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

Monday, 28 November 2016

November Wine Club: Carbs & Chards

After many years of monthly dinners it should no longer surprise me when our wine club serves up a common theme without any coordination. Bring together a group of people with similar preferences (hence our friendship), living and shopping in geographical proximity, and the end result is continuing culinary amusement. Having experienced the same Vancouver autumn, we were apparently left wanting for similarly styled foods this month. Our most recent communal dinner offered filling starches accompanied by several wines that including a quartet of creamy Chardonnay to complete our theme.

Black Hills 2014 Chardonnay & TIME 2013 Chardonnay

The hearty hors d’oeuvres course set the tone to start with a relatively simple but scrumptious pair of bread loaf fondue. Hollowed out and filled with Brie and Smoked Cambozola the loaves of sourdough were baked until bubbling and served with breadsticks and potato wedges for dipping. To help temper the upcoming cheese comas two bottles of Black Sage Bench Chardonnay freshened our palates between bites. Black Hills’ 2014 provided bright citrus aromas and an intense, tart introduction leading into a long finish of caramel popcorn and Crème Brûlée. From Harry McWatters’ Sundial Vineyard just up the road the 2013 TIME Chardonnay was equally enjoyed, providing apple and melon flavours on the buttery, well integrated palate. The round, smooth texture emphasized a light caramel finish syncing with the delicate but luxurious Brie.

Homemade soft pretzels with See Ya Later 2015 Gewurztraminer & LaStella 2015 Rose

With a chuckle, the appetizer team next unveiled their contribution of soft pretzels and a quintet of artisanal mustards. Alongside the chewy, salty morsels was See Ya Later’s 2015 Gewürztraminer and LaStella’s “LaStellina” 2015 Rosé. Quintessential exotic aromas like Jasmine flower (helped along by a splash of Ehrenfelser in the blend) marked the Gewürztraminer. The off-dry, deeper-flavoured palate was a very pleasant complement to some of the particularly spicy mustards, and helped cool the enjoyable burn. The blended saignée-style Rosé (Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and 8% Sangiovese) presented aromatic strawberry-rhubarb and angel food cake, carried through on to the blushing red berry palate. I tasted a savoury mouth-watering hint I called Dill Pickle Chips as well, but what do I know!

Checkmate 2013 Capture Chardonnay & Coolshanagh 2013 Chardonnay

Two bottles of Chardonnay already weren’t nearly enough as we revealed another duo yet to come with the entree course my wife and I had prepared. With a nod to the vegans and vegetarians at the table we delighted in serving Vegan Scallops in White Wine Cream Sauce, over loveable bow-tie pasta. (A few actual sea scallops were also provided for the other half of the crowd.) Chardonnay had been planned for days, and nothing was going to stop us from opening the special bottles we had in mind. The 2013 vintage was presented from the Golden Mile’s Checkmate Artisan Winery (a Von Mandl franchise), as well as the much more diminutive Naramata Bench estate of Coolshanagh.

As we assembled and garnished the plates our guests were invited to sample Checkmate’s 2013 “Capture”, one of five primarily vineyard-specific Chardonnay from this focused project launched just last year. A recent visit to the winery and generous private discussion with Winemaker Phil Mcgahan encouraged a splurge purchase of a single bottle we were excited to share. The descriptors came fast and furious after opening, and everyone marvelled over this exceptionally complex wine. The ever-changing aromas ranged from brine, to marzipan, truffle oil, and orange blossom. A well-rounded palate of butterscotch and poached pear was supplemented by caramelized lemon and a tart dried apple, raisiny finish to further acclaim.

Sea Scallops complemented King Oyster Mushrooms atop creamy bow-tie pasta

While Mcgahan sourced a 1997 planting of Osoyoos East Bench fruit bordering the US for his seven barrels of Capture, Coolshanagh’s Skip & Judy Stothert planted their northern Naramata property in 2004. Several years selling to Foxtrot culminated in their launch of the 2012 vintage with help from Okanagan Crush Pad and Winemaker Matt Dumayne. The 2013 spent 11 months aging on its lees in neutral oak and concrete, lending it similar butterscotch character as the Capture (itself aged 18 months), but took on an even creamier texture. Tension provided by integrated minerality and balanced acidity made for a lingering finish as the last of the coconut-creamed bowties were consumed.

After bread & cheese, pretzels, and pasta, came the eye-brow-raising dessert course of cake! Double Chocolate Fudge Brownie Cake was not only the icing on top of the meal, it featured icing on top – cool refreshing mint too. A pair of Syrah brought us some much-needed red attention, with versions from Osoyoos and Keremeos to offer dark fruit and spice for chocolate pairing. Moon Curser’s 2013 was particularly complementary: the meaty, leathery nose led into smooth, juicy fruit and eucalyptus notes. The gorgeous violet colour of Clos du Soleil’s first Syrah, from the 2014 vintage, provided even deeper and darker character from a cooler and more reserved expression that embraced the mint icing and garnish.

