Saturday 18 June 2011

June Wine Club: Summer Wines

Our wine club dinner this month not only included a very special guest – our host’s Mom – but finally gave us the chance to explore some wines and cuisine to celebrate the warm weather of Summer! In perhaps our most geographically-diverse event to date we enjoyed three different Rosés, a couple of top-tier Sauvignon Blancs, a mind-boggling white blend (with 18 grape varieties) and even a charming and delicious Tawny Port to finish the evening. It seems that our original proposition for each of three couples to bring one bottle of wine is fast flying out the window as we get more enthusiastic – and knowledgeable – about the many great wines BC has to offer!

Our turn to manage the appetizer course had finally arrived, and we thought long and hard about how to best approach what can often be the most creative and entertaining part of the meal. Lately I’ve been reading from a truly incredible book my wife got me for Christmas called “Taste Buds and Molecules” and was pleased to see it had a chapter about Sauvignon Blanc. Having started our monthly club last Fall we haven’t yet had any Sauvignon Blanc, as we had trended towards red wines and hearty winter fare. Learning about Sauvignon Blanc’s compatibilities with various herbs, fruits, and vegetables inspired my wife and I to develop a homemade rice paper wrap served alongside a tropical fruit salad. Our wraps included shredded carrots and golden beets with fresh dill and parsley, plus cucumber, avocado, smoked tofu, and pea shoots, along with a fresh ginger-carrot dip on the side. The fruit salad included Granny Smith apples, honeydew melon, kiwi, mango, and papaya, plus some fresh mint. Many of these anise-flavoured ingredients contain similar aromatic molecules that pair quite naturally with Sauvignon Blanc – or so we hoped!

To drink we sourced two hard-to-come-by new Sauvignon Blancs from South Okanagan’s Le Vieux Pin and Naramata’s La Frenz for a little comparison. Both bottles come with impressive accolades behind them: John Schreiner feels the 92-point Le Vieux Pin is “one of the most expressive Sauvignon Blancs to come from the Okanagan” while La Frenz reports that theirs “has already been proclaimed by consumers as better than the 2008” (which won Best of Class at the All Canadian Wine Championships). We thoroughly enjoyed both wines, although the intense bouquet of grapefruit and lime exhibited by the Le Vieux Pin gained it the most followers. The La Frenz was a bit more mild overall – and the favourite of my wife – with a little more sweet tropical fruit. The wine and food pairing was also very successful, and the harmony of flavours was equally enjoyable.

Our entree course – prepared by the evening’s host couple – favoured other fresh, local ingredients, somewhat deconstructed to accommodate all tastes. A delicious pasta with cherry tomatoes and feta was accompanied by fresh spot prawns and mussels, or crispy stir-fried tofu for the vegetarians. Our host, a card-carrying carnivore, is always wildly successful in cooking tofu despite little experience in the past (I think the secret is lots of oil!), and we are always grateful for his sensitive inclusivity.

The entree wine, without any coordination between us, turned out to be Le Vieux Pin’s newly released Pinot Noir Rosé “Vaïla”! With even fewer cases produced than the Sauvignon Blanc don’t expect it to last long in stores, especially because of the great reviews it has received already – which Le Vieux Pin gladly provides on their website. I actually tried this wine (along with that Sauvignon Blanc) earlier this Spring, but found it to be better now than I remembered, with some of the earthy Pinot notes having faded a little, allowing for the fruit to emerge. Beyond the beautiful colour, we detected sweet aromas of strawberry – almost cotton-candy, but the palate was appropriately dry, with hints of grapefruit on the finish.

Two bottles of Vaïla went down easily, and while we waited for dessert to finish baking we sipped on a another Rosé from brand new Kaleden winery Krāze Lēgz, this one a red-white blend according to John Schreiner. The wine was quite approachable, with some fairly strong strawberry jam elements to complement the vibrant colour.

Dessert was served, and an unexpected third Rosé came out to accompany it! This time it was to be Fort Berens’ Petit Verdot-based wine, with a dry, almost savoury approach that had some of us throwing out phrases such as turkey sandwich, and cold cuts. The Lilloet winery’s use of Petit Verdot for Rosé is a bold and exciting move, showing the great versatility of this wine style, and it has yielded respectable reviews as well. Also making an appearance was a bottle of Glenterra Vivace, a white blend from Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley. Vivace contains an almost unbelievable 18 different grape varieties but starts with nearly half Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, finishing with grapes we had never even heard of such as Huxelrebe and Cantaro! It was very floral and mouth-filling, even a little bit tawny on the nose, and was a great pairing for the individual rhubarb cakes we were enjoying fresh from the oven. In the same ramekins the cakes had been baked was the most incredible cold strawberry soup that garnered heaps of praise. Just thinking about the fresh aromas and smooth flavours that caressed our palates is making my mouth water!

