Saturday, 20 December 2014

Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc Vertical

A recent invitation to my Swirl Wine Store colleagues saw us thoroughly enjoying a vertical tasting of Laughing Stock’s Blind Trust Red. Six bottles and plenty of food left us sufficiently sated, and negating any need for a second vertical I had prepared, of Tinhorn Creek’s Cabernet Franc. Not wanting to down the bottles merely for the sake of imbibing, I retained them for a future tasting, which came about in short order just last weekend. A few other local examples and even an Ontario wine joined the tasting, but the focus was on evaluating and enjoying Winemaker Sandra Oldfield’s pride and joy.

Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc 2009-2012

Although Tinhorn Creek’s President/CEO Sandra Oldfield actually passed on the winemaking reins to newcomer Andrew Windsor last year, she was fully in charge of producing the particular wines I was presenting. Sampling from a vertical of one wine from one winery, under supervision of the same winemaker each year, is a superb examination of vintage variation and the effects of bottle aging. The four years from 2009-2012 were a tumultuous range of vintages, ranging from the short but hot 2009 season to the second-coolest season on record only two years later. Fortunately 2012 marked the beginning of an exciting three-year trend towards more ideal conditions. With some historical awareness in mind we delved in to our enviable task.

Tinhorn Creek’s Cabernet Franc is consistently produced from the winery’s Diamondback Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench opposite their Golden Mile headquarters south of Oliver. The southwest-facing 100-acre property is planted primarily to red varieties that enjoy the additional 2-3 hours of daylight obtained versus the Golden Mile home vineyard. The Cabernet Franc vines found there are now two decades old, and the wine has been a staple of Tinhorn’s portfolio since the very early days. Each of the four vintages under examination experienced identical winemaking practices, with Sandra having dialled in the style over the years: full malolactic fermentation followed by 12 months aging in 2-3 year-old American and French oak barrels.

Vintage

2009

2010

2011

2012

Osoyoos GDD

1,627

1,429

1,384

1,545

Harvest

Oct 3-9

Oct 21-27

Oct 29

Oct 10-30

Brix

25.0

24.0

22.4

23.5

Bottling

May 2011

Apr 2012

Apr 2013

May 2014

Alcohol

14.8%

13.9%

13.6%

14.0%

Sugar

< 2.0 g/L

< 2.0 g/L

< 2.0 g/L

< 2.0 g/L

Acidity

6.00 g/L

6.00 g/L

5.55 g/L

6.00 g/L

pH

3.09

3.71

3.79

3.69

Cases

5,172

N/A

1,798

4,782

I double decanted each wine back into bottle and we began by tasting the 2009. The cool spring shortened the growing season that year, but the 1,627 Growing Degree Days measured in Osoyoos reveal a very warm summer and fall. The impressive ripeness led to an early harvest, which came in fortunately just before the surprise frost on October 12. High Brix led to high alcohol, as the yeast feasted on the sugar before fermentation to a nearly bone dry level. We immediately detected that boozy character on the nose and palate, whereupon a spicy chocolate character kicked in after leather hints. The flavour profile and long, fruity finish made it a good match for Oyama Chorizo, but overall it was considered a bit too brash.

The 2010 wine proved to be the star of the tasting in retrospect, with a very drinkable, elegant and smooth medium body. The flavour profile was awash in raspberry, black cherry, and hints of prune after two and half years in bottle. The lower alcohol was apparent, although ironically Brix at harvest was still the second-highest of the four wines despite what many consider to be a cool vintage. The October harvest likely took advantage of the late heat-wave that year, eeking out a bit more ripeness after the low temperatures experienced in September. Perhaps not coincidentally, 2010 was also the first vintage released of the new reserve-tier Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc, which took first place in the BC Wine Appreciation Society’s Cabernet Franc Blind Tasting this past February.

Another substantial pivot came about from the 2011 vintage. This very cool year (second only to 1999) resulted in the Tinhorn team delaying harvest until the end of October. Some brutal vineyard practices undoubtedly ensued that year (at least amongst the wise) to thin the crop enough for a useful harvest – a two thirds drop in production from typical levels attests to that fact. Quite telling is that nearly as much (Cabernet Franc) Rose as varietal Cabernet Franc was made at Tinhorn Creek that year! In tasting this third wine it presented more subtly on  both the nose and palate, with some meaty character and smooth cranberry and strawberry flavours. However, comments suggested it was a little too sharp, with the acidity insufficiently balanced by fruit.

Tasting the newly released 2012 gave us plenty of optimism, with fresh, bright fruit apparent immediately. The young wine was already smoothing out, while exhibiting a fuller, more pleasing texture than the previous vintage. Earthy character, spicy flavours, and some milk chocolate hints kept the palate interesting: the group consensus being that another couple of years in bottle should yield a 2010 competitor. The wine has already been awarded a silver medal at WineAlign’s National Wine Awards, and named Judges Choice at the subsequent World Wine Awards of Canada. It stands to reason that a 2012 Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc (expected in the coming year, with no 2011 vintage having been released) should be a further step up in quality, building on the initial success achieved in 2010. I look forward to enjoying many more excellent and intriguing wines from Tinhorn’s talented team!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Celebrating the holidays with BCWAS

The members of the BC Wine Appreciation Society rang in the holiday season recently with a party at The Blackbird, where the upstairs private room has become a favourite location for social events and tastings. My wife and I joined the celebration to catch up with our fellow members and enjoy numerous rarities and well-aged wines from the Society’s cellar. Given the many celebratory holiday periods across cultures that coincide in December, everyone was full of festive cheer and ready to taste the range of exciting wines on offer.

Gray Monk 2010 Odyssey Rose Brut

To provide for an effervescent welcome guests were served Gray Monk’s 2010 Odyssey Rose Brut upon arrival. This local stalwart is a traditional method blend of Gamay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir, providing a soft fruity mousse and juicy acidity to balance fourteen grams of residual sugar. The well-balanced palate finished slightly off-dry, with a blend of fresh berry and earthy flavours just as expected. An ideal wine to warm up our palates with a bite or two of The Blackbird’s Goat Cheese-Stuffed Artichokes. I would expect this wine – a superb value at only $20 – to find a place on everyone’s holiday favourites list.

We circulated amongst the comfortable couches and creative seating arrangements in the multi-function lounge space, while a stellar selection of warm winter comfort foods were served. At three tasting stations ten wines were served to engaged oenophiles – aged reds from the Society cellar and some newly acquired whites to keep matters in balance. Among those offering a fresh perspective was the 2013 Siegerrebe from Pender Island’s Sea Star Vineyards. While Siegerrebe makes up only 1% of the white grape acreage in BC, the fifty-two acres under vine are spread far and wide (in fact the aforementioned Gray Monk releases over 1,000 cases each year to serve as an off-dry aperitif). Sea Star’s take was true to form for this descendent of Gewurztraminer; intensely perfumed with floral aromatics it yielded a bounty of soft fruit flavours well suited to Coconut-crusted Prawns with Green Curry Sauce. Sold out at the winery – along with the entire portfolio – the wine recently captured a gold medal for Sea Star from the Northwest Wine Summit.

Terravista 2013 Fandango

Other fresh, crisp whites included Terravista’s gold-medal-winning 2013 Fandango, a unique blend of Albariño and Verdejo from the Naramata Bench. Because this blend of two Spanish grapes was unprecedented in Canada it took the winery years to get it approved for VQA status! For many guests it was the first introduction to this rarity, showing a clean and complex nose of stone fruit and melon. On the palate pears and melon mixed with tart peach to provide for a mouth-watering finish alongside Mini Dungeness Crab Cakes with Tomato Remoulade.

The tasting bar also featured a couple more traditional varietals from older vintages. For Riesling lovers there was Mission Hill’s 2010 Martin’s Lane exclusive, a very tasty, classic reflection of the grape grown to great success in West Kelowna. The small lot Martin’s Lane project focuses solely on Riesling and Pinot Noir (with the occasional Viognier), and the 2010 release of 400 cases marked only the second vintage. The sweet and spicy flavours of Vegetarian Spring Rolls undoubtedly worked well with the wine, or perhaps the tangy tomatoes topping Margherita Pizza. Chardonnay aficionados were invited to sample Quinta Ferreira’s 2011, from their Oliver vineyard planted in 1999. Like the Riesling, the Chardonnay provided another relatable expression, with mature toasty popcorn and apple pie characteristics from malolactic barrel fermentation and aging.

