Sunday, 12 June 2016

Collectibles: A Quartet of Quality Cabernet

In the course of amassing a small collection of cellar-worthy wines last month I found myself with more than could be detailed in just one summary. Surveying the favourites both new and old I realized the often under-rated variety of Cabernet Franc played a leading role. The cooler climate superstar is broadly acknowledged to be worthy of single varietal status increasingly frequently in BC. That being said, despite toping signature variety Syrah in acreage as the fourth-most grown red grape, varietal versions are most often small-lot productions. Persistence must accompany one’s taste for Franc in order to obtain the most sought-after bottles.

A selection of BC's exciting small lot Cabernet Franc

Kitten Swish 2014 Target Practice Cabernet Franc: Every so often an unknown and unexpected wine takes me by complete surprise, as did this ultra-small lot from Sommelier Brad Royale’s quirky Kitten Swish lineup. This “micro-négociant” project has primarily sourced California grapes since inception in 2011, but finally found the perfect Canadian opportunity in the hands of Laughing Stock’s David Enns and a young Osoyoos vineyard. Reading Anthony Gismondi’s glowing 90-point review out of the blue piqued my curiosity and started my search, handily concluded when Laughing Stock was able to ship several bottles my way. Considering only a single puncheon was produced (50 cases worth) it won’t be around for long, but it makes for an exciting collectible rarity to examine over time. Given the full body and bright acidity I’m eager to see how this youngster fares in a few years. Winery Direct $38

Upper Bench 2013 Cabernet Franc: This spring witnessed the limited release of the first varietal Franc from Penticton’s Upper Bench. Proprietor and Winemaker Gavin Miller waited until November 5 to harvest at a full 27.5 Brix, leaving him with 3.6g/L of sugar even after 14.8% alcohol – rich and ripe to say the least! Gavin’s extensive experience with Bordeaux reds on the Naramata and Skaha Benches (at Poplar Grove and Painted Rock, before opening his own winery in 2011) has prompted natural growth from Upper Bench’s celebrated Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Only a wee 167 cases were made to start, but one hopes it might increase in the future should Gavin retain this gem as a single varietal wine. The nose of fig and smoked meat he describes leads into what sounds more like Sauvignon territory with a palate of cassis and cherry cola – worthy of his wife Shana’s sumptuous blue cheeses. Legacy Liquor Store $39

Orofino 2013 Collector’s Club Cabernet Franc: To reward Club members owners John & Virginia Weber like to make something special each year, and had the perfect idea when finding one special barrel from the 2013 vintage. For the first time, Orofino has produced a Cabernet Franc, and from their home vineyard at that – where it is normally destined for the flagship Beleza blend. That single (used) barrel was opened after two years and specially bottled just for us lucky loyal fans! The mouth-watering description suggests “robust structure with savoury notes of dried herbs and Bing cherries with dusty tannins.” I’ll cellar a bottle until decade’s end to investigate the recommended healthy life of five years – keep watching for when it’s opened. Winery Direct $32

Tinhorn Creek 2013 Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc: The upcoming Oldfield reserve reds are from the final hands-on harvest of winery President Sandra Oldfield, who handed the reins over to Andrew Windsor in 2014 in order to assume a greater leadership role. Andrew would have supervised the Black Sage Bench fruit’s 18 month aging and then bottling last May, to produce 520 cases that complement the popular $25 varietal tier of 4,000+ cases. Since the reserve tier Cabernet Franc joined the Oldfield Series of wines in 2010 only three vintages have made the cut, with 2011 failing to yield an appropriate selection; but the beautiful summer and long autumn in 2013 provided “perfect growing conditions” for harvest in late October. Like those of years before, the rare Oldfield Cabernet Franc should express the variety’s typical red berry and herb profile, but possessing additional polish and elegance above the varietal tier. Winery Direct $35

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Collectibles: May 2016

I was fortunate enough to bring home several reliable favourites this month thanks to the arrival of three wine club shipments. Most of these wines represent new vintages of long-time favourites; the high quality and/or benchmark status of these collectibles most certainly warrants mention. In addition to the usual suspects I amassed a few unique small lot products, enough to require a smaller, but serendipitously varietal-specific compilation coming soon. In the meantime enjoy learning about the world’s only “Tannant”.

May 2016 BC wine collectibles

Tinhorn Creek 2012 Oldfield Series Pinot Noir: The second of three annual shipments from Tinhorn Creek’s Crush Club included the newest vintage of the winery’s extensively bottle-aged reserve Pinot Noir. There are few 2012 Pinot Noir just now entering the marketplace, providing Tinhorn Creek with the means to stand out and present a silky smooth expression of a rich south Okanagan take on the variety (from Golden Mile & Black Sage Bench estate vineyards). Even drinking superbly upon release shouldn’t keep any of the 1,050 cases from aging well however, and the winery suggests up to eight more years could follow the two years already spent in bottle (after 18 months in used oak). The future potential is one point emphasized alongside the “glorious aroma” obtained via “Burgundian detail” that John Schreiner praises in his 92-point review this month. Winery Direct $35

