Monday 25 March 2013

March Wine Club: Tryouts

While we were naturally quite saddened when our good friends – and monthly dining companions – moved away last year, the show must inevitably go on. The time has finally arrived to resurrect our monthly BC wine dinner club, and continue the joyous tradition of sharing a few glasses over a delicious homemade meal. With tongue in cheek we decided "tryouts” would be necessary to see who could fill the large shoes that were so recently vacated, and boldly serve as the third couple in our trio of amateur chef/sommeliers. Fortunately some other good friends recently moved back to Vancouver on a permanent basis after some time away on the east coast, and they seemed like the ideal potential members: food lovers, great cooks, and budding wine adventurers!

Normally the club hosting duties rotate so that each couple hosts (and thus cooks the entree course) every third month, but it has been so long since we’ve gotten together it was hard to remember who had hosted last. The other remaining veteran couple graciously offered to serve as hosts this past weekend, and so our new junior members were invited to select whether they would prefer Appetizer or Dessert duties. Appetizer is often a particularly exciting course, where the most experimentation is embraced, so it wasn’t too surprising that they elected on contributing the first of our three courses.

Before we could begin the festivities we had to await everyone’s arrival, and so spent some time chatting on Skype with our old friends, now settling into their new Bourbon-filled life in Kentucky. Road 13’s 2011 Jackpot Viognier Roussanne Marsanne made for an ideal Skype wine to sip while we caught up: released last year to great acclaim, the VRM was awarded one of fewer than a dozen Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in BC Wine. The wine has aromas of orange blossoms and honey, while flavours of green apples and grilled pineapple accompany a delightfully round, creamy texture. Considering only 188 cases were produced it’s hard to believe it is still available for sale, but if that status remains in effect for another couple of months I’ll definitely be grabbing some more when I visit the winery in June!

Once we’d signed off Skype and welcomed our new potential members, our hosts surprised us all with a very exciting bottle of reception wine: a rare magnum of Road 13 2009 Sparkling Chenin Blanc! Considering bottles of this favourite of ours disappear far too quickly within a crowd, a magnum was ideal, and a very generous contribution to the cause. I’m sure I’ve gushed about this excellent and unique local sparkling wine previously, although this time it seemed particularly refined. Perhaps the large format bottle contributed something, as the very fine bubbles were quite notable, and the caramel and brioche nose led into a crisp, balanced finish. Road 13’s use of Chenin Blanc for their sparkling makes for a very clean and refreshing wine that everyone seems to consistently enjoy.

Our palates now fully awake we looked forward to the appetizer course provided by our new members. The individual homemade Spanakopita that came out of the oven looked and smelled fantastic: our chefs assured us it was all thanks to plenty of butter! Alongside the spinach and feta inside the flaky triangles were plenty of fresh mint and dill, which made for for an even better pairing with the bottle of Lake Breeze 2011 Pinot Blanc they opened. The tart wine was ideal with the feta cheese, while the beautiful fresh, floral nose meshed with the herbs to epitomize springtime. Despite the wine being a vintage removed (with many 2012 wines coming out at present) it showed no signs of weakness or fading flavours, demonstrating why Lake Breeze consistently sets the standard for Pinot Blanc in BC.

Fortunately we hadn’t yet run out of compliments, as our entree course was soon forthcoming, along with an excellent wine new to us all. On our plates was a bevy of bright colours in the form of Butter & Red Lettuce Salad, with blood oranges and avocado, alongside warm and rich Butternut Squash & Kale Bread Pudding. We later learned the Bread Pudding contained several cups of grated mozzarella and aged Cheddar as well as a dozen eggs! The Kettle Valley 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir in our glasses certainly had its work cut out for it in standing up to such a heady meal. Fortunately the wine had no trouble, displaying a complex profile of dark cherries and smoky spices that easily kept pace with the food. With only 174 cases produced, the Pinot Noir comes from a blend of Summerland, Okanagan Falls, and Naramata fruit, aged for 22 months in French oak. I recalled our chefs picking up a bottle on my recommendation last summer during our trip together, so it was a relief to know I hadn’t steered them wrong! With a smooth palate it was drinking wonderfully, but showed enough natural acidity to continue to last in bottle, with the possibility of even more complexity and subtle flavours developing over time.

