Thursday 22 December 2011

December Wine Club: Holiday Festivities

Christmas was on everyone’s mind when the three couples that comprise our wine/dinner club gathered for the final event of 2011 earlier this month. As hosts, my wife and I sought out a festive entree that helped to celebrate the season, and made sure to decorate with gusto, from the tablecloth to the Christmas Crackers. As a bonus appetizer I whipped up a little baked Brie with cranberry caramelized onions to enjoy while we exchanged gifts before everyone split up for their holiday travel: we were honoured to receive a valuable Edible Canada gift card, and my wife received a handy book light and a beautiful pen. As for myself, since the exchange I’ve been busy with tryouts for the contents of my new flask – can you believe I didn’t have one – and have settled on Madeira; could there be a bottle of CedarCreek Platinum “M” in my future? We loved picking out gifts for our friends, including Whiskey Stones, Evan Williams Egg Nog, and a very exciting Molecular Gastronomy Kit, plus a few treats for the new baby: can anyone resist buying a baby toque with antlers on it?


Finally one of our guests (who shall remain unnamed) began to recover from what sounded like a truly horrific hangover – courtesy of enthusiastically hosting his own Christmas party the night before – and we sat down to the appetizer course accompanied by Stag’s Hollow 2010 Viognier. The floral and spicy aromas of the wine nicely complemented the rice paper wraps stuffed with broccoli, coconut, tofu, and lime mayonnaise. Stag’s Hollow recently received a Silver Medal for their Viognier at the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards, and we all appreciated the smooth texture and balanced acidity from a wine that expresses its varietal character very well.


For the main course I had elected on Pumpkin Baked Ziti with Caramelized Onion Sage Crumb Topping, an easy and delicious holiday comfort food from the excellent cookbook “Veganomicon” (ironically “un-veganized” through the use of Ricotta cheese instead of the equally tasty tofu-based substitute in the original recipe). To balance the creamy pasta we served on the side a light mixed green salad with cranberry vinaigrette and candied pecans. It being such a festive season I couldn’t stop at just one wine pairing, especially as I had just received my first Painted Rock Wine Club shipment mere days before, which included the delicious 2010 Chardonnay. Although it’s a Chardonnay that can easily age for a few years I wanted to share a bottle with my friends at present so we could all try it together. John Schreiner reviewed Painted Rock’s new releases last month and reported that the new Chardonnay possesses dramatic aromas and lively flavours, and we certainly enjoyed the golden colour and creamy texture alongside aromas and flavours of lemon pie, pineapple, and dried mango. Following up the tropical freshness of the Painted Rock I brought out a more mature Chardonnay from the 2007 vintage of Nk’Mip’s Qwam Qwmt series. Back in 2009 Anthony Gismondi suggested it would continue to improve in bottle, and judging by his descriptors of hazelnut, baked apple, vanilla, and orange rind it was quite apt that our guests declared “it tastes like Christmas!” The soft and creamy mouthfeel conjured up additional comparisons to vanilla ice cream with maple syrup, and gave everyone a warm and cozy feeling inside as we finished our entrees.


The meal wasn’t complete yet though, and the festive theme continued into dessert with a cranberry bonanza helped along by The Fort Wine Company. We certainly don’t have any hard and fast rules mandating grape wine, so the dessert crew decided to try out a red cranberry wine from this Langley winery to pair with their cranberry upside-down cake. On top of the brightly coloured cake were generous heaps of whipped cream and some bright fresh cranberries. The wine was a bit of a surprise as it smelled sweeter than it actually tastes, which is fairly tart and dry. Overall the pairing worked well because the relatively low sugar in the cake was in balance with the flavour profile of the wine, which certainly wouldn’t have complemented a sweeter dish nearly as well.

With our final mutual meal of 2011 complete we toasted to a hugely entertaining, educational, and successful year together sharing so many great wines. The new release of Sumac Ridge’s Steller’s Jay Brut (2007) served our toasting purposes admirably with lots of citrus blossom aromas and a pleasing mousse texture that was very easy to enjoy. There are currently a fair number of magnums of the similar 2006 Steller’s Jay to be found around town for very reasonable prices ($35-$45), which holds a lot of potential for a great value New Year’s wine. I know I’ll be celebrating the upcoming year as an opportunity to experience even more of the passion and talent shown throughout the BC wine industry!

Wednesday 14 December 2011

BCWAS: Fairview Cellars Vertical Tasting

Earlier this month the BC Wine Appreciation Society hosted a tasting of wines by Fairview Cellars, the small but celebrated winery run by Bill Eggert. The tasting was focused on a very rare seven-year vertical of Bill’s premier Meritage blend “The Bear”, ranging from 2003-2009 vintages: a “Meritage Christmas” if you will! This event was particularly noteworthy as it represented the first tasting since I joined BCWAS that has focused on just one wine; most tastings cover a winery’s larger portfolio, often spread across just one or two vintages. Getting the chance to watch one wine, under one winemaker develop over seven years was a valuable lesson in winemaking and British Columbian viticulture.

I myself have been collecting Fairview Cellars wines for only a couple of years, having been first turned on to Bill’s talents by Icon Wines. After getting the chance to actually taste the wines at several events, and finally at the winery itself this summer, I’ve been hooked on the many superb small lot wines Bill produces. Icon Wines’ Liam Carrier visited Fairview Cellars last year for a barrel tasting, and I bumped into him in person at Bill’s table at the VQA Fall Release “Colour”, where we both thoroughly enjoyed the 2009 wines. (Icon Wines recently named Fairview Cellars’ “The Wrath” Cabernet Sauvignon their 2011 Icon Wine of the Year.) For even more information about Fairview Cellars and Bill Eggert have a look at the December BCWAS Newsletter, which features not only an interview with Bill, but a story by BCWAS Events Coordinator Kristal Kaulbach about the ageability of Bill’s wines.

Fairview Cellars Vertical

Going into the tasting this month attendees were not only treated to seven different vintages of The Bear, but also component tastings of the 2008 Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, the primary components of the blend (starting in 2008 Bill introduced Malbec and Petit Verdot in small quantities). The Listel Hotel provided delicious appetizers to complement the wines, and guests enjoyed beef tenderloin with smoked chocolate and cumin, grilled mushroom & eggplant Aranncini with sweet smoked tomato puree, Little Qualicum Blue Claire cheese and stone fruit compote, and braised Peace Country lamb with caramelized onion tart. Once again the staff at the Listel, along with the many BCWAS volunteers who set up the room provided for an excellent experience – good thing too as the event was sold out to one of the largest audiences yet!