Foxtrot 2013 Pinot Noir: The cult status of Foxtrot’s Naramata Bench wines emerged quickly following the inaugural 2004 vintage; but was well deserved and remains so thanks to the uncompromising attitude of the Allander family. Although the price of the estate Pinot Noir can be steep after retail mark-up, I make room for one bottle of this icon red each year given its repeated success and my own past enjoyment. Own-rooted vines nearly two decades old encountered challenges from wasps in 2013, so the winery more than quintupled their picking time in order to hand-inspect every single cluster and remove individual damaged berries. The resulting slight reduction in yield will mean fewer than the typical 500 cases are available following the release this past February. Legacy Liquor Store $71

Moon Curser 2013 Contraband Syrah: This is apparently the final vintage for the reserve tier single vineyard Syrah from the winery’s Osoyoos East Bench estate. The short-lived Contraband Syrah (2011-2013) was partly the result of Saignée-style Rosé production, which ceased after 2013. With no intense “X-Rosé” remaining to include in the Contraband series, Proprietors Chris & Beata Tolley are refocusing on the varietal tier version and reigning in the growing portfolio. A wise decision that still must have stung a little when the final Contraband garnered one of only four Canadian silver medals at the 2016 Syrah du Monde competition in France, and then Best of Class at the recent Los Angeles International Wine Competition. If anything the varietal Syrah will become even better going forward with the addition of the premium grapes used in the limited production (376 cases) Contraband. Winery Direct (& VQA Stores) $32

Orofino 2013 Scout Vineyard Syrah: Receiving the first of two annual shipments from Orofino’s “Collector’s Club” this month yielded this consistently delicious Syrah. Approximately 500 cases come from 2.2 acres of the Cawston winery’s nearby partner vineyard above the Similkameen River. Proprietor John Weber went with his classic procedure of 20 months in mostly used and mostly French oak before unfined and unfiltered bottling last fall. Since the first vintage in 2009 it has been an easy-drinking but readily cellared Northern Rhone style with pepper and intense cherry fruit in a juicy, refreshing profile. The winery typically suggests up to seven years in bottle can be achieved; last year Anthony Gismondi felt the 2012 would be at its best in 2020 and I’ll give this new bottle room to grow as well. Winery Direct (& VQA Stores) $29

Le Vieux Pin 2014 Syrah Cuvée Classique: The masterful Syrah that French Winemaker Severine Pinte puts out from Le Vieux Pin is testament to her skill and experience, as well as the diverse vineyards to which she tends. The Cuvée Classique sits in the middle of the winery’s three-tiered Syrah assortment, darker and more savoury spiced than the gracefully floral Cuvée Violette. WineAlign co-founder David Lawrason summed it up as “drop dead gorgeous” in his 93-point review in February, emphasizing the extensive aging potential echoed by the winery. The 342 cases worth of  fruit comes from three south Okanagan vineyards that include the home vineyard on the Black Sage Bench. Thirteen months in 32% new French oak indicates the precision Severine takes in her work – no predictable schedules or simple proportions to be found. Winery Direct (& VQA Stores) $52

Orofino 2013 Scout Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon: The Scout Vineyard is six acres in size, leaving room for 1.8 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon (plus Riesling) in addition to the aforementioned Syrah. The newly released 2013 came in my club shipment, one of two vineyard-specific Cabernet Sauvignon from Orofino (the other being the elder “Passion Pit” version). The riverbank vineyard’s “harsh rocky soil” is apparently quite friendly with this grape, as the 14.9% alcohol from a mid-October picking would attest. The wine experienced nearly identical elevage as the Syrah, with exclusively French oak, and a mere ten barrels worth (250 cases). Considering I have yet to open the inaugural bottling from 2011 this selection will see a bit of time in the cellar to improve even further. Winery Direct $29

Moon Curser 2012 “Tannant”: Before this adventurous Osoyoos winery’s rebranding from the original Twisted Tree nomenclature in 2009 they were almost certainly the only BC winery producing Tannat, let alone as a single varietal. In the years since, the dark and intense Tannat has been combined with equal parts Syrah for the flagship blend “Dead of Night”. Following a modest absence the varietal has returned in small proportions thanks to the stellar 2012 vintage. After bottling in March 2014 it was sampled here and there by owner Chris Tolley, who finally elected on a public release this spring. One could see why after the wine received a Gold medal from the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival’s Best of Varietal Awards, followed shortly thereafter by (another) Best of Class Award in Los Angeles. The peculiar name stems from a printing error that was embraced in lieu of re-bottling all 171 cases: “tannant” is the French language colloquialism for annoying! Winery Direct $43

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Collectibles: April 2016

I was reminded of the diversity that can be found in wine production schedules this month, seeing full-bodied Merlot and Syrah emerging alongside the spring’s freshest whites and Rosé. While some days see me finding long-sought bottles in out of the way stores, or finally caving to my desires for the last batch of some rarity for which I have no room, every April collectible is a brand new release. With a couple exceptions, these seven wines are exclusively small lot productions rarely seen in stores, necessitating immediate purchase when spotted, or acquisition directly from the winery.

