Sunday, 19 March 2017

Enotecca’s Prudent Evolution

I recently enjoyed the valuable opportunity to visit the head office of two of my favourite and most respected wineries, and sample several brand-new releases. Enotecca Wineries is the parent company of both LaStella and Le Vieux Pin, Italian- and French-inspired wineries in Osoyoos and Oliver respectively. The two wineries share key staff, including highly talented Winemaker and Viticulturist Severine Pinte, who emigrated to Canada in 2010 after extensive education in France, and many years of international experience. Severine is now a Managing Partner, alongside Sales & Marketing Director Rasoul Salehi, who was eager to share with me the near-perfect 2016 vintage.

LaStella 2014 Espressivo

Although Rasoul hinted that a few new and upcoming reds from recent vintages were available, the focus was on the brand new 2016 whites and Rosés from both wineries. It is broadly acknowledged, and emphasized by Rasoul, that 2016 was a particularly excellent vintage – in his opinion the best since 2011. (Although thought of as cool, 2011 yielded beautifully-focused, elegant wines, as my own experience has born out.) For the varieties and styles aimed for at both LaStella and Le Vieux Pin, 2016 offered an ideal long, consistent, and moderate growing season without the overly high heat of recent years. As the most youthful whites trickle into the market these past couple of months, consumers are getting a chance to experience the quality on hand.

LaStella’s musically-named wines include a pair of crisp, dry whites in the form of “Leggiero” In-Oaked Chardonnay and “Vivace” Pinot Grigio, both echoing the style of northern Italy. Fresh out of the gate they are exactly that – fresh – with bountiful fruit presence and balanced by precise acidity, and deliciously moderate alcohol (e.g., 12-13% was typical for all whites, despite fermentation to dryness). Incorporating fruit from a newly acquired Golden Mile vineyard with old vines Chardonnay, Leggiero 2016 offers bright green apples and sourdough bread with lip-smacking minerality. Immediately expressive on the nose, with a basket of green and pink citrus fruit, Vivace 2016 is equally juicy, with a “chiselled” fruit cocktail palate of which LaStella is rightfully proud – it is a notably different beast than the lusher stone fruit of many BC Pinot Gris.

Avoiding overlap, Le Vieux Pin’s portfolio includes a long-time fan-favourite Sauvignon Blanc, harvested spectacularly early in 2016 by mid-August, to yield just 12% alcohol. First impression makes it clear this is not a standard simple sipper, if the $30 price tag wasn’t evidence enough; it is a complex, food-focused wine sparking thoughtful contemplation. I was struck by the nose of Guava and rich tropical fruit, showing little grassiness beyond some light herbaceous notes. The clean and fresh citrus palate was terrifically long-lasting, with enjoyable subtleties changing alongside the temperature. Just as distinct is LaStella’s fun-loving Moscato D’Osoyoos, where 44 g/L of sugar in 2016 is well balanced and pumped up by enthusiastic effervescence. I have no doubt that all 800 cases of this perfect breakfast wine will sell out once again, as the gorgeous musk melon nose and peach palate gain it even further fans.

With Spring well on its way wine fans are fortunate both wineries long ago embraced Rosé, offering opportunity to love either iteration. I have long-favoured Le Vieux Pin’s “Vaïla” Pinot Noir, but was surprised to lean for LaStella in short order. The 2016 “LaStellina” Rosé is much lighter in colour than previous iterations, entering with a traditional off-dry palate but finishing surprisingly dry (just 5 g/L is paired with 12.9% alcohol). Two thirds Cabernet Franc shows off red fruit and forest floor, while Merlot and 4% Sangiovese offer additional complexity to the silky palate. In contrast, Vaïla’s pure Pinot expression is bone dry as usual, lightly pinked and delicately creamy from time on the gross lees. Its rhubarb and rose petal profile comes in a close second to LaStellina this year, but I have no qualms about my inevitable purchase of both bottles.

Warmer weather welcomes reds as well as whites, and it is here that some very calculated growth is taking place. Neither winery has been focused on expansion, as the goal has always been to produce the best possible wine, but in doing so there can be germination of new opportunities. A few years back Le Vieux Pin’s renowned Syrah selection birthed the accessible Cuvée Violette, aggressively priced to become a restaurant favourite in no time. After some months without stock, merchants and customers must be relieved to see the newly released 2015 vintage, and should be quite satisfied with the big floral, mocha nose, black fruit flavours, and peppered finish from soft, ripe tannins. A generous 1,300 cases are available, and plans for larger releases to come are in place once the new Golden Mile vineyard comes on stream.

