Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Collectibles: October 2017

A crush of fall club orders and some recent winery visits offered more than enough candidates for the cellar this month. These collectibles include some iconic BC blends and two pairs of classic varietals, in quantities ranging from petite to prodigious. Some will no doubt prove supremely challenging to track down outside their home range, showing once again the necessity of going straight to the source when seeking out the most intriguing bottles. With harvest underway and all hands on deck at this time of year, sales can take a backseat, meaning winery websites aren’t updated and rare new vintages are sometimes released with little fanfare. It’s up to aficionados to do the legwork in tracking down the best new drops.

October 2017 BC wine collectibles

Cassini 2014 Cabernet Franc: I optimistically stopped by Cassini’s road-side tasting room outside Oliver just as this gorgeous Cabernet Franc was being released and opened for tasting. The rich, purple-fruited nose carried into an equally intense palate showing fine ripe tannins, juicy acidity, and lip-smacking milk chocolate – a fine follow-up to the Gold-medal-winning 2013. Even after tasting and purchasing, I could still taste the extra long finish minutes after departing! Like previous vintages the fruit comes from the west-side Bella Vineyard, and maintains the same production of about 300 cases, which include the addition of 5% Merlot. Adrian Cassini likes to age his reds a bit longer than most, so two full years in new oak (80% French) is the go-to strategy in this case; but of course it can easily mature in bottle for a few more years, just as mine will. Winery Direct $40

Van Westen 2014 Vivre La Vie Merlot: Although the portfolio of wines crafted by Rob Van Westen have expanded over time, small production quantities are still the norm from his rustic Naramata winery. Several different small vineyards enable him to obtain the right varieties from suitable terroir, allowing for rich Merlot like the full-bodied “Vivre La Vie”, already almost sold out. Just 148 cases were bottled, but even before the late summer release the wine took home Double Gold/Best of Category honours at the spring All Canadian Wine Championships. Later in the summer, judges at the National Wine Awards recognized a “textbook Merlot” when delivering a high Silver medal score. The firmly structured tannins and toasty oak influence will benefit from time in bottle – Rob’s reds are consistently prime cellar candidates. Don’t miss the mere 77 cases of 2014 Cabernet Franc (“Vulture”) that were released last month as well, to which the All Canadians awarded another Gold. Winery Direct $30

Painted Rock 2015 Cabernet Franc: John Skinner’s Skaha Bench winery has developed an admirable, focused portfolio of red wines (plus a dynamite Chardonnay), but the recent addition of small lot varietal Cabernet Franc is turning heads even further. The stately Red Icon flagship and cult collectible Cabernet Sauvignon retain their status, but it’s about Franc that John is most excited. Now in it’s third vintage, the Franc – plus even smaller lots (I.e., 150 cases) of Malbec and new Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon – is made possible as the mature vineyards now yield sufficient fruit after blending the Icon. Revered consultant Alain Sutre is equally thrilled about Cabernet Franc, suggesting it is this variety above others in which Painted Rock will make a mark internationally. As the winery is quick to point out, Decanter magazine has already featured the first vintages no less than thrice, and they’re only getting better each year as experience brings finesse. Winery Direct $52

Road 13 2013 5th Element: Restraint from Road 13 means the flagship red blend from the 2013 vintage was only recently released, offered to members of Club 13 as part of their autumn shipment. Adding a bottle from the 852 cases produced fleshes out my six-year vertical, starting in 2007 (as no 2008 was produced), and showing the entertaining label changes over the years. The proprietary blend is intended to combine the traditional Bordeaux reds with stellar Syrah – 18% in this case, added to 45% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot. Nearly two thirds of the grapes originate from the extraordinary Blind Creek Vineyard in Cawston, with the remainder grown at the home vineyard on the Golden Mile. The structured 2012 received Gold at this year’s National Wine Awards, but the newest vintage is more approachable in its youth: a ripe, stewed palate and long rich finish make it hard to justify cellaring but it certainly won’t hurt in the medium term. Winery Direct $49

