Tuesday 24 April 2012

April Wine Club: Spring is Sprung!

Our wine club dinner last weekend showed how much everyone is looking forward to summer, with several fresh white wines making appearances. There were some brand new wines from the 2011 vintage and others from last year’s 2010 release, still youthful plus benefiting from some additional complexity. As we put bets on whether reds would make any appearance at all, I shared a newly acquired bottle of Red Rooster 2011 Viognier. A brand new release with only 382 cases produced the Red Rooster was part of a split case of Viognier and (very limited) Rosé I ordered last month when the winery offered free shipping and 15% off – it definitely pays to get on those winery mailing lists! Some of us had participated in a BC Viognier blind tasting panel earlier in the week, so it seemed fitting to try a bottle from one of the few wineries we had not yet tasted (this week at least): the verdict easily put Red Rooster among the favourites. With such youth, the wine showed beautiful fresh and clean flavours on a very well balanced palate that followed aromas of vanilla, peach, and citrus. I’m quite pleased to have five more bottles to enjoy!

The full lineup

Seeing as we have enthusiastically taken to comparative and blind tastings, it came as little surprise that the appetizer team had two paper-bagged bottles for us to judge. On our plates were very attractive Carrot & Parsnip Fritters, with creamy lime-cilantro yogurt and a topping of fresh mixed greens with Mirin-peach dressing. Resisting the urge to dig in immediately we sampled the two wines, about which we knew next to nothing save at least one was from BC. The first showed a subtle nose with hints of pear and vanilla, and a palate rich in lime that drew out the yogurt’s flavours. The second bottle had more citrus on the nose, along with vanilla and a hint of green apple. The rounder palate drew out the cumin and spices in the fritters, with flavours that reminded some of us of starfruit and other exotics.

Fritters & Sauvignon Blanc

After a few rounds of guessing with not a hint of success, the bottles were finally revealed to great surprise as two BC Sauvignon Blancs from the 2010 vintage: 8th Generation and Cassini Cellars. We were uniformly surprised, as neither wine had the hallmark grapefruit and grassy characteristics expected – clearly erroneously in some cases – from Sauvignon Blanc. The experience certainly provided food for thought among those who too quickly dismiss Sauvignon Blanc as one-dimensional, as these two wineries have shown the impressive versatility of this food-friendly grape.

Taco toppings

While discussion continued and the bottles emptied we were treated to the sight of an impressive array of delicious foods as the entree course was laid out by our hosts. An entree “starter” of spot prawn & scallop (or tofu) ceviche in coconut milk was enjoyed alongside tropical Sangria topped with Sumac Ridge Sparkling Gewurztraminer. Along with apricot Brandy, the Gewurztraminer amped up the Sangria with layers of complex flavours. That’s not to say this exciting sparkler can’t do just fine on its own, as the delicate bubbles and crisp fruit make for an excellent palate cleanser.

For the main event we enjoyed homemade fish tacos (with a marinated, grilled tofu alternative) with a bevy of toppings. Not only were fresh avocado, home-pickled carrots and onions, crisp cabbage, and spicy grilled pineapple available, but the tortillas themselves were fully homemade and freshly grilled – my mouth is watering just thinking back to it! A perfect partner for such a dish came in the form of Quails’ Gate’s newly released 2011 Chasselas-Pinot Blanc-Pinot Gris. The nose showed mineral and steel, tree fruits, and a bit of grass, with loads more tree and tropical fruits on the palate, including peach, pear, mango, pineapple, and lime. A real fruit salad in a glass, the fresh, clean flavours were very impressive and showed masterful blending of the three grapes. I look forward to enjoying more of this superb summer sipper.

Tacos & Quails' Gate

For dessert we went traditional with a classic Tiramisu, paired with La Frenz’s marvellous Liqueur Muscat, and a bonus bottle of Prospect Winery’s new Tawny Port. Having never made Tiramisu before, my wife and I were excited to try making it from scratch, including homemade ladyfingers. Unfortunately our ladyfingers flattened out too much in the oven, so we dipped them in melted mocha chocolate and served them on the side, which complemented the dish quite nicely in fact. Store-bought ladyfingers ended up saving the dish, providing the necessary volume to balance the creamy mascarpone and whipped eggs. Fortunately the rest of the dish worked out perfectly, with rich flavours and light textures befitting a spring meal.