Mission Hill 2010 Martin's Lane Riesling

Five reds covering the colour spectrum provided plenty of winter warmth and a peek into the past, including a very special first vintage from Painted Rock! Anyone who snagged a Crustade with Duck Confit & Quince Jam would have appreciated a sip of La Frenz 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir. In 2012 this Naramata Bench wine received a double-gold medal at the All Canadian Wine Championships, ensuring a place in the BCWAS cellar precisely for an opportunity such as this. After a couple years aging, the wine presented as four years young if anything, with cranberries and strawberries on the nose and smooth vanilla cherries and strawberry flavours.

Forest Mushrooms on Grilled Polenta with Fresh Basil was another potential pairing for the Pinot Noir, but Sandhill’s 2008 Small Lots Sangiovese offered an opportunity as well. Herbaceous aromas yielded to a smooth, lighter-bodied palate with toasty, spicy fruit flavours and a juicy finish from Black Sage Bench fruit. Only 475 cases were released back in 2011 by Winemaker Howard Soon, providing us with a valuable look at Canada’s only varietal (VQA) Sangiovese.

See Ya Later Ranch 2008 Rover & La Frenz 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir

For something to drink with a slice of Italian Salami & English Ham Pizza one could have sipped on a glass of See Ya Later Ranch’s 2008 “Rover” a ripe Syrah co-fermented with 3.5% Viognier. Four years removed from the current platinum-medal 2012 vintage, this Rover received a gold medal from the Canadian Wine Awards in 2010. After a few years in the cellar it offered an easy-drinking palate of earthy cherries paired with nicely perfumed aromas, encouraged by the small Viognier component no doubt.

To round out the selection of reds there were a couple of hoped for heavy-hitters on offer, definitely the kind of wines calling out for one of the Mini Yorkshire Puddings in circulation. From the sadly defunct (but in good hands) Herder Winery in Keremeos we were very lucky to sample the 2008 Josephine, a blend of 81% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 6% Cabernet Franc. Cellar time had knit together a savoury profile of olives and dates, with a long juicy finish to provide some closing thoughts.

As good as the Josephine tasted, the star of the evening for many was the delightful 2007 Merlot from Painted Rock – the winery’s first vintage. Approximately 750 cases were released in 2009, being named Best of Varietal at the 2010 Okanagan Spring Wine Festival, and going on to bring home a gold medal at the BC Wine Awards that fall. Painted Rock’s Proprietor John Skinner often remarks that his Merlot behaves as a bit of dark horse, needing generous time in bottle to come about. After five and a half years following 18-months in new French oak at the winery we got the chance to savour a very well-aged BC wine. Even still, a bit of tannin remained noticeable on the bright palate, showing off broad flavours of everything from juicy cranberries to some prune character with a hint of olives. The long, smooth finish certainly kept the wine in my mind, and that of many other guests given the extensive mentions it received.

Painted Rock 2007 Merlot & Herder 2008 Josephine

We finished the tasting with another bonus from the BCWAS Fall Bus Tour: after opening a few whites acquired on the tour during October’s Harvest Party, this festive celebration provided the perfect opportunity to savour Arrowleaf’s Late Harvest Vidal. Although the wine was available to taste from the beginning of the event, I waited patiently to close out the evening with it. By then all the delicious food had been snapped up, but I’m sure a few creative pairings could have been assembled by adventurous guests. With my palate all to itself the Vidal burst with rich honey and tropical fruit; layers of papaya, guava, and pineapple were all nicely balanced by tangy acidity. It was a good thing the Society picked up several bottles during the Bus Tour, because the nicely valued wine ($25) is already sold out, despite 300 cases produced. Hopefully a few lucky folks will find a bottle in their stocking this year!

Arrowleaf 2013 Special Select Late Harvest Vidal

Towards the end of the evening the traditional prize raffle yielded a one-year BCWAS membership, plus bottles of Bartier Brothers “The Cowboy” and Church & State’s delicious but sadly discontinued Pinot Noir. Executive members were also happy to share early details of some of the very exciting 2015 events set to mark the Society’s tenth anniversary, starting with a vertical tasting of Mission Hill Oculus in January. As we parted ways amid well wishes for the holidays and new year it was great to see that everyone had enjoyed the excellent food and wine, and I would hope some even found a few new favourites along the way.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Collectibles: November 2014

The autumn red wine releases have continued at full pace, marked by newly released vintages of some consistent gems. Some don’t last for long on store shelves (even at the winery), so I had to act fast. A few special releases provided some pleasant surprise recently as well, proving irresistible for a collector like me!

November 2014 BC wine collectibles

Orofino 2012 Scout Vineyard Syrah: Like last month’s Pinot Noir purchase, I may end up with a bottle or two in a future Collector’s Club shipment, but given the sample I enjoyed recently, that would be most welcome. The beautiful, vibrant violet colour yields a perfumed vanilla nose and juicy black cherry flavours; mouth-watering minerality and sweet, ripe fruit from a great vintage. Given the vineyard size and previous releases I would guess about 250 cases only. Swirl VQA Store $29

Okanagan Crush Pad 2013 Samantha Syrah: The fourth release in OCP’s “Wine Campus” Series, in which they invite the Vancouver International Wine Festival’s Sommelier of the Year to craft a small lot wine for charity. Samantha Rahn from Whistler’s Araxi received the honour in 2013, and decided on Syrah that fall, with grapes from Oliver’s Cerquiera Vineyard. The wine was just released this month – only 150 cases spread across selected stores and restaurants. Brewery Creek Liquor Store $31

Burrowing Owl 2012 Cabernet Franc: After a late summer bottling run at Burrowing Owl, a few new red wines were released this fall. I hunted down the Malbec locally last month, but sought the renowned Cabernet Franc directly from the winery given its popularity. The Franc is often a high point in the winery’s portfolio, consistently garnering prominent awards, including a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the 2010 vintage. A few accolades for the 2012 (an excellent vintage in BC) have already cropped up from the critics at WineAlign, praising the wine’s flavours and varietal focus. Winery Direct $33

Burrowing Owl 2011 Meritage: Because Burrowing Owl ships wine in quantities as low as two bottles, I was able to obtain the Meritage and aforementioned Cabernet Franc with ease. We can’t all buy case lots every time, and I appreciate the opportunity to add another vintage to my Meritage vertical, now with a full six bottles (2006-2011). The wine is a blend of nearly equal thirds Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, with 2% each of Malbec and Petit Verdot. The varieties were aged independently in oak for a year before blending, then another nine months in barrel, followed by a year in bottle before release. Winery Direct $45

Clos du Soleil 2010 Estate Reserve: After picking up the premier “Signature” red blend last month, I couldn’t turn down an opportunity for Clos du Soleil’s top tier reserve wine. In 2009 Winemaker Ann Sperling first bottled four barrels (100 cases) of what was then called “Eclipse” Winemaker’s Reserve. Now, 50 cases of what is now labelled simply Estate Reserve have been released, a miniscule quantity by any standard. Naturally the top shelf price has kept sales at a slow pace, but it still won’t last long in the tiny handful of stores lucky enough for an allocation. Swirl VQA Store $60

Church & State 2012 Coyote Bowl Malbec: Last year the first varietal Malbec (from 2011) was released by Church & State, with Proprietor Kim Pullen describing it as the best wine they had ever made. After being named Best of Category at the All Canadian Wine Championships, the initial release price of $35 was bumped up to $75 in short order, but the 150 cases produced still sold out readily. With 275 cases now released from an even better vintage, I leapt on the opportunity when the winery brought a mere two cases to a tasting at Swirl in Yaletown. Swirl VQA Store $35

