Friday 26 April 2013

April Wine Club: New Releases and Old Favourites

Our group of wining and dining aficionados has been working on re-starting our monthly wine-pairing dinner series ever since the departure from Vancouver of one of the three founding couples. In March we enjoyed a fantastic meal with some other friends who just moved back to Vancouver, and for April a different couple joined us for yet another monthly celebration of BC wine and food. With so many new wines being released these days from the excellent 2012 vintage it was quite a challenge to settle on just a few bottles. I certainly wish we had the time for more than one shared dinner per month, but coordinating six people is surprisingly challenging – leaving barely enough time to decide on what wines to serve and tasty food to prepare!

Stoneboat Piano Brut

Our new guests had elected to contribute the appetizer course, and since my wife and I had offered up hosting duties that put the second veteran couple on dessert. Since one can never be sure if the appetizer course will require on-site preparation it’s best to prepare a reception wine; and really it’s just an excuse to have another bottle of wine. Having tasted and picked up a bottle of Stoneboat Vineyards’ brand new sparkling wine at the Vancouver Wine Festival it seemed like just the time to crack it open. Since our entree course had required so many types of cheese I had plenty of leftover pieces that made for a great cheese tray to open the evening. A couple supplemental cheeses from Benton Brothers rounded things out with an amazingly creamy Délice de Bourgogne and a tart round of St. George goat cheese from Farm House.

The Martiniuk family at Stoneboat revealed their first sparkling wine earlier this spring, a blend of Pinot Blanc and Müller-Thurgau produced via the very rare Charmat method. Although relatively common elsewhere, Charmat-method sparkling wine hasn’t been seen in British Columbia for a generation, as John Schreiner detailed in early March. In short, tank fermenting and bottling the wine under continuous pressure via Charmat retains the finessed carbonation found in (bottle-fermented) traditional method sparkling, and gains the advantage of simplicity by avoiding riddling, disgorging, etc. Bottled in a classy, silk-screened bottle, the Piano Brut found quick converts amongst us, being described as clean and fruit-forward with fine bubbles. It was drier than expected given the fresh, fruity aromas, and received compliments for being “uncomplicated” – ideal for refreshing spring and summer sipping.

Cheese Tray Opener

Our guests arrived with covered trays for the oven and a couple of bottles of a very exciting new release I had recently sampled: Clos du Soleil’s 2012 Rosé has been impressing me for at least a couple of years and the newest vintage is the best yet in my opinion. We prepared the oven to warm up some exciting stuffed acorn squash and opened the wine to admire the beautiful colour. The acorn squash had been stuffed with a mouth-watering mix of black quinoa, onions and mushrooms, chorizo (for those who desired it), and plenty of parmesan cheese. The wine paired very well given its underlying earthy flavours, brightened by plenty of strawberry, rhubarb, and hints of bubble-gum. When chilled it presented as low acid but a more appealing tartness developed as it warmed up a bit. Bringing two bottles was an excellent idea, as we had no trouble polishing them off before our entree course was served.

Clos du Soleil Rose & Stuffed Acorn Squash

When you are cooking for six and don’t want to spend the whole time in the kitchen, lasagne is a chef’s best friend. In this case this versatile pasta dish made perfect sense, to ensure we would be able to enjoy the appetizer course in peace while our casserole baked in the oven. We’d elected on a creamy vegetable lasagne, with Bechamel sauce and lots of spring vegetables. Some modifications from the source recipe saw us adding roasted asparagus and plenty of sautéed brown mushrooms in addition to the sweet onion, leeks, zucchini, and peas. On top was a heavenly mix of Mozzarella, Fontina, Asiago, and Pecorino Romano cheeses; and on the side a beautiful fresh salad of frisee and Boston lettuces, watercress, and celery.

Joie & Painted Rock Chardonnay with Lasagne

To enjoy alongside our admittedly fantastic lasagne I selected two very different bottles of 2009 Chardonnay. The JoieFarm Reserve came from Naramata Bench and Okanagan Falls fruit, fully malolactically fermented in oak, and then oak-aged for nine months with lees stirring. The Painted Rock on the other hand, from Skaha Lake Bench fruit, was only partially oak fermented, with no malolactic component, and then oak aged (sur lie) for four months. Ironically the Joie fruit book-ended Painted Rock in between Naramata and Okanagan Falls, but the two wines represent significantly different approaches to Chardonnay production.

