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!