ago just as the concrete for the brew house floor was being poured. For some months now, their saison has appeared in the government store.

You know, it must be horrible to be a saison. Of all the classes of beer, saison is the one which still illustrates the original meaning given to the concept of “style” by Michael Jackson.

There are certain classical examples within each group, and some of these have given rise to generally-accepted styles, whether regional or international. If a brewer specifically has the intention of reproducing a classical beer, then he is working within a style. If his beer merely bears a general similarity to others, then it may be regarded as being of their type…

Saison sits weighed under by the classic example, Saison DuPont. Cursed by it. Blessed by it. Luckily I have my New Years Eve 2005 notes to remind me of the particular tyrannical slavery I must subsume myself, my experience under each and every time I encounter any other beer claiming affiliation to the style:

Saison Dupont: 8 pm. New Years In Scotland has come. Very nice. Rich and round with masses of dry palt malt. Lively antique gold ale under replenishing white foam. Fruitier on the nose than in the mouth. There is a pronounced graininess to the malt with only the slightest nod to pear fruit perhaps. The yeast is slightly soured milky. There is hop which is dry, twiggy or maybe even straw-like because it is not like twigginess of Fuggles, devoid of English green or German steel.

Most importantly, the note is date stamped. This couldn’t have been the 42 year old me’s first Hogmanay drink. Likely already wobbly. Still, it’s interesting that I describe what I wasn’t tasting. Spare, dry stuff saison. Yum.

Saison can be horribly mistreated. Somewhere in the archives I have yet to bring over to this new system, I note that I had a saison which was sweet and fruity. In 2010, I wroteI feel bad about pouring that Three Floyds saison down the drain but it really was poorly thought out…” For me, that is usually the case when saisons go wrong – when many beers go bad, in fact. Blame the original designer. But if saison is hamstrung by the ghost of brewing past, shackled by its own classic example, is it possible that saison designers have less wiggle room? Does this cause the accusations to fly more often? P’raps.

How does this one stand up? It pours an attractive golden pinewood with orange hues. Clouded and effervescent. All under a growing stiff egg white head. It gives off aromas of bubblegum, white grapefruit pith and a bit of dry twiggy herb. Around the gums, the pith and twig come forward with French bread crumb laced with white pepper and a little parsley – then a little tweek of orange, a heart of cream of wheat, a nod to honey and dry lavender in the finish.

What is not to like? Only two BAers, one unhappy. Sadly style foolish as so many are.

That Musty Box Of Fuller’s Vintage Ales

First conclusion of the experiment: the boxes are far less mould caked
when not left in a corner of a cold room for a decade.

OK, it wasn’t so bad. I was worried there for a bit but its gonna be OK. Turns out I have doubles. I have leeway. But, come to think of it, this box holds ten years of Fuller’s Vintage Ales, 2007 to 2016 and it’s high time I tucked into them. First, I bought them and tucked in right away. Later, I would do some comparing and contrasting, like the .05 v .10 and the ’06 v ’11 but I didn’t keep it up. I just stock piled.

I used to stockpile. Like those Stone Vertical Epic Ale annual releases. Like the Thomas Hardy ales. I ended up giving away Stone’s 05-05-05 to 12-12-12 more out of a sense of boredom than anything. By the end of the project it was a parody of itself. Reports were that a third were great, a third were fine and a few plain sucked. Such is the path of big US craft. Yet, they gave more joy to those gifted than my THA’s are given me now. Yik. Malt reduced to soy sauce. Hops now only offering the residue left after I boiled down my childhood ’45s. So glad I saved them. So, tonight I begin my attack the box at the back of the cellar.

First up and this Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2015 is not giving me the joy. There’s an astringent green vegetable taste in the middle of my pint where, you know, rosy cheeked English youth gathering in autumn’s harvest should be gamboling… cavorting even. But it’s clear and the colour of a love match between a lump of amber and a chestnut – which I will grant you is a bit of a range. And it raises a good head. As ale it is not fouled. BAer review speak of a wooden bitterness. I get that.  Don’t want it. But I get it. Yet… as it sits it moves from astringent green vegetable to astringent exotic orange-like citrus fruit you couldn’t pronounce but thought you would buy anyway because “hey, it’s Christmas!” and then you find it dried out a bit at the back of the shelf weeks later, closer to February than December. Which is better. I now get some husky grain. I can even see Seville marmalade from here. Even if made by my cray cray great-aunt well past her marmalade glory days. Household helpful hint: open this and let it breath for an hour.