Similar tastings hosted by the BCWAS have typically involved the winemaker and/or proprietor guiding guests through the wine flight glass by glass, but Bill – true to his nature – threw caution to the wind and let us individually taste however we wished after a short introduction. Walking around the room he interjected now and then with factoids but mostly just chatted with individual tables on a one-to-one basis. As we tasted through the Bear vertical one thing became immediately obvious: Bill’s consistency was going to make for a challenging experience differentiating the wines. Limited vintage variation was present (Bill pointed out 2003, 2005, and 2009 were particularly hot years) but overall the wines were unusually similar year to year – even the colour remained remarkably consistent! Having tasted some BC reds from vintages in the early 2000’s I’ve seen the loss of primary fruit that can occur at times, so it was very relieving to smell the rich, almost Port-like, aromas coming off the 2003 Bear. The wines slowly got more tannic as they got younger, but overall they all showed the ability to continue to age well for years to come. Even Bill was pleasantly surprised, having not engaged in such a vertical tasting himself for quiet a while!

While Bill doesn’t often widely publicize the release of single varietal bottlings, they do show up in stores from time to time, the varietal Cabernet Sauvignon being the most highly publicized and available. Our three varietal samples from the 2008 vintage were all quite tasty on their own, and helped illustrate how the final blend is constructed. The Cabernet Franc showed herbal characteristics and possessed the brightest fruit, while the Cabernet Sauvignon was rich and smoky, with a hint of sulphur on the nose. The most exciting varietal for me was the Merlot, as had I not know its identity in advance I might have been tempted to suggest it was Syrah given the spicy, peppery notes that sprung forth from the glass. In combination with the highly talked-about delicious Bear samples the varietals showed off the talents of an industry veteran that we all felt honoured to have enjoyed. Thanks for sharing, Bill!

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Birthday Beverages

To celebrate my birthday last week I opened a few bottles of great BC wine with friends: some were new releases I was eager to share, and others came out of the cellar for our enjoyment. A Rhone theme became apparent when we started with a three-year vertical of Viognier, and moved on to a bevy of Syrah; finally finishing with a Meritage blend and a delicious fortified wine from the Naramata Bench.


A late lunch of sushi was an excellent opener for the Sandhill Small Lots Viognier I had collected over the past couple of years. At the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards Sandhill dominated the competition by winning Winery of the Year and scooping both Red and White Wines of the Year. The 2007 Small Lots Syrah was Red of the Year, and the 2008 Small Lots Viognier was named White Wine of the Year, prompting me to find a few bottles. My final bottle was now ready to be opened along with the 2009 and 2010 Small Lots Viogniers. The 2008 was first and I was happy to see that two and half years of bottle age had done little to dampen the complex, honeyed flavour profile. The golden colour was quite appealing, and while the wine was sweet, the acidity kept it balanced and retained the freshness for which it received so many accolades two years ago.

When it came time to serve the 2009 Viognier I was dismayed to see a much darker-coloured wine in the glass – not a good sign. Whatever fault (likely oxidation) had assaulted this bottle had led to a flat and flabby texture with none of the bright fruit and intense flavours of the earlier, much more well-preserved vintage. Although I was disappointed it also represented an exciting learning opportunity to witness how a wine can go bad – the photo below barely does justice to the striking difference in colour (from left to right: 2008, 2009, 2010). Fortunately the 2010 vintage redeemed the flight and cleansed our palate with the brightest, freshest flavours and an almost slightly effervescent texture. I was glad to have enjoyed the final wine as recommended – in it’s youth.


As the night grew longer it came time for a few richer reds to complement the dizzying cheese platter we assembled – arranged geographically for our own amusement. I was able to pull another Canadian Wine Awards champion from the cellar in the form of Jackson Triggs’ 2006 Sunrock Vineyard Shiraz, the 2008 Red Wine of the Year. With a nose rich in dark berries and peppery mesquite it lived up to the glowing review Anthony Gismondi had given it back in 2008, with equally impressive “glossy textures” today.

Those smooth tannins were not expected in the other two Syrahs available – both from the 2009 vintage – but each represented wines I wanted to test with friends in the present before aging my remaining bottles. The Church & State Coyote Bowl Syrah continued the Canadian Wine Awards theme, as it only recently was announced as the 2011 Red Wine of the Year. The group described a wide variety of characteristics including aromas of blueberries, blue cheese, and toast, while the flavour profile after decanting took on an herbal, floral note somewhat reminiscent of Cabernet Franc. It was much mellower than I recalled from earlier tastings, and showed how decanting can sometimes change a wine substantially. A change had also taken place in the Fairview Cellars Bucket o’ Blood we enjoyed next: from initial aromas of blood, balsamic vinegar, toffee, and dried roses it actually became fruitier after decanting. This Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon blend is likely a promising cellar-dweller, and winemaker Bill Eggert suggests opening after 2013, but I just couldn’t wait to share a wine with such an entertaining name! Although we didn’t have any tangy ribs to pair with it as Liam Carrier suggests, some of the more flavourful cheeses did just fine alongside this rich and delicious wine.

With our short exploration of the grapes of Rhone complete we moved on to the big blend of CedarCreek 2006 “Colbert Edition” Meritage. A few years ago CedarCreek acquired some very hard-to-get barrels made from 350-year-old French oak and carefully selected a Merlot-dominant blend to age for 21 months. The 144 cases produced are few and far between but as a Platinum Club member I was very pleased to receive this storied wine. Aromas of smoky berries gave way to a powerful wine, brighter than expected, and quite smooth and approachable already. The Colbert Meritage recently ranked sixth at the Sip Wines Icon Red Tasting, as well as receiving a silver medal at the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards. Although we were surprised at the approachability (albeit after decanting) the consensus seems to be that it could continue to age a few more years.

It being my birthday I decided on a final wine to sweeten the evening: Kettle Valley Starboard. This Port-style fortified wine is made from Malbec and Petit Verdot grapes, and has recently been renamed “Caboose” to fit with other train-themed names from Kettle Valley. It’s hard to go wrong with a fortified blend of those two rich grapes, and the “long elegant finish” of Starboard provided for some mellow reflecting time as we surveyed the decimated cheese platter and numerous empty glasses and decanters. With even more great wines in the cellar – and always in need of room for more – I see no reason not to make this an annual celebration!

Monday 28 November 2011

Meyer Vineyards New Releases

Meyer Family Vineyards is a small Okanagan Falls winery that focuses on single-vineyard wines, leaning heavily towards Burgundy varietals that feature Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Proprietors JAK Meyer and Janice Stevens own two vineyards in Naramata and Okanagan Falls, and purchase additional grapes from growers throughout the Okanagan to produce about 3,000 cases of wine per year. Having collected Meyer’s “Tribute” Chardonnay for the past couple of years I recently took advantage of their Christmas gift case special to save 10% off a mixed six-pack of new releases: three Chardonnays and three Pinot Noirs soon arrived in an attractive presentation box. (Meyer should be applauded for their willingness to ship in six-bottle multiples that allow customers more flexibility in purchasing.)


Amongst the Chardonnays was the newest Tribute wine, rounding out a three year vertical in my collection: 2008-2010. The Tribute series wines recognize a western Canadian for outstanding achievement in their field, and each year the Meyers donate $5,000 to a charity selected by the honouree or their heirs. For 2010 the wine honours Sonja Gaudet, national and international champion in Wheelchair Curling. The Tribute Chardonnay comes from the family-owned Old Main Road Vineyard in Naramata, and continues the tradition of excellence established for this wine in previous years. The 2009 version was described by Liam Carrier of Icon Wines as possessing a “near-perfect trifecta of balance” and the 2010 has been similarly well-received given its “creamy texture…and long, long finish.” Highly respected wine writer John Schreiner recently reviewed several Meyer wines and got right to the point regarding the Tribute: “the wine shows a laser-like purity.

