Wednesday 28 March 2012

New Releases from LaStella & Le Vieux Pin

Earlier this week Osoyoos-Oliver winery team LaStella and Le Vieux Pin invited guests to their Vancouver offices for samples of the new and upcoming spring releases. The focus was on the white wines and Rosés produced by each winery, as well as a comparative tasting featuring Le Vieux Pin’s Syrah, a new initiative now in its second year of production. Also helping to grease the wheels of critics palates were samples of LaStella’s stunningly delicious imported Sicilian olive oil, produced in partnership with Casa Gusta Organic Fine Food.

LaStella’s new releases include the 2011 vintages of “Leggiero” Unoaked Chardonnay, “Vivace” Pinot Grigio, and “LaStellina” Rosé. The Leggiero is a treat each year, and for 2011 shows plenty of apple flavours on the palate along with a very long, crisp finish. In years past unoaked Chardonnay from BC was certainly in the minority, but it seems that more wineries are discovering the consumer-friendly appeal, particularly when properly made in a way that lets the grapes shine. The Vivace continues the appealing light fruit flavours and shirking of oak with more mixed fruit, tropical characteristics, and a rich citrus finish. The LaStellina (Merlot) Rosé has been another favourite of mine in years past, and the 2011 vintage shows off a relatively consistent aromatic nose, with notes of grapefruit, along with a soft, juicy palate, slightly off-dry in finish. Also newly available from LaStella is the 2009 Fortissimo, the winery’s Super Tuscan blend, incorporating Sangiovese alongside typical Bordeaux grapes. The hot 2009 vintage has yielded a very pleasantly ripe, dark wine with youthful tannins and an overall savoury approach. With lots of layers it will make an ideal partner for plenty of rich, flavourful foods.

Across the room, on the Le Vieux Pin side of things, winemaker Severine Pinte was showing of new releases such as the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, the gorgeous 2011 “Vaïla” Rosé, and the equally sublime 2010 “Ava” Viognier blend, plus the aforementioned Syrah. Le Vieux Pin’s 2010 Sauvignon Blanc was incredibly intense and flavourful: the 2011 version can’t hope to top it, but does an admirable job of carrying lots of rich grapefruit aromas and flavours. The beautifully-coloured Rosé comes from Pinot Noir grapes and has a very complex nose with lots of “wow” factor. The winery describes aromas of rhubarb and pink grapefruit, that follow through to a well balanced palate with hints of earthy Pinot Noir. While referred to as “bone dry”, and likely a great food pairing, it doesn’t taste austere in the slightest, and would still be quite suitable for solo sipping – the mark of a very well-made Rosé.

Le Vieux Pin’s 2010 “Ava” blend of Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne was sampled at last month’s BCWAS event, where it received rave reviews from those in attendance. The complexity and purity of the precisely calibrated blend (with only a delicate 1.5% Roussanne) is obvious, and with only about 250 cases produced it will sell briskly to those in the know. The $35 price tag may dissuade impulse buyers, but if anything that leaves more for the winery’s many loyal customers who purchase direct in greater volumes each year.

Fortunately the 2009 Syrah has been produced in greater quantities than ever, although 950 cases may not necessarily foretell a glut of this delicious wine, which is already seeing substantial overseas interest from top European restaurants. The new Syrah was another hit at the BCWAS tasting, and showed just as well this week, easily holding up to – and often surpassing – several other international Syrahs being poured for guests at the tasting. The other wines being poured covered the spread from leathery and meaty to sweet fruit bombs; and although it wasn’t a blind tasting, I still felt like the Le Vieux Pin bottles stood out for me, along with a particularly smooth and luscious Jackson-Triggs 2006 Sunrock Shiraz. One wine the “regular” Syrah couldn’t quite surpass was the 2009 Le Vieux Pin Equinoxe Syrah, but that’s hardly a black mark when it’s still in the family. Now if only we couldn’t all have families this agreeable!

Sunday 18 March 2012

March Wine Club: Experimental Food Edition

It would appear that we have gone and done it again, as it were. Our monthly wine club once again – without any coordination in advance – ended up with a common theme. Interestingly though, this time it was not the wine which we coordinated, but our food that followed a common theme. Each of the three couples in our club ended up bringing highly experimental and unique food to the table last weekend. As we marvelled over our mutual culinary courage we enjoyed a flock of delicious BC wines from establishments both big and small.