Moon Curser 2013 Syrah & Clos du Soleil 2014 Syrah with Double Chocolate Fudge Brownie Cake

Wine club dinners typically feature four courses, but whenever some beloved former members return to visit we enthusiastically expand. This month some flash-frozen friends arrived from Tucson, Arizona eager to reconnect, and – to warm themselves more than anything – they mulled up a batch of Road 13 Honest John’s Red. To cloves, cinnamon, and orange segments they added a generous helping of Port for that extra something-something. This well-spiced after-dinner tipple came with candy canes, cookies, and chocolate to kick-start the holiday season. A few more opportunities like this in the weeks to come would be most welcome!

Monday, 31 October 2016

Collectibles: October 2016

The end of September initiates the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival, bringing out many new red wines to get us through the winter months. October is often a bountiful time for local wine collectors as a result, with many wineries timing their releases to coincide with the Festival (or they simply need room for the upcoming vintage!) The reds release prompts club shipments as well, and I found myself awash in deliveries of bottles to swell my cellar this month, joined by a few choice retail purchases for good measure. The new acquisitions also helped me grow vertical collections from a range of wineries small and large.

October 2016 BC wine collectibles

Clos du Soleil 2014 Middle Bench Syrah: This small Keremeos winery maintains an estate focus on traditional Bordeaux varieties and blends, but still works with longtime partner vineyards for their “Grower’s Series”. A history of superb Pinot Blanc and Cabernet/Merlot in this series was unexpectedly - and pleasantly - upended this year by the winery’s first varietal Syrah. Sourced from the same Keremeos vineyard as the Pinot Blanc, the Syrah was extremely impressive when tasted at the winery in September, even before I received a pair of bottles in my most recent Wine Club shipment. The attractive nose of cherry, chocolate, and vanilla (a ringer for Black Forest Cake) segued nicely into the delightfully fresh purple-fruited palate before a textbook black pepper finish. Ten barrels of French oak aged for 16 months before the small lot of 250 cases was bottled under screwcap this spring. Winery Direct $27

Tinhorn Creek 2013 Oldfield Series Merlot: As National Wine Awards judge DJ Kearney put it last summer, “This is an Okanagan stand-out, year after year after year.” That 2012 vintage received a Silver medal at the Nationals (plus Best Merlot at this spring’s Best of Varietal Awards), and the brand new 2013 should continue the long-established high-quality trend. This reserve-tier Merlot is the original from Tinhorn, going back to 2001, and now accompanied by several other Oldfield Series varietals and blends, including a delicious new Chardonnay. The wine has been fine-tuned alongside the 17-year-old source vines on the Black Sage Bench, going through 18 months of French oak aging (30% new) before a year in bottle prior to the autumnal release. It’s one of several new reds I was happy to find in my latest Crush Club order, with wider public release in the near future. Winery Direct $31

Orofino 2013 Beleza: John & Virginia Weber’s Similkameen Valley blend “Beleza” has always provided superb quality at an excellent price point for a flagship red. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon comprise the majority components: the Cawston estate vineyard provides Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, while the (literally) neighbouring Hendsbee vineyard contributes Cabernet Sauvignon, plus more Merlot and Petit Verdot. I was fortunate enough to get a taste of the newest release even before two bottles showed up in my latest Collector’s Club shipment. The vertical tasting enjoyed in September by the BC Wine Appreciation Society went back to 2006 (still lively) and provided a delicious early glimpse at the young 2013, deliciously fruit forward at present with generous structure and ripe character to carry it for years to come. Winery Direct $34

Tinhorn Creek 2013 Oldfield Series 2Bench Red: Now in its seventh year, Tinhorn’s ode to their Golden Mile and Black Sage Bench vineyards has become a heavy-hitter at the winery, with nearly 1,700 cases produced from 2013. Somewhat unusual for a BC red blend, the Cabernets comprise over 70% (47% Sauvignon & 24% Franc), with versatile and popular Merlot taking a backseat beside 6% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. This considered blend was then aged on the lees in 30% new French oak for 18 months before another year in bottle. I’m happy to continue the vertical collection I have nurtured since inception in 2007: with several good years ahead of it, I should have plenty of time to allow for the “room to improve” hypothesized by Rick Van Sickle (despite this “gorgeous” 91-point wine drinking so well at present). Winery Direct $35

Osoyoos Larose 2013 Le Grand Vin: Arguably Vancouver’s most conservative wine critic, Anthony Gismondi found the newest Grand Vin to be the best ever in his estimation, heaping tribute upon the 2013 on a particularly generous day this month. It would appear that Osoyoos Larose had been flourishing since Bordeaux’s Groupe Taillan took sole control from conglomerate Constellation Brands just as this vintage was being harvested, with the new French winemaking team: “making some impressive tweaks to its Canadian treasure.” The near perfect conditions in 2013 contributed to (several thousand cases of) a fully ripe, locally perfected blend of 57% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, and 4% Malbec. It’s high time for me to open the 2007 and make room for this “effortlessly ageable” bottle in my vertical collection. BC Liquor Stores $53

