Saturday, 24 March 2018

BCWAS Merlot Blind Tasting

For the past several years the BC Wine Appreciation Society has hosted an annual double-blind varietal tasting, beginning with Syrah in 2013, and in latter years featuring Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Riesling. Having recently taken over as Society Cellarmaster I was given the task of organizing this year’s tasting, and settled on long-suffering Merlot. After taking a beating following the release of the film Sideways in 2004, unfairly maligned Merlot deserves to be championed more often, particularly given its standing as BC’s most-planted red grape. I looked forward to the challenge of showing off some top local examples.

BCWAS Merlot Blind Tasting wines

I was limited to only eight wines given the physical constraints of our venue, fewer than years past, so it was important to ensure variety and avoid overlap. I focused on regional distribution alongside important criteria such as quality and availability. Using what was on hand in the Society cellar allowed for a selection of vintages from 2012-2015, while geographic range from Naramata through Osoyoos and on to Keremeos yielded sufficient diversity. While I longed for some of the exclusive icons from LaStella or Checkmate, price was another consideration, and so the wines remained within the $27-$40 range. Cost doesn’t always predict quality however, so prominent award-winners were in the mix to see how they stacked up. The wines were all poured blind, and served blind in the following randomized order:

Painted Rock 2012: The tasting’s oldest wine, coming from professional storage in the BCWAS cellar, it’s long since sold out, as the 2014 is currently available at the winery. The Merlot block on the west-facing Skaha Bench estate vineyard was harvested October 23, and the grapes were later aged for 18 months in 50% new French oak before just over 1,000 cases were bottled.

Stag’s Hollow 2014 Renaissance: The winery’s reserve tier Merlot was harvested from the Okanagan Falls home vineyard on October 27, before aging in 50% new French oak for 15 months. This wine was one of two minor blends in the tasting, having incorporated 10% Cabernet Sauvignon for additional complexity, before bottling of just 225 cases. A Gold Medal at the 2017 All Canadian Wine Championships made it one to watch.

Cassini 2013 “Nobilus”: Bursting with accolades, Cassini’s example of Golden Mile Bench Merlot offered high expectations. The wine had returned a Double Gold (Best of Category) at the 2016 All Canadian Wine Championships, and a prestigious Lieutenant Governor’s Award last summer. Adrian Cassini entrusted his grapes to 100% new French oak for two years after harvest in the last week of October, releasing only 187 cases in the fall of 2017.

Corcelettes 2015: From the young winery’s relatively new home vineyard on the Keremeos Upper Bench, rare own-rooted vinifera vines were harvested early in September during this hot vintage. The grapes spent 16 months in a mix of French and American oak before 322 cases were released quite recently. At only $27 it was also the least expensive wine in the tasting.

Poplar Grove 2014: Just north of the winery location at the south end of the Naramata Bench are the pair of neighbouring vineyards that yielded a thousand cases of this local favourite. The wine is actually a four-grape blend, harvested over a month-long period starting in early October: 88% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Malbec. Grapes were aged in used French oak (second- to fourth-fill) for 21 months.

Burrowing Owl 2014: Anchoring the winery’s portfolio means 6,500 cases of this money-maker come from expansive southern Okanagan vineyards. The Black Sage Bench home vineyard and another on the Osoyoos East Bench contributed grapes harvested over two weeks mid-October. Burrowing Owl’s trademark varied elevage spread the grapes across 65% French, 18% American, 10% Hungarian, and 7% Russian oak, one quarter of it in new barrels.

Church & State 2013: Another Black Sage Bench example, but this time from lower in altitude closer to the valley floor. The Coyote Bowl and Rattlesnake Vineyards adjacent to the winery were harvested October 23, before 22 months of aging in one third new French oak. Just 275 cases came about, and it’s long since been supplanted by the present 2015 vintage for sale.

Van Westen 2014 “Vivre la Vie”: Rob Van Westen’s family vineyards can be found at the northern end of the Naramata Bench. The three small blocks that formed this wine were harvested from October 4-19, and spent 21 months in 25% new French oak before bottling of a mere 148 cases. The 2017 All Canadian Wine Championships awarded Double Gold to mark this bottle as category leader in the premium Merlot tier.