LaStella 2014 Maestoso: I have to admit I’m late to the party, as this vintage is already sold out, but don’t let that discourage you from scouring retail shelves – I certainly would! The flagship “jewel-in-the-crown” from Osoyoos-based LaStella is the monumental Merlot on which the winery admits, “no expense is spared.” Just 217 cases were produced from Osoyoos Lake district and (11%) Golden Mile fruit that spent 18 months in French oak, one third new and half on its second fill. While admiring the dense structure and spicy fruit, Anthony Gismondi offered this vintage his highest score yet with 93 points. Another 91 points of praise came from co-author Treve Ring, herself already eager to cellar and try again in five years. At WineAlign, a pair of 92-point scores this spring helped to remind readers Maestoso is “one of the top Merlots in the country to be sure.” Winery Direct $103

Laughing Stock 2015 Portfolio: The benchmark red blend from Laughing Stock is rightfully one of BC’s most well-known cult wines, and the annual October release is cause for celebration. As usual, members of the Preferred Share Wine Club get priority, so I knew to expect a small allotment in my mixed case. Pleasantly surprising me were a full three bottles, allowing an early peek at one I shared with Valerie Stride from Demystified Vine. We were mightily impressed with the complex profile and silky texture belying the wine’s youth; smelling cedar, blackberry, vanilla, and dark chocolate before more striking blackberry flavours accompanied by plum, dark cherry, and hints of white pepper. My remaining two bottles are set for the cellar and a growing vertical, but honestly it’s very inviting at present. Fortunately, a full 2,500 cases were produced, but don’t expect it to last particularly long, especially not with the holiday gift-giving season approaching. Winery Direct $52

Seven Stones 2014 The Legend: George Hansen’s Cabernet-heavy blend from the south Similkameen Valley comes with significant aging potential, and the newest vintage continues construction on another vertical. Usually about half Cabernet Sauvignon, this year it’s 50% on the dot, with another 30% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot, and 8% Cabernet Franc, from the cellar’s best barrels. Unlike the larger quantities of very nice Meritage George puts out after lengthier bottle aging, his flagship red is released to loyal followers almost immediately, with the expectation they have their own self-control. It won’t sell out too fast, despite only 204 cases produced, as George’s varietal reds and well-priced Meritage are just so good it’s hard to upsell many to The Legend! The big, thick bottle can be a little intimidating, but it’s going to look great lined up with its brethren as they rest away the years. Winery Direct $50

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Collectibles: September 2017

Most of the exceptional BC wines amassed this month are brand new releases. That’s not to say they will be easy to find, as nearly all represent extreme rarities, but every one is well worth tracking down. They range from a single barrel of an experimental variety never before seen in Canada, to the first vintage of a long-awaited flagship for a winery about to make a major transition. The beginning of fall represents a chance to celebrate the harvest with past years’ finest, and a great opportunity for collectors. Not to mention every winery is now finding themselves in need of cellar room for another celebrated vintage!

September 2017 BC wine collectibles

Liquidity 2015 Equity Pinot Noir: After some time in bottle, the inaugural 2014 flagship Equity was awarded a silver medal at Mondial des Pinots this month. Of course, that vintage is long since sold out, and this year’s sequel is approaching the same status. In lieu of clone 667 as per last year, the 2015 blends clone 828 with clone 115 from vines fruit-thinned to just one and a half tons per acre to yield 125 cases - prioritized for wine club members. After spending 15 months in (36% new) French oak the release this spring has left very little remaining in the Okanagan Falls wine shop. A pattern is forming at Liquidity, with the Equity being noticeably darker-fruited and more structurally intense than the Estate and Reserve tiers, immediately apparent upon tasting them side-by-side, and something Treve Ring noted last year as well. Winery Direct $64

Moon Curser 2015 Carménère: Although it is included amongst the traditional components of Bordeaux, few Canadian wineries bother to include this challenging grape in their red blends, and only a mere handful of single varietal examples exist. While Black Hills doesn’t even sell theirs outside the wine club, Moon Curser has managed to produce nearly 300 cases from a banner year for Osoyoos East Bench vines in their eleventh leaf. The wine was aged in a restrained 25% new French oak after malolactic fermentation, before bottling in March. For sale since early summer, this Gold Medal winner at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival provides one of the rare opportunities to sample Canadian Carménère; an exciting chance to test out Winemaker Chris Tolley’s impression of “plum, green peppercorn, ripe raspberry, and fennel seed.” Winery Direct $43