As our appetizer course was being prepared I opened a reception wine, having heard from the chefs that it would take some time to assemble. I’ve kept my eyes on the slickly labelled bottles of Unsworth Pinot Gris on the shelves at Firefly Cambie for some time now, and decided to give this new Vancouver Island winery a try. This Cowichan Valley newcomer has emerged slowly and deliberately, with only one red (a blend) and the Pinot Gris thus far, plus a Port-style wine still in barrel. Local wine writer John Schreiner was pleased with the samples he tried last fall, and I would definitely agree with him regarding the citrus characteristics in the Pinot Gris. The crisp, dry acidity threw a few of us for a loop – it was overheard that this could be guessed as a Sauvignon Blanc – but the flavours were clean and bright; it served well to awaken our palates for the meal to come.


After much fussing and near-surgical preparation our appetizer course finally emerged from the kitchen with a flourish. It would seem that somebody has been using the Molecular Gastronomy kit we got them for Christmas! We were presented with the most amazing-looking “Caprese Salad” in the form of basil noodles, balsamic vinegar pearls, and tomato jelly, atop fresh Bocconcini. To accompany this work of art was an equally unique wine, Hester Creek’s 2010 Trebbiano: the only single varietal bottle of this grape produced in BC. Despite being the second-most widely grown grape in the world, most Trebbiano worldwide is used for blends and Cognac production. Hester Creek decided that a single varietal Trebbiano made with great care would be a welcome addition to BC’s wine market, and the wine regularly sells out. The lovely yeasty nose showed hints of pear and white peach, and the clean, floral palate had a delightful lemon zing that worked especially well with the vinegar in the salad. Everyone remarked how much they were looking forward to trying the newest vintage of this wine, which should be released very soon this Spring.

As we chased the last balsamic pearls around our plates it became time for Team Entree to head to the kitchen for our big experiment: with vital help from my wife I was in the midst of producing Eggplant Osso Buco, including my first attempt at Sous Vide cooking! This wildly ambitious recipe includes mushroom Bolognese, a polenta base, and a side of broccolini, so all four hands were most certainly required! After more than a few frantic moments we managed to pull it all together, and delivered some admittedly gorgeous-looking plates that impressed even the carnivores among us. The heart of palm “bone” in the middle of the eggplant was a source of particular amusement and entertainment (not to mention being quite tasty in itself).


To go along with our unusual feast I had decanted two fantastic gold-medal-winning Syrahs: both Painted Rock’s 2008 Syrah, and Laughing Stock’s 2009 Syrah took home gold from the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards last fall. As we soon discovered, the differences between these two wines were very noticeable. The Painted Rock, which I have enjoyed before a number of times, showed off a very elegant nose with touches of charcoal and leather before the dark fruits and floral aromas became apparent. Flavours of plum and cherry were mentioned as we all enjoyed the smooth textures and nicely softening tannins. The Laughing Stock, on the other hand, demonstrated the benefits of the extremely hot 2009 vintage: the fresh, floral, jammy nose led straight into a bright, juicy, and spicy palate that really asserted itself! The subtle characteristics of Painted Rock’s iteration seemed to be favoured, but I have to admit having a soft spot for the intensity of the Laughing Stock; in any case both decanters emptied out rather quickly.

With so much to talk about already, we could hardly believe it when the dessert team reported plenty more surprises to come. A cocktail shaker could be heard from the kitchen, reminding us that BC spirits have also found their way into our “wine club” now and then. When it came time to serve dessert we were assured that balsamic pearls and faux osso were one thing, but what was to come was quite a radical experiment indeed. A beautiful cake of preserved lemon, and (Gehringer) Late Harvest Riesling-soaked apricots came to us with a scoop of roasted garlic and onion ice cream! To sip with our jaw-dropping semi-savoury dessert were homemade Whiskey Sours, incorporating the deliciously smooth Urban Whiskey from Kelowna. Having started out clear when bottled, the Whiskey before us was now a dark amber colour rich in vanilla flavour, thanks to Urban Distilleries including a small cask stave in each bottle. As I sipped my Sour I tried to wrap my head around the savoury ice cream, which deceived my palate with its cool, creamy texture and expectations of sweetness. The combination of flavours within the entire course actually worked though, and I have to admit the lemon cake was more enjoyable with the ice cream accompaniment.