Poplar Grove 2011 Cabernet Franc: Poplar Grove prides themselves on having the means to bottle age their wines before release, so the 2011 reds are only now coming on the market (and only some of them at that). Amongst the new releases is the highly desirable Cabernet Franc, which sold out so quickly it’s already gone from the winery website! A relatively small production of 450 cases came out of the cool 2011 vintage. Anthony Gismondi describes it as “the most fragrant yet” with years of improvement ahead as well. Fortunately the wine can be found in a some well-stocked private stores. Firefly Fine Wines & Ales $44

Poplar Grove 2011 CSM: The traditional French blend called GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre) is turned on its head with this cheeky and completely different re-imagining featuring Cabernet Franc/Sauvignon-Syrah-Merlot. The proprietary blend is made in very small quantities (250 cases) so it never shows up for sale outside the winery. Fortunately I have a friend in Penticton generous enough to nab me a bottle! Precise proportions of each variety in the blend are not typically made public, but one assumes the winemaking team selected the best ratio for the vintage. Winery Direct $35

Poplar Grove 2011 Syrah: A third new red release from the same vintage is Poplar Grove’s Syrah, which occasionally flies under the radar given the winery’s prevalent Merlot and sought-after Cabernet Franc. John Schreiner’s recent review of the Poplar Grove/Monster Vineyards portfolio remarked upon the bold, spicy, fruity profile found in this recent release, strongly consistent with past vintages. A pair of silver medals from this year’s National Wine Awards and BC Wine Awards adorn this wine already. Like the Cabernet Franc, only 450 cases were produced, but fortunately it does often make its way into stores. Winery Direct $35

Friday, 14 November 2014

BCWAS: Church & State Winery Dinner

A change of pace for the BC Wine Appreciation Society took place this month upon the occasion of a winery dinner celebrating Church & State Wines. The annual spring winemaker’s dinner has been a tradition for many years, and typically serves as the only dinner outside of the fall Bus Tour. However, with the assistance of additional member volunteers the Society was enthused to host nearly four dozen guests at the renowned Kitsilano Daily Kitchen for six creative courses of culinary delight. Church & State Marketing Manager John Pullen and Vancouver Sales Representative Jason Fung joined the dinner to take in the perfect pairings assembled by Chef Brian Fowke and his talented team.

Chef Brian Fowke and John Pullen introduce the dinner

As tablemates introduced one another and friends reconnected we received a glass of Cuvée Blanc 2013, Church & State’s aromatic white blend. This combination of Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and a bit of Chardonnay Musqué provided a fresh and fruity welcome as Chef Fowke described his culinary philosophy. Based on his regular market and farm visits the restaurant presents a new menu every day, ensuring they use only the freshest, most seasonal produce, meats, and fish from sustainable local producers. Local Albacore tuna was the inspired pairing for the bright Cuvée Blanc, served Poke-style with tamari, sesame, Bird’s Eye chillies, citrus, and fermented fish sauce. The dish exuded freshness in perfect parallel with the citrus flavours and long, peachy finish on the wine, providing a marvellous primer on Chef Fowke’s gift for complementary creations.

Albacore Tuna Poke with Church & State 2013 Cuvee Blanc

With our palates superbly roused by both wine and food we soon detected the intoxicating aromas of our next course. As easily identifiable glasses of Chardonnay were served the unmistakable aroma of truffle emerged from the kitchen. In varietally-corrected Riedel stemware we received Coyote Bowl Chardonnay 2012, one of two vineyard-specific oaked Chardonnay from Church & State’s Black Sage Bench location (the other being from the nearby Gravelbourg vineyard). Soon there appeared wide bowls of mouth-watering soup – Roasted Cream of Winter Cauliflower – accentuated with butter-poached Bell Harbour lobster, wild Rainbow Trout caviar, and shaved truffle! The Chardonnay provided for yet another superb pairing, in what was to become a happy pattern, with a toasty nose awash in caramel apple aromas. The creamy soup encouraged a citrus character from the wine, in which a full texture and very well balanced acidity brought great acclaim from the Chardonnay connoisseurs in our midst. It’s debatable whether a drop of soup, morsel of lobster, or bead of caviar remained!

Duck Risotto with Church & State 2013 Trebella

For our third course we received direct evidence of Chef Fowke’s local focus, as the expected Quadra Island shellfish stew was foregone due to recent stormy conditions hampering fishery operations. His preferred provider was unable to obtain sufficient qualities and quantities, necessitating an immediate and intense consideration of alternate options given the selected wine pairing. Church & State’s Trebella White was on the menu, a 2013 Rhone-inspired blend of Marsanne and Roussanne, with a touch of Viognier. This highly distinctive wine was ultimately paired with Chef Fowke’s choice of Rare-seared Yarrow Meadows Duck Risotto, including Northern Spy apple, roasted garlic, and caramelized lemon. The Trebella’s rich and elegant aromas of citrus flowers with stone and tropical fruit had no trouble keeping up, and the intense flavours and supremely well-rounded, integrated palate demonstrated why the wine was recently named Best White Blend at the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada.

Bavette of Elk with Church & State 2009 Quintessential

Three courses in it was hard to believe we had only reached the halfway mark, having enjoyed so much already! But Church & State’s legendary southern Okanagan reds had yet to make an appearance, so we braced ourselves for more pleasures of the palate. Jumping right into the midst we received the 2009 Quintessential, the winery’s icon red blend, developing nicely after some time in bottle (with many more promising years ahead). The complex blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 5% Malbec was matched to Pan-roasted Peace Country Bavette of Elk, served atop creamy corn polenta, bordelaise sauce, and sautéed woodland mushrooms.

In last year’s SIP Wines annual “Icon Red Tasting”, the 2009 Quintessential was named runner-up, while just recently the 2011 vintage came out on top in the blind tasting’s seventh iteration. This comes on the heels of it being awarded the Canadian Red Trophy (and Gold Medal) from the International Wine Challenge in the UK. The first vintage of Quintessential was created in 2005, but the wine has been racking up an impressive array of accolades in a few short years. Our opportunity to sample this gem was a cherished one, providing aromas of toasty dark cherry and mocha before the intense dark fruit flavours and a smooth texture complemented by the rare Elk. Without food the tannins became more evident, showing the relative youth of this wine (the current vintage in stores) – the winery in fact believes several more years of bottle development can be expected.

Dark Chocolate and Cherry Crepe with Church & State 2011 Syrah

In 2011 Church & State was proud to celebrate their 2009 Coyote Bowl Syrah having been named Canada’s Best Red Wine at the Canadian Wine Awards. As its predecessor was being feted across the country, the 2011 vintage was just being harvested from the same outstanding vineyard. That wine, released earlier this year, has now gone on to win a Gold medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards, as well as being named Best in Class at the 2014 Pacific Rim International Wine Competition. As Church & State doesn’t typically produce any dedicated dessert-style wines the 2011 Syrah was tapped to provide for our final sips, with Extra Dark Chocolate & Preserved Okanagan Cherry Crêpes. Accessorized by Chantilly cream, Bourbon vanilla, and Maple sugar, the crêpes and chocolate ganache were enchanting on their own, but rose to another level with the Syrah. The wine’s intense black pepper aromas opened up to an all-encompassing cherry extravaganza alongside the preserved cherries, and demonstrating the complete success of a dry table wine for dessert!

Cheese tray to conclude the meal

With rich aromas and flavours of cherry and chocolate still circulating we received generous plates of local artisan cheeses to enjoy as the meal concluded. Any remaining wine available was soon disbursed as guests traded opinions on their favourite dish – a challenge for many no doubt! There were well-deserved acknowledgments and applause for Chef Fowke’s talented staff, and to those who helped organize the event for the benefit of our members. Special thanks to Church & State’s John Pullen and Jason Fung, and to the hardworking BCWAS Executive members for bringing this spectacular dinner to fruition!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Laughing Stock Blind Trust Vertical

A recent evaluation of my wine collection revealed a growing vertical of Laughing Stock’s Blind Trust Red. Without any firm plans for what to do with this bounty I held on to the bottles and the collection grew. By the time the 2012 vintage was released this summer I was in possession of six uninterrupted years of this mysterious and variable wine – so named because the contents of the blend are kept hidden. With half a case at my disposal and a valuable educational opportunity at hand I invited several colleagues from Swirl Wine Store to join me in sampling some of Naramata’s finest.