April 2016 BC wine collectibles

Tantalus 2013 Old Vines Riesling: Although BC now has a healthy proportion of world-class Riesling, it’s Tantalus and their old vines that receive the greatest cult status. While the winery’s regular Riesling is exceptionally delicious as well, the dry and intense Old Vines version is a consistent collectible with superb aging potential. Released after two years of bottle age it sells out fast from the winery, and has been absent from VQA stores for years. Intense acid in 2013, reaching 10.7g/L, is barely tempered by a relatively low 9.1 g/L of residual sugar, leading reviewers like WineAlign’s David Lawrason to praise the powerful texture, riveting acidity, and outstanding length: “It should age decades.” Hearing that Winemaker David Paterson believes the 2013 is his best ever provides quite the impetus to sock some away! Swirl VQA Store $35

CedarCreek 2013 Platinum Pinot Noir Block 4: One of two reserve-tier Pinot Noir at CedarCreek, the Block 4 received a Gold medal from the National Wine Awards last summer. Despite bottling in March 2015 it is only now trickling into stores after a year of bottle aging and great patience on the part of collectors. The Block 4 typically differs from the lighter more floral Block 2 label, with robust body and spiced mocha character suggested after going through wild fermentation and 15 months in French oak. Like the other Platinum wines it comprises a small lot, with 420 cases produced from 2013 (alongside 325 cases of the equally new Block 2). New owner Anthony Von Mandl’s confidence in his property appears strong, given the 50% price increase the Platinum Pinots experienced after the winery’s acquisition in 2014. Swirl VQA Store $66

Church & State 2013 Coyote Bowl Syrah: The reserve-tier Syrah from Church & State’s Black Sage Bench Coyote Bowl Vineyard is another benchmark for the varietal from BC, with a slew of decorations to its name in previous years, including a Lieutenant Governor’s Award. The newest vintage was just released after having been bottled last August following 22 months in 40% new French, Russian, and American oak. The winery’s crown jewel home vineyard is yielding an abundance of quality Syrah grapes, enough for 1,075 cases from the superior 2013 vintage. Having tasted it alongside a handful of other BC Syrah recently I found it leaning towards the serious and savoury side, with readily apparent peppercorn atop intense dark fruit, plus sufficient structure to keep it sound for a few years in the cellar. Swirl VQA Store $38

Road 13 2012 Jackpot Syrah: Although Road 13 established a loyalty club many years ago, they have now structured their program to feature thrice-annual customized shipments. My first shipment offered the opportunity to add a bottle of the newest release reserve-tier Syrah. Blending Syrah with Malbec (in 2012 and 2013) yielded the Golden Mile winery Platinum medals at two consecutive National Wine Awards competitions. Fresh from 22 months (French oak & steel) barrel aging, I fully expect their small production (139 cases) Jackpot Syrah to continue demonstrating the winery’s growing mastery with the variety. Interestingly the tasting notes suggest a departure from previous vintages that emphasized meaty character, focusing instead on a Northern Rhone profile of “blueberry, orange peel, dark chocolate, plum, black pepper, and grilled almond.” Winery Direct $40

Le Vieux Pin 2013 Retouche: Like the discretely Syrah-infused “Hermitaged” Bordeaux produced by outlaw winemakers of old, Retouche is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 20% Syrah. The new blend marks an abrupt change from previous years however, when it included only Cabernet and Syrah. It was recently released to Wine Club members and a few lucky restaurant clients, but is worth seeking out for collectors – only 125 cases were produced (still, a big increase from the 61 cases in 2012). The combination of prime grapes from the famed U2 Block north of Oliver, the Golden Mile, and the home vineyard on the Black Sage Bench spent 18 months in used French oak, ensuring the fruit flavours shine. Having tasted it earlier this month John Schreiner complimented the cassis aromas and concentrated “flavours of black currant, coffee, and dark chocolate.” Winery Direct $69

LaStella 2014 Fortissimo: This well-priced Super Tuscan-style blend is the Italian-inspired winery’s workhorse. Compared to smaller lots of varietal Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese the Fortissimo practically routs the rest with 1,374 cases produced in 2014. Although it hasn’t necessarily been a stated goal, it is exciting to see Sangiovese finally reach the second-highest proportion of the blend for the first time, with 21% following 57% Merlot, and trailed by 11% each Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc. The grapes – from five vineyards throughout the southern Okanagan – were aged in more than 40% neutral oak, with only 15% new barrels used. Fortissimo is consistently well crafted for current consumption as well as elegant aging; I was surprised to discover I now have seven vintages in the cellar! Swirl VQA Store $38

LaStella 2013 Allegretto Merlot: Although the iconic Maestoso Merlot is the king at LaStella, the Allegretto has risen in the ranks to provide for a relatively close second status, and is often even more difficult to acquire! Allegretto comes from the Stagg’s Vineyard on the west side of Osoyoos Lake, further south than the lakeside home vineyard where Maestoso is grown. The pure white sand and low water retention in Stagg’s allows the Merlot vines to be grown on their own rootstock (without fear of phylloxera infestation), leading to the “Pie Franco” designation (“on its own foot”). Four acres of lovingly tended vines yielded a total of 275 cases in 2013, which spent 18 months in used French oak before bottling. The result is a well-integrated wine that the winery believes leverages the strong growing season to offer “more immediate appeal upon release” than previous vintages. Winery Direct $69

Sunday, 24 April 2016

BCWAS 8th Generation Tasting

After having visited 8th Generation Vineyards during two fall bus tours – the most recent in 2013 – the BC Wine Appreciation Society welcomed owner Stefanie Schales to Vancouver this month for a spring sit-down tasting. Stefanie and her husband Bernd have owned their Summerland winery since 2007, after emigrating from Germany and acquiring an Okanagan Falls vineyard in 2003. The winery name is spot-on, as both of their families have contributed to the wine industry since at least the mid-eighteenth century!