The fifty-plus participants at the sold-out tasting were all asked to rank order the eight wines on anonymous ballots, which I then tabulated using a Borda-count system (for all the voting-method geeks out there) to yield the overall crowd favourites. The clear champions emerged on top in short order, led by Cassini, Van Westen, and Burrowing Owl. The next level was dominated by Corcelettes, Painted Rock, and Poplar Grove, and demonstrating that vintage certainly was not a reliable predictor of appeal, given the full four-year range in that cluster.

Unfortunately, a couple of the wines seemed to have suffered from either faulty bottles or tainted stemware, as reports of off flavours harmed the chances of both Church & State and Stag’s Hollow, relegating them to the rear. My own servings seemed to have avoided any problematic bottles or glasses, as both Church & State and Stag’s Hollow found favour in my notes. Served second, Stag’s Hollow yielded a toasty, leathery nose with palate of blackberries and a pucker on the finish. Church & State, one of the older wines, offered a dusty nose before an aggressive palate of chewy tannins and tart fruit that finished long. It’s truly a shame some glitches may have prevented these two wines from achieving their potential.

Merlot Blind Tasting Champions

The third wine served, top-ranked Cassini, made a particular impression – my notes reference the rich, creamy texture and profile of baked fruit and vanilla. Van Westen showed the winery’s trademark age-worthy tannins, with smoky hints but a well-balanced acidity that brought juicy fruit to the forefront. Burrowing Owl offered significant caramelization on the nose and palate – easy to like – with an accessible texture and ripe southern Okanagan fruit. Corcelettes revealed the freshness of youth, with a range of berry fruit flavours and hints of menthol, pleasantly elegant given the price point. Painted Rock’s Merlot always takes longest of John Skinner’s reds to come around, and even with the benefit of age it was still tight, showing floral character on the nose in time, while ripe, dark berries emerged on the palate. Poplar Grove belied its relative youth, presenting a surprisingly smooth palate of quintessential blueberry, along with deceptive spices that had me guessing Similkameen.

The entire experience was enlightening in the way that blind tastings so often are, and guests seemed quite pleased with the wines and information on offer. I myself was grateful my selections went over so well, and look forward to assembling future tastings of new varieties (or even blends). Thank you to the members of the BC Wine Appreciation Society for so diligently tasting and rating these wines – I hope you had as much fun as I did!

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Collectibles: February 2018

In years past the month of the Vancouver International Wine Festival would be my shopping bonanza for both international and domestic bottles. Now, having significantly increased the frequency of my visits to tasting rooms in person, I no longer need to rely as heavily on the Festival store to fill my cellar with BC’s bounty. The Festival comes at an odd time of year, before most local wineries have bottled new vintages, so it can be a time to find the last reserves of some (saved for the Festival), or alternatively, advance access to those yet to be released. Festival purchases and a few recent winter treats make up this month’s collectibles.

February 2018 BC wine collectibles

Quails’ Gate 2016 Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir: I can often rely on the Stewart family to bring out the big guns for VIWF, and the fact they previewed this upcoming vintage of the winery’s flagship red speaks volumes. Not even mentioned yet online, the 2016 was being poured and purchased in the Festival tasting room, showing off a remarkably approachable profile at this young age. The highly expressive nose and rich palate were balanced and fresh, and will no doubt age well for many years, but made for easy enjoyment well before the official winery release. Winemaker Nikki Callaway brought in ideal West Kelowna fruit from an exceptional growing season to assemble 1,100 cases after ten months in French oak. The Stewart Family Reserve is a consistent benchmark for rich, New World Pinot Noir in BC. VIWF Store $60

Van Westen 2016 “VD” Pinot Noir: Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Rob Van Westen’s petite Pinot project offers a much less well known example, and mightily hard to find at that. Repeat customers get first notification before Rob spends a mid-winter week stocking store shelves and hand-delivering new releases while the vines slumber. The good news is this niche collaboration between Rob and veteran winemaker Tom DiBello has grown in quantity by 25% since last year, now reaching a grand total of 105 cases. The grapes come from the Granite Ridge vineyard on the Naramata Bench, planted to the meaty Pommard clone, and aged nine months in French oak. The generous vintage has yielded another obliging bottle, with softly textured, ripe tannins atop the underlying structure. It may be tempting to crack that screwtop in the short term but here’s another good cellar candidate for those with patience. Winery Direct $40

