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

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Collectibles: August 2016

Spending several productive and enjoyable days touring wine country this summer yielded a number of cellar-worthy red wines. In addition to those summarized last month several more commendable bottles demand mention at present. Traversing the Okanagan from north to south provided opportunities to visit several perennial favourites, with no time to spare as stocks seem to deplete earlier than ever these days.

August 2016 BC wine collectibles

Anarchist Mountain 2014 “Wildfire” Pinot Noir: The small high altitude vineyard of Andrew and Terry (Meyer) Stone provides them with unique terroir at 1,700 feet. The 4.5 acres of twenty-year-old vines include a half acre of Pinot Noir (Clone 115); and given its success much of the existing Chardonnay is being converted as well. For the second consecutive year, this garagiste Pinot has received a Gold medal at the National Wine Awards, with judges heavily praising the “intense, juicy energy” from “pure, well-cultivated grapes that were allowed to express themselves naturally.” Given the small production at present (75 cases) I swallowed the steep 50% markup to avoid missing the boat on this gem. Firefly Fine Wines & Ales $52

Blasted Church 2013 Cross To Bear: In the limited number of previous vintages this wine has been produced it has blended Malbec and Syrah, but the newest vintage brought Petit Verdot into the mix. Just 20% Malbec now unites with 40% Petit Verdot and 40% Syrah, successfully it would seem given the wine’s Gold medal at the Nationals. Judges felt it “powerful yet elegant,” and a rare example of “when unusual blends come together…this wine really nails it.” However, like all the reserve wines in Blasted Church’s “Revered Series”, Cross To Bear is a rarity, with only 120 cases produced and very little left at the winery after a busy summer. Winery Direct $32

Poplar Grove 2013 Benchmark: This interesting red blend has only been made in a couple of previous vintages as a treat for Wine Club members. Collecting my own summer package in person provided a chance to indulge from the remaining stocks of 229 cases divvied up quickly this summer. The blend differs from the more traditional Cabernet-heavy styling of the flagship Legacy blend, with 60% Merlot, 30% Malbec, and 10% Cabernet Franc – all handpicked in exclusively Naramata Bench vineyards. Separate fermentation and fifteen months French oak aging (25% new) was followed by three additional months in barrel after blending; before Poplar Grove’s now traditional 18 month bottle aging process. Winery Direct $35

Church & State 2013 Coyote Bowl Cabernet Sauvignon: Tasting this wine at the Coyote Bowl tasting bar on the Black Sage Bench yielded an impressive rich and toasty palate with solid aging potential. Similar characteristics were echoed by WineAlign judge Rhys Pender during the Nationals judging. (A slew of respectable medals have joined the Nationals Silver, including Bronze at Decanter, Silver in San Francisco, and one of only two Gold at the All Canadians Wine Championships.) The late October harvest from the winery’s Sun Ridge Vineyard in Osoyoos yielded 275 cases after aging in one third new French oak, and few likely remain as the 2014 itches for release. Winery Direct $35

Black Widow 2014 Hourglass: Although Dick Lancaster has been crafting delicious wines on the Naramata Bench for a decade he made a particular mark this year, being awarded the most medals (ten of them) among BC wineries at the All Canadians. Honours included Best of Category in Bordeaux Red Blends for this signature red, a relatively straightforward combination of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon – 190 cases from exclusively Naramata Bench fruit. Despite the wine’s youth, it clearly gained much from 21 months in mostly new French oak; I’m looking forward to some time in bottle as well. Impressively, three barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon reserved and bottled as the winery’s first single varietal of the type also yielded a Best of Category nod at the All Canadians. Winery Direct $42

Orofino 2013 Passion Pit Cabernet Sauvignon: One of two vineyard-specific varietal Cabernet from Orofino is sourced from the nearby Passion Pit, beside a local lover’s lane/former gravel pit. Prior to (unfiltered) bottling last August the wine spent twenty months in new and one-year-old oak barrels (French and American). As a new release it has yet to be widely reviewed, but should continue the trend of fully ripe, powerful Cabernet Sauvignon Orofino has been providing at highly competitive prices. Witness the accolades afforded the 2012 vintage by the likes of John Schreiner (“A tour de force,” 92 points) and Anthony Gismondi (“Cabernet with a capital C,” 88 points); the high quality 2013 should be a worthy follow-up. Winery Direct $29

