Monday 31 October 2016

Collectibles: October 2016

The end of September initiates the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival, bringing out many new red wines to get us through the winter months. October is often a bountiful time for local wine collectors as a result, with many wineries timing their releases to coincide with the Festival (or they simply need room for the upcoming vintage!) The reds release prompts club shipments as well, and I found myself awash in deliveries of bottles to swell my cellar this month, joined by a few choice retail purchases for good measure. The new acquisitions also helped me grow vertical collections from a range of wineries small and large.

October 2016 BC wine collectibles

Clos du Soleil 2014 Middle Bench Syrah: This small Keremeos winery maintains an estate focus on traditional Bordeaux varieties and blends, but still works with longtime partner vineyards for their “Grower’s Series”. A history of superb Pinot Blanc and Cabernet/Merlot in this series was unexpectedly - and pleasantly - upended this year by the winery’s first varietal Syrah. Sourced from the same Keremeos vineyard as the Pinot Blanc, the Syrah was extremely impressive when tasted at the winery in September, even before I received a pair of bottles in my most recent Wine Club shipment. The attractive nose of cherry, chocolate, and vanilla (a ringer for Black Forest Cake) segued nicely into the delightfully fresh purple-fruited palate before a textbook black pepper finish. Ten barrels of French oak aged for 16 months before the small lot of 250 cases was bottled under screwcap this spring. Winery Direct $27

Tinhorn Creek 2013 Oldfield Series Merlot: As National Wine Awards judge DJ Kearney put it last summer, “This is an Okanagan stand-out, year after year after year.” That 2012 vintage received a Silver medal at the Nationals (plus Best Merlot at this spring’s Best of Varietal Awards), and the brand new 2013 should continue the long-established high-quality trend. This reserve-tier Merlot is the original from Tinhorn, going back to 2001, and now accompanied by several other Oldfield Series varietals and blends, including a delicious new Chardonnay. The wine has been fine-tuned alongside the 17-year-old source vines on the Black Sage Bench, going through 18 months of French oak aging (30% new) before a year in bottle prior to the autumnal release. It’s one of several new reds I was happy to find in my latest Crush Club order, with wider public release in the near future. Winery Direct $31

Orofino 2013 Beleza: John & Virginia Weber’s Similkameen Valley blend “Beleza” has always provided superb quality at an excellent price point for a flagship red. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon comprise the majority components: the Cawston estate vineyard provides Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, while the (literally) neighbouring Hendsbee vineyard contributes Cabernet Sauvignon, plus more Merlot and Petit Verdot. I was fortunate enough to get a taste of the newest release even before two bottles showed up in my latest Collector’s Club shipment. The vertical tasting enjoyed in September by the BC Wine Appreciation Society went back to 2006 (still lively) and provided a delicious early glimpse at the young 2013, deliciously fruit forward at present with generous structure and ripe character to carry it for years to come. Winery Direct $34

Tinhorn Creek 2013 Oldfield Series 2Bench Red: Now in its seventh year, Tinhorn’s ode to their Golden Mile and Black Sage Bench vineyards has become a heavy-hitter at the winery, with nearly 1,700 cases produced from 2013. Somewhat unusual for a BC red blend, the Cabernets comprise over 70% (47% Sauvignon & 24% Franc), with versatile and popular Merlot taking a backseat beside 6% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. This considered blend was then aged on the lees in 30% new French oak for 18 months before another year in bottle. I’m happy to continue the vertical collection I have nurtured since inception in 2007: with several good years ahead of it, I should have plenty of time to allow for the “room to improve” hypothesized by Rick Van Sickle (despite this “gorgeous” 91-point wine drinking so well at present). Winery Direct $35

Osoyoos Larose 2013 Le Grand Vin: Arguably Vancouver’s most conservative wine critic, Anthony Gismondi found the newest Grand Vin to be the best ever in his estimation, heaping tribute upon the 2013 on a particularly generous day this month. It would appear that Osoyoos Larose had been flourishing since Bordeaux’s Groupe Taillan took sole control from conglomerate Constellation Brands just as this vintage was being harvested, with the new French winemaking team: “making some impressive tweaks to its Canadian treasure.” The near perfect conditions in 2013 contributed to (several thousand cases of) a fully ripe, locally perfected blend of 57% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, and 4% Malbec. It’s high time for me to open the 2007 and make room for this “effortlessly ageable” bottle in my vertical collection. BC Liquor Stores $53

Laughing Stock 2014 Portfolio: Another beneficiary of Gismondi’s unusually plenteous praise this month was this well known Naramata Bench superstar. The 93-point score suggests October 10 was a very enjoyable day in the office for the Gismondi on Wine team! It would appear that “it’s all come together in 2014 for Portfolio,” thanks to a continuing trend of quality vintages in BC, along with the established skills of David & Cynthia Enns. Like Le Grand Vin, Portfolio is a Canadian benchmark red blend, with the 2014 serving as further proof of excellence. Winemaker David carefully blended 49% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, and 1% Petit Verdot from 100 barrels aged for 19 months, yielding 2,450 cases that will sell quickly nation-wide. As a member of the Preferred Share Club I was ensured a couple bottles in my final shipment of the year. Winery Direct $52

