Wednesday, 23 February 2011

BC Wine Appreciation Society–CedarCreek Tasting

After finally getting around to joining the BC Wine Appreciation Society I attended my first event Tuesday night – an exciting tasting of CedarCreek wines guided by proprietor Gordon Fitzpatrick. The event was sold out, with significantly more members and guests in attendance than usual, which speaks to CedarCreek’s reputation and desirability. We were certainly not disappointed: as we sat down we found poured in front of us nine excellent wines, including six from the Platinum series of CedarCreek’s best wines.


We began with a tasting of Ehrenfelser from the BCWAS cellar, a well-preserved (thanks to a Stelvin closure) sample from the excellent 2008 vintage. Having enjoyed several bottles of the 2009 last summer it seemed to me that the 2008 was a bit more acidic than my recollection of the 2009, but still in possession of those floral fruity aromatics and fresh flavour Ehrenfelser is so well known for. CedarCreek is an Ehrenfelser champ, and many fans are no doubt eager to get their hands on the 2010 vintage when it is released in April; it will likely sell out fairly quickly, just as previous vintages have done.

The only other whites being sampled that evening comprised  CedarCreek’s 2008 Chardonnays: the regular Estate Chardonnay was available to compare with the Platinum version. Both versions were good, and the Estate Chardonnay at $18 represents an excellent bargain in particular. I myself preferred the Platinum version for its amazingly creamy mouth-feel and richness. Having just purchased a bottle for near-term aging based on positive reviews I am eager to acquire a second bottle to open even sooner so as to share that wonderful texture with my wife, who couldn’t attend the tasting.

Following the Chardonnay there was a sample of the Platinum Pinot Noir, awarded Best of Category at the 2010 All Canadian Wine Championships: it was pleasantly juicy with enjoyable strawberry notes. It would have been interesting to compare Pinot Noirs as we did with the Chardonnay, but it was soon on to Merlot where such a comparison was once again available. The 2007 Platinum Merlot picked up a Gold Medal at the Canadian Wine Awards, following in the large footsteps of its Lt. Governor’s Award-winning older sibling from 2006. When comparing the Estate version with the Platinum what was immediately apparent was the difference in residual sugar: the Platinum wine has significantly less sugar and was definitely my favourite of the two. My preference notwithstanding, the Estate Merlot is certainly a quality wine, and the majority at my table felt that two bottles of $20 Estate Merlot would be slightly preferred over one bottle of Platinum.

Three big red wines remained in front of us – all Platinum-series – consisting of the 2007 Syrah, 2007 Meritage, and the 2008 Malbec. The Meritage is unlikely to show up in many stores just yet, as the 2006 is still being sold, but the Syrah has been out since 2009, and the Malbec was recently released. The peppery Syrah was actually smoother than CedarCreek’s tasting notes suggest in describing “firm tannins”. I have a bottle myself, and will give it a couple of years to “integrate” before trying it again, although it was quite satisfactory to my tastes in the present. The Meritage was thoroughly enjoyed by the crowd, and I would have to agree: it was well-rounded and nicely blended, with pleasant ripe fruit. Interestingly the blend contains 18% Malbec and only 5% Cabernet Franc, proportions you would typically expect to be reversed, but it works just fine in this case.

The final wine of the evening was one I had been waiting for since arriving – the Platinum Malbec. In 2007 CedarCreek released their first Platinum Malbec, only 84 cases of a complex wine John Schreiner called “a tour de force” worthy of 95 points! Fortunately production was nearly tripled for the 2008 vintage, plus a price reduction of $10 was quite welcome. I have purchased a bottle of each vintage, and have now also sampled both as well, with much enjoyment. Although the tasting notes mention violets and lavender on the nose, in this particular instance I kept smelling mint chocolate. I didn’t want to finish the little bit left in my glass, so that I could keep inhaling its wonderful aromas! Considering how little single varietal Malbec is to be found in BC this is a wine to cherish.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

