Friday 14 December 2012

December Acquisitions: Van Westen & Burrowing Owl

The week after adding new releases from Blasted Church and Painted Rock to my collection I found myself with the opportunity to acquire some more hard-to-come-by wines that I couldn’t pass up. Fresh off a spectacular Top Ten ranking at the Canadian Wine Awards, Van Westen Vineyards was ready to release some of Rob Van Westen’s award-winning wines. Contributing to Van Westen’s eighth-place finish in the Awards’ Winery Performance Report were five medal winners from amongst the six wines submitted, including two gold medals! Knowing that every wine Rob makes can easily be considered “small lot” I ordered a few bottles before they all disappear!

Van Westen Wines

The two gold medal winners were just released at the beginning of December, and include a 2011 Viognier limited to just 102 cases, of which I managed to get a couple bottles. Anthony Gismondi described it as vibrant, finessed, and balanced, albeit “perhaps a bit too floral…” He did suggest it should improve in bottle over the next year, so I’m not in too much of a hurry to crack mine open just yet. The other gold medal was awarded to the 2009 “Voluptuous”, a blend of two thirds Merlot and one third Cabernet Franc, of which only 204 cases were produced. Having tasted previous vintages of Voluptuous I’m fairly confident this a wine that should be aged for at least a couple more years to allow the tannins to soften; Gismondi suggests the same thing in his glowing 91-point review.

The other two Van Westen reds I picked up were released earlier this fall, and include another red blend, this one named simply “V”, to recognize the five grape varieties included: 68% Merlot, 25% Cab Franc, 5.6% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon, and a hint of 0.4% Petit Verdot. I’m told this one will be slightly more approachable at present, but even still Gismondi has suggested “several years to round out” could be beneficial. A slightly higher production quantity of 301 cases are listed for V, but given the drastically increased press the Canadian Wine Awards have brought don’t expect it to last for very long!

The final red wine is the aggressively-named “Vulture” varietal Cabernet Franc, of which a measly 42 cases were released September first! Somehow Rob continues to come up with witty names for his wines that retain the V nomenclature! Vulture is a particularly interesting wine, which we got the chance to enjoy at the BC Wine Appreciation Society Annual Dinner earlier this year. The wine was produced without the addition of sulfites as preservatives; no doubt a nerve-wracking procedure considering it spent 19 long months in barrel. When I tasted it in May I was impressed at the power, and look forward to holding this bottle in my cellar for another couple of years to see how it develops. In fact, Gismondi has suggested 2-3 years to maturity in order to allow it to “be the red wine it can be.

The last bottle I acquired was one for which I’m already kicking myself for not obtaining more, ealier: 2010 “Vice” Viognier icewine. Despite only one precious bottle I consider myself lucky to have obtained what sounds like one of the last ones for sale; it is now sold out after the 89 cases produced spent more than a year on the market. In between the wine’s release in September 2011 and selling the last bottle, Rob treated the BCWAS members to this sumptuous treat with dessert at our dinner in May – it was positively delicious. Reviewing it last year Gismondi was more than pleased to try Viognier icewine for the first time, and felt it to be a fairly priced, well balanced and complex iteration. Rob entered the wine into this year’s Canadian Wine Awards, where it took home a silver medal.

Burrowing Owl New Releases

December also saw new releases from a much larger and more established winery, in the form of three 2010 reds and Chardonnay from Black Sage Bench icon Burrowing Owl. Van Westen and Burrowing Owl couldn’t be more different in their size and scope, but both ultimately focus on producing excellent wine for their many fans. Since Burrowing Owl offers shipping in most even-numbered configurations (2, 4, 6, or 12-bottle boxes) I was able to easily order one of each new release, to add to some growing vertical collections I’m developing.

Burrowing Owl’s fully oaked (2010) Chardonnay is not one I have had much experience with, but it sounds like a wine for occasional enjoyment when you’re seeking a rich flavour profile. Malolactic barrel fermentation in new and one-year-old primarily French oak was followed by nine month aging and lees stirring to provide for toasty, buttery, nutty characteristics overtop melons and apples. John Schreiner gave it a try recently and felt it deserving of a place under his Christmas tree.

The three newly released reds likely won’t remain available online for long, although they should remain on the shelves in the wine shop itself for a least a few months. The winery has yet to produce complete wine profile sheets for the new releases, so the online tasting notes remain fairly limited in detail. I’m particularly excited to get a bottle of the third vintage of “Athene”, the winery’s new Cabernet-Syrah blend. The first release from 2008 sold out very quickly, with much of it snapped up by restaurants, but I did manage to get a bottle of last year’s 2009 vintage. The 2009 took home a silver medal from the Canadian Wine Awards, and gold at this Fall’s BC Wine Awards.

Also newly released are Burrowing Owl’s 2010 Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, both of which I’ve added to what are now four year verticals of these wines. The winery suggests “an intense nose of blackberries and ripe cherries” on the Cabernet Franc, leading into a palate favouring red fruit and possessing well-integrated tannins. The Cabernet Sauvignon is said to express darker fruit and a complex, well structured palate “built to a last a decade or more.” With these wines being brand new, I haven’t yet heard from anyone who has sampled them, but I do have high hopes, despite the trying vintage conditions in 2010.

All these new wines have made great contributions to my cellar. With the holiday season just around the corner I most certainly need to start making room for them and others by drinking and sharing some of the older bottles – shouldn’t be a problem!

Monday 10 December 2012

Bottleneck Drive visits BCWAS

Last week the BC Wine Appreciation Society held a tasting to sample the Summerland-area wines of “Bottleneck Drive”. The dozen wineries of this region on the western shores of Okanagan Lake recently banded together to help promote their unique area in the greater BC winery industry. The Society was very grateful to have received samples of several lesser-known wines from which to sample, so we could all get to know these hard-working wineries a little bit better.

On arrival everyone was treated to two different sparkling wines to warm up our palates. Sips of Sumac Ridge’s “Tribute” revealed generous aromas apples and fresh bread, and flavours of orchard fruit amongst plenty of mousse. The wine is a traditional method sparkling Chardonnay released in 2011 to commemorate the winery’s thirtieth anniversary.

Sumac Ridge & Bella

A significantly different sparkler came in the form of Bella 2011 Sparkling Gamay Noir, via Okanagan Crush Pad. OCP’s winemaker Michael Bartier has assisted Jay Drysdale and his wife in producing their two “Bella” sparkling wines (named in honour of a very special bulldog); the other wine being Chardonnay. Once again a pleasant mousse finish kept us refreshed following clean strawberry rhubarb flavours.

From Sleeping Giant we had the opportunity to taste their Black Currant Dessert Wine, a very bright and fruity honest representation that pulled no punches in puckering up lips with its tartness. Before the sparklers disappeared a number of guests discovered the joy of Black Currant cocktails when mixing with Tribute or Bella.

Some charming aromatic white wines were present as well, including Silkscarf’s 2011 Viognier, a mild and delicate take on the grape. While perhaps not as “intensely aromatic” as expected, it showed excellent balance and was a very easy sipper. The Viognier led into an additional white from Sonoran Estate, who provided their aromatic 2010 Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc blend. The blend showed lower acidity than the other whites thus far, but a very enjoyable fruit salad bouquet.