As Le Vieux Pin further cultivates Syrah, LaStella is shepherding small plantings of Sangiovese towards greatness. I was lucky enough to get an early taste of the 2014 “Arioso” Sangiovese, already oozing appeal with a ripe and ravishing nose. One experimental barrel in 2012 has yielded to a relative boom of 106 cases from 2014, set for release towards the end of 2018 in all likelihood. The newest Fortissimo, an existing Super Tuscan blend, deftly incorporates 11% Sangiovese alongside a quarter of Cabernets and nearly two thirds Merlot as 1,711 cases of 2015 are now available. Even more exciting, new sibling “Espressivo” will soon arrive to provide complement from 2014 with 55% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 5% Sangiovese. Although only 123 cases of the inaugural release have been produced, gradual growth is hoped for, offering a darker, spicier partner to Fortissimo’s lush earthy berries.

My visit concluded with an extra treat thanks to the always-impressive Coravin, with which Rasoul was able to offer tastes of the 2006 and 2008 Allegretto Merlot. Having over a decade behind it, 2006 was unnervingly smooth, with continuing complexity of forest floor, black olives, and leather. There were in fact still some tannins lurking in 2008, but the ripe and mouth-filling palate was going strong, showing rich fruit with a coffee-flavoured, meaty undercurrent. As both wineries enter their second decades, I look forward to seeing similar iterations of Espressivo, Arioso (and all the other superbly crafted reds) in the future. In the meantime, I have plenty of options for my glass this summer.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Curve Ahead: A Beer Post!

I recently had the delightful opportunity to visit Victoria for the closing weekend of Victoria Beer Week, and better yet, it was all complimentary! No, I wasn’t being feted for my tireless work nit-picking BC wine, I quite surprisingly won an online contest. My prize package for two included flights on Harbour Air, two nights in a suite at Swan’s Hotel & Brewpub, and tickets to Friday night and Saturday afternoon events. With my wife’s blessing and encouragement (allowing her to avoid it), I brought along a friend (and home-brewer) much more likely to appreciate the suds.

Co-Producer Joe Wiebe addresses beer fans at The Hudson, while Wandering Mollusk is hard at work

Our Friday afternoon harbour-to-harbour flight from Vancouver gave us a good view of the city we had both called home at one point in the past, with anticipation of visiting some old haunts. The evening welcomed “Friday Night Casks #2”, the sequel to the previous weekend’s opening cask celebration. Expecting traditional oak casks we were pleasantly surprised to see many steel kegs amongst the breweries present in the Victoria Public Market at The Hudson (just one block from my old apartment). Some purists will likely scoff, but I prefer the higher carbonation in kegs over casks.

Fortification courtesy of Saltchuck Pie Company and L'Authentique Poutine & Burger

A monumental two dozen BC craft breweries (and cideries) were present in the cavernous space formerly the ground floor of The Bay department store - now remade into a striking market for local food and goods vendors. Armed with tasting tokens we set out to find the most exciting rarities and experiments to be had. Our high expectations were easily met with a great many extremely creative brews; some of my favourites incorporated exciting fruit-forward infusions: Category 12 Danish Blonde with Cucumber & Lime, Coal Harbour Sunrise Gose with Apricots, Lighthouse Perfect Storm Grand Marnier Citrus Ale, Steamworks Flagship IPA with Mango, and Yellow Dog High 5 Hazy IPA with Pineapple. Even host Swans had joined the infusion action by adding Apricots and Roasted Habanero to their heritage Scotch Ale “Regal Standard” to give it a memorable spicy kick!

Excitement to be had from Powell Street and Twin Sails, among many others

Sleeping off the many hard-to-miss brews, plus a hearty brunch at John’s Place, fortified us for Saturday’s new release celebration “Lift Off!” Under some daunting clouds outdoors in Centennial Square a dozen brand new beers were being sampled for the first time - and in gratitude the sun eventually emerged. Mindful of the job ahead of us we set out to sample each and every one in the lengthy afternoon allowance (1-6pm). All the beers will eventually find their way to taps and bottles in the near future, but it was a priceless opportunity to preview those we hope to be drinking this summer. Powell Street’s “Ode to Wallflower” Gin Barrel-aged Citra Pale Ale was one such delicious drink, a “hyper-local” collaboration between the brewery and neighbouring Odd Society Spirits. Equally striking, in a whole other direction was Twin Sails’ stunning Blonde Stout, conditioned on coffee, cocoa, vanilla, and toasted coconut to leave a major impression. I was further engaged by crisp hops in Yellow Dog’s tart Domesticated Sour Wild IPA, Spinnakers’ refreshing “Juice Monkey” IPA, and 4 Mile’s terrifically tropical Mosaic Session IPA. Everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time relishing the early-access VIP treatment at this well organized and smoothly executed exhibition.