I had to wash both bottles of the 2014. The first one I pulled out was stored upside down and it’s showing a need to sit for a bit. Cloudy. And both have stage one designate substance issues on the box and label. In the mouth, again with the musty staleness. Gonna let it sit a bit but at least its not paying homage to a green pepper. Later. Better. Still maybe infanticide as the flavours have not resolved. There is a hay loft grainy dry as well as a a rich earthiness. If my garden compost tasted like this I’d be ecstatic. Thinking about it, Gouda and mushrooms on toast. That would work well with this. Later still, the narrative is adds a dry stone aspect. I am now walking on a path on a hot day through rocky fields like those in our nearby fine wine region.  The hops after an hour have a rich sweet field herb and mint aspect. I once owned a scythe and an acre garden needing tending. This is taking me back there.

[More later. An on-going project… until it’s all gone.]

A few days later, the 2013. Bottle washed and cap popped. Cold. Canadian cellar in February cold. Gotta let it sit but the first sniff and sip are promising. Cream, grain and rich sweetness.  Unlike its two juniors, nothing off yet. Receding beef brothiness shifting towards sweet stewed apple. But mainly a mouthful of husky graininess. And cream. Brie cream, though. The cream made by the Brie cows. There’s something going on there. A Brie thing. Brie-like. Maybe. Thick viscous stuff. But no earthy brooding and nothing like Seville marmalade. Fresh and open an hour later. A lovely beer.

One more week has passed. The 2012 just opened had a far less challenging bottle. Cold from the final few boxes in the beer cellar it is stunning, exemplifying what I absolutely love about great beers. Masses of cream cut orange marmalade.  I curse 49 year old me for not buying cases and cases of this. Kumquat even. I say that as a man who just this very afternoon roasted two chickens stuffed with kumquats. Just saying. Go eat kumquats if you don’t understand. Tangy, fresh, intense, bright citrus. I am pouring half an inch at a time into a dimpled pint mug and ramming my nose in, sucking the aroma in deeply.  [That, by the way, is how to drink fine beer according to me.] As it warms, the graininess starts to assert itself. So now it is like wholewheat bread with a double cream and marmalade spread. I should be graphing this, with different brightly colour lines tracing the taste every fifteen minutes. I am going to leave it there. I am having a moment. OK… ten minutes later weedy herbal notes as well as a nod to beef broth come out. Stunning.

Now That It’s Summer Do I Want Gin Or Beer… Or?

yard2016This is the sort of problem I have in summer. Which is another way of saying I have no problems. Summer in the yard. Digging slightly pointlessly until drenched with sweat. Watching the teens push the mower from the prospect of that chair and that shade. What to drink?

I am happy to say I have two local gins in the cabinet – or as local as you get in Canada. One speaks of Quebec’s Arctic with herbs north of the tree line. The other reeks of Ontario’s middle, the bush of the Shield. I don’t expect them to disappear soon as I rarely have a second. It’s not that I suffer but I do find satisfaction fairly rapidly returned from a well placed G+T. I also make sure I have a reasonable utility gin in the cupboard, something with sufficient colonial branding, to ensure the good stuff isn’t wasted on me by me. Gins. Or rather a gin.

Other than one gin what plays upon the mind as the bus trundles homeward? Riesling and Vinho Verde. Two wines that make every other white feel bloated and weighty. Each are madly underpriced, too. Each balances brightness and fruit. And each comes in at the lower end of the alcohol scale. 8.95$ x 8.95% is an attractive Portuguese proposition. Conversely, good Riesling is a very local proposition for me. This 2014 by nearby Sugarbush is a bigger take at 12.5%. From Hillier in Prince Edward Co., it’s full of the rich cream the loam provides. Lightly lemoned sweetened cream. Farmsworth? Limestone shards like those in fields I walked out into last year. Wine from a field and a year.