Moon Curser 2013 Dead of Night: This bottle came as a bit of surprise to me in my latest Moon Curser Wine Club shipment: seeing as the 2014 vintage was just released I had mistakenly assumed I already owned the 2013. Although diminished stocks approach sold out status at present the 2013 scooped a pair of Canadian gold medals this summer at the All Canadian Wine Championships and the National Wine Awards. Nationals judges Michael Godel and Remy Charest both felt 92 points worthy for this “blend that really rocks: substantial, with great tannins, appetizing, energetic and fresh.” Selecting the best barrels (35% new French) of Syrah and Tannat for Moon Curser’s flagship red left winemaker and owner Chris Tolley with just 198 cases to bottle in March of 2015. It’s no surprise little remains as the 2014 vintage comes on deck – good thing the Club offers library vintages! Winery Direct $43

Monday, 29 August 2016

Cellar Selection: LaStella 2006 Maestoso

The first vintage of Italian-inspired LaStella’s flagship Merlot, Maestoso comes from the “Lumeno” home vineyard directly on the northwest shore of Osoyoos Lake. There, 3.3 acres of lovingly tended Merlot grow alongside small amounts of Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscat. Harvested October 6 from a crop yielding just 1.2 tons/acre, 250 cases were produced by original Winemaker Daniel Bontorin after 16 months in barrel. I was very fortunate to have purchased this bottle from the winery’s library in April of 2012.

LaStella 2006 Maestoso

First impression on the nose brings to mind classic southern Okanagan olive character, with toasty cassis and hints of leather and burnt sugar. After ten years the sumptuously smooth, full bodied palate presents stunning intensity and integration. Blackberry, black cherries, dried blueberries and more intermingle alongside smoke and leather carried through from the nose. Acidity is ideally balanced, offering tangy contrast to the sensual richness of the fruit (and 15.3% alcohol). No surprise the finish is lengthy, with cocoa and ripe jam lingering lovingly. Drinking wonderfully at present, it could continue to age given the observed intensity and fruit focus.

Grade: A+

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Collectibles: July 2016

Spending nearly a week touring the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys with several friends mid-month offered me a chance to both pick up a couple wine club orders in person, and nab several winery exclusive rarities. In addition to those award-winning wines previously mentioned, I brought home many unique and small lot additions to my collection from some local favourites. Notwithstanding the superb selection available in retail wine & liquor stores and VQA shops, these wines make the case for personal visits to find the greatest handcrafted specialties.

July 2016 BC wine collectibles

Road 13 2014 GSM: Touring the Golden Mile Bench necessitated a stop at one of the best in the business, where I picked up my latest Club 13 order and relished the newest assortment of Rhone-inspired reds and whites. In addition to varietal Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne, my order contained the juicy, meaty 2014 Syrah Malbec and the newest jammy GSM: 55% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 7% Mourvedre (and 2% Viognier). The vast majority of the grapes came from the Similkameen Valley’s Blind Creek Vineyard, with 7.5% from the estate Road 9 vineyard on the Black Sage Bench. Alongside the Platinum medal Syrah Mourvedre, both the Syrah Malbec and GSM were awarded Silver medals at this summer’s National Wine Awards. WineAlign judges praised the generosity and plush texture of this BC rarity, of which only 160 cases were produced. Winery Direct $39

Quails’ Gate 2013 Richard’s Block Pinot Noir: The West Kelowna winery’s 25th anniversary releases of 2014 were so successful and coveted that the series honouring Stewart family founders was extended. In the case of Pinot Noir this led to a second release of a mere 88 cases from the warm 2013 vintage. An exclusive block from the prestigious Upper Boucherie Road vineyard provided fruit for new Winemaker Nikki Callaway to craft an Old World-styled “sleeping giant,” in the words of Anthony Gismondi. His 90-point review suggests wisdom in cellaring for a decade, echoing the winery’s confidence of a 2028 expiry date! My own opportunity to taste this scarce treasure presented me with a richer, fuller-bodied profile than the renowned Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir, providing enthusiasm for its potential development. Winery Direct $56