Our adventurous and stimulating meal complete, we settled in for another round of Whiskey Sours and the rest of the Late Harvest Riesling while discussing plans for a late spring trip to the Okanagan. I’m looking forward to visiting some of my favourite wineries (of which there are many by now) and introducing friends to the exciting wines I’ve sampled at tastings over the past year. Eventually some after dinner cheeses found their way to the table and we enjoyed a smooth and tart bottle of CedarCreek 2007 Platinum Syrah, plus a creamy Gray Monk Odyssey Rosé Brut we would have been remiss to leave in the fridge unopened. Our palates once again refreshed we parted ways with mutual congratulations for an extremely  delicious meal that I think surprised all of us in its success. I’m already getting excited and curious for what delights next month holds!

Monday 12 March 2012

Playhouse Wine Festival: BC Paired Lunch

Following two days of sampling wines at the Vancouver Convention Centre I was pleased get out and about on the weekend with my wife and attend a lunch tasting organized by the BC Wine Institute, and hosted by Yaletown’s Provence Marinaside. Last year a similar lunch took place at O’Doul’s on Robson Street, which I also attended to great pleasure. Provence took the lunch in a different direction this year, focusing on seafood, along with some small cheese plates and a pair of tarts for dessert; a more limited selection than the omnivorous smorgasbord provided by O’Doul’s. I never expect or request special treatment for my own personal dietary choices, but I was certainly thankful for the plate of delicious vegetarian selections that were provided upon discovering there were a few of us in the room. All things considered I would have to say I still preferred the venue and food at O’Doul’s, although seafood lovers likely thoroughly enjoyed the experience at Provence given the restaurant’s reputation and the sure prowess of Chef Jean-Francis Quaglia.


Eighteen of the twenty-two BC wineries at the Festival were present at Provence, with most pouring unique wines not found in the Festival Tasting Room; it is this fact that makes the BC Wine lunch particularly valuable each year. The downside of course is that few of the special wines being poured are available for purchase at the Festival Store, and sometimes include sold-out vintages that make one groan in frustration. Partaking in just such a tease was Red Rooster, pouring their 2009 Reserve Syrah – named Best Red Wine at the 2011 BC Wine Awards last fall. My wife and I both gushed about this delicious wine, full of fruit and spice, with an entertaining hint of licorice on the finish. We felt quite lucky to get a chance to sample it, given the winery was sold out even before the Wine Awards were announced! Another tease came from Poplar Grove in the form of their 2008 “CSM”, a red blend made exclusively for the winery’s club members last year. The blend of Cabernets Sauvignon & Franc, Syrah, and Merlot showed an elegant nose, with dark fruit and tannins on the palate; it should be even better after some cellar time.

Some of the other treats on offer were Painted Rock’s 2008 Syrah and Merlot, a year removed from the current vintage release. The Syrah showed off how well Painted Rock’s wine is aging so far; with cinnamon, nutmeg, and peppercorn on the nose, and a delightfully smooth palate rich in blackberry flavours, plus a sweet tobacco finish. The Merlot is also smoothing out, although it’s still showing more tannin than the Syrah; it finished with a black cherry character my wife particularly enjoyed.

Later, a couple of duelling Chardonnay’s pitted us against each other, when Jackson-Triggs showed off their 2010 Sunrock Chardonnay, with Nk’Mip pouring the 2009 Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay. I favoured the Nk’Mip’s more ostentatious oak, but the creamy, caramel flavours and long “bananas foster” finish found in the subtle Jackson-Triggs iteration were more to her liking.

A few other highlights we mutually enjoyed included a very fun and friendly Reserve Pinot Blanc from Red Rooster, with charming vanilla cupcake flavours and well tempered residual sugar, plus an unoaked Chardonnay from Gray Monk that showed off crisp, fresh peach and nectarine characteristics. Sandhill’s new 2010 Gamay Noir exhibited a candied nose and juicy flavours, while Mission Hill’s 2009 Select Lot Collection Merlot was an explosion of blueberry that took us both by surprise.