Stefanie Schales introduces the wines of 8th Generation

While Bernd received formal oenological education in Germany, Stefanie originally trained there as an architect. Her resulting organizational, detail-oriented skillset has rendered Bernd extremely grateful she serves as “the very epicenter of managing both our business, as well as our young, energetic family.” After time spent in the German, New Zealand, and South African wine industries the Schales discovered the beauty and potential of British Columbia during a 2001 vacation. Plans to operate from the initial Okanagan Falls vineyard were revised when the opportunity arose to acquire the former Adora Winery property in Summerland. Since then, 8th Generation has become an essential and obvious stop for wine fans as they pass by via Highway 97, the Okanagan Valley’s main artery.

With several chilled sparkling, white, and Rosé wines leading the evening’s presentation Stefanie wasted little time after introductions before detailing the portfolio and imploring sample sips. The most recent incarnations of the winery’s wildly successful Frizzante were foremost, with 2015 “Integrity” white and 2014 “Confidence” Rosé on hand. The first release of Frizzante Chardonnay in 2009 has led to the current pair of frosted-glass, crown-capped blends. The brand new Integrity comprises 52% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Gris, and 18% Kerner, bursting with lemon zest on the nose and fresh flavours of tropical fruits and Elderflower. What little remains of the older Confidence comes from a Limited Edition special production run of pure Pinot Noir, and showed off rich red berry aromas atop an off-dry but balanced cream soda mousse.

Something for every palate in this broad portfolio crowned by Riesling

It should come as no surprise that 8th Generation is particularly enthused about Riesling, and various styles and vintages beckoned, but first Stefanie presented her bone-dry Chardonnay. After a lengthy absence the oaked white returned in 2014, having spent four months sur lie in mixed age French barrels. The maturing vineyard in Okanagan Falls is yielding high quality grapes in ideal terroir that has been turning out some of BC’s most renowned Chardonnay: close neighbours include Blue Mountain and Noble Ridge. The newly released small lot (of 150 cases) was showing pleasant popcorn, stone fruit, and toasty oak aromas, while the buttery palate finished bright with a lemon meringue pie reminder.

Before they warmed up too much it was time for an in-depth examination of Riesling, including some informative German terminology tips. Stefanie had brought four wines covering three vintages and three styles, all sourced from 30-year-old vines on the estate vineyard in Okanagan Falls. In 2013 Bernd added a new style to the portfolio in the form of the “Riesling Selection” and the small quantity that still remains provided a rare opportunity to taste the results. Wild fermentation plus extended skin contact with a mere 8g/L of residual sugar provided a soft, lemon-lime palate with hints of starfruit and a mineral-driven finish. Stefanie was sure to suggest a few hours air, even full decanting, to best enjoy the Selection.

Award-winning and creative Riesling from one of BC's benchmark producers

Last year 8th Generation was honoured to receive a Double Gold Medal at the All Canadian Wine Championships and the status of Best in Canada for their “regular” 2014 Riesling. Surprisingly some remains, despite the bargain price of $21, and it was a necessity for this tasting. A full 24g/L of sugar encourages the expression of tropical fruits but the wine was surprisingly balanced, mouth-watering in fact, with a long sweet finish. From the 2015 vintage the newly released “Classic” Riesling was also enjoyed, with 10g/L of sugar in a citrus-scented, fruit-forward “good table wine” as Stefanie put it. Those present were particularly lucky to also sample the upcoming 2015 Selection, still aging in bottle before a winter release. Plenty of citrus blossoms and tropical fruit aromas conjured Ehrenfelser comparisons at this young stage, while the tart apple flavours and soft, rich texture impressed yet again.

After a break for palate recovery thanks to bountiful cheese and charcuterie platters from Les Amis du Fromage, the wines got a little darker. Easing in the reds was brand new 2015 Pinot Meunier Rosé, a popular and highly sought-after wine sourced from the Summerland vineyard. The winery describes the 16g/L sugar content as a “dangerous sipper” and it clearly contributes to the creamy texture. Twenty-four hours of skin contact after a gentle pressing has again delivered the reliable strawberry-rhubarb and pink grapefruit profile, with a fresh and fruity palate of candied characteristics (but balancing acidity). Stefanie emphasized it will be sold out before summer, so the order sheets on hand were a valuable addition to the evening.

Food pairings are easy with the bright wines of 8th Generation

While the whites are clearly king at 8th Generation, the Schales haven’t missed the opportunities afforded by the Okanagan’s diverse terroir. Varietal reds and blends have a smaller but significant place in the portfolio, offering something for everyone in the tasting room. Pinot Noir and Syrah from the Summerland vineyard are each bottled individually (plus Syrah icewine under the right conditions), and guests were afforded a taste of both. The newly released 2013 Pinot Noir provided classic characteristics of red currants, mushrooms, and wet leaves on the nose; with a dry, spiced palate of cherries, raspberry, and an intense earthy finish. The 2013 Syrah offered similar archetypal aromas including leather and peppered sausages, plus tart red fruit flavours and a light, smooth texture.