Laughing Stock 2014 Portfolio: Another beneficiary of Gismondi’s unusually plenteous praise this month was this well known Naramata Bench superstar. The 93-point score suggests October 10 was a very enjoyable day in the office for the Gismondi on Wine team! It would appear that “it’s all come together in 2014 for Portfolio,” thanks to a continuing trend of quality vintages in BC, along with the established skills of David & Cynthia Enns. Like Le Grand Vin, Portfolio is a Canadian benchmark red blend, with the 2014 serving as further proof of excellence. Winemaker David carefully blended 49% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, and 1% Petit Verdot from 100 barrels aged for 19 months, yielding 2,450 cases that will sell quickly nation-wide. As a member of the Preferred Share Club I was ensured a couple bottles in my final shipment of the year. Winery Direct $52

LaStella 2013 La Sophia Cabernet Sauvignon: LaStella’s small lot varietal Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Sam Baptiste’s old vines “U2” block outside Oliver, considered by many to be the best Cabernet source in the province. Having top tier access to this exceptional fruit allows Winemaker Severine Pinte to craft a sublimely pure, rich, and powerful Cab that should be near the top of any collector’s list. Having a taste earlier this year exposed me to long, pure cassis and cocoa, and a surprisingly silky texture already. John Schreiner’s 94-point review in April covers the bases nicely, and includes important mention of the mere 125 cases produced. Given the winery’s devoted fans it will be highly sought after, even at the elevated, but ultimately reasonable price. As much as I want to crack it open already I know even better years lie ahead, and the 15.1% alcohol should help preserve that intense character for some time! Winery Direct $80

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Clos du Soleil 2016 Vertical Tasting

The Similkameen Valley’s Clos du Soleil still feels like a young winery, despite concluding their tenth vintage last fall. This year’s harvest will mark the first full season in the newly constructed winery on the Keremeos estate. It is striking then to sample a nearly decade-long vertical from a winery that feels like it’s just getting started - and very strongly at that! Since 2012 Clos du Soleil has hosted an annual tasting sampling every vintage produced since the inaugural 2006 wines. I was honoured to be invited again this year, particularly since I had to cancel last fall on short notice, missing my first opportunity to attend.

Autumn decor awaits the lucky guests at Clos du Soleil

It just so happens that 2012 marked the year Michael Clark joined the partnership team, soon taking over winemaking duties from consultant Ann Sperling, who had produced the wines in her Kelowna winery since inception. Mike was on hand Thanksgiving weekend to welcome twenty lucky wine club and winery team members alongside local Master of Wine Rhys Pender, a friend of the winery who has guided all five of the tastings thus far. With the winery’s portfolio having grown over the years (and having just added Syrah), only the nucleus of Capella white, Signature red, and the Saturn dessert wine make up the vertical tastings, but we were set to taste every completed vintage! Alongside the coming samples talented Penticton caterers Shayna & Shulman Culinary Adventurers had prepared a three course menu to highlight the distinctly different wines.

Mike Clark explains his process and goals

Amongst barrels and tanks inside the well-organized winery guests enjoyed the crisp and fresh 2015 Grower’s Series Pinot Blanc with canapés that included smoked salmon, prosciutto lettuce wraps, and cranberry goat cheese phyllo triangles. Seated, we reviewed the menu and long list of wines as Mike and Rhys introduced our first course of nine white vintages with vegetable paté plus tartars of tuna and beef. As a winery with a Bordeaux focus, Clos du Soleil’s Capella white provides a pleasantly age-worthy traditional blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Over the years Capella’s sophistication has grown as wild yeast barrel fermentation and extended lees contact has been introduced, as well as larger proportions of Sémillon reaching up to 12%.

Clos du Soleil Capella from 2006-2014

In 2006 Capella had not yet been named, and was known simply as Clos du Soleil White, although the first release was actually a straight varietal Sauvignon Blanc. Our first flight of three wines, from the reasonably warm vintages of 2006-2008 showed the stellar potential of time in bottle: my own personal favourite was in fact the 2006, rich in mature honeyed tropical flavours plus impressively lively acidity. Both 2007 and 2008 expressed drier notes of lemon and grass, while retaining that same bright sunny streak. Flights of three proved ideal at discerning each vintage’s individuality: significant heat in 2009 yielded further favoured tropical richness, leading into the youthful grassy gooseberry and complex palate of 2010, and the truly striking orange aromas and mouthwatering flavours of 2011. The relatively “normal vintage” of 2012 introduced our final flight of three, where grassy citrus returned amongst textural complexity and superb balance. My preference leaned towards the 2013, in which lemon curd took a visit to the tropics given time in glass. The newest 2014 was particularly fresh and clean of course, with savoury minerality amping up the complexity and potential.

Shayna & Shulman Pate & Tartars

With even the early 2006 still vivacious and sophisticated Mike shared his own surprise: each annual vertical leaves him expecting a decline but Capella has passed a decade with ease. Less concern, (albeit unfounded as of yet) exists for Signature, the winery’s Bordeaux red blend, provided next with a duo of smokey peppered flank steak and sumptuous Daube de Boeuf with wild mushrooms. Just as the Capella was once simply “White”, Signature spent its early years in 2006 & 2007 without moniker, known merely as “Red”. (In recent years it has been joined by the rare and exclusive Estate Reserve, an outgrowth of Ann’s first “Winemaker’s Reserve” in 2010.) As the 2014 Signature develops in bottle we next received eight vintages from 2006-2013 to enjoy, in similar small flights of two or three.

