Saturday, 30 April 2011

Playhouse Wine Festival Purchases

One of the best aspects of the Playhouse Wine Festival – for thrifty collectors at least – is the on-site store open during the International Festival Tastings. The temporary BC Liquor Store that opens in the conference centre sells almost all the wines being poured at the sample tables, and many of them are not normally carried in public stores – some aren’t even released yet! You can find winery-priced bottles that are usually limited to restaurants and private stores, or bottles that are rarely sold outside the wineries themselves! The Festival store represents a chance to pick up those elusive bottles you’ve missed out on, or ones you know will sell out quickly in wider release.

My strategy for the past couple of years has been to visit the store immediately upon entry to the Tasting Room, with a list in hand for the bottles I know I want without even needing to taste them. (Besides, on the off chance I dislike a wine immensely after tasting I can always return it no questions asked; it’s never happened.) Fortunately the Wine Festival publishes their official program online in advance, so you can find out every wine being poured in the Tasting Room, and thus being sold on-site. Swoop into the (nearly empty) store, snag your must-haves before they sell-out, and relax and enjoy the rest of the evening with the knowledge your wines are safe and sound in the bottle check; they’ll even deliver them to your nearest BC Liquor Store in the next week or so!

This year BC Liquor Stores assured Playhouse organizers that they would hold back one third of the wine allotments for each of the three nights of the Tasting Room, to avoid frustrations of years past when certain wines sold out on the first night. I can’t vouch for whether they actually followed that plan, as at least one of the wines I was looking for – Sandhill Small Lots Viognier (2010) – was sold out at the beginning of the second night, but almost everything else seemed to be well stocked. In no time at all I had put together a mixed case of well-researched BC wines I trusted would not disappoint, based on past experience, trusted reviews, and national awards. My stress level dramatically reduced I could peruse the Tasting Room at my leisure without wondering about the rapidly dwindling stock in the store!


From left to right, my Festival acquisitions as detailed below:

Nk’Mip Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay (2009): Nk’Mip’s reserve Chardonnay has impressive pedigree, as past vintages have received high praise from Anthony Gismondi and John Schreiner. Last year’s 2008 release received a Gold Medal at the All Canadian Wine Championships, plus a Bronze Medal at the Canadian Wine Awards. The 2009 release is not yet detailed on Nk’Mip’s website, but should be available for sale quite soon.

Hester Creek Character White (2010): The Character wines (White & Red) from Hester Creek represent key pieces of this veteran winery’s refreshed branding. These well-crafted blends are still a little hard to find outside private stores, so this represented a valuable opportunity to get a bottle at winery pricing. This blend includes some of Hester Creek’s ultra-rare Trebbiano, which is also sold as a single varietal.

Cassini Cellars Nobilus Merlot (2008): This rare wine (290 cases made) was named Best of Category at the 2010 All Canadian Wine Championships, and I have been looking for it ever since to no avail. Tasting this wine encouraged John Schreiner to declare Cassini “one of the Okanagan’s best producers of serious Merlot” and it has garnered extensive praise beyond that from Icon Wines and Wine Diva Daenna Van Mulligen, with the always conservative Anthony Gismondi of course bringing up the rear.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin (2007): BC’s famous French Connection released their latest masterpiece last Fall, and it seemed apt to add another bottle to my collection, seeing as I had room in the case I was filling up. Even Gismondi can’t say enough good things about this cellar-worthy beauty: “…sets a new level on the bar for all the wannabe icons.” Now if only Vincor would spend a few bucks on web design to get Osoyoos Larose’s website up-to-date with new releases!

Painted Rock Merlot (2008): Painted Rock launched out of the starting gate last year with a strong portfolio of varietals and a boldly-named blend – Red Icon. Two Lt. Governor’s Awards later proprietor John Skinner has trouble fending off rabid customers, but throughout it all he retains his charming humility! The first release of Painted Rock Merlot was deemed Best of Category at the 2010 Spring Okanagan Wine Festival, and it went on to win Silver at the Canadian Wine Awards, and Gold at the BC Wine Awards in the Fall. Like the 2007 vintage, the new release is “intense and age-worthy”, and joins its older sibling in my cellar.

