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.