Sleeping Giant & Silkscarf

Two impressive Gewurztraminers from Thornhaven and Heaven’s Gate were next up, and were thoroughly enjoyed by fans of the variety. Both 2011 wines showed very characteristic profiles, with the Thornhaven in excellent balance in particular. Heaven’s Gate’s iteration was the sole gold medal winner in the category at the recent 2012 Canadian Wine Awards, and showed off a rich lychee nose and a slightly sweeter palate with hints of yeast, vanilla, and sage.

Before moving on to the red wines guests were sure to try out the 2010 Bartier-Scholefield Rosé produced at Okanagan Crush Pad. This Gamay Noir from Oliver showed a candy-apple nose that led into a dry palate with hints of earth and wet pavement – easily and readily enjoyable.

Sonoran & Bartier-Scholefield

Two Pinot Noirs were on offer, from Thornhaven and Haywire Winery, another Okanagan Crush Pad operation. Both showed the potential of Pinot Noir from the Okanagan Lake region, with plenty of juicy cranberry characteristics that got many guests thinking of traditional holiday meals no doubt!

Bonitas Winery sent along a bottle each of their Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Merlot, although I myself didn’t get a chance to try them. The reviews from other guests were mixed, favouring the reds, but this young winery still has plenty of time to find its feet in the years to come.

For those seeking somewhat obscure flavours we got the chance to try the uncommon hybrid Léon Millot grape from new player Saxon Estate Winery. Saxon’s 2011 Millot was fresh and fruity due to minimal oak influence, with hints of cocoa on the finish. This brand new winery was formerly Hollywood & Vine under previous owners before being sold and rebranded quite recently, as detailed by John Schreiner several weeks ago.

Considering the terroir it makes sense that we’d expect fewer richer red wines. However, Dirty Laundry Vineyards sent their Syrah, a very youthful bottle from the 2011 vintage. Dirty Laundry is perhaps better known for their well-crafted Gewurztraminer and other white wines. Although there’s no reason any of the Bottleneck Drive wineries could not own or lease vineyards in the southern Okanagan from which to produce big reds, estate fruit from the region seems to yield more successful lighter reds and whites.

Everyone certainly enjoyed learning more about the wineries and wines of this unique region, and I’m sure all are looking forward to visiting Summerland in person in the future!

Wednesday 5 December 2012

December Acquisitions: Blasted Church & Painted Rock

Despite the fact that many weeks have passed since the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival and the traditional release dates of most wines, December always brings a handful of surprise new releases. Some wineries capitalize on the holiday shopping season to show off special gift packs, with either last chance opportunities for sold out wines, or special previews of upcoming new releases: in the case of Blasted Church, they did both! This winery always puts together excellent gift packs over the holidays, and this year they prepared the “Answered Prayers” four-pack of Petit Verdot and Meritage. The well-packed box recently arrived at my door thanks to a generous free-shipping promotion from the winery.

The Blasted Church “Holy Moly” varietal Petit Verdot is an exceedingly rare wine, with only 50 cases having been made in the 2009 vintage, preceded by only 57 cases of the inaugural 2008 vintage. The 2008 wine was praised by John Schreiner as possessing a 92-point “spectacular perfumed aroma” and “a dense, satisfying texture and a long finish.” The hot 2009 season should have facilitated maturity of this late-ripening variety, although the plummeting temperatures that began October ninth that year likely put somewhat of a damper on things. The winery has not specified their precise harvest dates, but they point out the Petit Verdot spent a full 24 months in (mostly) new French oak before bottling.

Despite having visited the winery in early June, I foolishly neglected to buy a bottle of Holy Moly, in the hopes I could kill two birds with one stone and include a bottle in an online order following the August release of the winery’s reserve Meritage. Not surprisingly 50 cases did not last that long, and I thought I had missed the boat. I was very pleasantly surprised when I found out the Answered Prayers pack contained not only the sold-out 2009 Petit Verdot, but a pre-release of the 2010 vintage (of which 100 cases were produced). I’m pleased to now have a three-year vertical of this interesting rarity, and look forward to enjoying the wines after they spend some time in the cellar.

The aforementioned Meritage is known as “Nothing Sacred” by the winery, and was the winery’s first Bordeaux blend starting with the 2007 vintage. Blasted Church’s former winemaker Richard Kanazawa oversaw production of 217 cases of that first five-grape blend, which tough critic Anthony Gismondi complimented for its round texture and “reasonably soft tannins.” Since 2007, the winery has maintained production of approximately 200 cases per year. With the arrival of the Answered Prayers pack I now have a four-year vertical from 2007 to 2010 vintages. Mirroring the Petit Verdot offering, the pack contained the newly-released 2009 vintage and a pre-release bottle of the 2010 vintage, which isn’t likely to see full release until summer 2013!

Blasted Church Revered Series

Another selection of wines to arrive this week was my semi-annual shipment from the Painted Rock Wine Club, this one containing all the brand new and upcoming 2010 reds, plus the delicious 2011 Chardonnay for good measure. Having joined the club prior to the recent website revision and club overhaul I’m very lucky to be “grandfathered” in to a custom selection of twelve bottles per year. Every July and December I typically get a six-pack of all four Painted Rock reds, and a couple of bottles of Chardonnay. This month I received the recently released 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2010 Syrah, plus the 2010 Merlot and Red Icon, which won’t be released publicly until several additional months of bottle age have accrued.

The Cabernet Sauvignon will go straight into the cellar; it has “ample potential to age” according to the winery. It seems likely that 18 months in 80% new French oak is just the beginning for this wine. John Schreiner suggests the wine has 5-10 “even better years” ahead of it – an impressive prediction given how well he feels it’s drinking now, with appealing aromas and flavours of black currant, plum, cherry, and chocolate. With only 300 cases produced, this wine is in high demand from private stores and restaurants, so direct from the winery is the only place one can expect to find it priced at only $40. There simply isn’t enough available for it to join the other Painted Rock reds at winery prices on VQA Store shelves.

Painted Rock’s newly released 2010 Syrah follows a Lt. Governor’s Award for the 2009 Syrah earlier this year, not to mention a Gold medal at the 2012 Canadian Wine Awards. This wine saw 18 months in barrel as well, split 60/40 between new French and American oak. The winery suggests it presents in a Northern Rhone style, with a juicy, spicy profile rich in black pepper and dark fruit. Reviewing the Syrah at the same time as the Cabernet Sauvignon, John Schreiner felt it was deserving of 93 points, considering the disciplined elegance and long finish.

The Merlot and Red Icon are still settling down and aging in bottle at the winery before proprietor John Skinner releases them more broadly. Wine club members enjoyed advance access, but I certainly won’t be tempted to open my bottles prematurely; there’s plenty of time to let these gems come into their own. The Merlot aged for 18 months in 80% new French oak before bottling and is described by the winery as “concentrated, yet subtly perfumed” with a “dense and unctuous” palate containing silky tannin. Given the supreme pleasure I took from a bottle of 2009 Merlot recently I feel very optimistic about the 2010 (as well as the remaining bottles of 2009 I’m guarding).