Jackson-Triggs Gold Series (Sunrock) Shiraz (2008): A recent rebranding has seen this wine included in the new “Gold Series” as the “Sunrock Vineyard” labels have been retired, but it retains its impressive pedigree: the past two vintages have been awarded Gold Medals at the Canadian Wine Awards, with the beautiful 2006 named Red Wine of the Year. Anthony Gismondi declares that it “continues to impress me every year”. As long as Jackson-Triggs’ Osoyoos Lake Bench vineyard sites continue to produce exceptional fruit I see no reason not to keep buying this every year!

Poplar Grove Cabernet Franc (2007): A brand new release not even listed on the winery website yet, this wine was thoroughly enjoyed in the tasting room by my party. I had planned on purchasing anyway given the excellent 2006 vintage; the 2007 is equally “subtle and excellent”.

Hester Creek The Judge (2007): I heard about this new icon red from John Schreiner in advance of the Festival; in his blog he describes it as a big, complex wine with many years ahead of it. I also love the play on words in the name – Hester Creek being found on the Golden Mile Bench. The Judge is the pinnacle of Hester Creek’s new rebranding, and it is garnering positive reviews already; I look forward to seeing how it develops in future vintages.

Painted Rock Red Icon (2008): Perhaps the most unique aspect of this wine is the fact that it contains no Cabernet Sauvignon, almost unheard of for a big red blend. John Skinner defends the omission by stating that it simply contributed little to the overall composition once the Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot had been blended – the wine was already that good! Knowing that John received a Lt. Governor’s Award for the first release last year, and hearing that 2008 was a smaller vintage I nabbed two bottles of this one, especially given the glowing review provided by John Schreiner during an early barrel tasting.

Nk’Mip Qwam Qwmt Meritage (2008): At this point I pick up some of Nk’Mip’s reasonably priced ($30) Meritage every year – this will be my third vintage. It always performs well in national competitions such as the All Canadian Wine Championships and the Canadian Wine Awards; the 2008 just received Silver at the CWAs last Fall. I have to start making room for the new Mer’r’iym icon red from Nk’Mip, but I like their strategy of retaining a solid Meritage blend in addition to the higher-priced barrel-select Mer’r’iym.

Meyer Vineyards McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir (2008): One of three single vineyard Pinot Noirs from boutique Okanagan Falls producer Meyer, this particular varietal no longer appears on the Meyer website – likely due to sold-out status (only 145 cases were produced, part of its appeal for me). Meyer describes it as an “elegant and feminine” Pinot Noir that will age well, with fine-grained tannins and excellent length. This wine has been widely reviewed, with positive accolades from Anthony Gismondi, John Schreiner, Daenna Van Mulligen, and Liam Carrier of Icon Wines.

With another Playhouse Festival complete and my cellar nicely stocked I may need to spend the next month actually drinking some wine: I’m planning a multi-varietal blind tasting in early May, and a White Blend Summer Celebration in June. Upcoming events I’m looking forward to include a very exciting BC Wine Appreciation Society Painted Rock Dinner at Raincity Grill. Lastly, new 2010 Rosés are starting to show up on store shelves so now is the time to try them out and find some favourites before the smaller producers sell out; I’ve already got my order for 8th Generation Pinot Meunier Rosé locked in!

Monday, 25 April 2011

April Wine Club: Sparkling Saturday

Our wine club was a little delayed this month due to scheduling conflicts, but the six of us finally managed to get together on Saturday to share some new and unique food and drink. Although we normally enjoy three courses with wine accompaniments, both of our guest couples coincidentally brought different frizzante wines from 8th Generation in addition to their pairings! Our exciting aperitif was the 2009 Frizzante Chardonnay, last year’s much-celebrated new sparkler in the gorgeous bottle with a fun crown cap. Although the 2009 is sold-out, the 2010 version is coming in May, and I hope it is just as delicious: a refreshing, tropical take on Chardonnay that livens up any situation! The Chardonnay was so successful that for 2010 a Pinot Noir-based frizzante has been released, called “Confidence” (the 2010 Chardonnay has been renamed “Integrity”). Our other guests happened to have picked up a bottle of Confidence that day, and we opened it after dinner. Although the colour of pink cotton candy, and with a stated 20 grams of residual sugar, I don’t recall it being overly sweet (my tasting notes towards the end of the night get mysteriously less detailed). I think the wine would have benefited from being served with food, so I look forward to trying it again in warmer weather, perhaps alongside a fresh salad outside on the balcony.