Clos du Soleil Signature from 2006-2013

Initial Signature vintages favoured Cabernet Sauvignon, beginning with 60% against Merlot and Cabernet Franc in 2006, where solid fruit could still be found in the silky palate. Distinctly brick-coloured, it was fully mature and so well-rounded as to challenge specific flavour discernation. Similar colour and savoury beefy characteristics followed in the 2007, by which time Cabernet Sauvignon had declined to 45%. Malbec was introduced in 2008, where more delicate blackberry and vanilla aromas emerged before the rich but still fresh palate. Heat-loving reds soaked up 2009 - including Petit Verdot, introduced at 7% that year - providing for a particularly ripe Signature to lead our next flight, carrying dried dark fruits meshing wonderfully with the Daube de Boeuf. The elegant 2010 showed notably expressive, juicy fruit with many years ahead, mirrored in the floral 2011 as well. The final flight found 48% Cabernet Sauvignon leading Merlot’s 42% in 2012 as the wine became a fully Similkameen production (without inclusion of Okanagan fruit), mixing black with red fruits upon nicely ripe tannins and hints of leather and spice. More tannin - but equally ripe - could be found in the most recent 2013, where a Merlot majority presented attention-getting brown sugar and ripe purple fruit.

Shayna & Shulman Peppered Steak & Daube de Boeuf

Looking back at my notes it was only after the fact did I realize I had favoured precisely the same vintages in both Capella and Signature: choosing a favourite in each flight had appointed 2006, 2009, and 2013 for white and red. Consistent appeal such as this suggests competent, non-interventionist winemaking and trustworthy reliability in bottle as well. The 2014 Signature will emerge sometime next year, with little rush given the winery’s efforts to increase bottle-aging before release. Interestingly, it was revealed that Petit Verdot has reached record proportions - into the unusual double-digits - for 2014, which should provide yet another unique and expressive perspective in Signature’s lineage.

The modest and focused portfolio of wine produced at Clos du Soleil gains a little additional variety thanks to an homage to Sauternes found in the late harvest “Saturn” Sauvignon Blanc. The vertical tasting concluded with a single flight of the four vintages in existence: 2010, 2011, 2013, and the brand new 2014. Harvested late in the season and fermented slowly over months in neutral oak puncheons, Saturn is eminently ageable, developing the same complex honeyed fruit as Capella over time, but richer by an order of magnitude. Although a glass of Saturn is itself dessert, Shayna & Shulman had assembled four precise and sublime petit panna cotta for a final food pairing, with flavours of Lemon Lavender, Honey, Earl Grey, and Pumpkin Latté.

Shayna & Shulman Quartet of Panna Cotta

In the glass the four Saturn samples shared a common age-induced colour transition as Capella had earlier displayed, with the eldest 2010 warmly golden against the youthful blonde of 2014. The wines had aged with ease, such that 2010 offered tropical passion-fruit and nutty, honey-soaked apricot nectar. Even so, I further preferred the 2011, in which beneficial Botrytis had set in by harvest, rendering the most intense, expressive nose of all four and lip-smacking marmalade on the finish. Clean and ripe, 2013 was showing more stone fruit plus some balancing pithy bitterness, while the presently tangy 2014 retained yeasty aromas amongst fresh apricots before a teasingly long, delicate finish.

Like any good wine tasting, we ran over schedule and were left longing for more, lingering over panna cotta and the last precious drops of Saturn. A round of thanks to the chefs, staff, and hosts ensued before guests dispersed to further explore the winery and vineyards. I myself couldn’t miss a gander at three huge new cubical concrete fermenters awaiting red varieties, while white bubbled away in tanks and puncheons alongside. Mike’s excitement about the upcoming reds was palpable as he showed off the tanks and discussed strategy for the remainder of harvest and crush. Another year for the record books should maintain the annual Vertical Tasting as a regional highlight in high demand!

Friday, 30 September 2016

Collectibles: September 2016

Spending ten days in Osoyoos mid-month provided an opportunity for some very carefully measured wine shopping, both in the local tasting rooms and the region’s well-stocked retail establishments. At the end of my trip I was thrilled to attend the Garagiste North Wine Festival, where Penticton’s Fairview Liquor Store was able to actually sell the many small production wines on hand – a momentous new capacity only recently endorsed by the provincial government. Whilst dragging their heels through our puritanical liquor laws in many other respects the government’s loosening of arcane rules has at times been instrumental in improving consumer access.