Cassini 2014 Nobilus Merlot: Adrian Cassini’s 2013 Merlot is one of two wines for which he received the Lieutenant Governor’s Award this summer, after it was named Best of Varietal at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival (and Best of Category at the 2016 All Canadian Wine Championships). Needless to say, the 2013 vintage is sold out, but fortunately the 2014 was quietly released last month, all 125 cases worth (it’s always a “Limited Edition”). Coming from what Cassini describes as an usually cold growing season it offers a very elegant nose and grippy but fully ripe tannins in the delicious palate, where 15% alcohol dwells despite the cooler temperatures. The grapes come from Oliver’s Bella Vineyard (not to be confused with Naramata’s Bella Winery), and are said to have spent a full two years in new French oak before bottling, and then several months in bottle while fans patiently awaited their opportunity. Winery Direct $40

Orofino 2014 Petit Verdot: While not nearly as rare as single varietal Carménère, Petit Verdot is still primarily reserved for blending, and not often seen on its own, anywhere for that matter. Cawston’s Orofino Vineyards last released a Petit Verdot from the 2010 vintage, preferring instead to integrate the small amount they receive from the neighbouring Hendsbee Vineyard into their Beleza blend. It would seem that aficionados got lucky in 2014, as enough remained after blending to allow for 75 cases to be assembled, introduced firstly this month to members of the winery’s Collector’s Club. I myself was certain to pick up a bottle while present at the winery on the very day it was released! A bottle of the 2010 vintage enjoyed a couple years back was superb, with strong juicy acidity that should keep it lively for years to come, just as the 2014 is a prime long-term cellar candidate. Winery Direct $45

Clos du Soleil 2013 Estate Reserve Red: While the more prevalent “Signature” is considered the popular flagship red at Clos du Soleil, the smaller lot Estate Reserve is crafted in an even more cellar-worthy style, and sourced exclusively from the organic home vineyard on the Keremeos Upper Bench. Just 200 cases of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, and 1% Malbec were aged for 18 months in French oak before extended bottle-aging (a year beyond that of the Signature). My bottle came on the fall equinox as part of my bi-annual Wine Club shipment, alongside a bevy of other brand-new reds. With a long life ahead of it the wine will need even more time to mature and knit together – perhaps why it “only” received a Bronze Medal at this year’s National Wine Awards. Nevertheless, Judge Michael Godel felt 90-points appropriate for what he saw as a Bordeaux ringer: “cool and minty, with espresso and dark bitter chocolate...well-positioned, purposed, and appointed.” Winery Direct $60

Tinhorn Creek 2014 The Creek: Just weeks after Tinhorn Creek President Sandra Oldfield introduced her winery’s new flagship wine (23 years in the making) news emerged that she and her partners had sold the winery to Peller and she was departing. With the upcoming sale undoubtedly being negotiated at the time, the launch party must have been bittersweet for Sandra. Perhaps it is apropos that new winemaker Andrew Windsor crafted the inaugural and subsequent vintages, having taken over the role from her in 2014 with Sandra’s blessing. In contrast to Tinhorn’s typical focus on Merlot, (Black Sage Bench) Cabernet Sauvignon leads “The Creek”, comprising more than half the blend with 19% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot, all aged for two years in (40% new) French and Hungarian oak. Early reviews of the 1,475 case production at GismondiOnWine have been very positive, noting the balance and elegance in what is deemed to be an age-worthy wine with strong potential. Winery Direct $63

Stag’s Hollow 2015 Teroldego: Honestly, unless you’re a member of Stag’s Hollow’s Wine Club, or are lucky enough to visit their (brand new) tasting room in the next week, you’ll never see this wine. Only a single barrel came from Winemaker Dwight Sick’s first harvest of this esoteric grape planted in the winery’s young Okanagan Falls “Shuttleworth Creek” vineyard, where it grows alongside Dolcetto. After sending the vast majority to Club members this month a few cases remain for sale in the Stag’s Hollow wine shop to celebrate the Fall Wine Festival. Impressively, Dwight feels it is the best wine on hand at present, despite having recently released 2016 Grenache, 2015 Syrah, and the highly anticipated 2014 Renaissance (Reserve) Meritage – so that speaks volumes! Subsequent vintages are expected to increase in volume, but not massively so, making it very much a prime pinch for wine geeks. Winery Direct $40

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Celebrating with Poplar Grove

Penticton’s Poplar Grove Winery hosts a generous party for their many loyal Wine Club members each September, and for the first time since joining said Club I was in the Okanagan and available to attend this year. By design, the expansive Munson Mountain tasting room and grounds are a near-perfect event space, and so the facility closed early this Saturday to welcome hundreds of devotees and their guests. In past years, the “Member Appreciation Event” has taken the form of a barbecue, but with the Vanilla Pod restaurant now firmly established, an even more diverse spread has become the norm. Although the winery kept expectations in check with a caveat they would only be providing “small bites,” I’m glad I brought my appetite!