Painted Rock New Releases

The Red Icon represents Painted Rock’s icon wine, quite literally, and the upcoming 2010 follows a (second) Lt. Governor’s Award for the 2009 vintage. For 2010, John Skinner and his winemaking consultants have returned to a more familiar Bordeaux style blend without the 1% Syrah that was added in 2009. However, as is the practice with Red Icon, the blend is far from traditional, being led for the second time by Cabernet Franc (accounting for a huge 39% of the blend). A relatively paltry 11% Cabernet Sauvignon is dominated by 18% Petit Verdot and 21% Merlot, with Malbec returning after a year’s absence to comprise 11% of the blend. Like the Merlot, the Red Icon spent 18 months in 80% new French oak. This should once again prove to be a very exciting and intriguing wine, with continued refinement from more mature vines and more detailed vineyard knowledge.

In addition to the bevy of red wines I also received two bottles of 2011 Chardonnay, which I have already thoroughly enjoyed on a number of occasions this year. The elegance and complexity of this wine comes about in part due to three distinct micro-harvests that saw the fruit fermented and aged in separate lots and then blended several months later. Liam Carrier of Icon Wines was so impressed he named Painted Rock’s Chardonnay as his 2012 Icon Wine of Year, the first white wine to achieve the accolade. I’m certainly pleased to have another two bottles to enjoy over the holidays!

The original Painted Rock Tasting Room

At the 2012 Canadian Wine Awards Painted Rock was once again named third-best winery in Canada, nipping at the heels of second-place finisher Nk’Mip Cellars. The Awards write-up mentions John’s ambitious plans for extensive soil-mapping this year, and he has also taken to Twitter and Facebook to share his excitement about plans for a new tasting room on the property by the summer. Considering the current charmingly-small tasting room is basically a (nicely) renovated shed it shouldn’t really be considered a new room, as there isn’t much to replace, per say. For the past several years John has funnelled all his efforts (and profits) directly into the vineyard and winery, and it shows in the wines’ spectacular accolades and commercial success. His uncompromising approach is what makes Painted Rock one of the very few wineries from which I would happily purchase anything on offer with full confidence. I’m already looking forward to my next wine club shipment!

Monday 26 November 2012

November Wine Club: Magnificent Reunion

Ever since our group lost one of the three founding couples in July – when they moved Kentucky to soak themselves in Bourbon – we haven’t met for our monthly wine club. Coincidentally, everyone who remained in Vancouver seemed to have taken on increasingly busy work and home lives in the meantime. As a result, the four of us haven’t had a chance to formally get together and decide on the club’s future. In all honesty there was probably a little bit of denial involved: if we don’t replace them then they aren’t really gone. Fortunately for us, our long-lost friends and their newly walking one-year-old came up here to visit last week, and we leapt at the chance for a club reunion dinner! This being a very special occasion – with multiple birthdays and other belated celebrations for which to account – it clearly demanded that we pull out all the stops and crack open some extra special bottles of BC wine.

Impressive Magnums

Last Christmas the six of us jointly purchased a magnum of Painted Rock 2007 Red Icon (the first vintage of this marvellous wine), with the goal being to hold it until a worthy occasion in the coming future. Having somehow managed to avoid breaching the cork this summer, a reunion seemed like the ideal occasion to finally share our investment. The decision was thus made to embark on a magnum dinner! Having upped the ante bottle-wise it seemed only reasonable to  add some additional people to the mix as well, and we invited another couple to join us and bring a mystery fourth course and wine pairing.

Giant Ravioli

Our Kentuckian chefs jumped at the chance to whip up the always popular appetizer course, where creativity gets the chance to shine particularly brightly. Before moving away, they’d left behind in my care a magnum of legendary Blue Mountain 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir purchased during our visit to the winery in June – the perfect bottle for our newly themed dinner. The wine inspired very impressive giant mushroom ravioli with sage brown butter sauce and shaved gruyere. Already excited to dig in we soon discovered hiding inside each ravioli a charming quail egg surprise; the rich liquid yolk served to further amplify the delicious flavours of ricotta and mixed wild mushrooms. The wine proved a superb pairing, with aromas of cranberries and mushrooms, and bright berry flavours carried by a surprisingly smooth texture given the relative youthfulness of the bottle.

With eight thirsty diners at the table it didn’t take long to empty the hefty magnum. While our hosts worked on getting the entrée course in the oven, they provided a highly welcome intermission bottle of Laughing Stock 2007 Blind Trust Red. The Naramata winery produces a different version of this red blend every year, and keeps the precise components hidden under the capsule for consumers to reveal when desired. The Blind Trust is generally intended for earlier consumption than the winery’s larger icon blend “Portfolio” so it came as no surprise that the five-year-old wine had taken on some savoury characteristics over time. Although it was likely more fruit forward a couple of years ago, we enjoyed the smokiness and hints of soy sauce, while one guest surmised a generous proportion of Cabernet Franc was included based on some green pepper flavours. Spoiler Alert: the blend was ultimately revealed as containing approximately 50% Merlot and a split of Cabernets, both Sauvignon and Franc, for the remainder.

Lentil Shepherd's Pie

After having let it breathe happily in the decanter for a while, the time finally came to enjoy the Painted Rock Red Icon with our beautiful entrées of individual Lentil Shepherd’s Pie. We were told this particular recipe came from John Bishop’s cookbook “Fresh”, but the braised kale alongside it was all original, with a touch of brandy and delicious raspberry-Merlot black pepper jam. With the shepherd’s pies steaming fresh from the oven, we spent some time sipping at the Red Icon and waxing poetic about this Lieutenant Governor’s Award-winning wine (2007 and 2009 in fact). Interestingly enough, the 2007 Red Icon is led by 33% Cabernet Franc in the blend, followed next by 20% Petit Verdot, and then on to 16% Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot, and finally 15% Malbec. Proprietor John Skinner and his winemaking consultants have been fully willing to dramatically change the blend every year since 2007, even to the point of adding or removing entire varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah – all in the name of producing the best wine possible.

The non-traditional gamble for the blend in 2007 was clearly successful. After more than three years in bottle following 18 months in French oak, this first vintage of Red Icon was sublimely tasty, delightfully silky, and certainly seemed at its peak. However, it could likely continue to age and improve as time goes by; luckily I have another 750ml bottle to try next year with which to investigate further. The savoury, smoky aromas with hints of tea and olives led into deep, dark flavours of blackberries, cassis, and licorice – we thanked our lucky stars we had a full size magnum to share, otherwise things could have gotten ugly. Still it had to come to an end eventually, and we finished our glasses with wistful expressions while mopping up creamy potatoes and earthy lentils amid compliments to the Chef.

Mascarpone Crepes

The mystery course from our charming guests came next, in the form of a pre-dessert (or perhaps just a first dessert) of freshly made rolled crêpes. Two bottles of Kettle Valley 2011 Pinot Gris served as a magnum of sorts, which suited us just fine. Like a very small handful of other Okanagan wineries (e.g., Nichol Vineyard), Kettle Valley clearly leaves their Pinot Gris to soak on the skins for longer than usual, hence the stunning pink colour. The delicate cotton candy flavours and steely minerals in the wine proved to be a superb foil for the creamy crêpes, stuffed with mascarpone, sour cream, lemon zest, and vanilla sugar. The wine finished with a clean grapefruit flavour, leaving us refreshed and ready for our second dessert!