SpierHead 2016 Cuvée Pinot Noir: The East Kelowna winery on Spiers Road may be changing their name to Spearhead for the sake of convenience but the only change to the wine is it keeps getting better. Supervised by new General Manager Grant Stanley (via Quails’ Gate and 50th Parallel), the growing portfolio holds five Pinot Noir (six if counting the White Pinot) at present, with the Cuvée coming out on top. While Van Westen makes the exception for Pinot, Spearhead is all in on the variety, taking advantage of their ideal estate terroir and that of trusted partners. Cuvée 2016 is a 400 case blend of the best barrels from four clones (115, 667, 828, Pommard) following ten months in French oak. John Schreiner noted the boldness of intense, even jammy fruit flavours in January, while the GismondiOnWine team offered 90+ points (and recommended three years in the cellar) just last week. Winery Direct $44

LaStella 2014 Allegretto Merlot: A tiny “Pie Franco” logo on the label provides a hint of this wine’s special status. The single vineyard Merlot that sits just below the flagship Maestoso in LaStella’s portfolio is planted on its own rootstock in high drainage white silica sand. This “pie franco” accomplishment is rare in a global industry dominated by grafted vines seeking to escape the ravages of phylloxerae. The estate Stagg’s Vineyard on the west bench of south Osoyoos has just over four acres of Merlot (alongside four more of Syrah), and provided for 275 cases in 2014, resulting in a wine reserved exclusively for Club members. The winery claims a certain purity in flavour is obtained from these own-rooted vines, offering a taste of Merlot in its most authentic form. Winery Direct $69

Painted Rock 2015 Syrah: With their sole white wine (Chardonnay) sold out, the Painted Rock team placed particular emphasis on their several superb reds available at the VIWF. The Syrah from the Skinner family’s Skaha Bench estate vineyard south of Penticton has been a favourite in my household for many years. The effects of a warm vintage are apparent in what Anthony Gismondi describes as a “hedonistic nature” sure to find many fans despite a bit less complexity than normal. Liam Carrier’s 92-point review on IconScores offers an intriguing description of blood orange, mint, and vanilla in a “mind-blowingly intense” wine worthy of supplanting the winery’s premier Red Icon. Fortunately 1,700 cases were produced, after 18 months in 30% new French oak, giving many a chance to try it for themselves and be the judge. VIWF Store $46

Burrowing Owl 2014 Meritage: In an age where every winery has a flagship red with a proprietary name Burrowing Owl has stayed with good old fashioned Meritage – straightforward and descriptive. A bottle goes into my vertical collection each year, making for a nice exploration of the vintage at one of the South Okanagan’s most noteworthy wineries. The blend of 32% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Franc, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Malbec, and 11% Petit Verdot was bottled in August 2016, after 21 months in oak (18 months varietally independent), three quarters French. A near endless stream of compliments have come from the WineAlign judging team, yet despite unanimous 90+ point scores the same team awarded a moderate Silver medal at the 2017 National Wine Awards – an ode, perhaps, to the uncertainties of competition. Winery Direct $50

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Collectibles: January 2018

The hectic holiday season is behind us but there are plenty of stellar gift-worthy wines still on hand – and a gift to oneself is perfectly legitimate. Even though the tasting rooms in wine country are closed for the season, online stores are open year-round, plus the many fine wine retailers around home are always happy to help the cause. In the case of one collectible, it’s exclusively available at retail, as Chris Carson is nearly too busy making wine to sell it! This month’s selection features several marvellous, under-the-radar examples that will find a comfortable home in my cellar, in many cases building on multi-year verticals as I find myself coming back for another vintage.

January 2018 BC wine collectibles

Carson 2015 Pinot Noir: For the past decade, the highly respected Pinot Noir of Meyer Family Vineyards has been ushered into bottle by the talented Chris Carson, who also produces his own “garagiste” wine with very little fanfare. A twenty-year-old 1.5 acre block of Clone 115 on the Naramata Bench yields a mere couple hundred cases that Carson vinifies at Meyer’s Okanagan Falls winery. The winemaking is described as “very traditional” and includes an indigenous yeast ferment followed by 11 months aging in one-third new French oak. Every year a sample bottle makes its way to Anthony Gismondi, who bestowed another 90+ score for the third year running in October: Carson’s “hedonistic” style serves up “juicy, red fruit with a savoury, spicy undercurrent.” Marquis Wine Cellars $50

