WineAlign Welcomes DJ Kearney of Vancouver
As our presence steadily expands in British Columbia we have invited DJ Kearney to join our growing roster of wine professionals who will add their reviews to the database and contribute articles. We asked DJ to introduce herself and her views on wine writing and education as she starts to add her reviews to the WineAlign site.
My name is DJ Kearney and I’ve been drinking heavily since the age of five. Well maybe not exactly heavily until the age of 12, but my interest in wine was certainly piqued by the age of five as I sniffed and sipped my mother’s quotidien glass of pre-dinner sherry. She blended the perfect level of bare sweetness from her solera (nothing more high-falutin than the heels of bottles kicking about) and sipped it out of a beautiful hand blown amontillado-coloured wine glass. Those tangy savoury aromas and the strange nutty salty flavours had me transfixed as a child. As did the dregs in my father’s beer bottles (Toby stubbies) until I got a mouthful of cigarette butt once, but man oh man did I like beer then… and now I love it as much as wine (and gin, and whiskey).
I was born with cursedly acute senses. I could barely handle the dank and musty odour of the ancient army issue tent (borrowed by my geophysicist father from the Geology department) we camped in every summer throughout New England. Each morning I would bolt from the tent pinching my nose in sensory misery. Like many wine tasters, I was a horribly fussy child. I picked at my food, gagged whenever there was a faint distasteful smell and hated anything bitter. It’s actually a common theme amongst wine tasters: a hyper-sensitivity to smell and taste that’s a burden as a youngster but can become an advantage in this wine world. As I’ve grown up, my tastes have broadened enormously and now there is truly nothing that I do not love to eat (well maybe not – there is still poorly prepared eggplant) and I’m nuts for most smells in life.
I started my adult life far from the world of wine, only angling into it via rocks and food. Geology was a childhood interest, absorbed from my father and those many trips to the Canadian Shield, the Appalachian Mountain Range, the Burgess Shale, the Devonian limestone of the Finger Lakes – I knew those morphologies as only a rock-nerd kid ever could. Later in my teens food became a focus. My mother, by virtue of being English was a wretched and disinterested cook and I learned to cook out of self defense. At a Greek restaurant on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue at about the age of 12, I discovered that food could actually taste delicious. That was it for me – the grenade detonated in my world and off to the library I went chasing recipes. I landed my first job as a young teen baking dozens of scones for a small restaurant on the weekends. I catered my way through university and years later gave in to the siren call of gastronomy and finally enrolled in chef school. In between was a degree centred on geology, human evolution and archeology, a stint living in Amman, Jordan (that’s for another story), and a short time in TV production, fashion and private chefing. Then my paths crossed with the Mark Davidson and Park Heffelfinger church of wine education in Vancouver and I dove in with both feet. Then threads of all my interests (rocks, food, writing and then wine) began to weave together in a satisfying tapestry that is my life now. The bottles that really got me going 15 years before any formal wine training? A seriously mature Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Rioja that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and a bewitching Vernay Condrieu.
What do I care most about in wine? Many things, but most of all I care about being useful to wine drinkers. I’m not in the demystifier camp – I feel that wine deserves its rich complexities and that’s what engages me most as a wine lover. Wine can and should be written and talked about in simple terms with zero pretension and ego – wine assuredly demands and deserves nothing less. I think about wine within the context of food and can’t help recommending dishes to enjoy with most bottles that I review.
I care about esoteric as well as mainstream wines and will write about the greatest variety that I can manage. Wine’s greatest strength is its diversity and this is a thrilling time to be a wine lover. I want people to try wine from Georgia, Hungary, Mexico and Israel as much as loyally supporting the charmers from BC, Ontario, and our neighbours in the Pacific Northwest and California. I care about whacky grapes like Plyto, Jufark, Olazrielsing, Kekfrancos and Magliocco and my fave mainstream grapes are Chenin, Chardonnay, Cab Franc, Grenache and Syrah. I’m an acid head and adore juicy, tart, mouth-drenching reds and whites. And did I mention Champagne? There are several hours in the day when I care for nothing but Champagne – especially if it is from a small grower. Then there is rosé – which I may care more about then life itself. Any hue, any grape, any weight, body or sweetness level, I’ll try it. I care deeply about volcanoes (like my great pal and fellow critic John Szabo) and wines that emerge from infertile, vulcan soils. I adore wines from the high mountains, arid deserts and watery regions. I’ll write about all these topics that stir me over the coming months. The wines of BC will naturally be a fond and significant focus.
I hope to give readers the confidence to celebrate the efforts of natural and biodynamic winemakers too. And I especially want to single out and support those growing grapes and making wine that express a sense of place and purpose – and the stories that add to the ways that we can understand, appreciate, and love the most miraculous of all beverages.
Here are a few of DJ Kearney’s current reviews. For a complete list, visit her Critic Profile page on WineAlign: DJ Kearney
Telavi Wine Cellar Marani Mtsvane, Georgia, $13.90 – When is the last time you had a wine from Georgia? Not the American southern state, but the Eastern European country, where archaeological discoveries confirm that wine has been produced here for 8,000 years. What’s old is new again and this characterful white will increase your wine IQ for a mere $13.90. The grape is a native Georgian grape, Mtsvane (say Mitts-vah-nay) and the word means ‘new, young and green’. Earthy, savoury and slightly nutty (think of a decent, dry Soave), this wine has bright acidity, nice botanical flavours and a dry, grippy finish. Classic old-world white wine, it will pair well with a simple fuss-free dinner of roast chicken dinner with a Georgian walnut sauce called ‘Satsivi’, which blends nuts, cinnamon, saffron, chili, fried garlic, onions and stock.
Joie Farm ‘En Famille’ Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, British Columbia, $ 39.90 – Triple vineyard sourced reserve Pinot Noir has a perfumed and restrained pinot nose that’s half fruit and half all the earthy things we seek in pinot like tea leaves, violets, game birds, and carcuterie. Crunchy red currant and ripe raspberry fruit is the focus of the palate with fresh and brisk acidity. Mid-weight with slightly grippy tannins, nuanced oak and a long herbal finish. Wonderful ripeness and balance achieved in a tricky vintage. I can see some delightful funk developing in a few years.
Falernia Reserva Syrah 2009, Chile, $17.95 – This wine is a marvel for many reasons. It’s from the fringes of viticulture in northern Chile from vines that grow around 2,000 metres on cobbly soils and extreme climate conditions. It’s made by a terrific winemaker, Georgio Flessati and he lets the region speak loudly in this syrah. Crimson black, the nose shows brambly fruit, cracked peppercorn, smoky sausage, and undeniably stoney minerals. The concentration is admirable, the tannins are ripely firm and acid and fruit are in bracing balance. Aged in a combo of French and American casks for just 5 months, the oak supports the fruit subtily. A long finish shows off the impressive architecture in this cool climate syrah and a grilled venison chop rubbed with juniper is a worthy partner.
Quails’ Gate Chenin Blanc 2012, British Columbia, $18.99 – Chenin is amongst my most favourite grapes and I always anticipate tasting the new vintage from Quails’ Gate. This edition is an honourable BC version showing apple and melon fruit, Okanagan sage and touch of wool. Chenin’s trademark lanoline and racy acidity make for a juicy, textured palate finishing on citrus pith and stonefruit. A touch of sauvignon blanc and a tiny portion of used barrel fermentation adds weight in interest. Enjoy with simple chicken salad or light pasta with grilled veg.