At the very end of the night, again unplanned and unexpected, our hosts introduced a bottle of La Frenz Tawny Port to round out the evening. This fairly unique offering is a delicious treat, with flavours of dried apricot, raisins, and walnuts, one that evokes an almost tingling sensation in the sinuses for which I coined a new term: “nose-feel.” Apparently I’m at my most creative eight bottles in!

Monday 13 June 2011

Recent Tastings: Joie

The second of two recent tastings I attended was also the first formal event I’d attended at the new Legacy Liquor Store: a three-vintage vertical of Joie wines led by self-taught proprietors Michael Dinn and Heidi Noble, both former Vancouver sommeliers and wine industry veterans. Joie is still a fairly young winery, but has attained impressive cult status in the several years since opening: prominent awards have included dual Lt. Governor’s Awards in 2009 for the 2007 Reserve Chardonnay and 2008 Riesling. Grape varieties such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Muscat, and Pinot Noir represent Joie’s commitment to successful cool climate wines originating from regions such as Alsace, Burgundy, and Champagne.


Michael and Heidi led guests – including my wife and me – through four flights of Joie wines, starting with the superb Noble Blend, their tribute to Edelzwicker, “the traditional Germanic-variety blend of the Alsace region of France.” Conveniently Edelzwicker translates to “noble blend” and thus overlaps with Heidi’s surname. We enjoyed the opportunity to taste the 2008 through 2010 releases, which have contained at times up to six different grape varieties from up to twelve different vineyards! (In addition to Joie’s estate vineyard in Naramata they also purchase grapes from growers throughout the Okanagan valley.) Typically Noble Blend contains Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Auxerrois in differing percentages, but the 2008 also included Kerner and Oraniensteiner. We found that the well-preserved 2008 was dominated by tangerine on the palate, while the younger 2009 (with 60% Gewurztraminer) showed much more grapefruit. The newest release dials down the Gewurztraminer and substantially ups the Riesling component (from 8% to 38%) for 2010, and really impressed us with a delicate floral nose and well-controlled acidity (a challenge from such a cool vintage). Well-priced magnums in dauntingly large Alsatian flutes are available in select stores for Summer party centerpieces!

The single-varietal (but multiple vineyard) Rieslings were next, again from 2008 through 2010 vintages. Joie has purchased Riesling grapes from a few select vineyards for this wine, with large components in each year from 8th Generation Vineyards in Okanagan Falls, themselves known for their own excellent  Riesling varietals. The wines we tried were clearly demonstrating Riesling’s potential for aging, as significant differences were apparent between the vintages: 2008 was showing powerful diesel aromas that Rieslings can be known for, while the youthful 2010 had a much more delicate and nuanced nose. None of these are dry Rieslings either, with high residual sugar ranging from 20 to 25 grams per liter; fortunately balanced by crisp acidity. Even so, all that sugar and acid began to take a toll on our stomachs, requiring dutiful ingestions of water and pleasantly mild “undressed” Gone Crackers.

Moving on to Joie’s well-regarded Chardonnay, we were fortunate enough to get a chance to sample the soon-to-be-released 2009 Reserve Chardonnay in addition to the 2008 and 2007 vintages. Although Joie does produce a very nice unoaked Chardonnay, we skipped to the fully oaked version for this tasting. As with the Riesling, Joie has purchased grapes from other vineyards – often including 8th Generation – for their Chardonnay, after which it is fermented (some naturally) and aged in premium French oak of various ages. Secondary malolactic fermentation and lees stirring are done to enhance the texture and complexity, yielding many classic popcorn, butterscotch, nutty aspects that some people love (myself included, in the proper context). In this case the 2007 was particularly classic in aroma and flavour, reminding us of butter and hazelnuts; the long and memorable finish is why this particular wine is still on my all-time favourite Chardonnay list. The 2008 had a bit more popcorn on the nose, and seemed somewhat juicier on the palate, with flavours of cloves and nutmeg present that reminded me immediately of fresh apple pie. Lastly, the new 2009 Chardonnay had the most floral nose, likely due to the use of much less new oak; it still likely has many years of development ahead of it.

