Saturday 24 May 2014

BC Wine Dinner: Rooftop Revelry

After what was, quite frankly, a drunken brunch last month [“Drunch”©], our wine club was feeling the need for restraint and order this time around. Fortunately we came up with a plan to mitigate the effects of our inevitable cocktails and/or reception wine. My wife and I, assigned to provide the first course, embraced the hors d’oeuvre concept with a hearty selection to provide a solid base for the many rounds of wine to follow. We laid it all out under the sky on our friends’ beautiful Commercial Drive rooftop patio, with stunning views of Vancouver and the North Shore along the horizon.

Vancouver Panorama

Having received sparkling cocktails upon arrival we hustled to serve our early nibbles, including three types of Deviled Eggs delicately assembled and carefully transported across town: Feta Dill, Curry, and Chipotle varieties provided something for everyone. Homemade Kalamata Olive Tapenade joined three cheeses from Village Cheese Co. in Armstrong, BC, plus some fresh grape tomatoes for a pop of colour. To pair with this varied and full-flavoured spread I had selected Le Vieux Pin’s always impressive “Ava” Rhone-inspired white blend. The 2012 vintage of Ava provided for a challenging descriptive experience, being so well balanced and blended it was hard to pull out specific descriptors from the mix of 61% Viognier, 21% Roussanne, and 18% Marsanne. The delicate nose eventually revealed notes of melon when given time to breathe, with stone fruit and exotic floral character mixed in. This is a white wine longing for decanting! The rich, layered palate kept us all talking as we picked up on the barrel aging (45% of the wine spent nine months in used and new oak). The wine, while thoroughly enjoyed, could easily spend more time in bottle to continue its road to ever-more-interesting maturity.

Hearty mixed Hors D'oeuvres with Le Vieux Pin 2012 Ava

With a foundation of protein and fat to steel ourselves for several more bottles to follow, we soaked in the sun as the appetizer chefs prepared their course in the kitchen below. They soon blessed us with a beautifully decorative Blue Cheese Risotto: on top we admired Shredded Beet Salad and perfectly cut strips of fresh carrot. To serve with this earthy, creamy delight we were presented with the legendary (amongst our group) 2010 Pinot Noir from Herder Vineyards, and the 2012 Pinot Noir from Tyler Harlton Wines. A few of us had fallen in love with Herder’s Pinot during a group visit a couple of years ago, and this last bottle of the 2010 was to be cherished. Fortunately the bright cherry nose and very smooth texture fulfilled our high expectations, and we relished flavours of more sour cherry, cranberry, and milk chocolate. The newer wine from Summerland’s Tyler Harlton provided an equally solid presentation, with cherries, cloves, and caramel chocolate on a fresher finish that made for a superb pairing with the creamy Risotto and fresh beets.

Blue Cheese Risotto & Beet Salad with Herder 2010 and Tyler Harlton 2012 Pinot Noirs

The revelry continued as we cleared the table and gleefully anticipated the next course, which sounded like a fairly complicated collection of items based on the effort of the chefs. On the table in advance we observed two chilled white wines: Gehringer Brothers’ 2012 Ehrenfelser, and Red Rooster’s 2012 Riesling. Both wines excited me, as I know how rare it is to encounter varietal Ehrenfelser (there are only a handful of wineries producing it in BC), and I had recently enjoyed sampling the racy Riesling at the Naramata Bench Spring Release Tasting. Our entree course for these summery wines was the mouth-watering combination of Szechwan Green Beans, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Beets (an unplanned appetizer parallel), and either Teriyaki-glazed Salmon or Boursin-stuffed Portobello Mushroom Caps.

Szechwan Green Beans, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, & Teriyaki-glazed Salmon with Gehringer 2012 Ehrenfelser and Red Rooster 2012 Riesling

The food was all-around delicious, and the wines showed off a range of exciting qualities. The Golden Mile Bench Ehrenfelser enticed with a sweet orchard flower nose, an off-dry palate and nicely balanced acidity. The typical fruit salad palate was present, with some intriguing spiced notes of cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom. From nearby vineyards outside Oliver, the Riesling was an ideal palate cleanser, with very clean, very dry flavours of fresh lime beyond aromas of citrus and light, sweet petrol. Although one may have expected a Pinot Noir with foods like salmon, mushrooms, and beets, both wines went over quite well due to their deft opposition to the heavier food.