I regretfully had to avoid a generous second helping of the delicious entree course – and reminded my compatriots to do the same – given the hefty dessert I had planned. Inspired by the spring weather I had put together a Citrus Cheesecake, with fresh raspberries and Marmalade glaze. My helpful and artistic sous-chef assisted the presentation with a sprig of fresh mint, an orange slice, and a citrus white chocolate wafer. To pair with our mouth-watering cheesecake we brought Clos du Soleil 2011 “Saturn” and Quails’ Gate 2011 Late Harvest TBA Optima.

The cheesecake was marvellous, if I don’t say so myself, with a number of second helpings plated with glee, and Clos du Soleil’s Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc proved to be a particularly excellent partner. Aromas of citrus and lychee led into an impeccably balanced citrus palate that stood up to the sweet, creamy cake, caramelized marmalade, and buttery crust. There was a great deal of sadness upon hearing the Saturn is long since sold out (only 56 cases were produced), and a 2012 vintage will not be forthcoming due to adverse weather conditions last year. Up against the popular Saturn the Optima had little chance, for despite a honeyed palate there was a sulphurous, rubberized nose that took quite a while to dissipate. Still, with 715 cases of Optima produced I hope to give it another chance in the future – perhaps my single bottle of gold medal-winning 2010 Optima will show better.

If the satisfied smiles and empty bottles were any indication I’d say we made a good impression on our new members, assuming we didn’t scare them away with our gusto. We were certainly left impressed by their contribution, and they seemed up to the challenge of taking on hosting duties next month. I for one am very glad we’ve resumed operations, as I need any and all excuses to pull a bottle or two from my cellar, to keep it in balance with everything going in! I’m already thinking about spring appetizers and aromatic whites…

Wednesday 13 March 2013

VIWF 2013: BC Paired Luncheon

After three visits to the Wine Festival Tasting Room I had the opportunity to attend the BC Paired Luncheon the following day. Most of the BC wineries present for the Festival were at Provence Marinaside pouring selected wines as part of a grazing-style lunch organized by the BC Wine Institute. I discovered a few more gems, and tried some wines not present in the regular Tasting Room, alongside the delicious food of Chefs Jean-Francis & Alessandra Quaglia.

The menu was extensive, and reflected the seafood focus of Marinaside, with popular offerings such as Sockeye Gravlax, Dungeness Crab Cakes, Lobster Risotto Balls, and Seared Scallops with Truffle Beurre Blanc. Sawmill Bay oysters were on hand to pair with the sparkling wines in the room, and outside on the patio lamb lollipops and sausages were being grilled for those interested in an ideal red wine pairing. Fresh Tomato & Bocconcini Skewers, Tomato Basil Gnocchi, and some well stocked cheese trays were enough to keep strict vegetarians quite happy, while addictive lemon and chocolate tarts were in abundance to finish the meal. I attended a similar event at Provence during last year’s Festival and have to say the preparation and organization were noticeably improved this year, helped along by the additional space provided for in the restaurant’s new Wine Bar.

Having adored Rolf de Bruin’s 2012 Riesling so much in the Tasting Room I headed directly to the Fort Berens table to see what he was pouring alongside Winemaker James Cambridge. I was excited to see some new 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé, and marvelled at the gorgeous violet colour of the wine, which seemed to almost glow in the light. I resolved to pick up a bottle on the way home upon appreciating the delicate strawberry and pink grapefruit aromas and the dry palate with hints of earthiness. Rolf’s fruit-forward 2011 Chardonnay was further icing on the cake, with tropical flavours and nicely integrated oak – a great preview of the potential to be found in the winery’s reserve Chardonnay “White Gold” coming out in April.