Laughing Stock Blind Trust Red 2007-2012

Laughing Stock’s Blind Trust Red is similar to a traditional second wine in one sense, using the wine not selected for the more iconic “Portfolio”. The winery is clear in stating that “the barrels for Portfolio and Blind Trust are treated exactly the same for the first 15 months.” There are simply often leftover proportions once Portfolio’s taste profile and balance has been finalized. These remaining barrels are put together into a new and unique wine from which one is asked to trust the judgment of winemaker David Enns. However, in recent years the wine has taken on a bit more character of its own, by including grapes such as Syrah, not part of the Bordeaux-style Portfolio blend. Blind Trust can often be more approachable in the present than Portfolio, but it ages just as marvellously in the eyes of the winery (see this Maturation Chart), as we were about to find out.

The first vintage of Blind Trust Red was produced from the 2005 harvest, two years after the first (2003) Portfolio, now in its tenth vintage (2012). Our vertical began with the 2007, generally considered to be a very good vintage in the Okanagan. A nice whiff of vanilla was my first impression upon opening the bottle, which I double decanted along with the other five before everyone arrived. Delving into the wine with the group produced assessments of aromatic blackberry and blueberry, plus mild hints of bell pepper as well. A delightfully smooth texture revealed warm, rich flavours mirroring the nose, with accents of black licorice; an early favourite already! A few guesses ultimately led to the actual content, revealed by peeling back the foil on the neck: 50% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 22% Cabernet Franc.

From 2008 the aromatic introduction was that of black olives; it was deemed immediately more savoury on the nose, reminding many of a winter stew. Still, underneath those meaty notes some chocolate and raspberries crept through; with no peppers evident in what was deemed an improvement. The palate was slightly more acidic than the 2007, from a cooler vintage, but also seemingly sweeter with the same luxurious, well-aged character. The Merlot component was revealed to have increased substantially to 78% that year, with 13% Malbec as a pleasant surprise, and only 9% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our third bottle came from the legendary 2009 vintage, a spectacularly hot summer, despite the cool spring’s late bud-break and an early October frost, which combined to shorten the season by four weeks. Aromas of dried fruit and chocolate presented themselves immediately, with a savoury sausage undercurrent. The summer heat was apparent on the hot, nearly over-ripe palate however, which put some tasters off for being too brash and boozy. That year saw 70% Merlot joined by 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Malbec. Not a favourite thus far, prompting recollections of the more pleasant first two wines, and providing some consternation about the outcome of many other BC wines from the same vintage still awaiting my attention.

The following year, 2010 saw another relatively cool vintage similar to 2008, with harvest only getting started in mid-October (after a cool, wet September), and dragging out into November. The nose on this wine showed off spice-rack aromas and earthy character with leather hints. The palate was awash in cranberries and sour cherry, perceived as the most tart wine of the evening, and pushing 15% alcohol as well. One has to wonder how much of the overall profile was influenced by the inclusion of 6% Syrah for the first time, which we discovered alongside 62% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Malbec. A low of 1,675 cases of Portfolio were produced in 2010, and the Blind Trust followed suit, with a mere 765 cases (versus more than one thousand in every other vintage, and as many as 1,620 in 2009).

The feared 2011 vintage was next up, from the coolest season since Laughing Stock was founded, and roughly considered a poor year overall. The surprise of the night was at hand though, in a youthful, fruit forward wine that had us all raving! Aromas of mulling spices led into a delightfully lighter-bodied, lower-alcohol (13.6%) palate, smoothly textured and soft, with very nicely balanced acidity and a fresh, grapey finish. The complex blend of five varieties brought Merlot down to 47%, while Malbec jumped up to 31%, followed by 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Syrah. The 2011 vintage saw Laughing Stock’s elegant Portfolio awarded a prestigious Lt. Governor’s Award; combined with observations from this Blind Trust, we are reminded that every vintage has something to offer that may surprise!

The 2012 Blind Trust was only released this past summer – I received two bottles in my June Preferred Share Wine Club shipment. After a few ups and downs in the years beforehand, 2012 proved to be a very solid growing season, long and warm, with no major problems during harvest. Opening the bottle provided for a waft of cedar, followed by blackberry and black currant aromas after aeration, with pleasant floral hints around the edges. The palate provided for our first noticeable tannin, with bright but balanced acidity and well-rounded fruit character that’s drinking quite well given its youth. It turned out that Malbec was again a major contributor, at 32% following Merlot’s lead of 49%, with 11% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc rounding out the blend.

Six half-empty bottles provided fodder for several reassessments as we nibbled on the delicious food on offer: guests had provided a range of cheese and dips, pâté, home-made mushroom and beef empanadas, and even wild-harvested venison sausage! The favourites were soon obvious without discussion, as the 2008 and then 2007 bottles emptied out, followed soon thereafter by the 2011. The young but promising 2012 found itself in fourth place, while the overall assessment put 2009 and 2010 at the bottom in the formal ranking, leaving us all quite enlightened. Drinking each bottle independently over the years could have drawn out the pleasure, but would never compare to sharing them all with good friends and food in such an entertaining event.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Collectibles: October 2014

While fruitfully working through a bit of a cellar backlog this fall (making room for new vintages) I still found the time to purchase a few bottles I couldn’t resist. Several new and recently released wines caught my attention, either on store shelves or in the news. I lucked out on a few, and others took a fair amount of hunting to track down across Vancouver.

October 2014 BC wine collectibles

Sage Hills 2013 Pinot Noir: I scooped up one of the last bottles on the shelf of this new release; only 191 cases were produced from Rick Thrussell’s organic Summerland vineyard. John Schreiner recently reported the wine was almost certainly released prematurely (with many years of development ahead), but Rick bowed to pressure “after his debut 2012 Pinot Noir was something of a sensation.” Swirl VQA Store – $45

Orofino 2012 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir: Keeping Sage Hills company is Orofino’s 2012 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir, a bright wine bursting with strawberry aromas and flavours. John & Virginia Weber grow five different Pinot Noir clones in their Cawston vineyard, and aged this blend of all five for 16 months in French oak. I may end up receiving a bottle in my next Orofino Collector’s Club shipment but that shouldn’t be much of a problem at all! Swirl VQA Store – $32

See Ya Later Ranch 2012 Rover: The latest release from a popular and widely available entry level Syrah. Anthony Gismondi has provided some impressive praise for past vintages, such as the 2008, noting it’s a wine that seems to get better and better every year. When the 2012 was recently awarded the new “Premier’s Award” for best wine of the entire BC Wine Awards, it seemed only reasonable to cellar a bottle for the future. At present it’s a bit disjointed, with alternating earthy and fruity notes that haven’t yet melded, but I’m looking forward to seeing what a couple of years aging can yield. Swirl VQA Store – $22

Thornhaven 2012 Syrah: After the National Wine Awards results were announced in late summer I paid close attention to the handful of Platinum medal-winners. Several BC wines made the list, including three 2012 Syrah, only one of which I hadn’t yet acquired. The bottle from Thornhaven in Summerland was more elusive, with the 2011 vintage still on VQA Store shelves. I have to admit, a Summerland appellation Syrah is a curious wine indeed, and this one has reportedly seen a brief 10 months in oak – it should prove quite interesting. Coal Harbour Liquor Store – $33

Burrowing Owl 2012 Malbec: Burrowing Owl only just introduced Malbec to their portfolio last year, with the inaugural 2011 release joining a mere handful of BC wineries producing a varietal version. The new release was bottled in August, fresh from 21 months in a mix of 80% French, and 10% each American and Hungarian oak. The dense fruit style of Burrowing Owl, combined with the excellent vintage and hand-harvesting from the winery’s Osoyoos vineyard should equate to an excellent collectible. Liberty Wines Granville Island – $37