The gathered throngs nibble and nosh on the patio.

Upon arrival – dodging the many complimentary shuttle buses bringing in guests from Naramata to Summerland – we were treated to a glass of welcome bubbly. The winery’s inaugural Extra Brut 2014 was no doubt made with this party in mind, and members have had the chance to enjoy the crisp Blanc de Blanc since this spring. Knowing the Chardonnay was hand-picked by Proprietor Tony Holler from his personal home vineyard engenders a certain gratitude when he hands you a glass! Later in the evening, Tony revealed that the highly enjoyable sparkler will remain a member-exclusive wine for the foreseeable future, another one of several Club wines that serve to entice new members.

A brief cold-spell in the central Okanagan prevented some of the sun-kissed photographs taken in previous years, but organizers were prepared for rain or shine conditions with tents should the worst come to pass. Fortunately, the occasionally-overcast skies stayed in check, and the tasting room itself provided a dash of warmth once a chill set in outdoors. The grounds included a triplet of food and wine stations in the lower picnic area, along with heartier fare on the restaurant patio, and well-refreshed snacks indoors. Although I kept a laser-like focus on the wine, an expansive non-alcoholic bar was highly visible and reflected well on our responsible hosts.

A blast from the past visible in the barrel room.

Combined with coordinated wine pairings from across the portfolio, the many food stations dished out delicacies and hometown favourites. With a glass of Brut in hand one was invited to enjoy Pulled Pork Sliders alongside Vegetarian Chili while talented local musician Nikita Afonso serenaded the reception area. On the grass below long lines formed for Prawns and Tomato Cucumber Salad with the striking new 2016 Chardonnay – bursting with fresh peaches & cream and mandarin orange aromas. Maple Glazed Salmon matched the 2016 Rosé, a complex, lip-smacking Blanc de Noirs of Malbec, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, unexpectedly still available for sale on-site! The intensely-flavoured 2014 Syrah was superb with Grilled Fennel Sausage and Sweet Corn Hash; the rich new release is boosted by 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and was fermented with a small proportion of Viognier skins for added aromatics.

In the tasting room itself a half dozen wines were available from the fully staffed “pods”, where sales seemed brisk as well. Opportunity to compare the 2016 Pinot Gris and single-vineyard Munson Mountain bottling of the same (another Club exclusive), showed off the home vineyard’s minerality with ease. The vivacious upcoming “Collectif” 2016 was also being showcased, a follow-up to last year’s delicious new white blend that brought together Riesling, Chardonnay, and Viognier/Marsanne/Roussanne. Newly released 2014 Merlot and 2014 Cabernet Franc provided plenty on which to chew as well, with bright and juicy heirloom tomato flatbread emerging at a furious pace from the hard-working kitchen. For extra-hearty fare the patio was home to Beef Brisket, Baked Beans, and Cornbread, showcased by the much-loved 2013 CSM red blend, and the golden-hued, thought-provoking 2014 MRV white.

Attractive magnums of Lt-Gov Award-winning 2009 Cabernet Franc on display.

Should the seemingly-endless array of food and drink somehow prove unsatisfying the on-site barrel hall was home to Winemaker Stefan Arnason and a pair of open barrels (plus a cloud of fanatic fruit-flies). The barrel thieves were dispending mouth-filling 2016 Syrah and fresh, juicy 2016 Munson Cabernet Franc (surprisingly approachable) to those looking for a glimpse into the future. Platters of Apple Sauce Cake and Chili-spiced Brownies offered a sweet treat on the room’s impressive long-table, just to cover all the culinary bases. After three hours of festivities there could not have been a hungry belly or thirsty palate left in the house; I certainly left merrily mellow. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, Poplar Grove has continued to provide added value for their Wine Club members – I’m happy to oblige!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Collectibles: August 2017

The several special bottles I’m reserving this month are dominated by classic Cabernet, both parent and child versions in the form of Franc and Sauvignon, respectively. An early August trip to Osoyoos for several days helped in the hunt for some of the small lot exclusives: 400 cases is the largest production quantity amongst these wines. Chance finds at specialty wine stores closer to home rounded out the selection, but in both cases I consider myself very lucky to have nabbed bottles reaching sold out status. The summer’s national award season maintains strong representation, as four acclaimed Gold medal-winners are on the list for those who seek to hunt them down.