Orofino 2015 Wild Ferment Syrah: The second year of John Weber’s Syrah experiment is another success: ripe grapes from the Scout Vineyard were wild fermented and then aged for five months in a locally-made concrete cistern. The adventurous small batch thus yielded a mere 90 cases, and provides an illuminating look at pure, minimal intervention Syrah in a “youthful fruit bomb” as described by John Schreiner. A taste at the winery presented intense and juicy marinated black cherries, with quintessential Similkameen stone and herbs. A recent Silver medal at the National Wine Awards was accompanied by 92-point praise from head judge David Lawrason, who admired the savoury fruitfulness and “fine sense of balance.” In my opinion multiple bottles are necessary – for both current enjoyment and cellaring study. Winery Direct $29

C.C. Jentsch 2014 Small Lot Malbec: Last year saw a rare varietal Malbec released after Winemaker Amber Pratt reserved two barrels from seven earmarked for the Golden Mile winery’s red blend “The Chase”. A Silver medal at the 2015 National Wine Awards suggested the concept was on the right track, and this year the All Canadian Wine Championships bestowed Best of Category on the second vintage, from which an increased volume of 84 cases were released. Although growing in prevalence, local varietal Malbec is still uncommon, so it’s a treat to encounter a delicious, finely crafted example. Treve Ring was impressed with the perfumed spices and full, ripe fruit while crafting her 90-point review for Gismondi-on-Wine, and I was similarly taken while tasting it at the winery, cementing my purchase decision. Winery Direct $57

Church & State 2013 Second Chapter Syrah: Several months after releasing the newest fan-favourite Coyote Bowl Syrah Church & State has treated us to an unexpected second wine in the reserve series. Both the namesake Coyote Bowl Vineyard and the newly debuted Second Chapter Vineyard can be found on the Black Sage Bench, but the difference in expression from gravel versus sandy soil made the case against blending the two distinctive lots. Second Chapter is the jammier of the two wines, with a silky texture of vanilla and rich dark cherry character on the long lingering finish. Only 600 cases are available after aging in a mix of French, American, Russian, and Hungarian oak barrels. This Gold medal-winning classically-expressed “stunner” helped propel Church & State into BC’s Top 10 at the National Wine Awards (again). Winery Direct $40

Poplar Grove 2013 North Block Syrah: The large estate vineyard in Osoyoos provides many of the red grapes used at Poplar Grove’s Penticton winery, as well as providing opportunities for small lot selections benefiting the Wine Club. While the winery’s regular Syrah is superb, in 2013 fruit of particular depth and richness from the vineyard’s North Block was specially selected for an exclusive batch. Harvested on a single day mid-October, it was double hand-sorted before fermentation and aging in a mix of new, one-year-old, and two-year-old French oak barrels for eighteen months. Like all of Poplar Grove’s red wines, generous bottle aging (15 months) was ensured before release this summer, when just 100 cases were made available to Club members. Winery Direct $40

Clos du Soleil 2012 Estate Reserve: The Keremeos winery’s initial “Winemaker’s Reserve” in 2010 has become this small lot production sourced exclusively from the meticulously tended ten acre biodynamic estate vineyard. The second year it was produced, in 2012, the renamed Estate Reserve included four French oak barrels comprising 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, and 1% Malbec. Visiting the winery provided a rare opportunity to sample this gem, at which time I was dazzled by a rich nose that conjured bacon and maple syrup woven within the elegant floral and berry fruit aromas. The fine and ripe tannins make it delicious at present, with hugely impressive potential echoed by Anthony Gismondi in his recent 93-point review. At this point only a handful of cases remain, with the highly anticipated 2013 ready on deck. Winery Direct $60

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Collectibles: Awards Attention

The mid-summer season is an exciting time for British Columbia’s winery industry, witnessing the confluence of three major Canadian competitions. A one month period from June to July begins with results from the All Canadian Wine Championships, followed closely by our provincial Lieutenant Governor’s Awards, and only weeks later WineAlign’s National Wine Awards of Canada are announced. Competition outcomes shouldn’t necessarily drive one’s personal preferences, but they do offer valuable suggestions for expanding one’s palate, experiences, and cellar selection. A recent trip through the Okanagan Valley and a few strategic local purchases provided the opportunity to do just that.

