Saturday 28 February 2015

Collectibles: February 2015

Some highly anticipated new releases put a smile on my face this month, including the arrival of rich red wines from CedarCreek in my latest Platinum Club delivery. A couple even served to resurrect Platinum reserve wines not made since 2009 – both very good candidates for the cellar. Joining them are unexpected acquisitions and entirely brand new wines alongside reliable favourites reaping the rewards of the healthy 2012 vintage.

February 2015 BC wine collectibles

Van Westen “VD” 2013 Pinot Noir: Rob Van Westen has been partnering with industry veteran Tom Di Bello (of CedarCreek and Burrowing Owl, among others) for three years so far, making small proportions of their own cheeky Pinot Noir. The “VD” moniker is coupled with an annual Valentine’s Day release, allowing no end to the puns they both enjoy when marketing the wine. It’s a Pinot Noir in the complex, earthy style, with toasty notes of clove and tobacco mingling with the bright berries and rich cherry fruit. From 96 cases in the first year, to 125 from 2012, now only 51 cases were made of the 2013, which Rob strongly recommends cellaring. Winery Direct $40

Stag’s Hollow 2012 Tempranillo: Fewer than a handful of varietal Tempranillo exist in BC, but the always adventurous Dwight Sick at Stag’s Hollow is enjoying the challenge of working with what Anthony Gismondi calls “a moody grape here in BC.” Winery owners Larry Gerelus and Linda Pruegger have actually planted Tempranillo in their Okanagan Falls estate vineyard, from which half the blend comprising 305 cases is harvested, plus the 10% Merlot component. This fragrant, fruity, savoury wine brought home a silver medal at the National Wine Awards last year. Swirl VQA Store $33

CedarCreek 2012 Platinum “Desert Ridge” Merlot: One of the long-lost Platinum reds, not seen since the 2009 vintage. The winery’s Osoyoos vineyard is home to eleven acres of Merlot, and selected rows typically yield the reserve-tier Merlot desired for the Platinum series. However, the 2010 and 2011 vintages were deemed not quite sufficient for a Platinum designation, making this a true reserve wine, only produced when deserving of the moniker. After 20 months in French oak, 550 cases were bottled last August, and finally released this spring after a long absence. Winery Direct $40

Road 13 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon: Originally released at the winery last spring, the 92 cases produced sold out in two weeks after Proprietor Mick Luckhurst declared it their best Cabernet ever. The winery hasn’t produced a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon since the 2007 “farewell” vintage, but times change and the winery is no longer as focused on blends as they were several years ago. The 2012 came from 1.3 acres on the Osoyoos East Bench, plus about one hundred kilograms of grapes (6% of the total) from the Similkameen Valley’s renowned Blind Creek Vineyard. Amazingly a few bottles found their way to Vancouver, and flew under the radar for the past ten months! Burrard Liquor Store $34

Nk’Mip 2012 Qwam Qwmt Cabernet Sauvignon: The Osoyoos vineyards that produce Nk’Mip’s Cabernet Sauvignon are legendary, yielding grapes sold to many other wineries as well. After pushing through challenging conditions in 2011 the winery, and wine, seems back to form with the receipt of a gold medal from the National Wine Awards, where praise was given for the “very fruity, crowd-pleasing style.” Although 2011 garnered a silver medal, there was criticism for heavy oak treatment overwhelming the delicate fruit that year. The grapes in 2012 appear to have been ripe enough to accommodate 18 months in 90% French oak: with 14.8% alcohol there is still nearly 6 g/L of residual sugar. Swirl VQA Store $33

Lariana 2012 TWELVE: One of only two wines produced by this young and focused Osoyoos winery. After replacing an existing orchard in 2007 proprietors Dan & Carol Scott released a 2012 Viognier that garnered stellar praise from John Schreiner. The 2013 Viognier is now available, and with it this exciting red blend called simply TWELVE, presumably an homage to the winery’s first vintage. Consulting Winemaker Senka Tennant (founder of Black Hills and Terravista) crafted the blend from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and Carménère, harvested from Lariana’s five-acre lakefront vineyard abutting the US border. The 480 cases produced are actually disseminating broadly, including to many VQA stores. Winery Direct $45