Tiramisu and dessert wines

The two dessert wines were both delicious, especially the Muscat Liqueur, which impressed us immediately with a deep rusty colour from over a decade of solera-style production. The nose reminded me of burnt orange, while other guests suggested apricot, maple syrup, fig, and ripe berries. The acidity helped to cut the creaminess of the Tiramisu, and the flavours actually paired well with both the raspberries and the mint garnish! This is definitely a wine to get every year, given its rarity and luxurious flavour profile. Sadly, with only a half-bottle available, we were soon finished with it; but at least we could move on to a very nice Port-style Tawny from Mission Hill’s Prospect Winery label. Writer John Schreiner recently described the history of this Tawny, pointing out that it comes from barrels approaching twenty years of age. For only $18 per half-bottle this represents excellent value for such a well-aged wine, which showed off rich aromas including mocha and dates, with a hint of barnyard that I enjoyed. Naturally the mocha flavours were a superb pairing for the Tiramisu, which included shaved coffee-infused chocolate throughout, and soon yet another bottle was polished off!

The spring weather can only continue to improve into summer sunshine, so next month’s dinner will likely continue to show off the newly released wines alongside more delicious fresh food. We move up to appetizers next month, and are looking forward to getting the creative juices flowing for a course with so much potential. Keep watching to see if we do it justice!

Sunday 15 April 2012

Painted Rock Syrah Vertical

I recently had the opportunity to enjoy a vertical tasting from one of my favourite BC wineries – Painted Rock. With a small group of new friends we sampled all three vintages of Painted Rock’s highly regarded Syrah, from the first release in 2007 to the recent 2009, along with a mystery Syrah served as a blind comparison. The attendees were all clearly enthusiastic fans of BC wine, and we sipped 8th Generation’s Frizzante Chardonnay and “Confidence” Frizzante Rosé as we discussed our favourites and admired the bottles awaiting us on the table. All four bottles of Syrah had been open – but not decanted – for about three hours by the time we got to actually pouring the wine, giving them some time to open up a little bit in preparation for the big event.

We began with the 2007, from the first vintage at Painted Rock, a release which blew a lot of people away when the winery received TWO extremely rare Lt. Governor’s Awards for Excellence in BC Wine (for their first Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Red Icon blend). In 2010 this Syrah received a bronze medal from the Canadian Wine Awards, and then moved up to silver at the 2011 Awards. Our first impressions were aromas of leather and smoke – a savoury nose was clearly apparent, which led one guest to suggest “maple bacon”. Having spent about three years in bottle by now the tannins have smoothed out substantially, and the texture was very smooth, with a similarly leathery palate that included slight herbaceous characteristics, along with chocolate, coffee, and a hint of bell pepper. Paired with bittersweet chocolate the wine sang!

Moving on to the 2008 there were similar but less intense leather, savoury elements on the nose and palate, with more emphasis on red and black fruit. Some noticed what was described as a fennel/licorice flavour, with hints of stone and slate. A peppery finish rounded out the wine, and more acidity than the 2007 was noticeable on the back palate. The 2008 Syrah was awarded a prominent gold medal at the Canadian Wine Awards last year. Many reviewers have mentioned the risky use of 100% new oak for the 18-month maturation, but the wine appears to have integrated the oak quite well after only a couple of years in the bottle; it quickly became popular among us for walking the fine line between sweet and savoury.

Given the talk about 2009 being one of the hottest years in recent memory there was a lot of curiosity about the next bottle. The trend towards a fruitier, riper wine certainly continued with the 2009 Syrah, as it displayed loads of delicious cherry and black currant notes. The savoury characteristics of the earlier vintages were tamed significantly, as this newest release clearly shows off the fruit-friendly benefits of an intense growing season. Lots of positive reviews have suggested it needs at least a couple more years in bottle to really come into its own; there were certainly some tannins in need of taming. However, it seems likely that the bronze medal from the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards will be followed up by even higher scores in the coming years as it matures.

While we continued to ponder the concepts of vintage variation and the clearly evolving winemaking style at Painted Rock it finally came time to try the “mystery wine”, which we were advised was a BC Syrah from the 2009 vintage. First impressions yielded a chorus of surprised remarks describing the perfumed, floral nose; I also detected hints of spice such as cinnamon or nutmeg. One participant suggested it could even be mistaken for a white wine by the nose alone, if not for the colour of course. On the palate it was clearly an extremely fruit-forward, New World-styled wine, with a full mouthfeel. Although the 2009 Painted Rock Syrah is ripe and fruity, this mystery wine was even more so, and had us guessing with gusto about its origin. Finally our host revealed the true identity, with a trace of irony given that I had already brought it up when discussing characteristics of the Painted Rock: our surprise wine came from Naramata Bench star Laughing Stock. Co-fermented in mostly stainless steel with 8% Viognier this Syrah won a gold medal at the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards, alongside Painted Rock’s 2008 release. Upon hearing the winemaking details everything clicked into place – the aromatic nose, the juicy flavour profile, and the texture and finish helped along by the Viognier.