What of beer? Tenacity pale ale by Ottawa’s Tooth and Nail is as herbal as gin but with none of the levity. It’s a lovely ale. Plenty of graininess standing up against the comforting weedy bitterness. Deep oranged gold, maybe it simply speaks of twelve weeks from now. The season of mellow fruitfulness. Does any beer match the audacity of an unadorned early leaf of lettuce? None. Wine wins every time. But maybe it’s a campfire beer, an Algonquin beer? Perhaps I am too urban… or, rather, suburban. Last night I wasn’t. I was out there, where highway 38 meets 7. Surrounded by mosquitos and haunted by distant calling loons watching the eldest play softball against the league’s Near North team. It would have fit in there well, near where seed aspires to sausage. Really.

Still Off, Five Wineries, A Flag And A New Brewery

pec1See that there? That’s a bit of a winery with a brewery popping up rapidly behind it. I raced through the east end of nearby Prince Edward County again today as I was getting itchy feet on day four of this week off. Itchy feet from reading all of Stonch’s posts about a Londoner’s country hiking lifestyle, wandering from pub to pub and glass to glass. Well, that sort of thing doesn’t happen much around here but, as he was giving me the gears over this and that on the chat app yesterday, I decided to do the next best thing and head to our nearest neighbouring grape growing region. And I found a new brewery in the works or at least a roof four walls and a newly poured concrete floor for County Road Beer Co., an offshoot of the makers of pretty grand sparkling wines, Hinterland. More in a bit about that but first a little history.

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As I mentioned the other day and Craig set out in more detail in a press release today, in one month’s time there is a recreation of the sorts of beer that may have been familiar to combatants on both sides of the American Revolution on the central New York Frontier. And I have one job – get a flag. As you can see from the historic plaques, they take this flag thing serious in Loyalist-settled country. Just as the other side did after the war and the re-settlements, they had to recreate their lives anew. Farms were cut out of forests. Mills were built to service villages with names of the towns, like Cherry Valley, from which their ancestors fled in the 1770s and ’80s. I took that photo of the sign standing by the side of Schoharie Road. These days the flag is everywhere. A bit surprising that it is. When I went into a hardware store and asked if they had the old version of the Union Flag, they said no. Then the old guy at the counter added “we do have the Loyalist flag” which, when they checked, was the old version of the Union Flag. Within seven seconds of my explanation – about when I mentioned 1606 – eyes were glazed and mouths even smirked. I shut up and took the flag to the check out. “That will be $75.” Not a chance. I put it back and walked away.

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I was actually more interested in the fruit of the lands than the damn flag anyway. As Jordan described in one of his bits in Ontario Beer, Prince Edward County was a hot bed of barley sales to nearby northern New York from the US Civil War until a tariff was slapped on the trade in the 1890s. Be sure not to say good things about President McKinley next time you visit. Anyway, the fields are all there now diversified into hay, corn, soybean as well as more and more grape vines. I got out of the car and onto the land and you could see why. Amongst the old cedar rail fences, the soil in the fields was rocky as anything. Chunks and sherds of limestone everywhere, just the sort of thing grapes love.

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After first doing a gravel doughnut in the parking lot of Barley Days to read a sign that said the retail shop was shut, I aimed the old van at the Greer Road all the way over at the west side of the County. I picked up a rose, Riesling and Bordeaux red blend at Rosehall Run as well as some Black River cheese curd, one of the greatest things ever to come out of a cow. Across the road and about 500 yards to the east, I stopped at Norman Hardie for another Riesling and a Pinot Noir. I talked with Johannes Braun, the winery’s operations manager, for 20 minutes about the season, his love of beer and how he makes 100 loaves of bread most Saturdays on top of everything else it does. Hit wineries in April on a Thursday and you get to chat. And he mentioned that Hinterland was setting up a brewery, told me to stop in.