CedarCreek 2012 Platinum “Desert Ridge” Meritage: Like the aforementioned Merlot, the Platinum Meritage has been absent from the winery’s portfolio since the acclaimed 2009. With the even better 2012 vintage finally yielding fruit the winery felt was appropriate for the Platinum tier, the newest release of 525 cases will be snapped up by collectors. This complex wine is a blend of 54% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, and 3% Petit Verdot. For a taste of the baby brother try the new $25 Meritage (thoughtfully crafted from the same five varieties) that complements the existing $20 Merlot Cabernet. Winery Direct $45

Van Westen 2011 “V”: Rob Van Westen has been producing his age-worthy “Voluptuous” red blend (typically two thirds Merlot and one third Cabernet Franc) for several years, but added a more complex Bordeaux-style blend in 2009. It is appropriately given the Roman numeral “V” to signify the five varieties included, consisting of 49% Merlot, 24% Malbec, 21% Cabernet Franc, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Petit Verdot in 2011. Like Rob’s other reds, it is very age-worthy, and previous releases have been suggested to benefit from up to several years in the cellar. Focusing on Merlot and Malbec in the cool 2011 vintage should hopefully continue the trend of praise he has received from critics such as Anthony Gismondi, who determined the 2010 to be “really impressive for the vintage.” Winery Direct $35

Saturday 21 February 2015

BCWAS Upper Bench Tasting

The most recent BC Wine Appreciation Society tasting was particularly delicious, because it featured both wine and cheese from Upper Bench Winery & Creamery. This young Penticton venture is the product of Gavin and Shana Miller, experienced veterans of the Okanagan wine industry. It was opened just four years ago, but Upper Bench has quickly become a popular stop at the south end of the Naramata Bench due to the Millers’ collective expertise.

Upper Bench wines to be enjoyed by the BC Wine Appreciation Society

John Schreiner details the Millers’ early years in the Okanagan in his Okanagan Wine Tour Guide (5th Edition). Gavin hails from Britain, and Shana from Nova Scotia: the couple met in Penticton in 1995 and then settled down there in 1997. Drawn to wine, Gavin gained experience throughout the valley and ended up making wine at both Poplar Grove and Painted Rock (at one point concurrently). At the same time, Shana was honing her craft making cheese at Poplar Grove. After the 2010 vintage the Millers took over a property being sold in the Holman Lang bankruptcy proceedings. They spent significant time and effort revamping the buildings and mature seven-acre vineyard to realize their dream.

The Upper Bench estate vineyard in Penticton includes three white varieties: Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Chardonnay. We began with a taste of the 2012 Pinot Blanc, noting a slightly herbaceous quality reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc. Aromas of citrus and green pear led into a refreshing, crisp palate that revealed richer stone fruit and tropical notes as it warmed. Gavin originally produced a varietal Pinot Gris from nearby contracted vineyards, but the variety has now been cut from his portfolio. Without guaranteed estate fruit, and given his own preference for Blanc over the ubiquitous Gris, Gavin elected to bid adieu for the time being.

Upper Bench Gold: semi-soft, washed rind

We next got an opportunity to enjoy the marvellous 2013 Chardonnay, making a strong case for the joy of cheese pairing. As we admired the soft orchard fruit aromas in the Chardonnay, Shana showed off a special batch of her “Gold” semi-soft, washed rind cheese – washed with the very same wine in our glasses! Gavin let half the Chardonnay ferment and age sur lie in new French oak for three months, yielding a superbly well-integrated profile. The rich texture in the Chardonnay matched the creamy cheese, with both providing fruity, apple flavours and a long, aromatic finish.

