Thursday 31 December 2015

Collectibles: December 2015

The end of the calendar year is usually fairly slow in terms of wine releases, as those in the industry take well-deserved vacations, or at least bide their time awaiting the icewine harvest. That being said, I was quite happy to take delivery this month of my biannual wine club shipment from Painted Rock, and spend some time picking up a handful of other singular sips. Some bottles were expressly intended to continue growing vertical collections, while others represented lucky acquisitions of hard-to-come-by rarities. In amongst the joy of gift shopping for family and friends a few treats for my future self didn’t seem over the top.

December 2015 BC wine collectibles

Painted Rock 2013 Syrah: Ever since the first vintage in 2007 this has been one of my favourite BC Syrah. Proprietor John Skinner likes to recount his hesitation in planting the variety until he was strongly encouraged by legendary wine writer John Schreiner. The grape sings from Skinner’s sun-soaked Skaha Bench vineyard, and the latest release of 1,622 cases should easily continue the tradition of excellence. A steady decline in the use of new oak at Painted Rock has left only 30% in such barrels (for 18 months), 80% of them French. Early reviews have praised the perfumed aroma and white peppered, dark berry flavours: Anthony Gismondi recently remarked on the beneficial aromatics of “mid-valley” Syrah such as this one in his 90-point review. Winery Direct $40

Cassini 2012 Cabernet Franc: Receiving a Lieutenant Governor’s Award in June for this dynamic Cabernet Franc must have tempted Adrian Cassini with immediate sales potential, yet it only recently came on the market. Of course, a mere 222 cases have disappeared out the door with rapidity, but a select number of retail locations received small allotments. Technically the wine contains 5% Merlot as well, aged alongside the Franc for two full years in new oak (80% French). My own recent tasting experiences agree with the many exuberant reviews, including that from Lt. Governor’s Award Judge John Schreiner, who remarked on the exquisite aroma. Icon Wines’ Liam Carrier found it to be “truly gorgeous” upon tasting in late October; well worthy of 92+ points plus a long and prosperous life in the cellar. Swirl VQA Store $35

Painted Rock 2013 Merlot: Painted Rock only produces 5,000 cases of wine per year, with the varietal Merlot serving alongside Syrah as the winery’s workhorse – combined they comprise nearly two thirds of production. From the 2013 vintage a full 1,746 cases of Merlot are soon to be released, after the same oak aging regime as the Syrah (18 months, 30% new, 80% French). Past experience has shown the Merlot to be a dark horse, taking some time to mature before showing off highly memorable character – this one in particular is a superb cellar candidate. John Schreiner suggested “five or more years” until it will blossom, with enough confidence in the brooding, concentrated texture for 92 points at present. Winery Direct $40

Stag’s Hollow 2013 Cachet No. 04: After a two year hiatus the top-tier Cachet series is joined by a fourth wine with the recent, long-awaited release of No. 04, a creative blend of 57% Petit Verdot, 37% Merlot, and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. Exclusively winery direct at present, the price somewhat reflects desire to slowly meter out limited stock – just 117 cases were produced. That’s not to say this continuation of the series isn’t worth every penny, comparable in the eyes of Winemaker Dwight Sick to other local icon reds in the same price range. The predecessor 2010 Cachet No. 03 brought the winery a Lieutenant Governor’s Award in 2013, and No. 04 received a Gold medal at this summer’s National Wine Awards. Bottles are still hand-numbered, with mine coming in at #1339 of 1405; let’s hope Dwight kept #1 for himself! Winery Direct $69

Van Westen 2012 V: Adding the newest bottle of Rob Van Westen’s Bordeaux blend gives me a four-year vertical since the first vintage in 2009. I may open that aged example late next year when the 2013 is released, but there is no hurry as Rob’s wines are notoriously long-lived (he was mentored by Bill Eggert after all). Unlike Rob’s long-running two thirds Merlot and one third Cabernet Franc blend “Voluptuous”, the V contains five Bordeaux varieties, in this case 45% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc, 17% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot. The small production model is maintained however, and only 346 cases were produced, despite the solid growing season. The high quality harvest that year has left the wine with heady aromas and density of flavour, sufficient for a Silver medal at the National Wine Awards. Winery Direct $35

Sandhill 2012 Small Lots One: The Small Lots series provides a playground for Winemaker Howard Soon to drill down even further into Sandhill’s single vineyard philosophy. The “One” typically comes from the 7-acre Black Sage Bench Phantom Creek Vineyard, from which Howard obtained twenty (new American oak) barrels of an eclectic blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon (three clones), 11% Malbec, 9% Petit Verdot, 9% Syrah, 3.5% Cabernet Franc, and 1.5% Merlot. The wine was originally released in February, but took longer to show up on store shelves outside the Kelowna tasting room; that being said it’s now sold out there while retail stock remains available. The “One” represents another rotating vertical collection for which I now have 2009-2012 awaiting future consumption. With four years to go until the 2016 bumps this vintage from the cellar I can provide it with sufficient time to “settle down” as Anthony Gismondi suggests. Swirl VQA Store $40

Osoyoos Larose 2011 Le Grand Vin: The newest icon red from the equally iconic Osoyoos Larose brand is the second last vintage in which original, long-serving Winemaker Pascal Madevon had a hand. After his departure (for Culmina) in January of 2013 new Winemaker Mathieu Mercer would have completed blending trials that summer to yield the final combination of 48% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Malbec. The winery indicates that Cabernet Sauvignon is more dominant than in previous vintages, a surprising choice given the notoriously cool vintage conditions in 2011. The typically heavy tannins of Le Grand Vin will require time, and aging until 2021-2023 is suggested by the winery. With pleasing harmony, 2021 is precisely when I hope to add the 2017 vintage to my cellar, necessitating consumption of the 2011. Swirl VQA Store $50

Tuesday 15 December 2015

December Wine Club: Return to Form

After a several-month intermission and a busy summer season of travel our wine club finally reconvened this month in what is hoped to be a more permanent fashion. Our hosts were pleased to finally accommodate us in their snug new home, with some inspired furniture reconfiguration to provide seating for seven. The upcoming holiday season and falling temperatures had inspired some cozy winter comfort foods with a pleasant burst of bright white wines to keep the mood upbeat as the longest day of the year approaches.

Osoyoos Larose 2007 Le Grand Vin & Mission Hill 2009 Martin's Lane Riesling with Pretzel Sticks & Golden Beet Dip

Having been assigned hors d’oeuvres duty my wife and I needed to bring something ready to go immediately, to assuage any hunger pangs and provide a solid base for the wines to come. Always striving for something new we elected on soft pretzels, having never before made them, and excited to do so when I came across a delicious recipe in BC Liquor Stores’ Taste Magazine. It was the Roasted Jalapeno & Beet Dip that caught my eye, and I was soon scouring my CellarTracker database for the appropriate wine pairings.

With our Smoked Salt Pretzel Sticks and Beet Dip we shared a pair of big name wines; starting with Mission Hill’s 2009 Martin’s Lane Riesling, the inaugural vintage of this limited edition series in honour of Proprietor Anthony Von Mandl’s father Martin. A few years in bottle provided us with potent petrol aromas that gave way to generous pineapple and citrus. The tropical flavours continued on the palate, where relatively low acidity and a viscous texture emphasized the wine’s Germanic roots, courtesy of consulting winemaker Fritz Hasselbach. With the spicy Jalapeno Dip plus salty blue cheese crumbled over top the off-dry Riesling made for an excellent introduction to the evening.