LaStella 2013 La Sophia Cabernet Sauvignon: LaStella’s small lot varietal Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Sam Baptiste’s old vines “U2” block outside Oliver, considered by many to be the best Cabernet source in the province. Having top tier access to this exceptional fruit allows Winemaker Severine Pinte to craft a sublimely pure, rich, and powerful Cab that should be near the top of any collector’s list. Having a taste earlier this year exposed me to long, pure cassis and cocoa, and a surprisingly silky texture already. John Schreiner’s 94-point review in April covers the bases nicely, and includes important mention of the mere 125 cases produced. Given the winery’s devoted fans it will be highly sought after, even at the elevated, but ultimately reasonable price. As much as I want to crack it open already I know even better years lie ahead, and the 15.1% alcohol should help preserve that intense character for some time! Winery Direct $80

Wednesday 12 October 2016

Giving Thanks for BC Wine

The generous invitation I recently received to Clos du Soleil’s annual vertical tasting prompted plans for a wine country getaway. Having already visited Orofino’s marvellous guest suites this summer my wife and I immediately snapped up the spacious two-bedroom unit and encouraged some close friends to join us for a Similkameen sojourn over Thanksgiving weekend. Saturday morning saw me stopping at Clos du Soleil’s Keremeos winery for an exquisite lunch and guided tasting of every vintage since the inaugural 2006. My companions continued down the road and joined Orofino’s Collectors Club pickup party for a vertical tasting of their own.

The reason Orofino calls them the Vineyard Suites is obvious

Following the incredible assortment of wine and food at Clos du Soleil I made my way to neighbouring Cawston where the party at Orofino was gradually winding down. I was sure to bring with me my latest Soleil 160 Club order, it having patiently awaited my arrival in person since August. The box of reds included the delicious new 2014 Grower’s Series Syrah, a first for the varietal from Clos du Soleil, plus another bottle of exquisite 2012 Estate Reserve, and some of the finely crafted 2013 Signature to boot. I had added another bottle of the dreamy “Saturn” late harvest white for good measure, particularly given the admirable aging potential it had shown in the vertical tasting.

I found everyone in superb spirits at Orofino; no surprise, given the three vertical flights John & Virginia Weber had generously shared with the multitude of Club members on hand. The party had taken place in the unoccupied one-bedroom suite, where guests gazed upon the newest vineyard plantings from the expansive balcony. I was soon brought up to speed and provided with some detailed notes from earlier, during which several Riesling had launched the tasting: even the mature and expressive 2006 was in fine form. Textbook petrol and lemon-lime gave way to honeyed tropical fruits in the younger vintages, with seemingly effortless balance whether one gram of sugar (2015 Hendsbee Vineyard) or ten (2015 Home Vineyard).

For a look at Orofino’s red wines the Webers had dug even further back to find several vintages (2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013) of Home Vineyard Pinot Noir and even the flagship Beleza blend. The estate Pinot Noir comes from multiple clones planted as early as 1989, and has always been crafted in a signature Similkameen style, with dark fruit and spice expressing the warm valley floor. Early years were all drinking well, having matured to encompass earthy caramel and juicy dark cherries ready to be enjoyed, while the cool 2011 could continue refining in the cellar for several more years. The Beleza vertical highlighted the superb cola, chocolate, and red berry salad of 2007, John’s self-declared best wine ever. My own several-vintage vertical collection should age fine without much haste given the youthful state of 2009 and onward: the rich smoky fruit in each was still expressing generous tannin.

Orofino 2014 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir & Scout Vineyard Syrah

Just steps away our own suite allowed for a relaxing and mellow evening with help from a few more bottles on hand, including my latest Club package of 2015 Moscato Frizzante and 2014 Scout Vineyard Riesling (plus the newest 2013 Beleza). Orofino’s latest 2014 Pinot Noir and Syrah were also available in the tasting room, and I made certain to bring some home as well. With typical production for each hovering between 300-400 bottles I never miss either of these highly reliable varietals. The evening passed with nibbling and sipping and plenty of laughs while we absorbed the soothing Similkameen evening and generously appointed suite.