The other two Chardonnays I received composed two years of wines from Meyer’s McLean Creek Road Vineyard in Okanagan Falls. The smaller vineyard (compared to Old Main Road) yields only about one third the volume, so the McLean Creek Road Chardonnays are harder to find, with only about 200 cases produced each year. Both 2009 and 2010 wines have been reviewed by Icon Wines as worthy of 90+ points for their crisp, mineral driven Chablis-like style. I look forward to trying the McLean Creek and Old Main Road versions alongside each other in the future after a little bit of cellar time.

The McLean Creek Road Vineyard is also planted with some Pinot Noir in addition to the aforementioned Chardonnay, five different clones in fact! The winery has released the 2009 and 2010 Pinot Noirs from this vineyard simultaneously as the vintage variation has dictated. For 2009, the very ripe fruit was entirely whole cluster fermented, yielding a robust and concentrated wine in which “every bottle packs a punch”; good thing too because only about 50 cases were produced! Additional aging is recommended for this wine to ensure it really shines as it should. The 2010 vintage was more challenging, but more than three times as much wine was produced nonetheless. Both John Schreiner and Liam Carrier agree that further aging would also benefit the 2010, but it is already “lean, mean, and very flavourful.

The final bottle in my six-pack was a Pinot Noir from the Reimer Vineyard in south-east Kelowna, from which enough grapes were sourced to produce almost 200 cases of a subtle and nuanced wine. Reviews thus far acknowledge that it shows off bright cherry and berry characteristics that I’m very much looking forward to enjoying in due time.

Although a number of collectable wines have come from Meyer Vineyards in a short period of time it is also worth noting that some very enjoyable entry-level bottles of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and even Gewürztraminer and Rosé have also been produced. The newly released 2010 Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir sells for $25, and is said to be a “silky charmer” that will serve as an “excellent palate refresher” when served with food. The screw-top suggests it is a wine to be opened sooner rather than later, and the bottle I recently received as a gift will hopefully be enjoyed over the upcoming holiday season.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

November Wine Club: Family Edition

Our monthly wine club met for the first time since September this month. A planned October get-together at Trafalgars – for their Taste of the Harvest dinner – was scuttled at the last minute due to the unexpected birth of one precocious baby girl. It seems she just couldn’t wait two more weeks to meet all of us, as her somewhat shell-shocked father relayed to us early that morning. Considering the same six of us had been out living it up the very night beforehand to celebrate his upcoming birthday, it was no surprise he was a little beside himself! Still, not being ones to pass up an opportunity to celebrate, we welcomed her to the world with a baby shower and a few magnums of Sumac Ridge Steller’s Jay Brut earlier this month; she politely declined a glass but was nice enough to pose for photos.


This month’s get-together was bountiful, with no less than six additional guests including the admittedly teetotaling baby. Her newly-minted Uncle was present as he passed through from Australia to Denver, as were our host’s Aunt & Uncle, Cousin, and Grandmother; fortunately the table included lots of leaves! Everyone stepped up to the challenge of feeding twice as many people as usual, and the delicious BC wine flowed just as readily. As leaders of the appetizer team, we relished in serving a warm and comforting soup to combat the greying skies of Vancouver autumn. Last month I acquired two beautiful bottles of Therapy 2010 AlterEgo, a new premium white blend from the Freudian-themed Naramata winery. A glowing review from Daenna Van Mulligen suggested creamy corn chowder, and I could not argue with that excellent suggestion. We spent the afternoon whipping up a vegetarian-friendly version of Smoked Chicken Chowder, and baked an accompanying Zucchini Cornbread for good measure. Not one to stop there, a batch of Goat Cheese Croutons provided a little extra oomph and continued the corny theme. The wine itself was a big hit, as everyone admired the golden colour and rich aromas of tropical and tree fruits. The majority components of Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc provided for crisp but very well balanced acidity, and the addition of Viognier added noticeable floral characteristics. I think everyone was sad to see both bottles emptied so quickly, although I recently heard that Firefly Vancouver received a few bottles of this very hard-to-find wine just this week!


With so many people in attendance, we were able to enjoy two excellent entree courses, in addition to three charming Chardonnays. Our hosts prepared a hearty pasta with lentils plus crisp grilled leeks, while guests brought not only a mouth-watering squash and root vegetable medley for all but some admittedly tasty-looking prosciutto-wrapped halibut filets for the omnivores. Plenty of wine was to be had with three individually unique Chardonnays from the 2008 vintage: Joie Reserve from Naramata, Road 13 Jackpot from the Golden Mile, and Robin Ridge’s version from the Similkameen Valley. Once again, without consultation we avoided any duplication and managed to assemble an exciting gamut of wines. Joie’s creamy wine is a worthy follow-up to the Lt. Governor’s Award-winning 2007 vintage, with John Schreiner describing it impressively as “like drinking marmalade” due to the complexity! We enjoyed the round texture and the apple cider and citrus palate; plus it gloriously amplified the rich flavours of the root vegetables. The Road 13 Jackpot Chardonnay won a gold medal at last year’s Canadian Wine Awards, and provided a significant side-step in character to the Joie: more acidic and perfumed, it was lighter in body and possessed very noticeable crisp mineral flavours that reminded some of the Chablis style. Lastly the Robin Ridge wine took some time to open up but when it did a buttery texture emerged, while also possessing similar acidity to the Road 13 – almost a combination of characteristics of the two preceding wines. It was quite an illuminating trip through BC Chardonnay as we travelled the gastronomical highway!


With everyone seemingly stuffed from dinner we settled down while the dessert team went to work rolling out pastry and filling the room with rich baking aromas. A few glasses of Bourbon and a glass of Road 13 Rockpile kept us busy in the meantime, and soon enough a few bottles of Gehringer Late Harvest Riesling arrived on the table to accompany the beautiful apple galettes fresh from the oven. This superb value ($18) dessert wine is part of a pair from Gehringer, with a late harvest Cabernet Franc filling out the red side of the equation. High sugar is balanced by cleansing acidity that ensures flexible food pairings, and the butterscotch, apple, and pear aromas went hand-in-hand with the delicious dessert that everyone raved about. That lucky little baby has many years of enjoying her father’s amazing pastries ahead of her, and if we’re lucky he may share a few more with us as well.


Next month hosting duties return to my wife and me. So we are looking forward to coming up with a festive entree that shows off the winter harvest and synchs up with a warm and toasty winter-appropriate wine. We should have the holiday decorations up by that time, so it should be a very merry celebration of BC wine!