September 2016 BC wine collectibles

Emandare 2014 Pinot Noir: Earlier this year I was able to attend a tasting of the first wines from Mike & Robin (“Em” and “Are”) Nierychlo’s North Cowichan vineyard. At Marquis Wine Cellars owner John Clerides was more than happy to host the couple, and gushed to me about the upcoming Pinot Noir he had sampled: noteworthy praise repeated in his own later blog post. In the organically and dry-farmed fourteen-year-old vineyard’s two-acre block of Pinot Noir the vines were cropped very low to 1.5 tons per acre, wild fermented in neutral puncheons, and 80 cases worth then aged for a year in neutral French oak. Seeing Mike’s transition from enthusiastic local wine blogger to winery owner has been impressive; he is precisely the type of honest winemaker needed to further enhance the industry. New District $46

Stag’s Hollow 2015 Grenache: Friday, September 16 was International Grenache Day this year, and being in the Okanagan at the time I couldn’t miss marking the occasion where a rare Canadian Grenache effort is building steam. Although a handful of local wineries have used the grape in blends (Red Rooster and Road 13 amongst them), Stag’s Hollow Winemaker and self-professed “Granachista” Dwight Sick’s pure varietal iteration is believed to stand alone. Following a micro-lot of “seductively delicious” 2014 Renaissance (reserve) the fourth vintage is finally ready to rock after a blend of fruit from Osoyoos and Penticton spent six months on the lees before blending in 12% Syrah and bottling this June. A strong Silver medal at the National Wine Awards in July left the judges very impressed with “one of Canada’s great Grenache triumphs.” Winery Direct $30

La Frenz 2014 Syrah: After many years producing a fine “Shiraz” from their Rockyfeller Vineyard on the Golden Mile, Australians Jeff & Niva Martin finally relented and adopted the Syrah nomenclature. As John Schreiner reported this month, new (Australian) Winemaker Dominic McCosker feels the finessed fruit on hand better suits a Rhone style, going so far as to co-ferment with Viognier as well. John’s admiration for the firmly textured floral white pepper aligns with praise from the WineAlign judges in naming the wine as one of six Gold medal BC Syrah at the Nationals. After a fruit-focused twenty month maturation in (just 15% new) French oak, this should age very nicely into the elegance expected of it. Winery Direct $28

Similkameen Collective 2013 Syrah Viognier: Not only did BC Syrah obtain a clean sweep of category Gold in the Nationals, but a further three were awarded Platinum medals for representing the top 1% of all wines in the competition. Leaping out of the gate with one such medal was a new collaborative project anchored around Cawston’s Blind Creek Vineyard and some very wise partners, including Road 13. Recognizing the vineyard’s potential early on led to the formation of The Collective, where Winemaker J-M Bouchard has assembled small lots of intense and powerful reds (plus a sumptuous Roussanne). The initial Syrah has garnered wide praise in short order for just 83 cases: the English translation of Judge Michelle Bouffard’s acclaim entertainingly labels it as “overly seductive” – can there be such a thing?! Winery Direct (Garagiste Festival) $45

Stag’s Hollow 2013 Tempranillo: Included in my latest wine club shipment was a BC rarity, and a complex iteration of Tempranillo at that. Grapes from the Osoyoos East Bench, the Okanagan Falls estate vineyard, and the Naramata Bench were combined with 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Syrah, and 2% Petit Verdot from Oliver and Osoyoos. The Tempranillo spent 15 months in 50% new American oak before the smaller components (from second fill French oak) were blended in prior to a year of bottle aging before release of 525 cases. Entering the newly bottled wine in the 2015 National Wine Awards last year yielded a Silver medal and fascinated praise from head judge David Lawrason, who personally felt gold was warranted. A Gold medal at this spring’s All Canadian Wine Championships provided vindication. Winery Direct $30

Anarchist 2014 Mayhem: The remote Anarchist Mountain vineyard of Andrew and Terry (Meyer) Stone is becoming known for high quality Pinot Noir. However, one acre of the 4.5 acre vineyard, now two decades old, includes Merlot that the pair have now added to their small portfolio. I tasted a very memorable barrel sample of this inaugural release during the spring’s Garagiste Festival in Vancouver, and experienced the final product at this month’s festival in Penticton, where a few of the 90 cases were finally for sale. Andrew’s planned inclusion of Cabernet Franc in a year or two will yield a blend, hence the lack of a varietal designation at present. Without a winery on the Osoyoos property the Merlot has been expertly shepherded by Mark Simpson at his Okanagan Falls BC Wine Studio. Winery Direct (Garagiste Festival) $40

LaStella 2013 Maestoso Merlot: A recent newsletter from LaStella lamented the cost of striving for excellence in this flagship wine: 50% of the vineyard blocks were disqualified due to untimely rain during harvest. As a result, a mere 188 cases were recently released for purchase (by a worldwide following no less). Generous sampling opportunities of this intense and age-worthy wine over the years have left me committed to exploring every vintage, albeit one pricey bottle at a time: I only recently opened my bottle of the first vintage from 2006. The newest release was tasted with great anticipation by John Schreiner this past spring, and has been described more recently in detail by Liam Carrier in his 93-point review. Maestoso is expensive to produce, and thus purchase, but is an invaluable study of purity and distinction in BC winemaking. Winery Direct $104

Sunday, 18 September 2016

BCWAS Bus Tour 2016: Oliver-Osoyoos

After a day in the beautiful Similkameen Valley the BC Wine Appreciation Society devoted the second half of their annual Bus Tour to the South Okanagan. Sunday would see the sold out tour circulate amongst five wineries between Oliver and Osoyoos, visiting both sides of the valley on the Black Sage and Golden Mile Benches. As with the day before, an early start was critical to keeping us on schedule and leaving enough time for all the appreciation to come!