Perfect Black Forest Cake

I was certainly looking forward to finally revealing my efforts – courtesy of an inspired idea from my wife – at producing an entirely homemade, traditional Black Forest Cake. It seemed like an ideal pairing for our cherished bottle of Blasted Church Amen Port-de-Merlot, purchased way back in 2009 during a winery visit. Since most dessert wines come in 375mL bottles, we reasoned that a 750mL bottles like ours should count as a magnum, and hence continue the theme. The particular Amen we were about to consume came from the 2006 and 2007 vintages, but newer releases do incorporate more vintages using a Solera style. Going forward the wine is anticipated to possess additional complexity and richness as the average age increases.

As the recipe details, the cake was carefully assembled from three layers of chocolate génoise and a full litre of whipping cream, plus canned sour cherries (not Maraschino cherries). It was a true labour of love that consumed my afternoon. Tasting it and hearing everyone’s enjoyment – and relief that it wasn’t sickly sweet – made it all worthwhile though. Alongside the relatively subtle cake the Amen was a good match, as it was surprisingly dry and restrained, not the “Porty” flavour profile we were expecting given the name and image. The wine’s flavour profile, dominated by cocoa, tied the whole course together, and left us enjoying a wonderful and less cloying conclusion to the meal than may have been feared by some given the title of the dessert!

Signing the Bottle

By the end of the meal we were all contentedly stuffed, and revelling in memories of so many good times gone by. We all signed the Red Icon bottle for perpetuity, and vowed this would not be our last adventure together. It’s possible that next time we’ll be dining in Kentucky, so I may need to find out how large a bottle is allowed through customs!

Friday 16 November 2012

Vigorous New Reds from SpierHead

SpierHead Winery in south-east Kelowna has been carefully and methodically entering the market since last summer, with a focused portfolio of reds and whites specially tailored to the local terroir. Chardonnay and a particularly good Riesling cover the white domain, while the winery’s first vintage of (great value) Pinot Noir – from estate grapes – reportedly won a prestigious gold medal at the 2012 Canadian Wine Awards. The winery also scored a major coup at the Okanagan Wine Festival this fall when it was named best new winery at the BC Wine Awards (following in the footsteps of respected peers Painted Rock, Cassini Cellars, and then Volcanic Hills last year).

Although the winery opened with a series of varietal red wines, they are currently focused on just two red blends: the flagship blend “Vanguard” has been with the winery since day one, while the the newer entry-level “Pursuit” is the second level wine. Compared to some flagship reds however, both wines are reasonably priced, with even the Vanguard coming in at only $30. I recently received a sample of each of the new 2010 vintages of these reds, and shared them with a few friends to get a wider opinion.

SpierHead Red Wines

Pursuit ($22) is the more immediately approachable wine, comprised of a majority of Merlot, along with 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Cabernet Franc. Smartly, the winery has opted to source Black Sage Road fruit from the southern Okanagan for their big reds, realizing the Kelowna terroir is much better suited to lighter Pinot Noir and white varieties. The wine was barrel aged for 18 months in 44% new French oak, and only 375 cases were produced for this first release.

The 2010 growing season was late starting, and cooler than average, especially compared to the blazing 2009 heat, so one doesn’t expect to find big ripe reds, but SpierHead has worked well with what nature provided. The Pursuit showed some green aromas as well as fiery notes, but on the palate we tasted plenty of juicy berries thanks to bright acidity: blueberries and red currants were suggested, and hints of licorice emerged when paired with food. By the next day more chocolate notes were apparent when we sampled what remained in the bottle after sealing it overnight. I would be remiss if I didn’t publish the poetic ode to Pursuit composed on the spot – by a published writer with a doctorate in English Literature no less:

Warm wool mittens

By the fire

Sink in

The Vanguard retains the tart acidity of the Pursuit and adds even more tannins thanks to nearly equal proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot along with 4% Cabernet Franc. Although the residual sugar remains nearly identical to that of the Pursuit (2.8 g/L), it tastes drier, with darker fruit flavours and a profile that reminded some of raspberry balsamic vinaigrette. Hints of molasses, cinnamon, and anise were mentioned as well, although in general it is the more savoury of the two reds. The wine also saw 18 months in French oak, of which a larger percentage (55%) was new oak.

Both of these wines are still quite young and definitely demand food pairings at present to tame their acidity and tannins, but those features also bode well for the long haul. The wines should do well in the cellar for a while as they mature, giving time for the Vanguard in particular to more fairly compete with other 2010 flagship blends, of which few have yet to be released (many competitors are still in the midst of their 2008 and 2009 releases). Combined, the two reds yield only 640 cases, showing that SpierHead is once again proceeding intelligently and patiently as their vineyards, technique, and brand mature. Having yet to visit many of the Kelowna-area wineries I look forward to seeing what consultant Tom Di Bello called “the most meticulous vineyard I had ever seen” in person in the near future, plus enjoying what I’m sure will be even more well-crafted wines.

Monday 29 October 2012

Recent Acquisitions: October 2012

I picked up a lot of wine during my trip through the Okanagan last month, before, during, and after the BCWAS Bus Tour, but there’s always room for a little bit more. Even though I did most of my fall shopping directly at the wineries, a few bottles escaped me, or just fell into my lap recently. There are several that are definitely worth mentioning.

October 2012 Acquisitions

First are those I missed last month, including Hester Creek’s 2009 “The Judge” icon red blend, which was scheduled for release only days after my visit there. Certain wines, while present at the winery, can’t be sold until achieving VQA approval, despite the protestations of fans! Fortunately some friends of mine were passing right by the winery on their way to Penticton over Thanksgiving weekend, and were kind enough to stop in and snag me a bottle for my growing vertical (the wine is only in its third vintage). The Judge is a fairly small lot wine: only 285 cases were produced of the 2008 vintage, and 220 of the first release from 2007. Local wine writer John Schreiner has been a consistent fan of this big wine, deeming the first release to be a 92-point wine, and last year’s a solid 94 points!

I mentioned visiting one of my favourite wineries, Church & State, the day after the BCWAS Bus Tour, on the off chance some new releases might be available for purchase. Unfortunately I had no luck, and so had to console myself by making friends with a very photogenic Praying Mantis. However, in the weeks since then, winery owner Kim Pullen stopped by some Metro Vancouver VQA stores for the tasting circuit, bringing with him the brand new 2010 Coyote Bowl Syrah. I stopped by Richmond’s Sip Wines to say hello to Kim, and pick up a bottle of this now legendary wine. Last year the 2009 Coyote Bowl Syrah was named top red wine in Canada at the Canadian Wine Awards, and the winery has already let it slip that the 2010 vintage has (what is likely) a prominent gold medal at this year’s CWAs. The 2012 top red wine has yet to the be announced, but a repeat winner is not out of the picture given the fully blind, unbiased nature of the judging.

A third wine I had sought during my trip but for which I had been stymied is the Di Bello Wines 2010 Syrah. On my way down to Osoyoos from lunch at Mission Hill I had diverted to custom crush facility Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland, Di Bello’s new home as of the 2012 vintage. Although the 2010 wines were not produced at OCP, they are reported to be carried in the wine shop, so it seemed to be a perfect opportunity to acquire a partner for my Di Bello 2010 Merlot. Unfortunately OCP was temporarily closed the very afternoon I arrived – detailed on the hand-written sign taped to the shut gate I encountered. No hard feelings however; it is a small, working winery, and can’t always accommodate visitors. Luckily some friends from BCWAS were scheduled to meet up with Tom and Tari Di Bello later that week, and were able to bring home a bottle of Syrah for my collection.