The Playhouse Wine Festival consistently provides a valuable opportunity to sample local favourites alongside the international competition. The annual BC Wine Institute lunch is a great opportunity to get out of the sometimes hectic Festival Tasting Room and enjoy great food and some superb bonus wines in the company of likeminded BC wine fans. I certainly hope the lunch continues in future years, although it seems like a larger venue may soon be in order given the growing crowds. The lunch is a highlight of the annual Wine Festival for me and I look forward to attending again next year at another excellent local venue.

Friday 9 March 2012

Playhouse Wine Festival: More BC Highlights

Earlier this week I discussed some of the wines I particularly enjoyed from the first half of the twenty-two BC wineries present at the Playhouse Wine Festival, what follows are my notes from the remaining eleven wineries:

Osoyoos Larose: It’s always an exciting surprise to see what this Canadian-French partnership will be sampling, considering they only produce two wines. At tastings Osoyoos Larose often brings components of the two red blends they produce, and/or barrel samples of vintages not yet released. For the Playhouse Festival the winery was pouring not only the brand new 2009 ‘Pétales d’Osoyoos’, but a three-year vertical of the icon wine ‘Le Grand Vin’. Last year’s 2007 Grand Vin was – as expected – still quite tight on the palate, with a savoury nose, while the current release 2008 was a bit more green, but with some interesting spiciness. The barrel samples of the upcoming 2009 vintage showed even more tannin, but with an underlying sweetness and fewer savoury elements – courtesy of the hot 2009 harvest perhaps?

Painted Rock Estate Winery: Having enjoyed many samples of Painted Rock’s spectacular wines recently I hardly needed an additional taste to confirm their quality, but I made sure to try a glass of the 2010 Chardonnay given how quickly it’s selling out. Painted Rock proprietor John Skinner explained to me that the 2011 Chardonnay is the product of an unusual combination of three “micro-harvests” that took place over a two week period from the same vines. Each lot was fermented and aged separately, to be combined later to yield the final wine, which John remarked was likely his best yet. I’ve heard that expression from John on an annual basis, but the impressive thing is that he’s right every year!

Painted Rock - John Skinner

Peller Estates: I was eager to try the 2009 Private Reserve Syrah that Peller was pouring at their table. The Syrah received a gold medal from the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards, noteworthy in particular because its nearest competitor in the gold ranking was fourteen dollars more expensive! To see a twenty dollar wine taking home the same medal as others costing twice as much has to make you curious. My curiosity was appeased with a fresh approach and smooth texture; and although the wine is said to have zero grams of residual sugar it tasted sweeter than expected. It’s bottled under screwcap, which hints that it can be consumed young, although I’m going to try aging a bottle for a couple years at least.

Poplar Grove Winery: This Naramata Bench winery is expanding rapidly into a destination property, with a brand new state-of-the-art winery opening last year and a new restaurant moving over from Summerland this spring. Many of Poplar Grove’s highly collectable wines were being poured at the Festival, including the bright, fruit-forward 2008 Merlot and the rich 2008 Cabernet Franc, with elements of leather and ripe blackberry. I was particularly pleased to see the sold out 2008 Syrah, which the winery is proud to report won the only gold medal for a Canadian wine at the Decanter World Wine Awards last year. The silky smooth texture in the Syrah made me even more excited that I actually found a bottle recently at Kitsilano Wine Cellar (which even the winery was shocked to find out).

Quails’ Gate Winery: this West Kelowna winery describes Pinot Noir as their speciality, and they were showing off their new release 2009 Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir at the Festival this year, along with the new 2010 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay. As I typically purchase both of these wines each year, the chance to taste them in advance was invaluable. Although the Reserve Pinot Noir is suggested as a comfortably ageable wine it was quite approachable even upon release (although it has been bottle aged by the winery). The Chardonnay was buttery and toasty, with a slightly sweet finish. I’m glad to be adding both bottles to my collection, especially given how challenging it can be to find the Chardonnay.

Red Rooster Winery: Another Naramata bench winery present at the festival, Red Rooster was showing off their fun-loving side with Viewmasters featuring photos of the winery and winemaker Karen Gillis. Karen was pouring her new 2009 Meritage, successor to the Lt. Governor’s Award-winning 2008 vintage, and I found it to be a very approachable, easy-drinking wine. The 2010 Chardonnay being poured showed a slightly nutty, creamy palate that was easy to like. Karen’s 2009 Chardonnay received the only Canadian gold medal at the 2011 Chardonnay du Monde competition in France, so she’s clearly doing a few things right!