Quails’ Gate 2015 Syrah “The Boswell”: Four years after introduction as a (one-time) special edition anniversary series wine, Syrah has grown to become a notable component of the Burgundian-focused portfolio at Quails’ Gate. The Northern-Rhone-styled wine represents a rarity in that it hails from estate vineyards in West Kelowna, in contrast to the extensive plantings of Syrah found in the South Okanagan. Outsider status notwithstanding, The Boswell continues to garner serious accolades every year: Anthony Gismondi and Treve Ring had nothing but praise in October and November, John Schreiner conveyed his approval with 93-points, and WineAlign’s David Lawrason was similarly impressed with the perfectly ripened fruit and impressive focus. After working through the last of the (equally good) 2014 the winery is finally ready to release the 580 cases bottled last June following 18 months in French oak. Winery Direct $63

Corcelettes 2015 Menhir: Named after marker stones found on the Baessler family’s original farm in Switzerland, the reasonably-priced flagship at Corcelettes eschews the typical Bordeaux blends for Cabernet-Syrah. The components hover around the same proportions annually, coming in at 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Syrah in 2015, mellowed for 16 months in French oak puncheons, to yield just 145 cases. Previous vintages were sourced from the winery’s original Middle Bench Vineyard in Keremeos, but since taking over the former Herder property on Upper Bench Road, the new home vineyard provides fruit from up against the sun-baked hills. John Schreiner had an advance taste in September and confirmed it remains a “round and generous wine” worthy of 93 points. Winery Direct $35

Painted Rock 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon: One could say that every vintage of John Skinner’s Cabernet since that first Lieutenant Governor’s Award-winning 2007 has been sold out upon bottling. Ironically the winery’s recently introduced varietal Cabernet Franc is arguably more noteworthy, but, Sauv still sells. That’s not to say the Sauvignon is unworthy of the attention - this is one of the region’s finest, must-have versions for collectors - it’s just hard to find outside the winery! Production only reached 328 cases in 2015, after 18 months in 30% new French oak, and while some additional rows were recently planted, those younger grapes are going into the exciting new Syrah-Cabernet. The red hot 2015 sunshine seasoned this vintage with “savoury, black cherry fruit and warm, brown spicing,” in the words of Anthony Gismondi: his 90-point review makes the case for patience however – if you can find a bottle hold on for even greater rewards in 2022. Winery Direct $40

LaStella 2014 La Sophia Cabernet Sauvignon: Painted Rock’s Cabernet is prevalent compared to the mere three barrels from LaStella in 2014. Just 75 cases are available from this excellent vintage, harvested from the famed U2 block of Inkameep Vineyard in the north end of the Black Sage Bench. Like the winery’s Maestoso Merlot, this super-premium bottle comes with a price to match, reflecting both the work that goes into it, and the wine’s status and prestige – at least the price slows down sales to give collectors a chance! Having tasted past vintages of La Sophia I’m willing to splurge for a bottle of this deliciously rich but focused wine; the winery suggests it “draws a comparison to the great Cabernets from Washington State rather than the plusher and fatter examples from Napa Valley.” Winery Direct $103

Blind Creek Collective 2014 Consensus: After just one year the Similkameen project of Road 13 and partners has already been forced to rebrand when their original name, “The Similkameen Collective” fell afoul of regulatory authorities (appellation names apparently can’t be part of wine names). The change makes the inaugural vintage of their Bordeaux blend a collectible aberration, but for 2014 the name serves to better reflects the site anyway. The 100-acre Blind Creek Vineyard in Cawston has contributed stellar grapes to many of Road 13’s award-winning wines (and those of other wineries across BC). Consensus brings together 148 cases of 36% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot, and 1% Malbec, recently bottled after 36-months in French oak. Seeing as BCC has next to no web presence and the premium-priced wines are currently sold on the side in the Road 13 tasting room, Consensus makes for the ultimate insider collectible. Winery Direct $60

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Collectibles: December 2017

There’s no doubt that visiting BC wine country in the winter is a touch more challenging – every route from the coast takes you through remote mountain passes with threatening weather conditions. After an uncommonly harrowing journey, my safe arrival in Osoyoos over the holidays facilitated some acquisitions of the year’s final new releases. Few wineries remain open throughout the season, but the number is growing as more people enjoy the opportunity to witness a region transformed; and there’s always new wines to be had! While the temptation may be present to crack open some of these hefty red rarities, further time in the cellar will yield dividends to enjoy for many winters to come.