At the end of September, after having left the Okanagan for likely the final time this year, I carefully followed the results of the BC Wine Awards, announced during the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival. The 2012 award winner’s list included announcement of the top sparkling, white, red, and dessert wines: Road 13’s 2009 Sparkling Chenin shone – no surprise – and newly revived Lang Vineyards won best white for their 2008 Reserve Riesling. The best red wine was deemed to be Quinta Ferreira’s 2009 Syrah, sequel to the Lt. Governor’s Award-winning 2008 vintage. Fortunately this 465-case wine is – or at least was – in fairly wide release at VQA stores, so I picked up a bottle to see how it fares in a couple of years. I also brought home from my visit to Sip Wines a bottle of See Ya Later’s newly released 2011 “Hunny” Late Harvest Riesling, named Best Dessert Wine. It never hurts to have a few bottles of quality dessert wine in the cellar for special occasions and/or gift-giving, and Hunny’s reasonable price of $25 is certainly an attractive alternative to ice wine.

The BC Wine Awards also shone light on a new development at Sumac Ridge: the winery has spun off the top tier Black Sage Vineyard wines into their own label, taking with them the Pipe fortified wine. (The Steller’s Jay Sparkling wine is reportedly getting the same treatment.) The Awards bestowed a Gold medal upon the 2010 Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Franc, and there being plenty of room so far in the 2010 section of my collection I felt it couldn’t hurt to add one of these bottles. I haven’t  focused much attention on Sumac’s wines in quite a while; the tendency for the high quality Black Sage varietal reds (Merlot, Cabernet France, Cabernet Sauvignon) to get forgotten amongst the winery’s many other wines and tiers is precisely the reason the label was spun off. Hopefully the gamble succeeds without causing unintended confusion amongst fans and consumers.

A couple other curiosities I picked up this month include a wine I thought I’d never see in person. When visiting Naramata’s Kettle Valley Winery in June I asked about the 2008 Hayman Vineyard Pinot Noir, and received only a bemused chuckle in return. This ultra-small lot, single vineyard wine was long since sold out, there having been only 88 cases produced, with grapes from the original estate vineyards established in 1988. It’s a wine that owner and winemaker Bob Ferguson lists in his top three personal favourites. Sadly I’m told there will not be a 2009 Hayman Pinot Noir due to a tank mix-up that rendered a single vineyard bottling impossible; no doubt some very good blended Pinot Noir will still come out of the 2009 vintage however. I found what must be one of the last few bottles still on store shelves at Kitsilano Wine Cellar, and immediately snatched it up. I’ve been supremely impressed by this newly expanded store’s BC selection, with their focus on small lots and non-VQA wines yielding significant dividends for collectors.

My final acquisition of the month was a particular rarity – a bottle of 2010 Meritage from Vindication Cellars. Vindication is the side project of Church & State’s very talented winemaker Jeff Del Nin, one in which he can try out techniques and wine styles he doesn’t normally use in his “day job”. Jeff recently released a couple hundred cases each of Rosé and Meritage, primarily sold directly through him. Having tried the excellent 2009 Meritage – back when Jeff’s project was called “Blind Tiger” – I had to get at least one bottle of this new release, made from Similkameen Valley Merlot (60%), Cabernet Franc (30%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). Those same friends who’d picked up my Di Bello Syrah also allowed me to piggyback on their order with Jeff, and I already regret not acquiring more given the terrific price. However, the five cases of wine – and buoyant credit card bill – I’d brought back from the BCWAS Bus Tour had served to somewhat temper my impulses; only temporary I’m sure.


Friday 19 October 2012

Big Reds from LaStella & Le Vieux Pin

Southern Okanagan sister wineries LaStella & Le Vieux Pin released some exclusive premium red wines from the 2009 vintage this month. Earlier this week I got the chance to taste these wines – plus a preview of next Spring’s whites – and reflect on the exacting practices of these two wineries. It would come as no surprise that the tasting was accompanied by more news of dominance in the field by both wineries.

At the wineries’ head office in Vancouver, General Manager Rasoul Salehi had prepared a comparative tasting of Viognier-based whites to provide perspective on the Le Vieux Pin 2011 “Ava” blend to be released next spring. The last few bottles of the delicious 2010 Ava – a blend of Viogner, Roussanne, and Marsanne – were recently sold out, so fans will have a long wait until next spring if they haven’t stocked up. For comparison several local and international wines were present, including varietal Viogniers from Black Hills and Laughing Stock, plus blends from Terravista and Moon Curser. Terravista’s 2011 “Figaro” is a Viognier-Roussanne blend, while Moon Curser’s 2010 “Afraid of the Dark” contained nearly equal proportions of Viognier and Roussanne, with one fifth Marsanne as well. Ava is a similar blend of all three grape varieties, although the proportion of Viognier will decrease for 2011, with both Roussanne and Marsanne taking on a larger role compared to 2010 (during which they contributed 2% and 8% respectively). I’ve enjoyed the 2010 Ava immensely this year, but upon tasting 2011 I was even more impressed: the very bright fruit on display will usher in the spring marvellously in 2013.

Enotecca Flagship Wines

When it came time to have a closer look at the red wines on display there was particular excitement about an entirely new wine from Le Vieux Pin. The 2009 “Retouche” is a Cabernet-Syrah blend with a deceptively simple 70/30 ratio. Rasoul explained that it took over 70 blending trials to achieve the perfect oak balance and proper proportion of each variety so that the Syrah “sits invisibly behind the Cabernet, filling in the gaps.” I loved the bright acidity and fruit focus, and even detected just a hint of rubber on the nose to keep things interesting. Seeing as the “Hermitaging” practice of blending Rhone reds into Bordeaux was pioneered in France it should come as no surprise that reviewers are finding the Retouche to show a number of Old World characteristics. In general the consensus seems to be that a couple more years in the cellar would be of benefit for this still “tightly wound” wine.

From LaStella come two new varietal wines showing the best of the best from this Osoyoos winery. The flagship wine at LaStella is the Maestoso Merlot, a consistently “massive wine” that Rasoul has remarked in the past continues to vex the winery, as it keep aging almost unchanged! The new 2009 vintage (the fourth release so far) is unsurprisingly very ripe, with lots of dark fruit, and hints of olive that I frequently enjoy in LaStella’s Merlot. It is warm and comforting, and the ripe tannins and lively acidity suggest a very long life, yet remain sufficiently delicate to sample with pleasure in the present. The wine clocks in at 15.2% alcohol; an additional factor contributing to yet another nearly invincible Maestoso. Even given the generous 2009 vintage only 6 barrels (148 cases) were produced, which should come as no surprise when the grapes are cropped to 1 ton per acre.

