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!