Another cellar selection came out to kick start the meal in the form of Osoyoos Larose 2007 Le Grand Vin, a Christmas gift from four years ago ready for its day in the sun. With the understanding some decanting would likely be necessary we deconstructed the savoury first impression. The nose provided hints of olives and dates, with some guests discerning almonds and Brandy cherries as well. The palate was certainly shedding some of the legendary Grand Vin tannins, but noticeable dusty indications remained as we tasted restrained red currants. Revisiting the bottle later in the meal showed how much it had opened up and softened, releasing more elegant textures and fruit flavour. Ultimately a touch dry to fully synchronize with the Pretzels & Dip, but the earthiness from the beets colluded nicely regardless.

Black Star (Ex Nihilo) 2014 Pinot Noir with Caramelized Onion & Emmental Tart

Seated at the table we soon tucked in to the appetizer course. The Caramelized Onion Tart was charmingly presented with a garnish of fresh microgreens atop the rich Emmental-infused base. Our most curious wine of the evening was on hand as we were presented with a 2014 Pinot Noir from the previously unknown Black Star Vineyards. The wine showed off classic aromas of raspberry, cherry, and earthy mushrooms wafting from the glass, with similarly predictable pale ruby colouring. The smooth texture was a surprise given the recent vintage, with a pleasing flavour profile reminiscent of raspberry lemonade with hints of cloves.

Descriptors aside, we spent more time discussing the wine’s provenance than anything! None at the table had ever heard of the winery/vineyard, and the label indicated only a Lake Country origin from north of Kelowna – no contact information, virtual or otherwise, was provided. Extensive web searching that evening and later turned up no clues either, until assistance from the BC Wine Institute finally revealed the work of Ex Nihilo. The charismatic winery – visited in person last fall – recently created the Black Star label as an exclusive for western Canada Liquor Depot stores. Many restaurants and resorts are sourcing their own custom-branded wines, and it now seems the retail industry is jumping aboard as well; wine shopping could soon become an even more complicated affair!

Blasted Church 2014 Mixed Blessings & Tantalus 2014 Riesling with Seitan Cutlets & Green Beans

Dining at the home of creative vegetarians ensured we would receive a delicious main course to satisfy any palate. A pair of beautiful white wines were partnered with homemade Seitan Cutlets over mashed potatoes and crisp green beans, topped with savoury Olive & Caper Picada. From Blasted Church, the newest 2014 Mixed Blessings provided aromatic intensity from 90% Viognier, 7% Ehrenfelser, and 3% Pinot Gris. There were suggestions of fresh laundry from the clean, citrus and orchard fruit nose, while the creamy palate provided additional fruit flavours accented by vanilla and even some intriguing hints of licorice.

Should the very enjoyable Viognier have not sufficed, a second bottle of intense 2014 Riesling was on hand from Kelowna’s quintessential Tantalus. Working with the tangy picada the Riesling provided substantial refreshment, wafting mouth-watering key lime pie aromas. The apple and lime palate was luscious thanks to 12 g/L of residual sugar, deftly balanced by a bracing 10 g/L of acidity. (The sought-after Old Vines version sweeps you off your feet with only half the sugar.) A mention of “limeade concentrate” was put forth as we savoured the tart finish and discussed the obvious differences from the earlier, aged Mission Hill example.

La Frenz Liqueur Muscat with Chocolate Bundt Cake & Strawberry Compote

Dessert came courtesy of a late-arriving member, coming straight from an earlier engagement with an easily acceptable penance of Chocolate Bundt Cake from the acclaimed Uprising Bakery. Homemade Strawberry-Honey compote provided a touch of colour and juicy fruit, and La Frenz’s sumptuous Liqueur Muscat pulled it all together. Sipping the Muscat – from a multi-year, neutral barrel solera – encouraged a bevy of beautiful captions such as tropical toffee and orange Amaretto. This wasn’t the first bottle we have enjoyed together, and will most certainly not be the last either, as it effortlessly concludes many a wonderful evening.

Sunday 6 December 2015

Laughing Stock Syrah Vertical

Naramata Bench winery Laughing Stock is best known for their iconic red blend “Portfiolio”. Since founding the winery in 2001 owners David & Cynthia Enns have produced thousands of cases of their flagship wine, and recently celebrated the tenth vintage upon release of the 2012. However, despite the seeming focus on Bordeaux-styled reds (including the well respected second wine “Blind Trust”) the winery has wisely diversified their holdings. The Enns have in fact spent the last several years crafting one of Canada’s best Syrah since acquiring an Osoyoos vineyard in 2007.

Getting it right the first time: beautiful, consistent label design over the years.

As a member of Laughing Stock’s Preferred Share Wine Club I have been privileged to receive each vintage of Syrah since the first release of 302 cases in 2008. Latter vintages have grown in size to the several hundred cases now produced annually, but still pale in comparison to the 2,000+ cases of Portfolio snapped up each year. Despite the worthy praise for Portfolio, the Syrah has received at least as many accolades, with annual admiration that has included national Platinum and Gold medals, plus a prestigious Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in BC Wines. Having amassed six vintages from 2008 to 2013 I recently decided to share a vertical tasting of this spectacular Syrah with a small group of family and friends.

The Perfect Hedge Vineyard on the East Bench of Osoyoos Lake was planted in 2005, including nearly three acres of Syrah alongside Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Viognier, and Malbec. By 2008 the vineyard was ready to yield a blend of 92% Syrah and 8% Viognier, released to a growing fan base in the summer of 2010. For the first release the winery went with Stelvin-sealed bottles, which has benefited the wine by this point, as we found it lively and retaining generous fruit beyond some mature savoury olive aromas. Purple fruit flavours on the finish suggested there is still life ahead for those bottles that remain securely sealed and stashed away in the cellars of collectors.

The early years of production served to establish Winemaker David Enns’ preferred technique, with whole cluster/berry Syrah complemented by crushed Viognier (4-8%) to circulate within the steel tanks and oak puncheons used for fermentation. Fourteen to 16 months of aging have become the norm, with 40% new oak most common. In the second year of production the hot and short growing season of 2009 pumped up the alcohol to 14.8%, contributing to the plummy, Porty nose we encountered. Smooth and mature under cork the wine was in fact so rich as to be considered best for after-dinner purposes, with low acidity and sweet, chocolate-cherry flavours serving to raise eyebrows around the table. Even at a young age this wine launched the series of notable medals collected thus far, receiving Gold at the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards.

Another CWA Gold medal arrived the following year, awarded to the 2010 vintage; which also received the Lieutenant Governor’s Award that summer. The relatively cool growing season was overcome with deft viticulture and a late harvest during a timely October heat wave. Despite the necessary fruit thinning production increased to 620 cases, although 18 months of aging was felt necessary, the longest of all six vintages. After three-plus years in bottle we discovered a mouth-watering wine at its peak, with aromas of savoury leather and peppered meat, and a smooth, juicy blackberry palate – an easy favourite of the tasting.