As the evening’s final course arrived, the assigned chefs discovered the perils involving in serving dessert after so many glasses of wine. These enthusiastic new members had yet to appreciate the focus required by that point in the night, and I happened upon them comically stumbling about the kitchen trying to scoop ice cream and neatly plate a challenging Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble. Ultimately very little ended up on the floor, and the essentials made their way on to our plates, devoured with gusto under a slowly setting sun. To enjoy with our sweet, tart, and creamy treat we were presented with Gray Monk’s brand new 2013 Kerner. The wine is very off-dry, with 53 grams per liter of residual sugar, but it worked well alongside the fruit-focused dessert. The sweet, very fresh palate reminded us of Elderflower Syrup, and the aromatic qualities nicely emphasized the vanilla notes in the ice cream.

Strawberry-Rhubard Crumble with Clos du Soleil 2013 Rose and Gray Monk 2013 Kerner

To polish off the remaining crumble we gladly turned to the equally new 2013 Rosé from Clos du Soleil. This superb Similkameen Valley winery sources Rosé-designated Cabernet Sauvignon from Osoyoos for their wine, which makes it stand out amongst an increasingly crowded field of competitors: Cabernet Rosé is very rare in BC. On the nose we enjoyed aromatic cotton candy and bubble-gum, leading into a dry palate that conjured up descriptors like “Raspberry Ginger Ale.” Despite being very different from the Kerner, the Rose also served as a nice match for the Crumble dish, particularly the strawberries and rhubarb. The refreshing fruit and long finish provided for the perfect solo sipper with which to end the meal as we cleared our plates.

Saturday 17 May 2014

BCWAS: Tinhorn Creek Wine Dinner

After what Tinhorn Creek President Sandra Oldfield cheekily described as years of effort she finally obtained the opportunity to host the BC Wine Appreciation Society’s annual dinner this year. She has seen her peers from Painted Rock, Van Westen, Quails’ Gate and others dining in style at Vancouver’s finest restaurants with the Society’s many enthusiastic members. The good times have been sufficiently enticing for Sandra to request the inclusion of her winery as well! The BCWAS has a long history with Sandra and Tinhorn Creek – four years ago the Society hosted Sandra in Vancouver for an amazing twelve-year vertical of her famous Cabernet Franc, going all the way back to the first vintage in 1996! We were all quite pleased to welcome her back to a relaxing dinner by the water on a beautiful spring day.

Sandra Oldfield & BCWAS President Brian Glaum

Four dozen members of the Society gathered for dinner at LIFT Bar & Grill in Coal Harbour, with spectacular sunlit views of Stanley Park and the North Shore. As sailboats tied up in the marina outside President Brian welcomed us with enthusiasm. This dinner was a milestone for Sandra in particular as it marked one of her first major public events since stepping down from the role of Winemaker. With good humour she recalled the consternation of many a customer and colleague who wondered what on earth she was going to do now – now that she is “only” President and CEO of the winery. As internationally-experienced Canadian winemaker Andrew Windsor is taking over to bring Tinhorn’s wines to an even better place, Sandra is freed up to focus on strategic goals of the winery and the BC wine industry in general. In her words, “If you thought we were doing great things before, when I was doing nine jobs, wait until I’m only doing seven!”

Our five course menu was developed by LIFT Executive Chef George Koay and Sommelier Sandy Hamilton, then laboriously tested by President Brian and Events Coordinator Kristal a few days earlier. A market-fresh vegetarian menu was also available for enjoyment, of which several guests took advantage, myself and my wife included. A couple of fellow members sat with us and shared their take on the omnivorous menu, to provide for full coverage. As the first wines were served Sandra spent some time introducing her winemaking philosophy. Interestingly she emphasized the fact that at Tinhorn Creek the grapes don’t actually come first – she is adamant that their greatest resource is people. Without the superbly talented and passionate people present at the winery – and the ideas they share – the grapes have no hope of being expressed to the fullest. It is Sandra’s hope that nurturing great people shows through in the wines they make together as a team.