We split up the bottles across the table, and I ended up tasting the Painted Rock first: it came across a bit toasty, with oak aromas present, but well integrated on the palate, and no woodiness apparent. There was plenty of fruit, with citrus and lots of apple flavours, plus lively acidity. The fresh flavours paired well with the lasagne, bringing out the fresh lemon zest I had mixed into the ricotta cheese.

The Joie Chardonnay was quite an about-face, as it featured a more subtle nose with an apple focus, while the oak influence became more apparent on the palate – the opposite of the Painted Rock. The creamy texture of the Joie was a major difference of course, due to the malolactic fermentation and lees stirring. Such a full texture was appreciated on its own; however, the cleaner, crisper finish from Painted Rock paired best with our particular meal. The 2009 vintage was only the second Chardonnay from Painted Rock, but it’s apparent that the winery has long been cultivating a very food-friendly style; more recent vintages have been equally advantageous and delicious!

Burrowing Owl Coruja & Flourless Chocolate Cake

We all managed to restrain ourselves from enjoying a second piece of lasagne in anticipation of the exciting dessert sure to come. All we knew in advance was that it had required the purchase of a number of specialized ingredients, and had necessitated the use of “every single item in the entire kitchen,” in the words of the chefs. Once we were presented with the reveal of Flourless Salted Chocolate Lavender Cake we were supremely impressed, and couldn’t wait to taste such an ambitious creation! To pair with the delectable dessert was a bottle of the first release of Burrowing Owl Coruja, a solera-style fortified Syrah, purchased at the winery last spring (right before it sold out). If that wasn’t enough, a bottle of 2006 Pipe from Sumac Ridge was also on hand!

Finishing the meal with a smile

The “cake” was more of a giant chocolate soufflé – something none of us had any problems with – and the addition of edible lavender sprinkled on top provided for a wonderfully floral hit following the super-smooth, salty chocolate explosion. It was definitely the sort of dish that we’ll be talking about for a long time to come, and garnered many compliments for the talented chefs! Even better, dessert was made all the more enjoyable by the beautifully-bottled Coruja, which showed off rich dark cherry and milk chocolate flavours, and delightfully enhanced the salt in the cake.

The Pipe made for an excellent follow-up once we finished the Coruja, as it is consistently a natural match for chocolate, with cocoa characteristics on the nose and palate. Compared to the somewhat yeasty nose on the Coruja, the Pipe – an equal parts blend of fortified Merlot and Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon – was much more chocolaty, and finished with a rich, creamy texture in concert with second helpings of cake. There were to be no leftovers from such a marvellous culinary creation! We’d managed to once again put the icing on the proverbial cake of another spectacular meal, thanks to great friends and plenty of superb BC wine.

Monday 22 April 2013

BCWAS Blasted Church Vertical Tasting

Last week’s tasting saw much of the team from Blasted Church join the BC Wine Appreciation Society for another sold out event. The Society was joined by winery owners Evelyn and Chris Campbell along with Winemaker Mark Wendenburg and the winery’s two dedicated sales representatives, Brent Hayman and Derrick Cousins. Together the five of them were able to answer any and all questions about the history and practices of Blasted Church, and the exciting wines available for us to sample.

Blasted Church produces a broad portfolio of wines ranging from sparkling to Port-style, including more than a dozen table wine varietals and blends. However, the Campbells decided our tasting would be the perfect opportunity to investigate the pedigree of their Chardonnay and Merlot in greater depth, via two vertical tastings covering much of the last decade.

Before sampling from a five-year Reserve Chardonnay vertical, and a seven-year Merlot vertical, we were all treated with a special preview of the winery’s upcoming 2011 “OMG” Sparkling Wine. Having previously produced only one vintage of sparkling, from 2008, it is no coincidence that the winery is ramping up their sparkling program now that new winemaker Mark has arrived. Mark spent two decades collecting accolades at Sumac Ridge Winery, well known for their “Steller’s Jay” sparkling wine.