A significantly different shift in Chardonnay style could be experienced steps away at the Sandhill table, where the 2011 Small Lots Chardonnay finally made an appearance, having been surprisingly absent from the Festival Tasting Room. The winery yields a full-bodied Chardonnay from selected parcels of their estate vineyard for this wine, of which typically only several barrels are produced. A very creamy texture and slightly sweet palate loaded with pie crust flavours provided for a memorable wine that I hope to enjoy again with something particularly well-paired, like baked Brie.

Across the room Okanagan Falls winery Noble Ridge was represented by Manager Tamsin Finnigan. The winery’s traditional method sparkling wine “The One” ($40) really caught my attention in the Festival Tasting Room, and I was quite pleased to enjoy it again at Provence. Made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, it continued to remind me specifically of fresh waffles and strawberries. Sadly the wine wasn’t for sale at the Festival’s Convention Centre BC Liquor Store, but I resolved to seek some out in short order after hearing from Tamsin that it should be available at private stores, including Legacy and Firefly.

Another two wineries were also pouring their sparkling wines to cleanse and refresh our palates. See Ya Later Ranch had their venerable non-vintage Brut, which is consistently enjoyable and relatively widely available as well. Produced via the Traditional Method it has pleasant baked bread aromas and a clean, crisp finish that I’ve enjoyed on many occasions. The other sparkling was the new Blanc de Noir Brut from Langley winery Backyard Vineyards: a good value at only $20 from Fraser Valley Pinot Noir, it was showing plenty of fruit, and lots of versatility with the myriad foods present.

Plenty of delicious red wine was also on offer despite the seafood-heavy menu, including the rare “CSM” blend from Poplar Grove. I was lucky enough to find the 2008 vintage last year, and am hopeful to get my hands on some of the smooth, juicy 2009 becoming available this year, despite it being targeted primarily at the winery’s Club members. About six hundred cases were produced, so there should be enough to stock the winery’s tasting room for a least a few months.

At the Nk’Mip Cellars table I continued my discussion with Assistant Winemaker Justin Hall as I sampled the 2009 Qwam Qwmt Meritage. I was sure to compliment him on the wine’s surprisingly bright, fresh red fruit flavours, and I mentioned the noticeable Merlot component obvious on the nose – Justin confirmed it’s often about two thirds Merlot. Even more 2009 reds could be found just inside the patio doors, where Black Hills Winemaker Graham Pierce was generously pouring ripe 2009 Nota Bene. The 2010 vintage is the current release (with the 2011 coming out in June), but the relatively young 2009 is already drinking quite well with plenty of dark fruit flavours.

At the very back of the Wine Bar annex I found the Wild Goose table manned by General Manager Roland Kruger and his brother, Winemaker Hagen Kruger. With the wineries in the venue organized alphabetically one would hope guests didn’t miss Wild Goose at the back, as Roland was pouring their delightful 2011 Blanc de Noirs and 2011 Autumn Gold white blend. The slightly off-dry, supremely fruity Autumn Gold is a legendary wine, having racked up loads of awards over the years, including a gold medal at last year’s Canadian Wine Awards for the 2011 vintage. I enjoyed both the Autumn Gold and the Blanc de Noirs, a blend of 30% Pinot Noir, 70% Merlot – both served as reminders that summer is approaching soon (and with it another excellent new vintage of Wild Goose wines)!

To conclude the luncheon there was really no better choice than a Chocolate Tartelette and the newly released (Sumac Ridge) Black Sage Vineyard 2007 “Pipe”. Having noticed the Pipe being poured earlier in the afternoon I heartily endorsed it when a fellow guest asked what he should pair with the Tartelette – no surprise it turned out to be the official suggested pairing in the printed program. The 2007 Pipe is the first vintage under the new Black Sage Vineyard label, which Sumac Ridge has spun off on its own to focus solely on red wines. The wine remains the same blend of one third each Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, fermented into a Port-style wine with 85 grams/L of residual sugar and about 20% alcohol. It’s always an excellent match for chocolate, and lifted up the already spectacular Tartelette even more – leaving a long, rich finish to ponder on the way home.