Gathered Greens, Apple, Brie, & Toasted Walnuts with Aged Balsamic

The first course featured the brand new 2013 Oldfield Series 2Bench Rosé, traditionally produced exclusively from Cabernet Franc since the first vintage in 2009. In 2012 the Cabernet Franc was joined by a block of Syrah that didn’t quite fit with the remainder of the winery’s varietal Syrah; its lighter qualities proved ideal for Rosé however. Now, for the 2013 vintage the wine is back to the original formula, with 100% Cabernet Franc from the winery’s Black Sage Bench Diamondback Vineyard. The salmon-coloured wine is not produced in a saignée style, as is common, but is instead a dedicated Rosé, with the red grapes pressed as if it were a white wine. Chef Koay provided a tart grapefruit-infused BC Spot Prawn Ceviche to pair with the bright, summer-celebratory wine, and for the vegetarians a spicy salad of gathered greens, Granny Smith apple, Brie, and toasted walnuts. The kick provided by the aged Balsamic dressing risked dominating the dry wine, but we still relished the rhubarb nose and tart apple and currant palate.

Duck Breast & Crispy Polenta; Heirloom Tomato & Burrata Salad

Sandra had generously arranged a preview of the upcoming 2010 Oldfield Series Pinot Noir with our next course. Despite approaching four years of age, this wine is still not for sale! Sandra and her team recently made the tough decision to add additional bottle age to their Pinot Noir, knowing it would pay off in the long run. It meant going without the varietal in the tasting room for several months when the traditional release schedule was overruled, but the wines have clearly benefited from greater maturity. The 2010 Oldfield Series will have enjoyed a full two and a half years in bottle before its release in July! Paired with either Duck Breast & Crispy Polenta, or Heirloom Tomato & Burrata Salad, the softly textured, dark and rich wine provided a superb reminder of the range of Pinot Noir that can be produced in BC. An admittedly high alcohol nose of cherries and earth led generously into a bold, bright berry fruit palate just coming into its own. The fresh tomatoes in our salad enhanced, and were enhanced by the wine, leaving us longing for more mouth-watering delights.

Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli with Spring Vegetables

We mixed things up next by reversing trajectory to white wine territory, in a non-traditional course change that featured yet another Oldfield Series early preview! The 2013 2Bench White won’t be sold to the public until June, but Sandra couldn’t wait to share it with us. Chef Koay and Sommelier Sandy had prepared a perfect pairing of Honeydew-cured Wild Salmon Gravlax or vibrant Spinach Ravioli to match Sandra’s blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Semillon, Viognier, and Muscat. The 2Bench White has always expressed itself with generous melon aromas, and the new vintage did not disappoint, showing honeydew, apples, and lemon curd leading into the complex, roundly-textured palate. The toasted pinenuts, shaved baby vegetables, and micro greens with the Gravlax sounded superb, but the Ricotta cheese and spinach in our Ravioli were definitely a highlight of the meal.

Tinhorn Creek 2004 Cabernet Franc

The fourth course was a treat for long-time BC wine fans, with a well-aged library release showing off Tinhorn Creek’s venerable varietal Cabernet Franc. The 2004 vintage was the winery’s first Franc with Stelvin screw cap, and despite an expected life of 5-6 years from vintage it is still going strong, helped along by that secure closure perhaps. Alongside herb-crusted Elk Loin and Wild Mushroom Ratatouille, the wine made an impression on the nose with big, bold aromas of leather, dark fruit, and roasted meat. The juicy acidity (and 14.6% alcohol) no doubt contributed to the wine’s long life, and has ensured it remains very food friendly even ten years from vintage date. The rich flavour palate held ripe figs, black licorice, mocha, and a hint of creosote to keep things interesting on the long finish.

Herb-Crusted Elk Loin & Wild Mushroom Ratatouille

Our final pairing included another look back as we enjoyed the 2008 Oldfield Series 2Bench Red, only the second vintage of Sandra’s big red blend. The wine originally experienced 18 months in new French oak, and then a further 18 months in bottle before release in October of 2011. Now in bottle for nearly four years the 40/40/20 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc was ready to be enjoyed with Spring Lamb Chop & Stilton Cream or Millet Couscous with Charred Vegetables. Generous fruit aromas wafted easily from the glass, featuring prominent blueberries and a touch of tobacco and leather, while the full-bodied, black currant palate showed off very good balance atop dusty tannins.

