Saturday 12 October 2013

BCWAS Perseus Tasting

After another wildly successful and entertaining Bus Tour in September, the BC Wine Appreciation Society restarted the regular series of winery tastings this month, with a visit from Penticton winery Perseus. This young winery has experienced quite a tumultuous few years, having been founded in 2009, sold in 2011, and expanded in 2013. At the same time, three talented winemakers have had their hands involved in creating a broad portfolio of whites and reds, with the reins having recently transferred to Okanagan Crush Pad’s Matt Dumayne. In addition to setting his own style for the 2013 vintage, Matt is also tasked with finishing the work of consulting winemaker Tom Di Bello, who left earlier this year (and can now be found at Burrowing Owl). Tom originally took over from consultant Lawrence Herder, who produced the 2009 wines and much of the 2010 vintage.

Winemaker Matt Dumayne strikes a pose

For the tasting we were joined by both Matt Dumayne and Perseus’ President and CEO Rob Ingram. Although Matt has had little to no influence on the wines we tasted (having only recently joined the team from his home base at OCP – Perseus’ production facility), he generously provided commentary and thoughts on future directions. We had available to taste four whites from the 2011 and 2012 vintages, as well as a range of reds going back to the first wines from 2009.

The 2011 Sauvignon Blanc prompted some enthusiastic comments from New Zealander Matt, who mentioned that he dislikes the style of Sauvignon produced in his home country. In his words, Perseus’ rich, tropical version is “everything Marlborough wants to be but can’t get there.” The wine was showing very enjoyable freshness, particularly for a nearly two-year-old bottle. As Perseus purchases most of their grapes from selected premium vineyards, Rob was able to share the sources for many of the wines: the Sauvignon Blanc was obtained from a Skaha Lake vineyard beside Blasted Church. Ironically, despite its popularity during our tasting, there will be no more Sauvignon Blanc from Perseus, as the winery has shifted their focus to other varietals.

Future efforts at the winery will continue to include Pinot Gris however, and we got to sample the luscious, Alsatian-styled 2011 vintage. Matt was impressed that this wine isn’t “thin, like many Okanagan Pinot Gris,” and revealed his plans underway to produce a Reserve bottling in 2013, given the exceptional quality of grapes from certain vineyard rows. This degree of production control can be obtained due to Perseus’ full ownership of their estate vineyard on Lower Bench Road in Penticton – planted exclusively to Pinot Gris.

Additional whites included a 2011 Chardonnay, from Naramata and Osoyoos vineyards: fermented and then aged 11 months in barrel, the creamy texture and mango and apple flavours yielded a long finish. The single 2012 wine came in the form of a Similkameen valley Viognier, bottled just four months ago. Aromas of vanilla and pineapple, with creamy orange flavours benefitted from leaving the wine on its lees until a month before bottling.

Cabernet Sauvignon & Invictus

Several varied red wines awaited us as the whites were finished up, beginning with a very rare small lot 2011 Malbec. Only 50 cases of this youthful and rich wine were produced, and the vibrant purple colour, violet aromas, and mint chocolate flavours kept me coming back for more! The similarly small production of 2011 Cabernet Franc was next up, with firm tannins but soft acidity. Coming primarily from the Similkameen’s renowned Blind Creek vineyard, it showed hints of developing dark fruit and candidacy for further aging.

Two mini-verticals of reds to conclude the tasting began with the 2010 and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Perseus’ most expensive wines at $50 a bottle. Like the Malbec and Cabernet Franc, the Cabernet Sauvignon is part of Perseus’ “Select Lots” series of wines, with only a handful of barrels produced each year. The grapes are sourced from the Osoyoos Indian Band’s Inkameep Vineyard in the southern Okanagan, home of much legendary Cabernet Sauvignon. The huge “legs” (thanks to more than 15% alcohol) in the 2010 led up to a long finish featuring dark fruit and noticeable licorice flavour. The newer 2011 vintage was only bottled four months ago, and showed a fresher, fruitier profile, with slightly softer acids, plus some entertaining hints of leather and even manure on the nose. Only 88 cases of the 2010 Cabernet were produced, and 111 cases of the 2011, so the winery barely even advertises these wines (nor their other Select Lot brethren), as they quickly sell out via the tasting room.

Finally it came time for the three year vertical of every available vintage of Perseus’ “Invictus” red blend, from 2009 to 2011. The 2009 and 2010 bottles were primarily the work of Lawrence Herder, while the as-yet-unreleased 2011 came from Tom Di Bello’s consultancy. Having done his homework, and with sufficient reference material available to him, Matt was able to expand upon the contents of each bottle and provide informative observations. The very ripe, 15.5% alcohol 2009 was comprised of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Malbec. Having started to get a little rusty in colour, the 2009 is clearly maturing briskly, showing generous stewed fruit aromas and flavours with a smooth, easy-drinking texture.