If 2010 was thought to be cool then 2011 was an even ruder surprise – late from beginning to end. While 2010 was harvested October 7th the 2011 vintage of Syrah was harvested at month’s end. Still, 760 cases came of it (despite one block being bled for the winery’s occasional Rosé), and a traditional “cool climate red” was the eventual result. On the nose the expected leather notes were paired with blueberry and sweet oak. While not as silky in texture as some of the other wines in the vertical, the refreshing acidity and cool flavours lent a certain elegance along with age-worthy optimism. The wine continued its golden streak with a medal at the 2013 National Wine Awards, and then went on to receive an esteemed Decanter Regional Trophy.

The 2012 growing season launched what has become a four-year trend of warm, high-quality vintages. Although a large yield must have been tempting, only 643 cases were eventually produced, keeping the focus on quality over quantity. The careful crop management, flawless summer, and maturing vineyard combined to yield one of the fourteen Platinum medals awarded at the 2014 Nationals (including three for BC Syrah). We were struck by the intensity present upon tasting, with dark, luxurious flavours of cherries and licorice under the smoky, spicy nose. The serious character was deemed well worthy of further aging, with the expectation it will continue to improve over time.

Given the requisite 14+ months of aging, plus time to recover from bottling, Laughing Stock typically release their Syrah mid-year, putting us in the middle of the schedule at present. Stocks of the most recent 2013 may thus start to run low soon, despite a relatively bountiful 820 cases released earlier this year. A Gold medal (and great company) at the 2015 Nationals in late summer was practically expected at this point, and obviously well deserved. Sampled first, alongside a spread of flavourful food, it oozed charisma with bountiful aromas of fresh black cherry, licorice, pepper, and bacon. The lip-smacking palate was beautiful paired with dark chocolate, and a popular crowd favourite even by the end of the tasting.

Companion whites provide additional intrigue and enjoyment.

I would be remiss not to mention the ripe and luscious whites we also enjoyed both before and after. Laughing Stock’s Osoyoos vineyard yields generous Viognier as well, with the 2014 providing flavours that span the spectrum of citrus, orchard, and tropical fruit in this ideal Syrah companion. To mark the special occasion I even cracked open the winery’s rare (162 cases) 2014 Amphora Viognier Roussanne, an experimental “hands-off” wine made in tribute to ancient methods. The project saw whole berry Osoyoos Viognier and Black Sage Bench Roussanne naturally fermented together over two and a half months in a pair of Italian clay amphora. The result is intriguing and striking, with rich aromas of apple sauce and peach pie atop a salted caramel palate plus a touch of thought-provoking light oxidation and even mild tannin.

Reflecting on the entire flight of Syrah it was apparent that all had strengths, with near universal satisfaction. It was challenging to rank order all six vintages, but in the end some rose to the top a bit more readily, providing greater enjoyment at present:

First Place – 2010: perfectly aged and balanced, seemingly at peak, but no rapid decline expected.

Second Place – 2013: fresh and expressive, complex character with great future potential as well.

Third Place – 2008: pleasing maturity with ripe fruit, lively given age thanks to Stelvin cap.

Fourth Place – 2011: elegant and refreshing, will age for some time as a result of cool vintage acidity.

Fifth Place – 2012: luxurious intensity, brooding seriousness, but needs time for excellence to emerge.

Sixth Place – 2009: mature, very rich from a hot vintage, but almost too much so, sweet and hot.

My own stocks are now reduced to those vintages from 2011 onward, but that should serve to provide some delicious future opportunities given what was learned. With what should be sublime 2014 and 2015 vintages still in barrel at Laughing Stock, I look forward to much more enjoyment of what has fast become a benchmark Canadian Syrah.

Monday 30 November 2015

Collectibles: November 2015

Given my participation in a great many local wine clubs hardly a month goes by without the arrival of some exciting new bottles. This month saw my second shipment received since joining Poplar Grove’s club, along with Moon Curser’s final package of the year, and my highly anticipated annual case from Blue Mountain. In fact, with the addition of a couple small orders from Burrowing Owl and Stag’s Hollow every bottle in this month’s collectibles list was acquired directly from the wineries in question. Increasingly, the finest and most interesting wines seem to be available solely through direct sales, necessitating keen attention to release dates and details.

November 2015 BC wine collectibles

Blue Mountain 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir: One of the most famous and legendary Pinot Noir in BC, and consistently amongst the very best. My recent case of wines from the Blue Mountain Priority Group contained this delightful blend of five French clones, from an ideal vintage. The Priority Group program assembles one’s favoured wines over the course of the year and ships when the case is ready: unfortunately the popular Reserve Pinot is long since sold out at the winery, as happens every year. When released in August it had spent two years maturing in bottle following ten months in French oak barrels after fermentation with fully native yeast. Winery Direct $40

Stag’s Hollow 2014 Renaissance Grenache: Only six months ago I was fortunate enough to obtain the 2013 Grenache from my local VQA store. It can actually still be found on the shelf there, but the newest release will likely remain winery exclusive. Winemaker Dwight Sick considers the 2014 to be his best Grenache yet, deserving of the exclusive “Renaissance” reserve-tier label. Careful selection and painstaking techniques have yielded a mere 65 cases however, so it will be short-lived. Released on International Grenache Day (the third Friday in September), it then received enthusiastic praise from John Schreiner, having “totally seduced him” into a rare 94-point score. Winery Direct $40

Poplar Grove 2011 Malbec: Consumer appreciation for Malbec is pushing more BC wineries to release single varietal wines from grapes previously blended into Meritage. As more winemakers are learning the intricacies and expression of Malbec on its own it can only lead to higher quality local examples. Poplar Grove first produced a 2009 Malbec and has now released a small lot (250 cases) from the 2011 vintage, exclusively to members of their Wine Club (at present). It should be interesting to see what the cool 2011 season has offered Poplar Grove, who socked it away for 21 months in French oak and then another 18 months in bottle. A drab of 6% Merlot was added to flesh out the wine, said to yield a long finish of cherries, mulberry, and prune after the nose of violets, caramel, and blueberry. Winery Direct $35

Moon Curser 2013 Contraband Series Malbec: A new release included in my latest Wine Club shipment, from a limited production of 290 cases. The 2013 Malbec has been elevated to the winery’s Contraband Series to reflect the single-vineyard nature of the wine, harvested from a single block in the Osoyoos East Bench estate vineyards (and aged in French oak, 25% new). From the warm and generous 2013 vintage I’m expecting a full-bodied, ripe and plush example, reflecting Winemaker Chris Tolley’s growing experience with the variety – past vintages have received solid accolades and competition success. Winery Direct $32

Poplar Grove 2012 Munson Mountain Cabernet Franc: Poplar Grove goes to great lengths in offering value for Wine Club members, with at least several exclusive wines produced each year. The home vineyard on Munson Mountain outside Penticton yields high quality Cabernet Franc that has ended up in a small lot, single-vineyard bottling since 2010 (after being planted in 2008). The winery is very pleased with the results from 2012’s “fantastic growing season” and this Cabernet Franc should help provide the proof, with mouth-watering “hearty flavours of black cherry and cassis married with hints of almond and strawberry jam.” It was harvested very last, in early November, and given 21 months in French oak, plus additional bottle time before release. Winery Direct $40