Chefs Quaglia and the Provence team should be proud of another successful year partnering with the BC Wine Institute to show off their delicious food with more excellent BC VQA wines. I consider myself very lucky to have attended this sold-out event (and all the other Festival events as well), and offer my thanks to the Vancouver International Wine Festival Society, the Wine Institute, and Provence Marinaside for the invitation – see you next year!

Friday 8 March 2013

VIWF 2013: BC Wineries Continued

Earlier this week, I detailed some of the BC wineries from which I had the good fortune to sample at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. With twenty-seven BC wineries (including the SakeMaker at Granville Island) in attendance this year I could go on and on detailing each one and all the delicious wines they were pouring. In addition to those wineries and wines I mentioned already there are at least several more I would love to highlight – keeping in mind all the wineries were doing a great job promoting the excellent products produced by themselves and the entire local industry.

At the Nk’Mip Cellars table I had a great time catching up with Assistant Winemaker Justin Hall, with whom I always enjoy discussing Okanagan winemaking. We talked about Nk’Mip’s new “Talon” red blend, a fun and approachable mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec from 2010. It’s soft and a little sweet (3.3 grams of residual sugar), and value-priced at $23 – a good deal considering the quality of grapes and winemaking talent that went into it. Being poured alongside the Talon were the Qwam Qwmt (Reserve) versions of the 2011 Chardonnay ($35), 2010 Pinot Noir ($30), and 2009 Syrah ($35), all of excellent quality and drinking very nicely at present, particularly the Pinot Noir. I also felt it pertinent to try out the 2010 Mer’r’iym I had already purchased, and I adored the ripe dark fruit and mouth filling texture. Sadly, there will not be a 2011 Mer’r’iym, as the winery felt the quality of fruit that year was not up to par for such an icon wine – which garners them a lot of respect in my book!

Painted Rock Proprietor John Skinner was a fixture throughout the festival, seemingly manning his booth relentlessly without pause. Helping to pour his fine wines was hardworking Sales Representative Jill and even his son Riley at one point. John’s sole white wine, his 2011 Chardonnay ($30), was front and centre, and was in fact the sole Canadian wine served at the Festival’s centrepiece Bacchanalia Dinner. It’s a very elegant and complex wine with a long finish and superb food friendliness. The Painted Rock team was also showing off their new 2010 Syrah ($40), a fine follow-up to the highly acclaimed 2009 vintage: it’s coming along well, with spicy pepper and slowly softening tannins. The 2009 Merlot ($40) is still exhibiting superb ripe flavours and maturity that I’ve been loving for months, as was the 2009 Red Icon ($55) of course. John decided at the last minute to hold back the 2010 Red Icon despite honestly wanting to share it with the world at the Festival; a little more time in bottle should ensure it is revealed when most appropriate.

I stopped by Quails’ Gate to check out the Stewart Family Reserve wines I’d already purchased, and spotted Proprietor Tony Stewart flitting in and out. Chief Operations Officer Tyler Galts and Winemaker Grant Stanley were present behind the table, pouring the winery’s Chenin Blanc ($18) and Dry Riesling ($17), along with the Reserve Burgundian varietals. The Reserve Chardonnay was as elegant as I remember from many previous vintages, while the Reserve Pinot Noir is back after a year’s absence: a smoky nose led nicely into earthy mushrooms and red fruit. At the Trade Tasting sessions the 2008 Merlot ($23) was also being poured (notable in particular given the current vintage comes from 2010) and it impressed me with a juicy, still somewhat tannic, chocolaty palate.

Sandhill’s Senior Winemaker Howard Soon could be spotted now and then, but it was Winemaker Stephanie Leinemann who spent the most time behind the table at the Festival. Although the winery was surprisingly not pouring their Small Lots Chardonnay in the Tasting Room, the regular 2011 Chardonnay ($18) did just fine, serving as a textbook traditional take on the varietal. I found the 2010 Syrah ($22) to be an enjoyable mix of peppery spice and bright berry fruit, with a hint of menthol; unfortunately it is sold out at the winery. When it came to trying the 2010 Small Lots “One” ($35) I was impressed at how well this blend is drinking already, with spot on balance and lots of fruit on the palate – good thing I purchased a bottle in advance! Also being poured at the Trade Tastings was the one-of-a-kind 2010 Small Lots Sangiovese ($30), with youthful tannins within a light-coloured, strawberry-flavoured palate.