Our first course consisted of a very exciting “unincorporated” squash soup served inside acorn squash bowls! The gourd had been cleaned and seeded and the cheesy soup base was cooked inside each squash; you got to basically make your own soup as you scraped the pulp into the creamy broth! The excited appetizer team had brought two wines to accompany their soup, which were initially served blind in paper bags, with the knowledge that one of them was – gasp – not from BC! This German interloper revealed itself relatively early based on the deep golden colour and powerful diesel aromas: it was a Mosel Riesling, from Vereinigte Hospitien. The second wine was dramatically different, much lighter in colour and more nuanced in flavour; although we knew it was from BC some guesses included Riesling or perhaps even Ehrenfelser. The reveal showed we had been enjoying none other than Joie’s famous Noble Blend, from the newly released 2010 vintage. Those feminine characteristics that Icon Scores mentions were noticeable and enjoyable, and I was quite pleased to have had a chance to try the new release. Although both wines paired nicely with the soup due to their natural sugars my favourite was the Noble Blend due to those more delicate aromas and flavours.


For the main course I had spent the afternoon preparing a complicated vegetable torta to measure up to a very special wine: Stag’s Hollow Cachet No. 2 (2009). This rare and unique wine was released earlier this year to critical acclaim, and has been quickly snapped up by discerning restaurants and collectors – which didn’t take long given that only 450 BOTTLES were produced! Stag’s Hollow has recently embarked on an ambitious new strategy involving small lot wines released under the Cachet label, and No. 2 is a Grenache-Syrah blend that has probably never been seen before in BC. I was lucky enough to get bottle number 401/450, and had picked the brain of talented winemaker Dwight Sick over what to pair with his marvellous wine: Dwight suggested a recipe from Whitewater Cooks – “Torta Rustico with Tomato-Chipotle Sauce and Lemon-Basil Aioli”. The dish involves multiple layers of roasted vegetables and tortillas baked inside a spring-form pan with goat cheese, pesto, and mozzarella, served on a spicy tomato sauce and “drizzled” with aioli. We modified the recipe slightly to remove the peppers, and added a golden beet to end up with six layers: beet, zucchini, potato, red onion, yam, and eggplant. The aioli didn’t drizzle quite the way I had hoped for, but it still tasted great, and prompted me to invest in an inexpensive squeeze bottle to improve future presentations.


As for the wine, it was everything I remembered from my initial tasting in January at Taste BC: an intensely fruit-forward, sublimely textured marvel that paired perfectly with the torta and smoky chipotle sauce. The nose showed very pleasing aromas of caramel, and the raspberries on the palate were particularly noticeable. Although I only bought one bottle – for budgetary reasons – I am sorely tempted to acquire another for a little bit of cellar-time, from one of the few private stores that carry it.


After selected second-helpings of torta, and some longing glances at the empty Cachet bottle, we moved on to a beautiful dessert course: “Red Berry Tart with Lemon Cream Filling”. The tart was made on-site with fresh strawberries and raspberries, and although somewhat improvised on the spot after the cookbook was left behind, I don’t think it could have been improved upon one bit! The fresh berries and cream cheese were paired with Church & State Pinot Gris (2009), which possessed a crisp, clean finish to help balance the creaminess of the tart. This particular Pinot Gris comes from Church & State’s Vancouver Island vineyards, and is described by John Schreiner as “one of the best Island Pinot Gris wines, with mouth-filling flavours of pear and citrus.” We noticed vanilla flavours and good natural acidity to help clear the palate at the end of the meal.


Next month I get to create a Spring dessert, and I’m already eyeing some fortified wines that might pair well with chocolate ice cream!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Playhouse Wine Festival–Part III

My third and final piece about the Playhouse Wine Festival comes two weeks after the once-again-great event concluded. I’ve had time to reflect on the many great wines I tasted, and the fantastic events attended. In particular, the BC Food & Wine luncheon that took place at O’Doul’s on Saturday was really well done. I must offer my congratulations to the BC Wine Institute for securing a great venue as well as the participation of many excellent wineries in pouring samples of wines beyond those served at the International Festival Tasting nights. O’Doul’s served up some really delicious food including platters of grilled vegetables, artisan cheeses (and charcuterie), bread dips including baba ghanoush and hummus, grilled vegetable skewers (plus lamb and salmon for carnivores) and a fantastic mushroom risotto served in a parmesan wheel. Almost anything served in a parmesan wheel gets a thumbs up in my book! The event ended with exquisite bite-size pastries, cookies, and chocolates, and refreshing fruit skewers.