A pair of blends showed two very different ways to enjoy red wine, with a nod to the Schales’ relaxed European traditions. New 2014 Cabernet-Merlot brings together 80% Merlot from the Okanagan Falls estate vineyard with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon from a Naramata Bench grower. The admittedly youthful but velvety palate yields rich, dark flavours with a vein of milk chocolate cherries flowing through the finish. Still, admirers with a modicum of patience will gain benefit from time for further integration. The new 2015 “Red One” offers more immediate appeal by design, in the style of summer sipper found at home in the Rheinhessen. Naramata Bench vineyards have provided unoaked Merlot and a touch of Syrah for a bottle best enjoyed chilled, perhaps even as the base of a spritzer or Sangria. In Stefanie’s opinion, the fruit forward sipper is the perfect remedy for hot summer days.

As evidence that Bernd and Stefanie are as serious about longevity as any German winemaker, she closed the tasting by recalling a recent evening at home: to celebrate the move to a new tasting room they cracked open several older bottles on permanent display in the space being vacated. Every wine, white and red, was excellent, with the exception of a 2008 Pinot Noir bottled under cork. Obviously a case for the durability and security of screwcaps, along with evidence for the clear quality of the Schales’ wines from even the early years of production. Hopefully there remains a few bottles of 2007 Riesling deep in the cellars of lucky BC wine aficionados to serve as additional proof. At the very least a few of the latest vintages undoubtedly found their way to shelter in Society members’ cellars thanks to Stefanie.

Friday, 22 April 2016

April Wine Club: Another Bittersweet Goodbye

Nearly four years have passed since the departure of a (founding) couple in our wine club, but the time has come to send off another pair in style. Those original members have prospered in many ways in their new home, and our newest fledglings are sure to do the same in the heat of Arizona. Fortuitously some other friends had recently returned to Vancouver and were eager to fill the soon-to-be-empty slot, inspiring a grand transition dinner for ten. The distractions of food and wine served well to restrain most tears, alongside reassurance that many happy visits would follow.

Summerhill 2011 Blanc de Franc with Savoury Parfaits

My wife and I provided a mouth-watering dessert of sticky buns at last month’s brunch, so it was up to us to initiate the latest feast with provision of hors d’oeuvres. Still excited about the local wines I enjoyed at the recent Vancouver International Wine Festival I sourced some of Summerhill’s superb new Blanc de Franc from Swirl VQA Store. For easy snacking during the social hour we elected on a creative concoction we named “Savoury Yogurt Parfaits”, essentially individual five-layer dips. Homemade layers of black bean dip, guacamole, and fresh tomato salsa were topped with Greek yogurt and shredded cheddar, to be ravished by Tostitos Rolls – not every meal need by haute cuisine!

Summerhill is renowned for their range of sparkling wines and the newest iteration of pure Cabernet Franc further grows the expansive portfolio to nine different versions! Introduced at February’s Wine Festival after three years en tirage, the Cipes 2011 Blanc de Franc seemed a great match for the “Parfaits”. The same bright red berry nose I adored at the Festival was still in place, with a smooth petite mousse and luscious raspberries & cream palate. The light and airy body possessed superb balance to refresh our palates between savoury, spicy bites, and two bottles were gone in no time with many compliments.

Black Market 2014 Secret Society White & Summerhill 2015 Gruner Veltliner with Braised Artichokes

Had we followed the regular venue schedule our hosts for the evening would have been the departing couple, but with their exit preparations well underway a change was in order. Our alternate hosts for the evening welcomed us all to their versatile table for ten, and took on the appetizer course instead of the traditional entree. Their contribution to the meal was an appealingly simple presentation of Braised Artichokes with a pair of light white wines. Accompanied by Hollandaise Sauce and Irish Soda Bread the dish kept focus on the edible thistle’s rich natural flavours.

To sip as we slurped up creamy Hollandaise we chose from Black Market Wine Company’s 2014 “Secret Society White” and another Summerhill treat in the form of new 2015 Grüner Veltliner. Black Market has blended Gewurztraminer, Ehrenfelser, and Chardonnay in a surprisingly dry (3.5 g/L sugar) presentation of intense citrus fruit and fresh greenery. While the White made for an easy sipper, it was the new Grüner Veltliner, with one third higher acidity, that paired most successfully. The Grüner’s higher sugar was well balanced by 8.1 g/L of acidity, making an ideal foil for the Hollandaise. The palate provided refreshment with more citrus, passionfruit, and spicy minerality. As a new addition to Summerhill’s already bountiful portfolio, the small lot (120 cases) Grüner will be quite the rarity until production (hopefully) ramps up in future years.

Painted Rock 2009 Red Icon with Spinach & Artichoke Manicotti

The upcoming exit of such good friends called for opening an equally superb bottle of wine, and our entree chefs were graceful enough to accept my contribution to the cause. The expertly prepared Spinach & Artichoke Manicotti over which they had laboured was thus paired with my single precious magnum of 2009 Painted Rock Red Icon. I couldn’t be happier for such an opportunity to share this beautiful blend of 30% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot, and 1% Syrah. The superbly-aged Lieutenant Governor’s Award-winner was allowed to decant, introducing us to fragrant aromas of cherry, blackberry, licorice, and eucalyptus. Black fruits like currant, plum, and cherry dominated the smooth and very well integrated palate, with a hint of rose petal adding a smile on the finish. The signed magnum made a great souvenir for our decamping companions; fortunately I still have a couple more (regular) bottles for further enjoyment!