August 2017 BC wine collectibles

Anarchist Mountain 2015 Pinot Noir: From the quintessential “small guys” winery, Anarchist proprietor Terry Meyer-Stone actually founded and runs the Garagiste North Wine Festival. Alongside her husband Andrew Stone the pair produce a mere couple hundred cases of wine from their vineyard above Osoyoos. The Pinot Noir they produce (at the winery of Terry’s brother Jak Meyer) has garnered impressive accolades over the years, and the newest vintage is no exception, with a Gold medal from the recent National Wine Awards. Just 75 cases of the 2015 were produced, and it is long since sold out for direct ordering, but discerning private retailers often get a hold of some. The 2016 should be available soon, likely after undergoing similar wild yeast, whole berry fermentation in primarily neutral French oak. Sutton Place Wine Merchant $40

Harper’s Trail 2015 Cabernet Franc: Ontario Cabernet Franc had quite a run in this year’s National Wine Awards, garnering four Gold medals, while the only Gold for BC went to Kamloops, where Harper’s Trail made 200 cases worth on the banks of the Thompson River. WineAlign’s judges pointed out that cooler vineyards sites are producing “fresh, spirited, and ultimately crushable” iterations of the grape, and Kamloops’ first winery is leading the charge. The elegance elucidated in the tasting notes is reflected in judge Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson’s 91-point review, praising the balance and restraint on display in an exemplar bottle. Although still available in some stores, this vintage has been supplanted by the newly released 2016 at the winery, and the good news is that production has more than doubled from an excellent year. Swirl VQA Store $33

Lock & Worth 2015 Cabernet Franc: I acquired an earlier vintage of this Naramata Bench Franc a couple years back, and it still rests in the cellar; meanwhile I’m happy to bring another on board. Matt Sherlock and Ross Hackworth are excelling in their second venture, when they aren’t busy doing the same at Nichol Vineyard. The twenty-year-old estate vines overlooking the lake are still going strong, expressing themselves well through low-intervention, natural winemaking. Seventeen months in neutral oak has yielded 160 cases that ensure, “you're getting a clear-lens view of the grape,” in the words of GismondiOnWine’s Treve Ring. Her 91-point review this month praised the wine’s rustic intensity and aging potential despite the temptation of present enjoyment. If I hadn’t found the last bottle on the shelf I would crack another one open immediately for some of that impressive “scratchy minerality.” Firefly Fine Wines $37

Black Widow 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon: The red-hot, lengthy 2015 season was one in which Cabernet Sauvignon had some of its best chances to fully ripen, even outside the South Okanagan. Although uncommon, there are a number of high-quality Cabernet vineyards in the Naramata Bench, one of them being the Pocaterra property directly beside Black Widow. From there, Dick Lancaster has obtained superb red grapes to complement the estate vineyard at his arachnid-absorbed winery. Only the second varietal bottling, 100 cases from four selected barrels have now gone on to win (the sole) Gold at the All Canadian Wine Championships (following Double Gold last year for the 2014 vintage). Released this month alongside the other premium 2015 reds, it won’t last long in the highly visible roadside tasting room. Winery Direct $55

Cassini 2012 Godfather Red: In 2010 Adrian Cassini put together the first vintage of a new flagship wine for his namesake winery. The first blend of “The Godfather” added Syrah to the traditional Bordeaux reds of Merlot and Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc. After a departure in 2011 to one of just Cabernets, the wider blend has returned in 150 cases of the recently released 2012 – combining 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Cabernet Franc, 17% Merlot, and 8% Syrah. A rare taste at the winery offered me a rich, earthy nose and a dense but smooth palate of toasty dark plum and cherries before a lengthy, raisined finish. The 2012 represents the first in what should be a particularly promising series of vintages to come (Cassini’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot having both received Lieutenant Governor’s Awards), but with Adrian having eschewed Syrah as of 2014, I expect further changes in composition to come. Winery Direct $70