December 2017 BC wine collectibles

Burrowing Owl 2015 Cabernet Franc: Just released, this ever-so-youthful wine has big shoes to fill, as the preceding vintage received a Lt. Governor’s Award just this summer, the second one for Burrowing Owl’s Franc in just five years. The winery seems quite pleased with the vintage, calling it “a grape grower’s dream come true,” leading up to harvest in the latter half of October, before the wine spent 18 months aging. Barrels were three quarters French oak, with the balance American and Hungarian, slightly more than one third of it new or one-year-old. I intend to age mine further into the next decade and allow maturity to better express the complex profile, elements of which are touched on by WineAlign Judge Michael Godel in his 91-point review. Time will mellow “enough wood spice to smoke a shoulder,” and provide elbow room for the lengthy, expressive black currant, tobacco, and pepper. Winery Direct $33

C.C. Jentsch 2015 Small Lot Malbec: There are few (but growing numbers of) varietal Malbec from BC, and those that exist are always small lot productions, seeing as most grapes are incorporated into Bordeaux-style blends. The third vintage from Chris Jentsch and his talented Winemaker Amber Pratt continues their highly successful practice of reserving a few precious barrels to bottle independently, and they managed to eek out 100 cases in 2015 (double that of the inaugural 2013). Fruit was sourced from Jentsch’s Golden Mile vineyard near Road 13 and the winery home vineyard at Testalinden Creek, aged in American and Hungarian oak for 16 months. The Golden Mile property was sold this year however, so the challenge ahead will be to maintain sufficient production quantities given the growing demand. The wine has already racked up a pair of Gold medals in competition from both Intervin and this fall’s BC Wine Awards. Winery Direct $57

Le Vieux Pin 2014 Equinoxe Syrah: Recent releases seem dominated by the 2015 vintage, but there still exist a small proportion of bottle-aged earlier wines. The super-premium, icon wine at Le Vieux Pin experienced generous aging in French oak barrels and puncheons, and then in bottle, before its recent release on the cusp of 2018. More than half the oak was new, but the blend of low-yield Black Sage Bench and Osoyoos East Bench fruit can handle it with ease, especially from such a fine vintage. With barely two tons per acre harvested, only 242 cases were produced, but some of the country’s top critics have already tried it out to great acclaim. At WineAlign numerous 94-point scores sing praises for the wine’s elegance and outstanding length, with Michael Godel finding texture and acidity so balanced as to render it “peerless” in stature amongst BC Syrah. Winery Direct $103

Clos du Soleil 2014 Signature: Club members received first crack at Winemaker Michael Clark’s newest flagship in their autumn equinox shipment. Grapes from the Keremeos home vineyard and elsewhere in the Similkameen were aged 17 months in French oak, and the best 29 barrels were selected to produce 725 cases, blending equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with 14% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Malbec. Signature has established itself in relatively short order as one of BC’s finest red blends, while still under the radar compared to cult wines of the Okanagan. Newly reviewed this month by Anthony Gismondi & Treve Ring, this vintage marks the third in a row to receive 92-points of commendation from GismondiOnWine, where it’s said to possess “elegance and authenticity throughout, with surprising depth at this youthful age.” Winery Direct $45

Moon Curser 2015 Dead of Night: Although several of this adventurous Osoyoos winery’s exclusive reds are presently sold out, the remainder have much to offer, chief among them being the newest vintage of a Syrah/Tannat blend found nowhere else in Canada. The hot and heavy 2015 season yielded Tannat at an impressive 25 Brix, but Proprietor Chris Tolley is quick to reassure fans it still retains bright acidity. The freshness found in a potentially brawny red is something noted by Anthony Gismondi, in his 90-point November review that found “much more elegance than we are used to here.” The smoky summer and subsequent disease pressure led Chris to drop fruit and aggressively thin the canopy, so production quantities are actually slightly decreased, with 317 cases available after 14 months in French and Hungarian oak, about one quarter new. The recent Great Northwest Invitational awarded two of BC’s sixteen Gold medals to Moon Curser, for Dolcetto 2016 and Dead of Night 2015. Winery Direct $43