The bustling crowd had on-site stores from which to bring home the memories

With Saturday capping the week via the highlight of Lift Off, the evening saw a celebration of the many hard-working organizers, volunteers, and sponsors who made the seemingly flawless festival possible. Back at The Hudson we were honoured to join the revelry, where any leftover kegs and casks were soon helpfully emptied, plus a few special gems saved in anticipation of appreciation. The acknowledgements were well worthy, for events like this - even day-long, not to mention a full week - live and die on the backs of the time volunteered by passionate advocates. Should you find yourself with opportunity to join the fun in subsequent years - as I certainly hope to – keep Victoria Beer Week on your radar!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Collectibles: February 2017

One of the largest gatherings of Canadian wine was shared with lucky locals at this year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival, featuring a national focus to mark our sesquicentennial celebrations. While numerous charming Ontario and Nova Scotia contributions were on hand, the Festival’s on-site BC Liquor Store carried particularly generous reams of rarities and pre-releases from BC’s top wineries. For those looking to jump the line, the Festival offered notable advance purchasing opportunities. I took advantage of the occasion to stock up on some excellent cellar-worthy reds amongst other gems.

February 2017 BC wine collectibles

Liquidity 2014 Estate Pinot Noir: The young Okanagan Falls winery helmed by  experienced cross-Canadian winemaker Alison Moyes produces no less than three Pinot Noir from mature vines in ideal terroir. Five different clones were blended to yield the workhorse version, the only one remaining in stock before release of the 2015 vintage. While small lots of the higher tier Reserve and “Equity” bottlings sold out in short order at least some of the Estate’s 910 cases remain for sale. In spite of what may seem to be an entry-level price point, the wine was one of six BC Pinots to garner Gold at the National Wine Awards last summer. Second only to one (of three) from neighbouring Meyer Family Vineyards, Liquidity’s offering was the best value amongst those top drops, accompanied by a slew of compliments from the judges, including optimism for its aging potential. VIWF BC Liquor Store $30

Van Westen 2015 “VD” Pinot Noir: Since 2011, Naramata’s Robert Van Westen has been producing a collaborative Pinot Noir with industry veteran Tom DiBello. The resulting wine, cheekily named VD, is released annually on Valentine’s Day, and the newest now gives me five vintages merrily aging away. In Rob’s bigger red portfolio the VD is an outlier next to a series of Bordeaux varietals and blends, and always shows up in the smallest numbers: just 86 cases were eventually bottled from the warm 2015 vintage. The bountiful conditions that year have resulted in a more fruit-forward wine than previous iterations, with fewer earthy notes in favour of generous ripe fruit and toasty spice. It remains on the fuller side of Pinots, dark and rich, for fans of a more intense style, but still retains floral aromatics to remind you of its provenance. Winery Direct $40

Foxtrot 2014 Foxtrot Vineyard Pinot Noir: After ten vintages the Allander family’s Burgundian icons have become a benchmark in BC, and the newest release launches their second decade from a position of great strength. John Schreiner’s recent update on the winery’s progress includes extensive coverage of Foxtrot’s growing international presence, and substantial vineyard expansion. The flagship wine in the growing portfolio is the Foxtrot Vineyard Pinot Noir, from the original estate plantings on the Naramata Bench. It should come as no surprise that Winemaker Gustav Allander has continued to work wonders with the exceptional fruit, providing for Schreiner’s easy 93-point score from an elegant and seductive wine that “is appealing to all the senses.” Apart from ordering case lots from the winery (where there is no tasting room), the bottles for sale at the Wine Festival were the best prices in town; lucky shoppers snapped up signed bottles with rapidity. VIWF BC Liquor Store $59

Culmina 2014 Merlot: After the Triggs family’s ambitious new project launched with the 2011 vintage Culmina tripled the red portfolio last year by introducing the first varietal wines to accompany the Hypothesis blend. The second varietal vintages were on hand at this year’s Wine Festival, including new Cabernet Franc, alongside existing Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The 2014 Merlot was the only one actually for sale, but still a lucky break as formal release (and final pricing) is not anticipated until June (to provide for a full year of bottle age). Little surprise it’s still young and tight, but the move towards less new oak as the winery ages is a great thing: last year’s 50% new French is now just 15%, letting the Golden Mile Bench fruit shine even brighter after 16 months in barrel. With anticipated aging of at least several years, I’m holding mine until the twenties. VIWF BC Liquor Store $36

Church & State 2013 Quintessential: The icon wine from Church & State has bounced around vintages lately, and 2010 is in fact the current release, with 2013 anticipated later this year (and 2011 and 2012 sold previously). Vintage variation leads the decision to bottle age as necessary, regardless of envisioned schedule. Finding the pre-release 2013 at the Wine Festival was a perk not to be missed: a taste poured by Marketing Manager John Pullen greatly impressed thanks to robust integration of the complex blend. The Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc came from three distinct south Okanagan vineyard benches (Golden Mile, Black Sage, and Osoyoos East), aged in one third new French oak before 475 cases were bottled. Fans will be glad to know that’s a heck of a lot more than the 100 cases of 2012 that took home a Lieutenant Governor’s Award in 2015. VIWF BC Liquor Store $56