Red Rooster

Road 13 Vineyards: I was very excited to finally see this Golden Mile winery’s ‘Fifth Element’ red blend return after a years absence. The 2009 Fifth Element still had a lot of tannin present but an underlying complexity suggests a lot of potential – the bottle I picked up from the Festival Store should do very well in my cellar. Having finished my last bottle of Old Vines Chenin Blanc a while ago I was also very pleased to get the chance to try it again; those crisp, clean, and fresh flavours illustrated why it sold out in the Festival Store so quickly! Interestingly, I also learned that a Late Harvest Chenin Blanc should be forthcoming from Road 13 in the near future, a very exciting prospect!

Sandhill: With no “distracting” social media presence to manage, this somewhat reclusive Kelowna winery focuses on making quality wine under the supervision of the cloistered Howard Soon. At the Festival Howard was pouring a portfolio composed of his exclusive Small Lot wines, including the new 2010 Chardonnay, 2009 Merlot, and 2009 ‘One’ blend, all of which I had purchased in advance at the Festival Store. The Chardonnay was fresh and quite creamy thanks to the barrel fermentation and new French oak, while the Merlot was clearly fruit forward and quite smooth already. The big ‘One’ blend was a lot smoother than expected given the 56% Cabernet Sauvignon content (plus 38% Petit Verdot, and a touch of Malbec and Syrah). With such a rich mouthfeel and great balance the ‘One’ will likely sell out soon, especially with only 225 cases produced.

Sumac Ridge Estate Winery: Among the wines being poured by this well-established winery was the new 2007 Steller’s Jay Brut, their long-standing and dependable sparkling wine. Just as I enjoyed quite a bit of the 2006 last year, I anticipate the 2007 Steller’s Jay to serve as a reliable choice in the coming year; it has a nice clean, creamy mousse finish and well balanced flavours. I also took the opportunity for a sample of Sumac’s Port-style fortified wine ‘Pipe’, which is a dependable dessert wine in our household. Pipe is basically a fortified Meritage blend, aged in oak for three years to yield a warm and rich pairing for everything from fruit and chocolate to nuts and cheeses.

Sumac Ridge

Thornhaven Estate Winery: This Summerland winery has a fairly thorough portfolio of wines, but it is their aromatic whites that receive the most press. Their 2010 Gewurztraminer received one of only two gold medals in the category at the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards (the other gold going to nearby Kalala), and festival guests were lucky enough to sample it: the perfumed, tropical nose led me to a well balanced palate with pleasant residual sweetness – very “varietally correct” if I may say so. I also noticed the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay, a rare blend that came about inadvertently when the two grapes were accidentally planted together. The nose shows grapefruit and topical notes, but the body is surprisingly full due to the Chardonnay’s contribution – it is a unique and enjoyable glass of wine!

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards: Owner and winemaker Sandra Oldfield was busy showing off her many delicious wines at the Festival this year, including the superb 2Bench White, a complex and food-friendly blend that includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Viognier. If I was to choose a house white, it might be the 2Bench, due to its consistently good combination of tropical and tree fruit characteristics, food versatility, and age-worthiness. While at the Tinhorn table I made sure to grab a glass of 2009 Cabernet Franc as well, another favourite of mine that once again shows superb versatility with food (the winery suggests hearty comfort foods like burgers or lasagne). The hot 2009 vintage has yielded lots of ripe, red fruit that makes the wine excellent on its own as well, and for only $20 it can be a winter and summer staple.

Just as I finished writing this post, I received news that the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company is shutting down this weekend. The Playhouse International Wine Festival Society was quick to assure fans that the Festival will carry on, but it remains to be seen quite how the end of the Company will affect the Festival – it having been created as a fundraising venture for the Company. The Festival proudly announced the theme region (California) and global focus (Chardonnay) for next year just days ago, so I hope the 2013 event will take place as scheduled (Feb. 25-Mar. 3), but it seems likely that a name change may be in order at the very least. Although I am saddened at the blow to Vancouver’s cultural identity that will take place with the Theatre’s shutdown, I’m certainly relieved that the Wine Festival is aiming to continue operations, given how much fun I have every year socializing and sipping with friends both old and new.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Playhouse Wine Festival: BC Highlights