New Sandhill Small Lots Wines

Last month while perusing the Sandhill Wines website I noticed some additions to their online store: new vintages have been released of some (very) Small Lot wines I had acquired in the past. Without any fanfare or notice Sandhill have made available the new vintages of their Small Lots Chardonnay (2009), Malbec (2008), and Merlot (2008)! All three of these wines – like most of the Small Lots portfolio – have been generously feted in the past, and with the number of barrels produced in the single digits there is not much time to waste in acquiring some. I would recommend a visit to Sandhill’s recently nicely renewed website if you’re interested: unlike many wineries Sandhill is willing to ship in multiples of 6 bottles or even fewer, if like me you don’t have room for a full case from every one of BC’s many excellent wineries!

Small Lots Chardonnay (2009): This the second vintage of winemaker Howard Soon’s foray into single block Chardonnay. He managed to increase production to 190 cases this year from 132 in last year’s initial vintage. That first release from the 2008 vintage received very respectable reviews, being described as a “tour de force” by John Schreiner. The 2008 was also awarded Best of Category at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival. Needless to say I didn’t waste any time adding this wine to my online shopping cart – I hope for similarly good things from this vintage.

Small Lots Malbec (2008): Sandhill has produced Small Lots Malbec for at least several years, and this new release is the second vintage I have acquired. The 2007 release received a silver medal at the Canadian Wine Awards, and the same at the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival (a competition now referred to as the BC Wine Awards). Anthony Gismondi has been reviewing this Malbec over many years, and last year’s vintage received his highest score yet and mention of the good potential for this varietal at Sandhill. Let’s hope the 2008 vintage builds on Sandhill’s growing expertise. The winery describes production in terms of barrels this year – 8 of them to be exact – which equates to approximately 200 cases, a very small lot wine once again.

Small Lots Merlot (2008): Like the Chardonnay this Merlot is also a new experiment with single block production. Howard produced only 119 cases last year in the first release, and managed to pick up a prestigious Lt. Governor’s Award for the effort, not to mention a gold medal at the Canadian Wine Awards! For 2008 a few more cases were added to the production quantity, rounding it out at eight barrels according to Sandhill. The new vintage definitely has some big shoes to fill, but if even some of the praise and compliments from last year are repeated this will be a very wise addition to my collection indeed.


As you can see from the photo above I also picked up some of Sandhill’s other wines to round out a case, all of which I am pleased to drink relatively soon – unlike the Small Lots wines which are destined for a bit of cellar time. That is not to say that Sandhill’s “regular” wines would suffer in the cellar, just that I was running dangerously low on some staples like Pinot Gris, Syrah, and Cab-Merlot! I am certain that these wines will all be enjoyed relatively soon. Sandhill’s reputation for quality, and my past experience with their solid portfolio gave me the confidence to pick what I needed for near-term consumption without concern.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

February Wine Club – Romance Edition

Without any of us agreeing on anything in advance, this month’s Wine Club attendees put together a charming romantic meal for the night before St. Valentine’s Day. We began with a deliciously rich cheese fondue – the first time I had ever actually had fondue in fact! We quickly learned how challenging fondue can be to maintain – not too hot and not too cool! Alongside bread and crisp Granny Smith apple slices we poured St. Hubertus 2008 Chasselas. Seeing as how St. Hubertus suggests their Chasselas as the perfect accompaniment for fondue it seemed like an obvious choice: the citrus notes and acidity were a good match for the tart Swiss cheese. The nose reminded some of us of linen/cotton; the wine was light and crisp to keep our palates fresh between bites of creamy, oh-so-delicious cheese.

Our hosts graciously provided for a main course in two versions to accommodate vegetarians and carnivores alike: a meaty Bolognese sauce, or the animal-friendly alternative made with soy-based ‘’’Ground Round”. I was happy to spoon the Ground Round over top of fresh noodles as I pondered my glass of Seven Stones 2006 Standing Rock Meritage. I have a bottle of this in my own cellar – purchased after enjoying it at a Penticton restaurant in 2009; only later did I learn it was awarded Gold medals at both the All-Canadian Wine Championships and the Canadian Wine Awards. The wine itself was quite good, with aromas and flavours of leather and tobacco, plums and currants; however it came across a bit too acidic paired with the hearty and heavenly Bolognese. We agreed it wasn’t as good a match as we’d hoped, but on it’s own the wine was excellent; I’ll have to try a different pairing when I open my own bottle – live and learn!