Mark joined Blasted Church in the spring of 2011, and wasted little time preparing the second release of OMG from that fall’s vintage, to be officially released later this year after two years of fermentation and aging. The sample bottles brought to us from the winery weren’t even labelled yet, as they are still several months from release, but the traditional method blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir introduced itself just fine. With a slight pinkish tint from the Pinot Noir, the wine showed a very crisp, fine mousse and delicious peach pie flavours following clean linen aromas. Although only 77 cases of the 2008 OMG were produced, there should be more 2011, and the program will no doubt continue to grow in the years to come.

BCWAS President Brian, Winemaker Mark, Proprietors Evelyn & Chris

Although I’m sure the Blasted Church team could have continued speaking about their exciting upcoming wines, we conceded it was time to move on to the next dozen glasses in front of us, knowing how quickly BCWAS tastings can fly by! The first vertical consisted of the 2004 to 2008 vintages of the “Revered Series” (Reserve) Chardonnay, no longer produced. One can imagine the sparkling program requires greater amounts of Chardonnay grapes, which may have necessitated the transition. The Revered Chardonnay was always produced in very small quantities – half a dozen barrels at most, according to Brent, with whom I conveniently shared a table. Now the winery focuses on producing several hundred cases annually of an off-dry varietal Chardonnay Musqué, named “Unorthodox Chardonnay”.

Tasting five vintages of the Revered Chardonnay was a very rare treat, given its production status. Beginning with the 2004 I was quite impressed by how much fruit was retained on the palate. The wine still smelled clean and fresh, with moderate oak on the nose. Unexpectedly, the 2004 would ultimately come out on top as the crowd favourite of the flight.

Moving through the remainder of the vertical I found the 2005 a bit thicker in texture (although the malolactic component of the 2004 had been evident), with a more restrained nose than its predecessor. The 2006 initially expressed a bit of acetone on the nose and a hint of oxidation that reminded me of Sherry, but over time honey aromas expressed themselves and a strong melon flavour emerged. My personal favourite was the 2007, with a toasty nose and fruity undertones, plus an acidic bite that kept it vibrant on the palate. Lastly, as one would expect, the 2008 showed the most fresh, floral nose, along with mixed tree fruit flavours. It really was quite an exploration overall!

Chardonnay Vertical

Although everyone was still debating their favourite Chardonnay we couldn’t ignore the seven remaining glasses of Merlot ahead of us. Starting with the winery’s first release from 2002 I was immediately impressed by how aromatic it presented after nearly a decade in bottle. A dark rusty colour yielded to mature, Porty aromas, while on the palate brisk acidity was found to be keeping it lively.

After the winery’s first winemaker Frank Supernak tragically passed away during the 2002 crush Blasted Church brought in South African winemaker Willems Grobbelaar for 2003, the year of the infamous Okanagan wildfires. The 2003 Merlot certainly seemed affected by the smoky conditions that year, showing what I found to be a leathery nose with elements of eraser rubber and paint; not ideal but an unavoidable reality that year. By 2004 another new winemaker was needed when Willems was unable to extend his work visa, and Australian Marcus Ansems joined the team (only to leave the next year!) to produce a dry, dark-cherry-flavoured Merlot, which was showing moderate tannins.

The 2005 and 2006 vintages were produced by Kelly Moss after she left Calona Vineyards (where she was trained under Howard Soon). Upon tasting the wines I found that both showed more fruit on the nose, with smooth tannins and cranberry/cherry flavours; the fresh and fruity 2006 was probably my favourite of the vertical in fact. The remaining two glasses came from the hands of Richard Kanazawa, winemaker for the 2007-2010 vintages, who took over when Kelly moved back to Ontario. Both 2007 and 2008 wines were quite young, with plenty of tannin present, showing that Blasted Church’s Merlot needs quite a bit of time to come into its own. That being said, Sales Representative Brent confided to me that 2009 was the best Merlot yet in his opinion, but regretfully it was not available for our tasting.

