Friday 14 December 2012

December Acquisitions: Van Westen & Burrowing Owl

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

Van Westen Wines

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

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

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

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

Burrowing Owl New Releases

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 10 December 2012

Bottleneck Drive visits BCWAS

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

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

Sumac Ridge & Bella

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

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

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

Sleeping Giant & Silkscarf

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

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

Sonoran & Bartier-Scholefield

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 5 December 2012

December Acquisitions: Blasted Church & Painted Rock

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

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

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

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

Blasted Church Revered Series

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

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

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

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

Painted Rock New Releases

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

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

The original Painted Rock Tasting Room

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