Road 13 2014 Viognier & Hester Creek 2013 Late Harvest Pinot Blanc with Chocolate Brownie Cheesecake

After some second helpings of Manicotti we were definitely slowing down, but still found room for Chunky Cheesecake Brownies and real vanilla ice cream. Two wine pairings included the risky venture of dry Road 13 2014 Viognier as well as Hester Creek’s 2013 Late Harvest Pinot Blanc. Somewhat surprisingly the Viognier fared well despite the sweet dessert, with apricot and vanilla aromas matching the ice cream and sufficient fresh acidity to yield a pleasant palate cleanse. The Pinot Blanc offered a tropical honeyed pineapple palate, obviously fuller in body than the table wine given the much higher residual sugar (approximately 75 g/L). A couple years in bottle had developed some deeper, caramelized fruits versus the lighter stone fruit that would have likely have been most present in the past.

Normally dessert would mark the end of our monthly wine and food indulgence, but with an extra-large group present we had assigned one final course of “après-dessert”. The newly joining members were given the challenge of devising something memorable to close the night, and rose to it mightily with an elegant Koko Monk “Blue Moon” chocolate. Joining this perfectly-sized morsel was a rich cocktail – rarely seen in our club but within the informal restrictions given the incorporation of BC wine. The “Portland Manhattan” blended a prodigious quantity of Therapy Vineyards’ Freudified Port-style with an equally generous amount of Smoked Maple Bourbon. Any subtleties of Therapy’s non-vintage blend of two thirds Syrah and one third Merlot were admittedly supressed by the overwhelming maple flavour, but it sure made for an easy-drinking cocktail!

Therapy Freudified "Portland Manhattan" with Koko Monk Blue Moon Chocolates

A plentiful meal and nearly too many wines (and additional spirits) to count yielded a challenging Monday morning for many of us, but with such an epic evening we had memories for years. I consider every bottle of wine I buy to be an advance purchase of a memory down the road, so it was a joy to make one more with such fine friends. Within days we’ll wave “see you soon” to a new pair of emergent oenophiles, with promises to share another bottle shortly, over tales of adventure and accomplishment. Happy trails Croftys!

Friday, 8 April 2016

Okanagan Falls Puts Another Foot Forward

Most people could be forgiven for failing to notice the wineries around Okanagan Falls have become an assembly to be reckoned with in recent years. Unlike more historical marketing groups in areas like the Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls wineries only banded together very recently. In a few short years as a formal Winery Association this diverse group of businesses are helping place BC wine on the international map, and commanding significant respect and attention in their own right.

Some of the fourteen wineries and hundreds of wines from the OFWA

This week the Association hosted their fourth annual trade & media tasting, showing off upcoming and recent releases from the fourteen member wineries in The Loft at Earl’s Yaletown. One admirable characteristic of this group is freedom from some of the political machinations that can distract other bodies, evident by the embrace of Skaha Bench wineries like Blasted Church, Painted Rock, and Pentâge, plus Kaleden concerns like TopShelf and Krâzē Legz. Moreover, the Association continues to grow at a healthy pace, as new wineries such as Nighthawk Vineyards work alongside prominent established businesses like Blue Mountain, See Ya Later Ranch, and Wild Goose. The opportunity to taste wines from these creative ventures and speak with the variety of owners and winemakers was not to be missed. Many thanks to my friend and fellow BC Wine Appreciation Society member Shelley Hayashi for the wonderfully illustrative photos!

The renowned white wines of Wild Goose drew my attention immediately, with additional regard for the maturing red program at the Kruger family’s pride and joy. General Manager Roland Kruger had in hand samples of 2015 Pinot Gris plus Pinot Blanc fresh of this week’s bottling line. The surprisingly perfumed Pinot Gris led into the delicious newly-bottled Mystic River Pinot Blanc, awash in crisp orchard fruit flavours that should continue this wine’s acclaimed tenure. The 2013 Red Horizon Meritage also showed the growing creativity of Winemaker Hagen Kruger, who has deftly blended 55% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and a hefty proportion of 20% Petit Verdot. Visitors to the winery can also sample varietal Pinot Noir and Merlot to supplement the better known aromatic whites while envisioning a bountiful future for this BC original.

Brand new whites from Wild Goose and great big reds from Painted Rock

My longstanding, well-deserved favouritism for Painted Rock took me to the table manned by proprietor John Skinner, his daughter (and Business Development Manager) Lauren, plus Senior Sales Consultant Jill Butterworth Penner. All three of these dynamic team members were happy to pour complex 2014 Rosé plus a triplet of intense 2013 reds: Merlot, Syrah, and the sold-out Red Icon blend. The Icon was being poured from the only format that remains available – magnum – while John awaits the appropriate time this summer to bottle his in-demand 2014 vintage. Of particular interest was hearing about a slight increase in new oak for the 2014 reds after years of decreasing proportions, as recommended by consultant Alain Sutre. This admirable responsiveness to vintage conditions is reflective of John’s independent approach to each annual lot (and why the Red Icon is a completely different, delicious blend every year).