The reds started with 2012 Zweigelt, from a relatively rare grape in BC – representing less than 1% of red varieties in acreage. In fact, Gavin recently grafted over a majority of his legacy Zweigelt to Cabernet Sauvignon, leaving him with less than one acre in total. The wine has a bit of a cult following however, and he plans on continuing to produce about 100 cases per year. The 2012 spent 18 months in neutral oak, and displayed a complex nose of raspberry, leather, and toasty earth. The red berry character continued into the bright palate, making for a great pairing with dark chocolate. (Revisiting the wine later revealed surprisingly expressive cocoa aromas in fact.)

Upper Bench Zweigelt shows new, informative label

Pinot Noir from the same excellent 2012 vintage was next, showing off a fresh and clean nose of cranberry and young leather. The juicy fruit-forward palate revealed more of the same cranberries and strawberries, with a hint of earth. A relatively small amount of this wine was produced (331 cases), and few bottles remain after some excellent press recently, including a 90-point score and very positive write-up in the Globe & Mail by Beppi Crosariol.

The brand new 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon followed, fresh from 20 months in 40% new French oak. The jump into a darker fruit palate from the Pinot Noir was readily apparent, with mint, eucalyptus, vanilla, and currants yielding to licorice and more currants in a smooth palate. The soft tannins and long finish make the wine very drinkable already, explaining why it wasn’t relegated to last in the tasting. Because the Cabernet is cropped low, there will never be a large quantity produced: the 2012 saw only 188 cases, at 3.1 tons per acre (with 2013 & 2014 at just two tons per acre).

Inaugural vintage of Upper Bench Merlot

An exciting group of Merlot was awaiting us to conclude the reds: Gavin is a major fan of Merlot, and feels it doesn’t get nearly the credit it deserves in BC. The 2011 vintage was his first, blending the estate fruit with that of the neighbouring Margaretta Vineyard; it spent 18 months in barrel before release in 2013. After some time in bottle it was ready to show off perfumed blueberries and leather, with dusty tannins and a long, tart finish that evolved into caramel notes.

For 2012 the Estate Merlot was bottled separately in 154 cases after 20 months in French oak. A second batch of 440 cases was produced from the neighbouring Drunken Dog and Four Shadows vineyards. The blended 2012, compared to the 2011, displayed noticeably darker fruit elements on the nose, to be expected from a much warmer and more prosperous vintage. The acidity was better balanced, the body fuller, and the tannins more prevalent in a wine showing generally richer character throughout. The 2012 Estate Merlot was similarly rich, and particularly smooth-bodied: earth and touches of caramelized sugar joined the ripe fruit on the palate, to yield an enthusiastically easy-drinking wine.

Upper Bench King Cole: semi-soft, surface-ripened blue

A fourth and final sample of Merlot came to us straight from barrels of 2013 estate vineyard fruit, not quite having completed the 18 months minimum aging Gavin favours. Naturally, the barrel influence was still quite strong, but surprisingly ripe fruit emerged on the nose, almost Port-like in character. The texture was smooth, albeit more noticeably tannic when comparing against the 2012 Estate. It was easy to savour flavours of chocolate and jammy toast however, providing a great deal of optimism for what will end up in bottle from yet another very good vintage.

With the gamut of rich reds still being swirled, and mouth-watering Brie and Blue cheeses still on hand, guests received a final wine in the form of chilled 2013 Riesling. The delicate tropical palate would prove ideal for concluding the tasting on a refreshing note. The honeyed nose revealed very slight petrol hints, with fresh citrus and pineapple dominating. A mere 8.3 grams of residual sugar made for supremely nice balance with the moderate acidity, finishing crisp and relatively dry.

Upper Bench buttery U&Brie

With Upper Bench just getting started, there is plenty to look forward to from Gavin and Shana. They recently acquired a Naramata vineyard containing Cabernet Franc – a key red missing from their Penticton acreage. About 300 cases of a new 2013 Merlot-Cabernet Franc blend will soon be released under the title of “Yard Wine”. The name is an homage to wine they used to make for themselves from their own home’s backyard vineyard. As the Estate Vineyard recently reached twenty years of age, we can expect even greater complexity and evolution, plus more specialization amongst Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. And thanks to Shana, there will always be plenty of delicious cheese with which to pair it all!