Award-winning BC wine collectibles

Ex Nihilo 2014 Pinot Noir: Twelve of 504 wines submitted to the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards judging received the eventual nod, with Lake Country’s Ex Nihilo bringing home their second Award in a row, after the 2013 Pinot Noir was recognized last year. In both years Ex Nihilo has been honoured with the only Pinot Noir named in the final results. While the publicity will certainly speed up sales a full 1,156 cases were produced, from Lake Country and Vernon grapes aged 9 months in (20% new) French oak. As it turns out I had the chance to taste at least a sibling of this wine last December when a friend shared the winery’s “Black Star Vineyards” branded 2014 Pinot Noir. Anthony Gismondi tasted the original version last month and remarked upon similar earthy red berry character in his 88 point review. Swirl VQA Store $45

SpierHead 2014 GFV Saddle Block Pinot Noir: I had acquired this fine Kelowna winery’s 2014 “Cuvée” Pinot Noir back in February, but it was only one of the two SpierHead Pinots awarded Platinum Medals from the National Wine Awards. Of over 1,500 entries the top 1% are awarded Platinum, and bringing home two of those coveted sixteen medals is most certainly something to crow about. In addition to the praise for the Cuvée’s ripe complexity the WineAlign judges heaped compliments on this small lot (211 cases) from the home “Gentleman Farmer Vineyard” in south-east Kelowna, e.g., “One of the finest of the vintage” in the eyes of head judge David Lawrason. Three Dijon clones were aged ten months in French oak to yield what the winery feels is a “soft, velvety” texture thanks to the warm growing season. Firefly Fine Wines & Ales $41

Deep Roots 2014 Syrah: Despite having opened their winery only two years ago the Hardman family has been farming their Naramata property for nearly a century, with grapes being the focus starting twenty years ago. A Platinum medal at the National Wine Awards last year for the 2014 Gamay made a statement, and now this year the 2014 Syrah has been named Best Red Wine of the Year at the All Canadian Wine Championships. No doubt proprietors Bryan & Deb Hardman have been doing their utmost to stretch the small supply of just 270 cases, but very little remains even so. When awarding the Syrah a Silver medal at the National Wine Awards, judges David Lawrason and John Szabo were sure to compliment the wine’s approachability, intensity, and complexity: “This has an extra gear of flavour, and very good length too.” Winery Direct $34

Red Rooster 2012 Reserve Merlot: A well-priced classic from Red Rooster’s upper tier, the Reserve Merlot was honoured with a Lieutenant Governor’s Award just as supplies were starting to run low. This screw-capped bottle is in fact the oldest wine Awarded, as the only 2012 vintage amongst the dozen. With only 387 cases produced very little remains at the winery – from which it is sold exclusively – especially considering it’s been collecting reviews for nearly two years already. Back in the summer of 2014 WineAlign reviewer David Lawrason remarked upon the full-bodied richness, with a caution for the nearly overripe fruit. The following spring reviewer Michael Godel was more generous in suggesting “one shouldn't miss this near-decadent beauty even if the style agitates.” Winery Direct $27

Road 13 2014 Syrah Mourvedre: The pivot to Rhone varieties at Road 13 provided for this rare blend beginning in 2011, from the winery’s “Road 9 Vineyard” on the lower Black Sage Bench. Following up a Gold medal at the Nationals last year the newest vintage scooped yet another Platinum for the highly respected winery. Receiving a taste while visiting the winery my companions and I were quite taken by the dark, inky colouring from which wafted aromas of cherry and blueberry compote. The plush texture embraced big juicy plums and cracked pepper amongst a bed of further smoky fruit compote. Sadly, this year’s release marks the smallest production quantity yet, at a mere three barrels (approximately 73 cases), not even half that of last year. Winery Direct $45

Award-winning BC wine collectibles

The Hatch “Black Swift” 2013 Long Road Syrah: Here’s yet another hugely challenging rarity to seek out, having sold out at the winery before the wine’s Platinum medal from the Nationals was announced. The premier tier vineyard-specific Black Swift series are micro lots that launched with the inaugural “flight” from the 2013 vintage, in which just 75 cases of this Osoyoos Syrah were released. I doubt it can be found in more than a handful of stores, and was lucky enough that the attractive – and hefty – bottle caught my eye only recently. WineAlign’s judges praised the deliciously complex palate and terrific length, worthy of a few years in the cellar to leverage the luscious structure. Coal Harbour Liquor Store $62