The following day we embarked on a whirlwind tour of the Okanagan from our home base in Cawston, stopping first at the shimmering Painted Rock tasting room high above Skaha Lake. Our friends had last seen the property when a pre-fabricated shed was all that stood where today John Skinner proudly hosts exceptional dinners, weddings, and helicopter landings all summer long! John’s dedication and precision were on display in his newest small lot varietal: in 2014 a mere handful of barrels were reserved from the flagship Red Icon blend to provide for 110 cases of Malbec. The dark violet colour – enchanting against the immaculate white bar – led into the similarly soft purple palate, where raspberries and Concord grapes were found amongst layers of spice and long, fine tannins. Our superb timing ensured a spot for this extreme rarity in my collection.

The notably fine 2014 vintage provided Painted Rock with spectacular Cabernets as well, and with healthy Franc plantings in the estate vineyard over 400 cases were excluded from blending (although Red Icon 2014 still has 21% Cabernet Franc). Rarely seen outside the tasting room, the new batch is only the second varietal Franc released. We noted an appealing earthy herbaceousness on the nose atop bountiful ripe fruit, and a slightly smoky, intense palate with more tannin than the Malbec – this one should make long waves in the cellar. In production since the start in 2007 the varietal Cabernet Sauvignon sells out particularly fast, but we got a taste while present, much to our liking: leather and spice with juicy balsamic character on the nose meshed with a red fruit palate of currants, stewed strawberry, and long-lasting vanilla. The toasty aftertaste conjured notes of Bourbon barrel caramelization to draw out the long-lasting finish.

Painted Rock 2014 Malbec & 2014 Cabernet Franc

Stocked up on reds and the irresistible Painted Rock Chardonnay we stopped next at Meyer Family Vineyards to the south in Okanagan Falls. Speaking of Chardonnay, the Meyer family’s specialty was a large part of my collected Club order: a stop in the tasting room accompanied my pickup of 2014 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay and 2015 Old Main Road (Stevens Block) Chardonnay. The McLean Creek home vineyard scooped a well-deserved Gold medal from this year’s National Wine Awards amid stiff competition (five of sixteen total Platinum medals were found in the Chardonnay category). Also in my triannual box of four bottles were a pair of mouth-watering 2014 McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir – one for now and one for the cellar I should think!

With lunch on our minds and a destiny to the south we made it to the Golden Mile and a valley view at Tinhorn Creek’s renowned Miradoro Restaurant. There, moan-worthy deluxe grilled cheese sandwiches briefly took our attention away from wine and the sunny skies, before a visit to the still-bustling tasting room. The newly released 2015 Gewürztraminer was proudly displaying its new Golden Mile Bench sub-appellation labelling, and offering unbeatable value for just $16 to provide reams of culinary pairing opportunities; I made sure to stock up.

Similar cellar-stocking was available at near neighbour Fairview Cellars, home to Bill Eggert’s esteemed big reds, and increasingly some fine Chardonnay and Pinot Noir under the radar. We caught up with Bill and his affable brother Chuck in the little log cabin tasting room, and were easily distracted by a menagerie of dogs and one feisty feline vying for attention. The newest 2014 Bucket O’ Blood Syrah-Cabernet made an equally strong impression; even so, with a December 2019 Best After date in print I hope to maintain the patience I have for the rest of Bill’s wines. Little surprise that other bottles like the 2014 Cabernet Franc, 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon(s), and the inevitable tasting room back vintages provided plenty more palate pleasures in the refreshingly informal atmosphere Bill cultivates alongside his champion grapes.

Road 13 2013 Jackpot Petit Verdot & 2014 Jackpot Cabernet Sauvignon

Five wineries in one day seemed quite restrained as I brought us last to Road 13 before hitting the highway back west. There the Executive Lounge was still open under the supervision of proprietor Mick Luckhurst, hosting grateful Club 13 members for one of the region’s best guided tastings. There everything from Sparkling Chenin Blanc to the newest 2012 Fifth Element and awesomely rich 2013 Jackpot Petit Verdot were on hand, with Mick’s signature commentary and industry musings. It was the micro lot of simply stunning 2014 Jackpot Cabernet Sauvignon that blew our socks off in particular: just 70 cases are being dribbled out at iconic prices, but I was more than willing to fork over $120 for a single bottle to cellar with glee. Fitting that the Cabernet (and Petit Verdot) comes from Cawston’s increasingly legendary Blind Creek Vineyard: we soon returned to that neck of the woods for one more night of tranquil rest to round out a wondrous weekend.

Sunday 9 October 2016

Clos du Soleil 2016 Vertical Tasting

The Similkameen Valley’s Clos du Soleil still feels like a young winery, despite concluding their tenth vintage last fall. This year’s harvest will mark the first full season in the newly constructed winery on the Keremeos estate. It is striking then to sample a nearly decade-long vertical from a winery that feels like it’s just getting started - and very strongly at that! Since 2012 Clos du Soleil has hosted an annual tasting sampling every vintage produced since the inaugural 2006 wines. I was honoured to be invited again this year, particularly since I had to cancel last fall on short notice, missing my first opportunity to attend.

