Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Collectibles: January 2017

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

January 2017 BC wine collectibles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Collectibles: December 2016

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

December 2016 BC wine collectibles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 19 December 2016

December Wine Club: White Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Cookies & Holiday Hot Cake with Quails' Gate Tawny

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

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Collectibles: November 2016

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

November 2016 BC wine collectibles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 28 November 2016

November Wine Club: Carbs & Chards

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

Black Hills 2014 Chardonnay & TIME 2013 Chardonnay

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

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

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

Checkmate 2013 Capture Chardonnay & Coolshanagh 2013 Chardonnay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 31 October 2016

Collectibles: October 2016

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

October 2016 BC wine collectibles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Giving Thanks for BC Wine

The generous invitation I recently received to Clos du Soleil’s annual vertical tasting prompted plans for a wine country getaway. Having already visited Orofino’s marvellous guest suites this summer my wife and I immediately snapped up the spacious two-bedroom unit and encouraged some close friends to join us for a Similkameen sojourn over Thanksgiving weekend. Saturday morning saw me stopping at Clos du Soleil’s Keremeos winery for an exquisite lunch and guided tasting of every vintage since the inaugural 2006. My companions continued down the road and joined Orofino’s Collectors Club pickup party for a vertical tasting of their own.

The reason Orofino calls them the Vineyard Suites is obvious

Following the incredible assortment of wine and food at Clos du Soleil I made my way to neighbouring Cawston where the party at Orofino was gradually winding down. I was sure to bring with me my latest Soleil 160 Club order, it having patiently awaited my arrival in person since August. The box of reds included the delicious new 2014 Grower’s Series Syrah, a first for the varietal from Clos du Soleil, plus another bottle of exquisite 2012 Estate Reserve, and some of the finely crafted 2013 Signature to boot. I had added another bottle of the dreamy “Saturn” late harvest white for good measure, particularly given the admirable aging potential it had shown in the vertical tasting.

I found everyone in superb spirits at Orofino; no surprise, given the three vertical flights John & Virginia Weber had generously shared with the multitude of Club members on hand. The party had taken place in the unoccupied one-bedroom suite, where guests gazed upon the newest vineyard plantings from the expansive balcony. I was soon brought up to speed and provided with some detailed notes from earlier, during which several Riesling had launched the tasting: even the mature and expressive 2006 was in fine form. Textbook petrol and lemon-lime gave way to honeyed tropical fruits in the younger vintages, with seemingly effortless balance whether one gram of sugar (2015 Hendsbee Vineyard) or ten (2015 Home Vineyard).

For a look at Orofino’s red wines the Webers had dug even further back to find several vintages (2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013) of Home Vineyard Pinot Noir and even the flagship Beleza blend. The estate Pinot Noir comes from multiple clones planted as early as 1989, and has always been crafted in a signature Similkameen style, with dark fruit and spice expressing the warm valley floor. Early years were all drinking well, having matured to encompass earthy caramel and juicy dark cherries ready to be enjoyed, while the cool 2011 could continue refining in the cellar for several more years. The Beleza vertical highlighted the superb cola, chocolate, and red berry salad of 2007, John’s self-declared best wine ever. My own several-vintage vertical collection should age fine without much haste given the youthful state of 2009 and onward: the rich smoky fruit in each was still expressing generous tannin.

Orofino 2014 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir & Scout Vineyard Syrah

Just steps away our own suite allowed for a relaxing and mellow evening with help from a few more bottles on hand, including my latest Club package of 2015 Moscato Frizzante and 2014 Scout Vineyard Riesling (plus the newest 2013 Beleza). Orofino’s latest 2014 Pinot Noir and Syrah were also available in the tasting room, and I made certain to bring some home as well. With typical production for each hovering between 300-400 bottles I never miss either of these highly reliable varietals. The evening passed with nibbling and sipping and plenty of laughs while we absorbed the soothing Similkameen evening and generously appointed suite.