Admirable views from the River Stone vineyards

As the sun flirted with clouds we arrived at River Stone Winery just north of Oliver for a morning vineyard tour. Owners Ted & Lorraine Kane provided an enthusiastic welcome with glasses of 2015 Pinot Gris and Ted’s self-deprecating take on his vineyard: “A gravel pit owner’s dream!” Ted’s work in the vineyard and cellar seeks to protect the aromatics of his dry, mineral-drive whites: the green apple, apricot, and pineapple of the Pinot Gris served as a perfect introduction. While contemplating a block of Cabernet Sauvignon vines grafted to Gewürztraminer, we sipped the 2014 Stone’s Throw red blend, young and fresh with a fruit leather nose and palate of toast with jam. Upon reaching the centrally-located winery, tasting room, and home of the Kane family, we were treated to the flagship “Cornerstone”, sampling the current 2012 and library 2010 vintages. The dry and structured dark berry and mocha profile of this Merlot-heavy Bordeaux blend makes it a superb cellar candidate, as the 2010 hinted at with nicely developing secondary characteristics.

Ted Kane shares his wines at River Stone

Dragging the fawning tour group away from the Kanes’ Golden Retriever trio brought us to Quinta Ferreira a few minutes south. Owners John & Maria were happy to share the wines that son Michael has crafted to celebrate the family’s Portuguese heritage. Starting with dry, tart pineapple in 2014 Riesling we moved quickly to the popcorn and vanilla in 2014 Chardonnay before reds were introduced. An aged 2012 Merlot provided restrained tannin and toasty oak, with a juicy finish and hints of cocoa and spice. “Obra-Prima” is (literally) the “masterpiece”, given generous bottle age before release to ensure it impresses with immediacy. The 2010 vintage on hand was aged more than two years in 40% new oak, where the five traditional Bordeaux varieties intermingled to yield aromas of olives and sweet coffee before still smoothing tannins led to herbal cassis on the palate. Moving to the tasting room provided a chance to stock cellars and admire the local art for sale, while more of the regions pervasive pups searched for favour.

Crushing freshly harvested Muscat at Quinta Ferreira

The day’s defining winds picked up as we arrived at Church & State on the wider valley floor of the central Black Sage Bench. Marketing Manager John Pullen escorted us to the outdoor tasting bar, where we were hugely honoured to receive some of the first samples of the esoteric and exhilarating 1999 Sparkling. A mere 1,600 bottles exist for upcoming release, an inherited niche project using Cowichan Valley Pinot Noir initiated before Church & State was even founded in its current form. The mature, yeasty aromas and enthusiastic mousse of the citrus-driven palate led into an extremely long, thought-provoking finish - a taste of BC wine history rarely experienced.

The outdoor tasting bar got exciting when the winds picked up

For a more recent examination we turned to 2013 Coyote Bowl Chardonnay, delicate and floral but deliciously complex with minerality amongst caramel apples, popcorn, and lemon curd. From the same vineyard and vintage Merlot provided dark, structured blackberry and currants at the beginning of its long life. Syrah from the newly acquired Second Chapter Vineyard came next, with meaty, leathery character in the cherry-flavoured palate. As a final treat, 2010 vintage Cabernet Franc showed off a powerful, full-bodied profile with years ahead of it given the generous tannins that remain.

The Coyote Bowl field, with views of the Golden Mile

Braving the glass-smashing winds we sat for lunch on the grassy knoll above the Coyote Bowl itself, where long-time Society friends Joy Road Catering presented a pair of courses with Church & State’s brand new Signature Series wines. Paired with Smoked Trout or Warm Goat Cheese the upcoming 2015 Trebella impressed via an unusual and complex blend of 62% Roussanne, 28% Marsanne, and 10% Viognier. From the winery’s Bella and Second Chapter vineyards on the Black Sage Bench the rich texture included elegant toasted honey and stonefruit flavours. Our entree offered Polenta & Rainbow Chard with locally sourced lamb or mushrooms, and plenty of intense 2014 Syrah. Although vinified as separate wines in 2013, the Coyote Bowl and Second Chapter vineyard fruit was blended for the new Signature Syrah, offering quintessential vibrant black fruit and pepper. Soaking in the valley views and sunshine we finished with dangerously addictive handmade caramels on our way through the tasting room.

A tasty lunch outdoors at Church & State

Mellow and merry the tour pulled up to nearby Stoneboat Vineyards for a gracious garden tasting at this highly respected winery. Unlike their Black Sage neighbours Stoneboat eschews Bordeaux or Rhone reds in favour of a Pinot particularity, from Gris to Noir and even the locally uncommon Pinotage. Known for superb Pinot Noir and Alsatian white varieties, Stoneboat branched out into sparkling wine in recent years, and we sampled the refreshing creamy strawberry watermelon of the (Pinot Noir) Rosé Brut to start. The newly re-labelled “Stone’d” white blend was formerly “Chorus” and a sample of 2014 showed perfumed, dry apricot from a smorgasbord of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Müller Thurgau, Viognier, Schönberger, and Kerner. Our tasting concluded with the winery’s only two varietal red wines, in this case from the 2013 vintage: dry currants, tea, and earth from Pinot Noir finished long while the darker-fruited, baking spiced Pinotage offered fuller tannin and sweeter strawberry to close out the visit.

