Wednesday 30 May 2012

Spring Wine Club Shipments: CedarCreek

Following quickly on the footsteps of my Tinhorn Creek Crush Club spring delivery was a box of new releases from CedarCreek, part of their thrice-yearly Platinum Club allotment. The first shipment of the year - in February - contained the Platinum Reserve Red wines and now came the chance to enjoy the newly released aromatic whites and Rosé. CedarCreek’s whites are now fully under the mandate of new winemaker Darryl Brooker, whereas many of the reds still carry the signature of Tom DiBello, who left in 2010.


One of the wines newly under Darryl’s purview is CedarCreek’s new Rosé program. Last year the first vintage of Pinot Noir Rosé was released to very positive acclaim (e.g., runner up Best-of-Varietal at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival), and the 2011 Rosé has now come out to follow up on that refreshing first release. Like last year, the wine is produced in a saignée style, with a portion of the juice bled off from Pinot Noir crush. A month of fermentation in stainless steel yields what the winery likes to call “Pinot Noir, unplugged.” A couple of years ago CedarCreek drastically changed their website format, with a whole new approach to “tasting notes” that narrows in on particular flavours. In the case of the Rosé they nailed it with straightforward “strawberries” on the nose and palate. Having tasted it recently I can do little justice beyond that very accurate descriptor! It’s another great BC Rosé that conjures up thoughts of summer sunshine sorely lacking as of late - no excuse not to drink it under cloudy skies though!

My Platinum Club shipment contained two bottles of Rosé, and four selected white wines – 2011 vintages of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and the very special Ehrenfelser. CedarCreek’s Ehrenfelser has been an institution in my home every since the stellar 2009 vintage, when it was a rich but delicate glass of fruit salad that made us swoon. The well-crafted 2010 release was also very good, but with a touch too much acidity for us it couldn’t top its predecessor. By now those memories of 2009 are almost certainly inflated - and current bottles of that vintage have lost much of their delicate fruit characteristics - so it’s becoming difficult to accurately compare newer releases. However, as John Schreiner details, for the 2011 release Darryl increased the sugar slightly and decreased the acid, returning the wine to a style closer to that “demanded” by fans.

John Schreiner’s detailed preview of the new wines covers all the new releases in detail, including the Gewurztraminer, which I have yet to thoroughly sample. A neat little trick in fermenting a small percentage of the juice in French oak is said to have added additional texture that I’m looking forward to enjoying. I have however opened a bottle of both the Riesling and Pinot Gris to much pleasure. The Riesling is a laser-sharp tribute to the Okanagan style that Darryl has made all his own. The 2010 vintage was named Best-of-Varietal at last year’s Okanagan Spring Wine Festival and the 2011 is equally focused on tangy lime flavours. It’s such a distinctive style that I picked out the CedarCreek immediately upon tasting it at a recent blind tasting (without even knowing it was being poured). The combination of low alcohol (less than 11%) and a memorable palate led Anthony Gismondi to describe it as “light, juicy fun, yet serious...” while praising it for versatile food pairing possibilities. I imagine it would serve quite well with bright, light fare from brunch to dinner.

Food friendliness continues with the 2011 Pinot Gris. CedarCreek’s Pinot Gris would make an excellent candidate for a blind comparison alongside Tinhorn Creek’s bottle of the same. Selling for $18 each, both bottles include a special focus on texture this year: Tinhorn Creek fermented 30% of their wine malolactically in small stainless steel barrels, while CedarCreek has gone all the way to oak, with 25% fermenting for 40 days in French wood after soaking 10% of the juice on skins overnight. The result at CedarCreek has been stellar balance and a complex mouth-filling texture that I adore. Aromas and flavours of fresh peaches abound in a wine that you could drink any time, although the winery suggests an Alsatian Onion Tart would be a delightful pairing. I can almost taste it already!

CedarCreek’s spring releases are currently widely available and should provide for a very enjoyable summer of sipping. Given the popularity of these wines in years past I wouldn’t expect bottles of Ehrenfelser (1,140 cases) or Rosé (630 cases) in particular to stick around for too long. Don't miss your chance to stock up for good times!