Bordertown 2013 Living Desert Red: Consulting Winemaker Jason Parkes, currently nesting at The Hatch, increased his considerable credibility by producing this Lieutenant Governor’s Award-winning blend of 75% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot from Proprietor Mohan Gill’s Osoyoos vineyards. With nearly two hundred acres of orchards and vineyards throughout the Okanagan Mohan sold grapes widely until beginning the wise and now seemingly common process of adding further value via his own winery, starting in the 2013 vintage. Although 586 cases of Living Desert were produced, supplies are running low given the newfound publicity, plus the appreciation of tasting room visitors for the power and lingering finish John Schreiner praised last year. Swirl VQA Store $28

Intersection 2013 Cabernet Franc: At an approachable price point, the only varietal Cabernet Franc recognized this year came from Oliver’s Intersection Winery, recipient of one of four first-time awards. Although not yet included on the winery’s under-revision website, approximately 300 cases of Cabernet Franc were produced after spending a year in French and American oak, and some remain available for sale while supplies last. Like most of Intersection’s red wines, the Franc is unfiltered, said to be “clarified by time and gravity.” It is likely the 2013 follows the “big and brambly” profile of the 2012 vintage John Schreiner previously reviewed, and will benefit from further bottle aging to gain in complexity. Swirl VQA Store $28

Kismet 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: Like fellow Indian immigrant Mohan Gill brothers Sukhi and Balwinder Dhaliwal began with (now extensive) vineyard holdings and grape sales before launching their own winery in 2013. Kismet’s 2013 Syrah (and 2014 Riesling Icewine) received a Platinum medal at last autumn’s BC Wine Awards, and now their first varietal Cabernet Sauvignon has been awarded a Lieutenant Governor’s Award. Fellow wine blogger Luke Whittall pointed out the noteworthy fact that Kismet’s Cabernet is only the third single-varietal of the type to ever win. With only 95 cases produced and held in bottle until this summer it will likely remain a tasting room exclusive. Winery Direct $40

Church & State 2012 Quintessential: With all the talk of this year’s Lieutenant Governor’s Awards, here’s a winner from 2015, only just released recently (in concert with a Gold medal from the 2016 Nationals). The release just happened to coincide with my visit to the winery, and thank goodness for that as production was shockingly slashed from the regular several hundred to just 100 cases in 2012. A five-variety Bordeaux-styled blend from a mix of southern Okanagan vineyards, Quintessential spent 22 months in French oak, one third new, to yield what WineAlign reviewer Bill Zacharkiw describes as “an absolute beast of a wine” – awaiting emergence from my cellar in the 2020’s. Winery Direct $55

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Collectibles: June 2016

I must be living in the past, because I still do a double take when I see 2014 red wines on the shelf. It doesn’t seem possible to purchase these youngsters already, but 18 months have elapsed since conclusion of the lovely 2014 harvest, leaving plenty of time for fermentation and barrel aging of most red wines. Of course, bottle aging adds additional time, hence the ongoing release of 2013 vintage wines as well. The earliest crack at fresh new bottles often goes to wine club members, hence my pleasure at receiving Laughing Stock’s latest this month, and my first shipment from the newly joined Stag’s Hollow Wine Club.

June 2016 BC wine collectibles

Laughing Stock 2014 Pinot Noir: It was only last year that Laughing Stock got back into Pinot Noir, after having purchased a second Naramata Bench vineyard, planted with the Burgundian variety. The “Small Caps” category that saw a couple of releases in the last decade was revived with 124 cases of 2013, and now 149 cases of the 2014 vintage are available, after 16 months in French oak (one third new). One would hope for further quantity increases down the road, as the newest winery exclusive release is likely already sold out given the fervent Preferred Share Club plus broad appreciation for the skills of Winemaker David Enns. I can’t help but be charmed by Laughing Stock’s poetic description: “Imagine chewing cherry fruit leather while walking through a forest after a rain.” Winery Direct $33

Blue Mountain 2013 Reserve Pinot Noir: The icon wine from Blue Mountain, and widely considered a benchmark in the local industry, is the Reserve Pinot Noir. I managed to obtain a small allotment thanks to my inceptive participation in the winery’s Priority Group, which I collected in person at this month’s pick-up party in Vancouver. The introduction of native yeast several years ago reached its pinnacle in the 2011 vintage, and since then the Pinot Noir has enjoyed full native fermentation, which is typically followed by 10 months in French oak and 18 months of bottle aging before release. Despite enthusiastically praising the wine’s intensity and purity at present the team of reviewers at WineAlign suggest further benefits to come from additional time in the cellar, advice in which I’m happy to oblige. Winery Direct $40