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Next, I headed to Karlo Estates where I was again the only customer in view. Bought another Riesling as well as another Bordeaux red blend. The very helpful staff person in the re-purposed barn mentioned that Hinterland was setting up a brewery, told me to stop in. So, I thought, I better go to Hinterland which I now understood was setting up a brewery. When I go there it was a crowd of one at the tasting room and I had a couple of short sips of their bubble before buying a couple of versions. As I was about to go, a guy walks in and I mention something about plans for a brewery. Mark Andrewsky stuck out his hand and we talked for half an hour about what was going to be brewed as a guy worked on the concrete floor of the new building next to the re-purposed old barn. Local, local, local. The family behind the winery had connections to grain farmers, there was a hop farm down the road – Fronterra Farm – and a new maltster coming on line an hour’s drive north. Stan would be pleased. Like with MacKinnon Brothers of the Loyalists of Bath and Church-Key farther north, one county over to the east, this is arguably looking a bit like beer with terrior. Mark mentioned maybe a 4% saison and how he had an excellent chance of laying his hands on a barrel or two for some aging experiments. Before heading away, I stopped at Closson Chase for a couple more Pinot Noirs. It’s also just around the corner.

The curd was gone by then. Time to head back to the ferry and then on home. An hour each way. Unless you get to the ferry just as its pulling out like I did. Twice. I try to make it at least once a year but with the promise of beer and now 45 wineries it’ll likely be sooner. And if they figure out how to build a hotel or even a decent motel or two around there it might even not be a day trip. The flag? I am checking the internet.

Not Beer: Dr. Konstantin Frank, Pinot Noir 2010

flwine1I don’t always drink wine but when I do I like the good local stuff… or maybe something from the Mosel. Or maybe a nice grenache. I was thinking yesterday when I was looking at the fantastic selection of Finger Lakes wines at Triphammer Wines at the north end of Ithaca, NY that if you are going to say stuff like beer is more versatile, complex or varied than wine, well, you had better have downed a good lot of both to justify your argument. I don’t believe any of it myself. Both are wonderful and awful and everything in between.

Dr. Frank is the old hand, a pioneer in growing European grapes in northeastern North America. The Finger Lakes wines are comparable to those of Ontario’s Prince Edward County near where I live. They are a couple hundred km due south but the local climate is not so affected by their smaller lakes. On price point, this Pinot is just over half the retail of a Norman Hardie from PEC. It would be good to do a side by side. No need for a tasting note for this wine other than to mention balance, age worth tannin and a strong berry core.

Like the hotel decor? I am showing you the nicest bit. Unlike the wine, low cost and grinder charm is the best you might suggest. The Utica Club of places to stay.

Not Beer: Racing Around PEC And Buying Stuff

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Another great day in the nearby setting of Prince Edward County. We left the house around 10:30 am and returned at seven having hit a cidery, four wineries, a cheese maker, two beaches as well as a BBQ smoke house on the way home. Highlight? I ate goat milk strawberry ice cream with chèvre chunks built right in. Less buy in on that treat with the older kids but the six year old gulped it back happily. Family: those who scorn your habits… with the evidence to back it up.

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Needless to say the stash is tightly packed. I dropped into Devil’s Wishbone at the north-east of the county again, this time for a couple of their Rieslings and a 2010 Pinot Noir. The vines above are the same ones seen nicely sleeping last January. After dropping the others at Wellington Beach, I bombed through what might just be the greatest trio of wineries up a back road in Ontario. First up 2.5 km out of the village was Karlo Estates, new to me but immediately exuding a welcoming comfort in the re-purposed barn. I found a straight up petite verdot called 5th Element, a Bordeaux inspired blend name of Quintus as well as their 2010 Pinot Noir.

pecjuly1Sooner or later I am having a Pinor Noir fest in the back yard. Chatted a bit and learned that their Riesling is made withe grapes from Devil’s wishbone. Best in the area I was told. Next, I got on to the Chase Road and headed north. I wanted to visit Lacey Estates for their Gewurztraminer as well as another Pinot Noir. Had a quick chat with an owner and the wine maker. I was on the clock but very cheery folk. Last, the most excellently named Closson Chase which sits at, you know, the corner of Closson and Chase roads where I picked up a couple of their County grown Chardonnay as well as, yes, a Pinot Noir called Assemblage. More Pinot Noir.