Fortunately there was still wine left in each of the four bottles for additional consideration, and we paid attention to the subtle changes in each one as time passed. At the end of the evening we sipped on La Frenz Tawny Port while toasting our gracious hosts for a spectacular tasting. It wasn’t long before we were discussing the next event, should we be so lucky to amass amongst us sufficient vintages for a similar vertical tasting from another winery: I’m sure everyone is up for the attempt!

Thursday 5 April 2012

Recent Acquisitions: March 2012

In addition to a mixed case of BC’s best from the Playhouse Wine Festival in early March, I’ve also added a few additional exciting BC wines to my collection over the past few weeks. Some of these wines are brand new releases, while a few others were pleasant surprises I never expected to find, or end-of-vintage bottles I couldn’t pass up.

Church & State 2009 Chardonnay: The newer 2010 Chardonnay from Church & State has now supplanted this older vintage, which is no longer listed on the winery’s website. I picked up this bottle from Swirl Yaletown, to complete my small collection of 2009 Chardonnay. The grapes come from two Black Sage vineyards – Gravelbourg, and the winery’s own Coyote Bowl – and were aged in French oak, one third of it new. The 722 cases of this well-pedigreed Chardonnay are most likely nearly gone now, so time will tell if it lives up to the Best of Category award the previous vintage received at the 2010 All Canadian Wine Championships. A respectable silver medal from the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards is nothing to frown at, and certainly helped to prompt my purchase.

Blackwood Lane 2009 Pinot Noir: I’d read a couple of glowing reviews for this wine over the past year, but having not had the chance to visit the Langley winery since then I had given up on acquiring a bottle. Last spring Icon Wines called this wine “the quintessential BC Pinot Noir” (given its strong sense of BC terroir), and John Schreiner called it dramatic, silken, and delicate. To my surprise I recently stumbled upon a small cache in the Steamworks Liquor Store, and quickly snapped up a bottle for the cellar.

Hester Creek 2009 Reserve Cabernet Franc: Although I fully intended on acquiring this wine all along, how could I dawdle upon learning it was awarded Best of Show at the recent Taste BC put on by Liberty Wines? Last year’s 2008 vintage was awarded a gold medal at the Canadian Wine Awards, so I have high hopes for the 2009 given the excellent harvest that year. The winery has taken to indicating the specific block from which the grapes were harvested in 2009, an informative practice slowly catching on as BC vineyards mature along with the knowledge of each site’s specific intricacies and strengths.

Poplar Grove 2008 Syrah: Much ado was made about this wine last year when it received the only gold medal awarded to a Canadian wine at the Decanter World Wine Awards. Having not seen this wine in any stores, or even on the winery’s own online store I put in a call only to learn it was already sold out – most having gone to the Poplar Grove Wine Club (frustrating, but fair enough). You could imagine my surprise when I spotted several bottles on the shelf at Kitsilano Wine Cellar while leisurely perusing! I later learned the store shouldn’t have received that case, but I’m certainly glad they did!

Howling Bluff 2009 Summa Quies Sin Cera: Having heard that proprietor Luke Smith has already removed his remaining Bordeaux varieties to make room for more Pinot Noir I thought it wise to get a bottle of one of the last vintages of his Bordeaux blend to see the light of day. The 2009 is a much more approachable wine than the extremely tannic 2008, but in Luke’s opinion a great Bordeaux blend is a rarity in the Okanagan, especially as far north as Naramata – the 2009 is the exception, not the norm. There is a 2010 version in barrel, and 2011 may follow, but from now on Howling Bluff is pretty much Pinot Noir exclusive.

Cassini 2009 Maximus: Another Bordeaux blend from the successful 2009 vintage comes via Cassini Cellars near Osoyoos. I’ve picked up a bottle of this blend each year since the 2007 vintage, which won gold at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards. The 2008 and 2009 have both received silver from the same competition. Despite not yet being mentioned on the winery’s own website, the 2009 Maximus is in stores and has already been quite well reviewed. John Schreiner suggests this big, ripe, high-alcohol wine could be laid down until at least 2015, and Icon Wines concurs given the youthful, vibrant, and raw characteristics. Time will tell if the $5 increase in price is fully justified for what Daenna Van Mulligen calls a luscious fruit bowl of a wine.

Gray Monk 2009 Odyssey Meritage & 2009 Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon: Late last year this long-lived winery released their very first Meritage, plus a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon under the reserve “Odyssey” tier. Being located north of Kelowna the winery wisely sourced grapes from the hotter southern Okanagan to maximize ripeness in these reds. Both wines received bronze medals at the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards, and when John Schreiner previewed the wines in early Fall he was quite impressed. Later consideration by critic Anthony Gismondi was more middling, particularly about the “austere” Meritage; although he felt the Cabernet Sauvignon was “a good effort” that should improve in bottle. When I tried them in person at the Playhouse Wine Festival I found them sweeter than expected, with plenty of tannin. I’m looking forward to seeing how they will age under screwcap.