Last week we enjoyed an entertaining wine tasting at home for some new friends from south of the border – Arizona to be precise – as well as an old friend moving away to New York – her last night in Vancouver! Also present was another old friend, an experienced veteran of many tastings I've hosted over the years! I had been asked by my wife to put together a small selection of wines that could help to introduce BC wines to someone with next to no experience enjoying our homegrown viniculture (i.e., our American guests), with a focus on whites (it being “summer” after all). Armed with a few more hints about what our guests might enjoy I picked out some recent award-winners, old stand-bys, and new discoveries while emphasizing multiple regions and a few unique grapes that would show what BC has to offer.
Our first wine came to us from the Naramata Bench courtesy of Lake Breeze Vineyards: their 2010 Pinot Blanc continues a tradition of excellence with this grape, having recently been awarded Best of Category at the 2011 All Canadian Wine Championships. I knew I wanted to serve a Pinot Blanc given the low profile of this grape, despite the wonderful wines it can produce, particularly here in BC. Lake Breeze considers Pinot Blanc to be their “signature,” so the decision was easy. My choice rewarded us with beautiful aromas of apple, peaches, and pineapple, with floral flavours and a slightly creamy texture that I particularly enjoyed. This wine was the favourite white amongst two of the six of us, and came in a very close second for me personally.
Topping the Lake Breeze for me was the next wine, a superbly fashioned 2010 Viognier from Di Bello Wines. Long-time CedarCreek winemaker Tom Di Bello has now moved on to produce his own ultra-small-lot wines in partnership with his wife Tari, and this first release consisted of only 87 cases! Fortunately I found my bottle at Marquis Wine Cellars, where there is still some available (in addition to directly from Tom & Tari) if you want to get in on the ground floor of Tom’s new venture: four more varietals are coming soon including highly anticipated Pinot Noir and Syrah. As John Schreiner puts it, the Viognier is “an intense and exotic white” which conjured up myriad descriptors amongst us – particularly as the temperature changed – including cedar, menthol, bubble gum, and caramel! Tom’s notes include aromas of lychee, orange peel, and pears, all of which were present for us as well. The impeccable balance and thought-provoking flavours in this wine made it my favourite.
Next up was the sequel to one of our favourite wines last summer – CedarCreek Ehrenfelser. Ironically the 2010 release of this wine represents some of the first work by Tom Di Bello’s replacement at CedarCreek – Australian Darryl Brooker. With 2010 being a cooler season, it comes as no surprise that the new Ehrenfelser is more acidic than the delicate 2009 we fawned over last year, but it still garnered plenty of fans amongst our guests: fully half of those present declared it their favourite white of the evening. As in years past, the Ehrenfelser is still aptly described as “fruit salad in a glass” and we enjoyed aromas of honeysuckle and orange blossom, grapefruit, and melons. Flavours of honeydew and cantaloupe continued on the palate, ensuring an empty bottle in short order.
Seeking diversity in both grapes and flavour profiles – whilst maintaining the approachable summer theme – I decided a Gewurztraminer would be suitable as our final white wine. Knowing Thornhaven’s prowess with the grape led me to this Summerland winery, and their award-winning 2009 Gewurztraminer, another Best of Class winner from the recent All Canadian Wine Championships. Upon smelling the beautiful fruitful aromas wafting from this wine I’m fully in agreement with the reviewers at Icon Wines, and was also sure to prepare my guests for the decidedly off-dry flavours on the palate. Powerful lychee was most obvious, with some describing it as “candied lilacs,” while others detected smoky notes that reminded them of candles. Although this wine wasn’t anyone’s favourite, I fully respect it for what it is: a powerful expression of this very enjoyable grape variety.
I would be remiss to serve a selection of BC wines in the summer without including at least one Rosé, given the huge variety of styles we benefit from in BC. Although a great deal of excellent single varietal Rosés exist from wineries across the province, we’ve always enjoyed the blended approach from Dirty Laundry, and had yet to try their newest release. Inside the beautiful transparent bottle, Dirty Laundry’s 2010 “Hush” includes 50% Cabernet Franc and 30% Pinot Noir, along with a little Pinot Blanc and some other “hush hush” grapes. What struck many of us first and foremost is the incredible rich cherry colour of the wine, which reminds one once again of the huge range possible when it comes to Rosé wines. Although we enjoyed flavours of guava, strawberry, and pomegranate, the current incarnation was felt to be not as “patio-friendly” as in years past. It’s possible the lighter snacks we were enjoying did not maximize this wine’s potential, given that Dirty Laundry recommends pairing it with “bold Malaysian foods, Asian fusion cuisines, and East Indian dishes.” Those being some of my favourite foods I look forward to trying another bottle in a different context soon!
I felt I should include at least one full-bodied red wine to finish off the tasting. Taking my cues once again from the All Canadian Wine Championships I expected that the 2008 Cabernet-Merlot from Blasted Church would fit the bill quite nicely. This Bordeaux blend was awarded Best Red Wine during the Championships, and easily impresses whether or not one knows its $26 list price. Even more impressive is the knowledge that Blasted Church went so far as to include both Malbec and Petit Verdot (for the first time), which are varieties rarely seen in such a reasonably priced red blend. After decanting this relatively young wine we experienced quite a bit of rich vanilla and chocolate aromas that followed through on the palate. A surprisingly smooth mouthfeel was reversed upon pairing with actual chocolate, which really brought out the hidden tannins! Similarly, accompaniment with aged cheddar was said to have expressed green notes for some. The pairing experiences were quite intriguing and memorable, while overall this wine was impressive and enjoyable for most of us. Personally, I will be seeking some more of what remains from the 2000 cases which are now sold out from the winery.
The six uniquely enjoyable wines I shared represent only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the excellence in winemaking we benefit from here in BC. Putting together a “BC wine variety show” to introduce our wines to others was a lot of fun! I hope to do it again soon given the many hundreds of additional superb wines available to share with those unfamiliar with what is on offer in our own backyard. Cheers!