Thursday 24 May 2012

Spring Wine Club Shipments: Tinhorn Creek

The month of May saw quite a few new bottles of wine find their way into my cellar. Among the most exciting new arrivals were the spring releases from two of my favourite all-around wineries: Tinhorn Creek and CedarCreek. As a member of both Tinhorn’s “Crush Club” and CedarCreek’s “Platinum Club” I receive regular shipments of new releases from both wineries. At the beginning of the month Tinhorn’s spring shipment of whites showed up, followed two weeks later by a similar collection from CedarCreek, both boxes full of freshly bottled bright 2011 whites and Rosés, ready for summer enjoyment.


Tinhorn Creek’s Spring Shipment included new 2011 vintages of varietal Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer, plus the Oldfield Series 2Bench White blend, as well as the rare Oldfield Series 2Bench (Cabernet Franc) Rosé. A small but precious bottle of 2010 Oldfield Series Kerner Icewine rounded out the box. Being the smart fan that I am I had also added an additional six bottles of Rosé, knowing it is typically only available in the wine shop and at the on-site Miradoro Restaurant. Despite 2011 producing the largest Rosé production since the wine was added to the portfolio in 2009 it will likely still sell out quickly thanks to plenty of positive buzz and loyal fans.

The varietal whites from Tinhorn are always solid, and for 2011 they continue to show winemaker Sandra Oldfield’s thoughtful choices. The prime example this year is the Pinot Gris, for which one third of the grapes were fermented (in steel barrels) malolactically, to give the wine greater body and a food-friendly texture. Having already consumed my first bottle, and eager for more, I can fully echo Anthony Gismondi’s praise: the lower alcohol (a hallmark of the 2011 vintage) and slightly fuller texture makes an already versatile wine even more so. Plenty of local reviewers have suggested inspired food pairings ranging from spicy crab cakes or creamy mushroom chicken, to citrus-flavoured fish dishes and hearty salads.

The Pinot Gris is not the only new Tinhorn Creek release for which I already need to replenish my stocks, as the 2Bench White didn’t last much longer before being joyfully consumed. I’ve often said that were I to have a “house white” it would be Sandra’s masterful blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Semillon, and Muscat. Like the Pinot Gris (and the aforementioned Rosé), the 2Bench is a superb food wine. I brought my bottle to a seafood feast held by some friends during the height of spot prawn season and I’m told it shone; it even enlightened the admittedly absurd vegetarian shrimp I also attempted to share. The particular beauty of the 2Bench White is in the mix of tropical and aromatic characteristics that come from the carefully measured blend. Best of all, the refreshing citrus and melon flavours mean it can hold its own without food should you find the cupboard bare of everything but wine; giving you time for a discussion with the contents of your glass.

While I make room for more Tinhorn whites I fortunately still have a few bottles of Rosé to enjoy as the weather warms. Unlike in previous years when the supply was quite limited there was a good amount of Rosé from the 2011 vintage at Tinhorn Creek. Wise vineyard decisions early in the season saw a block of Cabernet Franc set aside specifically for Rosé once the weather started hinting at a short, cool growing season. Having already enjoyed a few bottles so far, including at the winery itself (more on that to come) I’ve appreciated the dry palate and bright berry nose; it’s a wine that easily lends itself to light, fresh summer fare like salads, thin-crust pizza, and veggie burgers. In addition to discussing Tinhorn Creek’s admirable sustainability measures, writer John Schreiner recently pointed out the Rosé is a refreshing wine “looking for a picnic.” I’ll keep a bottle in reserve for whenever the picnic weather arrives!

Friday 18 May 2012

BCWAS: Van Westen Wine Dinner

On Monday the BC Wine Appreciation Society held their Annual Dinner, hosted this year by new Yaletown bistro The Flying Pig, with special guests Robert and Tammi Van Westen, from Van Westen Vineyards in Naramata. Although Flying Pig owners John Crook and Erik Heck had long ago sworn off of events like winemaker’s dinners they found themselves making an exception for the chance to partner with Van Westen, to the benefit of the BCWAS! John and Erik devised an ambitious five-course menu with wine pairings that covered the gamut of Van Westen’s finely crafted portfolio of whites and reds, with the goal of ensuring that no one would leave even remotely hungry.


