Monday 24 October 2011

Painted Rock Fall Releases

The rapid rise of Painted Rock Winery continues as awards continue to roll in and the newest – and perhaps best ever – wines are now becoming available. The Fall release party at Gotham Steakhouse last week provided the opportunity for proprietor John Skinner to show off his new wines, and his new medals. For this summer’s Canadian Wine Awards competition John entered thirteen different wines from multiple vintages, and was awarded medals for all of them! Most exciting were the three Gold medals, for the 2009 Red Icon, and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Syrah. The awards coincide with good and bad news for fans, as the 2008 Cabernet is long sold out, but the Syrah remains available while John waits to release the 2009 vintage. As for the Red Icon, the news is very good, because production is substantially higher for 2009 than in the past, and there should be a large number of bottles – and statuesque magnums – available throughout BC this fall.

The new Red Icon is a spectacularly smooth and juicy wine very deserving of that Gold medal. Interestingly the Malbec was omitted for 2009 and a tiny bit of Syrah added instead, to provide a special spark to the Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. Fortunately plenty of Syrah remained for the single varietal bottling, which will likely prove to be an excellent follow-up to the delicious 2008 version. The current (Gold medal) Syrah is a ripe, peppery wine with prevalent oak notes at present; Anthony Gismondi feels that “time in the bottle will help this wine reach its full potential.

On the Cabernet Sauvignon front it seems clear that those desiring a taste should continue to seek out restaurant wine lists, for the 2009 vintage sold out in minutes! Ever since that first Lt. Governor’s Award for the initial 2007 vintage John has seen BC’s finer restaurants snap up his Cabernet Sauvignon with rapidity. It certainly didn’t help that production was quite low for 2009, and after contributing to the Red Icon little remained for single varietal bottlings. It’s unfortunate that collectors may be stymied as the samples being poured at Gotham showed off the rich and powerful characteristics of this wine; equally smooth as the Red Icon, it appears that 2009 was a very good vintage indeed.

Two more new releases include the final red wine – 2009 Merlot – and Painted Rock’s sole white wine. The 2010 Chardonnay is bright and juicy with a lot of tropical flavours. The release party was my third opportunity to try it, and each time I have thoroughly enjoyed the creamy texture and layered flavour profile. The newly released Merlot shares many characteristics with the other 2009 reds, with dark fruit and smooth textures: the winery’s tasting notes describe it as “serious, complex, and sturdy.” Like most Painted Rock wines, both Chardonnay and Merlot should be particularly enjoyable with foods that will both complement, and compliment them.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

CedarCreek Platinum Club – Fall 2011

It was with great pleasure that I received my second Platinum Club shipment last month, after having joined earlier this year. While the Spring 2011 shipment focused on the newly released aromatic whites, the Fall shipment included a selection of harvest-friendly wines, with a greater focus on the reserve Platinum bottles. (The upcoming February 2012 shipment should include most of the Platinum Reds.) CedarCreek tried something new with this shipment: they added a live online wine tasting with President Gordon Fitzpatrick and Winemaker Darryl Brooker on September 29. I unfortunately had to miss the tasting due to a prior commitment. However I was pleased to see that the session was recorded and linked to on CedarCreek’s Facebook page, and I enjoyed watching it later to learn some of the inside information about the wines and the winery.

Platinum Club Shipment - Fall 2011

The Fall club shipment struck me as a bit of an ode to Burgundy, containing a pair of Pinot Noirs, and another pair of Chardonnays. Both Pinot Noirs are about a year old, if you consider their birthdate to be their initial release last September, but the extra year of bottle age likely helps them along. The 2008 Pinot Noir comes from the regular estate tier, while the next model up is the Platinum 2007 version. Both wines received Bronze medals at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards, but diverge from there: the 2008 picked up Gold at the BC Wine Awards in Fall 2010, while the Platinum 2007 was awarded Best of Category at the 2010 All Canadian Wine Championships. The consensus seems to be that these are more “feminine” Pinot Noirs, as John Schreiner details. Anthony Gismondi puts it another way in describing both the 2007 and 2008 as relatively lean and tart, with the 2007 showing just a bit better. For the record both wines contain total acid of a bit less than 8 grams per litre.