At the Stag’s Hollow table, owner Larry Gerelus and winemaker Dwight Sick were pouring the embarrassment of riches that is their portfolio as of late. Despite the suggested four wines per table, I counted at least double that from this supremely adventurous winery, soon to present pioneering varieties such as Teroldego and Dolcetto, in addition to existing, finely crafted rarities like Albariño, Grenache, and Tempranillo. New this year is also the Muscat Frizzante, smoothly spritzy and packaged under practical screwcap to ensure easy enjoyment over the summer months. Rather unexpected but desirable interpretations of (barrel-fermented) Sauvignon Blanc and rare Osoyoos-grown Riesling were also serving to throw guests for an enjoyable loop. Fans of creative winemaking with an ever-present focus on quality would be wise to join the Stag’s Hollow Wine Club, soon to be blessed with exclusive varietal Malbec.

Creativity abounds at Stag's Hollow and sparkling refreshes from Blue Mountain

Blue Mountain is one of British Columbia’s oldest wineries, having virtually defined BC sparkling wine (not to mention Burgundian varieties) for decades, thanks to “43 years of continuous grape production by one family.” Christie Mavety was available alongside Keystone Fine Wines representative Christine Fawcett to remind those present that her family’s focus on estate-grown excellence remains strong, while pouring the well-known “Gold Label” Brut as well as mouth-watering 2008 Blanc de Blancs. The vintage bubbly represents a move by the Mavetys to further develop their portfolio in recent years, with a total of four sparkling wines that include impressively-aged Reserve Brut (e.g., 2007 at present) in addition to existing vintage Brut Rosé. Meanwhile, the 2014 Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay varietals being poured were simply icing on the cake that included the highly impressive Pinot Noir.

Efforts to ensure early bottling at Liquidity Wines allowed for Customer Experience Manager Erin Korpisto to show off 2015 Pinot Gris as well as the straight-forward “White Blend”; with the Blend providing a surprisingly well-aligned composition of 32% Chardonnay, 30% Viognier, 20% Pinot Gris, and 18% Sauvignon Blanc. A pair of Pinot Noirs provided insight into the red program that should soon see an additional third reserve tier added to the existing “Select” and “Estate” Pinot. At the same time the 2012 “Dividend” red was showing lovely integration, featuring a traditional Right-bank Bordeaux configuration favouring 72% Merlot. Later this year the new 2014 Dividend will provide a glimpse of the delicious possibilities in a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant blend.

Liquidity wines and some of the many Riesling from Synchromesh

The bonanza of Riesling from Alan Dickinson’s Synchromesh continues to grow, and he was happily pouring several different vineyard-specific examples from the 2015 vintage. The entry-level blend of all four vineyards has been joined by a similar version labelled simply “Drier” with 27 g/L of sugar to the former’s 34 grams. The sugar levels for 2015 peak at nearly 51 grams from the Four Shadows Vineyard outside Penticton, but acidity serves to sufficiently balance each wine, including that from the flagship Storm Haven Vineyard home property. Particularly appealing was a 2013 Botrytis-affected Riesling produced in a surprisingly dry style, providing the complex Botrytis flavours without a sugar rush to distract the palate. I was also enamoured from the get go with Alan’s new Cabernet Franc Rosé, a bone dry, 11.3% alcohol beauty with delicate colour and precise texture, and of which there were only 88 cases produced.

The personal touch was present again from Noble Ridge owners Jim & Leslie D’Andrea, on hand to discuss their fifteen-year-old winery and stunning estate vineyard overlooking Vaseux Lake. Crisp 2014 Pinot Grigio provided a lip-smacking homage to Jim’s Italian roots, while 2012 Reserve Chardonnay was everything a Chard-fan could hope for with velvety toffee flavours. The 2013 Reserve Pinot Noir and Meritage greatly impressed me, particularly as they represent only the middle-tier bottlings, with the highly infrequent “King’s Ransom” series a further step up in quality and exclusivity. Even better news came regarding newly released 2011 “The One” sparkling, a 220-case-lot successor to last year’s Lieutenant Governor’s-Award winning 2010 vintage. Leaving estate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for forty months en tirage via traditional method production should provide another success story in the coming year.

Single vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is the focus at Meyer

Before departing I ensured another taste of Meyer Family Vineyards’ Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, after having sampled the same wines at the recent Vancouver International Wine Festival. While Jak & Janice Meyer could not be present, their small lot whites and reds were poured instead by friendly International Cellars representatives. The pairs of single vineyard Chardonnay (Old Main Road & McLean Creek) and Pinot Noir (McLean Creek & Reimer) all came from the newest 2014 vintage release. As with my experience at VIWF I felt that all four called for more time to mature, albeit intense and expressive at present. Giving Winemaker Chris Carson’s complex Burgundian varietals time in the cellar can be highly rewarding, and the reason I have yet to open 2012 Chardonnay and even some 2008 Pinot Noir.

Although I failed to reach each and every table and taste all the wines available from this continually-growing collective I was given a chance to reflect on how many of my favourites wineries can be found in this relatively unassuming part of wine country. Fortunately regular visits and club shipments ensure I maintain a steady supply at home. The enviable position of Okanagan Falls mid-valley actually makes visiting surprisingly easy – it can be reached in one hour from Kelowna and a mere 30 minutes from Osoyoos and the Canada-US border. I’ll be back again soon, and am grateful to the Okanagan Falls Winery Association for providing yet another reminder why it’s wise to visit often!