Living so near hitting the County hard at least a couple of times a year is becoming a habit. Most of today’s finds will sleep for months and maybe years for big dinners and family gatherings. Took a heard look at a lot of small older back road farmhouses along the way. Could do worse than a cottage in wine country.

Photos By Winemakers Fighting Mid-May Frost

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Some amazing photos came out of last night’s efforts in nearby Prince Edward County with the risk to early tendrils which will, with luck and skill, become the vines that make the grapes that make the wine. The photos above are from a collection posted on Facebook by Norman Hardie, makers of excellent pinot noir loved by Joe Beef which means likely enjoyed, in turn, by Mr. Bourdain. And me, of course. Three degrees of vineous bacon… or beef… or something. Below is a shot posted on twitter by Harwood Estate in the western end of the county.

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What is going on? Bales of hay are lit when the temperature sneaks down towards freezing in the spring when the buds have just opened or in the fall when the grapes are just about right. The smudgy smoke takes advantage of an inversion layer holding just enough warmth to push up against the dropping cold. I think. See, I learn about stuff like this from the internets. If twitter is to be believed, success all around on the ground with the cold beaten off.

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Wine’s The Real Challenge For Good Beer, Not MacroGak

As you know, I have been writing a bit about wine here because I am thinking about and drinking a bit of the fluids of nearby Prince Edward County. News today from those last few staff at Statistics Canada who have not met the wrath of our rural overlords indicates I might not be alone:

For some, beer is as Canadian as the Maple Leaf, and anything less would be downright unpatriotic. But, new statistics show, a nation of beer drinkers are increasingly switching from hops to grapes. “Despite the small increase in beer sales, both in terms of volume and dollar value, the market share dominance of beer continued to decline as consumers turned more to wine,” Statistics Canada said today, referring to numbers that are now a year out of date, but still show how tastes continue to change. “In 2002, beer had a market share of 50 per cent by dollar value, while wine had 24 per cent,” the agency said in an annual report on alcoholic beverages. “By 2012, the market share for beer had declined to 44 per cent, while wine accounted for 31 per cent.”

Notice the underlying factor, however, as this statistic is by dollar value. We are as a nation spending more on wine. We may well not be buying or drinking more wine but we likely are. Buying better, too… or at lease more expensive. Plus we are buying what is becoming fairly common around us, good local wine. Yet, we buy and make beer and spirits, too. We are polyboires, we Canadians, as the original StatsCan report explains.

My near western neighbour, Prince Edward County, here by the northeast corner of Lake Ontario provides only a small bit of Ontario’s and Canada’s overall wine production. Recently, I received samples of a number of Diamond Estates wines from Niagara, the better known wine region to the southwest of the same Great Lake. Because it is wine, it’s a bit hard to get a handle on what to make of even such a selection let alone place them in the context. I’ll mention two. I shared the EastDell Gamay Noir and, again, were pleased with the quality – especially the characteristics of the grape as grown in Ontario soils. I am not sure I would trust a wine at that price point to be as dependable were it European or South American. I unexpectedly liked a light bodied white wine, Birchwood Fresh Gewurztraminer / Riesling, even though it it is a modestly priced blend but, then, was a challenged by the implications. But that’s the thing, isn’t it. See, for me, unlike beer, taking into account all the challenges posed by nation, region, vintage, grape variety, blends, sometimes actual terrior and bottle variation – not to mention price point and vintner’s intention – the variables are simply more complex as a whole than good beer. I don’t know how to get my arms around the body of data presented to me by wine. So I focus on zones. I buy red wines from the Côtes du Rhône and Rieslings from the Mosel – Ürzigers if I can find them. And, lucky for me, I also buy local wines from nearer and often – but not always – more affordable zones.

I know, I know. Your a beer geek and you’ve been told that beer goes with more things and is more complex. You even believe beer goes with chocolate better, never having had even a reasonable port. But the saddest truth is these sorts of arguments makes a little sense. Good beer is wonderful and so is wine. So’s gin, for that matter. But learning about beer is a fairly straight forward or maybe just relatively straight forward matter, not even considering all the misdirection from above and its own inherent multi-faceted nature. You read 20 beer books these days and, be honest, you come away with the sense you’ve maybe read six. I read any book in the Faber series on wine, for example, and I am boggled by the sheer volume of data. 475 Beers to Try Before You Die? What about facing 2575 wines of the Côte de Beaune in a lifetime, a stretch of land in one French valley of maybe 5 by 20 miles.