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Naturally, dessert was chocolate – could there be any alternative?! I’ve had a couple bottles of Sumac Ridge 2005 Pipe awaiting a special pairing and this was the perfect opportunity to open one up and share with good friends. Pipe is Sumac Ridge’s version of Port, and is basically a fortified Meritage: 33% each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. I get some every year in confidence, it’s definitely one of BC’s top fortified wines, and always goes well with chocolate. To match such a special wine I had a chocolate treat a century in the making: a limited supply of Nacional chocolate I had acquired from Montreal. The rarest chocolate available, this once “extinct” cacao bean has recently been re-discovered, and is available in very limited quantities: the two bars and small boxes of chocolate-covered beans I picked up from the Post Office on Friday were numbered limited editions, yikes! Needless to say I didn’t use Nacional chocolate for the vegan mousse I made – for that I “settled” on half-a-kilogram of Callebaut – but everyone got three squares of pure Nacional, and a couple of the roasted, chocolate-covered beans. The tawny nose and warm cherry, caramel, and date flavours of the Pipe were exquisite alongside the mellow, fruity flavours of Nacional, and the rich and creamy dark chocolate mousse – a unique and decadent dessert experience!

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Saturday, 12 February 2011

Lang Riesling Tasting

Late last year I picked up the Lang Vineyards 2008 Reserve Riesling, adding it to my 2006 and 2007 bottles for what I thought would become an interesting three year vertical. But then last month while perusing the shelves of the Signature BC Liquor Store at 39th and Cambie I noticed a single bottle of Lang 2003 Riesling sitting amongst all the 2008s! I took it to the register with trepidation, asking meekly what the price was – it scanned at the same price as all the rest of the (2008) bottles! Without much to lose I brought it home, not knowing how it had been stored for the past seven years, or how it found its way on to the store shelf; at worst I had some expensive vinegar!

Last night I finally got the opportunity to open up those Rieslings for a comparative tasting over sushi with some friends. It was a very intriguing and fascinating experience to observe the differences amongst the four different bottles, in everything from colour and aroma to taste and acidity. Note also the changes that have taken place in bottle size and format; apparently Lang has been fine-tuning their presentation for quite a while. Sadly we may not see any more of these well known Rieslings given Lang’s recent collapse into receivership.


2003: The only bottle with a natural cork enclosure, and hence the one I was most worried about given its uncertain past. Fortunately the cork was in great shape, and the wine had survived just fine! A golden honey colour was quite pleasing to the eye, and that well known faint nose of petrol was there as well. Sweet flavours of apple were present on the palate, and virtually no acidity was evident after several years in bottle; a somewhat flat finish but one that I don’t hold against it however.

2006: There was quite a bit more petrol on the nose in this one; it really jumped out of the glass without hesitation. In fact, very little fruit was present beyond that powerful scent, although a bit of honey poked through. There was definitely more tart acidity on the palate than with the 2003, and some honey flavours came out as the wine warmed slightly. The consensus was that it was actually hard to detect much beyond the petrol!

2007: A deeper colour than the 2006 vintage, and with less petrol on the nose this version lent itself to analysis more easily. Various comments included aromas and flavours of honeydew, citrus, and pineapple, with a vanilla finish; the acidity was not as strong as in the 2006 either. I would probably hold this up as my favourite of the four.

2008: This most recent release was the favourite for others. Very pale in colour, with aromas of tropical fruits and vanilla, rosewater and orange blossom. One comment that sticks in my head was “Bounce sheet”: that familiar mountain-fresh, meadow flower smell one associates with freshly laundered sheets! It had virtually no petrol aromas and in fact led some to comment they would be hard-pressed to immediately identify it as Riesling.