Baillie-Grohman 2012 Cabernet Franc: The new Platinum category introduced at this fall’s BC Wine Awards is intended to award those wines judged unanimously worthy of Gold medals by all nine judges. Only five Platinum medals were handed out in September, including one to young Creston winery Baillie-Grohman. Although the winery has established estate vineyards, they still source reds from the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys: ten barrels of Cabernet Franc were obtained from an exclusive single vineyard in Osoyoos. Swirl VQA Store – $27

Fairview Cellars 2012 Cabernet Franc: On my way to the BC Wine Appreciation Society Bus Tour in September I stopped in to Bill Eggert’s winery outside Oliver. I received the sad news that his 2012 Cabernet Franc was long since sold out. I had heard some impressive praise for the wine, no surprise given the vintage and Bill’s talent with Cabernets. I was pleasantly surprised to spot the wine afterwards on store shelves. Perusing the back label I’m pleased to see Bill has continued his practice of noting the “Best After” date; in this case it’s December 2016, which fits perfectly with my five-years-from-harvest cellaring strategy. Marquis Wine Cellars – $35

Clos du Soleil 2012 Signature: From Keremeos, Clos du Soleil’s top tier red blend was actually doubled in production for this vintage, up to 475 cases, in anticipation of implementing bottle aging from 2013 onward. While bottles may seem prevalent now, shortly after release, once it’s gone there will be a long wait for the next vintage, so stock up while you have a chance! Should I follow through with my rotating vertical strategy, I can now open the 2008. However, the Signature has proved very long-lived, so further delay will likely provide even greater enjoyment. Swirl VQA Store – $40

Poplar Grove 2009 “The Legacy”: The arrival of this 2009 red blend is in fact the third vintage released this year, starting with the 2007, the ethereal 2008, and now the nearly sold-out 2009 – the winery appears to be a victim of their own success! Production in 2008 and 2009 was cut in half (500 cases), and the 2010 will likely see similar numbers, keeping me anxious to avoid a hole in my vertical going forward. At least I get to drink the 2005 now in order to make room for the new bottle! Swirl VQA Store – $50

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

BC Wine Dinner: Autumn Flavours

After a very busy summer the four couples in our wine club finally got the chance to gather in one place for dinner recently. It was a chance to catch up and share some culinary creations over a few bottles of BC wine. The autumn weather must have inspired all of us in a similar fashion, as light red wines and warm comfort foods provided pleasantly pervasive. Some old favourites and a few new releases offered us plenty to discuss alongside delicious food pairings from our respective kitchens.

Walnut "Neat Balls" with Arrowleaf Zweigelt and Cellar Hand Punch Down Red

Some irresistible cheeses and cocktails couldn’t be turned down, while hors d’oeuvres were finalized and accessorized. What we soon discovered with glee were Walnut-Mushroom “Neat Balls” and a trio of mouth-watering dipping sauces in savoury flavours of barbecue, mustard, and marinara. These tasty little nuggets partnered with a couple of youthful red wines to get us started. The Arrowleaf 2012 Zweigelt displayed a striking amethyst colour in the glass that immediately caught my eye. The gorgeously smooth, soft fruit texture offered generous elements of leather and clove, pairing particularly well with the marinara sauce.

We next cracked open a bottle of Cellar Hand’s budget-friendly 2012 Punch Down Red for some comparative analysis. The Red, plus “Free Run White”, come from Black Hills’ second label line-up, reportedly crafted by the winery’s cellar hands themselves from a few barrels and full experimental latitude. The Punch Down Red provided some immediate contrast to the Zweigelt – jammier on the nose and palate, with a fuller body and sweeter flavours. It was quite easy-drinking and enjoyable overall, coming from the generous 2012 vintage that yielded bountiful and ripe fruit in the southern Okanagan, where Black Hills farms the Merlot, Cabernets, and Syrah found in the blend.

Pumpkin Dumplings with Tantalus Old Vines Riesling and Orofino Gamay

Having dealt with the initial hunger pangs, we settled down and prepared for the appetizer course, taken in hand by myself and my wife for this meal. Our inspiration came from the quintessential fall fruit – pumpkin! Reviewing old issues of the BC Liquor Stores TASTE Magazine I came across Baked Pumpkin and Onion Dumplings with Herb Dip, which we then accessorized with a creamy Apple and Blue Cheese Salad. Contrary to the recipe photo, our Dumplings wouldn’t stay closed, but at least the flavours stuck around to pair with Tantalus 2008 Old Vines Riesling and Orofino 2013 Gamay. Although I had the feeling either wine would pair nicely with the dish, I couldn’t resist sharing both bottles, and suspected few complaints would be voiced.

The Old Vines Riesling was released back in 2011 – fairly delayed for a 2008 white, but Tantalus likes to ensure sufficient bottle aging for this legendary wine. Even with another three years in bottle it still presented youthful vibrancy: generous citrus aromas carried through to the focused and racy palate, where petrol character emerged. Even on its own, let alone dancing with the sweet and savoury pumpkin and rich blue cheese, the wine was enough to elicit accolades around the table. Fortunately the Platinum Medal Gamay proved no slouch, providing an additional round of intensity to entertain our palates: bright, fresh cranberry and cherry fruit flavours plus a sprinkling of cinnamon spice made for another adept pumpkin partner. Orofino suggests chilled summer enjoyment – which I can vouch for with enthusiasm – but the wine’s pure enjoyment factor provides the versatility for all-year enjoyment.

Triple-cheese Macaroni, served with Brussels Sprouts and Rustic Salad

As we sipped a little bit more from the four bottles already available our entree course emerged from the oven in all it’s crispy, gooey glory. Three-cheese macaroni presented by our hosts was said to contain Romano, Cheddar, Cottage cheese, and some sour cream for good measure. To calm our beating hearts some roasted Brussels Sprouts and a crisp green salad provided balance and a few vitamins on the side. Apparently the two-bottle concept was broadly in mind, as we received with glee Painted Rock 2013 Chardonnay and Moon Curser 2011 Syrah, two of my personal favourites.

Painted Rock 2013 Chardonnay and Moon Curser 2011 Syrah

John Skinner and his team at Painted Rock have been fine-tuning the Chardonnay for a few years via painstaking work in the vineyard and at harvest. Multiple passes to pick clusters at ideal ripeness and acidity are labour intensive, but the results show in the fruit forward expression that easily absorbed the 5-month French oak treatment. We relished the nicely integrated, complex palate, showing fresh citrus and stone fruit with food-friendly toasty accents. The creamy and crispy macaroni made just as nice with the Gold-medal Syrah as well, from which Winemaker Chris Tolley has coaxed generous floral cherry aromas, supported by pepper and a hint of bacon. Cherries and plum on the smooth palate led into milk chocolate raspberries at the finish, giving us plenty to observe and admire.

Skor Meringue & Chocolate Scotch Ice Cream with Kettle Valley Caboose

Chock-full of pasta we had to find room for the always anticipated dessert, an assembly of homemade meringue, ice cream, and a crunchy pretzel stick. The Skor Meringue was topped with Scotch Ice Cream, and paired to Kettle Valley’s Caboose fortified red wine, a blend of ripe Malbec and Petit Verdot from the Naramata Bench. I’m always excited to try this rich prize, produced via the Solera method, yielding a blend of many vintages that promises to  increase in complexity each year. We readily absorbed the alcoholic tingle on the wine’s yeasty nose, with a jammy character soon wafting about. Interacting with the intense ice cream produced a Kirsch character that finished with bright blueberries and plenty of satisfied smiles.

A collection of thoroughly enjoyed empties

As the Caboose is presented in half-size bottles the dessert team had wisely brought two, consumed with rapidity as we wound down and remarked on the delicious meal. The creative contributions of everyone involved left us feeling very lucky once again to enjoy such great food, wine, and company!

