Tuesday 30 June 2015

Collectibles: June 2015

Through a happy coincidence the majority of my cellar acquisitions this month consisted of Pinot Noir. Some came in recent winery club shipments while others were courtesy of a group order following the BC Wine Appreciation Society’s 10th Anniversary Gala festival tasting. These traditionally lighter-bodied wines seemed thematically appropriate given the warm summer weather.

June 2015 BC wine collectibles

Tantalus 2012 Old Vines Riesling: Along with a couple bottles of the rare and delicious Brut version of this legendary Riesling I also snagged the table wine following the BCWAS Gala. Described as focused and pure by the winery it certainly focuses one’s palate, with a relatively dry 6.3 grams of sugar and racy 10.8 grams of acidity. Stats like those (and 35-year-old vines) ensure it will last nearly forever in the cellar. Winery Direct $35

50th Parallel 2013 Pinot Noir: Each year that goes by the young vines north of Kelowna provide a little more complexity (and acreage) for Winemaker Grant Stanley. The sixty-one acre estate is already yielding 2,145 cases of Pinot Noir, and production will likely continue to increase as the vines mature. A recent opportunity to taste this wine (a blend of six clones) prompted an immediate purchase, given the impressive balance and fresh, clean palate. Swirl VQA Store $35

Meyer 2013 Reimer Pinot Noir: Along with a couple bottles of the new 2014 Rosé (already sold out), my most recent Wine Club shipment from Meyer included new vintages of the winery’s two single vineyard Pinot Noir. I had the opportunity to taste both at a recent winery dinner hosted by the BC Wine Appreciation Society. The Reimer Family Vineyard in Kelowna yielded only 180 cases this vintage, so few likely remain at the winery. Winery Direct $40

La Frenz 2013 Reserve Pinot Noir: Owner/Winemaker Jeff Martin was present in person at the BCWAS Gala; I made sure to add a few bottles of his to the group order afterwards to take advantage of the opportunity. Along with some consistently superb fortified dessert wines I bought this well respected Pinot Noir, a reserve selection from the winery’s Naramata Bench “Desperation Hill” vineyard. While an excellent ‘regular’ version of the wine sells for $23, this one is simply “more of everything” as John Schreiner put it in his 92-point review. Winery Direct $35

Meyer 2013 McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir: In contrast to the fruit forward Reimer wine, the Okanagan Falls home vineyard has produced a darker, earthier, more spiced iteration of Pinot Noir. The wine was recently named Best Pinot Noir at the new Northern Lands Wine Competition in Edmonton. A larger production run of 500 cases should yield higher availability than the Reimer, but given Meyer’s growing popularity at home and in several countries abroad, even those bottles won’t be around for much longer. Winery Direct $40

Laughing Stock 2013 Pinot Noir: It’s been a few years since Winemaker David Enns produced a Pinot Noir (his sole vintages being 2004, 2006, and 2008). In the meantime the Enns’ have been developing their Osoyoos vineyard and crafting one of the country’s finest Syrah. The time finally came for a return to Pinot Noir, sourced from a small Naramata Bench vineyard. Only 124 cases were produced, and I was lucky enough to receive two bottles in my Preferred Share Wine Club shipment. Opening one revealed an intense, bold take on the variety, with 14.6% alcohol no less! Holding the second bottle for 3-4 years should be no problem. Winery Direct $32

Orofino 2012 Passion Pit Cabernet Sauvignon: My summer Collector’s Club case contained a number of juicy gems, including Scout Vineyard Riesling and Syrah, but the Cabernet was especially desirable. The whole winery team was present at the BCWAS Gala, pouring this one among several others, to great acclaim. With the wine offering exemplary intensity and richness, Orofino provides more evidence that the warm Similkameen Valley is the place to go for ripe Cabernet in BC. John Schreiner’s 92-point review sums it up nicely: “A tour de force.” Winery Direct $29

Friday 19 June 2015

BCWAS Black Hills Vertical Tasting

Another momentous tenth anniversary event for the BC Wine Appreciation Society saw a sold-out crowd relish a ten-year vertical of Black Hills Winery’s iconic Nota Bene red blend this week. Winery President Glenn Fawcett visited Vancouver to lead the tasting and share in the enjoyment – to the extreme envy of his colleagues back in Oliver! The Black Hills wine library is reportedly quite small, and such extensive vertical tastings are extremely rare, so Glenn was just as excited as the attending aficionados. He even managed to dig up and generously contribute two bottles each of the rare 2004 and 2005 vintages to ensure the vertical’s ten-year goal was met.