Monday 24 October 2011

Painted Rock Fall Releases

The rapid rise of Painted Rock Winery continues as awards continue to roll in and the newest – and perhaps best ever – wines are now becoming available. The Fall release party at Gotham Steakhouse last week provided the opportunity for proprietor John Skinner to show off his new wines, and his new medals. For this summer’s Canadian Wine Awards competition John entered thirteen different wines from multiple vintages, and was awarded medals for all of them! Most exciting were the three Gold medals, for the 2009 Red Icon, and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Syrah. The awards coincide with good and bad news for fans, as the 2008 Cabernet is long sold out, but the Syrah remains available while John waits to release the 2009 vintage. As for the Red Icon, the news is very good, because production is substantially higher for 2009 than in the past, and there should be a large number of bottles – and statuesque magnums – available throughout BC this fall.

The new Red Icon is a spectacularly smooth and juicy wine very deserving of that Gold medal. Interestingly the Malbec was omitted for 2009 and a tiny bit of Syrah added instead, to provide a special spark to the Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. Fortunately plenty of Syrah remained for the single varietal bottling, which will likely prove to be an excellent follow-up to the delicious 2008 version. The current (Gold medal) Syrah is a ripe, peppery wine with prevalent oak notes at present; Anthony Gismondi feels that “time in the bottle will help this wine reach its full potential.

On the Cabernet Sauvignon front it seems clear that those desiring a taste should continue to seek out restaurant wine lists, for the 2009 vintage sold out in minutes! Ever since that first Lt. Governor’s Award for the initial 2007 vintage John has seen BC’s finer restaurants snap up his Cabernet Sauvignon with rapidity. It certainly didn’t help that production was quite low for 2009, and after contributing to the Red Icon little remained for single varietal bottlings. It’s unfortunate that collectors may be stymied as the samples being poured at Gotham showed off the rich and powerful characteristics of this wine; equally smooth as the Red Icon, it appears that 2009 was a very good vintage indeed.

Two more new releases include the final red wine – 2009 Merlot – and Painted Rock’s sole white wine. The 2010 Chardonnay is bright and juicy with a lot of tropical flavours. The release party was my third opportunity to try it, and each time I have thoroughly enjoyed the creamy texture and layered flavour profile. The newly released Merlot shares many characteristics with the other 2009 reds, with dark fruit and smooth textures: the winery’s tasting notes describe it as “serious, complex, and sturdy.” Like most Painted Rock wines, both Chardonnay and Merlot should be particularly enjoyable with foods that will both complement, and compliment them.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

CedarCreek Platinum Club – Fall 2011

It was with great pleasure that I received my second Platinum Club shipment last month, after having joined earlier this year. While the Spring 2011 shipment focused on the newly released aromatic whites, the Fall shipment included a selection of harvest-friendly wines, with a greater focus on the reserve Platinum bottles. (The upcoming February 2012 shipment should include most of the Platinum Reds.) CedarCreek tried something new with this shipment: they added a live online wine tasting with President Gordon Fitzpatrick and Winemaker Darryl Brooker on September 29. I unfortunately had to miss the tasting due to a prior commitment. However I was pleased to see that the session was recorded and linked to on CedarCreek’s Facebook page, and I enjoyed watching it later to learn some of the inside information about the wines and the winery.

Platinum Club Shipment - Fall 2011

The Fall club shipment struck me as a bit of an ode to Burgundy, containing a pair of Pinot Noirs, and another pair of Chardonnays. Both Pinot Noirs are about a year old, if you consider their birthdate to be their initial release last September, but the extra year of bottle age likely helps them along. The 2008 Pinot Noir comes from the regular estate tier, while the next model up is the Platinum 2007 version. Both wines received Bronze medals at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards, but diverge from there: the 2008 picked up Gold at the BC Wine Awards in Fall 2010, while the Platinum 2007 was awarded Best of Category at the 2010 All Canadian Wine Championships. The consensus seems to be that these are more “feminine” Pinot Noirs, as John Schreiner details. Anthony Gismondi puts it another way in describing both the 2007 and 2008 as relatively lean and tart, with the 2007 showing just a bit better. For the record both wines contain total acid of a bit less than 8 grams per litre.

The Chardonnays represent a similar pair, albeit with vintage reversed: in this case the newer 2009 wine comes from the Platinum tier, while the older bottle is from the estate tier. The new Platinum wine is not yet detailed on the CedarCreek website, but the release notes describe a barrel fermented wine aged for 11 months on the lees, having received the full French oak treatment. CedarCreek entered a number of wines into the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards and received a bronze medal and a strong review for this cellar-friendly wine. Only about 500 cases were made, down from nearly 800 in the 2008 vintage, and while the official release date is listed as July 2011, I think it is unlikely to show up in stores until later this Fall or even next year. The estate tier 2008 Chardonnay on the other hand should be widely available and ready for immediate consumption at this point, having been initially released at the winery almost two years ago. I’m confident it still retains the fruit forward and food friendly approach that both Anthony Gismondi and John Schreiner described this spring, and a secure screwtop alongside a very competitive price point of $18 makes for an easy choice.

The remaining two wines in the shipment come from CedarCreek’s southern vineyard holdings near Osoyoos, prime territory for growing deliciously ripe Syrah and Viognier. The results have led to beautiful bottles of 2007 Platinum Syrah and a new 2010 Platinum Viognier. The Syrah represented a new chapter when it was released in late 2009 as CedarCreek’s first Platinum Syrah, aged for 15 months in premium French oak: “that’s why the wine smells so classy” according to John Schreiner. Had everything gone according to plan these two wines may have shared a common destiny, as a Syrah-Viognier blend was originally anticipated. However, the Viognier grapes were so good on their own that CedarCreek decided this year to bottle a limited production run of single-varietal wine from just two barrels (636 bottles to be precise). The wine was earmarked exclusively for Platinum Club members, with any remainder to be sold at the winery store. The notes detail the gentle six hour pressing and subsequent neutral-barrel fermentation, followed by 4 months of barrel aging on lees. One can imagine the rich, creamy mouthfeel on this wine and I’m looking forward to enjoying my bottle on a special occasion soon: the winery suggests pairing it with sushi uramaki such as a luxurious Dynamite Roll – thanks for the suggestion!

Tuesday 11 October 2011

We Give Thanks for BC Wine!

We had a great deal to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, as our home was host to great friends, great food, and great wine! To share in our “Northern Bounty” we had invited over four American friends to join us for six courses and six amazing BC wines, each served with excitement and pride. I had spent the weeks beforehand crafting what I hoped would be a perfectly paired (vegetarian) menu that would both satisfy and entertain, while including some of my favourite wines and wineries. The most challenging aspect was avoiding any duplication as I selected the food and wine pairings: in some cases the wine came first, while in others it was the food in need of a suitor. After probably far too much stress and perfectionism it was a relief to finally sit down and enjoy our amazing meal!