Culmina 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon: Since launching a series of single varietal reds in 2013 to complement the flagship Hypothesis blend, the Triggs family’s Golden Mile winery has taken full advantage of the excellent 2014 vintage as well. In the eyes of Anthony Gismondi, the second year of Cabernet Sauvignon is significantly improved: his 89-point review this spring noted the increased finesse and perfect balance, offering aging into 2020. Tasting it myself this summer I noted a palate with enjoyable and ideal fruit focus - currants and Lapin cherries - plus lush tannins with less austerity than the same vintage’s Merlot. John Schreiner offered 93 points to the Sauvignon versus 92 points to Merlot in his June review – either would be well suited for the cellar. About 400 cases were recently released at the winery after 16 months in (25% new) French oak and bottling last June. Winery Direct $45

Moon Curser 2013 Tannat: I’m pretty sure this Osoyoos East Bench Tannat is still the only game in town, and there are few other locations in Canada that could even attempt the grape. Although blended with Syrah for the winery’s flagship “Dead of Night”, a few barrels are reserved for the single varietal bottling that resumed (after a brief absence) in 2012. Gone is the quirky “Tannant” nomenclature of that vintage, in which a typographical label error led the winery to embrace the Quebecois vernacular for “irritating”; now the proper varietal name is in place. After bottling in early 2015 - following a couple years maturation in (30% new) French oak, more have passed before this summer’s release of 121 cases; coinciding nicely with the Gold medal recently received at the National Wine Awards. Even after four years there is little hurry to unleash the full-bodied character, as the winery suggests another decade in bottle (sealed under screwcap no less) is within reason. Winery Direct $43

Monday, 31 July 2017

Collectibles: July 2017

Mid-year is always a particularly exciting time for BC wine enthusiasts and collectors: following the results of the All Canadian Wine Championships and then the BC Lieutenant Governor’s Awards in June, July reveals results of the highly respected National Wine Awards. The Nationals follow from the previous Canadian Wine Awards: many of the contributors to the defunct host publication Wine Access launched WineAlign a few years back, and continued the awards process. Amongst the many prominent accolades for BC wine coming out of this year’s competition were seven of 20 Platinum medals, awarded to the top 1% of wines entered. Needless to say there are plenty of superb wines from which to choose this month!

July 2017 BC wine collectibles

Privato 2014 Woodward Collection “Tesoro” Pinot Noir: The reserve-tier Pinot from Kamloops’ Privato is as good as gold this summer, receiving matching medals from both the All Canadians and Nationals. With a 91-point overall score at the Nationals, and a trio of glowing reviews from judges praising its irresistibility, the wine must have been within inches of a prestigious Platinum medal. While I visit the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys on a regular basis, making it up to Kamloops has been unfortunately neglected, but rapidly becoming an important expedition to consider. Fortunately wineries like Privato understand the importance of reliable retail channels as well, so I was able to find this fine bottle in Vancouver before it sells out. $46 Swirl VQA Store.

Stag’s Hollow 2014 Renaissance Pinot Noir: Another exciting new Pinot Noir came to me this month in my Stag’s Hollow Wine Club package, which is always a mystery collection until it arrives. Although the winery is already selling futures of the 2015 Renaissance Pinot Noir (only their sixth reserve tier Pinot in two decades), the current vintage remains well on hand, albeit only what remains of about 200 cases produced. It’s described as a bold, Californian-styled Pinot Noir, black-fruited with abundant French oak (50% of it new); although WineAlign judge Remy Charest pointed out “it has the stuffing to stand up to it,” in contributing to the Silver medal the wine received at the Nationals this month. With the winery suggesting aging through 2025 I’m in no hurry to crack mine open (and it’s secure under screwcap until that day comes). Winery Direct $40