Quails’ Gate 2015 The Connemara: It’s starting to look like I’ll have to begin a new vertical collection, as the second vintage of this new icon red fashions itself a permanent spot in the Quails’ Gate portfolio. Although best known for Burgundian varieties, Quails’ Gate has been delving into a broader spectrum of reds with earnest since Bordeaux-trained Nikki Callaway took over winemaking duties in 2013. The inaugural Connemara 2014 received a Gold medal at the National Wine Awards this summer, although the judging team had a taste of 2015 just last month. The blend has changed to favour Cabernet Franc with 40%, supported by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in equal proportions, all aged for 18 months in French oak, but awaiting another decade in bottle. John Schreiner suggested just that while complimenting the wine’s “exceptional polish and elegance” in his 94-point review, alongside admiration for Nikki’s other 2015 reds. Winery Direct $69

Painted Rock 2015 Red Icon: Winery owner John Skinner could probably sit back and let his highly successful wine sell itself at this point, but he isn’t one to rest on his laurels. The newest release of Painted Rock’s flagship blend has already been distributed for wide review, and well publicized. Mid-November the WineAlign team looks to have shared a bottle, with the resulting reviews coming to the same effusive conclusion in praise of the wine’s intense and quintessentially BC character: “there is a brightness and generosity here missing in many Canadian reds” says David Lawrason. Having settled on 30% new French oak, John and his team managed to push out a generous 1,500 cases from 2015, following a blend they’ve established with Merlot (45%) and Cabernet Franc (24%) in the lead, joined this year by 11% Malbec, 11% Petit Verdot, and a mere 9% Cabernet Sauvignon. Don’t let the record-high quantity fool you, as the Icon easily sells out every year given the rock-solid track record it’s assembled. Winery Direct $55

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Collectibles: November 2017

Variety defines this particular collection of local libations more so than usual: my latest finds include four vintages, four varietals, three regions, two icon blends, and a great many sources for those unwilling to take “sold out” for an answer. These bottles come from as far afield as Kamloops and Lillooet in addition to the reliable Okanagan and Similkameen valleys, and include both recent releases plus resurfaced legends I never expected to find. New boutique shops rub shoulders with veteran wineries such as Burrowing Owl and Poplar Grove – all equally challenging to track down however! Considering everyone is looking for something special to either bring to the holiday table, or gift to loved ones in the coming weeks, my hope is that a few more of these bottles will find their way to another lucky cellar soon.

November 2017 BC wine collectibles

Privato 2012 Grande Reserve Pinot Noir: A couple of years ago the second vintage of Pinot Noir from this young Kamloops winery received a prestigious Best in Class Double Gold at the 2015 All Canadian Wine Championships. Eight reserved barrels of that same wine, with additional age totalling 42 months, were bottled the following year to yield “one of the most powerful Pinot Noirs to date in British Columbia,” in the words of John Schreiner last spring. John’s 92-94 point review remarked upon the “intriguing tension” between dark fruit and oak influence, offering a wine with a decade ahead of it in the cellar. Unable to visit the winery at the time of release, I assumed I would never see a bottle, so imagine my surprise in spotting this unicorn at retail after all this time! Just this year the wine was named Best of Varietal at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival, garnering additional accolades a full five years later. Sutton Place Wine Merchant $57

Henricsson 2015 “Deux Hivers” Pinot Noir: In welcoming Peter & Kajsa Henricsson to his store, Marquis Wine Cellars owner John Clerides suggested their Naramata Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to be the best BC iterations he had tasted “in my 30-year wine career.” While unable to muster the pure objectivity needed for a similar statement, I can certainly report them to be excellent and very memorable after a tasting at Marquis this month. I could readily distinguish between both 2015 Pinot Noirs on offer, considering the “Deux Hivers” (two winters) version saw twice as much barrel time - resulting in a richer, spicier profile. From 26-year-old vines of primarily “suitcase” (European) clones, the wine aged in 25% new French oak before 130 cases were bottled in July. Should Marquis have been unable to source another case of Deux Hivers I did spot both Pinots and the Chardonnay at Legacy Liquor Store. Winery Direct $90