As guests arrived alongside The Flying Pig’s regulars (John and Erik ensured that a few tables remained open for walk-ins), they received a glass of the 2010 Vivacious to sip while admiring the menu and catching up with other members. This crisp Pinot Blanc-Pinot Gris blend is a big seller on the wine list, and everyone clearly enjoyed the ode to summer it conjured up with lots of citrus aromas and grapefruit and tree fruit flavours.

Before the first course was brought out we heard from John, as he shared his philosophy and goals for the restaurant – the focus being fresh, local ingredients from the many great producers here in BC. Robert Van Westen also spoke to us about his winemaking practices and how nicely they dovetail with the straightforward purity of The Flying Pig. With his winery still young and growing, Van Westen plans to max out at only 3,000 cases of wine annually. Robert told us about how he avoids practices that excessively manipulate the wine, following the philosophy of his mentor Bill Eggert (owner of Fairview Cellars) – who considers himself a grape-grower first and foremost. As such, the winery is best considered simply a processing facility to effect the transfer of grapes to bottle.


Without further ado the very efficient wait staff soon brought out our first course, along with Van Westen’s 2010 Vino Grigio (i.e. Pinot Grigio). The wooden plank serving dishes were richly festooned with fresh Burratta cheese, marinated olives, and local artisan-cured Speck, with extra cheese and crispy baguette slices for the vegetarians. The juicy cheese and bright olives paired wonderfully with the clean, tart Vino Grigio, and I heard from my tablemates that it was equally perfect with the fatty, salty Speck. Flavours of Granny Smith apples and a hint of linen led to a refreshing lemony finish on the wine, and it didn’t take long for only a few olive pits to remain as evidence of the delicious opener!


For our next course guests were treated to local BC specialty Honey Mussels, alongside generous baskets of delectable “Pomme Allumettes,” served family style. John explained that these crispy matchstick fries were inspired by those addictive Hickory Sticks so many of us enjoyed in our youth (and perhaps still do!). The mussels were bathed in an atypical corn broth, rich in spicy, savoury flavours that made mouths water. To enjoy with the heaping servings of food was Van Westen’s delightfully golden 2010 Viognier, of which only 150 cases were produced from a vintage that demanded rigorous crop thinning. Fortunately there was enough left for us to enjoy, as the tropical and floral aromas led quite nicely to a rich, almost buttery palate of apricot and lemon.

Before the next course of Geldermans Farms Pork 2 Ways, a round of taster glasses revealed an unexpected treat: Robert had brought barrel samples of his upcoming Pinot Noir collaboration with Tom Di Bello. The intensely dark coloured wine – from the 2011 vintage – came out of 100% French Oak barrels, and is not scheduled for bottling until September, with a Spring 2013 release of only 100 cases to follow. Murmurs of delight were obvious as guests inhaled the ripe, earthy, black cherry aromas, and enjoyed flavours of blackberry and plum, with a long blueberry jam finish. More than a few requests for the wine to be bottled now had to be turned down! I myself am extremely excited to see how it tastes a year from now after such an impressive early showing.


With everyone rapidly filling up with mussels and fries the next course was daunting, especially when we started to see the enormous bone-in pork chops coming around the tables. Even the veteran carnivores in the room seemed intimidated by the portions, which came atop pulled pork gnocchi for extra oomph! Vegetarians were treated to delicious mixed vegetable gnocchi topped with a generous dollop of creamy herbed goat cheese. We watched with bemusement as our table-mates navigated their plates – and reminded them this was only the third of five courses!

To fill our glasses at this point was the brand new release of “Vulture”, Van Westen’s 2009 varietal Cabernet Franc. Previous bottlings of Cabernet Franc from Van Westen came only in magnums of “Vrankenstein” (with partial proceeds to benefit the BC Children’s Hospital), so there was clear excitement to see it in regular bottles at long last. Robert was excited to share with us his successful efforts to produce Vulture without the use of sulphur, a challenging practice in purity. At least a couple hours of decanting was recommended for this unfiltered wine, and the dusty tannins made for a superb food companion. It’s definitely a powerful wine, courtesy of 18 months in barrel, and the flavours of dark berries and currants actually ended up reminding me of oatmeal raisin cookies!