Friday, 24 October 2014

Meyer Wine Club: October 2014

As a member of Meyer Family Vineyards’ Wine Club I receive a mixed case of wine each year, divided into three annual shipments to align with the winery’s release dates. My most recent shipment in the “Some of Everything” club category, the last for 2014, focused on Chardonnay. I’ve been waiting patiently for the 2012 vintages of Meyer’s exquisite single vineyard Chardonnays all year, reading reviews and hearing positive press, so it’s a relief to finally get my hands on them! In addition to both 2012 single vineyard wines, a new entry-level Chardonnay from the 2013 vintage was provided, plus a preview of yet to be released 2013 Pinot Noir.

Meyer Wine Club October 2014 shipment

The winery’s two age-worthy flagship Chardonnay (in addition to the icon “Micro Cuvee”) include one from the home vineyard on McLean Creek Road in Okanagan Falls. The ideal conditions in 2012 resulted in clean, superbly balanced grapes by the time harvest began in early October. The wine was primarily fermented in stainless steel before transfer to 100% French oak (20% new) and ten months on the lees, with a reported natural malo-lactic fermentation. I recently greatly enjoyed a bottle of the 2010 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay from my own cellar, and expect the 2012 to follow suit with similarly elegant fruit, subtle buttery character, and near-perfect balance. The winery has been proudly trumpeting their 92-point score for this wine from Beppi Crosariol in the Globe & Mail. Local Vancouver Sun critic Anthony Gismondi saw fit to award 90 points and pointedly remark the wine is “venturing down the complexity road like few of its competitors.”

In addition to the vineyard surrounding the winery in Okanagan Falls, the Meyer family own a parcel on the Naramata Bench, from which the annual “Tribute Series” Chardonnay is produced. The fifteen-year-old Old Main Road Vineyard was harvested two weeks later than the more southerly Okanagan Falls terroir in 2012, but the grapes were processed almost identically, with the only difference being 33% new oak was used. The wine was dedicated to broadcaster Kelly Hrudey, for whom the annual tribute will take the form of $5,000 from Meyer to a charity of Mr. Hrudey’s choice. Glowing reviews for this Chardonnay have also taken shape over the course of 2014, with Gismondi complimenting the fresh, light wine’s finesse. WineAlign head judge David Lawrason remarked on the “riveting” character and fruit-forward, expansive palate in his 92-point review supporting the wine’s Silver Medal at the 2014 National Wine Awards he co-led with Gismondi.

A final Chardonnay in the shipment consisted of something new – a block-specific Chardonnay from the Old Main Road Vineyard. The 2013 “Steven’s Block” Chardonnay is said to come from the steepest and coolest rows in the Naramata site, with such distinctive terroir as to justify 113 cases of small lot wine. The $24 price tag comes in below the $30 asked for the two red label bottles (and is uniquely labelled with bronze colouring), suggesting a potential mid-point between the higher end wines and the $20 blended Okanagan Valley Chardonnay. Author John Schreiner tasted the new wine in late summer and enjoyed the generous palate and crisp finish. I look forward to delving into my own bottle relatively soon, and seeing where this new product line develops in the years to come.

New Meyer "Stevens Block" Chardonnay

During a visit to Meyer as part of the BC Wine Appreciation Society’s 2012 Fall Bus Tour, tour guests were served the 2010 vintage of the winery’s entry-level Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir. I distinctly remember the broad appreciation for the value proposition of this $25 wine, blended from multiple vineyards and growers throughout the valley. The final wine in my Club shipment was a bottle of 2013 Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir, not yet formally released at the winery, as the remainder of 1,600 cases of 2012 are still for sale. I found enough reason to open the bottle and enjoy it early: the nose presents berry fruit and cloves (with little earthiness), while a fuller-bodied palate than expected yielded sweet stewed strawberries and smooth tannins. The wine is quite easy-drinking, but admittedly lacks the complexity and elegance of Meyer’s single-vineyard Pinot Noirs in the $40 price range. This isn’t necessarily a problem, if anything it suggests the wines are legitimately differentiated and appropriately priced. The 2013 Reimer and McLean Creek Vineyard Pinot Noirs will contribute more insight into the 2013 vintage upon release next year – I’m looking forward to my next shipment!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Orofino Collector’s Club: Fall 2014

My semi-annual mystery case from Orofino Vineyards’ Collector’s Club arrived recently, bursting with tasty treats and new releases from the Similkameen Valley. Unlike many wine clubs the contents of this one are not broadcast to members in advance, making it a true unknown what one is to receive, but I trust owners John & Virginia Weber enough not to worry, knowing they save the most exclusive wines for Club members. Should a particular wine be missed in a given year, there is also a guarantee that members will always have access to purchase at the winery. The latest case focused primarily on four wines, plus the usual Club-only bonus.

Orofino Collector's Club Fall 2014 shipment

Orofino’s increasingly popular Moscato Frizzante was absent from the earlier summer shipment, due to a later than usual release this year. The delay was made up for through the inclusion of three bottles in this recent case. The 2013 Frizzante is now the third year for this charming sparkler, presented in an elegantly-shaped, silk-screened bottle with convenient crown cap. Old-vines estate Muscat is blended with the neighbours’ (Hendsbee Vineyard) Muscat Bianco, and typically a touch of Riesling and Pinot Gris for acidity and “BC flare” respectively. The carbonation provides a light effervescence that makes the wine a great aperitif, with tropical fruit aromas and slightly off-dry palate that finishes bright and crisp. The latest three bottles have ensured I can continue keeping one in the fridge at all times!

The triplet theme continued into a set of 2013 Home Vineyard Riesling, one of the three vineyard-specific Riesling Orofino now produce (the other two, from Hendsbee Vineyard and Scout Vineyard, arrived in the summer shipment). On the Weber’s estate vineyard in Cawston there sits less than one acre of 25-year-old Riesling, which John uses to produce just 100 cases of this intense, relatively dry wine: at 8.8 grams of sugar, the Home Vineyard wine falls between the very dry 4.4g/L Hendsbee and the 12.5g/L Scout. However, native yeast barrel fermentation and lees stirring help the complex Home Vineyard Riesling stand out amongst its peers. Having three bottles provided the opportunity to open one in the present, before setting aside the remaining pair for more aging. The nose presents immediate lemon curd aromas with just a hint of the traditional petrol notes (less than expected in fact). On the palate it is reminiscent of fresh-baked lemon squares, made with freshly squeezed lemons of course. Altogether quite pretty, and very refreshing, providing substantial curiosity as to how it will mature over time.

The Webers must have been thirsty as they prepared this case, for another group of three bottles was also included, in the form of 2012 Red Bridge Merlot. The Merlot has been a stalwart in the Orofino portfolio since nearly the beginning, and represents the winery’s only non-Similkameen input. The Oak Knoll Vineyard in nearby Kaleden consists solely of five acres of Merlot, devoted exclusively to this finely tuned wine. I remember tasting the 2011 vintage last fall at the winery and being very excited about the freshness exhibited. Opening a bottle of the 2012 revealed a rather intense, ripe and rich wine, to be expected from the warmer conditions in 2012, especially after a generous 20 months in oak. Youthful tannins are present but not discomforting, and the long, juicy finish provides flavours of blackberry, plum, and black currant, with a surprisingly manageable 14.6% alcohol.

A pair of bottles from a brand new Orofino wine followed the Merlot: the 2011 Scout Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is the first release from one of Orofino’s favoured vineyard partners. While a Passion Pit Vineyard Cabernet has existed for a couple of years (since 2009 vintage), the Scout Cabernet now adds to the winery’s big red division. The Scout Vineyard, overlooking the Similkameen River, grows slightly more than four acres of Syrah, Riesling, and Pinot Gris at present. Given the yield of this new wine (only 100 cases) I would expect less than one acre of Cabernet Sauvignon exists as well. Having two bottles gives me a chance to try the wine at some point (say 2016/2017) before determining how long to cellar the final bottle, which the winery suggests could be for as long as several years from now.

