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!