So far we’ve been lucky to see Maestoso from every year since production began in 2006, but LaStella also produces a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon – on a less frequent basis – called “La Sophia”. The hot 2009 season provided for particularly good conditions to ripen Cabernet, but even so only 48 cases of La Sophia were eventually put together. Reviewing the wine for Wine Access magazine earlier this year David Lawrason declared this beauty to be “one of the greatest Cabernets ever made in Canada.” Having enjoyed the almost Porty flavours of this gorgeous wine I can definitely see where he was coming from. The eucalyptus nose leads into a deep and dark palate that Liam Carrier described perfectly as “complex and captivating…” Naturally the rarity of this wine will demand that one must act fast to obtain some, with priority going to members of LaStella’s Wine Society, “Piccolo” Wine Club, and mailing list.

Not available at the most recent tasting, but recently released nonetheless is Le Vieux Pin’s 2009 Equinoxe (Reserve) Syrah. I tasted both the 2009 and 2008 vintages at a tasting last month, and was quite pleased with the elegant 2009 vintage in particular, noting the enjoyable perfumed contribution of the few percentage points of Viognier co-ferment. The 160 cases produced are going out the door very quickly now that the wine placed first in the recent “Judgement of Montreal” Syrah tasting. The Equinoxe Syrah bested a number of international benchmarks in a blind tasting that Le Vieux Pin didn’t even know they’d entered! (Rasoul explained that because the winery doesn’t enter competitions their Quebec distributor entered the wine independently.) Although the winery’s “regular” Syrah is exceptional in its own right, I couldn’t resist picking up one bottle of the Equinoxe version to see how it fares in a couple of years!

Sunday 30 September 2012

BCWAS Bus Tour 2012: Journey’s End

Having made the decision to stay in Osoyoos Sunday night after the conclusion of the Bus Tour, I was able to take my time Monday making my way back to Vancouver. I took the more northerly Coquihalla route on the way to the Okanagan, so it made sense to take the southern route through the Similkameen Valley on the trip home, thus ensuring I could visit as many of my favourite wineries as possible along the way. First I had some unfinished business in the Okanagan though, as there were more than a few wineries to which we simply couldn’t make it during our bus tour. In the back of my generously sized rental SUV I already had eight cases of wine – three of my own and five from other BCWAS members who were grateful for some borrowed trunk space; fortunately there was room for a little bit more!

Tinhorn Creek Barrel Cellar

My first stop of the day was at Tinhorn Creek, where I had confirmed in advance I could pick up my Fall Crush Club allotment of newly released red wines, including the 2009 Oldfield Series reserve wines – Merlot, Syrah, and 2Bench Red (Meritage). It being my big chance to take advantage of my Crush Club (15%) discount, and avoid shipping charges, I made sure to pick up a few additional bottles – gifts for friends, and some more Merlot and Cabernet Franc of course! Outside the winery I visited the Barrel Room to take in the wonderful aromas, and was even lucky enough to spot Winemaker Sandra Oldfield supervising the very first bin of 2012 grapes being loaded into the hopper at the crush pad!

With another case of wine in the trunk I spent the next couple of hours searching for a few more wines on my To-Buy list. I dropped by Road 13 to investigate the recently advertised small lot reds, such as Syrah-Malbec, Syrah-Mourvedre, and some vineyard-specific Pinot Noirs. Unfortunately the wines had not yet received their final VQA approval, and so couldn’t be sold yet, but I made sure to place an order for delivery in the coming weeks. I then returned to Fairview Cellars to pick up Bill’s “Bucket o’ Blood” Cab-Syrah, it having just been labelled – and now ready for sale – the day before (one day after our Bus Tour visit). I also swung over to the Black Sage Bench to check out Black Hills’ shiny new “Wine Experience Centre” and snag a bottle of 2010 Syrah (only the second vintage of this varietal for Black Hills). Being my own designated driver I wasn’t able to sit down for a Tasting Experience in the beautiful venue, but it’s nice to leave something for next time. Finally, just down the road, I stopped at Church & State to see if any new releases were available exclusive to the wine shop (always a possibility in September), but I was saddened to have no luck. I was, however, pleased to meet what I can only assume was the winery’s guard Mantis, an entertaining and fascinating insect which generously posed for photographs.

Church & State Guard Mantis

By mid-day I had worked up quite an appetite and was looking forward to enjoying lunch at Hester Creek’s excellent Terrafina Restaurant. After tasting a number of new releases in the spacious tasting room, I joined the winery’s Communications Manager Sarah Lefebvre for some wine country chat and spectacular pizza. Neither of us could say no to the fire-crisped dough and fresh local ingredients, including tomatoes grown right beside the building! Back in the wine shop I was once again stymied by timing, as the winery’s Reserve Cabernet Franc and big red blend “The Judge” were only days away from release, but Sarah reassured me I would be able to get some one way or the other. The winery does have a comprehensive online store, and sees wide distribution in Vancouver, so my small but growing vertical of The Judge will eventually be joined by the 2009 vintage.

Finally making my way out of the Okanagan Valley I had a number of stops ahead of me in the Similkameen on the way to Vancouver. The first winery encountered after leaving Osoyoos on the Crowsnest Highway is Forbidden Fruit, so far south as to be nearly at the Canada-US border. Having missed visiting this renowned organic farm and fruit winery in the past due to time constraints, I was committed to finally stopping by this time around. Bouncing down the dirt road along the Similkameen River I soon arrived at the charming tasting room and immediately picked out some fresh organic peaches and apples available for sale. I also made sure to leave with a bottle of Pomme Desiree Iced Apple Wine: the 2009 vintage was named top fruit wine at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards, and the newest vintage (2010) was the only non-Quebec wine to even medal! I look forward to returning to Forbidden Fruit in the future to enjoy the picnic area overlooking the River, and perhaps tour the orchards with owners Steve Venables & Kim Brind'Amour.

Travelling a short distance up the highway I made sure to stop at Seven Stones, where I got the chance to catch up with owner George Hanson, and get bottles of newly released 2010 Cabernet Franc and Row 128 Merlot. I always make sure to find room in my cellar for George’s supremely well-crafted wines, his rich reds in particular. I was a bit too early for the upcoming 2010 “The Legend” Meritage, but George tantalized me with talk of Christmas Gift Packs that might include opportunity for this very small lot wine (100 cases produced).

Continuing on my way I made a short stop at Eau Vivre, where I was excited to get one of the last remaining bottles of Lt. Governor’s Award-winning 2009 Pinot Noir, along with a 100% Similkameen Malbec from the 2010 vintage. After I left and complimented the tasty, albeit quick experience over Twitter, owner Dale Wright was actually apologetic for not “recognizing” me during my visit! I certainly didn’t expect any special treatment, and was just glad enough he managed to find some of that special Pinot Noir while I was there. Yet another winery to spend more time experiencing in the future!

As I eased my way west I paused to say hello to Orofino Vineyards’ proprietors John and Virginia Weber, while we watched a new barrel delivery in progress. I left with another bottle of delicious 2010 “Scout Vineyard” Syrah upon re-tasting it, plus a couple bottles of bright 2011 Gamay to enjoy in the waning days of summer. I was pleased to keep my record of Orofino being my most visited winery (since 2005) intact!