The Chardonnays represent a similar pair, albeit with vintage reversed: in this case the newer 2009 wine comes from the Platinum tier, while the older bottle is from the estate tier. The new Platinum wine is not yet detailed on the CedarCreek website, but the release notes describe a barrel fermented wine aged for 11 months on the lees, having received the full French oak treatment. CedarCreek entered a number of wines into the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards and received a bronze medal and a strong review for this cellar-friendly wine. Only about 500 cases were made, down from nearly 800 in the 2008 vintage, and while the official release date is listed as July 2011, I think it is unlikely to show up in stores until later this Fall or even next year. The estate tier 2008 Chardonnay on the other hand should be widely available and ready for immediate consumption at this point, having been initially released at the winery almost two years ago. I’m confident it still retains the fruit forward and food friendly approach that both Anthony Gismondi and John Schreiner described this spring, and a secure screwtop alongside a very competitive price point of $18 makes for an easy choice.

The remaining two wines in the shipment come from CedarCreek’s southern vineyard holdings near Osoyoos, prime territory for growing deliciously ripe Syrah and Viognier. The results have led to beautiful bottles of 2007 Platinum Syrah and a new 2010 Platinum Viognier. The Syrah represented a new chapter when it was released in late 2009 as CedarCreek’s first Platinum Syrah, aged for 15 months in premium French oak: “that’s why the wine smells so classy” according to John Schreiner. Had everything gone according to plan these two wines may have shared a common destiny, as a Syrah-Viognier blend was originally anticipated. However, the Viognier grapes were so good on their own that CedarCreek decided this year to bottle a limited production run of single-varietal wine from just two barrels (636 bottles to be precise). The wine was earmarked exclusively for Platinum Club members, with any remainder to be sold at the winery store. The notes detail the gentle six hour pressing and subsequent neutral-barrel fermentation, followed by 4 months of barrel aging on lees. One can imagine the rich, creamy mouthfeel on this wine and I’m looking forward to enjoying my bottle on a special occasion soon: the winery suggests pairing it with sushi uramaki such as a luxurious Dynamite Roll – thanks for the suggestion!

Tuesday 11 October 2011

We Give Thanks for BC Wine!

We had a great deal to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, as our home was host to great friends, great food, and great wine! To share in our “Northern Bounty” we had invited over four American friends to join us for six courses and six amazing BC wines, each served with excitement and pride. I had spent the weeks beforehand crafting what I hoped would be a perfectly paired (vegetarian) menu that would both satisfy and entertain, while including some of my favourite wines and wineries. The most challenging aspect was avoiding any duplication as I selected the food and wine pairings: in some cases the wine came first, while in others it was the food in need of a suitor. After probably far too much stress and perfectionism it was a relief to finally sit down and enjoy our amazing meal!


While we awaited the arrival of our full complement of guests, we sipped the quintessential celebratory sparkler in our household – Road 13 Sparkling Chenin Blanc (2008). Of course you can drink sparkling wine any time, but we tend to reserve Road 13’s unique and valuable version for special occasions because Sparkling Chenin should be celebrated! Our appetizer course to pair with the crisp acidity and bright fruit of such a wine included Pecan and Goat Cheese Marbles, to which I added cherry tomatoes for a burst of colour and variety. A second mouth-watering canapĂ© came from the superb food & wine tome Orgasmic Appetizers (and Matching Wines): Spinach Artichoke Wonton Cups were perfectly bite size versions of creamy hot artichoke dip. Both appetizers possessed a mix of sourness and saltiness that was offset nicely by the off-dry wine, while the Chenin’s acidity helped to cut the fattiness in the various cheeses.


Our salad course contained an homage to traditional Thanksgiving ingredients in the form of dried cranberries; the fresh spinach was also topped with Bosc pears, red onion, and toasted hazelnuts. The wine pairing was the well-known Black Hills Alibi (2009), a white Bordeaux-style blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Having read many reviews for Alibi over the years this was actually my first opportunity to try it in depth. The many reviews out there for the 2009 vintage are quite positive, speaking to its zesty flavours, youthful aromas, and excellent balance. Even better, because the 2010 vintage is now being sold, the 2009 is on sale for $25 from $30, and can still be found in many VQA stores. Our consensus was one of great satisfaction, as the acidity held up to the vinaigrette dressing, while the tropical flavours meshed well with the pears.