Orofino 2012 Watermark Red Blend

The final bottle in the box was particularly unexpected, providing a pleasant surprise in the form of one of Orofino’s custom-label wines. The winery recently partnered with Osoyoos’ Watermark Resort to produce a pair of house wines; the 2012 Watermark Red I received comes from the second year of this project. I cracked open the bottle to seek further insight into this blend of Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon: on entry the mouth-filling texture offers sweet fruit, with bright blueberry and cherry character emerging. Coming from such a recent vintage I was surprised at the low levels of tannin, but I’m guessing the intent was to produce an easy-drinking wine ready for more immediate enjoyment. This wine would succeed quaffed alongside summer barbecue or winter comfort foods – after all the Resort remains open all year round! After similarly teaming up with acclaimed Hawksworth Restaurant in 2012, the Orofino team can celebrate another creative and fruitful partnership.

Friday, 10 October 2014

BCWAS Harvest Party 2014

The BC Wine Appreciation Society visited The Blackbird recently for a Harvest Party festival-style tasting of cellar favourites and tasty treats. Since last December’s Holiday Bash this downtown restaurant’s third floor private suite is becoming a favourite haunt of the BCWAS due to the comfortable room – with couches, pool table, and even a movie screening area – plus generous food and attentive service. Although sit-down winery and varietal tastings will always have an important place, it’s great to change venues and move around once in a while, taking more opportunities to socialize with fellow members.

Blue Mountain Brut

The BCWAS cellar has been thoughtfully assembled by hard-working Cellarmasters over the years, and it’s always a joy to enjoy aged examples of our region’s finest wines. Several mature red blends from the Society’s extensive vertical collections were pulled for the Harvest Party, joined by some younger wines amassed by the Executive during the recent Fall Bus Tour in the Okanagan. A menu of hors d’oeuvres and thin crust pizza from The Blackbird provided plenty of sustenance and flavourful pairings for these juicy gems.

Upon arriving upstairs guests were provided with a glass of Blue Mountain Brut, the esteemed local sparkler that makes every occasion more enjoyable. Crisp apples, apricots, honeycomb, fresh cut flowers, and a mouth-watering finish focused our palates and put a smile on faces. White wines from Bus Tour visits this year included Intrigue 2013 “Focus” Riesling and SpierHead 2013 Pinot Gris, plus some 2012 Viognier from new corporate member C.C. Jentsch. The Viognier surprised with a luscious profile and fairly viscous texture; ripe stone fruits and crème brûlée character provided plenty to chew on. The Mini Dungeness Crab Cakes on the menu were the food of choice for such a rich wine.

The Bus Tour visit to Intrigue Winery north of Kelowna found us exploring a pair of Rieslings from Winemaker Roger Wong. The “Focus” version is the more serious of the two – much drier and possessing more lean acidity – and the one brought home to share with members at our Harvest Party. On day two of the Bus Tour we made it to SpierHead, where the winery’s attractive Pinot Gris impressed many, enough that a few bottles came home for the Party as well. In the meantime this excellent wine went on to win one of the five inaugural Platinum Medals at the BC Wine Awards! Sipping a glass at the Party revealed a very pretty nose of fruit blossoms, followed by a superbly balanced palate of ripe pink peaches.

Our finger food choices included Vegetarian Spring Rolls, with sweet and sour spicy Thai dipping sauce, an ideal food to pair with Stoneboat’s 2013 Chorus white blend. This complex combination of Pinot Blanc and several of the winery’s old vines Germanics - Müller Thurgau, Schönburger, Kerner, Pinot Gris, and even some Viognier – came across spicy at first, with a juicy fruit basket blend of clean, fresh flavours.

Orofino Gamay, Seven Stones Meritage, Church & State Pinot Noir

A bevy of reds soon beckoned, so wise guests dug into a few slices of the many pizzas from The Blackbird’s kitchen: there was more than enough Margherita, Salami & Ham, and Funghi (Mushroom) to go around. Before trying some of the big blends we dug out of the cellar, knowledgeable tasters headed straight to the Orofino Vineyards 2013 Gamay, great with pizza in fact! This delightfully fresh, slippery wine showed earthy hints, bright berries, vanilla, and baking spices, clearly explaining this summer’s National Wine Awards Platinum Medal. Only one hundred cases were produced, and anyone with a bottle or two remaining should count their lucky stars.

The food kept coming even as we could barely keep up with all the pizzas, but we had the perfect wine to go with Crustrade with Duck Confit, as well as Forest Mushrooms on Grilled Polenta. From long in the past of a celebrated winery, the 2007 Church & State Hollenbach Vineyard Pinot Noir originally won a Gold Medal at the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards (precursor to the aforementioned Nationals). That very same year the winery produced their final Pinot Noir, upon embarking on a stronger Estate-vineyard focus, which precluded Pinot Noir from their southern Okanagan terroir. Like many esteemed BC Pinot Noirs, the 2007 Church & State showed outstanding aging: highly aromatic, the very rich palate yielded sublimely silky notes of cloves and stewed berries, with a slightly sweet finish as a final memento.

The BCWAS cellar is admittedly awash in red Meritage blends; with so many tempting and exciting signature wines it can be hard to maintain an limited collection. These long-lived wines provide an exciting glimpse into the past, and an opportunity to explore BC wines’ living history. A few of the nearly decade-old (decade-young in some cases) bottles emerged to be shared at the Harvest Party. From long-time BCWAS favourite Fairview Cellars, 2005 “The Bear” immediately impressed with an admittedly youthful nose. Refreshing, juicy fruit and smooth, pure berry character showed Proprietor/Winemaker Bill Eggert’s prowess at crafting ageless red wines from his Oliver vineyard.

Jackson-Triggs Meritage, Fairview Cellars The Bear, Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin

Another window into 2005 came to us from Osoyoos Larose: “Le Grand Vin” provided more hints that viable years in the cellar remain, given the still-noticeable tannins. The savoury, meaty nose called out for one of the Mini Yorkshire Puddings being circulated, stuffed with roasted rare prime rib and horseradish cream. A dark fruit under-current, given two thirds Merlot, kept matters warm and left a thought-provoking finish. Had one found oneself with a second Yorkshire Pudding, a glass of Jackson-Triggs 2006 Grand Reserve Meritage would also have served quite well. Even if the Puddings ran out, there were Warm Truffled Beef Shortrib Tartlets for further enjoyment with a blend of 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc. The savoury nose and umami hints in the Meritage made it generously food friendly, but a very smooth, cherry palate permitted easy solo satisfaction as well.

We reached the 2007 mark in the red blend section thanks to Similkameen stalwart Seven Stones, from which Proprietor George Hanson has only recently released the 2009 vintage of his Meritage in fact. One or more of The Blackbird’s addictive Mini Pulled Pork Sliders would have been an enjoyable companion to George’s 2007 blend of 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc. Aromas of leather and smoked sausage hinted at one direction but the fruitier, creamy-textured palate surprised with some molasses and a bit of menthol on the finish.

Before concluding the evening one of our guests had a special gift to share with the group. Naramata Bench Winemaker Robert Van Westen had joined us for the evening and had brought a couple previews of his yet-to-be-released 2012 reds. The graciously donated wines included a new addition to the Van Westen Vineyards wine portfolio: the “Violeta” is a varietal Malbec which is certain to become popular, and also proves that Robert has yet to run out of “V” nomenclature for his wines! A well-attended raffle saw both bottles end up in good hands, with two very happy members in possession of some exclusive cellar selections.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Fort Berens Winery Grand Opening

This week marked yet another milestone for one of British Columbia’s most pioneering wineries. Invited media and the many friends of Fort Berens Estate Winery gathered in Lillooet to celebrate the official grand opening of the new tasting room and production facility. Still sporting that new construction smell, the delightfully orange-accented winery founded by Dutch immigrants Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek is set to begin initial crush within days, as the 2014 harvest kicks off. After a few years successfully partnering with Okanagan Crush Pad for production assistance, the ambitious ownership team of Fort Berens is excited to break in their very own winery, and to celebrate the progress and promise it denotes.