Before getting serious about actually returning to Vancouver – considering the afternoon was rapidly coming to a close – I made sure to visit Herder Winery and pick up a few bottles of brand new 2010 Pinot Noir for myself and some friends. We’d all enjoyed the 2009 quite a bit following our June visit, and Proprietor and Winemaker Lawrence Herder was quick to report that he likes the new 2010 even more! Wishing I could stay and chat longer with the wonderful Herders I confirmed directions and hours of the nearby Robin Ridge Winery before setting out for my final winery visit. Just before the end of the business day I zoomed through Robin Ridge to add one more bottle to my collection: the 2009 Reserve Merlot won Double Gold (Best of Category) at the 2012 All Canadian Wine Championships, after being named Best of Varietal at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival.

Assessing the Damage

Arriving home in the late evening I was glad to be back in familiar surroundings after quite a whirlwind weekend. My wife was certainly pleased I’d made it home in one piece, and I had a fun time suggesting to her that all ten cases of wine in the trunk were ours. I’m not sure she was relieved when I revealed “only” about 60 bottles were ultimately staying with us, but even she couldn’t deny they were quite a sight to behold lined up together – a delicious future for a couple years down the road. I would soon be faced with the decision of where to put all this wine, considering I seem to be collecting it faster than I can drink it, but that’s a story for another day!

Monday 24 September 2012

BCWAS Bus Tour 2012: Okanagan Falls

After a good night’s sleep I was ready for Day Two the next morning: five wineries and a highly anticipated lunch were ahead of us, so we wasted little time getting back on the road. Upon arrival at the picturesque vineyards and stately tasting room of Blue Mountain Vineyards we were greeted by Sales & Marketing Manager Christie Mavety, who welcomed us with glasses of Brut Sparkling to awaken our palettes. Christie shared the spectacularly good news that the winery will soon be releasing some vintage sparkling wines, including a 2005 Brut, and a 2006 Blanc de Blanc: keep your eyes peeled for these gems this fall! As we sampled nearly the entire Blue Mountain portfolio we learned about the high-density planting strategy being used to intentionally stress the vines and make them root deeply. Such a bold move is risky however, just like the nerve-wracking experiments with wild yeast also being conducted at this adventurous winery. Fortunately I wasn’t nervous in the least purchasing Stripe Label Pinot Gris (2011) and Pinot Noir (2009), plus a bottle of juicy Gamay Noir (2011) earmarked for Christmas dinner.

Blue Mountain Vineyards

A scenic walk down the long driveway of our next destination off McLean Creek Road – Meyer Family Vineyards – ended at one of the most comfortable and enjoyable tasting experiences of the entire tour when we sat down around the patio outside the tasting room. Proprietor JAK Meyer and his wife Janice Stevens were on hand to pour glasses of 2011 Gewurztraminer, an elegant, Alsatian-styled wine to beat the heat as the sun began to burn the early morning clouds away. The great value entry-level “Okanagan Valley” Chardonnay ($22) and Pinot Noir ($25) elicited praise from the crowd as Janice weaved in and out passing out treats to complement each wine, such as blueberry jujubes. We finished with samples of the superbly balanced 2010 Tribute Chardonnay, and the delicious 2010 Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir. JAK shared the good news that he is starting an annual wine club for fans of his small lot production, while we once again lined up out the door to open our wallets and cellars to more great wine. Having acquired almost the entire portfolio already over the course of the past year, I elected on a couple bottles of Gewurztraminer to bolster my selection of aromatic whites at home.

Meyer Vineyards

Within just a few minutes bus ride we found ourselves at Wild Goose Vineyards and their neighbours Stag’s Hollow for the next couple of hours. Passing through Wild Goose’s spacious new tasting room we were seated on the deck overlooking the Stoney Slope Vineyard by Proprietor Roland Kruger for our highly anticipated lunch by Joy Road Catering. Considering the Society had enjoyed a wildly successful lunch at Orofino during last year’s Bus Tour, it was obvious another meal to benefit from Joy Road’s passionately local culinary talent was necessary.

Wild Goose Stoney Slope Vineyard

After rearranging the tables to keep us out of the now blazing sunshine we settled down to a glass of Wild Goose’s gorgeous honeyed 2011 Riesling (winner of Best of Varietal at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival). Homemade artisan breads with farmhouse butter kept our hunger at bay while plates of charcuterie and ripe peaches – picked that very morning – were distributed. Soon enough our glasses were refilled with Wild Goose’s 2009 Merlot and our plates graced with Upper Bench blue cheese gnocchi, roasted eggplant, beet greens, and braised lamb shoulder for the omnivores. For dessert Roland had a treat in store as he poured Wild Goose’s “Black Brant” fortified Marechal Foch to pair with platters of caramels and truffles.

Wild Goose Lunch Preparations

After lunch we split into two groups to tour Wild Goose and visit Stag’s Hollow in turn. Roland was clearly proud to show us the new building and the potential it holds. He pointed out where the winery was hoping to host weddings overlooking the vineyard, and showed off the extensive tank and barrel rooms below ground. With white wines firmly mastered the winery is starting to work their red wine production hard, with a major focus on a barrel program that will help push Wild Goose’s reputation that much higher. Returning to the tasting room we worked our way through a long list of crisp, floral whites and increasingly well-crafted reds before crowding the register to continue filling the boxes secured in the bus outside. Having enjoyed the Riesling so much at lunch I knew I needed some to go, and added a bottle of Black Brant as well for good measure.

At Stag’s Hollow, a tasting of new releases was accompanied by discussion of the winery’s commitment to sustainability. The winery buildings have been heated and cooled for a long time using geothermal technology. Avoiding the use of herbicides and pesticides whenever possible ensures the vineyards are “not pretty, but very alive” in the words of Proprietor Larry Gerelus. Wines on offer included the very unique “GVM”, a unique white blend of Grenache, Viognier, and Marsanne. Next up, the 2011 “Simply Noir” red blend showed plenty of bright fruit as only the Pinot Noir (9%) was oaked, while the Gamay (60%) and Merlot (31%) components remained in stainless steel throughout production.

Stag's Hollow Tasting Room

Stag’s Hollow Winemaker Dwight Sick was particularly eager to show off his new 2010 Cabernet Franc. Dwight told us the acidity profile of the 2010 is even better balanced than his Best of Class 2009 vintage, so the 215 cases produced likely won’t last long! Still, that seems like plenty compared to the limited production “Cachet” series of ultra-small lot wines the winery launched last year. A mouth-filling glass of “Cachet No. 01” left us eager for more of this full-bodied blend of Tempranillo, Merlot, and Syrah. Considering only 1500 bottles were produced (and the 450 bottles of Grenache-Syrah Cachet No. 02 having sold out long ago) it’s astounding that any remain for sale. Fortunately I picked up my bottles of both Cachet’s long ago, but I made sure to get the new Cabernet Franc, Renaissance Pinot Noir, and Renaissance Sauvignon Blanc while I was in the tasting room.

By mid-afternoon it was time to depart for our last winery visit of the trip. We scooted around the corner to Noble Ridge Vineyards and a warm welcome from Manager Tamsin Finnigan. Under clear blue skies we drank in the spectacular view of Vaseux Lake and McIntyre Bluff in the background, while sipping the 2011 “Mingle” white blend. It wasn’t long before tour guide Dave took us on into the vineyards to visit tasting stations amongst the vines: we sampled Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir and then enjoyed the superb value 2009 Meritage (only $20). Back indoors we even had the chance to sample the 2009 “King’s Ransom” super-premium Cabernet-Merlot, built to age in the cellar while the highly approachable Meritage fills your glasses in the short term.