With another hearty course yet to come takeout containers soon started to appear on the tables as guests took their pork home for future enjoyment. Our empty glasses were exchanged for new fills of 2007 “Voluptuous”, Van Westen’s Merlot-Cabernet Franc blend, and gasps began to fill the air at the reveal of the fourth course: Wine-Braised Beef Short Rib and Mashed Potato – accompanied by almost comically large roasted marrow bones. Anyone who had boldly finished their pork rack was about to receive an even greater challenge! On the vegetarian side of the table we received equally generous helpings of wild mushroom risotto to savour as we once again watched our friends take on the massive dish in front of them.

Despite being five years old at this point, the Voluptuous was still fairly tight, but the creamy risotto and the rich bone marrow helped greatly to mellow it out. As the wine opened up in our glasses we experienced notes of forest floor, cranberries, licorice, spices, and minerals. Robert pointed out that Voluptuous was the first wine he made, and will soon be accompanied in his portfolio by a bigger brother called “V”, to be released this fall, with the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Malbec to the blend. Taking the time to mature the additional vines and allowing the blend to take form in barrel will no doubt pay off for Van Westen, as the winery moves further into red wine territory.


At this point the restaurant was almost certainly running low on take-out containers, as wise guests made sure to leave room for the delectable-sounding dessert course of Honeycomb Caramelized Blinis and Vanilla-scented Pineapple, with Crème Fraiche Gelato. Fortunately I took the liberty of getting a good portion of my risotto to go, and was able to savour the delicate flavours alongside a near perfect pairing of 2010 “Vice” Viognier icewine. The silky smooth, deeply golden nectar showed off aromas of almond and caramel apple, with cinnamon spice and peach syrup flavours on the toasty, tart finish. Icewine is new to the program at Van Westen, and it certainly appears to have been a very successful start that hopefully continues to appear in subsequent vintages.

The BCWAS members who attended this exceptional dinner at The Flying Pig left fully satisfied by a generous and exceptionally crafted menu with perfectly paired, delicious wines all around. The entire staff at The Flying Pig provided seamless and extremely attentive service that was noticed early on and often. My particular thanks goes to John and Erik for accommodating vegetarian palates without a hiccup. Lastly, thanks to Robert and Tammi Van Westen, who shared great stories and details of their winery that complemented the many wonderful wines and special rarities they brought along. Kudos to the BC Wine Appreciation Society for another exciting and memorable event!

Monday 14 May 2012

May Wine Club: Challenge Cucumber!

This past weekend saw another gathering of our monthly wine club with friends, and another opportunity to share more of our culinary creativity with each other over delicious wines. With plenty of sunshine and warm weather to brighten our spirits everyone was in a great mood as we shared welcome cocktails from our generous hosts. Enthused by the opportunities provided when taking on the appetizer course my wife and I had brought a pre-appetizer canapé selection as well: Havarti & watermelon-skewers plus cucumber slices topped with bright carrot-ginger dip (courtesy of one of my favourite cookbooks). Little did  we know the cucumber would portend a consistent – and much welcomed – element throughout the remainder of the meal. We were much amused when we realized we’d somehow unconsciously coordinated yet again!

Radicchio, Endive, and New Potato Caesar Salad with Ciabatta Garlic Crisps

With cocktails and canapés quickly consumed, we leapt into action and began preparing the sit-down appetizer course. After much humming and hawing about what to serve we had recently settled on an exciting recipe from the Spring 2012 issue of Taste Magazine put out by BC Liquor Stores. The Radicchio, Endive, and New Potato Caesar Salad with Ciabatta Garlic Crisps sounded like an ideal pairing for the two freshly bottled Frizzante wines I had acquired for the occasion. Months of patient waiting finally had been rewarded recently when Orofino released their brand new Moscato Frizzante almost simultaneous with 8th Generation’s newest “Integrity” Frizzante.