Stag’s Hollow 2014 Malbec: Seeking the lesser known and lesser seen wines of BC has led me to many a local winery’s club, and Stag’s Hollow is my latest wisely chosen membership. I was joyfully initiated with receipt of the winery’s first varietal Malbec, a club exclusive production of 106 cases. (Should any remain at summer’s end it will enjoy a public release in September.) The Plut Vineyard on the East Bench of Osoyoos yielded small lots of hand sorted fruit that included 2% Petit Verdot, aged for 15 months in 60% new French oak before being bottled this April. The winery suggests a “bloody rare grilled cut of beef” to complement the floral, earthy, ripe fruit and tannins, with development potential until at least 2020. Mine will remain in the cellar until then, one of a select few BC Malbec, and from a cherished producer at that. Winery Direct $35

Lariana 2013 Carménère: For some time reports have swirled that an ultra-rare (at least in BC) Carménère would join the petite portfolio at this small Osoyoos winery: only Black Hills and Moon Curser are known to produce single varietal versions. As John Schreiner detailed, mortality in the young vineyard’s Syrah vines lead to replacement with Carménère, and with Consulting Winemaker (and Black Hills founder) Senka Tennant on the case this rarity was inevitable. Now the acclaimed young winery has increased their range of wines by 50%, adding to spectacular Viognier and their rich red blend. Despite suggestions the Carménère, all 120 cases of it, would be released this fall, I was pleasantly surprised to spot it on select store shelves this month – before the winery itself had even published notice! Senka describes deep, dark fruits with licorice, pepper, and earth, while John’s recent 92-point review praised this “swaggering example.” Sutton Place Wine Merchant (& VQA Stores) $45

Stag’s Hollow 2013 Syrah: The Hearle Vineyard on the Osoyoos East Bench yielded Syrah (and 7.5% co-fermented Viognier) for a well-priced winner originally released last October. It was only recently the wine was named Best of Category at the All Canadian Wine Championships, and fortuitously included in my first club shipment from the winery. Four hundred and twelve cases saw 18 months of sur lie aging in 80% new French oak before bottling nearly a year ago. For some wineries this would be considered a small lot but Stag’s Hollow produces many more quasi-experimental wines in much smaller quantities (e.g., Dolcetto). A wine to sip will awaiting the first reserve-tier Renaissance Syrah from 2014, or age up to several years as the winery suggests. Winery Direct (& VQA Stores) $29

Daydreamer 2014 Marcus Ansems Shiraz: Last year Proprietor and Winemaker (and newly minted Master of Wine) Marcus Ansems released his first wines in the Signature Range bearing his family crest – 2013 Chardonnay and Shiraz. The “Shiraz” (the locally uncommon nomenclature honouring his Australian birth and background) went on to win a prestigious Gold medal at the 2015 National Wine Awards, and another one this year would not be unexpected. The new 2014 vintage comes from a Golden Mile Bench vineyard that yielded a mere 115 cases, after the wine spent a year in French oak. John Schreiner received the opportunity to taste back in November when Marcus earned his MW, and felt a strong 92-point score befitting the concentrated texture and bold flavours. Legacy Liquor Store $45

Laughing Stock 2014 Syrah: David & Cynthia Enns’ Osoyoos vineyard includes nearly 3 acres of Syrah that has impressed consumers and critics around the world since inception in the 2008 vintage (e.g., the 2011 was awarded a Decanter Regional Trophy). Compared to 2,500 cases of the better known “Portfolio” blend the several hundred cases of Syrah are a little harder to come by, but it always falls within my top local favourites. Hosting a six-year vertical from 2008-2013 last December was one of the highlights of my year. A touch of Viognier (3% in 2014) is typically added in a Northern Rhone style, while aging for this vintage found it spending 16 months in (45% new) French oak. I’m relieved to have locked up a couple bottles from my recent Preferred Share Club shipment – it has proven to be a trustworthy addition to one’s cellar. Winery Direct (& VQA Stores) $39