Millet Couscous with Charred Vegetables; Spring Lamb Chop & Stilton Cream

As the evening wound down and we polished off the remaining wine the LIFT kitchen surprised us with a pleasant little after-dinner selection: Gingersnap cookies, biscotti, and fresh raspberries provided a sweet touch at the end of the meal after the sun had set. We wrapped up over conversations about the evening’s favourite pairings as well as the bright future of BC wine. Many well-deserved thanks to Sandra Oldfield as well as the entire LIFT team concluded matters, until we aim to top ourselves again next year!

Sunday 11 May 2014

Wines of BC Vintage 2013 Preview

I recently received the honour and privilege of tasting a dozen brand new 2013 wines from across BC, while the winery proprietors and winemakers themselves discussed the vintage with a room of Vancouver media. The BC Wine Institute had invited us to the Rosewood Hotel Georgia to learn about the quality of the 2013 vintage, and to preview a broad selection of wines, some still in tank and barrel, others formally bottled only days beforehand! We sat down to thirteen glasses of aromatic joy, ranging from very pale yellow in colour to the beautiful darker hues of Rosé, Gamay, and Pinot Noir.

As Moderator DJ Kearney explained, last year’s excellent vintage was one of the top four of the past fifteen years in terms of heat units. The season experienced an average start – quite literally, with June nearly perfectly matching historically average Growing Degree Days. Temperatures spiked quickly in July, with 415 degree days (61 above the average); the vintage was shaping up to be another gem like 2007. By September temperatures were still warmer than average, but a freak hailstorm in Kelowna wreaked havoc on a few vineyards, ruining their chances for a profitable season. Some early rainstorms during harvest provided worry, particularly for tightly clustered Pinot varieties, and sour rot was a very real challenge in some vineyards. The wet grapes combined with wasps and then fruit flies to yield a perfect storm that needed very careful management for some of the at-risk grapes. Ironically, the month of October was the coldest since at least 1998, but clear of inclement weather, allowing for long hang time and full phenological ripeness of many varieties.

A range of BC wine vintage 2013 samples

Bob Johnson of Baillie-Grohman Winery in Creston was first to introduce a couple of his new white wines, coming to us directly from one of BC’s newest “emerging wine regions” far to the east of the Okanagan Valley. Bob’s impressive Gewurztraminer has sufficient fruit to avoid an overly perfumed presentation, with a big spicy, citrusy, floral nose. The rich palate contains flavours of mango, lychee, and Turkish delight, serving as an ideal example of the variety. The bright Pinot Gris expresses itself with ripe pear and peach aromas, and follows through with flavours in parallel, plus fresh melon and citrus.

CedarCreek Winemaker Darryl Brooker spoke next, introducing his Platinum Riesling, beneficiary of an extremely early harvest that has yielded a very racy, low alcohol surprise. The first version of the wine in 2012 contained nearly 25 grams per liter of residual sugar but this year’s successor shows a moderate 15 grams. The wine is a mouth-watering delight for the senses, walking the line between acid and sugar. It begins with delicate apple and floral aromas and leads into a very zingy citrus palate, with a long finish of young, fresh pineapple – it definitely left an impression in the room.

Darryl also had the opportunity to introduce the first Rosé of the tasting, from 395 cases of fresh Pinot Noir. Previously, a portion of the juice from the winery’s varietal Pinot Noir was bled off to make a relatively dry Rosé. However, in 2013 the practice was stopped as the winery came to the realization that the concentration derived from doing so is actually unnecessary. CedarCreek’s 2013 Rosé is noticeably sweeter and slightly less acidic than the 2012 version, which struggled in a marketplace seemingly seeking off-dry patio sippers. Fortunately, the new wine retains the cheerful wild strawberry aromas of its predecessor, and benefits from some intriguing earthy flavours underneath the bright red fruit.