Consumers will have the chance to try Mark’s take on Blasted Church Merlot once the 2011 vintage is released later this year. It’s doubtful a six-winemaker vertical (2002-2011) will ever be tasted in public, but it was challenging enough diligently working our way through seven years! Much gratitude goes to Evelyn and Chris for so generously opening their library of wines to us, and to Mark for introducing us to his sparkling wine and the promises his talents bring to Blasted Church’s many fans in the years to come.

Friday 19 April 2013

Okanagan Falls in Vancouver

Sandwiched between the well known Naramata Bench to the north and the heavy hitters of Oliver-Osoyoos to the south, one might worry the wineries of Okanagan Falls could escape notice. In order to ensure that doesn’t happen the wineries from “The Heart of Wine Country” organized themselves into a winery association that was “years in the making” and covers wineries from Penticton to Vaseux Lake, representing 11% of the domestic wine bottled in BC. This week the young Okanagan Falls Winery Association held the Vancouver launch of their new press kit with a comprehensive tasting at Brix Restaurant in Yaletown. The results made it obvious that anyone who fails to pay attention to the dozen members of the Association is doing themselves a serious disservice, and missing out on some of BC’s tastiest wines!

The Association logo, in ice form

At Brix the wineries were organized at a dozen tables within the outer courtyard and restaurant interior, with most of the winery proprietors in attendance pouring a wide variety of wines. I was pleased to get another chance to enjoy Noble Ridge’s delicious “The One” traditional method sparkling wine, immediately followed by Blue Mountain’s NV Brut, a BC standard. Both sparkling wines were showing particularly well, and ideal for awakening my palate. Noble Ridge Proprietors Leslie and Jim D’Andrea were also sharing their creamy 2010 Chardonnay and big, bold 2009 Pinot Noir. Blue Mountain Sales & Marketing Manager Christie Mavety was showing off her family’s newly released 2011 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, plus the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, with great citrus-dominant fresh fruit flavours.

The Wild Goose table next door, out in the courtyard, was swamped for the most of the tasting, so I didn’t manage to taste any of the wines being poured by General Manager Roland Kruger. Judging by the crowds and the winery’s reputation I’m sure the new releases were going over very well, considering they included the 2011 Stoney Slope Riesling and 2012 Mystic River Gewurztraminer, plus 2010 Reserve Merlot. I’ll just have to visit the winery myself this summer, in the hopes that at least some of those particularly popular aromatic whites are still available!

Inside the restaurant Blasted Church Proprietors Evelyn and Chris Campbell and Winemaker Mark Wendenburg were making enthusiastic use of a portable tap dispensing their 2011 Hatfield’s Fuse white blend, and 2011 Big Bang Theory red blend. Both wines are very popular throughout BC via the “FreshTap” kegs that enable by-the-glass servings in restaurants and bars. Both 2011 wines were initially released earlier last year, so 2012 versions will be forthcoming soon, but in the meantime the Hatfield’s Fuse is showing soft fresh stone fruit flavours, and the Big Bang Theory has lots of easy-drinking berry flavours and floral hints.

John Skinner - Painted Rock

The always enthusiastic John Skinner was on hand pouring his remaining Painted Rock wines – the 2011 Chardonnay is sold out leaving him with no white at present. The 2012 Chard should be available soon, but you’d hardly have noticed any disappointment in John as he was busy showing off renderings of his long-awaited tasting room, finally under construction. John has spent the last few years putting all his energy and profits into the vineyards and winery, resisting the urge to splurge on a showpiece tasting room. Now that his winery and brand are firmly established he can proceed with a replacement for the small shed that has served customers since the winery opened. By mid-summer the gleaming new tasting room should be open and ready to serve guests and host events such as weddings, which will likely be clamouring for the Skaha Lake views.

At the Stag’s Hollow table owners Larry Gerelus and Linda Pruegger were pouring their very tasty 2012 Syrah Rose: a touch of Viognier amps up the aromatic nose and the strawberry flavours (and dry finish) put it on my shopping list immediately. The winery’s new 2010 vintage of their Cabernet-Merlot red blend “Heritage Block” was showing toasty smoke over a solid fruit core, and the 2010 Renaissance Merlot impressed with a full, but smooth, approachable texture. Of particular interest was the sample of the winery’s upcoming third wine in their ultra-small-lot “Cachet” series: Cachet #3 is a rich Merlot-Tempranillo blend with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon, from the 2010 vintage, and should be released later this year. Once again, each bottle is hand-numbered, and they will probably be very hard to find outside the winery!