Burrowing Owl 2013 Athene: Seeing as I picked up the 2012 Athene at retail in April the 2013 may have been released a little early given growing demand, helped along by three fewer months in oak (18 versus 21 for the 2012 vintage). The blend remains virtually identical at 52% Syrah and 48% Cabernet Sauvignon co-fermented and aged, with American oak avoided entirely this time in place of 90% French and 10% Hungarian. The winery speaks of near-perfect conditions in 2013, yielding all the best flavour profiles of each grape: blackberry, sage, cinnamon, pepper, cassis, black cherry, and more! The well balanced acidity and full bodied ripe tannins should provide for a long and healthy life. Winery Direct $38

Poplar Grove 2011 The Legacy: The third red included in this fall’s Wine Club packages, The Legacy is Poplar Grove’s icon red blend, with varying proportions of the Bordeaux varieties each year. For 2011 it includes 43% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Franc, 13% Malbec, and a mere 3% Cabernet Sauvignon – a substantial drop from the 23% found in 2010, which also had twice as much Malbec and half as much Cabernet Franc. The 2010 was just released earlier this year, but the winery is moving to a four-year release schedule for the Legacy, instead of the previous cumbersome five-year delay: further details from Winemaker Stefan Arnason accompany John Schreiner’s enthusiastic 94-point review. Both vintages yielded small production quantities and will sell quickly leading up to the highly anticipated 2012: 350 cases of 2010 and 550 of 2011. Winery Direct $50

Burrowing Owl 2012 Meritage: One of my favourite things about Burrowing Owl (after the delicious wines) is their willingness to ship as few as two bottles. You have to pay the same $20 shipping rate for 2, 4, 6, or 12 bottles, but it provides flexibility given staggered release dates. With the Athene I also obtained the brand new Meritage, a wine I have been eagerly awaiting in order to continue an established vertical collection; adding the 2012 allows me to finally open the 2006, which likely recently peaked. The 2012 continues using successful proportions that favour Cabernet Franc (43%) and Merlot (28%), yielding a ripe, fruit forward profile that has increasingly impressed critics such as Anthony Gismondi. Into the cellar it goes until bumped out by the 2018 vintage released in six years! Winery Direct $45

Thursday 26 November 2015

Foxtrot Vineyards at the Winemaker’s Table

Legacy Liquor Store has been hosting a series of complimentary wine tastings this year called The Winemaker’s Table. Visits by winery proprietors and winemaker’s have elevated the sit-down evening events far beyond the average tasting counter sniff and sip. Recently Legacy presented a highly-anticipated tasting of the portfolio from coveted Naramata Bench Pinot Noir producer Foxtrot Vineyards. Foxtrot is a family-owned and operated winery, so our guest host for the evening was Winemaker Gustav Allander, son of founders Torsten & Kicki. During the generous two-hour timeslot Gustav was able to detail all five of the wines we tasted from Foxtrot and second label Wapiti Cellars.

Gustav Allander gives wine geeks plenty of juicy details

Before delving into the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of Foxtrot we sampled from the Viognier Gustav and his winemaker wife Nadine produce under the Wapiti name. The brand (named after the Bench’s flourishing herd of non-native Elk) allows the Allanders to retain a strict Burgundian focus at Foxtrot but still experiment with other favoured grapes. The latest Viognier comes from the 2012 vintage, released this past February after 15 months in bottle following ten months in neutral oak. That extended bottle aging, and the initial malolactic fermentation, has yielded some secondary nuttiness on the lushly textured palate, complimenting the perfumed melon nose.

With only five wines in the entire two-brand portfolio the second and only other white is the Foxtrot Chardonnay: our sample came from the 2013 vintage and the newly sourced “Four Shadows Vineyard” at the south end of the Bench. For a few years Gustav worked with exceptional grapes from the nearby Coolshanagh Vineyard, but the owners of that celebrated terroir recently began producing their own wine. Fortunately the Four Shadows vineyard and Gustav’s deft treatment (e.g., whole cluster fermentation) have ensured Foxtrot continues to produce a very fine bottle of Chardonnay. The blend of three Dijon clones showed a superbly balanced flavour profile of lightly toasted apple pie aromas and a delicious juicy palate with a long, smooth finish.

Wapiti Cellars honours the out-of-place elk

One more Wapiti wine currently exists in the form of a darkly coloured Pinot Noir Rosé; we tasted the first release, from the 2013 vintage. The blend of grapes from two Naramata vineyards was partly barrel fermented and aged (in neutral oak, for six months), contributing to the spicy flavour and hints of leather on the nose beyond the bright red fruit. You’d be forgiven for mistaking this wine for a pale varietal Pinot Noir rather than a Rosé, such is the colour and intensity. The dark colour comes from a press that included 24 hours on the skins, which extracted some light tannins as well, putting the dry wine solidly in the food-friendly category.

To conclude the tasting we had the very valuable opportunity to sample both vineyard-specific Pinot Noir from Foxtrot. Two glasses allowed a comparison of the 2012 vintage from the contracted Henricsson Vineyard and the estate Foxtrot Vineyard. Gustav produces both Pinot Noir in precisely the same fashion: 1/3 whole cluster fermentation and 18-20 months in French oak with no racking. The German/Swiss Pinot clones grown at Henricsson provided for a nicely perfumed cranberry nose and a clean, fresh palate with smooth cranberry and cherry flavours – it would make for an ideal holiday dinner companion. The slightly warmer site at Foxtrot is planted with own-rooted Dijon 115 clones, showing noticeably darker aromas and flavours of blackberry and black cherry that I enjoyed in particular.

Foxtrot's tight range of just three wines

Although either Pinot Noir could age very well, both were drinking smoothly and surprisingly well at present. Foxtrot wines have consistently proved to be highly age-worthy. At the recent Cornucopia Festival in Whistler Gustav presented an extensive vertical tasting moderated by Sid Cross, who agreed that even the earliest 2005 vintage could still be held for future enjoyment. The two existing Pinot Noir may eventually be joined by a third, providing for even more similar tasting opportunities in the future. Gustav was happy to share with us news of the recent inaugural harvest from the estate’s South Block, which may become a vineyard designated wine in its own right. Fans would be wise to keep their eyes open for another champion wine by 2018.

Sunday 15 November 2015

Painted Rock Chardonnay Vertical Tasting

Painted Rock Estate Winery produces a mere five wines in their tightly focused portfolio: three varietal reds, a blend, and one white have remained consistent since the winery opened in 2009. Proprietor John Skinner settled on a high end Chardonnay despite what must have been the allure of easily marketable Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc. Although a couple of summer release Rosé have been bled off from the reds, and a small lot Cabernet Franc was recently released, the focus remains present, reflecting the integrity that surrounds this Skaha Bench winery.

Four vintages of Painted Rock Chardonnay: 2011-2014

As an early subscriber to the Wine Club, I’ve been afforded regular access to the hard-to-find Chardonnay, which is typically only found outside the tasting room in very selected stores and restaurants. Upon receiving an allotment of 2014 Chardonnay this summer I realized I had four vintages available, going back to 2011, and the idea for a vertical tasting was born. A group of wine aficionados recently joined me to sample from one of BC’s tastiest Chardonnay, alongside some other local and international comparisons.