Wednesday 11 February 2015

VanWineFest BC Syrah Preview

The Vancouver International Wine Festival will provide an opportunity for BC wineries to showcase one of the province’s grape stars in Syrah, this year’s Global Focus. BC Syrah has received more national and international honours than any other grape variety grown in the province. BC Syrah was named “Red Wine of the Year” in nearly every season of the Canadian Wine Awards, and Syrah has dominated the “Best Red Wine” standing at the British Columbia Wine Awards for several years.

Syrah block at Painted Rock's Skaha Bench vineyard; courtesy Painted Rock Estate Winery

Nearly three quarters of the 27 BC wineries that will be present in the Festival’s focal International Tasting Room produce at least one Syrah-based wine, so guests should expect the local talent to show off their premium products. A thorough review of the attending wineries’ portfolios provides a preview and a few educated guesses about what to expect.

8th Generation Vineyard: A well-priced $25 “cool climate” Syrah is produced at times from the winery’s Summerland estate vineyard. The latest (2012) release, brought home a silver medal from the Northwest Wine Summit. Perhaps guests will get lucky and encounter the winery’s 2010 Syrah Icewine, originally intended as a table wine until an unexpected freeze provided for a serendipitous sweet treat.

Backyard Vineyards: For only $22 Syrah fans can find an easy-drinking value from this Langley winery. The 2012 wine made from Osoyoos grapes – and finished by new Winemaker James Cambridge – has garnered a triplet of silver medals in North American competition. It is reportedly accompanied by an upcoming Reserve version that John Schreiner deemed elegant and worth keeping an eye out for – perhaps a Festival release is in order?

Black Hills: Best known for their legendary Nota Bene red blend, Black Hills took advantage of their ideal location on the Black Sage Bench to begin producing a Syrah in 2009. The first vintage immediately received a gold medal at the 2012 BC Wine Awards, and subsequent vintages have been snapped up and enjoyed by the winery’s many fans. The “complex, spicy, compelling” current release 2012 has been well received by the WineAlign team, and should gain more admirers at the Festival.

Black Hills Syrah 2012 & Cassini Syrah 2010

Cassini Cellars: Adrian Cassini’s Syrah is one of several powerful red wines produced at an enviable location directly beside Highway 97 outside Oliver. Taking advantage of Syrah’s affinity for warm conditions in the southern Okanagan has produced plenty of successful vintages at Cassini: his 2009 Syrah was named Best of Varietal at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival two years in a row! The latest release comes from the cool 2011 vintage, but don’t be surprised to see 2012 on display at the Festival.

CedarCreek: For several years varietal Syrah was a celebrated, albeit small, part of this Kelowna winery’s portfolio, thanks to a prosperous Osoyoos vineyard. However in 2010 the varietal Syrah was discontinued in favour of an approachable entry-level Shiraz-Cabernet crafted by Australian Winemaker Darryl Brooker. Since then the winery has focused strongly on Kelowna Pinot Noir as their herald. Recent pre-release announcements for long-awaited 2012 reds omitted mention of Platinum (Reserve) Syrah, which may be permanently retired, but new release 2012 Shiraz-Cabernet is likely on the docket for the Festival.

Haywire: Okanagan Crush Pad’s house brand produces a family of wines at their Summerland winery, focused primarily on lighter reds and whites from their estate “Switchback” Vineyard. Acquiring grapes from the Black Sage Bench has enabled production of a 2012 Syrah, aged in old French oak barrels to maximize fruit expression, in the OCP style. This value-driven $21 wine received an impressive silver medal at the 2014 National Wine Awards, and will likely be present at the Festival. It would make sense for Okanagan Crush Pad’s recently released 2013 “Samantha” Syrah to also join the Haywire wine. A small lot of 150 cases were produced in concert with, and as an homage to the 2013 Festival’s Sommelier of the Year, Samantha Rahn.