Sandhill 2014 Soon Series Red: I was lucky enough to visit the beautiful, recently-renovated Kelowna tasting room of Sandhill during precisely the right time last July, and snagged the ultra-rare inaugural “Soon Series” wines. A step up from the already exclusive Small Lots series, the Soon Series pay homage to long-time Head Winemaker Howard Soon, whose signature prominently graces the crisp white label. Like last year, a mere 50 cases were made of the second vintage, and it was generously being sampled and sold at the Wine Festival; I was thrilled with the dark berries and chocolate flavours amongst very fine, ripe tannins. The unusual blend includes 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petit Verdot, 8% Malbec, and 5% Merlot, aged in new French and American oak for 22 months after co-fermentation. Currently available and in stock exclusively at the Kelowna tasting room, it doesn’t even appear on the Sandhill website! VIWF BC Liquor Store $69

Culmina 2013 Hypothesis: While the varietal reds at Culmina get a year of bottle age, the blended Hypothesis has at least two years time to contemplate its fate. That being said, Don Triggs didn’t miss the opportunity to submit his third vintage for review just after bottling in 2015, and even that young Hypothesis struck a chord. WineAlign’s top talent thrice provided 91+ point accolades as early as November 2015, praising the depth, balance, and elegance at present despite significant aging potential. Like the Merlot, oak treatment has changed as the winery has more used barrels with which to work: 70% new oak in the second vintage has stepped down to 60% in year three. Eschewing any additional varieties, the blend is a minimalist Bordeaux red, with 38% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Franc, and 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, harvested from the Golden Mile estate. With just a single bottle at hand, I hope to obtain more during the winery’s anticipated fall release later this year; my growing vertical is edging up in size! VIWF BC Liquor Store $44

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Collectibles: January 2017

Although maintaining budgetary restraint before the upcoming Vancouver International Wine Festival – and the acquisition opportunities it offers – is often necessary this month, a few collectibles must be mentioned. Upon review I was very pleased to have amassed a diverse range to launch the year, from Cowichan Valley Pinot Noir to Osoyoos Tannat. Any one of these exceptional wines would keep you warm in the crisp weather that remains in our midst, but could easily handle aging to even further greatness in the years ahead.

January 2017 BC wine collectibles

Carson 2014 Pinot Noir: When he isn’t delivering world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for the Meyer family in Okanagan Falls, Winemaker Chris Carson quietly releases small lots of his own-branded bottles. A mere 295 cases of Naramata Bench Pinot Noir came from a one and a half acre block in 2014, hand harvested and wild fermented before spending 11 months in (one third new) French oak. Carson makes no bones about the wine’s cellaring potential, listing an optimistic 15 years on the label, but he’s built up a lot of trust at Meyer that carries over to the personal brand he started in 2011. The Dijon 115 clone makes for what Anthony Gismondi feels is an “exuberant, fruity, spicy” wine even riper than the superb 2013 I was more than happy to acquire previously. Marquis Wine Cellars $40

Averill Creek 2014 Somenos Series Pinot Noir: It’s no secret Vancouver Island wines are a rarity in retail stores just a few kilometers across the Straight of Georgia. I get few opportunities to add the Island’s top wines to my collection, but jumped at the chance to piggyback on a friend’s case order for this extreme rarity. Already highly respected for his complex and finely crafted Pinot Noir, Proprietor Andy Johnston stepped up his game recently with the new premium-tier Somenos Series. The inaugural Pinot Noir is the Cowichan Valley’s bold, earthy, rich expression of the grape, and a wine Anthony Gismondi puts in contention for the Island’s best Pinot Noir yet. Keep your eyes peeled to see if any of the 300 cases make it over to the mainland. Winery Direct $44

Cassini 2013 Grand Reserve “Nobilus” Merlot: I stopped by Cassini Cellars’ convenient roadside Golden Mile winery late last year just as three new premium reds were released. Despite having closed the tasting room for the season proprietor Adrian Cassini generously took time away from several recently-arrived bins of (immaculate) grapes to ring in my enthusiastic purchase. The Merlot is his smallest lot of the batch, with only 187 cases produced after two years in new French oak, and was named best in class with a Double Gold at the 2016 All Canadian Wine Championships. John Schreiner focused on the new “high calibre” reds in his December review, finding the Merlot worthy of 92 points amid mention of its superb aging potential. Winery Direct $40

Cassini 2013 Collector’s Series Cabernet Franc: The new follow-up to last year’s Lieutenant Governor’s Award-winner has continued the tradition of excellence, taking home a Gold medal from the All Canadians last spring. It’s hard not to be taken in by Liam Carrier’s recent enthusiasm for the “stunningly beautiful” and utterly unique profile that evokes the coasts of California and Australia. Mention of the Cabernet Franc goes hand in hand with the equally superb 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (“The Aristocrat”), bought from the winery at the same time. Last May the 2012 vintage received 94 points and a Best in Class nod from the Los Angeles International Wine Competition; the 2013 is already equally highly regarded: 93 points from John Schreiner parallels Wine of the Year praise from the fans at IconWines. Winery Direct $34