As everyone crunched their way through crisp radicchio and endive, we started with the drier Orofino wine, and were immediately impressed with the elderflower and orange blossom aromas. The bright acidity and clean finish made for an excellent pairing with the salad, and the wine carries its bubbles for quite some time. With only 300 cases produced by this increasingly popular Similkameen winery, this beautifully bottled wine won’t last long. Thankfully we will soon have an opportunity to buy more during our upcoming visit to Orofino in June!

For a different experience we moved on to the 8th Generation wine, now in its third vintage after beginning with straight Chardonnay Frizzante in 2009. The current 2011 release blends about one third Pinot Gris into the Chardonnay, while subtracting the Sauvignon Blanc component used in 2010. 8th Generation’s take on Frizzante is clearly a very different creation, equally likeable but much sweeter and creamier than the Moscato. Fresh flavours of melon, pear, and tropical hints of pineapple were present, making me glad I had recently acquired a half-case for more enjoyment over the summer months! We continued to enjoy comparing the two different wines while our hosts finished preparing the entree course, and decanting a delicious treat!

Panzanella Salad, Cauliflower Steak, and Creamed Spinach

It was pointless to try hiding the statuesque magnum of Laughing Stock Portfolio lurking in the background, so into the extra-large decanter it went, with a sample glass poured for each of us straight from the bottle first. This particular 2006 vintage received a silver medal at the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards, along with a glowing 90-point review from Anthony Gismondi. Before sitting down with what sounded like a very complex entree course, we sipped our sample glasses and marvelled at the delightfully smooth textures and round berry flavours. Our host mentioned that one of his goals for our upcoming trip to the Okanagan is to acquire another Portfolio magnum (this one coming from a much-loved 2009 trip together), a wise choice given the enjoyment we were already getting out of this one!

With the Portfolio already flowing, we were soon treated to a beautifully plated hearty plate of Panzanella Salad, Creamed Spinach, and duelling steaks: vegetarians received giant cauliflower versions while the other half of the table dug into juicy Bison Ribeye. With a poached egg on top for one last flourish it was quite a sight, and the Portfolio easily stepped up to match the flavour bonanza in front of us. I’m told the hint of pepper in the wine wonderfully accentuated the Ribeye, while my own experience with the luxurious creamed spinach in particular helped cement support for acquiring another bottle at our next visit to the winery!

Creme Brulee with Cucumber Gin Spritzer

With a few leftovers helpfully wrapped up to go, it soon came time for the dessert course, which proved to be another mouth-watering delight, and one that we surprisingly hadn’t yet enjoyed together. When the torch came out it became apparent that someone had finally made Crème Brûlée! The Earl Grey-flavoured super-creamy delicacy was paired with a very refreshing Cucumber Gin Spritzer, made using Victoria Sprits’ fantastic Oaken Gin along with cucumber-steeped simple syrup, lime juice, and sparkling water.

If the Spritzer wasn’t enough we were also treated to a bottle of Mistaken Identity “Charmela”, a very creative blend of organic Chardonnay grapes and estate grown apples from Salt Spring Island. The dessert team regaled us with tales of surprisingly powerful aromas and earthy flavours when the Charmela was sampled at the winery last year, but by now those soil characteristics were substantially subdued, with only tantalizing hints remaining, alongside flavours of sweet almonds and tart apples. Just as the winery suggests, it made for a superb pairing with the Crème Brûlée, finishing the meal in satisfied style.


Wednesday 2 May 2012

BCWAS: Township 7 Tasting

The dynamic duo of Township 7 Public Relations Manager Lori Pike-Raffan and Winemaker Bradley Cooper were on hand at the Listel Hotel mid-April to show off a wide range of delicious flavours they brought to the BC Wine Appreciation Society. With three white wines, a Rosé, and six reds on the table a huge part of the viniferous family was before us, from Sauvignon Blanc to Cabernet Sauvignon. Brad even brought the literal terroir in the form of two jars of Naramata and Langley soils!

Lori Pike-Raffan & Bradley Cooper

Guests happily sipped Blue Mountain Brut while Lori showed off two raffle wines for the evening: she beamed with pride when acknowledging that Township 7 was selected by the Calgary Stampede to craft the official Stampede Centennial wines. Two lucky BCWAS members would soon be taking home the Centennial Selection 2009 Chardonnay, and the Centennial Selection 2008 Merlot; only 199 cases of each having been made!