La Frenz: While this acclaimed winery produces legendary whites in particular from three Naramata Bench vineyards, their ten acre “Rockyfeller” Vineyard on the Golden Mile yields late-ripening red varieties that include Syrah. The winery has elected to call their wine Shiraz due to the jammy ripeness it displays, while retaining the finesse of the Northern Rhone. The 2012 vintage should be on hand at the Festival, providing an opportunity to enjoy what the winery describes as “intense layers of dark fruit…and a seamless, lengthy finish.”

La Frenz Shiraz 2012 & Laughing Stock Syrah 2012

Laughing Stock: Since acquiring an Osoyoos vineyard in 2007, this Naramata Bench winery has used it to great effect producing award-winning Syrah. Inspiration is said to come from Côte Rotie, resulting in the inclusion of small proportions of Viognier. A Lt. Governor’s Award for the 2010 vintage was followed by a gold medal at the National Wine Awards for 2011, and most recently platinum at the Nationals for the 2012 release. Although the upcoming 2013 isn’t anticipated until June, some of the sold out 2012 was set aside for the Festival – this will most likely to be the last opportunity to purchase!

Nk’Mip Cellars: Smack dab in the middle of Canada’s best Syrah terroir around Osoyoos, Nk’Mip has a long and fruitful history with the grape. The winery’s reserve-tier Qwam Qwmt Syrah achieves regular critical accolades (including a Decanter gold medal for the 2008), and a very reasonably-priced Syrah blend named “Talon” was initiated beginning with the 2010 vintage. Both the newly-released gold-medal 2010 Qwam Qwmt Syrah and the more youthful, easy-drinking 2012 Talon should provide plenty to chew on at the Festival.

Painted Rock: Syrah has been a part of Proprietor John Skinner’s tightly-focused portfolio since the first vintage was released in 2007. Only two years later the 2009 vintage was awarded a Lt. Governor’s Award, bringing the young winery’s tally up to four in only three years! Although Syrah is most typically found in the southern Okanagan, Painted Rock’s estate vineyard on the Skaha Bench just south of Penticton has achieved plentiful success with late-ripening reds, and is the exclusive source of all the winery’s grapes. The textbook 2012 example will be available at the Festival, where the always-enthusiastic Skinner will be on hand to enlighten guests with captivating details.

Painted Rock Syrah 2012 & Poplar Grove Syrah 2011

Poplar Grove: Another Naramata Bench winery with land holdings further south, well respected Poplar Grove has a solid grasp on Syrah, despite perhaps more fame for their desirable Cabernet Franc and powerful Merlot. A pair of Osoyoos vineyards have yielded fruit for wines such as the varietal Syrah as well as the CSM (Cabernet-Syrah-Merlot) blend, a wine that hopefully shows up at the Festival. The 2011 Syrah was bottle-aged for 18 months before release last fall, and has already received silver medals from the BC Wine Awards and National Wine Awards.

Quails’ Gate: To celebrate the Stewart family’s success at their West Kelowna winery a series of special 25th Anniversary wines were crafted for release in 2014. The first bottling of Syrah for Quails’ Gate is a winery-exclusive, small lot (320 case) production called “The Boswell” in honour of the family grandparents. Right out of the gate the wine was awarded one of five inaugural top-tier platinum medals at the BC Wine Awards. Collectors of premium BC wine rarities will be extremely lucky if Quails’ Gate offers this superb wine at the Festival!

Red Rooster: In 2013 Red Rooster received dual Lt. Governor’s Awards for their 2012 Reserve Viognier and 2010 Reserve Syrah. No surprise that the 2010 vintage is long gone, but the 2011 release remains available, showing off the enviable skills of humble Winemaker Karen Gillis. Grapes from two Oliver vineyards combined to yield precisely 476 cases of 2011 Reserve Syrah (there is in fact no “regular” Syrah at Red Rooster), oak-aged for 14 months. While the 2011 may be present at the Festival, the time since its release suggests a 2012 is imminent, and would be ideally suited to initial release this month.