Noble Ridge View

After filling the last available slots in our boxes with plenty of well-priced Noble Ridge wine we headed back to Walnut Beach Resort for the last time and began unloading quite a lot of wine! More than a few members had to depart in short order for points known and unknown, but those who stayed around for dinner that night shared more bottles of wine both new and old, and even witnessed a surprisingly clean indoor champagne sabering lesson from our President. Fortunately I was able to stay an additional night in Osoyoos and didn’t need to spend the evening making the long, dark drive back to Vancouver. Nevertheless, after a long and exciting weekend I had to conserve my strength for a tour of the Similkameen on the way home the next day, so I soon turned in for the night. As a first-time attendee on the bus tour I had a fantastic time overall, and am already looking forward to next year!

Tuesday 18 September 2012

BCWAS Bus Tour 2012: Oliver-Osoyoos

In the harsh light of Saturday morning the BCWAS Bus Tour participants discovered a bit of a surprise waiting for us in the parking lot: our anticipated bus had been replaced by a full size model much larger than expected! The shorter-wheelbase vehicle we had “ordered” was unavailable at the last minute, so the substitution caused a bit of hand-wringing by the Society’s Executive – worried about whether such an ungainly vehicle could make it up the steep hills and around the sharp turns ahead of us. Fortunately our talented driver would prove more than capable in the days ahead – surprising many with his skilful handling of the dauntingly large bus.

Covert Farms Tasting Room Preparations

With everyone aboard and spread out amongst the much larger space we headed out to our first stop of the tour at Covert Farms beside McIntyre Bluff north of Oliver. Our bus and driver were soon put to the test inching up the long incline to the winery and farm building. Fortunately we soon filled the tasting room with 35 fans of breakfast wine. Our Covert family hosts masterfully poured us samples from a well-prepared tasting bar while we learned about the 600 acres of 65 types of organic produce grown on site, including 25 acres of vineyards. We sampled some extremely tasty fresh tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and grapes as we sipped Pinot Blanc, Rosé, and adventurous reds such as the smoky “MDC” Cabernet-Zinfandel-Syrah blend, and “The Bluff” Cabernet-Petit Verdot. With the winery still getting off the ground – having been founded only seven years ago (as “Dunhan & Froese”) – we were told that going forward would see a focus on lower cropped vines, and a more serious barrel program.

Covert Farms Fresh Organic Produce

With quite a few cases of wine already started and without further delay we zipped back onto the road and headed south to the Black Sage Bench and our lunch date at Burrowing Owl. Despite arriving a little bit late we still enjoyed a walkabout tasting on the terrace overlooking the winery’s pool and extensive vineyards beyond it. Our lunch in the Sonora Room restaurant elicited compliments on the expertly prepared food, including immaculate Seafood Crepe Terrine and Cherry-smoked Slow-roasted Pork Loin. Back vintages of 2009 Chardonnay and 2008 Merlot provided ideal accompaniments to the delicious food. I myself received a customized vegetarian menu of Roasted & Grilled Vegetable Terrine with red quinoa salad, followed by Three Grain & Summer Vegetable Succotash. The Chardonnay was great with the Terrine, and instead of Merlot I was poured a glass of smooth and juicy 2009 Pinot Noir alongside my Succotash.

Burrowing Owl Vineyard View

After lunch it was back on the bus and over to the other side of the valley to visit Bill Eggert’s Fairview Cellars. Bill’s little log cabin tasting room wouldn’t even come close to holding us so we relaxed in the shade outside while we sampled 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, and a series of his consistently masterful reds. Comparing the 2010 and 2006 Madcap Red blends was particularly exciting considering the complexity and richness evident in the older bottling – which Bill suggested had another 3-4 years ahead of it too! A new 2010 vintage of Bill’s most well-known wine “The Bear” Meritage had been labelled only days before, and more than a few bottles thus ended up in members’ boxes and bags. Samples of 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 Cabernet Franc directly from the tank helped to further cement Bill’s reputation as a master of red wine. He doesn’t seem to be slowing down either, as he pointed out plans for significantly enlarging his underground barrel room!

Fairview Cellars Tasting Room

Having sufficiently exhausted Bill’s cash register and loaded up the bus with yet more wine we travelled south to Rustico Cellars for our final winery visit of the day. After a brisk walk up the long driveway to the winery we marvelled at the sod-roofed 1800’s-era log bunkhouse on site. Eclectic owner Bruce Fuller entertained us all with uninterrupted bar-top pouring into three dozen tumblers as we rotated through the snug tasting room. We tried out Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Franc Rose from the Similkameen Valley, “Last Chance” Zinfandel, and a hearty Cab-Merlot amusingly named “Threesome”. What was particularly fascinating about this winery was learning that they own 400 acres of vineyards – some over 50 years old – and sell grapes to 27 other wineries in the region!

Rustico Vineyards

The short trip back to Walnut Beach Resort gave us time for a rest period before our scheduled dinner with Similkameen winery Clos du Soleil at the Watermark Beach Resort in downtown Osoyoos. Many members took advantage of the refreshing outdoor pool and soothing hot tubs while enjoying the beach view across the lake. A cool beer after a surprisingly tiring day of chauffeured travel really hit the spot! Soon it was back on the bus for the trip around the corner and across the causeway to the Watermark.

At the Watermark we were escorted through the wine bar to the courtyard patio. Having the whole patio to ourselves, with the outdoor kitchen in full view, was quite a treat. We were even luckier to hear from Clos du Soleil’s Marketing & Sales Director Andria Lee and Vineyard Manager Jean-Felix Boulais about the stellar line-up of wines to be had with our meal. Andria and Felix explained the biodynamic and organic focus of the winery, which uses no pesticides and instead focuses on all-natural solutions like vineyard chickens. Celebrated industry veteran Ann Sperling has been the consulting winemaker since 2008, and helps to encourage sustainable practices in all areas.

Clos du Soleil Gift Bags

With no time to lose for the hungry diners Executive Chef Jonas Stadtlander and his team began serving the first of our five course meal, with Clos du Soleil’s 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé: paté de Champagne served with rhubarb leather, house-made pickles, and fresh baguette warmed up our palettes wonderfully. The 2010 “Capella” Bordeaux-style white blend was next, alongside refreshing tomato soup with marinated seafood. Our third course saw the winery’s 2009 “Signature” red blend paired with curry-scented beef shank ravioli served with a spectacular creamy celeriac puree!

As the sun set over the western hills guests dove into a plate of roasted duck breast, fingerling potatoes, and blue cheese gratin, with the (sold out) 2010 “Celestiale” entry-level red blend in our glasses. Finally, with content grins on our faces we savoured lavender hazelnut praline ice parfait and peach & blueberry compote served with 2011 “Saturn” late harvest Sauvignon Blanc. Throughout the meal each course included a vegetarian option which I relished, but it was obvious the other dinners also enjoyed their meals immensely. We were sure to applaud the talented Chef and attentive Watermark staff as Andria drew names for a generous selection of Clos du Soleil gift packs. A few valuable bottles of wines went home with grateful guests at the end of the night!