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!

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