The Naramata Bench was well represented by JoieFarm Winemaker Robert Thielicke, and two of his popular white wines: Un-oaked Chardonnay and “A Noble Blend”. The Chardonnay underwent two months of lees stirring for texture, providing a lovely round body containing flavours of candy apple following tropical aromas, and some noticeable alcohol on the nose (14.1% in fact). The wildly popular Noble Blend consists primarily of Gewurztraminer and Riesling, plus one sixth in other whites – Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, and Schoenberger. The traditional tropical characteristics such as lychee are easily noticeable, while the Gewurztraminer’s perfume is controlled nicely by the Riesling – an intentional strategy as explained by Robert. The balance is ideal this year, with 10 grams of sugar, and the winery even made 2,000 more cases to counter how quickly it sold out last year!

The panel of talented winemakers discuss 2013

From Summerland on the other side of Okanagan Lake we were joined by Okanagan Crush Pad’s passionate Chief Winemaker Michael Bartier and a couple of his Haywire wines. The unfiltered sample of Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris was expectedly yeasty, with lots of apple notes and creamy caramel characteristics. The wine was primarily whole cluster pressed, and enjoyed wild yeast, spontaneous malolactic fermentation. An unfiltered, very early sample of Canyonview Vineyard Pinot Noir was particularly good, showing delicious fruit and spice from a wine that still has plenty of aging to experience in the concrete tanks in which it currently rests. Michael’s winemaking philosophy is very much vineyard-focused, and he enthralled the room with detailed dialogue on vine management, displaying a fascinating map of the Switchback Vineyard’s water-holding capacity.

The speaker’s list continued moving south to Okanagan Falls, from which Winemaker Dwight Sick of Stag’s Hollow introduced a new reserve white and a charming Rosé. The Renaissance Sauvignon Blanc is an intensely-flavoured small lot wine of which only 85 cases were produced. Dwight’s notes of smoke, lime zest, and snow pea aromas perfectly capture the French oak-fermented wine, and the rich palate presents more toasted citrus flavours and hints of green, leafy vegetables. The Rosé is a blend unique to BC, with 15% Grenache joining Syrah to yield enticing aromas of red berries and a hint of leather. The wine comes from a vineyard in which certain blocks typically don’t fully ripen, but mature to a point perfect for Rosé. Five grams of residual sugar combine with the taste profile to remind one of Swedish Berry candies, with a lightly peppered finish.

To atone for omitting representation from the Similkameen Valley during a similar event last year, the Wine Institute had ensured the presence of one of the Valley’s champions: John Weber of Orofino Vineyards had even brought three wines to share! His Hendsbee Vineyard Riesling comes from right next door to the winery, showing crisp apples and lemon-lime on a dry finish that should age beautifully and pair very well with a range of foods. The Home Vineyard (Old Vines) Riesling is richer, with twice as much sugar, and a creamier texture thanks to lees stirring. John’s “bonus” wine was the Celentano Vineyard Gamay, bottled mere days earlier. The wine is already showing cream soda and a hint of leather on the nose (5% of Syrah was added for colour), plus generous raspberries and strawberry seed flavours. The nice bright acidity and long finish will make for a superb summer red, served slightly chilled.

The thirteen wines we enjoyed that day were an excellent early summary of the vintage, while bigger reds and even some whites continue to develop in tank and barrel. Many more excellent wines are already on the market, with more set to come soon, particularly as the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival concludes for another year. There will be no shortage of great local wines to enjoy this summer and beyond!

Saturday 3 May 2014

Cocktails and BC Wine Brunch

Our first brunch celebration of BC wine – after years of dinner parties – was a celebrated success, and led immediately to plans for another event a few weeks later. The four couples comprising our enlarged Wine Club gathered this time at our Vancouver condo, where we managed to shoehorn an additional table from the balcony in to our dining area, providing full seating for eight. That being said, we didn’t sit down right away, because I had taken the opportunity to gleefully prepare an over-the-top Caesar bar and Mimosa station. Although I and a couple others helped ourselves to Caesars, it was the Mimosas, made with Steller’s Jay Brut, that really got people talking. Sumac Ridge’s ever-reliable sparkling wine made for a perfect match with freshly squeezed CYONI organic orange juice – perhaps the best Mimosa I have ever enjoyed!