While we awaited the arrival of our full complement of guests, we sipped the quintessential celebratory sparkler in our household – Road 13 Sparkling Chenin Blanc (2008). Of course you can drink sparkling wine any time, but we tend to reserve Road 13’s unique and valuable version for special occasions because Sparkling Chenin should be celebrated! Our appetizer course to pair with the crisp acidity and bright fruit of such a wine included Pecan and Goat Cheese Marbles, to which I added cherry tomatoes for a burst of colour and variety. A second mouth-watering canapé came from the superb food & wine tome Orgasmic Appetizers (and Matching Wines): Spinach Artichoke Wonton Cups were perfectly bite size versions of creamy hot artichoke dip. Both appetizers possessed a mix of sourness and saltiness that was offset nicely by the off-dry wine, while the Chenin’s acidity helped to cut the fattiness in the various cheeses.


Our salad course contained an homage to traditional Thanksgiving ingredients in the form of dried cranberries; the fresh spinach was also topped with Bosc pears, red onion, and toasted hazelnuts. The wine pairing was the well-known Black Hills Alibi (2009), a white Bordeaux-style blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Having read many reviews for Alibi over the years this was actually my first opportunity to try it in depth. The many reviews out there for the 2009 vintage are quite positive, speaking to its zesty flavours, youthful aromas, and excellent balance. Even better, because the 2010 vintage is now being sold, the 2009 is on sale for $25 from $30, and can still be found in many VQA stores. Our consensus was one of great satisfaction, as the acidity held up to the vinaigrette dressing, while the tropical flavours meshed well with the pears.


When there is no need to choose between soup and salad why not have both? Here was one dish for which the wine came first, as I knew I wanted to open a bottle of Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay from the cellar. The 2007 vintage I was serving won a Gold medal at the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards, and I knew it needed a special dish to complement the full flavours of the wine. I ultimately settled on Butternut Squash Soup with Cider Cream, accessorized with the delicious-sounding Gruyere Croutons from a different recipe. The soup contains two fresh Granny Smith apples plus a cup of apple cider so a Chardonnay with aromas and flavours of apples certainly fit the bill. The wine was also noticeably toasty from the barrel fermentation, but despite full malolactic fermentation just as lively as described by John Schreiner.


A few great white wines aside, it soon came time for reds, and another course in which the wine came long before I could dream up a food pairing. It being Thanksgiving I would be remiss not to serve Pinot Noir, which everyone feels is ideal for turkey and all those accoutrements; but without any fowl on the table my 2006 CedarCreek Platinum Pinot Noir was in danger of going it alone. With an inkling to serve something earthy I discovered a recipe for Beet Carpaccio with Onion Marmalade that looked like a promising match to the dark cherry and spice found in the wine. Making the marmalade I used some CedarCreek Pinot Gris and was bemused at my unintentional retention of not only the Pinot family but of the CedarCreek portfolio as well; hopefully fate was smiling on this pairing! In any case after tasting the silky smooth wine it almost didn’t matter how the beets turned out, although fortunately they were also delicious, and went hand in hand with the delicious Pinot. Believe it or not there may still be a few bottles of this wine on store shelves given the massive 2006 harvest: CedarCreek produced 2-3 times as much Platinum Pinot Noir that year as usual – despite rigorous cluster thinning.


For our final savoury course – the entree if there was to be one – I waffled quite a bit on the wine pairing. Although another Pinot Noir would likely be quite enjoyable with the Mushroom Filo Strudel in the works I longed for something different to keep the variety flowing. Although I hadn’t planned on opening it just yet, given the company and the occasion the time seemed right for my cherished bottle of 2005 Mission Hill Quatrain – the inaugural vintage of this celebrated Merlot-Syrah-Cabernet blend. I’ll admit it hurt to break up the 3-year vertical I had collected thus far, but eventually one has to drink all these wines! Quatrain was first released back in 2008 to flesh out Mission Hill’s “Legacy-Series” wines alongside the Oculus red blend, and the Perpetua Chardonnay; it was soon followed by another red blend called Compendium, which is more of a baby-Oculus in style. For a first release it did exceptionally well, with it being hard to find reviews below 90-points, and plenty more accolades and awards in the vintages since 2005 (the 2008 Quatrain should be released within months). With plenty of savoury, peppery descriptors being used for the wine I made sure to generously spice the Strudel and accompanying Port Red Wine Sauce, in the hopes that plenty of mushrooms, leeks, and tomatoes would satisfy such a concentrated wine. After careful decanting, the wine was drinking beautifully and enriched our palates with loads of ripe fruit and complex flavours. I think the rapidly-rendered-bare plates and empty glasses spoke for themselves as it was apparent everyone thoroughly enjoyed their fifth course of the evening!


Despite a few full bellies no one could turn down the final course of the meal, in part no doubt because its over-the-top appearance and intimidating name inspired so much curiosity: Pumpkin Roll Cake with Toffee Cream Filling and Caramel Sauce. Drizzled in homemade caramel sauce (just butter, heavy cream, and dark brown sugar) and generously sprinkled with English toffee this cake is not subtle, and needed a complex wine pairing that could stand up to it. Fortunately I was confident that La Frenz’s Tawny Port could handle the job, after reading about the flavours “reminiscent of dark fruit cake infused with butterscotch sauce.” Although this fortified wine – one of only a small number of BC Port-style wines – is sold out as of Thanksgiving weekend, I found a bottle at Marquis Wine Cellars, which sadly appears to have been one of the last ones available. While everyone gleefully tore into the cake there were just as many compliments for the rich Tawny, which had no problems making its unique flavours apparent. Although fully enjoyable now, it seemed to me that the wine could easily age for significantly longer in order to develop an even richer character and depth, but then we wouldn’t have had six delicious wines to share in the present. It was a fun-filled Thanksgiving dinner we will all remember, plus now I’m free to think about Christmas wines…


Sunday 2 October 2011

Fairview Cellars Fall 2011 Releases

Bill Eggert, the one-man band that is Fairview Cellars, released his Fall wine selection last month. Spotting a tweet from Bill announcing the release (now that everything was finally bottled and labelled) I was quick to order a half-case so as to acquire a bottle of each new red wine. Good thing I acted fast, because two of the six wines (all from the 2009 vintage) are sold out already: Pinot Noir (60 cases) and Cabernet Sauvignon (160 cases) were gone in days. The four remaining wines still available consist of three delicious – and historically high-quality – blends, plus an additional “bonus” Cabernet Sauvignon called The Wrath.

Fairview Cellars Fall 2011 Releases

Owner and winemaker (and vineyard manager, and tasting room staff, etc.) Bill Eggert farms a small property just south of Oliver on the Golden Mile Bench. As John Schreiner details, Bill is a well-known character in the Southern Okanagan winery community; an easy-going man not afraid to speak his mind when he isn’t busy producing his legendary wines. I visited Bill’s property in August and got the chance to try some of the new wines before they were fully labelled (and so sadly couldn’t buy them in person). His tasting room is a log cabin that used to serve as his barrel room, and only held about a dozen barrels when it did (which no doubt seemed like plenty at the time). Fortunately Bill has had the opportunity to expand his holdings somewhat to increase the size and volume of his portfolio. The new Pinot Noir is an example of Bill’s branching out: the 2009 is only the second vintage, and all things being equal the Pinot will likely get even better in subsequent years as Bill gets to know his new vineyard source better.