Before the sniffing and sipping began in earnest, Brad walked us through the details of Township 7’s approach to grape-growing and winemaking, with details of the winery’s estate and contracted vineyards in the Fraser, Similkameen, and Okanagan valleys. A thorough and impressive PowerPoint presentation provided information and illustrations of the terroir from which Township 7 produces their award-winning wines, with details going back as far as the Cretaceous Period, 150 million years ago!

In addition to describing the various glacial deposits and soil types throughout the vineyards, Brad pointed out the advantages of long days with high light intensity, low rainfall, and large diurnal temperature swings. The cool evenings that come about in the Okanagan maintain sufficient acids and keep the grapes from accumulating excess sugar, all leading to superb flavour development. As he was speaking, guests were invited to pass around the provided jars of soil to appreciate the dramatic difference in composition and density of the silty Naramata soil and the heavy, clay-rich Langley sample.

Naramata & Langley Soil Samples

With no time to lose we soon delved into the many wines to taste, starting with the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, a now sold out vintage showing how this often youthful wine can become fuller and more lush over time. A tiny 2% contribution from Muscat helped bring out flavours of honeydew melon, and the texture showed off reduced acidity and more obvious minerality from the time in bottle.

The 2009 Chardonnay was next, showing very subtle oak on the nose, despite full barrel fermentation, and a full texture courtesy of malolactic fermentation and extended sur-lie contact. In 2009 the Chardonnay came from four different vineyards in Naramata, Oliver, and Cawston, making it as complex as any other blend, despite being a single varietal.

Our third and final white was revealed to be an unfiltered tank sample of the 2011 7 Blanc blend. With about two thirds Gewurztraminer and one third Pinot Gris the young wine was very fruit forward and perfumed on the nose. Slightly off-dry on the palate with bright acidity it will no doubt have a prosperous future in food pairing for Asian-inspired dishes in particular.

Township 7 Wine Selection

A mature Rosé from 2009 came next; with a little rusty colour this “compilation Rosé” is a blend of Pinot Noir co-fermented with Chardonnay, plus small percentages of Muscat, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot from vineyards in the Okanagan and Fraser valleys. It shows a flavour palate that focuses on strawberry, with sufficient body and acid for successful food pairing. Interestingly, Township 7 didn’t make a 2010 Rose, and so the 2011 is awaiting release once the remaining 2009 is sold.

As we finished the first pass through the white wines we were treated to tasting plates from Listel Executive Chef Whittaker, who shared Seared Albacore Tuna, Rare Beef Tenderloin, Wild Mushroom & Eggplant Tartlet, and Tiger Blue cheese with red wine stewed fruits. For vegetarians there was car-grilled veggies and even more spectacular cheeses to enjoy.

Omnivore Tasting Plate

Moving on to the reds – each one unfiltered – we began with a mini-vertical of the 2007 and 2008 Merlots. Both wines include single digit percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon, with the current release 2008 adding an additional bit of Cabernet Franc for extra backbone and complexity. The 2007 Merlot was a favourite of James Suckling, who felt it was the best Merlot of his Canadian tasting session. I noticed dusty tannins and plenty of blueberry characters, while the 2008 seemed a bit fruitier on the nose and palate. A still-young 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon followed the Merlots, with flavours of chocolate and cherries, and tannins suggesting it will continue to mature for several more years despite 26 months in oak already.

Vegetarian Tasting Plate

The last three wines comprised a vertical of the Reserve 7 Meritage, from 2006 to 2008. While debates about favourites went back and forth Lori described the amazing accomplishments of quadriplegic artist Robb Dunfield, who mouth-painted the art for the label of the limited release 2006 edition. Brad then pointed out that the upcoming 2009 Meritage will include Petit Verdot and Malbec for the first time.

While we emptied our glasses and considered the best food and wine pairings Lori shared details of all the spectacular events Township 7 holds at both their locations, including the fall grape stomp – captured on video in 2011 by BCWAS member and Shaw TV reporter Kendall Harris. Whether it’s wine, food, art, music, or even live theatre amongst the vines, Township 7 goes all out for their fans!