The following day we embarked on a whirlwind tour of the Okanagan from our home base in Cawston, stopping first at the shimmering Painted Rock tasting room high above Skaha Lake. Our friends had last seen the property when a pre-fabricated shed was all that stood where today John Skinner proudly hosts exceptional dinners, weddings, and helicopter landings all summer long! John’s dedication and precision were on display in his newest small lot varietal: in 2014 a mere handful of barrels were reserved from the flagship Red Icon blend to provide for 110 cases of Malbec. The dark violet colour – enchanting against the immaculate white bar – led into the similarly soft purple palate, where raspberries and Concord grapes were found amongst layers of spice and long, fine tannins. Our superb timing ensured a spot for this extreme rarity in my collection.

The notably fine 2014 vintage provided Painted Rock with spectacular Cabernets as well, and with healthy Franc plantings in the estate vineyard over 400 cases were excluded from blending (although Red Icon 2014 still has 21% Cabernet Franc). Rarely seen outside the tasting room, the new batch is only the second varietal Franc released. We noted an appealing earthy herbaceousness on the nose atop bountiful ripe fruit, and a slightly smoky, intense palate with more tannin than the Malbec – this one should make long waves in the cellar. In production since the start in 2007 the varietal Cabernet Sauvignon sells out particularly fast, but we got a taste while present, much to our liking: leather and spice with juicy balsamic character on the nose meshed with a red fruit palate of currants, stewed strawberry, and long-lasting vanilla. The toasty aftertaste conjured notes of Bourbon barrel caramelization to draw out the long-lasting finish.

Painted Rock 2014 Malbec & 2014 Cabernet Franc

Stocked up on reds and the irresistible Painted Rock Chardonnay we stopped next at Meyer Family Vineyards to the south in Okanagan Falls. Speaking of Chardonnay, the Meyer family’s specialty was a large part of my collected Club order: a stop in the tasting room accompanied my pickup of 2014 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay and 2015 Old Main Road (Stevens Block) Chardonnay. The McLean Creek home vineyard scooped a well-deserved Gold medal from this year’s National Wine Awards amid stiff competition (five of sixteen total Platinum medals were found in the Chardonnay category). Also in my triannual box of four bottles were a pair of mouth-watering 2014 McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir – one for now and one for the cellar I should think!

With lunch on our minds and a destiny to the south we made it to the Golden Mile and a valley view at Tinhorn Creek’s renowned Miradoro Restaurant. There, moan-worthy deluxe grilled cheese sandwiches briefly took our attention away from wine and the sunny skies, before a visit to the still-bustling tasting room. The newly released 2015 Gewürztraminer was proudly displaying its new Golden Mile Bench sub-appellation labelling, and offering unbeatable value for just $16 to provide reams of culinary pairing opportunities; I made sure to stock up.

Similar cellar-stocking was available at near neighbour Fairview Cellars, home to Bill Eggert’s esteemed big reds, and increasingly some fine Chardonnay and Pinot Noir under the radar. We caught up with Bill and his affable brother Chuck in the little log cabin tasting room, and were easily distracted by a menagerie of dogs and one feisty feline vying for attention. The newest 2014 Bucket O’ Blood Syrah-Cabernet made an equally strong impression; even so, with a December 2019 Best After date in print I hope to maintain the patience I have for the rest of Bill’s wines. Little surprise that other bottles like the 2014 Cabernet Franc, 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon(s), and the inevitable tasting room back vintages provided plenty more palate pleasures in the refreshingly informal atmosphere Bill cultivates alongside his champion grapes.

Road 13 2013 Jackpot Petit Verdot & 2014 Jackpot Cabernet Sauvignon

Five wineries in one day seemed quite restrained as I brought us last to Road 13 before hitting the highway back west. There the Executive Lounge was still open under the supervision of proprietor Mick Luckhurst, hosting grateful Club 13 members for one of the region’s best guided tastings. There everything from Sparkling Chenin Blanc to the newest 2012 Fifth Element and awesomely rich 2013 Jackpot Petit Verdot were on hand, with Mick’s signature commentary and industry musings. It was the micro lot of simply stunning 2014 Jackpot Cabernet Sauvignon that blew our socks off in particular: just 70 cases are being dribbled out at iconic prices, but I was more than willing to fork over $120 for a single bottle to cellar with glee. Fitting that the Cabernet (and Petit Verdot) comes from Cawston’s increasingly legendary Blind Creek Vineyard: we soon returned to that neck of the woods for one more night of tranquil rest to round out a wondrous weekend.