Moon Curser 2014 Malbec: Small lots of Malbec are found in this adventurous Osoyoos winery’s “Contraband” class, and limited to even fewer than usual with just 197 cases in 2014. A strong showing at the National Wine Awards yielded a Silver medal this summer and praise for the wine’s finessed depth and elegant richness from Judge Sara d’Amato. More recently the wine took home one of five Double Gold – considered the top 10% – in the “Other Red” category (home to varieties such as Tempranillo and Zinfandel) at this year’s Six Nations Wine Challenge in Sydney, a prestigious invitational competition for New World wines. The generously ripe (26.1 Brix) grapes originated from a three-acre estate block, and the eight barrels used for the single varietal bottling spent 13 months in 25% new French oak. The wine is now sold out at the winery, with any remainder reserved for future wine club shipments (mine arrived this month), so store shelves are your best bet. Winery Direct $32

Clos du Soleil 2015 Syrah: The Bordeaux-styled Keremeos winery of Clos du Soleil has produced a series of small lot “Grower’s Series” wines over the years that occasionally diverge in style, most strikingly with Syrah, the inaugural vintage having been produced in 2014. The second vintage remains small in scope – only 200 cases – but bigger in every other respect, now bottled under cork to indicate greater aging potential. Winemaker Michael Clark is clearly becoming more familiar with a grape he rarely handles, and providing reason for the estate Cabernet and Merlot to grow a little nervous. Harvested from the Middle Bench Vineyard in Keremeos, not far from the home vineyard, the Syrah spent 16 months in French oak before bottling, but only one of eight barrels was new wood. A poetic and entrancing review by Treve Ring provides 91-points of praise for this special bottle – “a must buy for the cellar” – in which she compliments the rich elegance of its youth but encourages one to “make a date for 2025.” Winery Direct $33

Burrowing Owl 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon: This well known Black Sage Bench Winery has been playing fast and loose with their release dates in recent years: although finally being sold in the tasting room as a “new” release, this same Cabernet was briefly spotted in Vancouver stores a year ago for what I presume was a pre-Christmas preview. It wasn’t until this summer that the wine was submitted to competition, snagging a prominent Gold medal from the Nationals and wide praise from judges for capturing a challenging grape at the peak of ripeness. The early-to-mid November harvest came after an ideal season, and the grapes further benefited from the support of Burrowing Owl’s complex barrel program: 83% French oak, 11% American, 6% Hungarian, with 29% new oak and 29% one-year old. Although acknowledging approachability at present, Nationals Judge John Szabo sees a long future for this wine, into the mid-2020’s. Winery Direct $38

Poplar Grove 2013 The Legacy: Already scrubbed from the winery’s website, the newest vintage of the signature blend at Poplar Grove was there and gone in a flash. Special allotments were fortunately reserved for the popular wine club – my only opportunity to continue a prized vertical collection. The blend is heavy with Osoyoos Cabernet Sauvignon from a warm vintage, leading 27% Cabernet Franc, 13% Merlot, 13% Malbec, and 3% Petit Verdot, all aged 21 months in French oak before two years in bottle before release. Production quantities vary significantly, but remain limited: recent vintages have ranged from 350-900 cases, so it’s a safe bet a mere several hundred were snapped up in a hurry. Although it may be absent at the winery, they seem to have sold a fair amount to BC Liquor Stores, who are carrying hundreds of bottles across the province in anticipation of the holiday gift-giving season. Winery Direct $50

Fort Berens 2015 Red Gold: The second vintage of the new icon red from Lillooet ups production by 50% to yield a whole 150 cases this year. After discovering a handful of exceptional barrels from 2014 that mandated this special release, several made the cut again in 2015, from vineyards across the province. Cabernet Franc (43%) from Lillooet and the Black Sage Bench has joined Cabernet Sauvignon (31%) from Osoyoos, and Merlot (26%) from Blind Creek in the Similkameen. The inaugural Appassimento-styling is sustained, with two thirds of the Cabernet Franc grapes air-dried for a month before another month-long fermentation. The result pushes alcohol above 15%, contributing to John Schreiner’s recognition of the wine’s “power and heft” in his recent 94-point review, mirrored by Treve Ring writing for GismondiOnWine: “The blend certainly has density, with a flush of sun-ripened red and black fruit, pipe tobacco, cherries and thorns on a plush, cushioned palate.” Treve’s review is also sure to compliment the surprisingly light initial entry that belies the eventual heft, well mitigated by soft tannins and a finely dusted finish. Winery Direct $52

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