This year the Playhouse Wine Festival hosted twenty-two BC wineries, a record number from what I’m told, and in fact some even had to be turned away! In 2011 there were nineteen BC wineries present, and ten of them returned this year (many wineries attend every other year due to the costs and labour involved). Although I was at least familiar with each of the wineries present, some of them I had much more experience with, while others were showing off wines I had always wanted to try and hadn’t yet had the chance. I was pleased to visit each table and sample at least one wine:

Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery: One of only two wineries (the other being Skimmerhorn) in the town of Creston in BC’s Kootenays region, far to the east of the traditional grape-growing Okanagan valley. The winery – which just released their first vintage in 2010 – focuses on white wines, with some Pinot Noir grapes as well for a Blanc de Noir Rosé and Estate Pinot Noir bottlings. The 2009 Gewurztraminer and 2010 Pinot Gris being poured by proprietor Bob Johnson were clean and fresh, with loads of lychee characteristics in the slightly sweet, low acid Gewurztraminer. The 2010 Pinot Noir surprised with rich strawberry aromas and flavours, and a pleasant touch of cherry as well.

Blasted Church Vineyards: This Okanagan Falls winery’s first sparkling wine, the small lot but gleefully-named ‘OMG’, is about to be followed up by a major expansion in quantity. The winery is aiming for a thousand cases of the next vintage  to be released under the supervision of new winemaker Mark Wendenburg, a veteran of Sumac Ridge. I focused on trying the 2008 Cabernet-Merlot, named Best Red at the 2011 All Canadian Wine Championships. The wine was showing dark berry flavours in a balanced presentation that is smoothing out quite nicely; a great bargain red blend for $26 (the 2009 vintage was released last fall).

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery: The Black Sage Bench winery was pouring their Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon to fit the Cabernet theme of the Festival this year, but I was eager to try the new Cabernet-Syrah blend ‘Athene’. I missed out on purchasing the first vintage of Athene from 2008, but did acquire the 2009 earlier this year, the vintage being poured at the festival. For a wine that sounds like it would be quite powerful it was surprisingly low in tannin and fairly approachable already, with delicious cherry flavours. I also took the opportunity to sample the 2008 Meritage, a ripe, dark wine with a daunting 14.9% alcohol; it should continue to age well for many years.

Burrowing Owl

Gray Monk Estate Winery: This veteran winery from north of Kelowna celebrated their 40th anniversary with a sold-out dinner at Edible Canada during the Festival. I sampled some wines from their reserve ‘Odyssey’ tier, including the non-vintage Brut Rosé, a Gamay Noir/Pinot Meunier blend with a yeasty nose, and a tart, but creamy palate. The 2009 Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Odyssey Meritage were also available, both sweeter than I expected but still fairly tight with firm tannins that would benefit from some cellar time – it should be interesting to see how they age under screwcap.

Gray Monk

Hester Creek Estate Winery: This Golden Mile winery was one of the few pouring a new 2011 wine, albeit not yet bottled. From a sample bottle I really enjoyed the fresh flavours of the 2011 Trebbianno (it actually reminded me of clean laundry) – hard to believe this rarity in BC is the second most widely planted grape in the world! For 2011 the winery is bottling their Trebbiano in a unique fluted bottle to set it apart from the rest of their wines; it should be a beautiful presentation.

Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate: I was very pleased to see that the Gold Series ‘Entourage’ Sparkling Chardonnay was being poured here, having bought a bottle on a whim in January. The nose and palate of this wine transported me to a bakery in full swing, and put a big smile on my face! I also tried out the 2009 Gold Series Sunrock Cabernet Sauvignon, which I had purchased earlier from the Festival Store; it was quite young but showed nice potential to develop over time.

Lake Breeze Vineyard & Winery: This Naramata Bench winery sometimes slips under the radar, but the 12-acre property helps the Moser family produce 10,000 cases a year. The winery produces a wide range of wines that includes a sparkling program, but I was most interested in trying the Bordeaux blend ‘Tempest’, having purchased a bottle of the 2007 last year based on a silver medal from the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards. The 2008 vintage being poured impressed me a great deal with an expressive nose of perfumed vanilla and sweet dark fruit on the palate. I later purchased a bottle from the Festival Store – my only impulse purchase of the Festival!