After rousing our palates with the delightful fresh citrus flavours of Blue Mountain 2007 Blanc de Blancs we began with a taste of the newest Painted Rock release from last year’s superb 2014 vintage. The wine immediately defied expectations with a pronounced aromatic nose loaded with tropical fruit. Some guests were strongly reminded (in a good way) of a barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc such as Clos du Soleil’s delicious Fumé Blanc. The flavour palate continued the same unexpected and lip-smacking theme, with peaches and roasted pineapple rising to the forefront. It became an easy and early favourite that would persist throughout the tasting.

Since producing the first vintage of Chardonnay in 2008 Painted Rock have fine-tuned the harvest techniques and barrel program over several years. The use of new oak has progressively decreased, while time in barrel has increased. By 2014 aging had reached 5.5 months, with 40% in new oak (alongside 20% undergoing malolactic fermentation in stainless steel). “Micro-harvests” were initiated in recent vintages, wherein 2-3 separate picks over 7-10 days seek to harvest selected clusters at prime ripeness, capturing desired attributes.

Moving backwards we next sampled from the 2013, produced under identical conditions as the latter 2014, but now with an additional year of maturity in place. The tropical character found in the younger wine was restrained here, with a more traditional nose showing pleasant brioche aromas. An appealing creamy texture was in place, with apple and popcorn flavours present, although exotic hints of guava and other fruit successfully peeked through the long finish. Overall, a well-liked follow-up and suggestion of the future for 2014.

A productive and educational evening in Chardonnay appreciation

The 2012 vintage was aged a similar 5.5 months, but this time 50% found new French oak, with half the total wine undergoing malolactic fermentation. Upon sampling this older vintage a very similar nose to the 2013 was apparent, with inviting fresh apple pie aromas. On the palate it drew parallels as well, but some comments focused on the hot finish. In fact, all four vintages under examination exceed 14% alcohol, with 2012 and 2013 reaching a steep 14.5%. The combination of alcohol and a somewhat more oak-influenced palate restrained guests’ enjoyment of 2012, with the sublime 2014 still dominating our discussion.

With some question about the direction suggested in 2012 there was significant wonder for what 2011 would yield, coming from 5 months sur lie in 100% new French oak. To our surprise a wonderfully integrated, luscious nose was present – clearly an oaked wine but elegant and aging very well indeed. The cool vintage had bestowed bright acidity to keep the flavours lively, with a generous, toasty palate finding great favour amongst all those present. It became an easy second-place finisher after the 2014, despite notable differences in profile.

As guests imagined earlier vintages, and considered the future of those under investigation, we sampled from some other local champions for a hint. Meyer Vineyards’ 2010 Tribute Chardonnay was named number one BC wine of 2012 by Wine Access magazine, giving us a superb example of the vintage. A perfectly mature palate of sweet fruit in good acid balance showed honey and lemon flavours with a rich, creamy texture. Similar character from Blue Mountain’s Reserve of the same vintage was also present, with an overall highly enjoyable caramel apple profile thanks to fresh acidity and vigorous fruit focus still going strong five years later.

Neighbouring champions from the 2010 vintage

What, then, has this illuminating, albeit short, vertical tasting revealed? If Painted Rock’s most recent 2014 release has indicated the determination of a house style we can look forward to aromatic and fruit-forward refreshment in the years to come. There is no reason to think that painstaking but rewarding harvest practices will not continue, and coupled with a focus on bright acidity and subtle use of oak the wines to come should age quite superbly; the winery consistently suggests up to five years from vintage is possible. It’s almost a necessity to cellar at least one bottle of the very exciting 2014 to examine how it develops over time – this may be only the first of many vertical tastings!

Saturday 31 October 2015

Collectibles: October 2015

A couple pleasant surprise finds this month were buoyed by a quick trip to the Similkameen Valley, perfectly timed to acquire some additional rarities. Although my plans to attend the coveted and highly anticipated Clos du Soleil annual vertical tasting were sadly cancelled due an acute illness, I was able to visit a few other wineries while in the region. The opening of the Fall Wine Festival always brings out new red releases, and I was poised to take advantage of my presence in wine country this month.

October 2015 BC wine collectibles

Orofino 2014 Wild Ferment Pinot Noir: With the successful establishment and growth of their Collector’s Club, winery proprietors John & Virginia Weber have taken to producing exciting Club-exclusive wines. Last year’s single barrel Merlot has been followed with another treat, from a single barrel of Pinot Noir hand picked by Club members last fall. This summer’s creative, delicious and wildly successful wild (concrete) ferment 2014 Syrah has helped inspire the Webers to encourage even more natural fermentation in their wines. This special Pinot Noir spent ten months in a neutral French oak barrel before bottling last month, providing for generous pure expression of the Similkameen terroir. Winery Direct $32

Orofino 2013 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir: The home vineyard site at the winery in Cawston is planted with five clones of Pinot Noir that John Weber blends together to age for 16 months in French oak. It’s an annually reliable version with classic notes of red berries and forest floor, plus an evolving silky texture over time. The 2013 is a brand new release being distributed to the Collector’s Club and in the tasting room, as the 2012 is just reaching the end of vintage – a successful one at that, having brought home a Silver medal from the 2015 National Wine Awards. The 350 cases of 2013 should soon be relatively widely available, including at VQA stores. Winery Direct $32

Burrowing Owl 2013 Malbec: In 2011 Burrowing Owl began producing a varietal Malbec, always in small quantities and usually exclusive to the winery tasting room. Somehow Marquis Wine Cellars got their hands on a couple cases of the newest vintage, not yet for sale at the winery! With no information available, one can only assume it will reflect the warm vintage, and display similarly “lush, dense fruit” as the 2012; that one spent 21 months in oak, of which only 25% was new. A good opportunity to sample one of the growing cadre of rich, fruit-forward Malbec emerging from some adventurous BC wineries. Marquis Wine Cellars $40

Hugging Tree 2012 “Vista” Cabernet Syrah: This up-and-coming Similkameen winery just celebrated their first year of business – and their first estate-produced vintage at the new crush pad. While those 2015 reds won’t be seen for a couple of years, the 2012 vintage is in superb form, improving with every additional day in bottle. Visiting the tasting room earlier this month gave me an exciting opportunity to sample the entire portfolio of five wines, including the small lot (75 cases) winery-exclusive Vista: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Syrah. The mixed berry and cocoa aromas were reminiscent of Port, with a rich, intense palate in the same vein. Strikingly, the fruit seems to have devoured 100% new oak (half French, half American) with ease. Winery Direct $35

Church & State 2013 Coyote Bowl Cabernet Franc: In particularly good vintages Church & State produce a reserve-tier varietal Cabernet Franc from their Black Sage Bench vineyards. The 2013 was awarded a Gold medal at this year’s National Wine Awards, putting it amongst the top three from BC (Ontario wines nabbed two Platinum in the category). With only 100 cases produced, it is presently exclusive to the winery’s Club Q wine club, but one hopes a slightly wider release will follow. WineAlign Awards judge and Gismondi on Wine contributor Treve Ring provides a very appealing 90-point review that makes it clear this wine “will cellar for 3-5 years easily.” Winery Direct $35

