Monday 30 August 2010

Village Wines: Desert Hills & 8th Generation

On Saturdays the superb Village VQA Wines chain holds complimentary afternoon tastings. I had planned on visiting the South Dunbar location for the 8th Generation tasting, when the opportunity arose to attend the Kitsilano tasting of Desert Hills as well (thanks Will for the suggestion)! Desert Hills has had a banner year, with their Syrah being named Best Red Wine of the Year at the 2010 All Canadian Wine Championships, and their Gamay receiving a prestigious Lt. Governor's Award this summer. Having picked up the Syrah for my 2006 collection without yet having tasted it, I was eager to find out for myself what I had!

The Kitsilano Village Wines has an excellent selection, but suffers from the popularity of their tastings, with difficult traffic patterns surrounding the cash register and tasting counter - be prepared to wait patiently for samples; they are complimentary after all! Desert Hills is located on the Black Sage Bench in near-desert climate outside Oliver - so it's no surprise they produce some lovely ripe reds, but they also displayed some pleasing whites on Saturday as well. A 2008 Pinot Gris and 2009 Gewurztraminer were both available to taste and were quite satisfying, the Gewurztraminer in particular. I was more excited to try the 2009 Gamay and 2006 Syrah. The Gamay was very nice indeed and would have made an excellent summer sipper during the hot weather we had earlier this season. In any case, let's hope for a warm September in which we can continue to pair this wine with barbecue - if you can still find it, a Lt. Governor's Award has a way of clearing out inventories fast. Desert Hills also suggests pasta with red sauce and spicy foods that will coordinate with the wine's spicy finish. If you can find it pick up a bottle for the fall, if only to try a (well-made) varietal we often don't see here in BC. If the Gamay was good, the Syrah was divine: just holding the glass at waist-height you could smell the jammy berry aromas wafting upwards! It tasted superb, and made me very pleased I was holding one in my small collection, plus encouraged to pick up another bottle sometime soon for more immediate consumption.

Having perused the shelves in Kitsilano and made plans for some upcoming purchases there, we set off for Kerrisdale and the South Dunbar Village Wines. In all honesty, this is an easier store in which to shop, with wider aisles and better customer flow, a larger tasting bar, and a fun back room called "The Cellar". 8th Generation wines available for tasting included their Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, a Merlot, and their two Rieslings ("Classic" - a dry iteration, and regular off-dry). The Classic Riesling was a crisp, more acidic take on the grape more common to German Rieslings - very refreshing and a wine Anthony Gismondi calls "a Riesling for grownups". The regular off-dry version has already sold out at the winery, with help from Gismondi's very positive review, so the tasting featured the 2008 vintage instead of the more recent 2009. Fortunately the 2008 was also very well received, and was intriguing to taste alongside its much drier sibling. With almost three times as much residual sugar there is quite a difference in taste; this wine should be well-chilled to avoid seeming syrupy-sweet! Not available was 8th Generation's delightful Rose, which is long sold-out; fortunately I acquired several bottles earlier this summer for patio consumption. This very refreshing pure Pinot Meunier wine is enjoyable all-year round of course, but make sure you get the 2010 vintage early next Summer!

Although trying my darnedest not to spend any more on wine this month I failed at Village Wines Dunbar, when a stunning display of Sandhill Small Lots wines behind the register caught my eye. Nearly every varietal was available, an order of magnitude greater than many other stores' selections. Even the long-sold out 2007 Merlot, winner of a Lt. Governor's Award and limited to only 119 cases, was available (albeit "one per person"). Fortunately I already have one - thanks again Will! - and could instead focus on the 2007 Malbec I spotted. Also sold out at the winery, the Malbec was limited to 203 cases and would help keep my lonely CedarCreek Malbec company in the 2007 collection until they are both opened in 2012-2013. Malbec in hand, I wandered into "The Cellar" and picked up a Select Lots Chardonnay from Mission Hill to round out my 2006 Chardonnay shelf, something I've been wanting to wrap up for some time. Mission Hill's Select Lot Collection are excellent value top-tier wines, the Chardonnay no exception, notwithstanding the even higher-tier Legacy-series "Perpetua" Chardonnay. Heck, get them both and have yourself a little private tasting!

Sunday 29 August 2010

Stag's Hollow Tasting

As mentioned Friday, I also attended a tasting at Taylorwood Wines on Thursday, hosted by the winemaker of Stag’s Hollow, Dwight Sick. Dwight brought a number of Stag’s Hollow’s new releases, including their new aromatic white blend “Con-Fusion”, which was quite pleasant, and hopefully has a prosperous future ahead of it; I just hope there is enough warm weather still remaining for the 2009 vintage to be consumed “on the patio” as Stag’s Hollow puts it! Stag’s Hollow has had some great success with their whites recently, having won a gold medal at the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards for their (2008) Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend (in good company with Road 13’s Viognier Roussanne Marsanne). They also released a delightful Syrah Rosé this year, which did not last long given its status as “Best Rose” during the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival. Fortunately we got to try some earlier this summer and it was a favourite; if only I could still find it somewhere!