Larry Gerelus & Linda Pruegger - Stag's Hollow

I spent a substantial amount of time at the table manned by Jak Meyer (the current Association President): his Meyer Family Vineyards Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is consistently superb, and they just keep getting better! Jak was not only pouring all of his single vineyard wines, but also his “Okanagan Valley” Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the more economical multi-vineyard blends. That certainly isn’t to say that the Tribute or McLean Creek Chardonnays ($35), or Reimer or McLean Creek Pinot Noirs ($40) aren’t worth the price: the Chardonnays show very well-integrated oak, with bright acidity and excellent balance, and the Pinot Noirs are earthy and full-bodied. Meyer has a handy wine club that offers access to all of the wines in three annual shipments: it’s probably the best way to acquire many of these small-lot wines if you can’t make it to the winery in Okanagan Falls.

With “only” a dozen wineries present one would think there was enough time to visit them all, but I regretfully had to quickly skim through the portfolios of a few, and missed one of them entirely! Fortunately I’ll get a chance to visit Liquidity Wines this summer, hopefully just in time to enjoy their brand new tasting room, and finally try some of their wines. Knowing the estate vineyards have been selling grapes for over twenty years before the new owners started a winery in time for the 2012 vintage certainly piques my curiosity.

I was at least able to taste some of the wines from the remaining wineries, and was impressed by Kraze Legz’ clean and crisp Pinot Blanc and refreshing Merlot Rose, as well as the strawberry-flavoured “Cake Walk” Merlot. From the See Ya Later Ranch portfolio I enjoyed the value found in the very easy-drinking 2011 “Jimmy My Pal” white blend ($16), and the soft, dark fruit of the 2010 “Ping” Cabernet-Merlot. Family-run winery Synchromesh (named by auto-enthusiasts) had a slew of Rieslings open across three vintages from 2010 to 2012. The 55 grams of residual sugar found in the 2011 Black Label Riesling was certainly eye-opening, but still in decent balance with the acidity. Thematic nomenclature continued with Topshelf Winery, clearly the domain of hockey enthusiasts: each bottle being poured by owners (and hockey parents) Leonard & Myra Kwiatkowski features prominent goalie mask artwork! The Kwiatkowski’s were pouring their 2011 Pinot Gris, a bright 2011 Chardonnay called “Slapshot”, and an earthy, soft 2011 Merlot named “Over the Top”.

It’s great to see the diverse Okanagan Falls wineries finally organize themselves into a trade association. Working together will undoubtedly help to raise the profiles of all the member wineries; they certainly made an impression on the assembled guests at Brix. Having visited a few of these wineries previously, including during last year’s BCWAS Bus Tour, I’m looking forward to returning this summer to share the region’s beautiful vistas and wide variety of wines with my family. Thanks to the Okanagan Falls Winery Association for refreshing my memory!

Friday 12 April 2013

Wines of BC Vintage 2012 Preview

Yesterday afternoon the fine folks at the BC Wine Institute brought together several Okanagan winemakers and viticulturists to discuss the 2012 vintage and preview some of the their upcoming wines. The panel discussion and tasting took place in Hawksworth Restaurant’s beautiful upstairs York Room, and included representatives from regions including the Golden Mile and Black Sage benches, Naramata, Summerland, and Kelowna. Unfortunately there wasn’t any contribution available from outside the Okanagan Valley, such as the vibrant Similkameen Valley, but the expertise and experience on offer was much appreciated by the many attendees.