Ten year vertical of Nota Bene, plus introductory Alibi

While we sipped the winery’s charming Sauvignon-Semillon blend “Alibi”, Glenn provided a quick history. The creamy palate and well balanced lemon curd flavours in Alibi provided a nice backdrop for an introduction to Nota Bene. Black Hills’ original Black Sage Bench vineyard (an abandoned 34-acre property) was planted in 1996 with a focus on Bordeaux reds: 45% Cabernet Sauvignon (four clones), 40% Merlot (four clones), and 15% Cabernet Franc (two clones). From these vines the first Nota Bene vintage of 1,600 cases was made in 1999, and by 2003 a cult following had grown thanks to positive media coverage and fan visits to the original Quonset hut winery.

Glenn helped lead a group of investors in a friendly takeover in 2007 when founders Bob & Senka Tennant “retired” to the Naramata Bench. The Tennants now focus exclusively on Galician and Rhone whites at their small winery Terravista, having planted Canada’s first Albarino. Since the transition varietal Syrah and Viognier have been added to the Black Hills portfolio, while Nota Bene production has been capped at 3,300 cases annually and a second-label line has been devised. The Cellar Hand brand allows Winemaker Graham Pierce to select only the best barrels for Nota Bene, yet provides for a superb value entry-level red.

New BCWAS tasting mats in heavy usage already!

The talented pouring crew had managed to extract nearly 70 meaningful samples from the pairs of 2004 and 2005 bottles, and that’s where the tasting began. (The wines had all been decanted the previous day and then returned to bottle for pouring.) By 2004 the vines were in their ninth leaf, yielding sufficient fruit for 2,800 cases, originally suggested for consumption by 2009. Despite their age, both of those early vintages were still going strong, with violet and baking spices leading into a smooth, well balanced chocolaty palate in 2004. The more savoury 2005 showed off leather and dried fruits, with an elegant, spicy profile.

Working through the the next several vintages there emerged bright, fresh fruit character as the wines became more youthful. Even relatively old 2006 had plenty of life ahead of it with noticeable tannins still present amongst the vibrant flavours. I noted a personal favourite in the 2007, with a rich, ripe nose and dark, silky palate (also the highest alcohol at 14.7%). This was the same vintage Graham Pierce began his residency following the transfer of ownership, serving as co-winemaker that year alongside Senka. By 2008 Graham was in charge: this vintage was really showing off youthful, fruit forward aromas, followed by a creamy palate of chocolate with hints of black licorice.

Ready to take notes on ten years of Nota Bene

In 2010 the blend included the highest proportion ever of Cabernet Sauvignon (57%); the subtle nose of that vintage yielded tobacco and sweet red fruits, with a lighter body and plenty of acidity to age. This was the same year the winery made the decision to cap production and commence rigorous barrel selections going forward, creating and benefiting the Cellar Hand label. A colour transition was apparent by 2011, in which the violet spectrum dominated. Despite the cool season there were no green notes evident in the nose of plums, nor in the spiced milk chocolate flavours. The exciting development that year was acquisition of a neighbouring 15-acre vineyard, originally planted in  the same year as the estate vineyard, with virtually the same clones and rootstock.

Although the grape ratios in Nota Bene have always followed the vineyard proportions that slightly favour Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 was one of two exceptions, with Merlot in the lead at 57% (1999 led with 64% Merlot). Despite its apparent youth, I found another favourite in this fresh and clean wine, possessing ripe tannins and all the classic (by now) Nota Bene notes of violets, cassis, and chocolate. There was a return to traditional form in 2013, when the lowest alcohol yet witnessed (13.7%) was also attained. This latest release, still available in select stores although sold out at the winery, was not nearly as chewy as expected, with notes of fresh berries and red licorice coming together nicely.

At the same time as this fall’s harvest the 2014 Nota Bene will also be bottled in preparation for release next spring. This year the winery added small amounts of Malbec and Petit Verdot to the vineyards, so future years will enjoy even greater complexity (and yet more challenging blending decisions). Glenn closed the tasting by requesting favourites from the assembled guests: the secret ballot showed 2006 in the lead, followed by 2008, 2009, and a 2010/2012 tie. Clearly those fans awaiting the 2014 release can look forward to several years of maturation in their cellars before the wine reaches its peak. Many thanks to Black Hills for their generosity and mutual excitement for this exciting event: best of luck in your 17th vintage!