New releases of 2008 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were also present, as well as the 2007 Merlot, and the new release of Stag’s Hollow’s Cabernet Merlot blend “The Heritage Block” (previously known as “Heritage Block 1”). The 2006 vintage of Heritage Block 1 can still be found in some BC Liquor Stores, but has been supplanted by the 2007 release in wine stores such as Taylorwood. Both versions are tasty, and in my opinion a pretty good value at the $25 price point for a Bordeaux-style blend suitable for mid-term aging (the winery recommends now to 2014 for the 2007 release).

Dwight also brought some of Stag’s Hollow’s reserve tier Merlot, called “Renaissance”, which was very enjoyable. The 2007 vintage was well reviewed by prominent wine critic Anthony Gismondi, who complimented its “solid core of fruit” and promise of further improvement over the next few years. It’s reasonably priced at $30, and the 2008 is about to be released at the end of September, which Dwight mentioned is even better – a wine that could “make vegetarians want to eat meat”! I’m not sure about switching teams, but I’ll definitely be getting some to hold in my 2008 collection.

I picked up three bottles at Taylorwood during my visit Thursday, to help flesh out my collection and pick them up while they lasted in stores. Having just heard via Twitter that 8th Generation was sold out of their very well reviewed 2009 Riesling I made sure to grab one of the few remaining bottles on the shelf for consumption later this fall. I also noticed the shelf stock of Twisted Tree’s Bordeaux blend “Six Vines” was getting very low, despite the 916 cases released. Having earlier decided to replace my bottle of (excellent) Twisted Tree Tempranillo in the 2008 collection with the Six Vines (which has better aging potential) I decided not to wait any longer for this unique award-winning blend (Gold at the 2010 All Canadian Wine Championships); the uniqueness comes from the inclusion of Carmenere, which is typically absent from North American Meritage-style blends. Lastly, I noticed just one case of Howling Bluff Pinot Noir near the register, and decided the time was ripe to pick up a bottle of this historic wine: following a Lt. Governor’s Award for the 2006 vintage, the 2007 vintage received first place at the Okanagan Wine Festival (and sold out in two days). I’ve never before seen Howling Bluff in a VQA, or any non-private wine store, so I knew the price couldn’t be beat. Now that the 2008 vintage has been released I figured it was about time for me to try it out (or at least I will in 2013 when my 2008 collection matures). Although it “only” received 87 points from Gismondi, he was careful to point out its potential to improve in bottle, so let’s hope three years does the trick.

Friday 27 August 2010

First Post!

Although I’ve been waiting for the “right” time, it seems that now is as good a time as any for my first blog entry! Only time will tell how long this lasts; maybe people will actually read it and find it helpful, or at the very least interesting.

Yesterday I took in two tasting events after a short hiatus: having spent almost my entire monthly wine budget in the first week of August I’ve been loath to enter a wine shop since! However, the prospect of an (unfortunately) rare BC wine tasting at the 39th Avenue BC Liquor Store was too much to pass up – a rare gem in the midst of the usual hard liquor mega-brands events held weekly. It ended up being an entertaining if not interesting visit, with six different local wines being sampled, for somewhat uncertain reasons. You see, it occurred to me later that the wines being tasted were perhaps those the LDB is trying to gently move along, either due to oversupply or older vintages (e.g., I got to try the Township 7 2006 Merlot, despite the 2007 being the current release).

Amongst the wines on offer was Gray Monk’s Odyssey Rosé Brut, a blend of Gamay and Pinot Meunier. Despite the painfully small teaspoon-sized pours (into chintzy plastic thimble cups) I was able to appreciate the creamy, “moussiness” of this classically-made sparkling wine. It is apparently on sale at present for $25 from $27, and is surprisingly rare – only 220 cases made. Side-note: Gray Monk just recently won a Lt. Governor’s Award for Excellence in BC Wine for their 2007 Odyssey White Brut, of which significantly more was made – 840 cases – and it’s also on sale for $25. Taylorwood Wines in Yaletown has a limited number of well-priced (about $45) magnums of this fine sparkler available, and I look forward to picking one up soon.

A second wine well worth mentioning is Road 13’s new red blend “Rockpile”. Although I had tried it before – and am currently holding a bottle to see what it’s like in a couple of years – I was provided the opportunity to try it with food for the first time. Although BC Liquor Store tastings lack the charm of real glasses, they do provide some often-tasty bites to accompany the wines; the advantage of having a full kitchen at the Signature Stores. Rockpile is part of Road 13’s new move to blends, whilst casting aside almost all of their traditional single-varietal wines (even their well-loved Cabernet Sauvignon). This intriguing mix has almost everything in it – 8 different varietals – ranging from Syrah (60%) to little touches of 1% Viognier, Grenache, and Mourvedre! It was being served with some charming mushroom and truffle oil tarts, and I’ve got to say the combination was fantastic! I can’t wait to grab a few more bottles for the long winter ahead, when it will go great with the many earthy casseroles and stews we always make – with plenty of mushrooms! My only concern for Rockpile is that Road 13 has a long road (sic) ahead of them convincing a sceptical public to embrace blends, which can be more intimidating for those used to single varietals, and past knowledge of what foods to supposedly pair them with. Given the massive quantities of Rockpile I’m seeing everywhere (they made 4,500 cases in the first year for goodness sake!) I hope they haven’t bitten off more than they can chew.

Tomorrow I’ll briefly write about the Stag’s Hollow tasting at Taylorwood I attended immediately after the Signature Store tasting, plus the three smart purchases I picked up while I was there.