Warwick, Robert, Andrew, Nathan, Michael, Howard, & Theo

Tinhorn Creek’s President and Winemaker Sandra Oldfield was first to speak (as she had to leave early), alongside her Vineyard Manager Andrew Moon. In response to facilitator Anthony Gismondi’s query as to what she’ll remember the most about the 2012 vintage Sandra was quick to mention the two weeks of rain that soaked the valley at the end of harvest. That much sustained rain was a unique occurrence, but fortunately only set Tinhorn Creek back a slight amount as they don’t dry farm their vines any longer. Dry-farmed vines would have immediately absorbed all that water and drastically diluted the grapes and resulting wine. Sandra’s distaste for dry-framing was brought about in part due to the high tannin levels it historically yielded in her wines; now Tinhorn Creek carefully but deliberately water their 150 acres of vineyards by drip-irrigation (and steadily declining amounts of overhead irrigation).

Two new white wines from the 2012 vintage were offered as samples from Tinhorn Creek: the varietal Gewurztraminer will be officially released May first, and the “2Bench White” blend will follow in June. The Gewurztraminer comes from estate Golden Mile vineyards, and shows a lychee-heavy focus on fruit rather than floral notes (my preference); it was stainless steel fermented to yield less than 13% alcohol and a moderate 7 grams per liter of residual sugar. The 2Bench White is a popular and food-friendly blend of Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Muscat Ottonel from both sides of the valley. It’s quite dry (only 2 g/L of sugar), fresh and clean, with a long finish of tree fruit flavours. No matter the year, there’s often a bottle of this versatile and dependable wine chilling in my fridge!

To cover vintage conditions in greater detail from the Black Sage Bench perspective were Sandhill’s Senior Winemaker Howard Soon and Viticulturist Nathan Goltz, who manages the Sandhill Estate Vineyard along with his father Robert. Following an illuminating historical overview of local growing-degree days Howard was sure to mention his philosophy of avoiding micromanagement in the vineyard, and his trust in experts like Nathan to take care of the vines properly until harvest. Nathan demonstrated his detailed approach with a lengthy discussion about leaf removal practices, and the unexpected complexities involved in balancing the choices involved.

Another new 2012 white wine was provided by Sandhill in the form of their varietal Sauvignon Blanc, already awarded a silver medal at the New World International Wine Competition in California. The winery reports the grapes were hand-harvested from the Black Sage Bench and whole cluster pressed to yield 1,200 cases coming out on May first. It has an obvious citrus and gooseberry nose, and a mellow tropical palate with few grassy influences. An appealing clean, relatively dry finish keeps the wine refreshing. Howard pointed out his preference for creating wines that pair well with local cuisine, such as the many BC seafood dishes that will mesh nicely with the Sauvignon Blanc.

Representing the Naramata Bench on the east side of Okanagan Lake was Renaissance man Robert Van Westen, who serves as both viticulturist and winemaker at his namesake winery Van Westen Vineyards (not to mention as an often-frustrated cherry farmer as well). Rob walked the audience through his many vineyard locations throughout Naramata: multiple small vineyard parcels keep him busy travelling back and forth along Naramata Road between at least five sites. He’ll have to work even harder this year given his assessment that spring is two weeks ahead of normal; combining that with a two-week delay recuperating from recent surgery puts him a month behind in his opinion.

Van Westen’s whites tend to be released later in the year than most: the Gold-medal-winning 2011 Viognier just came out in December. Rob managed to bring a tank sample of the 2012 Viognier however, and it’s already a very good wine, lush, supremely balanced, and awash in delicate tropical fruit and a hint of ginger – it’s going to be a long wait until this December! As if that wasn’t enough Rob also brought along his 2009 “V” red blend, so named as it is his first wine to contain all five Bordeaux varieties. Three hundred cases were released last fall, and despite the wine having nothing to do with the 2012 vintage it was quite welcome in my glass: fine tannins and chocolate flavours make it approachable already, despite the intense, long-lived reds Van Westen is known for.

Moving across the lake to Summerland we heard from Michael Bartier of Okanagan Crush Pad, along with Viticulturist Theo Siemens. They had brought tank samples of Haywire 2012 Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris and 2011 Canyonview Vineyard Pinot Noir. Michael and Theo were proud to discuss the many environmentally-sustainable practices employed by OK Crush Pad, including the presence of vineyard chickens, and soon sheep! The vineyards have cut insecticide use completely in favour of encouraging beneficial insects via diverse flowering plants. In addition, the winery’s compost pile yields liquid “tea” that serves as an excellent fungicide, further reducing artificial chemical application. These practices have certainly succeeded in producing delicious wines: the Pinot Gris – fermented and aged as five unique lots before blending – is showing off a very nice nose of delicate tropical fruit and floral notes. The 2011 Pinot Noir is already very smooth, with flavours of red currants and cherries, but bright acidity on the palate will keep it fresh for some time, it having not even been formally bottled yet. Okanagan Crush Pad employs several concrete “egg” tanks, which is where the Pinot Noir is currently aging.