Very little of the 2009 Invictus remains on store shelves, as the current release 2010 has taken over at the winery. The 2010 was the most savoury of the three wines, showing more tannin than its predecessor, plus a nose stepped in leather. Winemaker Lawrence Herder saw fit to substantially change up the blend in the second year, favouring a majority of 56% Merlot, followed by 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Malbec. The 2010 will take longer to mature than the 2009, so depending on sales figures there is no hurry on the part of the winery to push out the 2011 too early.

Our preview tasting of the third vintage of Invictus was very revealing, illustrating the continued change in the wine as Tom Di Bello took over winemaking duties. While Merlot remains a favoured component of the blend, at 40%, Malbec has jumped to 21%, followed by 18% Petit Verdot, and only then do Cabernet Sauvignon (11%) and Cabernet Franc (10%) come into play. The 2011 Invictus was my personal favourite, given the strong Malbec influence and accompanying milk chocolate aromas, plus additional black fruit flavours.

Perseus Raffle Wines

The evening concluded with an exciting wine raffle, thanks to CEO Rob Ingram having brought along a full case of wine, representing nearly every varietal and blend produced by Perseus. Rob’s generosity in donating twelve bottles ensured that a great many guests went home even happier! As winners were drawn, and selected their preferred bottle, each was invited to draw the next lucky recipient. I felt particularly fortunate to win the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, having only recently picked up the 2010 at the winery on the way to the September BCWAS bus tour; neither bottle will go lonely in my cellar now.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

BCWAS Bus Tour 2013 Acquisitions

The annual BC Wine Appreciation Society Bus Tour has become one of my top wine country shopping opportunities. Not only does the tour itself visit numerous top-tier and up-and-coming wineries, but the trip out to the Okanagan can provide for plenty of detours to obtain winery exclusive bottles. With this year’s tour operating out of Summerland Waterfront Resort I elected on a route that took me there via the Coquihalla, and home via Osoyoos and the Similkameen Valley – to cover as much territory as possible.

Westbank, Naramata & Summerland Acquisitions

My Friday began with an early morning departure and an uneventful, easy drive to West Kelowna, where I looked forward to lunch at Quails’ Gate’s Old Vines Restaurant, my first time dining at this well-regarded venue. Beforehand I popped into the Wine Shop seeking a bottle of the winery’s elusive “Dijon Clone Selection” Pinot Noir. Although the wine was originally released two years ago (to glowing reviews), I had recently read that a few remaining bottles were newly available at the winery. Considering I had missed out during the initial release my fingers were crossed for this last chance opportunity. My persistence was rewarded with one of the last bottles from below the counter, #1873 – each bottle (of 2640) is individually numbered!

Full of delicious food and relaxed from the gorgeous garden and vineyard views at Quails’ Gate I next stopped by Mission Hill for a bottle of newly released 2010 Oculus to maintain my vertical of this iconic wine, plus the first release of (2012) Viognier from the winery’s Martin’s Lane collection (joining Riesling and Pinot Noir). Quickly zipping south – ironically past the resort – I made it through Penticton and up to Laughing Stock before closing. There I was able to collect my fall allotment from the Preferred Share Wine Club – and even taste the three wines in my six-bottle box: the 2012 Chardonnay and Viognier are both delightfully fresh and fruity, from a near-perfect vintage. The delayed fall release of these whites has given them ample time to overcome bottle-shock and knit together extremely well. I was even impressed by the sample of very young 2011 Portfolio: despite near-mandatory cellar time and a cool, disappointing vintage David Enns has put together another superb wine I’m quite pleased to have brought home with me.

My final visit of the day before travelling back through Penticton and north to Summerland was a stop at Perseus, open late and within the city limits. I was finally able to acquire a bottle of the winery’s well-regarded 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, from a miniscule lot of only 89 cases. I tacked on a bottle of 2011 Malbec (from only two barrels) given how rarely it appears as a single-varietal in the Okanagan, and another of a surprisingly peppery 2011 Syrah Malbec that was open for tasting. With a full case in the trunk already I was feeling quite optimistic about the upcoming weekend of touring, and made it back to Summerland just in time for the opening dinner and Bottleneck Drive tasting at Local Lounge. My day ended with one last purchase of VIP Fortified Pinot Noir from Saxon Winery – I was quite happy to order a couple bottles (gracefully delivered to the hotel the next day) after tasting it during the evening’s events.

Naramata & Summerland Acquisitions

With my own driving duties for the weekend put aside, I was free to relax and taste plenty of fine wines over the next two days as our bus weaved through the wineries of the Naramata Bench and Summerland. On Saturday we enjoyed the morning hospitality of Upper Bench Winery & Creamery, where I gladly purchased structured 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon from Gavin Miller – who helped launch the lauded reds of Painted Rock. Lunch at Poplar Grove saw me add a bottle of extremely delicious 2012 Viognier to my stash, and then another one of the same from Red Rooster later in the afternoon, along with a 2011 Malbec as well. That night’s Winemaker Dinner at Local Lounge featured Tom Di Bello, which made for the perfect opportunity to obtain some Di Bello Wines 2010 Syrah, 2011 Chardonnay, and 2011 Merlot straight from the source. Spending the meal talking with Tom and Tari Di Bello (and Robert Van Westen) was easily the icing on the cake!