Road 13 Syrah 2011 & Jackpot Syrah 2011

Road 13: The fine cellar work of Winemaker J-M Bouchard has produced a bevy of Syrah-based delights from the original Golden Mile Cellars. Road 13 uses Syrah in more iterations than any BC winery, with five current named wines in the portfolio, and the inclusion of Syrah in at least three more of their red blends! Most recently the winery was awarded a platinum medal at the National Wine Awards for their 2012 Syrah Malbec, sadly long since sold out. Additional wines that remain available include the 2012 Syrah Mourvedre, and 2011 vintages of varietal Syrah, Jackpot (Reserve) Syrah, and Merlot Syrah – any of which could turn up at the Festival. The winery could easily use the opportunity to preview or release new vintages of the above wines as well.

Sage Hills: Proprietor and “Head Weed-Picker” Rick Thrussell is focused on being a winegrower, taking care to enact exacting, organic vineyard practices in Summerland. His initial 2012 & 2013 Pinot Noir achieved critical and consumer success, and the inaugural (2013) Syrah expected to be previewed at the Festival should also impress. A refreshing and fragrant off-dry Syrah Rosé is also part of the Sage Hills portfolio and may also make an appearance.

Sandhill: Veteran Winemaker Howard Soon has perfected Syrah at Sandhill after decades of experience. At the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards his Small Lots 2007 Syrah was named Canadian Red Wine of the Year (with Sandhill itself named Winery of the Year). The Small Lots Syrah hails from grower Dick Cleave’s Phantom Creek Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench, and from which fewer than a dozen barrels are produced each year. The nearby Sandhill Estate Vineyard also yields a white label Syrah, aggressively priced from the 2012 vintage at only $20. At the very least, a small proportion of the 300 cases of 2012 Small Lots Syrah – a BC Wine Awards gold-medal-winner – should be available at the Festival.

Sandhill Small Lots Syrah 2012 & See Ya Later Ranch Rover 2012

See Ya Later Ranch: At the 2014 BC Wine Awards the new Platinum Medal category was introduced in concert with top wine honours in the form of a “Premier’s Award”. See Ya Later’s 2012 “Rover” Shiraz-Viognier (with a curious 1% Pinot Noir) was the first wine to be assigned this prestigious tribute. The $22 wine has been selling particularly fast as a result, but it has always come with a strongly positive reputation since the initial 2007 vintage. Winemaker Dave Carson will hopefully be one hand to pour his wine with pride.

Summerhill: From a Kelowna winery best known for world-renowned sparkling wines, there exists a surprisingly broad range of table and dessert wines across the spectrum, including multiple iterations of Syrah. Considering the winery was generous enough to pour their stunning $88 “Cipes Ariel” 1998 sparkler at last year’s Festival, there is always the remote possibility that the $108 2011 Syrah Icewine may appear. More likely is that the varietal 2010 Syrah – at a more approachable $29 – will be available, sourced from the Aulakh Family Vineyard in Osoyoos. Other possibilities include a recently-released bottle-aged, complex 2013 Syrah Rose along with an age-worthy 2012 Cabernet Syrah from the winery’s charitable Robert Bateman Collection.

TIME: Harry McWatters’ new project on the Black Sage Bench continues to grow, and in fact a brand new winery is under construction there for the 2015 harvest. Once the new hospitality centre opens later this year visitors will be able to taste the range of whites and reds available – centered on Meritage – while gazing upon the mature Sundial Vineyard, first planted over fifty years ago. To be included in the growing portfolio as of this year is TIME’s first varietal Syrah, a 2012 vintage to be introduced exclusively at the Festival.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Cabernet Franc 2010, Merlot 2011, Syrah 2011

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards: Recent years have seen Sandra Oldfield’s Golden Mile winery struggle to obtain sufficient quantities of premium Syrah in cooler vintages: 2010 provided for only 210 cases, and the recently-released 2011 yielded only 150 cases, which sold out quickly to the winery’s Crush Club. Extensive bottle aging defines the Oldfield Series wines, so quantities for sale won’t increase until the 2012 is released much later this year. As a result, don’t expect to see any Syrah at the Tinhorn Creek table this year; enjoy the marvellous Merlot and Cabernet Franc instead!