Right next door See Ya Later’s Winemaker Mason Spink was happy to discuss the gamut of wines he was pouring. The 2011 Chardonnay ($20) possesses a soft, smooth mouthfeel thanks to malolactic fermentation, with subtle use of oak and apple-dominant orchard flavours. The new “Belle” Viognier-Pinot Gris blend comes in at a budget-friendly $17, and includes some of the best of both grapes, with floral aromas and apple-peach flavours; the 15% Pinot Gris provides acidity to back up the Viognier. The 2010 “Rover” Syrah ($25) was co-fermented with Viognier skins that provide pleasant floral aromas in the wine’s youth, but sufficient acid is present to allow for longer-term aging – as far as 2017 is suggested. The 2010 “Ping” red blend ($28) was darker on the palate, with less acid but more tannins, and could age even longer – I’ve been impressed with the performance of previous vintages. Lastly, for a delectable treat, Trade Tasting attendees were treated to samples of the new 2011 “Hunny” Last Harvest Riesling ($25), Best Dessert Wine at the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival: ideal sugar balance compliments a delicate, creamy palate and long finish – an excellent icewine alternative.

The Martinuik family of Stoneboat Vineyards was particularly excited to be present at the festival, as the timing was perfect for them to show off their new sparkling wine, “Piano Brut”. This Charmat-method sparkling is being released this spring at the approachable price of $23, but Festival-goers had the chance to buy it immediately at the on-site store. Comprised primarily of Pinot Blanc with a touch of Müller-Thurgau, it’s slightly off-dry, with peach flavours and a robust mousse (having been recently bottled). Stoneboat is perhaps best known for their Pinot Noir and Pinotage, both of which ($25) were being poured from the 2010 vintage. In tasting both wines I was taken aback at their highly expressive, fruit-forward aromas that easily wafted from the glass; although either should be able to age well, they are delightfully fresh and engaging at present.

Next door Tinhorn Creek was pulling out all the stops, led by President and Winemaker Sandra Oldfield. She had ensured only the reserve “Oldfield Series” wines were being served, with pouring being assisted by Vice-President Shaun Everest and Sales Manager Mark Butschler. The biggest surprise was seeing the newly released Oldfield Series 2010 Cabernet Franc ($35) on the table, and thus in the on-site store. The Oldfield Cabernet Franc is a brand new addition to the Tinhorn Creek portfolio, and only 374 cases were produced: nine months in bottle have begun to mellow the youthful tannins, but it should still have a long, fruitful life ahead of it. The more mature 2009 Oldfield Merlot ($29) and 2Bench Red ($30) were both showing very well, with round, mouth filling textures, and delicious chocolate flavours. The Oldfield Series white blend, 2011 2Bench White ($23) was also present for a little reminder of its terrific versatility: the soft texture and melon, pear, and peach flavours seem to pair well with almost any type of food.

Nearby, Township 7’s well-known Winemaker Bradley Cooper was helping Proprietor Mike Raffan share a few of their wines. I tried the 2010 Chardonnay ($20) first, and was surprised by the enticing and powerful nose and golden colour; it’s a full-bodied take on the varietal, with plenty of apple and sweet oak flavours. The 2011 Unoaked Chardonnay ($18) keeps the apples, and adds additional fresh tree fruits and citrus in a wine that speaks of summer. The grapes come from Harry McWatters’ Black Sage Bench “Sundial” vineyard, and that close relationship explains why Township 7 was pouring Harry’s McWatters Collection 2011 Chardonnay ($25) at the Trade Tastings. This tasty Chardonnay was both rich in texture and delicate in flavour, with well integrated oak that allowed the fruit to shine alongside hints of toast.