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In between enjoying the charming food and bidding adieu to my hangover from the night before we sampled a number of exclusive wines from nearly all the BC wineries present at the Festival; several in particular stand out, although there was no dearth of quality and passion to be found in the room! Sandhill was pouring the new 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, which met with approval from my wife – not usually a lover of this grape variety; it was very approachable with enjoyable notes of grapefruit and kiwi. Tantalus was showing off their 2010 Rosé, a bright pink Pinot Meunier/Noir blend with lovely aromas and flavours of strawberries – a very nice summer treat! Justin Hall, the very personable Assistant Winemaker from Nk’Mip, remembered me from the night before, and was happy to share with us the Qwam Qwmt Pinot Noir (2008) and the very lovely Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay (2009), making me extremely glad to have acquired both! Mission Hill’s 2009 Reserve Chardonnay showed the evolution of the varietal over time as the winemaking has changed to provide for a fruitier expression of the grape, and their newly released 2006 Select Lot Collection Merlot was very good – another rare 2006 wine coming out only now after extensive bottle-aging. Lastly, our friend John Skinner from Painted Rock was excited to share the second vintage of his excellent Syrah (2008) – which we quickly concluded was our favourite wine of the festival! It is a an elegant take on Syrah, with a meaty nose and some pepper on the palate, but a smooth finish, and just enough acidity to provide a bit of bite. I’m really looking forward to purchasing a few bottles, both for immediate consumption and for the cellar; it hasn’t taken long for Painted Rock to have acquired a permanent spot in my collection!

During the Friday night International Festival Tasting I purchased a mixed case of hard-to-find BC wines at the on-site BC Liquor store (many of which are not normally sold in stores). I’ve finally picked up the wine, having waited (im)patiently for it to be delivered to my local BC Liquor Store. In short order I shall detail those exciting purchases, which I am proud to include in my growing collection of great BC wines!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Playhouse Wine Festival–Part II

Last week I discussed a few of the many BC wineries from which we sampled and discovered during the recent Playhouse International Wine Festival. A few more can be mentioned, although many more are worthy! At the beginning of the Festival Tasting night one imagines the huge variety of wines and wineries that can be enjoyed over the course of three hours, but it is supremely frustrating how quickly that time flies by! I didn’t even manage to visit the nineteen local wineries present at the festival, let alone explore the international component! Those wineries I did get to were pouring some of their top-tier wines and sampling brand new releases for the first time; we were able to compare and contrast at scales one can never hope for at home – one of the great benefits of the Playhouse Festival.

If any winery could be said to have brought their “A-game” to the festival it was Mission Hill: their table was pouring the entire Legacy series – and all the wines were being poured out of Magnum bottles! The ultimate wine in Mission Hill’s portfolio is Oculus, their signature red blend, on which no expense is spared after ten vintages. The new 2007 Oculus was being poured, which is still not for sale via Mission Hill’s website, although some private stores have recently begun carrying it (and it was of course for sale at the Festival shop). Tasting it this early in its development was a challenge, but we could already notice the ripe fruit within the embrace of age-worthy tannins. The Compendium and Quatrain red blends are more approachable now, but both could also dwell in the cellar for a few more years. Quatrain includes Syrah alongside Merlot and Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, while the Sauvignon-heavy Compendium is a more traditional Meritage blend with a touch of Petit Verdot. The Quatrain had enjoyable aromas and warm flavours of cherry, while the Compendium was meatier on the palate (and produced in very low quantities for 2007 – it’s a “cellar exclusive” wine available only in person at Mission Hill). Fourth in the Legacy series is the 2008 Perpetua Chardonnay, a very elegant, beautifully balanced wine now in its third year of production. I have been lucky enough to obtain every vintage, and it just keeps getting better, with excellent integration of the oak and fresh, almost floral aromas; a very smooth and very “pretty” wine according to my companions!