Living the dream: a full Caesar bar

Famished and also sufficiently pre-lubricated, we sat down to our first appetizer course, a mouth-watering “Latin Bruschetta” on freshly toasted baguette. The mix of avocado, lemon juice, and fresh herbs was paired with two delicious BC Gewurztraminers. From Summerland’s Saxon Estate Winery we sampled the 2012 vintage, with a floral focus and clean, bright acidity. The 2011 Reserve-tier Naramata estate wine from Joie was a much bolder take on the varietal, with a fuller-bodied, creamy texture, and strong lychee flavours beyond the rose-petal aromas. The “fat, juicy” Joie, while impressive in scale, proved to be undone in this context however, as the drier Saxon was the ideal pairing for the tart bruschetta. Nothing stopped us from finishing both bottles with ease however!

Saxon & Joie Gewurztraminer with "Latin Bruschetta"

Moving on to the second appetizer course we were presented with a beautifully assembled Buckwheat Heirloom Tomato Salad, boasting kale, mint, kaffir lime leaves, and some fresh micro greens on top. The fully ripened, exquisitely flavourful tomatoes were exciting enough on their own, but we also received two more bottles of wine to enjoy as well. Lightly-aged Pinot Gris from Platinum Bench (2011) and Averill Creek (2010) helped to remind us that white wine can preserve and mature nicely if given the chance. The Platinum Bench wine came from the young winery’s first white vintage, right after the property was acquired by new owners. Only 165 cases were produced and it is long-since sold out, but the peach flavours and minerality impressed, and the dry finish served nicely to bring out the lime flavours in the salad. From Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley, the older Averill Creek wine is actually still for sale at the winery (alongside a 2013 Pinot Grigio). A citrus focus on the nose and palate, plus a somewhat buttery texture made for another tasty pairing.

Platinum Bench & Averill Creek Pinot Gris with Buckwheat Tomato Salad

Something a little heavier was due next as my wife and I got to plate the duo of savoury bread puddings we’d been looking forward to serving with a couple of crisp sparkling wines. Some mixed greens helped to spruce up the plates of Sourdough Tomato Basil, and Whole Wheat Mushroom Leek bread puddings. Inspired by the bright tomatoes, earthy mushrooms, and chewy bread, we’d settled on a couple of sparkling rosés to keep our palates energized. First crack came from my last bottle of 2012 Bella Gamay, showing fresh berry flavours on a very dry, high mousse palate that conjured descriptions of raspberry biscuits. I’m glad the 2013 vintage is on its way to stores so I can replenish my stocks! The second superb sparkler was Blue Mountain’s 2009 Brut Rosé, composed of 84% Pinot Noir, and 16% Chardonnay, disgorged just last spring. A fine, mouth-filling mousse revealed flavours of pink grapefruit and sweet strawberry alongside more noticeable yeastiness than the Bella. The crisp acidity and fresh fruit helped wash down a few second helpings of bread pudding.

Blue Mountain Brut Rose & Bella Gamay with duo of Bread Salad

While sipping some superfluous sparkling, we watched the dessert team spring into action for our final course. They proceeded to whip the dickens out of some cream, generously decorating our kitchen in the process, to provide a rich topping for their Chocolate Mousse. A few fresh blackberries helped to integrate the luxurious treat with a couple of similarly-flavoured red wines. The 2012 Three Bear Ranch “B3” Merlot is one of Mission Hill’s many virtual brands, and light leather, tart berry, and hints of smoke and pepper made for an easy-drinking sipper. The best pairing came in the form of Sandhill’s 2011 (Similkameen Valley) Cabernet Merlot, which paralleled the mousse nicely with milk chocolate and, ideally, blackberry flavours. It’s not always easy to coordinate dessert with table wine, but the dark cocoa made for a mousse serious enough work with the well matched red.

Sandhill Cabernet Merlot & B3 Merlot with Chocolate Mousse

It was altogether a delicious meal with many vibrant, complimentary BC wines; however we soon came to regret the lighter fare most of us had assembled. Our mutually tender states the following day called for more protein the next time around, and perhaps less enthusiastic embrace of the reception cocktails. Fortunately we still went away with fond memories of great food, wine, and laughter!