CedarCreek 2013 Amphora Cabernet Sauvignon: Earlier this summer Winemaker Darryl Brooker led the release of his cutting edge Amphora winemaking project, just before moving on to take the reins at Mission Hill. Two years ago he packed 500kg of grapes from the winery’s Osoyoos “Desert Ridge” vineyard into an Italian clay amphora and sealed it shut for eight months. Without any additions (e.g., sulphur) it was later foot-stomped and bottled unfiltered to yield only 360 bottles sold exclusively at the winery, to great acclaim. Apparently the exception to that limited availability was a half-case sent to Marquis, bottles #1-6; I managed to bring home #3, leaving only three bottles remaining of this incredible natural wine. Marquis Wine Cellars $73

LaStella 2012 La Sophia Cabernet Sauvignon: Up against the super-iconic Maestoso Merlot (not to mention Allegretto Merlot) LaStella’s small lot Cabernet Sauvignon flies under the radar. Only a miniscule amount is produced each year – just three barrels (75 cases) in 2012 – hence the 3-bottle sales limit imposed by the winery upon recent wide release. It’s a sleeper for the cellar, crafted in a restrained but rich style said to be inspired by the wines of coastal Tuscany instead of Napa Valley. Pristine and perfectly balanced grapes from the 2012 growing season have yielded “firm but plush tannins” and vibrant acidity to provide for excellent food pairing potential and a prosperous long life – an exemplar “collectible”. Winery Direct $90

Seven Stones 2013 The Legend: Owner and winemaker George Hanson has created a bit of a dichotomy with his icon red and his regular Meritage: The Legend sees almost no bottle conditioning, while the $35 Meritage is often three years behind – the 2010 was just released! The thoughtful strategy gives fans the option of reds to drink now or cellar for the future if they wish. Only 208 cases of the newest Legend were produced, from selected barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon (48%), Merlot (32%), Petit Verdot (12%), and Cabernet Franc (8%). George aims for a wine of particular complexity, texture, and finish worthy of the name. It’s released in the winery tasting room on the first of October each year, thus I’ve only managed to acquire two previous vintages, so I lucked out being in the Similkameen this month! Winery Direct $50

Wednesday 30 September 2015

Collectibles: September 2015

A weekend trip to Penticton for the annual BC Wine Appreciation Society Bus Tour not only provided for invaluable winery visits, but the opportunity to collect various wine club orders in person. While most wineries are aggressively courting customers with low or no cost shipping, I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit my favourites while saving a few dollars at the same time! I collected three club orders over the course of my trip, and another arrived shortly after my return home – via the newest wine country darling, ATS Healthcare courier service (with climate-controlled trucks).

September 2015 BC wine collectibles

Black Cloud 2013 Cumulus Nimbus Pinot Noir: Winemaker Bradley Cooper (formerly of Township 7, now Serendipity) has slowly developed his own Pinot Noir brand over the past few years. Alongside his wife Audralee the pair have grown Black Cloud into a focused set of four wines at present (including Rosé), with the newly released Cumulus Nimbus at the proud pinnacle. After six vintages one special barrel was finally felt to be deserving of the top moniker, with each of 275 bottles hand numbered and signed. I first tasted the wine in late February, and then again this month during a visit to Serendipity with the BCWAS. The selected clusters spent fourteen months in French oak to yield a sumptuous and smooth wine that should evolve superbly throughout the decade of cellar time that Brad predicts. Winery Direct $45

Black Hills 2013 Syrah: I’ve managed to acquire this ripe Black Sage Bench Syrah each year since the first vintage from 2009. While Black Hills will always be known for their Nota Bene red blend the Syrah is a worthy challenger. The wine takes full advantage of the southern Okanagan terroir in the winery’s newer “Double Black” Vineyard – which has 4 acres of Syrah – fully acquired in 2011. This brand new release is already achieving impressive accolades, including a very complimentary 93-point review from experienced wine judge Daenna Van Mulligen. Daenna echoes Winemaker Graham Pierce in praising the Northern Rhone-inspired floral dark cherry and mocha character. Swirl VQA Store $40

Poplar Grove 2012 Syrah: The new Syrah was included in my very first Poplar Grove Wine Club selection, which the winery gracefully held for me to pick up since July. In concert with the summer release the wine took home a Gold medal at the National Wine Awards, one of a dozen for BC Syrah! Poplar Grove reports hand-sorting clusters from their two Osoyoos vineyards, destemming, and then berry-sorting to ensure perfection! Crushed and co-fermented with 4% Viognier the wine spent 18 months in (30% new) French oak, and then further developed for just as long as per Poplar Grove’s admirable bottle aging program. John Schreiner’s 91-point review praises the generous fruit flavours and rich texture, and is sure to mention the winery’s construal of Syrah’s “sultry expression” in the Okanagan. Winery Direct $35

Laughing Stock 2013 Syrah: Yet another one of BC’s medal-worthy Syrah, Laughing Stock was honoured with a prestigious Platinum medal at the 2014 Nationals, but had to settle for ‘mere’ Gold this year. The new vintage, from Osoyoos vineyards right beside Poplar Grove’s, continues a tradition of excellence started in 2008: the six vintages thus far have amassed striking accolades that include a Lieutenant Governor’s Award and a Decanter Regional Trophy. A healthy 820 cases were released this summer, and I was lucky enough to receive two bottles in my Autumn Preferred Share Wine Club shipment. The WineAlign judges describe the “classy and elegant” profile of violets, spice, and black & blue fruit, with firm but ripe tannins seeking a cellar in which to blossom. Winery Direct $38

Tinhorn Creek 2012 Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc: Only the second reserve tier Cabernet Franc from Sandra Oldfield (the first being 2010), this one is taking its time maturing in bottle before public release in November. Lucky Tinhorn Crush Club members got their allocation in the summer, and I just picked up my July package, held at the winery for me as I was away from home that month. The Black Sage Bench fruit from the winery’s Diamondback Vineyard spent 18 months in oak before bottling in June 2014. There’s no rush to release it given the predicted 10-12 year cellaring potential; it will only get better in bottle! Fortunately at 770 cases there’s more than twice as much as there was in 2010, so those outside the Crush Club should eventually get a crack at it. Winery Direct $35

Orofino 2012 Scout Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon: Sadly, this one is already sold out at the winery, so I feel particularly lucky to have received it in my Fall Collector’s Club case. The 2012 is only the second vintage of varietal Cabernet from the nearby riverside Scout Vineyard, owned by trusted growers Murray & Maggie Fonteyne and long used as a source for Orofino’s delicious Syrah and Riesling. The vineyard is less than five acres in size, so it’s no surprise only 200 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon were produced; twice as many as the inaugural 2011 vintage but quick to sell out from the Cawston tasting room, particularly at the bargain price. In concert with the Silver medal at this year’s National Wine Awards, judge John Szabo complimented the bold and satisfying, plush ripeness. Winery Direct $29

Tinhorn Creek 2012 Oldfield Series 2Bench Red: Like many wineries Tinhorn marks the harvest season with release of several red wines. In addition to the celebrated Oldfield Series Merlot I also received the winery’s Bordeaux-style red blend in my fall Crush Club package. Grapes from both sides of the valley mix Golden Mile and Black Sage Bench fruit into a blend of 41% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot, oak aged on the lees for 18 months. A generous 1,683 cases were produced, so it should be widely available upon release. Admirably, the wine is offered for the same price as the Merlot, despite being a more complex and labour-intensive blend. Having recently opened a bottle of surprisingly youthful 2007 (the first vintage) I’m confident in the 10-12 year suggested cellaring potential, especially from the near-perfect 2012 vintage. Winery Direct $30