Chris Jentsch gleefully shares his Small Lots wines

For the Bus Tour’s final visit veteran grower Chris Jentsch pulled out all the stops in a phenomenal display of generosity at his namesake C.C. Jentsch Cellars. Nearly ninety years of Jentsch family farming in the Okanagan contributed to Chris and his wife Betty launching wine sales in 2013 at their 63-acre Golden Mile estate vineyard. At a private tasting bar in the winery Chris and his team cracked open the full range of exclusive Small Lots series wines without restraint. Viognier from 2014 was dialed in with a varietal-focused yellow peach palate while 2015 Chardonnay found fans with butterscotch and toasty apple flavours. A trio of youthful 2014 reds provided plenty of perception thanks to floral, candied fruit from Malbec, earthy Cabernet Sauvignon, and the juicy mixed berry jam of Cabernet Franc.

Chris Jentsch hands out door prizes with help from BCWAS President Brian

With seemingly unending energy, Chris next served up several pizzas for an afternoon aperitif as he announced a slew of surprising door prizes for many lucky winners, including one member who took home a full case of Rosé! The warmth and hospitality experienced at C.C. Jentsch easily eclipsed any afternoon ennui to ensure the weekend’s exciting adventures ended on an extra high note. Congratulations to the BC Wine Appreciation Society for yet another informative, entertaining, and successful bus tour!

Saturday, 17 September 2016

BCWAS Bus Tour 2016: Similkameen Valley

The BC Wine Appreciation Society swept the Similkameen and Southern Okanagan valleys on their eleventh annual winery tour this month, and I was lucky enough to nab myself a spot on the bus again this year. My wife and I had to be quick to sign up when the tour sold out in a single day earlier this summer, filling a 56-seat bus in record time! Tour guests travelled far and wide in one busy weekend, visiting ten wineries from Keremeos to Oliver, where we looked forward to the generous hospitality for which BC wine country is known.

The BC Wine Appreciation Society arrives at Hugging Tree Winery

Departure from our Osoyoos hotels came bright and early Saturday morning, with a 9am appointment awaiting us at the small family-owned winery Hugging Tree outside Cawston. Owners Walt & Christine Makepeace still sell much of their grapes to neighbouring Similkameen wineries, but producing a couple thousand cases from their thirty acre vineyard is enough to keep the whole family busy, including their winemaker son Brad. All were on hand to welcome the bus of eager wine aficionados with a generous selection of cheeses and even homemade tarts. Just as we started enjoying the wines a loud bang shook the wraparound deck on which we had congregated: stunningly, a minor earthquake had just struck the region! Looking to make our own impact, guests wasted little time stocking the bus with cases of citrus-apricot 2014 Viognier, fruit-forward 2012 Merlot, and structured, plumy 2012 “Telltale” Cabernet-Merlot, the only wines remaining in stock after a busy summer season.

Freshly picked grapes from the Hugging Tree's vineyards

By 10:30 we had bid adieu to the Makepeace family and motored up the road to Eau Vivre Winery, for a garden tasting of the many award-winning wines. Eau Vivre opened in 2007, the same year Walt & Christine were planting their new vineyard, so owners Dale Wright & Geraldine Estin have a few years’ head start on the friendly competition. The refreshing 2014 Riesling helped prepare our palates with lime cordial flavours and a smooth, clean finish. Soon Dale was cracking open his many reds, sourced from premium vineyards throughout the Similkameen and finished by Winemaker Anthony Buchanan since 2013. The newly released 2014 Pinot Noir follows in the footsteps of two past Lieutenant Governor’s Award-winning vintages, and impressed with a toasty forest floor and cherry profile helped along by wild fermentation. Cabernet Franc and Malbec from the 2013 vintage offered chocolate cherries and juicy smoked strawberries respectively, before the 2012 “Buddhafull” red blend showed the benefit of age in an elegant full bodied raspberry palate.

A garden tasting at Eau Vivre Winery

We whirled through the wine shop for more spoils and back on the bus headed to Clos du Soleil’s Keremeos estate. There Managing Director and Winemaker Michael Clark led tours of the organic and biodynamic vineyard and clean new winery, beginning to fill up with freshly harvested white grapes. Split into two groups, we alternated between touring and tasting, as the team had pulled out all the stops and opened virtually everything available. Highlights included the extremely rare 2014 Estate Reserve White, a Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon oozing with mineral-driven baked pear in a vibrant, creamy palate with years ahead of it - superb at present with appetizers of charred chicken skewers. The similarly exclusive 2012 Estate Reserve Red burst with expressive, elegant floral aromas, ripe tannins and rich fruit still growing in complexity as it ages into even further greatness. Even the upcoming Grower’s Series 2014 Syrah made it into our glasses: the winery’s first varietal Syrah is destined for wine club members before wider release this fall. The heady nose of Black Forest Cake elicited high praise even before the fresh wild berry palate and soft peppery finish.