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Collectibles: March 2016

Buds are already starting to show on the grape vines as wine country wakes from winter’s slumber. I received three club shipments this month as spring operations begin alongside the 2016 vintage. A few club reds were combined with some gems I brought home from the Vancouver International Wine Festival to yield a healthy compilation of collectibles. Some of the local Wine Festival wines are not yet released to the public, having been sold in limited quantities exclusively at the Festival store, but as wineries open their doors this month and next availability will increase dramatically.

March 2016 BC wine collectibles

Quails’ Gate 2014 Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir: The legendary West Kelowna winery’s flagship product is a staple for collectors, and the newest vintage (of 974 cases) was very fortunately on offer at the Wine Festival. A taste provided generous and precise varietal character from the winery’s Mount Boucherie Bench old vines (12-29 years of age). My notes ended up duplicating the recently released formal tasting notes detailing spiced red berry fruit. In the last few years Quails’ Gate has consistently aged their Reserve Pinot Noir for ten months in 50% new French oak; this year replicates the same formula for success. Drinking impressively well now it should age marvellously, secured under screw cap. VIWF Store $45

Gold Hill 2013 Cabernet Franc: The first release from 2009 won this new Golden Mile winery (from experienced wine growing brothers Sant and Gurbachan Gill) a Lieutenant Governor’s Award and multiple high accolades. I was excited to find the Gill family manning the booth at their first Vancouver Wine Festival, and soon found myself under the spell of their impressive Cabernet Franc’s newest vintage. The beautifully aromatic nose brought me back repeatedly for another sniff, and the luscious texture solidified my purchase decision. The solid value price of $27 at the winery will keep Gold Hill well within the ranks of local Franc producers to watch. VIWF Store $29

Sandhill 2013 Small Lots Syrah: The legendary Syrah that Winemaker Howard Soon crafts from the Phantom Creek Vineyard on Black Sage Bench is always in high demand, and seldom seen in stores. Shortly after the newest vintage was released last September it was awarded a prestigious Platinum medal at the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival’s BC Wine Awards. Surprisingly it took until now to sell out at the winery, particularly given that only 250 cases (fresh from 14 months in new American oak) were produced. I spent the autumn fruitlessly scanning shelves in every wine store I entered, being unable to visit the Kelowna tasting room in person this year. Imagine my surprise when I recently came across a single bottle on the shelf of my local BC Liquor Store. BC Liquor Stores $41

Poplar Grove 2012 CSM: A spring release red available to Wine Club members, the CSM tends to fly a little bit under the radar given the popularity of the winery’s Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and The Legacy icon red blend. CSM is produced in relatively small quantities, and typically exclusive to the winery tasting room, with Club members getting first crack at it upon release. This year’s blend is primarily Merlot (51%) and Syrah (41%), with 8% Cabernet Sauvignon bringing up the rear. The three grapes were naturally fermented, separately, and aged for 21 months in French oak before another year of bottle aging. Like most of Poplar Grove’s reds it is an excellent cellar candidate, with the winery suggesting up to decade from vintage. Winery Direct $35

Culmina 2013 Merlot: Owners Don & Elaine Triggs and daughter Sara were all present at the recent Wine Festival, showcasing their young Golden Mile winery’s first single-varietal reds. The gorgeous floral blueberry nose and palate of the Merlot caught my attention immediately, sending me dashing to the on-site store for a bottle (from only 168 cases). Having sampled the wine just before the Festival, John Schreiner complimented the “voluptuous texture” in his enthusiastic 92-point review. The Triggs were also pouring samples of the equally new Small Lots Cabernet Sauvignon, well-structured and complex with great aging potential: had any of the 96 cases been for sale on site I certainly would have snagged a bottle! VIWF Store $35

Cassini 2012 “The Aristocrat” Cabernet Sauvignon: I received the valuable opportunity to taste this superb wine at the winery over New Year’s, during a visit with the BC Wine Appreciation Society. Despite the highly appealing concentrated, ripe dark fruit (from an Osoyoos East Bench vineyard), I initially hesitated to buy given the preponderance of 2012 wines overflowing from my cellar – including Cassini’s equally exciting Cabernet Franc. By March I had reconsidered – especially given how few retail stores feature this rarity (only 190 cases were produced after selecting 8 barrels from amongst 45). Highly affirmative reviews – such as John Schreiner’s praise for the “rich and polished texture” – have helped encourage me to find a spot amongst the other excellent 2012 reds. Swirl VQA Store $47

LaStella 2012 Arioso Sangiovese Grosso: The production of a premium Brunello-style Sangiovese from this outstanding Italian-inspired Osoyoos winery has long been the hope of their many fans. For years a small proportion of Sangiovese went into the “Fortissimo” Super-Tuscan blend, but in 2012 sufficient volume was apparently available to bottle a single select barrel (25 cases) as a rare pure varietal wine. Even more than three years after harvest it remains a (stunningly aromatic) beast of a wine in the eyes of winery staff, who haven’t yet decided on a formal release date given the decades they believe it could age. Those bottles not yet allocated to the winery’s elite Wine Society could begin trickling out later this fall, assuming any remain unspoken for. An ultra-rare collector’s item worth every penny for BC wine adventurers. Winery Direct $69