There is still some Lang 2008 Riesling available in stores, in both VQA stores and in BC Liquor Stores. We may or may not see the 2009 vintage appear one day, depending on how Lang’s inventory is sold off. Whomever buys that wine – maybe already in bottles and ready for sale – will get to decide if they want to sell it as is or perhaps incorporate it into their own blend. Our tasting was a tribute of sorts I suppose: so long Holman Lang, we hardly knew ye!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

WWF Stands for White Wine Friday

It’s particularly apt that I’m drinking Sauvignon Blanc as I write this: Mother Nature has played a cruel trick on us recently as the sun shines brightly through some of the coldest skies in weeks. We all thought Spring was just around the corner but recently the high temperatures have hovered just above freezing for days! Crisp white wines are often favoured in the summer months, but there comes a point in the midst of winter that you just have to rebel and say “Dammit, I’m having some chilled Sauvignon Blanc with my Spanakopita!”

My friends and I had a similar idea last Friday, when we bucked the winter trend of big, comforting red wines for an evening of opposites. For dinner I made up a batch of quesadillas and Mexican fried rice, with homemade guacamole (always leagues better than store bought). To drink with it I opened my last bottle of 8th Generation 2009 Rosé. There’s something so uplifting about Rosé in winter – it reminds one of warmer days ahead when you can sit on the balcony and enjoy daylight until 10pm – and 8th Generation always knocks it out of the park with their Pinot Meunier-based version. I’ve learned to stock up early in the summer because it sells out quickly; 8th Generation has built up a loyal following due to their consistent success with this varietal.


As we continued with dinner I brought out a bottle of Joie 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay to continue with the fresh and fruity summer-time motif. I hadn’t tried this particular wine before, although I’ve had Joie’s oaked Reserve Chardonnays from the 2006 and 2007 vintages: the 2007 was fantastic and quite worthy of the Lt. Governor’s medal it was awarded. As an unoaked wine the 2009 Chardonnay is obviously intended to showcase the floral, fruit-forward character of the varietal, especially with the inclusion of 16% Chardonnay Musqué. There have been some positive reviews for this wine, and Joie is likely to be releasing their 2010 vintage later this spring. Our experience was mixed however, as the initial nose reminded me of a washed rind cheese: perhaps that is the leesy characteristics that Anthony Gismondi describes? After it had a chance to breathe the wine seemed to come together and better express itself: some of the orchard fruit and floral aromas became more prevalent over time. A confusing experience, and I’m curious how my remaining bottle will present itself, as well as how the 2010 vintage will stack up.

With the evening’s theme becoming apparent, I sought out another bottle of white to investigate and enjoy. Fingers crossed I opened my Tinhorn Creek 2007 2Bench White. I remember buying this wine in Wall Centre Fine Spirits: it was sitting there alone in the bin ends section, a little too close to the window for my comfort, but I took a chance. The current release of 2Bench White is from the 2009 vintage, but the 2Bench series has good aging potential so I had high hopes for the 2007, based on the praise for its many excellent qualities. Ironically I did not experience the floral and tropical fruit qualities thus described as much as I was immediately reminded of vanilla cupcakes – it was delicious! Winemaker Sandra Oldfield changes the proportions of this blend every year so it’s hard to predict what the 2008 and 2009 vintages will lead to, especially over time, but I thoroughly enjoyed the 2007 in 2011!

The ladies were headed to a personal training session in the morning, so it was decided that only one more bottle was in order. With instructions to find something with little residual sugar I knew just what to pull: Sumac Ridge 2007 Black Sage White Meritage. This classic Bordeaux blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon would make a good conclusion to the evening, with “finesse and balance” to top off an adventurous and non-traditional winter tasting. We were all pleased with the fresh tropical fruits, and I was struck by a smoky finish slightly reminiscent of campfire. Sumac Ridge declares this to be a diverse food pairing wine, and I have no doubt it is. If there is more of the 2007 on the market – or subsequent vintages – I look forward to trying it again with food; it’s a handy wine to have on hand for multiple situations.