Next door – at least in Festival geography – to relative giant Mission Hill was small lot single-vineyard winery Meyer Family Vineyards. With a focus on Burgundian wines Meyer produced only Chardonnay, and then Pinot Noir for their first couple of years, and only recently branched out into Gewurztraminer. The upcoming 2010 Gewurztraminer, from the McLean Creek Road Vineyard, was being sampled and was the second wine of the night to be labelled “pretty”; it was more floral in general than expected, I hope to try it again should I spot it in stores. Proprietor Jak Meyer was also showing two of his superb Chardonnays from the 2009 vintage – the Old Main Road Vineyard “Tribute”, and another from the McLean Creek Road Vineyard. The Tribute Chardonnay was the clear favourite, with a popcorn nose and buttery palate; it could still continue to age well and develop further, as is the case with nearly all Meyer wines. Finally, the McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir from 2008 was still quite young with greenish tannins that suggested it could handle several more years of aging; I wish I had picked up a bottle at the Festival shop while I had the chance.

Also present at the Festival was Jackson-Triggs, with a couple new releases from their prime SunRock Vineyard in Osoyoos. The labelling has been updated across most of Jackson-Triggs’ wines as of last year, although some wines that have been bottle-aging still bear the old SunRock label as opposed to the new “Gold Series” labels. One of those wines is the 2006 SunRock Merlot, a lovely example of the variety that recently won Gold at the Canadian Wine Awards, and is just now finding its way on to store shelves. It’s rare indeed to find a 2006 wine in widespread release, let alone one that is just appearing now! My begrudging commendations to Jackson-Triggs for so patiently bottle-aging their wines prior to release (even if it frustrates my shopping list): the 2006 SunRock Cabernet Sauvignon has yet to push aside the many bottles of 2005 still found in stores! Fortunately the SunRock Shiraz doesn’t struggle quite so much to get to consumers, and the 2008 vintage was being sampled and sold at the Festival. The 2006 and 2007 vintages both won Gold medals at the Canadian Wine Awards and high praise from many circles, so the 2008 has a lot to live up to this year!

One more winery I should mention is Tantalus, Riesling-producer extraordinaire, who have branched out into Pinot Noir in recent years, and now Chardonnay! Tantalus notes their vineyard as the oldest continuously producing site in the province, plus all the fruit is organically grown – some rare feats for which they deserve praise. All of those old vines result in what you would expect, a very classy Old Vines Riesling (2008), with notes of petrol and a relatively dry palate with good natural acidity – this is a cellar-worthy Riesling. The 2009 “regular” Riesling being sampled was sweeter, with less acidity and is said to have been crafted as a versatile food wine: I found there to be a slightly bitter finish that might resolve in time, or perhaps won’t be so evident with food. The 2009 Pinot Noir was fairly powerful – another ageable wine – and had a good quality of assorted fruit flavours. Lastly, the new Chardonnay from 2009 was present: it’s a small lot wine with only 110 cases produced and packs a punch at more than 14% alcohol! Despite the heat it is pleasing on the nose and palate, helped along no doubt by fermentation and maturation in 100% French oak.

Many of these wineries and others were present Saturday afternoon at the BC Food & Wine Lunch at O’Doul’s Restaurant on Robson Street. In between bites of delicious food of all kinds I did manage to jot down a few notes about some of the unique wines being sampled; I look forward to sharing them soon!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Playhouse Wine Festival–Part I

My wife and I and some friends attended the Friday night International Tasting Room at this year’s Playhouse International Wine Festival. Although I would have loved to attend the less-populated Thursday-night tasting, too many of us had work the next day: maybe next year I’ll take a couple vacation days and do the VPIWF right! Although the theme region this year was Spain, I still went in with a plan to visit many of the BC winery tables; one can only do so much with three hours, and BC wines are my personal focus. Our first stop was the on-site BC Liquor Store however, as I had a substantial shopping list and didn’t want to worry about my desired wines selling out over the course of the night. I hope to detail my many exciting purchases in a future post, once BC Liquor Stores figures out what happened to the Playhouse Wine: so far no one at my designated delivery store has any idea where it is.

Purchases safely checked I could relax and hopefully confirm my instincts and expectations by actually tasting some of these brand new wines! Our first stop was Cassini Cellars where we spoke with owner and winemaker Adrian Cassini about his wines, including the rare 2008 Nobilus Merlot, the 2007 Maximus, and the 2008 Syrah. The gold-medal-winning Maximus red blend is getting ready to drink (the 2008 is already out), but the similarly-gold Syrah is still fairly tart and tight. The Merlot was mellow, with ripe fruit and peppery notes – I was very pleased that I finally bought a bottle after many months of searching in stores!