Having spent so much time hunting down BC’s top wines for my collection there weren’t many available for purchase at the Festival which I don’t already own. In addition to my earlier Festival purchases from Nk’Mip, Quails’ Gate, and Sandhill, I added See Ya Later 2010 Rover, which I’ve been eyeing for a while. Lastly, even though it will be widely distributed in stores, I couldn’t help but snag a bottle of Stoneboat’s new Brut to make for an even half-dozen bottles.

Over the weekend I visited the BC Paired Luncheon as well as the Festival Tasting Room one final time with a group of friends on Saturday night. I was pleased to have once again sampled from all of the local talent this year, in addition to some illuminating international exploration. Hearing that next year’s Festival Global Focus is on Sparkling Wine has certainly got me excited to see the international competition and BC’s contribution – we have some charming and sophisticated sparkling wines coming out of BC lately. My congratulations to the Festival Society for another great week, with many more sure to come!

Monday 4 March 2013

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013

Last week was the annual Vancouver International Wine Festival, this year celebrating its 35th edition with a tribute to California wines reminiscent of those first few years when the Festival was comprised exclusively of California wines. With California as the Theme Region, this year’s Global Focus on Chardonnay was an excellent fit. Sixty-two California wineries visited Vancouver, along with 113 additional wineries from a total of fifteen countries. I was very fortunate to be able to attend the Festival’s International Tasting Room a total of four times, including both afternoon Trade Tasting sessions. During my visits I sampled nearly all of the BC wines from the twenty-seven wineries present, and greatly enjoyed my many discussions with the proprietors, winemakers, and passionate staff who were present.

The first thing I did upon arriving at the Tasting Room however was visit the on-site BC Liquor Store to purchase a few bottles I knew I wanted in advance. I was certain to get Sandhill’s 2010 Small Lots “One” red blend ($35), which doesn’t always show up in stores, and of which only 525 cases were produced (still more than the 225 cases produced of the 2009 vintage though). I always make sure to pick up Nk’Mip’s relatively new icon red blend, Mer’r’iym ($50), of which the 2010 vintage was available (and not yet released at the winery). Lastly, I bought each of Quails’ Gate’s Stewart Family Reserve 2011 Chardonnay ($35) and Pinot Noir ($45) – both always dependable and quick to sell out (only about 500 cases of Chardonnay and 1,000 of Pinot Noir were produced). I left it up to the Tasting Room to determine if anything else tickled my fancy enough to justify an impulse purchase.

In the Tasting Room I proceeded first through the wineries of British Columbia before exploring internationally. There were quite a few new BC wines being poured – along with some current favourites – and I took note of many personal highlights. I tried a new strategy this year of tasting exclusively white wines the first afternoon, with reds to follow the next day. The advantage of such a plan being that one’s palate doesn’t get burnt out by tannins too early in the Festival! It worked out well, and enabled me to concentrate a bit more on the intricacies of the more delicate whites being poured.

At the CedarCreek table President Gordon Fitzpatrick was present alongside Winemaker Darryl Brooker, pouring the upcoming 2012 Riesling ($18) among other things. The new Riesling maintains Darryl’s focus on fresh, brisk acidity and lime flavours, but clocks in at an amazingly low 9.9% alcohol! The 2011 Platinum Chardonnay ($30) was naturally present, to coincide with the Global Focus, and showed a bright, refreshing palate due to a complete absence of malolactic fermentation. The 2010 Platinum Pinot Noir ($40) showed off a youthful, fruit forward presence, and is in fact quickly becoming a favourite of local critic Anthony Gismondi, shown by his recent 90 point review. Also being poured was Darryl’s brand new 2010 Shiraz Cabernet ($23), which I just received recently in my Platinum Club shipment: it’s juicy, plush, and soft – easily enjoyable! Best of all, the Shiraz Cabernet uses Cabernet Franc for the (22%) “Cabernet” part of the blend, taking advantage of Franc’s compatibility with our local climate and terroir.