Laughing Stock 2013 Portfolio: The latest Portfolio marks a new era for Laughing Stock, with owners David & Cynthia Enns having roundly celebrated the tenth vintage release last year. Their success marches on as the 2013 was sent out to eager Preferred Share Club members this month, and then public release October first. Production from the warm growing season in 2013 has moderately increased over that of recent years: 2,500 cases of Portfolio is approaching the 2007 high mark of 2,750. The blend is on target with 41% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, 8% Malbec, and 3% Petit Verdot, all aged 19 months in French oak barrels and puncheons. Having already enthusiastically enjoyed the luscious and mouth-watering “second label” 2013 Blind Trust Red I’m particularly excited about the Portfolio. Winery Direct $45

Wednesday 23 September 2015

BCWAS Bus Tour 2015 Acquisitions

Visiting wine country during the annual BC Wine Appreciation Society Fall Bus Tour provides an invaluable opportunity to snag newly released wines and tasting room exclusives at the cellar door. Not only do the wineries that host this group provide special access to rarities but the voyage there and back often takes me through the full range of our key wine-producing regions. With home base centered in Penticton this year, the trip yielded several acquisition opportunities before I even reached the Naramata Bench start to the Tour. A strict shopping list kept me within budget, while adding some exciting new wines to my cellar.

Collectibles from the Similkameen, Southern Okanagan, and Okanagan Falls

Travelling to the Okanagan via Highway 3 is always my preferred choice, because it takes me through the lovely Similkameen Valley. There are a great many superb wineries around the twin towns of Keremeos and Cawston, and an increasing number of Okanagan wineries are (sometimes quietly) sourcing grapes from the Similkameen’s high quality vineyards. Just outside Keremeos I visited Clos du Soleil to admire their brand new winery and bright, inviting tasting room. While there I picked up a bottle of the new “Grower’s Series” 2013 Cabernet-Merlot, from the Makepeace family’s vineyards south of Cawston (now home to the impressive Hugging Tree Winery).

Further down the road I made sure to stop by Orofino Vineyards, where my latest case of wine from the “Collector’s Club” was awaiting me. Fresh new 2014 Blind Creek Chardonnay was joined by 2014 Old Vines Home Vineyard Riesling and reds that included the “powerhouse” 2012 Beleza flagship blend and the last of the “ripe, plush” 2012 Scout Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – both silver medallists at the 2015 National Wine Awards. A short jaunt away at Seven Stones I fulfilled my mission to obtain George Hansen’s 2012 Cabernet Franc and 2013 Syrah. Only 183 cases of the fast-selling Syrah were produced – a complex fusion of smoked meat, licorice, and floral red fruit – and even fewer (174) of the sophisticated and ripe Cabernet Franc.

Entering the southern Okanagan the carefully crafted route provided my first visit to young Maverick Winery on the Golden Mile. I was fortunate enough to arrive on “Sparkling Friday” – the one day each week that visitors get to taste Bertus Albertyn’s traditional method sparkling wine “Ella”. The delicious bubbly was as good as I hoped, and filled up on the two bottle maximum, plus one of my few impulse purchases in the form of juicy new 2013 Syrah, from a small 200 case production. Having crossed the valley to the Black Sage Bench I tasted the rich range at Desert Hills while being fortunate enough to buy a bottle of 2012 Petit Verdot, one of several of their wines recently praised by John Schreiner, and described as “spectacular and age-worthy.” Nearby Burrowing Owl then yielded 2013 Syrah and newly released “fruitcake and chocolate” 2012 Merlot, recently named to the top of the pack at the National Wine Awards.

The day was already growing long so I zipped up to Okanagan Falls for a couple more visits before closing time. At Noble Ridge I was able to find 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, another strong recommendation from John Schreiner: his 95-point review this summer made quite an impression. A mere 200 cases won’t last long given the winery’s growing reputation, buoyed by a Lieutenant Governor’s Award this year for their sparkling wine “The One”. (Although no longer available at the winery, I later found it in Penticton’s well-stocked Fairview Liquor Store.) As gates were shuttered across the region I visited with the team at Stag’s Hollow, learning more about the exciting upcoming reserve-tier 2014 Renaissance Grenache as well as Winemaker Dwight Sick’s darling 2013 “Cachet No. 04” – a “cutting edge blend” of Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon that was awarded Gold at the Nationals.

Naramata Bench acquisitions

The actual Bus Tour itself provided great entertainment and education, while yielding a few more shopping opportunities. However, most of the wineries we visited are already represented in my cellar through prudent purchases at other points in time. That being said, meeting up with Winemaker Bradley Cooper at Serendipity allowed me to purchase from his personal Black Cloud label: single-barrel 2013 “Cumulus Nimbus” Pinot Noir, as well as the 2014 “Red Sky” Rosé for Thanksgiving festivities. A timely visit to Hillside helped me bring home the nicely balanced “Soirée” Port-style red blend, of which the final bottles from 53 cases sold out soon afterwards. Then on day two the sabering demonstration at Blasted Church sparked me to snag some crisp 2011 “OMG” sparkling to keep me in bubbles through the end of the year.

My long voyage home after the busy weekend was just as carefully timed and planned, with additional wine club pick-ups particularly necessary. I first dashed up the Naramata Bench on a Pinot Noir mission to Kettle Valley: small lots of new 2012 vintages of Reserve and single-vineyard “Hayman” wine were my target. John Schreiner got a chance to taste both of these reliable winners in advance this spring, with solid 92-point reviews for each. Also on hand and joining the Pinots with me was the 2013 Zinfandel from sister Similkameen winery Great Northern Vineyards. As I moved south I added La Frenz’s newly released 2012 flagship red “Grand Total” and the newest 2013 vintage of their well-priced Cabernet Sauvignon. Leaving the Bench at Poplar Grove I made sure to pick up my summer Wine Club six-pack containing mature 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from the library, fresh 2014 Blanc de Noirs, rare 2014 Munson Mountain Pinot Gris, and Gold-medal 2012 Syrah.

Some of many from the Golden Mile

Hoping to reach home before sunset I made a beeline for the Golden Mile – stopping there for a chance to visit Bill Eggert and his friendly brother Chuck in the tasting room at Fairview Cellars. I was excited to find new 2013 reds were on hand: Cabernet Franc, “Bucket O’ Blood” Cabernet-Syrah, and the “Hailing a Cab” Cabernet Sauvignon, ‘enhanced’ by a hailstorm that helped concentrate the flavours. At nearby Tinhorn Creek I brought home a full case of wines on hold, representing two allotments from the winery’s Crush Club. The many bottles included ever reliable 2014 Oldfield Series 2Bench White and 2014 Oldfield Series Rosé, plus a slew of highly anticipated 2012 reds including the full range of (reserve-tier) Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Gold-medal Syrah, and 2Bench Red blend.