Our final panel member came from Kelowna’s Tantalus Vineyards: Viticulturist Warwick Davis joked that since all wine is made in the vineyard, there was no point in sending (Winemaker) David Paterson as well. In fact, David is currently working the Australian 2013 harvest, a practice not uncommon for worldly winemakers with experience timing their travel schedules. Warwick showed a map of Tantalus’ 50-acre estate vineyard surrounding their beautiful winery and tasting room, including some newly acquired neighbouring property being planted to Chardonnay. He was sure to mention the risks involved riding the sharp edge of deficit irrigation – maintaining the fine line between not enough and too much water is a constant balancing act. Although the vineyards may not be pretty, the old vines at Tantalus are still “trucking along” even though some are missing here and there – Riesling planted in 1978 makes up the vineyard backbone.

The 2012 and 2010 (Old Vines) Riesling from Tantalus were the final wines available to sample, and will likely be released within the next month. The “regular” 2012 Riesling is demonstrating an excellent balance between the 16 grams of sugar and 10 grams of acidity. Because 2012 was a warmer year tropical notes are more apparent than in previous vintages, but tart apples and citrus flavours form the fruit core. The Old Vines version from 2010 is soon to be released after extensive bottle aging, and showed somewhat lower sugar and higher acidity than the 2012 vintage in the neighbouring glass. Stronger petrol notes are apparent on the nose, and citrus flavours are dominant (as Warwick suggested, due to the cooler season that year). In this case, a vibrant, mouth-watering, honeyed finish provided for a delightful conclusion to the flight of wines.

My gratitude goes out to the BC Wine Institute for organizing such an informative panel discussion, and to the talented winemakers and viticulturists who attended for being so generous with their time. I look forward to enjoying more of the high-quality 2012 vintage over the coming months and years!

Monday 8 April 2013

Joy Road 13 in Vancouver

I received an incredible surprise last Tuesday when I was informed that I’d won two seats to the highly anticipated (and sold out) Joy Road Catering & Road 13 Vineyards dinner at Vancouver Urban Winery. Organizer Kurtis Kolt had randomly drawn my name from among many online entries – in which entrants were invited to post a photo of any Road 13 wine. I’d entered the contest the week before, immediately uploading a photo of the hefty magnum of Sparkling Chenin Blanc included in the blog post I was working on at the time. I was very excited and grateful to actually end up the winner, having had to forgo purchasing tickets in lieu of replacing my dying cell phone instead. In place of my already engaged wife I invited a good friend of mine: he’d actually been the one to open the Sparkling Chenin Magnum at his place only a couple weeks beforehand – it seemed particularly apt he join the fun!

Sparkling Chenin Blanc

Arriving at Vancouver Urban Winery we passed through the impressive wooden doors to receive a glass of Road 13’s legendary Sparkling Chenin Blanc. Four hundred and ten cases of the 2009 vintage were produced, and sold out long ago, so we considered ourselves very lucky to receive it upon arrival, let alone via generous refills. Fortunately we are rapidly approaching the early summer release of the 2010 vintage, and I’ll once again be stocking up on this gem.

As guests milled around and admired the architecture and spotless tanks and barrels throughout what is – by day – a working winery, servers began to circulate with exciting hors d’oeuvres. Most interesting was the Wild Nettle Pesto with house made Ricotta, the nettles having been locally harvested the day before from Joy Road’s base in the Okanagan. The Pesto & Ricotta was served on sliced baguette with Prosciutto for those who fancy it, made from Joy Road’s very own pigs in an honest and straightforward manner – Proprietor Dana even told us this particular pig’s name and details of his life on their property.