When there is no need to choose between soup and salad why not have both? Here was one dish for which the wine came first, as I knew I wanted to open a bottle of Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay from the cellar. The 2007 vintage I was serving won a Gold medal at the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards, and I knew it needed a special dish to complement the full flavours of the wine. I ultimately settled on Butternut Squash Soup with Cider Cream, accessorized with the delicious-sounding Gruyere Croutons from a different recipe. The soup contains two fresh Granny Smith apples plus a cup of apple cider so a Chardonnay with aromas and flavours of apples certainly fit the bill. The wine was also noticeably toasty from the barrel fermentation, but despite full malolactic fermentation just as lively as described by John Schreiner.


A few great white wines aside, it soon came time for reds, and another course in which the wine came long before I could dream up a food pairing. It being Thanksgiving I would be remiss not to serve Pinot Noir, which everyone feels is ideal for turkey and all those accoutrements; but without any fowl on the table my 2006 CedarCreek Platinum Pinot Noir was in danger of going it alone. With an inkling to serve something earthy I discovered a recipe for Beet Carpaccio with Onion Marmalade that looked like a promising match to the dark cherry and spice found in the wine. Making the marmalade I used some CedarCreek Pinot Gris and was bemused at my unintentional retention of not only the Pinot family but of the CedarCreek portfolio as well; hopefully fate was smiling on this pairing! In any case after tasting the silky smooth wine it almost didn’t matter how the beets turned out, although fortunately they were also delicious, and went hand in hand with the delicious Pinot. Believe it or not there may still be a few bottles of this wine on store shelves given the massive 2006 harvest: CedarCreek produced 2-3 times as much Platinum Pinot Noir that year as usual – despite rigorous cluster thinning.


For our final savoury course – the entree if there was to be one – I waffled quite a bit on the wine pairing. Although another Pinot Noir would likely be quite enjoyable with the Mushroom Filo Strudel in the works I longed for something different to keep the variety flowing. Although I hadn’t planned on opening it just yet, given the company and the occasion the time seemed right for my cherished bottle of 2005 Mission Hill Quatrain – the inaugural vintage of this celebrated Merlot-Syrah-Cabernet blend. I’ll admit it hurt to break up the 3-year vertical I had collected thus far, but eventually one has to drink all these wines! Quatrain was first released back in 2008 to flesh out Mission Hill’s “Legacy-Series” wines alongside the Oculus red blend, and the Perpetua Chardonnay; it was soon followed by another red blend called Compendium, which is more of a baby-Oculus in style. For a first release it did exceptionally well, with it being hard to find reviews below 90-points, and plenty more accolades and awards in the vintages since 2005 (the 2008 Quatrain should be released within months). With plenty of savoury, peppery descriptors being used for the wine I made sure to generously spice the Strudel and accompanying Port Red Wine Sauce, in the hopes that plenty of mushrooms, leeks, and tomatoes would satisfy such a concentrated wine. After careful decanting, the wine was drinking beautifully and enriched our palates with loads of ripe fruit and complex flavours. I think the rapidly-rendered-bare plates and empty glasses spoke for themselves as it was apparent everyone thoroughly enjoyed their fifth course of the evening!


Despite a few full bellies no one could turn down the final course of the meal, in part no doubt because its over-the-top appearance and intimidating name inspired so much curiosity: Pumpkin Roll Cake with Toffee Cream Filling and Caramel Sauce. Drizzled in homemade caramel sauce (just butter, heavy cream, and dark brown sugar) and generously sprinkled with English toffee this cake is not subtle, and needed a complex wine pairing that could stand up to it. Fortunately I was confident that La Frenz’s Tawny Port could handle the job, after reading about the flavours “reminiscent of dark fruit cake infused with butterscotch sauce.” Although this fortified wine – one of only a small number of BC Port-style wines – is sold out as of Thanksgiving weekend, I found a bottle at Marquis Wine Cellars, which sadly appears to have been one of the last ones available. While everyone gleefully tore into the cake there were just as many compliments for the rich Tawny, which had no problems making its unique flavours apparent. Although fully enjoyable now, it seemed to me that the wine could easily age for significantly longer in order to develop an even richer character and depth, but then we wouldn’t have had six delicious wines to share in the present. It was a fun-filled Thanksgiving dinner we will all remember, plus now I’m free to think about Christmas wines…