On the flip side of the coin can be found Cabernet Sauvignon, which is Fairview Cellars’ bread & butter, and Bill’s favourite grape. Most of his vineyard is dedicated to Cab, which always seems to ripen wonderfully under his watchful and talented eye. Although the “regular” 2009 Cabernet is sold out, another version from a different vineyard is still available. This incredible wine – which yielded 250 cases – is named in part after the hail-storm that was thought to have devastated the grapes shortly before harvest. In fact, the damaged grapes dried out in the hot sun instead of rotting, and The Wrath was born. Icon Wines was able to taste barrel samples last year, and I tasted it both this summer and more recently at the Colour VQA Fall Release. My first impressions of the wine were amazement that it is only two years old – the incredibly smooth texture comes across as a well-aged wine with several years under its belt, not a brand new release! At $65 per bottle The Wrath won’t fly out the door as fast as some of Bill’s other wines, but don’t expect it to last too long, this unique wine is a collectable treasure.

Fairview Cellars Tasting Room

Although varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from Fairview Cellars can be sublime, Bill’s grapes shine as well when he uses Cab in blends. In the Spring Two Hoots is usually released, his entry-level Cab-Merlot blend, while the Fall release sees the arrival of Madcap Red, another under-$30 bottle that favours Merlot in an approachable blend for current consumption. Even better, with Merlot filling out the Madcap Red there is still plenty of Cabernet Sauvignon for use in another exciting blend called Bucket o’ Blood. Named after a nearby historical saloon, this wine is where Bill uses his single row of Syrah to produce a  Cab-Syrah blend that shows off the spicy pepper characteristics of one of my favourite grapes.

The final blend to be released this Fall is one of the highpoints of Fairview Cellars’ portfolio, the delightfully-named flagship wine The Bear. This complex blend typically includes all five traditional Bordeaux grapes, with Cabernet Sauvignon leading the way. Luckily Bill usually produces a few hundred cases, and now that Fairview Cellars has joined the BC Wine Institute you can find it in VQA stores in addition to private wine stores. Icon Wines has provided detailed and very positive reviews of both the 2007 and 2008 Bears over the past year, but feels that the 400 case-lot 2009 version is even better: “the best Bear since 2005.” Despite praise from many corners and restaurant wine list appearances throughout Vancouver Bill sells The Bear for a very reasonable $35, making collecting and cellaring a very viable and rewarding proposition. In fact, it is one of the few signature BC red blends that I collect without question, and I now hold a cherished 2006-2009 vertical. Considering there is still some 2008 in stores you could be halfway there in no time should you start collecting soon – you won’t be disappointed!

Sunday 25 September 2011

Similkameen Wineries Association Tasting & Dinner

Last Wednesday the Similkameen Wineries Association hosted a fantastic dinner at Edible Canada on Granville Island. The dinner was preceded by an afternoon tasting of wines from all eight member wineries: Cerelia, Clos du Soleil, EauVivre, Forbidden Fruit, Orofino, Robin Ridge, Rustic Roots, and Seven Stones. Wineries were pouring their current vintages and some exciting new releases for Fall, including myriad fruit and dessert wines from Forbidden Fruit and Rustic Roots. One noticeable absentee from the event was Herder Vineyards, next door neighbours to Clos du Soleil. Having tasted their excellent wines I can say they were sorely missed: hopefully the Herders will fortify the Association with their membership soon.

Similkameen Wineries

In the middle of the room John & Virginia Weber from Orofino Vineyards were pouring a couple of brand new reds. The 2009 Passion Pit Cabernet Sauvignon is a dark and ripe wine that clocks in at 14.9% alcohol. It is noticeably unfiltered – as are all of John’s reds – but that’s never a problem if the wine is made with care. The 2009 Syrah is an even darker colour, and just as rich, with a very promising future. The slightly reduced 14.5% alcohol is actually more noticeable in the Syrah due to its current tightness, but I’m really looking forward to trying it again mid-decade – Orofino recommends aging until 2013 at least. Both new wines sell for $29, which is a very respectable price point for small lot wines this well crafted. For even more information about Orofino check out their new blog, The Orofino Press; I’ve even heard a rumour that a Twitter account may be in the works!

At the Clos du Soleil table owner Spencer Massie was pouring his focused portfolio of Bordeaux-style whites and reds, while also showing off his new dessert wine “Saturn”, a Botrytis-affected late harvest Sauvignon Blanc. With low acid and lots of fresh fruit flavours it is a delicious treat, but the 50 cases made will probably disappear quite fast! Also newly released by Clos du Soleil is the 2009 Signature Red, their top tier Bordeaux blend – and this vintage includes all five Bordeaux varieties. Only 275 cases have been produced, but if you miss out you can always get one of the available magnums, double magnums, or 6L Imperial (i.e. “Methuselah”) bottles!

Standing behind an immense array of bottles in the corner of the room was Steve Venables, owner of Forbidden Fruit winery in the very south end of the Similkameen Valley. Steve and his wife Kim grow over 60 varieties of fruit on the banks of the Similkameen River, and have been doing so organically since 1977, several years before organic certification even existed! All that fruit yields more than a dozen table and dessert wines, including fortified and sparkling varieties, from both grapes and tree fruit. Steve was pouring most of those wines, including the dreamingly delicious Pomme Desirée Iced Apple Dessert Wine – Fruit Wine of the Year at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards. I also tasted the rich flavours of plums and apricots in two of Steve’s “nectar wines” Plumiscious Plum Mistelle and Caught Apricot Mistelle: both are beautifully balanced expressions of pure fruit grown with care and years of experience.

Dinner Menu

Joined by my wife, we later sat down to a five-course dinner paired with ten wines that included all eight Association wineries. Canapés were served with two crisp sparkling fruit wines: Rustic Roots’ “Fameuse Frizzanté” is made from Snow Apples and Santa Rosa Plums while Forbidden Fruit’s “Flirt” is all peaches made into a refreshing, dry Traditional Method Brut. The “Similkameen Salad” came next, featuring an array of freshly-picked produce (some that very morning) including star crimson pears, toasted hazelnuts, sundried cranberries, cabbage, sorel, radicchio, endive, and celery dressing. Orofino’s Riesling was served alongside Clos du Soleil’s Capella, which I found to a particularly good pairing. The heavy Sauvignon Blanc component in the Capella was not to my wife’s liking, but I enjoyed the balanced structure and soft, almost floral aromatics.

Beet Greens & Autumn Squash

While most diners received a seafood course next featuring Albacore Tuna we were pleased that Edible Canada flexibly provided us with an expanded version of the tuna side dish of beet greens and autumn squash. Heirloom cherry tomatoes helped to accentuate the flavourful greens, while we enjoyed Eau Vivre Pinot Noir and Cerelia’s red blend “Misceo”. The Pinot Noir is a blend of Similkameen and Okanagan grapes, with tart strawberry flavours, while Misceo is a smooth, low acid Merlot-driven Meritage blend.