The final flight of wines presented to us consisted of Joie’s only red wine, a unique blend of approximately two thirds Pinot Noir and one third Gamay Noir called “PTG”. Again taking cues from Burgundy, Michael and Heidi have embraced the regional blend of Passetoutgrain due to Pinot and Gamay’s success in the Okanagan. We were able to sample the 2007 through 2009 vintages, and learn about Joie’s experimentation with whole cluster fermentation and foot-treading. In select vintages the grapes with the longest hang-time experience lignified stems (changing from green to brown) and thus contribute fine tannins and complexity to the wine: the 2009 vintage lacked this event due to the early frost but for 2010 whole cluster fermentation was once again instigated at Joie. The three vintages we tried differed substantially in colour, aroma, and flavour: the 2007 had the most expressive nose that my wife described as “toasty blood”, while the 2008 was darkest in colour and much fruitier on the nose with aromas of menthol cherry. The 2009 PTG was the lightest in colour (no surprise given the lack of whole cluster fermentation) with fresh aromas that reminded us of rhubarb and violets. The wide variation in the PTG across the years is a positive thing in my opinion, as it demonstrates the effect of vintage and terroir given that the environmental conditions and source vineyards can differ from year to year – it makes the wine that much more interesting!

In addition to the wines we tried Joie also produces the aforementioned Unoaked Chardonnay, a very popular Rosé, and a relatively rare varietal Muscat that is often snatched up by restaurants. Details are all available in depth on Joie’s beautiful new website, and a slew of recent positive reviews are courtesy of Icon Wines. The Rosé is available in magnum size for Summer fun if your magnum of Noble Blend is lonely!

Sunday 5 June 2011

Recent Tastings: Spierhead

I’ve attended a couple of comprehensive tastings recently that bear more than a mention, from two excellent wineries at different stages in their young lives. The first is new Kelowna winery Spierhead, which hosted a very classy tasting at the Four Seasons in their gorgeous Yew Restaurant. John Schreiner detailed the evolution of Spierhead late last year, with particular compliments for their first Meritage red – “Vanguard” – and their Cabernet Sauvignon. I acquired a bottle of the 2008 Vanguard along with a CedarCreek Platinum Meritage (2007) a while ago, two wines with a very significant connection in Tom DiBello: Tom was the winemaker at CedarCreek for a decade before leaving recently to spread his wings as a consulting winemaker, which he has done marvellously at Spierhead.


Spierhead’s first release consisted of 2009 Chardonnay and 2008 Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Vanguard, but they have recently expanded to include Riesling and Cabernet Franc. For this year’s release Tom helped produce two excellent whites – Riesling and Chardonnay, and four quality reds that are just beginning to show their potential: varietal Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, plus the second vintage of Vanguard. So far most of the fruit has come from other vineyards – as Spierhead’s own vines were just planted in 2008 – and are limited to Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. Acquiring the bigger reds from vineyards in the Southern Okanagan is a smart move, given the many quality growers in those warmer, sunnier southern pastures. Even so, Tom cited Spierhead’s “impeccable” young vineyard as one of the reasons he was convinced to come on-board – operators Brian Sprout and Bill Knutson are clearly taking their business seriously.

The vineyard practices and winemaking talent are particularly evident in the two new whites I tasted, which include the first fruit from Spierhead’s 20-acre estate vineyard. The 2010 Riesling has tangy lime flavours common to the cool vintage it represents. The fruit was harvested quite late in mid-November to keep the acidity under control, which was a big challenge in last year’s harvest. The 2010 Chardonnay includes a bit of Oliver fruit to add tropical notes, and acquires beneficial minerality from Spierhead’s own fruit. A very small percentage saw oak, while the vast majority was tank fermented, yielding a very fresh, fruity wine that will be a great Summer sipper along with the equally refreshing Riesling.

The four 2009 reds are naturally quite young, but are already showing impressive balance and ripeness. Although Tom warned guests of some bottle-shock I was pleased to savour each one and look forward to their upcoming release. The Merlot was fairly light in colour with low tannins, but showed fresh red fruit, and got distinctively richer over time. The Cabernet Franc was also light in colour, with more acidity and rustic berry notes. The Cabernet Sauvignon exhibited a rich dark purple tone, and possessed tasty aromas and flavours that reminded me of raisins. The 2009 Vanguard – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc – has more tannins and acidity than the 2008 version, but both show delicious dark fruit. The blend ratios changed in 2009 to include more Merlot and a bit less of each Cab: Tom believes that Merlot-based Meritage can yield a “bigger” wine in the Pacific Northwest than those that lean on Cabernet Sauvignon. What surprised me most over the course of the tasting was how much each wine evolved as the bottles got the chance to breathe; there’s clearly a lot of evolution to come for these wines, and hopefully even more so from this promising young winery!