Painted Rock 2014 Red Icon: Although 1,153 cases were ultimately produced of this top tier red from the Skaha Bench, it remains a preeminent collectible alongside other smaller lot rarities. Given the wine’s cachet it can often be just as hard to come by as much more limited bottles, resulting in an early release when the Painted Rock tasting room ran out of 2013! The (thoughtful) roller-coaster blend in Red Icon upped Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon this vintage, to combine 33% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 19% Malbec, 16% Petit Verdot, and (still only) 11% Cabernet Sauvignon. The established oak regime using just 30% new barrels should let the ripe 2014 fruit shine, even over the long haul (where the wine really excels). John Schreiner sought to “stay one step ahead of Decanter” (where Painted Rock’s wines are increasingly reviewed quite favourably) with a taste in September, complimenting the svelte polish with 94 points of praise. Winery Direct $55

Burrowing Owl 2013 Meritage: With the arrival of 2013, the days are numbered for 2007 in my cellar – the old must make way for the new, and a decade is long enough to slumber. Needing room for the newest vintage is great motivation for drinking up its well-aged ancestors. After at least fourteen vintages of Meritage this legendary Black Sage Bench winery is one of the few to retain the trademarked nomenclature for their flagship red. The name is technically accurate, given the blend of 39% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot, and 3% Malbec, so why fix what isn’t broken. The components spent a total of 21 months in barrel (18 separately before blending), ensconced within a complex mix of European and American oaks of various ages. Finding a few bottles at retail level is unusual, but Burrowing Owl seems to be loosening up their notoriously tight grip in favour of greater shelf presence these past couple years. Firefly Fine Wine & Ales $58

Moon Curser 2014 Dead of Night: Chris Tolley’s commitment to – and success with – Tannat has yielded one of BC’s most unusual and desirable wines. Although uncommon varieties are prevalent at the Tolley family’s Osoyoos winery this equal-parts blend of Syrah and Tannat is considered the icon, and well known for its rich intensity. In 2014 the terrific growing season was a boon to heat-loving reds: one of the Tannat lots – a blend of both estate vineyards – came in at nearly 28 brix! After what must have been an exciting fermentation, the components aged in French and Hungarian oak for one year, with just 25% of the barrels being new. Bottled last March at a generous 14.6% declared alcohol (and nearly 3g/L of sugar remaining) it should age wonderfully under screwcap despite the fine and soft tannins said to exist at present. I’m in no rush as the 2009 vintage stares me down from the wine fridge. Winery Direct $43

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Collectibles: December 2016

While my focus over the holiday season was on celebrating with friends and family, I found some time between gift shopping to pick up a few bottles for myself. Upon review, these cellar-worthy wines come from a broad assortment of winegrowers. With everything from Pinot Noir to rare varietal Petit Verdot there’s representation from Kelowna, the Naramata Bench, Golden Mile, Black Sage Bench, Similkameen Valley, and even Lillooet’s Fraser Canyon terroir. Alongside the fantastic cellar selections that emerged over Christmas and beyond, these newcomers ensured BC wine has been a large part of the festivities this month.

December 2016 BC wine collectibles

SpierHead 2015 Cuvée Pinot Noir: Since transitioning from purchased Merlot and Cabernets to a major focus on estate Pinot Noir SpierHead’s premier Cuvée has emerged as the flagship amongst several tiers. The small first lot comprising 100 cases of the best barrels in the cellar brought home Gold from the National Wine Awards, while the recent 2014 was just awarded the coveted Premier’s Medal for top wine at this fall’s BC Wine Awards (after Platinum at the Nationals). Fortunately production is rising as more vineyard blocks come on stream, and 327 cases of the brand new 2015 are available for sale now that the remaining 2014 has vanished in a flash. A complex blend of five clones was aged in French oak for ten months, leading to an intensely flavoured, generously textured wine with great aging potential: John Schreiner’s 93-point review makes a strong case for acquisition if I hadn’t already planned on growing my collection of every vintage. Winery Direct $44

C.C. Jentsch 2014 Syrah: The newest Syrah from senior winegrower and junior winery owner Chris Jentsch is only the third vintage but has significant pedigree already: the initial 2012 went straight to Gold at the National Wine Awards, and then 2013 took a step further to Platinum status. The quick rise to favoured status wasn’t missed by reviewer Treve Ring in her 90-point review this fall. While the first edition included Viognier, last year was straight Syrah; 2014 returns to its roots with a 9% contribution, co-fermented and then aged 16 months before bottling in April. The celebrated grapes come from the Jentsch family’s vineyards on the Black Sage Bench and Golden Mile, where the “crown jewel” Syrah block is found. Winemaker Amber Pratt has praised 2014 as a “dream vintage”, and it’s exciting to see the exceptional fruit from that year being released as finished wines more and more frequently these days. Winery Direct $37