Le Vieux Pin & LaStella: Having already tasted these portfolios in depth at the February BCWAS Tasting, I focused on the unexpected samples of ‘Retouche’ being poured, Le Vieux Pin’s new Cabernet-Syrah. The 62 cases produced won’t be released until this fall, and there is no need to hurry it either as the wine is very rich and spicy, with full bodied tannins – I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears open for its eventual release date! I also would have been remiss not to try LaStella’s 2008 Maestoso again given the chance, and was soothed by the heady, savoury aromas I often enjoy from this icon wine.

Le Vieux Pin

Mission Hill Family Estate: The big West Kelowna winery was pouring not only their great Perpetua Chardonnay, but the brand new 2009 Select Lot Collection Syrah. The 2008 SLC Syrah is currently listed on the winery’s website, but the 2007 was the vintage that took home gold at the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards (2008 received Bronze); it would appear these wines need a couple of years to come into their own. The 2009 was at first mellow on the palate, but showed a spicy finish; time will tell if it starts picking up medals in a couple years. The winery was also pouring their 2007 Oculus – out of magnums no less – which I took the chance to enjoy again for good measure (it having been my favourite when tasted blind at last fall’s Sip Wines Icon Tasting).

Nk’Mip Cellars: I spent some time speaking with Assistant Winemaker Justin Hall, who introduced me to long-time Winemaker Randy Picton as I sampled the variety of wines at the Nk’Mip table. The soon-to-be-released 2010 Riesling was crisp and dry (intentionally so), while the new 2010 Pinot Noir showed a very fresh, fruit-forward profile I enjoyed. The 2009 Qwam Qwmt (Reserve) Cabernet Sauvignon rewarded me with a very enjoyable mouth-filling texture confirming my purchase at the Festival Store was fully justified. Justin explained that the winery has been working on filling out the mid-palate of their reds by punching down the caps more often during fermentation, among other things. The 2009 ‘Mer’r’iym’ icon red blend was similarly mouth-filling, with slightly more tannin than the Cabernet Sauvignon, but a smooth finish nonetheless. Nk’Mip was also showing of their Riesling Icewine, a beautifully silky nectar that consistently – and justifiably – places amongst the top Canadian icewines.

The other half of BC’s representation at the Festival – and my experiences enjoying their wonderful wares – is coming soon!




Tuesday 6 March 2012

Playhouse Wine Festival – Tasting Room Tales

I spent the latter half of last week at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, sampling wines from right here at home and around the world, and enjoying the camaraderie of so many people excited about all things vinicultural. All the interesting, unique, and delicious wine was wonderful of course, but it was even better reconnecting with all the great people, and meeting others for the first time – some of whom I had only communicated with online previously. I finally got to the chance to meet IRL (In Real Life) “tweeps” like Festival Director Harry Hertscheg, Quench Wines Representative Rayna Corner, Hester Creek Communications Manager Sarah Lefebvre, fellow blogger Lucas Achtem, and Black Cloud Proprietor and Township 7 Winemaker Bradley Cooper. In between the new people I met and the others who are already becoming old friends, I realized how many people in and around the local wine industry I’ve come to meet in such a short period of time. Wine really does bring people together, and getting to know and converse with so many people all passionate about the same thing is remarkably invigorating!

Wines of BC Tasting Station

During my visits to the Festival Tasting Room I not only visited some of the 180 winery tables but also perused the booths of a number of vendors and regional tasting stations. Although I didn’t make it to the Wine Australia or the Wines of South Africa stations I took in the New Zealand Wine and the South of France Wines, where friendly representatives were focused on showing the range of wines and price points available. A quick stop by the Riedel tasting station showed off the noticeable difference in Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir when served in the (good quality) Convention Centre glass, versus the varietal-specific Riedel Vinum Burgundy glass. The richer nose and rounder palate made me all the more motivated to ensure I eventually obtain sufficient numbers of varietal-specific glasses. Lastly I stopped by the Wines of British Columbia tasting station, where not only were a few wineries absent from the festival this year being sampled (Desert Hills, Quinta Ferreira, and Fort Berens) but a challenging blind tasting offered guests a chance to win a $20 VQA Wine Store gift card. I pleasantly surprised myself by successfully picking out the Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc from amongst Clos du Soleil Signature, Moon Curser Border Vines, and Sandhill Cabernet-Merlot.