Down at the Fort Berens table owner Rolf de Bruin was showing off one of the other few 2012 vintage wines I came across. One disadvantage to holding the Festival so early in the year is that many wineries haven’t yet bottled their most recent vintage, so one tends to miss out on the newest whites and rosés, apart from the odd tank sample. However, Rolf must have pulled out all the stops, as his 2012 Riesling ($18) is fully bottled and already in stores! It is a delightfully fresh, tropical take on Riesling that is in fact reminiscent of an Ehrenfelser, with well-balanced acidity and none of the traditional diesel notes often associated with the variety: “a study in Lillooet’s terroir” in his words. I was sure to bring back my wife and several friends later in the festival to taste it again, to much acclaim!

Close by at the Meyer Family Vineyards table JAK Meyer and his wife Janice were aglow with pride at a recent major feature in the Vancouver Sun, detailing their fondness for Chardonnay. In appropriate form JAK was pouring both of his 2011 vineyard-specific Chardonnays. The McLean Creek Road Chardonnay ($35) comes from the Okanagan Falls home vineyard, and was showing very well-integrated oak and lots of apple-dominant primary fruit at present: delicious at such a young age! The Tribute Series Chardonnay ($35), from the winery’s Old Main Road vineyard in Naramata, received exactly the same oak treatment but exhibited distinctly more pronounced oak expression – a fascinating study in vineyard variances. Also present were the winery’s varietal 2011 Pinot Noir ($25) and Gewurztraminer ($18), with the former showing hints of smoke and bacon fat, and the later being a delightfully fruit-focused wine that dials back the excessive perfume often witnessed in the varietal.

Young Penticton winery Perseus, with the help of consulting Winemaker Tom DiBello, was pouring a nice selection of well-priced red wines in addition to a quality Pinot Gris from their home vineyard in Penticton. Nearly all the reds come from the Similkameen Valley’s Blind Creek Vineyard, with additional Syrah coming from a vineyard overlooking Skaha Lake. Starting at $20, the 2011 Cabernet Shiraz is already widely available and shows juicy fruit and youthful tannins. The 2011 Merlot ($22) was surprisingly approachable at such a young age, due to very well integrated oak and plenty of berry fruit. The smooth and smoky 2010 Tempus Syrah ($29) includes a touch of Viognier, responsible for the gorgeous colour I admired. Even the winery’s top red blend, “Invictus” comes in at only $33, and the new 2010 vintage was rich with aromas of leather, earth, and dark fruit, plus a very full texture on the palate.

Next door, at Poplar Grove, Winemaker Stefan Arnason was present alongside Sales Director Laurie Barnes. With the winery having a relatively compact and focused portfolio of wines, nearly the entire range was being sampled at the Festival, including the flagship 2007 red blend “The Legacy” ($50). Naturally, the winery’s 2010 Chardonnay ($22) was present, with a well-balanced, soft palate and minimal use of oak (17%). The 2009 Cabernet Franc ($35) that was being poured is actually sold out at the winery after having received a Lieutenant Governor’s Award last year, so Festival patrons were very lucky to have the chance to taste it and buy it on site. The Poplar Grove Cab Franc is an elegant take on the varietal, with approachable tannins that will likely age quite nicely, as most previous vintages have done. The 2009 Syrah ($35) was also available at the Trade Tastings, drinking well at present with lots of bright fruit on the palate.

At the Road 13 table owners Mick & Pam Luckhurst and their son Joe were all out in force, while Winemaker J.M. Bouchard was shepherding a couple valuable barrel samples. At the Trade Tasting there was a sample of the upcoming 2012 Old Vines Chenin Blanc ($24), one of Road 13’s most renowned wines year after year (along with the sparkling version of the same). I enjoyed the honeyed palate with hints of melon and what I interpreted as popcorn – entertaining! Particularly special was a single sample bottle of 2011 Jackpot Petit Verdot, from the Blind Creek Vineyard in the Similkameen. J.M. could not stop praising this vineyard site, and the wine itself (to be released next year in all likelihood) was fantastically exciting. Similarly rich and expressive was the currently available 2011 Syrah Mourvedre ($35), with plenty of dark cherry flavours that made me long for another taste, and very glad I had a bottle back home!

There were quite a few more great wines to taste at the Festival, and later this week I’ll cover additional highlights from BC wineries!