Instead of continuing alphabetically – and encountering Similkameen-star Herder Vineyards – we skipped ahead to Painted Rock to chat with owner John Skinner while we still had all our faculties intact, and to try his new 2008 reds. I was very excited to try the new Red Icon, hot on the heels of last year’s Lt. Governor’s Award. The new Red Icon is unique in that it doesn’t include any of John’s well-regarded Cabernet Sauvignon, a very rare development for a Meritage blend! John was frank in pointing out the the Red Icon had enough complexity and backbone without Cab in the blend – hence more varietal Cabernet Sauvignon this year. However, the Red Icon production was cut in half overall: less than 500 cases exist and I suspect it will reach sold-out status in very short order. John was also pouring the new 2008 Merlot, a worthy successor to the award-winning 2007 vintage: it is still tight and will benefit from time in the cellar, but was already displaying some very pleasant cherry flavours. The focus on new reds does not diminish Painted Rock’s 2009 Chardonnay, a wonderfully tropical fresh, fruity wine that came about through some careful and deliberate canopy management amongst the Chardonnay clones on Painted Rock’s Skaha Bench property.

Just across the aisle from Painted Rock was respected Naramata boutique winery Poplar Grove, sampling their latest red blend, The Legacy (2006), as well as the 2009 Pinot Gris, 2007 Cabernet Franc, and 2007-stand-in 2006 Merlot. Apparently the new 2007 Merlot was supposed to be at the table, but the incorrect vintage was shipped to Vancouver for the festival (which I’ve seen happen before). Despite the mix-up, the 2006 Merlot was very enjoyable; elegant, fruity, and slightly sweeter than expected, I needn’t  hold mine for three years as Anthony Gismondi suggests. The new Cabernet Franc was drier than the Merlot, and also very easy to like, warm and smooth, with excellent fruit from the stellar 2007 vintage.

Continuing along alphabetically led us next door to Quails’ Gate, a perennial favourite of mine whose Chardonnay and Pinot Noir consistently grace my cellar. The latest 2008 Stewart Family Reserve versions of each varietal were being sampled at the table, and both the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir have been raved about since their release last year. The Chardonnay in particular was memorable for us due to the full malolactic fermentation that yields a classic buttery, creamy smooth finish; it picked up silver medals at the All Canadian Wine Championships, Canadian Wine Awards, and BC Wine Awards over the course of 2010. The 2009 vintages of both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are already scheduled for release next month. Also present was the new 2010 Chenin Blanc, always a treat from one of the handful of producers bottling varietal Chenin. On the nose it had terrific tropical pineapple notes, but I have to admit it stumbled on the palate; I think a month or two may help it get over those growing pains – I look forward to trying it again later this summer. Quails’ Gate also gets extra points for serving their Fortified Vintage Foch (2008) in the spirit of the Festival focus on fortified wine. Looking through the program it would appear that Quails’ Gate was the only BC winery presenting a fortified wine! The Fortified Foch is always a charmer, and it’s worth noting Quails’ Gate also produces a non-vintage (Gamay) Tawny and a Botrytis-affected Optima in addition to their Riesling Icewine.

Soon to come are my notes on some of the many excellent wines we sampled from several other BC producers including Jackson-Triggs, Meyer Vineyards, Mission Hill, and Tantalus, plus the wonderful lunch we attended on Saturday hosted by the BC Wine Institute. The BC Food & Wine lunch also provided the opportunity to sample additional wines not available at the Festival’s evening tastings, including what became our agreed-upon favourite wine of the Festival!

Friday, 1 April 2011

BC Wine Appreciation Society–Road 13 Tasting

At the same time as the Playhouse International Wine Festival taking place this week in Vancouver, BCWAS held a tasting of Road 13 wines on Wednesday. Normally tastings take place earlier in the month but the organizers couldn’t pass up the chance to achieve synchronicity with one of the biggest and best wine events in the world! Road 13 does not have a presence at the Playhouse Festival this year (many wineries attend in alternate years), which likely allowed for winery owners Mick and Pam Luckhurst to attend our tasting alongside new winemaker J-M Bouchard and General Manager Donna Faigaux: it was a packed head table! J-M only joined Road 13 this year, having replaced long-time winemaker Michael Bartier, who departed on good terms to pursue his own winery dreams.

Road 13 very graciously donated the wine for the event after carefully scouring the cellars for back vintages deemed worthwhile. A couple last minute changes to the tasting line-up even took place when certain wines didn’t make the cut. We still thoroughly enjoyed eleven excellent and interesting wines from the 2005 through 2010 vintages.