Sunday 2 October 2011

Fairview Cellars Fall 2011 Releases

Bill Eggert, the one-man band that is Fairview Cellars, released his Fall wine selection last month. Spotting a tweet from Bill announcing the release (now that everything was finally bottled and labelled) I was quick to order a half-case so as to acquire a bottle of each new red wine. Good thing I acted fast, because two of the six wines (all from the 2009 vintage) are sold out already: Pinot Noir (60 cases) and Cabernet Sauvignon (160 cases) were gone in days. The four remaining wines still available consist of three delicious – and historically high-quality – blends, plus an additional “bonus” Cabernet Sauvignon called The Wrath.

Fairview Cellars Fall 2011 Releases

Owner and winemaker (and vineyard manager, and tasting room staff, etc.) Bill Eggert farms a small property just south of Oliver on the Golden Mile Bench. As John Schreiner details, Bill is a well-known character in the Southern Okanagan winery community; an easy-going man not afraid to speak his mind when he isn’t busy producing his legendary wines. I visited Bill’s property in August and got the chance to try some of the new wines before they were fully labelled (and so sadly couldn’t buy them in person). His tasting room is a log cabin that used to serve as his barrel room, and only held about a dozen barrels when it did (which no doubt seemed like plenty at the time). Fortunately Bill has had the opportunity to expand his holdings somewhat to increase the size and volume of his portfolio. The new Pinot Noir is an example of Bill’s branching out: the 2009 is only the second vintage, and all things being equal the Pinot will likely get even better in subsequent years as Bill gets to know his new vineyard source better.

On the flip side of the coin can be found Cabernet Sauvignon, which is Fairview Cellars’ bread & butter, and Bill’s favourite grape. Most of his vineyard is dedicated to Cab, which always seems to ripen wonderfully under his watchful and talented eye. Although the “regular” 2009 Cabernet is sold out, another version from a different vineyard is still available. This incredible wine – which yielded 250 cases – is named in part after the hail-storm that was thought to have devastated the grapes shortly before harvest. In fact, the damaged grapes dried out in the hot sun instead of rotting, and The Wrath was born. Icon Wines was able to taste barrel samples last year, and I tasted it both this summer and more recently at the Colour VQA Fall Release. My first impressions of the wine were amazement that it is only two years old – the incredibly smooth texture comes across as a well-aged wine with several years under its belt, not a brand new release! At $65 per bottle The Wrath won’t fly out the door as fast as some of Bill’s other wines, but don’t expect it to last too long, this unique wine is a collectable treasure.

Fairview Cellars Tasting Room

Although varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from Fairview Cellars can be sublime, Bill’s grapes shine as well when he uses Cab in blends. In the Spring Two Hoots is usually released, his entry-level Cab-Merlot blend, while the Fall release sees the arrival of Madcap Red, another under-$30 bottle that favours Merlot in an approachable blend for current consumption. Even better, with Merlot filling out the Madcap Red there is still plenty of Cabernet Sauvignon for use in another exciting blend called Bucket o’ Blood. Named after a nearby historical saloon, this wine is where Bill uses his single row of Syrah to produce a  Cab-Syrah blend that shows off the spicy pepper characteristics of one of my favourite grapes.

The final blend to be released this Fall is one of the highpoints of Fairview Cellars’ portfolio, the delightfully-named flagship wine The Bear. This complex blend typically includes all five traditional Bordeaux grapes, with Cabernet Sauvignon leading the way. Luckily Bill usually produces a few hundred cases, and now that Fairview Cellars has joined the BC Wine Institute you can find it in VQA stores in addition to private wine stores. Icon Wines has provided detailed and very positive reviews of both the 2007 and 2008 Bears over the past year, but feels that the 400 case-lot 2009 version is even better: “the best Bear since 2005.” Despite praise from many corners and restaurant wine list appearances throughout Vancouver Bill sells The Bear for a very reasonable $35, making collecting and cellaring a very viable and rewarding proposition. In fact, it is one of the few signature BC red blends that I collect without question, and I now hold a cherished 2006-2009 vertical. Considering there is still some 2008 in stores you could be halfway there in no time should you start collecting soon – you won’t be disappointed!