TIME 2013 Syrah: Although the well balanced reds of 2014 are starting to be seen in abundance, the 2013 season was no slouch. Those wineries that have allowed extensive aging in barrel and bottle are still releasing wines from that vintage, and collecting generous accolades to boot. At the BC Wine Awards during this fall’s Okanagan Wine Festival industry veteran Harry McWatters’ Syrah took home one of eight Platinum medals, a coup for his mature Sundial Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench. The honour may have been tinged with some bittersweet memories as that same vineyard, and the under-construction winery that was to be Harry’s legacy, were surprisingly sold earlier this year to Richmond businessman Bai Jiping. John Schreiner’s recent update on Harry’s next steps also includes his 93-point praise for the “bold and rich” Syrah (a mere 200 cases too), shades of remarks on WineAlign earlier this year. Winery Direct $40

Sandhill 2014 Small Lots Syrah: The newest release of Howard Soon’s Small Lots darling is particularly collectible as it comes with news the Phantom Creek Vineyard from which it was born was sold this spring. Shortly after his purchase of McWatters’ neighbouring Sundial property Bai Jiping snatched up Dick Cleave’s renowned seven-acre vineyard. The rise of Jiping’s Phantom Creek Estates will likely preclude any further sales to Sandhill, so the upcoming 2015 may represent the final vintage available to Soon. The name doesn’t lie, as only 175 cases were produced this vintage, and it is rarely seen outside the winery tasting room, but often serving as a benchmark for BC Syrah. The exemplary vintage is likely to have provided for a rich and generous wine: Howard’s own notes speak to particularly dark fruit, noting the “purple-black colour” and flavours of blackberry, black cherry, and dark plum. Winery Direct $42

Seven Stones 2013 Petit Verdot: Unlike many of the wines in my cellar that represent vertical collections or simply consistent annual purchases this tiny lot of Similkameen Petit Verdot from George Hanson was new to me. Having stopped in to the winery at just the right time recently I was afforded a generous taste of something mysterious. George’s hidden pour was accompanied by a request seeking varietal guesses, and thoughts of a bold Gamay sprung to mind: imagine my surprise when a very non-traditional, silky smooth, elegant Petit Verdot was revealed. Typically produced exclusively for the Seven Stones Wine Club, only 87 cases of the newest vintage were available for distribution - hence my unawareness. Lucky for me there remained a few cases after Club allotments, and the quiet end-of-season tasting room was the recipient. May you be equally fortunate in finding it! Winery Direct $35

Van Westen 2013 V: Keeping with his naming tradition of words led by “V” Robert Van Westen elected on a single letter for his five variety Bordeaux-style blend, with a convenient nod to historical Roman numerals. The newly released 2013 is also the fifth vintage since the inaugural 2009, all of which have a place in my vertical set awaiting a full six vintages. Four Naramata Bench vineyards farmed by Rob contributed to a 348 case production that was aged in French oak for 20 months. The relatively high proportion of Malbec found in previous vintages has been reduced to just 14%, complementing 45% Merlot and 28% Cabernet Franc, joined by 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot. A recent taste left me quite content with the pleasant perfume and full body, more fruit forward than the same vintage’s “Voluptuous” Merlot-Cabernet Franc. Winery Direct $35

Fort Berens 2014 Red Gold: Having produced a reserve Chardonnay named White Gold for the past few vintages, owners Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek took the obvious next step upon being notified of a handful of exceptional barrels from the 2014 vintage. Winemaker Danny Hattingh had discovered enough for just over 100 cases, blending Lillooet estate Cabernet Franc and Merlot with Osoyoos Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot from Cawston’s celebrated Blind Creek Vineyard. Even more exciting, half of the Cabernet Franc was air-dried in a (locally) rare appassimento style. This successful experiment was relayed to me by Rolf during a recent tasting opportunity, in which the mouth-watering freshness and surprisingly smoothly textured Red Gold had me rushing out to buy a bottle. The positive impression seems near-universal, as a bevy of positive reviews have emerged from the likes of Anthony Gismondi, Daenna Van Mulligen, John Schreiner, and WineAlign’s Michael Godel. Village Wines $45

Monday, 19 December 2016

December Wine Club: White Christmas

Working around the schedules of eight people just a week before Christmas and the start of Hanukkah would seem an impossible task yet we managed to come together for a joyous meal this weekend. Funnily enough, despite the cold and snowy season, everyone seemed to have elected on light-bodied reds and white wines for the year’s final Club dinner. Given the inevitable upcoming feasting and plenty more hearty holiday tipples, something fresh and a bit more subtle than big reds seemed to be on many a mind.