There was a small amount of room left in the trunk for my final two stops before hitting the road for home. After being generously served by hands-on General Manager Joe Luckhurst at Road 13 I couldn’t resist the delicious new 2012 Castle Vineyard Pinot Noir. The winery’s Pinot program is winding down however, as their focus shifts to Rhone varieties centered on Viognier and Syrah. A couple bottles of fan favourite Sparkling Chenin Blanc joined the Pinot, along with the brand new 2012 Jackpot Petit Verdot, from Cawston’s Blind Creek Vineyard. With literally one empty spot left in the carefully organized cases being conveyed, I visited C.C. Jentsch for the first time, where a pre-ordered bottle of 2013 Small Lots Malbec awaited. As Winemaker Amber Pratt kindly signed my bottle I learned the (45 case) wine had reached sold out status that same day. It was an apt conclusion to my trip, and I returned home with a new challenge in mind – where to put my newfound treasures!

Sunday 20 September 2015

BCWAS Bus Tour 2015: Okanagan Falls

After a sweltering Saturday touring the Naramata Bench on the annual BC Wine Appreciation Society Bus Tour we moved south on day two. Our first stop on a more temperate Sunday came after winding our way up and down the steepest entryway yet. Once we arrived at the secluded Skaha Bench setting of Pentâge Winery tour guests admired the early-morning calm in the vineyards and lake below. Proprietors Paul Gardner and Julie Rennie each took half the group and showed off the winery and tasting room respectively.

Julie Rennie & Paul Gardner of Pentage Winery

Paul’s rock-cave winery and dynamic vineyards encouraged conversation, as the press hummed away and new lots of picked grapes were delivered at his feet. Before a backdrop of vigorous old vine Syrah, Paul explained he was only the fourth to plant the variety in the Okanagan following advice from legendary local viticulturist Dick Cleave. Despite accepted wisdom at the time, the Syrah did not die as expected, and continues to thrive on Paul’s Geneva Double Curtain trellises, in which he avoids most traditional canopy management. The expansive winery cave was filling up with active fermentations in bin and tank, with Paul eager to explain the history of this incredible space. It took more than a decade to plan and fully excavate the 500 square meter cave, at which point it was completed with custom-made tanks from Europe.

The impressive rock cave winery at Pentage

In the tasting room Julie introduced the broad range of varieties in use at  Pentâge with mellow and elegant Roussanne Marsanne Viognier 2011. The hugely aromatic 2008 Chardonnay made a good case for aged whites, while the 2013 Pinot Gris showed off perfumed pink tones from a rare touch of skin contact. The 2013 Gamay presented raspberry bush aromas and an intense palate in search of food; their use of the variety was inspired by Hillside’s early plantings. The 2011 vintage of their signature red wine – called simply “Pentâge” – was still young, with cellaring potential ahead for the six-grape mix that favours 80% Cabernets Franc & Sauvignon. We finished up with a uncommon late harvest white blend, yielding a pleasant honeyed finish from a creative combination of Semillon, Muscat, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier.

Blasted Church's private pool and tasting bar

Perhaps the only style of wine not produced at Pentâge is sparkling (although to be fair there is a Frizzante Icewine). Luckily nearby Blasted Church had just enough bubbly for us – their first vintage of “OMG” from 2011. Our group was hosted around the winery’s private pool by newly promoted Winemaker Elaine Vickers, who works closely alongside Sumac Ridge veteran Mark Wendenberg – both joined the team in 2010-2011. At the pool Elaine sabered a few bottles of OMG for our amusement and education, using Blasted Church’s custom saber of course. The wine is a crown-capped traditional method blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc, showing crisp and clean fruit flavours and mouth-watering brioche character.

OMG sparkling wine and the custom Blasted Church saber

With feet dipped in the pool, members also enjoyed 2014 Unorthodox Chardonnay, an aromatic Musque clone with 5% Viognier, and the 2014 “Mixed Blessings” blend of Viognier (90%), Ehrenfelser (7%), and Pinot Gris (3%). We were particularly lucky to sample from and even purchase the sold out Lieutenant Governor’s Award-winning 2012 “Holy Moly” Petit Verdot, rich and toasty with a long finish of dark purple fruit. The specially reserved bottles sold with rapidity, along with plenty of others it would seem given the long line at the register.

Skaha Lake beckons beyond the Painted Rock vineyard

Up the road at Painted Rock Proprietor John Skinner was waiting to lead us through a barrel tasting of his youthful 2014 reds. With glasses of new 2014 Rosé in hand (a saignée of the estate Bordeaux red varieties) we dragged ourselves away from the view and down to the winery. After only several months in French oak barrels Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot were on hand to show how each contributes to John’s “Red Icon” blend. While only Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah are bottled individually, the other varieties are providing sufficient temptation for John to warrant occasional small lot releases: 165 cases of a very special 2013 Cabernet Franc were recently sent out to wine club members.

Painted Rock Proprietor John Skinner risks it all in white while barrel tasting

At the gleaming tasting room and event centre, a series of immaculate white tables had been set for an open-air lunch prepared by Joy Road Catering. With Painted Rock’s newly released 2014 Chardonnay we relished a composed salad that included roasted squash, butter bottom pears, Prosciutto, hazelnuts, and Pecorino. The entrée course provided red wine risotto with roasted grapes (and delightfully crunchy seeds), braised beet greens, and Cotechino Sausage for most, with Zucchini & Heirloom Tomato Gratin for others. The balance of savoury and fruity flavours in rich 2012 Syrah made for an inspired pairing. Vanilla bean & honey caramels closed out the meal, served as we hastily boarded the buses and made for our next destination.

Joy Road Catering provided lunch at Painted Rock

One final wine region beckoned, and a pair of new wineries in Okanagan Falls seemed like a lovely place to conclude the 2015 tour. At Synchromesh Winery Owner and Winemaker Alan Dickinson led a brief tour of the winery before a seated outdoor tasting where Alan’s parents helped pour his range of Riesling. Four vineyard-specific Riesling made in a very Germanic style distinguish Synchromesh, plus some small production reds – sourced from Kelowna to Oliver. Enjoying each Riesling alongside the others was enthralling given how distinctive they presented in context. A triplet of 2012 reds included the juicy Cabernet Franc-Merlot blend “Tertre Rouge”, complex (three clone) Pinot Noir, and the intense single barrel Reserve Cabernet Franc.

Alan Dickinson of Synchromesh is the Riesling wrangler

The next stop at Liquidity Winery concluded the tour: particularly suitable upon taking in the intoxicating view of McIntyre Bluff and the rolling hills and vineyards arrayed to the south. The sculpture-lined driveway and parking lot provided an introduction to the artistic focus at Liquidity, where Proprietor Ian MacDonald has installed selected pieces from his own private collection. The stunning view from the tasting room and well respected Bistro is the largest piece of art present, and a lovely backdrop to our meeting with Tasting Room Manager Erin Korpisto.

Vineyards and McIntyre Bluff to the south of Liquidity

A delicious cheese & charcuterie platter from the Bistro accompanied samples of several wines, starting with the fresh 2014 whites – bright Riesling, quaffable “White Blend” (Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc), and clean Viognier. The very well integrated 2013 Chardonnay (from 20% new French oak) was followed by baking spice and vanilla 2013 Pinot Noir. Ripe tannins in 2013 Merlot promised a long life given vibrant acidity, and the newly released, rich and dark 2012 “Dividend” Meritage was drinking particularly well. Group photos outside finished the day: it was a beautiful location to wrap up another successful bus tour!