As attendees sat down to another packed house – the second sold-out event in a row – we were greeted by four white wines and seven reds. I think I speak for everyone when I say we were all very pleasantly surprised to see the (sold-out) 2007 Sparkling Chenin Blanc before us; one of the last minutes substitutions. Only the second vintage of Sparkling Chenin at Road 13, this masterpiece won a gold medal at the 2010 Okanagan Fall Wine Festival BC Wine Awards. Bottled under a fun and practical crown cap, this wine is a must-have every year: it’s extremely unique for one, and it tastes great, with fine mousse and honeyed pineapple flavours.

The other three whites we tasted included the 2010 Honest John’s White, an entry-level aromatic white blend of mostly Riesling that will be released later this summer. The 2009 is still widely available, and is just as refreshing; it makes for a good patio wine you can keep in your fridge ready for any occasion. (All of Road 13’s wines are sealed with screw-caps, which makes storage and refrigeration stress free: no need to lay them down, or worry about corks drying out.) Two of the reserve tier “Jackpot” wines rounded out the whites: Jackpot Riesling 2009, and Jackpot Chardonnay 2008. With only 181 cases made it’s hard to believe the outstanding Jackpot Riesling is still available! The Jackpot Chardonnay is well balanced and tart; it’s not made in the creamy buttery style of some other Chardonnays (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The Chardonnay received a gold medal at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards, but does not appear to be for sale any longer via the winery (likely due in part to that gold).

A few cellar selections from Road 13’s red wine portfolio were next, along with hors d’oeuvres courtesy of Listel Hotel/O’Doul’s Restaurant Executive Chef Chris Whittaker. Because Road 13 donated the wine BCWAS was able to engage Chris to fashion some tasty treats for the attendees. My big thanks to the BCWAS Executive for their thoughtfulness and to Chris for seemingly effortlessly whipping up a delicious fully vegetarian selection for the small number of us present. The rest of the crowd enjoyed the original menu of Short Rib Sliders, Venison Carpaccio, Mushroom Tartlet, and Cured Salmon.


Included in the red selection was the 2005 Black Arts Pinot Noir. (When Road 13 was known as Golden Mile Vineyards “Black Arts” was the reserve tier.) J-M assessed this still-tasty Pinot as nearing the end of its life, and a number of attendees were impressed it was still quite approachable after nearly six years. Also from the 2005 vintage was the Fifth Element, Road 13’s big red blend. The name  plays off of wine being the supposed fifth element after earth, water, wind, and fire. Avoiding use of the Meritage name also means Road 13 is free to experiment with the blend each year, and some years it has included Syrah (not permitted under Meritage Alliance rules). The 2005 has aged very well and is showing nicely integrated tannins and pleasing savoury notes.

We also enjoyed three single varietal wines from the cellar, none of which are produced any longer, due to Road 13’s transition to blends. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon received the highest score in its category at the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards, and no doubt many fans were sad to see it go following the 2007 vintage, but if you have some it could still enjoy years in the cellar. The 2007 Merlot and 2007 Syrah were both tasting nicely as well: the Merlot is full-bodied with good acidity and fine tannins, it could last for a while longer no doubt. The Syrah was one of my favourites, and that of many others present: it smelled wonderfully fresh and fruity, with meaty, peppery flavours on the palate. Most of Road 13’s Syrah now goes into the excellent Rockpile blend, the second release of which (from 2009) is coming out this Summer. We even got a chance to try some in advance: it was definitely young and fresh, with tartness and tannins aplenty. It will likely have settled down a bit by June, but there is no rush to open it immediately: I’m aging some 2008 to see how it develops over time.

Finally, the most recent Fifth Element – from 2007 – was also tasted. It’s still young but aging well, with nice freshness and finish. The 2006 Fifth Element just won a gold medal at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards, so I look forward to seeing how the this vintage fares in competition over the next year, as I’m led to believe 2007 was an even better year for reds.

At the end of the night we were given the rare chance to order some of the back vintages, pre-releases and sold-out wines we had tasted. Road 13 even offered complimentary shipping on case lots, so I hope more than a few attendees took advantage of this opportunity! I myself am looking forward to a 2005 Fifth Element to add to my vertical collection, plus a few Sparkling Chenin Blanc to enjoy while I excitedly await the next edition!