Festival Store

Knowing how quickly some wines sell out from the on-site BC Liquor Store, especially those only carried in the system temporarily for the Festival, I opted to shop early on the first day – I could always return a bottle should I taste it later to serious displeasure. My festival shopping list was short this year due to having made so many recent purchases, plus there were very few new BC wines due to the early opening date of the festival – most local wineries have yet to finish bottling their 2011 (white) wines. I did manage to acquire the eight BC wines on my list, although most of the four highly regarded Tawse wines from Ontario I was hoping to see were already sold out. I only got my hands on the 2010 Riesling, but was doubly excited after tasting the great balance and food friendly palate of this excellent wine. Most of the BC wines I purchased were reserve reds from the 2009 vintage, plus a couple of special Chardonnays and a bonus sold-out Chenin Blanc:

  • Jackson-Triggs 2009 Gold Series Sunrock Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon: Not yet appearing on the Jackson-Triggs website, this Cabernet comes from a celebrated vineyard that has produced multiple award-winning red wines, such as the 2008 Canadian Red Wine of the Year.
  • Nk’Mip 2009 Qwam Qwmt Cabernet Sauvignon: A new vintage that also doesn’t show up online as of yet, this wine was awarded a high silver medal at the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards (along with its 2008 older sibling). The Osoyoos Indian Band’s deep south vineyards yield some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in BC, which is often purchased for use in blends by other wineries.
  • Quails’ Gate 2009 Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir: The cellar-worthy iteration of Quails’ Gate’s signature varietal; I add the Reserve Pinot Noir to my collection every year confident that it will age well and always impress.
  • Quails’ Gate 2010 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay: I missed out on the 2009 vintage of this consistently superb wine and wasn’t going to let it happen again! There is much less Reserve Chardonnay produced (about 550 cases per year) than there is Pinot Noir, so it sells out fast.
  • Road 13 2009 Fifth Element: It’s been a long time since Road 13’s big red blend has appeared on the market, as there was no 2008 vintage released due to unsatisfactory grapes. Finally it’s back, but in much smaller quantities (only 250 cases), so it likely won’t last long, but at least I can continue to build my vertical!
  • Road 13 2010 Old Vines Chenin Blanc: I was very pleased to have room in my case for a bottle of this rare and rich wine, sold out at the winery for many months! I made sure to thank Pam Luckhurst in person on the Tasting Room floor for opening up the cellar and bringing a few cases to the Festival!
  • Sandhill 2009 Small Lots One: Only nine barrels (225 cases) of this Cabernet Sauvignon-heavy blend were produced, and given the success of the 2008 vintage (Best in Class at the 2011 Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition) it will probably be gone in a heartbeat. I never even saw the 2008 One in stores, so I wasn’t going to miss this chance for a wine that will prove quite the collectable.
  • Sandhill 2009 Small Lots Single Block Merlot: A new release that has yet to show up on the Sandhill website, this is the third iteration of Howard Soon’s expansion into Merlot as a Small Lot wine; the first vintage in 2007 received a Lt. Governor’s Award for Excellence in BC Wine.
  • Sandhill 2010 Small Lots Chardonnay: Another as-yet-unpublished new release, also in its third vintage, the Small Lots Chardonnay (one of only two whites in the series, the other being Viognier) is made in even smaller quantities than the reds; only 132 cases were produced in 2008, a vintage that was awarded Best of Class at the 2010 Okanagan Spring Wine Festival.

Festival Tasting Room

In the Festival Tasting Room I sampled from a number of international wineries that tickled my fancy, but tried my best to focus on visiting all the twenty-two BC wineries present (plus Granville Island’s fantastic Artisan Sake-Maker), along with the one lonely but celebrated Ontario winery – two-time Canadian Winery of the Year Tawse. I’m pleased to say I managed to visit each one, sometimes just to sample a particular wine or two with which I was familiar (or unfamiliar), but occasionally with enough time to stop and talk with the winemaker or proprietor. The immediate focus was on trying the wines on my shopping list, but there were also quite a few to sample which I had previously purchased for my cellar based on the strength of trusted reviews. In addition, a few pleasant surprise wines I either knew little about or didn’t expect to see at the Festival popped up from time to time. With my wine store purchases safely on their way to the nearest BC Liquor Store for pickup, I was free to relax and enjoy the Tasting Room, to see if I had made smart choices, and to investigate any unexpected gems. My Tasting Room Highlights will follow later this week.