Sunday 14 June 2015

Le Vieux Pin Foraged Dinner

Accomplished Oliver winery Le Vieux Pin has begun tenth anniversary celebrations this year. Since their first vintage in 2005, Le Vieux Pin has strived to produce wines that “capture the essence of French winemaking tradition, but with the fruit and character of the New World.” Initial forays (and success) with Pinot Noir later evolved into a Rhone-inspired focus that emphasizes Viognier and Syrah. All three varieties were present at a recent innovative pop-up dinner to mark a decade of accomplishments.

Le Vieux Pin Forest to Table Dinner Menu

The winery partnered with Chef Robin Kort of Swallow Tail Culinary Adventures to present a foraged dinner prepared by talented Chef Jefferson Alvarez – I was particularly lucky to attend as a guest of the winery. Upon arrival in the “secret” Chinatown location patrons were greeted like old friends by winery GM Rasoul Salehi (and no doubt many were). Rasoul had personally assisted with foraging the North Shore and beyond for ingredients in the weeks leading up to the dinner. As we sat down to fresh-baked bread with goat butter and duck pate, he was on hand to pour a glass of Le Vieux Pin’s spectacular Pinot Noir Rosé, “Vaïla”.

Wild Berries Gazpacho & Pine Infused Farm House Cheese

Having recently returned from a weekend visit to the Okanagan that included a stop at Le Vieux Pin I was excited to enjoy Vaïla yet again, despite the presence of several new bottles in my own cellar. The Rosé has been a favourite of mine for years, and the clean, crisp, and dry 2014 vintage is an ideal expression of the style. We sipped the supremely refreshing wine – awash with strawberry-rhubarb and ripe peaches – as an equally mouth-watering Wild Salmonberry Gazpacho was served, topped with Pine-infused Farmhouse Cheese. The pink-orange-coloured gazpacho proved to be an excellent pairing and particularly delicious in its own right.

Sturgeon Marrow Salad, Sorrel & False Lily

“Let me tell you a story about sturgeon” introduced the next course, as described in the creative menu. As Rasoul deftly poured 2013 “Ava” Viognier Roussanne Marsanne my wife and I considered the provenance of “sturgeon marrow”. Some quick research revealed the marrow is a delicacy of generations past, taken from the spinal cord of European sturgeon fish. Admittedly the texturally unique marrow was not on my personal highlights list, but the Ava provided for plenty of admiration (as it has for me since the wine’s inception). From 2013 Winemaker Severine Pinte produced a blend of 50% Viognier, 41% Roussanne, and 9% Marsanne, yielding perfumed aromas of apricot, candied pineapple, and baked vanilla.

Celeriac Puree, Scallop Chips, Seared Cat Tail

A follow-up to the sturgeon was Seared Cat Tail, served with celeriac purée and a very flavourful scallop chip. The cat tail and rich purée were favourites, with the celeriac serving to augment the sweet floral character from the Viognier. Overall, the Ava’s dry, long-lived palate hints at serious complexity to come, with apricot pit and toasted almond notes that intensified the earthy flavours in one last spoonful of gazpacho as well.

Fire Morels, Fiddle Heads, Ramps, Yolk Sauce

Le Vieux Pin’s entry-level Syrah, the outstanding-value $29 Cuvée Violette, was present to provide an introduction to the winery’s extensive focus on the grape. Above the Violette there is also the Cuvée Classique, and the exceptional and powerful Equinoxe Syrah, neither of which should be missed. The 2013 Violette’s fragrant nose, with hints of spicy toast, proved a lovely match for Fire Morels with fiddle heads, ramps, and yolk sauce. The smoky, meaty character of the delicious mushrooms revealed the wine’s spicy notes hidden within a palate of mixed dark berries and chocolate. Although it could be cellared for the short term, the Violette is drinking quite well at present, with fresh acidity and delicate tannins that make it superb on its own or with a variety of foods.

Cheese Honey Comb & Elder Berry

Refills of Syrah were generously provided, at the expense of the winery team’s own dinners! Fraser Valley Duck Breast provided for another lovely pairing, smoked with Alder wood and served with huckleberry jus. As the meal wound down we surveyed a final creative course of “Cheese Honeycomb”, another new gustatory experience I could not have imagined. The dish consisted of a honeycomb-like lattice formed from what seemed to be flash-frozen cheese, light and ethereal, to satisfy and refresh one’s palate. It capped a memorable meal and treasured opportunity to celebrate a wonderful winery with many further years of success to come. My thanks to Le Vieux Pin and to Chefs Alvarez and Kort for a delightful experience!