The Similkameen Collective 2014 GSM: Expanding out from their Golden Mile Bench origins, Road 13 has made a major bet on the Similkameen Valley, showing off Cawston’s exceptional Blind Creek Vineyard in their Similkameen Collective project. The first release last year of GSM and Syrah-Viognier returned Gold and Platinum medals, respectively, from the 2016 National Wine Awards. This year’s GSM surged to Platinum status on the back of an excellent growing season that propelled the wine to “new heights,” in the words of WineAlign Judge Brad Royale. Despite the 100-acre size of Blind Creek, the grapes are spread thin across several clients, and only 126 cases of GSM have been produced (up from 104 last year though). The blend of 54% Grenache, 37% Syrah, 7% Mourvedre, and 2% Viognier found particularly strong favour amongst the judges this year, receiving a 92-point average score! Winery Direct $50

Burrowing Owl 2015 Syrah: Three Canadian Syrah were recognized with Platinum medals at this year’s National Wine Awards, and the pair of BC bottles include a surprising Naramata version (from Lake Breeze), plus this southern Okanagan stalwart. The generous vintage has resulted in a “ripe, rich, and meaty Syrah” that caught the attention of judges: David Lawrason’s 93-point review praises it for being “lavish and engaging” with “gorgeous textures.” In typical Burrowing Owl fashion the 18 months in oak were a complex affair, using a mix of 70% French, 15% American, and 15% Hungarian barrels of varying ages (30% new). Despite having been released just last month (with a limited availability warning) it is reportedly already sold out in the tasting room, so be sure to scour the shelves of local retail establishments! Winery Direct $35

Road 13 2015 Syrah Malbec: The friendly internal rivalry amongst Road 13’s various Rhone-inspired blends appears to continue this year as the contribution of 24% Malbec (and 3% each of Viognier and Gamay) has taken Gold at the National Wine Awards. A small lot Syrah blend with Mourvedre took Platinum last year while the Malbec inclusion only brought home Silver, now “redeemed” with a new vintage. Grapes from the winery’s extensive holdings in the south Okanagan and Similkameen valleys contributed to 347 cases of what the winery calls an “utterly hedonistic wine.” Tasting a sample at the winery while collecting my Club order I was readily persuaded to agree: the noticeable Malbec contribution provides for a darker and jammier profile than the excellent (and equally collectible) varietal Syrah I also obtained, with more tannin present in the rich and creamy palate. Winery Direct $37

Fairview Cellars 2014 The Bear: In the words of proprietor and winemaker Bill Eggert, 2014 was a “most awesome year,” allowing him to devote a larger percentage of the vintage than usual to his flagship red blend. The Bear has been an automatic purchase for many years given Bill’s veteran talent, hence providing me with a rotating six-bottle vertical that now yields a 2008 for current consumption. The wine is typically a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blend, including Merlot and Cabernet Franc, plus what Bill reports as “a small percentage of Malbec and an even smaller portion of Petit Verdot.” The grapes (with the exception of Malbec) come from the estate vineyard on the northern end of the Golden Mile Bench west of Oliver. The 650 cases assembled should last at least through the summer, but don’t dawdle! Winery Direct $40

La Frenz 2014 Grand Total Reserve: The icon wine at La Frenz is comprised of fruit from the Naramata Bench winery’s home “Rattlesnake” Vineyard, and their Golden Mile “Rockyfeller” Vineyard, which contributes Cabernets. Acquiring the newest release completes adds a sixth vintage to my collection, initiating another rotating vertical beginning with 2009. Having sampled all of those years (and beyond) at last year’s BCWAS-hosted vertical tasting, I look forward to what to the future holds. That anticipation includes this plush-textured blend of Merlot (42%), Cabernet Sauvignon (33%), and Cabernet Franc (25%), aged in (70% new) French oak for 22 months before blending and bottling of about 300 cases. Over at IconWines, reviewer Liam Carrier is equally confident in the wine’s future promise: his 93-point review strongly suggests more bottle age to “make the most of your investment.” Winery Direct $45

Monday, 3 July 2017

New Adventures: Bella Sparkling Wines

Since Jay Drysdale opened his tiny Bella bubbly house to the public in 2014 I’ve longed to visit the winery he opened with wife Wendy on the northern Naramata Bench. It’s taken me three years to get there, past myriad vinicultural distractions on the route from Penticton, but I couldn’t be more pleased to finally make it. The northern Naramata tasting room is a working one, with far more space devoted to riddling racks than people. Despite the relatively remote location, the venue was hopping on the recent long weekend, with visitors choosing from amongst dozens of unique, vintage stems and coupes for tasting the lively list of wines before they sell out mid-summer.

Taster's choice rules at Bella when it comes to drinking vessel.

