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!

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