Gnocchi & Vegetable Medley

Our fourth course diverged substantially from the Bison Short Ribs and beets everyone else received to feature an original gnocchi and vegetable medley that we both adored. Peas, edamame, and green beans supported mushrooms, greens, and even some edible flower petals as we devoured the mouth-watering fresh gnocchi. The wine pairings for everyone included Robin Ridge Gamay and Seven Stones’ new 2008 Meritage. Robin Ridge retained the services of Master of Wine Rhys Pender for some detailed and very accurate tasting notes: I could really notice the ripe cherry and toasted almond aromas in the Gamay Noir. George Hanson’s newly released Meritage follows two highly award-winning vintages and has already received prominent praise for its juicy berry characteristics and long finish.

Galette & Creme Fraiche Ice Cream

Both Forbidden Fruit and Rustic Roots received repeat consideration with the dessert course: vanilla, blueberry basil, and peach galette was served with crème fraîche ice cream. The lightly flavoured crispy galette was an ideal match for the rich but delicate wines, while the ice cream was almost dangerously delicious! Forbidden Fruit’s “Crushed Innocence” is a white peach dessert wine that is both pure and elegant, while Rustic Roots’ Apricot is made from three different varieties of organic apricots – equally refreshing and well suited to the final course of the meal. Both wines summarized nicely the excellent pairings, delicious food, and talented winemakers we celebrated that evening. Cheers to the Similkameen!

Sunday 18 September 2011

September Wine Club: Grape Crossing

Last weekend’s wine club dinner included some reliable favourites, plus a couple of relatively unfamiliar wines with which none of us had much experience. Once again our great local food and drink provided for another delightfully entertaining and informative tasting experience.

Our food and wine pairings have become increasingly mysterious as each couple seeks to hint at their choices yet ensure a pleasant surprise for the rest of us. This strategy of secrecy wasn’t in the original club “charter” but it has certainly upped the ante of culinary adventure. All we knew about the appetizer in advance was that a test-run had been desired to “test the structural integrity” – an intriguing statement that provoked a great deal of curiosity in the weeks beforehand. While the food was prepared with great care in the kitchen, a pair of familiar smile-inducing bottles were pulled out: Road 13 Sparkling Chenin Blanc – two vintages! We were treated to last year’s 2007 and the most recent 2008 sparkler thanks to our generous appetizer chefs. Beyond those delicious and award-winning wines we were even more awed when a beautiful vegetarian terrine was revealed. A veritable layered vegetable garden supported by fig goat’s cheese stood before us: zucchini, carrots, English peas, collard greens, eggplant, asparagus, tomatoes, and yellow zucchini showed off the rainbow of the late-summer harvest. Of course this variety of flavours and textures had led the appetizer team to muse about a proper wine pairing, but it was soon deemed that “sparkling goes with everything,” and so Road 13’s flavourful offering fit the bill perfectly.


Having two vintages of sparkling wine to compare was a unique and valuable opportunity, and quite clearly demonstrated the effects of both vintage variation and simple aging. The 2007 Sparkling Chenin was the more yeasty of the two wines, with bready, apple-centered aromas and smooth, delicate bubbles. The more recent 2008 showed much less yeast and significantly greater citrus and tropical fruit flavours. With an additional year of aging the deeper baked apple characteristics may become more dominant, but we enjoyed the freshness all the same. It wouldn’t be fair to pick one wine over the other as each had unique aspects that were preferred by some: my favourite was the yeasty 2007 but there was much love for the fresh 2008. Both wines possessed sufficient acidity and complexity to suit the terrine, and both bottles and the first course disappeared in short order.

The entree course was even more of a mystery as no hints had been delivered in advance, so we mused about sparkling Chenin and tried to steal glances into the kitchen while we waited. Our patience was soon rewarded with the fresh smells and beautiful bright colours of heirloom tomato soup topped with fresh basil, served alongside gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and a crisp side salad. Our host explained the challenge he had posed to staff at Village VQA Wines in Kitsilano when seeking pairing advice: the wine needed to mesh with the gruyere and gouda in the sandwiches whilst standing up to the acidity of the soup. Fortunately the perfect match was suggested in the form of Arrowleaf Zweigelt (2008) from the north Okanagan. Most of us were fairly unfamiliar with Zweigelt, which the winery mentions is a cross between Blaufrankisch and St. Laurent grapes, and named after its Austrian creator. Smooth tannins and sufficient acidity made for an excellent food pairing, as the wine possesses a lot of fruit up front but is not too sweet on the palate. There was a very good balance of fruity elements and spicy characteristics, and in our case everyone was quite pleased to enjoy something new with the delicious meal.


Dessert was my opportunity to open a bottle I’ve been holding for a while in the hopes of the right pairing. After Black Sage Bench winery Stoneboat won a second Lt. Governor’s Award for their 2007 Pinotage I acquired a bottle without any particular plans for it, but was later inspired by the tasting notes that describe aromas of spiced plums and chocolate. I soon found a recipe for Plum, hazelnut, & chocolate cake but needed the right opportunity: with the dessert course responsibilities rotating amongst us I had to wait for plums to be in season at the same time! Finally I got lucky this month as beautiful organic plums from BC’s Similkameen valley were prevalent in stores.

Loaded with fresh plums and brushed with red-currant jelly, the cake was a runaway success, but how can you go wrong with that much butter, sugar, and eggs, plus hazelnuts and chocolate. The wine was more of a question mark unfortunately. Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, and in fact, Zweigelt and Pinotage were both first bred in the early 1920’s. Similar to the Zweigelt, we had so little experience with Pinotage there was some uncertainly about spoilage when we opened the bottle. It remains likely that the initial wet cardboard notes reflected a bit of cork taint, but after time in the glass it opened up and became fruitier. Having recently tasted Stoneboat’s 2009 Pinotage – with lots of red fruit and spice – I can’t say that the 2007 measured up to its potential, but that certainly didn’t stop us from finishing the bottle without any hard feelings towards the winery.


Having acquired plenty of plums, chocolate, and hazelnuts for the cake, I decided a bottle of Sumac Ridge Pipe would make for an excellent final course. Pipe is a dependable Port-style fortified Meritage that suits a variety of dessert courses; in this case some Blue Benedictin and Stilton rounded out the after-dinner selection as the evening wound down. With two new wines under our belts and another evening of enjoyment the adventure in BC wine continues!