Robin Ridge 2014 Gamay & Joie 2014 Gamay with Hors D'oeuvre Toasts

Some tasty toasts made for a mouth-watering reception with a pair of Gamay as we compared the 2014 vintage from two valleys. The Okanagan’s Naramata Bench offering from Joie was deliciously fresh with admirable complexity to boot. Expressive fruit forward aromas of red currants and plum mingled with a hint of earthy barnyard. Just as bright as the Tomato Avocado Toasts, the gamey palate suggested additional age could make for an even more exciting impression in the near-future. Red Pepper and Goat Cheese made fast friends with Robin Ridge’s Similkameen Valley Gamay, a consistent performer from this Keremeos winery. Very well balanced, soft fruit was felt to bring out the rich roasted peppers, with a darker and spicier profile hinting at cinnamon and cloves.

Narrative 2014 Rose & Sea Star 2015 Stella Maris with Tomato Soup

Sitting down for the appetizer course we were treated to a vibrant and rich Tomato Soup, with Cheese Toast & Gremolata – a winter warmer homemade from scratch. Regional diversity remained strong with the introduction of Sea Star’s 2015 Stella Maris, a Pender Island merging of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Schönberger, and Ortega. Relatively dry considering the components, it very nicely balanced the floral perfume and zippy citrus fruit of the delicate palate. The ease with which this long-since-sold-out blend found favourite is no surprise given this young winery’s celebrated success. Drifting a little darker we also enjoyed Okanagan Crush Pad’s 2014 “Narrative” Rosé, with crisp and clean raspberries maintaining the fresh flavours of the dish. Based around Pinot Noir, the Rosé offered generous red fruit and minerality in amongst the refreshing body.

Gray Monk 2015 Pinot Auxerrois & Quails' Gate 2015 Chasselas with Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Warmed with soup we cooled down with another couple whites and the main course of Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Sage Maple Butter. Roasted Brussels Sprouts, mushrooms, and apple rounded out the sumptuous presentation, while Gray Monk’s uncommon Pinot Auxerrois (2015) made an ideal pairing. Honeyed floral aromas offered fruit blossoms on the nose, while a palate of baked apple and tropical pineapple synchronized nicely with the Gnocchi. Quails’ Gate’s 2015 white blend, equally unusual with Chasselas joined by Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, provided plenty of enjoyment, but less synchronicity. The West Kelowna winery’s most popular offering always shines with a bright summer-friendly palate, but the generous citrus fruit couldn’t compete with the Auxerrois as a Gnocchi playmate.

Christmas Cookies & Holiday Hot Cake with Quails' Gate Tawny

Having hosted the previous dinner, my wife and I were enthused to offer dessert, but our dreams were dashed by technical problems. Logistical issues in the kitchen upset the precise timing of our Holiday Hot Cake with Eggnog Cream, leaving it laughably lacking. Fortunately my mother’s presence as VIP guest was accompanied by her Christmas baking! Mom’s shortbread, chocolate haystacks, and pistachio-cranberry bark were devoured while we let our Hot Cake set/congeal. Eventually the rich Eggnog Cream had a home of sorts, and we cracked open Quails’ Gate Tawny to finish the meal. Purchased at the winery in 2012, the fortified Gamay (a blend of vintages) had already been aged several years in oak before bottling. With only 40g/L of residual sugar the Tawny made for a mellow conclusion, showing all the expected notes of chocolate and dried dark fruit. Putting aside our own dessert distress, it was another fun and friendly meal; may your own holiday season be just as festive, and fortunate!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Collectibles: November 2016

A timely visit to Osoyoos mid-month provided plenty of results in the tail-end of wine-touring season. While the majority of wineries close their tasting rooms after Halloween, appointments are often available. Day trips as far north as Lake Country during my week-long stay offered one last chance this year to nab a few newly released rich reds, now well on hand as the holiday season approaches. While some of these small lot bottles may be spotted in finely-curated wine stores most remain exclusive to the wineries – but fortunately holiday shipping specials are approaching!

November 2016 BC wine collectibles

50th Parallel 2014 Unparalleled Pinot Noir: Only on my fourth visit to the Okanagan since tasting it in July was this young winery’s first reserve-tier Pinot Noir finally available for sale. The superb quality of the 2014 vintage allowed experienced Winemaker Grant Stanley to choose the best fourteen barrels from among 150 and blend four Dijon Clones (114, 115, 667, 828) in a deeper and darker expression of Lake Country terroir. Additional time in barrel and bottle beyond that experienced by the (excellent) regular Pinot has yielded a profile of cedar forest and earthy cherry pie, with plush tannins for structured cellaring. Even before release, a Silver medal at the Decanter Awards was followed by Gold at Canada’s National Wine Awards, where Judge DJ Kearney complimented the “wonderfully pure fruit” shown off via “the confident stamp of a winemaker who knows Pinot Noir intimately.” Winery Direct $57