On Sunday, as we toured Summerland wineries my purchasing habits were slightly more tempered – knowing the virtual smorgasbord of southern Okanagan wineries awaiting me on the way home the next day. Ironically the wide availability of Sumac Ridge’s wines – in particular the reliable sparkling Steller’s Jay – negated any need to purchase during our morning visit. However, our lunch at Okanagan Crush Pad provided an invaluable opportunity to pick up a couple bottles of sparkling “Bub” Rosé from house brand Haywire. Later in the afternoon as we wound things down at Sonoran Winery I picked up my final Bus Tour wine in the form of a delicious tropical caramel 2007 Ehrenfelser Icewine. Ehrenfelser as icewine is rare enough, and finding a bottle that’s already been aged into something particularly interesting is rarer still.

Okanagan Falls, Oliver-Osoyoos, & Similkameen Acquisitions

Although I gleefully picked up some exciting rarities and surprise treats during the Bus Tour, it was on the way home the next day that I really got going: many of my favourite wineries lie south of McIntyre Bluff, where heat-loving red grapes thrive. I got an early start, in the hopes of making it home to Vancouver before dark, with my first visit to the BC Wine Information Centre in Penticton. I made sure to take home the Lt. Governor’s Award-winning Wild Goose 2012 Mystic River Pinot Blanc I found on the shelf at the Centre’s VQA Store – not knowing what might be available at the winery in Okanagan Falls, or whether I’d have time to stop there. Along Skaha Lake south of Penticton I swung up to Blasted Church after taking in the sights at Painted Rock, and added a couple bottles of the brand new OMG Sparkling, plus an advance release of 2011 “Holy Moly” Petit Verdot. Admittedly 2011 wasn’t the ideal vintage for varietal Petit Verdot, but at the very least it should be interesting to taste a grape that is nearly always blended into other wines in miniscule proportions.

With the clock already ticking I had to burn through Okanagan Falls, stopping only at Stag’s Hollow, where I was very lucky to get some of the winery’s brand new 2012 Grenache, a very exciting Canadian first for this varietal. Winemaker Dwight Sick planted the vines back in 2006 and has been patiently waiting several years to see this wine come to fruition. Only 170 cases were produced, and it likely won’t make it into stores, hence my personal visit. Of course, adding the newly-released 2011 Tempranillo and a bottle of the winery’s 2011 “Hart” Port-style fortified Merlot were additional excellent reasons to wind my way off the highway.

I spent the next couple of hours working my way south, adding to my growing bounty, and picking up some pre-orders to avoid dreaded shipping costs. From Fairview Cellars in Oliver I picked up Bill Eggert’s Fall releases without question: 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, “Bucket O’ Blood” Syrah/Cabernet, “Two Hoots” Cabernet/Merlot, and a couple bottles of “The Bear” Meritage. At Tinhorn Creek a few minutes away I made sure to collect my Fall “Crush Club” half-case of reds, as well as add a winery-exclusive bottle of 2010 Oldfield Series Syrah, which was produced in quantities too small to include in the Club orders this year (only 210 cases). Then I made my first visit to the Triggs family’s new winery Culmina, where I was excited to collect my pre-ordered bottles of 2011 Dilemma Chardonnay and Hypothesis red blend. I bumped into some fellow BCWAS members getting a personal tour from Don Triggs, and begrudgingly had to leave with only some photos and plenty of jealousy! Finally, across the valley I stopped at Black Hills for the 2011 Syrah, the veteran winery’s third vintage with this varietal, which I’ve been collecting since first release.

I finally made it to Osoyoos for a quick lunch before heading home via Highway 3 and the Similkameen Valley. Still eager to arrive in Vancouver during daylight hours I only had time for two quick but vital winery visits. At Seven Stones I was eager for a bottle of the newly released 2011 Cabernet Franc, continuing my efforts to collect all of George Hanson’s excellent red wines given the opportunity (not that his Chardonnay and Rosé don’t also deserve plenty of compliment). Finally, in Cawston I pulled up to Orofino with a reserved spot in the trunk for my second case from the winery’s “Collector’s Club”. Upon receipt I was very pleased to see multiples of 2012 Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as 2011 Syrah and Merlot, and even two bottles of the 2010 Hendsbee Vineyard Petit Verdot, of which only 75 cases were produced. Proprietors John and Virginia Weber had even included a special bottle of 2007 Canadian Oak Chardonnay for wine geeks to fawn over. To cap off the trip I bumped into the same group of BCWAS friends I’d earlier seen at Culmina as I was leaving – it’s nice to have friends with such excellent taste in BC wine!