Clos du Soleil Winemaker Mike Clark provides a vineyard tour

The sense of community exhibited in the Similkameen Valley was particularly evident as Clos du Soleil welcomed several other local wineries to join us for lunch and show off their own prized bottles. A spectacularly varied and lavish spread from Shayna & Shulman Culinary Adventures had us munching on antipasto platters, cheeses, and charcuterie before swinging by the grill for creative oyster mushroom hot dogs, seemingly endless sliders, and warm fresh cornbread. The shaded crush pad made the perfect location for samples as we nibbled and noshed our way into mid-afternoon. Orofino’s John & Virginia Weber were present with their exciting 2015 Wild Ferment Syrah and racy 2014 Hendsbee Vineyard Riesling. George Hansen of Seven Stones broke out his iconic 2013 red blend “The Legend”, while Sara Harker masterfully juggled bottles and baby to pour several intensely-flavoured sparkling and dessert fruit wines from her family’s Rustic Roots. The well-loved Gamay of Tim Cottrill’s Robin Ridge shared the spotlight with fragrant cocoa from a 2013 Cabernet Franc plus the elegant new “Signature Series” 2012 Meritage. Alongside the highly-regarded wines he produces at Forbidden Fruit, Nathan Venables also introduced his small lot Dead End Cellars label, including the deep and dark “Game Over” 2013 Tannat-Malbec.

A lunch visit from the winemakers of the Similkameen Valley

The hours seemed to fly by with that many wines to taste and soon the tour organizers were rounding up the crowd for our next winery visit, literally right next door! Since the Baessler family took over the former Herder winery and vineyard in 2014 their small Corcelettes label has grown a great deal, and Winemaker Charlie has made good use of the full tanks and barrels he inherited. Using the aged wines of (recently, and sadly deceased) Lawrence Herder Charlie has produced a 2011 Reserve Pinot Noir, 2011 Meritage, and 2012 Merlot, plus a non-vintage bubbly “Santé”. The existing Corcelettes “Menhir” flagship Cabernet-Syrah remains in fine form, with the new 2014 expressing inky sausage and full bodied black fruit. As a very special treat, the Baesslers opened their micro-lot of 2014 “Vendange Tardive” late harvest Gewürztraminer before we departed. Only 16 cases of this luscious libation were produced (harvested under icewine conditions), and we savoured aromas of burnt honey and concentrated lychee before the delightfully clean, bright, apple pie finish.

Charlie & Jesce Baessler welcome the BCWAS to Corcelettes

Heading back towards Osoyoos we had one more stop to make before poolside refreshment and a highly anticipated group dinner. Although the Webers had shared a few of their wines with us at lunch, they had another treat in store during a short visit to Orofino. Not only were tour guests given a chance to pick up their earlier wine orders, but John and Virginia offered an abridged vertical tasting of the flagship “Beleza”, going as far back as 2006, when it was known merely as Merlot-Cabernet. That final vintage before the new nomenclature (once Petit Verdot was available for inclusion) was still fresh and juicy, with lots of life remaining in the rich palate. The heat of 2009 had rendered that vintage an aged character beyond its years, with prune and spicy mocha flavours, while cool 2011 showed the opposite effect with an elegant nose of menthol and herbs before a long smooth finish. The newest release from 2013 was youthfully delicious, ripe and fruity with leather and brown sugar to carry it through the years.

Dinner views abound at Watermark Resort

Once everyone had freshened up back in Osoyoos we all met at Watermark Beach Resort for a Winemaker’s Dinner with proudly organic Forbidden Fruit Winery. Owners Steve Venables and Kim Brind’Amour were on hand to introduce even more wines than their son Nathan had showed off earlier in the day. Seated under an expansive white tent on the Resort’s beachside lawn we toasted to the evening’s clear skies with intensely plummy “Flaunt” 2014 Sparkling Plum. The 2015 Dead End “Skrewd” blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris provided creamy accompaniment to a starting salad of seasonal greens, radishes, and heirloom tomatoes. The locally sourced ingredients introduced the Watermark’s focus on featuring nearby organic farms and Okanagan producers, keeping everything fresh and flavourful.

Seasonal Greens, Quinoa Salad, and Wild Mushroom Risotto paired well with Forbidden Fruit

Forbidden Fruit’s 2014 Sauvignon Blanc brought tropical melon fruit to join the next course of Albacore Tuna & Quinoa Salad, piled high with goat cheese and roasted vegetables. Honey Rosemary Glazed Chicken came next with Wild Mushroom Risotto and the Dead End “Catch 22” 2013 Cabernet Franc, expressing enjoyable cassis and licorice. The 2012 red blend “Redemption” was the natural partner for Roasted Beef Striploin with confit potatoes and squash, where it found favourite showing off rich black currant and dark cherry flavours. Generous portions provided little room for dessert but we managed a bite of Okanagan Fruit Crisp with Vanilla Bean Gelato while sipping the luxurious but delicate 2015 “Caught” Apricot Mistelle as the sun set. With the bus about to turn into a pumpkin guests soon made a quick departure back to the tour hotel, where the wisest got a good night’s sleep before another full day to come!