Proudly flying the flag above a 21st century Fort

I was fortunate enough to board a bus bound for the celebrations during the early hours of the morning, alongside two dozen other local wine writers and enthusiasts. Our host and guide on the five hour journey north from Vancouver through the Fraser Canyon was Heleen herself, fresh from Wednesday’s VQA fall trade exhibition and the evening “Chef Meets BC Grape” food and wine tasting. Event organizer Kim Lawton had prepared a fully involved 15-hour day that began with a stop in Hope for morning refreshments at newly opened restaurant 293 Wallace. Chef Hiro Takeda was happy to provide mimosas and locally-sourced yogurt parfaits while conveying his excitement at being part of the town’s renaissance. The community is no longer content at being merely somewhere else’s stopover, and is pushing hard to rebrand as a worthy top-tier recreation destination. Over finely-crafted lattes from Blue Moose Cafe across the street we reviewed the bevy of information provided by AdvantageHOPE, and admired the enthusiasm and devotion of small businesses that energize communities.

Visit to Hope and Hiro Takeda's 293 Wallace Restaurant

Travelling along the rugged Trans-Canada Highway I admired the stunning canyon and mountain views for the first time, in one of BC’s most historic valleys. With the powerful Fraser river a constant companion we observed noticeable changes in flora as the local climate dried out further north. Heleen kept us informed with an impressive body of local knowledge: the fact that she could seemingly perform as a professional tour guide for the region after just five years in Canada emphasizes the local commitment of this winery team! Outside Boston Bar, we passed Fat Jack’s Diner at The Mighty Fraser Motel, where our upcoming lunch originated via Chef Todd Baiden, a Vancouver transplant who formerly operated underground restaurant 12B. In Lytton we crossed the Thompson River and witnessed with fascination its clear blue waters merging into the muddy Fraser, before eventually crossing “the Big Slide” at a point where Highway 12 is pared down to one lane in an active slide zone. Some nerve-wracking moments ensued as we traversed this section in a massive coach bus with the steep cliff edge on one side and the unsteady rock face on the other, barely held back by cables and fencing.

Laser-aligned vineyard rows visible to every Lillooet visitor

As we entered the outskirts of Lillooet Heleen pointed out some of the viticultural history of the region – experimental vineyards planted over the course of The Lillooet Grape Project initiated by former Mayor Christ’l Roshard. Weather tracking data gathered during that project confirmed the suitability of Lillooet as a grape-growing region, prompting Rolf & Heleen to establish Fort Berens as the first commercial vineyard (and now winery). At the intersection of Highways 12 and 99, we caught our first glimpse of the precise green rows and manicured vines we had come to see. Awaiting our arrival under a white tent was the full winery team, plus a second busload of visitors from the Okanagan, digging in to Chef Baiden’s generous tapas-style lunch. Along with cheese and charcuterie trays, there were several specific wine and food pairings, including creamy seafood soup shooters with balanced 2013 Chardonnay, quail skewers with fruity, silky 2012 Pinot Noir, ravioli with bright, ripe 2012 Cabernet Franc, elk roundels with rich 2012 Meritage, and apricot tarte tatin with clean, luxurious 2013 Late Harvest Riesling.

A delectable lunch spread courtesy of Chef Todd Baiden & Fat Jack's Diner

With more than enough to eat and drink we sat back to hear Heleen, Rolf, and their business partner Hugh Agro speak to the history and aspirations of this exciting venture. To recognize the site’s former use as an actual trading fort (built by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the nineteenth century), the three proprietors raised a flag in lieu of a more traditional ribbon cutting. Fortunately I had retained a little wine in my glass and was able to join the toast that Harry McWatters (the winery’s strategic consultant) led to congratulate the team. Harry’s presence (including his provision of red grapes from his Black Sage Bench Sundial Vineyard) illustrates Rolf and Heleen’s competence in cultivating lasting partnerships and friendships in the local wine industry: legendary viticulturist Dick Cleave also came on board as an early consultant, and Kenn Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek happily serves on the winery’s board of governors.

Rolf, Heleen, and Hugh prepare to raise the flag

Having taken care of some of the more pressing tasks (lunch included), it was finally time for us to explore the vineyards and winery! Small groups set out to learn more about what makes the new Fort Berens tick, with exciting questions and answers from those involved. To explain the design principles and practical aspects behind the attractive new building, Toronto-based architect David Agro was present in person. The winery and tasting room – best admired from Fort Berens’ own website – shows off clean lines, natural materials, and practical character that makes for an inviting venue with added value beyond winemaking: a wedding has already taken place on site. Expansive and revealing views of the tank room and production facilities will allow customers an intimate look inside the winery – which keeps pressure on the winemaking team to keep everything spic and span!

Vineyard Manager Megan DeVilliers answers questions in the vineyard

Walking a short distance down to the vineyard we heard from new Vineyard Manager/Viticulturist Megan DeVilliers, who is tasked with shepherding twenty acres of five-year-old vines that include Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Next door is a second plot of similar size, awaiting planting in the coming years; one can imagine her excitement at the bountiful future ahead! Equally excited, and equally new to the team is Winemaker Danny Hattingh, who was next to show us around inside the spacious, gravity-feed winery. Some of the tanks are already full with newly blended 2013 Meritage, yielding space in the barrel rooms (dual, independent white and red cellars) for the 2014 vintage. With bottle aging a goal from the very beginning, an integrated warehouse can store up to 7,000 cases of wine, leaving room for expansion (as does the over-height ceiling in the tank room). Although current plans are to produce 6,000 cases this year, the facility can yield 12,000, allowing the winery to offer custom-crush assistance to nearby vineyards as the Lillooet appellation grows more successful.

Winemaker Danny Hattingh admires his gleaming new equipment

In the pristine, well-appointed Tasting Room Christ’l Roshard (the former Lillooet Mayor herself) welcomed us with a bright smile and glasses of 2012 “White Gold”, the winery’s reserve Chardonnay, of which only 200 cases were produced. Coming from fully oaked, partial malolactic fermentation of Black Sage grapes, and one year in French oak barrels, it is dramatically different from the more recent estate Chardonnay. A toasty nose leads into flavours of coconut and creamy tropical fruit with an assertive buttery texture – an exciting candidate for graceful aging. A short vertical of Pinot Noir followed: the new 2012 vintage showed ripe strawberry aromas and dark berry fruit flavours, all deliciously bright and fresh, with light tannins on the finish. Nearly five hundred cases were produced from a blend of five different clones, and the wine was awarded a gold medal at the All Canadian Wine Championships earlier this year. From 2011, the estate vineyard’s first vintage, a lighter colour was apparent with more delicate aromas. Only 65 cases were produced from yields under one ton per acre that year. The earthier palate maintained the bright fruit flavours, led by cherries and pomegranate.

Natural wood, steel, and concrete provide for functional aesthetics

Our visit was scheduled for little more than three hours – and we made superb use of that time – but the long drive back to Vancouver soon beckoned. Amid many congratulations and goodbyes the bus slowly filled back up, and we departed via Highway 99 towards Pemberton and Whistler, with Heleen once again providing fascinating background commentary on her new home. Samples of delicious Left Field Cider and Barkerville Brewing IPA (proudly produced with Lillooet’s own HOOH Hops) helped to refresh our palates before a final stop at Whistler’s Four Seasons Resort. The acclaimed Sidecut Restaurant had prepared a preview of the upcoming Cornucopia food and drink festival, paired naturally with Fort Berens wines. Executive Chef Tory Martindale assembled a creative and precisely plated selection that included a spicy Steakhouse “Sushi” Roll, seared Sockeye Salmon Tataki, juicy Crispy Prawns, rich Goat Cheese Lollipops, and Royal of Foie Gras toped with honey and red wine jelly. We excitedly even got the opportunity to sample the sold out 2013 Riesling, successor to the winery’s Lt. Governor’s Award-winning 2012 vintage.

Sidecut Cornucopia preview

I’ve had plans to visit Lillooet some time in the future ever since meeting Rolf & Heleen during the early stages of their winery. This recent trip was a wonderful surprise and an incredibly valuable opportunity to see and learn even more about the cutting edge of viniculture in BC, not to mention viewing another part of our beautiful province. Congratulations to the committed ownership team at Fort Berens, and the clearly passionate staff throughout the winery, vineyard, and tasting room. I look forward to following this winery, and the community they are building, for many years to come!