Le Vieux Pin 2013 Equinoxe Syrah: After many months in bottle awaiting its day in the sun the newest Equinoxe Syrah is finally available for purchase, albeit only 267 precious cases worth. The Equinoxe is the pinnacle of Le Vieux Pin’s boutique Syrah triplet, blended from the absolute best of four southern Okanagan vineyards this vintage. With full confidence in the fruit’s purity and intensity, Winemaker Severine Pinte elected on entirely used oak, the vast majority fully neutral, for the 18 month slumber. Tasting it in August is what allowed Anthony Gismondi to “confirm the 2013 vintage in my mind as one of the best ever in the deep south Okanagan.” Gismondi’s (rarely allotted) 93-point score was matched in Decanter Magazine alongside Tony Aspler’s affirmation it represents “one of the best Syrahs from a Canadian vineyard I’ve tasted.” Winery Direct (& VQA Stores) $92

Blasted Church 2014 Holy Moly Petit Verdot: The seventh vintage of Blasted Church’s locally uncommon varietal Petit Verdot follows a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the well regarded 2012. The winery feels the 2014 is the “richest and fullest-bodied to date,” thanks to a respectable 25 Brix at harvest (from Osoyoos) in the first week of November. Following full-berry fermentation on the skins, it was transferred to an eclectic blend of new and used American, Hungarian, and French oak for twenty long months. The wine picked up a Gold medal at the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival’s BC Wine Awards, but be forewarned: like other “Revered Series” wines the Holy Moly recently became a wine shop (and Club) exclusive. My own visit to the winery came with minutes to spare before the gates were locked on an unsettlingly early darkened evening; I remain grateful for my opportunity to acquire this rarity given only 150 cases were produced. Winery Direct $46

Poplar Grove 2012 The Legacy: Collecting my latest Club order at the winery ensured I could continue my vertical of Poplar Grove’s icon red, packaged alongside rare varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and a new white blend, “Collectif”. The Legacy is known for dependable quality and equally consistent sales, so the 900 cases produced will sell quickly - hence only a single bottle was included in Club shipments! The blend’s vintage variety provides something new each year, and in 2012 Cabernet Franc led the charge, comprising 35%, and then a pleasing 23% Malbec, 22% Merlot, and only 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, with grapes sourced from both Osoyoos and Naramata Bench vineyards. Twenty-one months in French oak and a further two years in bottle before release ensures immediate approachability, but even so the winery feels it should remain relevant for another decade. Winery Direct (& VQA Stores) $50

Road 13 2012 Fifth Element: The second vertical collection I finally furthered came thanks to Road 13, where I also picked up the year’s final Club shipment, including another bottle aged 2012. Unlike many local blends this one skews from the Meritage formula by adding a slice of Syrah: 2012 includes 46% Merlot, 18% Syrah, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Malbec. A taste at the winery manifested the full-bodied, well rounded palate, with flavours of ripe mixed berries and baked brown sugar leaving me well satisfied. Some may feel it’s “a bit of a brut just now,” like WineAlign judge Steve Thurlow upon awarding a Silver medal at the Nationals, but my bottle has plenty of time to settle down in the cellar - I haven’t even opened 2007 yet! Winery Direct (& VQA Stores) $49

Quails’ Gate 2014 The Connemara: Although a Burgundian heart of Pinot Noir still reigns supreme at Quails’ Gate, the West Kelowna winery’s inaugural Bordeaux blend is making notable waves under the guidance of recently installed Winemaker Nikki Calloway. The winery reports their ten best barrels were selected to yield just 200 cases of 55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Cabernet Franc, aged for 18 months in French oak after indigenous fermentation. It was only just bottled (unfiltered) this summer and released initially to the Wine Club. From the sounds of Anthony Gismondi’s exuberant 92-point review it will make for an ideal cellar-worthy collectible: “Nothing but a bright future here...this will get even better.” WineAlign’s David Lawrason suggests aging this “stylish, elegant, and compact” achievement until at least 2020, which is precisely what I plan on doing. Winery Direct $64

CedarCreek 2013 The Last Word: In the spring after the grapes for this long envisioned blend were harvested CedarCreek was purchased by Mission Hill founder Anthony Von Mandl. The highly capable existing Winemaker, Darryl Brooker, was retained and saw it through 20 months of French oak aging before he completed the blend and moved to Mission Hill immediately after bottling in August 2015. Apparently previous attempts at a wine of this nature had not measured up to the penultimate title, but in 2013 conditions were ideal for the blend of of 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Malbec. Just months after release (of 314 cases) The Last Word scooped one of eight prestigious Platinum medals at this fall’s BC Wine Awards, and has amassed significant celebration from experienced reviewers at the same time. WineAlign’s Michael Godel, with particularly poetic praise, suggests drinkers should “plan on getting extra hours of REM sleep after a glass.” Winery Direct $90