What to do with this as a beer nerd wanting to start learning about wine? Start. Same goes for teas or cheeses for that matter. Take the chip off the shoulder if it’s there and start trying them. Start trying to figure them out and realize as you do that you will likely never master the stuff. You’ll never get a glimpse of the borders of the topic for that matter. But that is OK. You’ve never have a beer from all the US craft brewers either. Will anyone? Who cares.

Not Beer: Zero de Gris 2009, Huff Estates, PEC

zdgh1I was going to post about tea. I have been drinking a lot of tea lately. Good tea. Good tea is one of the least expensive good things going. Even at $35, per portion so might be a sweet wine like this bottle I picked up last summer at the winery on one of our ice cream, beach and cheese curd jaunts into Prince Edward County. A half bottle like this can easily be shared at dessert or after with six or eight. And you might open one once every couple of months, right? So, OK, not quite great tea value but often a well placed addition to the end of a holiday meal like the one shared today.

Zero de Gris is made with all Frontenac Gris picked late but short of forming noble rot or freezing. As flavour packed as I would have hoped, there’s honey and apricots on the nose. You can smell it with the glass sitting there on the side table. There’s more in there as well. Fresh lemon, white grapefruit, honey and something thicker, earthy – maybe melon or beeswax? A small sip gives you tangerine, lemon juice, honey in a sharp acidity framing a sweet hefty mouth feel. The finish is light and grapefruit clean with a lasting nod to that beeswax note.

We had this with a lemon curd cream cake. It would likely go well with just spoonfuls of thick cream and a couple dozen butter cookies if that were your thing, too. Light at 9.5% and enough sugar that the bottle’s drip leaves the neck sticky. Probably infanticide at three and a half years old. An award winner for Canadian late harvest wines in 2011.

Not Beer: Pinot Noir 2009, Grange, Closson Road, PEC

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I didn’t buy this when we visited The Grange of Prince Edward County last August but maybe I should have. Found a bottle on a low shelf at the local government store. I sorta realized I had not been paying attention to this grape. I’ve probably been in a Côtes du Rhône rut now that I think of it. You know what that’s like. So, I have been picking up bottles from a few regions where Pinot Noir is grown when I see a reasonable price. Like this one. The Grange appears to have six different vineyards totaling around 60 acres. Half the vineyards have Pinot Noir. The are located just south of the lake in the middle of Hillier township on this Victorian map, right by old Sam Trumpour’s place. Lord Goog has the location, too.

grange2I made a white bean and sausage stew in the slow cooker to go a long with this wine for tonight’s family gathering. I threw in dried mushroom and celery root along with a good slug of a Niagara red blend. Earthy. Hopefully. Not sure if Pinot Noir earthy bears any relation to biere de garde earthy. Not sure I’ve thought about cross-referencing adjective from wine to beer at all, come to think of it. Whatever earthy means in relation to this bottle, it is defined by the Hillier Clay Loam that you can read all about at page 58 of this 1948 Government of Canada report on the soils of Prince Edward County. It’s all about the dirt.

I took this advice and opened the bottle this morning. In the glass, the wine glows dark cherry red and gives off aromas like barky spices, alcohol, earthy berry… maybe red current? I agree with the idea of tastes of cherry and cranberry from this review but might add a little wintergreen and maybe strawberry as well. Some astringency from black tea tannins in the middle open to woodsy berry fruit at the end. Not the big and slap on the back wine like a lot of the Cabs, Merlot or Shiraz. A quieter drink.

Did I like it? Well, on the way come from dropping off the guest scurrying to get home before Earth Hour, I bought another. Stick it away for a bit to see what becomes of it. And, as we are not drinkers from fishbowls, half of this bottle is still around for leftovers tomorrow. And at well under $20 a good introduction to Prince Edward County Pinot Noirs.