Thursday 15 September 2011

Osoyoos Reflection-Part III

After a relaxing and romantic Sunday, our third day in Osoyoos was earmarked for a tour of the Black Sage Bench and further realization of an ambitious shopping list. We started out by finally visiting Moon Curser, having been either too late or too early for the tasting room the previous two days. The winery’s easily accessible location on the main road (Crowsnest Highway) in east Osoyoos offers admirable views of the rest of town and the lake; being just south of Nk’Mip, Moon Curser may hold the title of southernmost winery in the Okanagan! That hot southern location lets Moon Curser – formerly known as Twisted Tree – successfully grow tough-to-ripen varieties like Tempranillo and Tannat. In fact, John Schreiner makes it a point to mention that Moon Curser is likely the only winery in Canada growing Tannat! We were lucky enough to try the Twisted Tree 2008 Tannat alongside the newer Moon Curser 2009 Dead of Night, a Syrah-Tannat blend: the varietal Tannat was deep and dark, with a caramel mocha nose, while the addition of Syrah in 2009 added red fruit characteristics that reminded us of a balsamic fruit reduction. Having nearly the entire current portfolio in my cellar already we left with a bottle of the very small lot (60 cases) 2010 Chardonnay, produced from a Muscat clone that provides rich tree fruit flavours.


Heading north along the Black Sage Bench on the eastern side of the valley one of the first wineries is Burrowing Owl, set amidst 140 acres of vineyards that seem to go on forever. The Burrowing Owl complex also includes a restaurant and 10-suite guest house with pool, but it was their hard to come by wine I was there to procure. Specifically I was hoping to find a bottle of Athene, a new addition to the Burrowing Owl portfolio that blends their well regarded Cabernet Sauvignon with their equally popular Syrah. The wine came out last year but hasn’t been seen in any stores or even on the Burrowing Owl website. What it has seen are heaps of great reviews since, including praise from critics such as Anthony Gismondi, John Schreiner, and Daenna Van Mulligen. Unfortunately my hopes were dashed when the tasting room staff informed me it was completely sold out, with the last bottles having been earmarked for staff purchase (fair enough). Distracted, and a little overwhelmed by the crowds in the popular tasting room I neglected to even sample any of the other current releases, and eventually regretted not buying a bottle of the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon while I had the chance: John Schreiner would only days later go on to say it is a wine that “would blow away a lot of California Cabernets.”


I was hoping our next stop would buoy my spirits and yield some cellar dividends, and I was not disappointed! Just up the road from Burrowing Owl is Church & State’s new Coyote Bowl winery, which I was eager to visit for the first time. The gorgeous and sleek tasting hall was quite busy, as patrons are seated on a first-come, first-served basis, so we took the opportunity to relax on the outdoor patio and enjoy stunning views of the Golden Mile Bench across the valley. With assurances that we would be seated in due time we enjoyed the picnic lunch we’d picked up at JoJo’s Cafe in Osoyoos that morning. Upon finishing lunch we were seated indoors and offered a selection of wines from Church & State’s extensive portfolio. With a cushion of lunch and plenty of time ahead of us we tried a number of wines, including Trebella – a delicious floral blend of Rhone grapes with a slightly oily mouthfeel and flavours of citrus and honeydew. The unique Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé was also poured for us, in both chilled and room temperature versions: the ruby grapefruit and cherry notes in the chilled wine yielded to deeper and richer expressions of Cabernet when the wine had warmed – an entertaining comparison. The new 2009 Chardonnay was also poured alongside the older 2008 vintage, which shows richer creamy popcorn flavours that lingered, whilst the fresh 2009 is more fruit-forward.

What really caught our attention at Church & State were two new reds from 2009 – the Hollenbach Vineyard Pinot Noir, and the Coyote Bowl Syrah. The Pinot Noir possesses a very expressive nose of savoury strawberries coming from a pale, slightly rusty wine which has some minerals on the palate. The new Syrah is a young, fresh wine with an inky colour: slight green, floral aromas follow-through to a dark bloodiness on the nose and flavours of plum and pepper – delicious! We left with various bottles in hand, as well as high praise for the professionalism of the tasting room staff: they were never intrusive or overly suggestive, allowing us time to taste the wines and come to our own conclusions – one of them being that Church & State really sets the bar for most of the other tasting rooms in the area.


One of our final stops of the day allowed us to visit Stoneboat Vineyards, and sample their small but focused portfolio of whites and lighter reds (centered on various types of Pinots), including the relatively rare Pinotage grape. John Schreiner recently reviewed some of Stoneboat’s new releases, and pointed out that they are one of only a handful of Okanagan wineries growing this interesting grape. After admiring the beautiful gardens and relaxing surroundings we were pleased to meet owner Julie Martiniuk in the tasting room. With the winery having won what seems like a Lt. Governor’s award every year since opening, we looked forward to wines reflecting the Martiniuk’s long history of grape-growing and were not disappointed: starting out with the well balanced and very refreshing 2010 Pinot Gris, we followed it with a sweeter but equally tasty sample of 2010 Chorus, Stoneboat’s versatile six-grape white blend. A Rosé blend of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc kept up the refreshing theme as we moved on to the spiced cherry notes of the 2009 Pinot Noir – a flavour profile my wife likened to “Cola Bottles” (the candy). The 2009 Pinotage is a bright burgundy colour with prevalent aromas of red fruit and a spicy finish that for us emphasized flavours of chai tea. A couple of special treats finished the tasting, including the mouth-watering Very Late Harvest Pinot Blanc (2008), a special one-time release with spiced fruit sweetness and flavours of caramel apples that made a purchase an easy decision. Lastly, Stoneboat also produces an ice-wine called “Verglas” which is quite an intense experience, and well-priced at $33 for 200mL in a classy bottle.

The Black Sage bench is home to several other wineries, big and small and new and old, including Desert Hills, Black Hills, Silver Sage, Oliver Twist, Le Vieux Pin, and Quinta Ferreira. It’s quite easy to spend an entire day enjoying the beautiful scenery and exploring from Osoyoos up or Oliver down. The hardest part is deciding how many bottles to bring home with you!


Cellar Highlights – Award-winning wines in short supply:

Church & State Pinot Noir (2009): Sadly the last Pinot Noir from this vineyard after disagreements ended the relationship that yielded a multiple-gold-medal 2007 wine. If Church & State decides on an estate-grown Pinot Noir in the future it will likely be substantially different in flavour profile, but no doubt equally well-made.

Church & State Syrah (2009): Follow-up to the 2007 wine that won Best Red at the 2009 BC Wine Awards (Okanagan Fall Wine Festival). Despite financial and space restrictions we had to get more than one bottle given the potential of this rich, dark wine.

Stoneboat Pinot Noir (2009): A third Lt. Governor’s Award for this small boutique winery shows they know their business! A relatively large production run of 1054 cases won’t necessarily last for long given the award, the very reasonable $25 price point, and it being described as “a charming wine…with a palate far richer than the colour suggests.”

Oliver Twist Syrah (2008): I had actually never heard of this young winery before the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards were published late last year. But when their 2008 Syrah won a Gold medal (one of six awarded in the category) alongside big competition like Jackson-Triggs and Mission Hill I immediately looked them up. It’s a smooth and fruity Syrah, with unique aromas of mango, plus soft blackberry flavours. Packaged under screw-cap it should retain the fruit for a while.

Quinta Ferreira Syrah (2008): Another recent Lt. Governor’s Award-winner, 625 cases were produced and local stocks seem to be running low since the award – I have only seen it in Kensington Square Wines. It has been very positively reviewed and should age well for the next couple of years at least.