Jay & Wendy’s mantra of “Celebrate Today” was on point as Jay opened what seemed like countless bottles, so many that I honestly lost track of some! To keep at least some focus only Chardonnay and Gamay are used for a growing series of micro-lot (e.g., 50 cases) wines made all Brut Natural with no dosage. From the traditional method “Vineyard Series” of 2016 three Gamay from West Kelowna and a pair of Naramata vineyards offered plenty of crunchy red berries and stone fruit, while Chardonnay showed varietal character from Keremeos and Kamloops. Ancestrale method wines in the 2016 “Natural Series” encompass the first estate fruit in a blend of Chardonnay & Gamay, plus a lime and spiced apple iteration of the Keremeos Chardonnay, and two more Gamay, including a re-visit to the Westbank vineyard source. A major treat was also on offer as the single Reserve Series was opened to reveal a luxurious 2013 Chardonnay from Oliver’s Secrest Vineyard, full of classical Champagne character after 42 months on the lees.

Riddling racks on display for a close look at the Bella process.

Collectible: 2016 Chardonnay - Eastside (Ancestrale). In this case Eastside refers to the Southern Okanagan, and the grapes come from Michael Bartier’s Black Sage Bench vineyard (on the east side of the valley) outside Oliver. One of several ancestrales making inroads at Bella, the wine undergoes a single fermentation that concludes in bottle (instead of the typical tank-based primary and a more controlled secondary in bottle). The technique is riskier and makes for some natural cloudiness, but the results can be stunning, as Jay reports: “You will never taste a more intensely flavored sparkling wine than an ancestrale.” The nose of tropical and citrus fruits leads into a buttered popcorn palate that made this one an immediate purchase, and at only 9.1% alcohol one really can celebrate today, or any day - at least while the 50 cases produced remain available!

Sunday, 2 July 2017

New Adventures: vinAmité Cellars

The Coulombe family winery is two years young this summer, since opening in 2015 (and tweaking the name since) with an enviable location on Highway 97 outside Oliver. Since having first tasted, and thoroughly enjoyed, the wines - presented by daughter Catherine Coulombe - at last fall’s Garagiste North Festival in Penticton, I’ve been eager to visit the winery in person. A couple attempts in May fell through, but as it turned out the shelves were nearly empty at the time, with a full slate of new releases anticipated in June. Among those new wines I heard about through the grapevine was a special release varietal Petit Verdot that piqued my curiosity.

Settle down for a while amongst original artwork and artisanal foods, including this selection from thesaltcellar.ca

Arriving at seemingly the perfect time, I was fortunate enough to be guided through the portfolio (from a vineyard-view table on the back patio) by the ebullient Catherine herself, who serves as both knowledgeable Tasting Room Manager and Assistant Winemaker. The cozy lounge is richly decorated with art from Catherine’s talented sister Nathalie, and fine cheeses and charcuterie are available to enhance and extend one’s experience. All business, I delved straight into each of the eight wines on hand, all small lots of less than 250 cases. Highlights included aged Pinot Gris from 2015, richly textured with honeyed peaches; 2015 Chardonnay, lightly oaked for just four months and offering a pleasing popcorn profile; plus new 2016 Gamay, very pretty indeed with spiced cranberries and a fresh, silky, palate. Red blends from 2015 comprise “Petit Claret”, “Hidden Corner”, and “Compass”, a favourite with ripe berries, cocoa, and vanilla atop structured tannins from 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Malbec.

vinAmite 2015 Petit Verdot

Collectible: 2015 Petit Verdot. Used most often in small proportions for blends, varietal Petit Verdot is rare worldwide, so it’s always exciting to see a local example. In this case, Proprietor Ray Coulombe set himself on a “mission”, as Catherine puts it, to obtain these grapes from a local partner grower in the south Okanagan. Only three (French oak) barrels were produced of what is hoped to be an inaugural vintage (there is a larger lot of 2016 aging in the cellar, and plans for 2017), divided amongst one new barrel, a one-year-old, and a three-year-old, where the wine spent 14 months before bottling. Having a taste at the winery revealed near perfect varietal character, with all the inky, floral aromas and powerful palate one would expect; the ripe, dark fruit is nearly Port-like in its concentration. Needless to say I look forward to longer-term aging of this particular rarity. Winery Direct $55