Oysters from Outlandish Shellfish Guild were next to appear, served with flair on full barrel staves, with a touch of caviar, chives, and lemon. With glasses of a perfect pairing in hand most guests descended on the oysters with vigour. If the oysters weren’t enough, we also found ourselves being offered “Fried Pork Rillet with molten Quince centres”. Although rillettes is typically similar to pâté the preparation from Joy Road saw little fried spheres almost like Risotto Balls; pretty easy to pop in your mouth and wash down with the rest of your Chenin Blanc before finding a seat.

Fleet Road Pinot Noir

At two long tables spanning most of the room sat probably 80 people, including Road 13 Proprietors Mick and Pam Luckhurst, and even a couple who’d flown in from Alberta just for the meal! While Kurtis introduced Mick and Pam to the crowd along with Sommelier David Stansfield we sipped from glasses of Riesling. I believe it was 2011 Home Vineyard Riesling as opposed to the 2009 Jackpot Riesling, which ironically is still available while the 2011 is sold out (180 cases of $30 2009, versus 80 cases of $24 2011).

Before long the first course of “Poached Trout Choucroute Garni” was served, in a Pernod Butter sauce with Chervil & Tarragon. Our glasses were refilled with the marvellous 2011 Jackpot Viognier Roussanne Marsanne I so recently enjoyed, and conversation was soon struck up with tablemates. I discovered that across from me was the mother of one of my wife’s undergraduate students, who was amused to text her daughter the surprising news that she was dining with her professor’s husband.

We needed to finish the trout course in short order, as room on the tables had to be found for the family-style course of lamb, risotto, beet carpaccio, and watercress salad. There was just enough time for a refill of VRM before the first of two red wines came our way – 2011 Fleet Road Pinot Noir. This small lot (125 cases) Naramata-sourced Pinot Noir is mysteriously not mentioned on Road 13’s website, but I was lucky enough to acquire a bottle from the winery last fall; whether it is still available is in question. In September John Schreiner pointed out the bright and vibrant fruit, which I would agree with: it’s still a youthful wine that tastes a bit restrained, but the potential for elegance is certainly there. The Pinot certainly went down well alongside “Pearl Barley Risotto with Wild fire Morel Mushrooms and Parmesan” plus “Heirloom Beet & shaved Fennel Carpaccio with Cider Vinaigrette”.

Syrah Malbec

There was plenty of food to go around and second helpings from the tableside platters and bowls were easy to come by. I certainly enjoyed more risotto and beets, plus very tasty greens in the form of “Wild Apex Watercress with Italian Bacon, fried Hazelnuts & Balsamic Vinaigrette”. When the Pinot Noir ran dry we quickly received another of Road 13’s new wines – 2011 Syrah Malbec: it’s an uncommon blend locally, with two thirds Black Sage Bench Syrah and one third Malbec from the Similkameen Valley and Summerland. Unlike some of Road 13’s super-small lot wines as of late, a relative bounty of 550 cases were released last September. It’s surprisingly smooth and approachable for a 2011 red, with generous dark fruit flavours – no doubt ideal for the “Alley Spit Roasted lamb legs”. I didn’t get into the lamb legs, but did enjoy Dana’s apologetic confession that they had been roasted merely outside the building, and not in a proper alley.

Old Vines Chenin Blanc

Dana and Co-Proprietor Cam made sure to remind everyone to leave room for after-dinner cheese and caramels, including fresh Carmelis Goat Cheese, and Upper Bench King Cole Blue. A glass of honeyed 2011 Old Vines Chenin Blanc meshed nicely with the cheese, and was particularly harmonious with fresh honeycomb and quince jelly “membrillo”. Four hundred and sixty-nine cases of 2011 Chenin were produced, and while still for sale in limited quantities, it is typically limited to “Club 13” members soon after release due to its popularity.

Stuffed full and still chewing on salted chocolate caramels we were sure to roundly applaud the entire crew from Joy Road and Vancouver Urban Winery for feeding and hosting us so wonderfully. There were many thanks to Mick and Pam for sharing so many rare wines, and to Kurtis for initiating, planning, and organizing the evening from which we had all benefited greatly.