Autumn decor awaits the lucky guests at Clos du Soleil

It just so happens that 2012 marked the year Michael Clark joined the partnership team, soon taking over winemaking duties from consultant Ann Sperling, who had produced the wines in her Kelowna winery since inception. Mike was on hand Thanksgiving weekend to welcome twenty lucky wine club and winery team members alongside local Master of Wine Rhys Pender, a friend of the winery who has guided all five of the tastings thus far. With the winery’s portfolio having grown over the years (and having just added Syrah), only the nucleus of Capella white, Signature red, and the Saturn dessert wine make up the vertical tastings, but we were set to taste every completed vintage! Alongside the coming samples talented Penticton caterers Shayna & Shulman Culinary Adventurers had prepared a three course menu to highlight the distinctly different wines.

Mike Clark explains his process and goals

Amongst barrels and tanks inside the well-organized winery guests enjoyed the crisp and fresh 2015 Grower’s Series Pinot Blanc with canapés that included smoked salmon, prosciutto lettuce wraps, and cranberry goat cheese phyllo triangles. Seated, we reviewed the menu and long list of wines as Mike and Rhys introduced our first course of nine white vintages with vegetable paté plus tartars of tuna and beef. As a winery with a Bordeaux focus, Clos du Soleil’s Capella white provides a pleasantly age-worthy traditional blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Over the years Capella’s sophistication has grown as wild yeast barrel fermentation and extended lees contact has been introduced, as well as larger proportions of Sémillon reaching up to 12%.

Clos du Soleil Capella from 2006-2014

In 2006 Capella had not yet been named, and was known simply as Clos du Soleil White, although the first release was actually a straight varietal Sauvignon Blanc. Our first flight of three wines, from the reasonably warm vintages of 2006-2008 showed the stellar potential of time in bottle: my own personal favourite was in fact the 2006, rich in mature honeyed tropical flavours plus impressively lively acidity. Both 2007 and 2008 expressed drier notes of lemon and grass, while retaining that same bright sunny streak. Flights of three proved ideal at discerning each vintage’s individuality: significant heat in 2009 yielded further favoured tropical richness, leading into the youthful grassy gooseberry and complex palate of 2010, and the truly striking orange aromas and mouthwatering flavours of 2011. The relatively “normal vintage” of 2012 introduced our final flight of three, where grassy citrus returned amongst textural complexity and superb balance. My preference leaned towards the 2013, in which lemon curd took a visit to the tropics given time in glass. The newest 2014 was particularly fresh and clean of course, with savoury minerality amping up the complexity and potential.

Shayna & Shulman Pate & Tartars

With even the early 2006 still vivacious and sophisticated Mike shared his own surprise: each annual vertical leaves him expecting a decline but Capella has passed a decade with ease. Less concern, (albeit unfounded as of yet) exists for Signature, the winery’s Bordeaux red blend, provided next with a duo of smokey peppered flank steak and sumptuous Daube de Boeuf with wild mushrooms. Just as the Capella was once simply “White”, Signature spent its early years in 2006 & 2007 without moniker, known merely as “Red”. (In recent years it has been joined by the rare and exclusive Estate Reserve, an outgrowth of Ann’s first “Winemaker’s Reserve” in 2010.) As the 2014 Signature develops in bottle we next received eight vintages from 2006-2013 to enjoy, in similar small flights of two or three.

Clos du Soleil Signature from 2006-2013

Initial Signature vintages favoured Cabernet Sauvignon, beginning with 60% against Merlot and Cabernet Franc in 2006, where solid fruit could still be found in the silky palate. Distinctly brick-coloured, it was fully mature and so well-rounded as to challenge specific flavour discernation. Similar colour and savoury beefy characteristics followed in the 2007, by which time Cabernet Sauvignon had declined to 45%. Malbec was introduced in 2008, where more delicate blackberry and vanilla aromas emerged before the rich but still fresh palate. Heat-loving reds soaked up 2009 - including Petit Verdot, introduced at 7% that year - providing for a particularly ripe Signature to lead our next flight, carrying dried dark fruits meshing wonderfully with the Daube de Boeuf. The elegant 2010 showed notably expressive, juicy fruit with many years ahead, mirrored in the floral 2011 as well. The final flight found 48% Cabernet Sauvignon leading Merlot’s 42% in 2012 as the wine became a fully Similkameen production (without inclusion of Okanagan fruit), mixing black with red fruits upon nicely ripe tannins and hints of leather and spice. More tannin - but equally ripe - could be found in the most recent 2013, where a Merlot majority presented attention-getting brown sugar and ripe purple fruit.

Shayna & Shulman Peppered Steak & Daube de Boeuf

Looking back at my notes it was only after the fact did I realize I had favoured precisely the same vintages in both Capella and Signature: choosing a favourite in each flight had appointed 2006, 2009, and 2013 for white and red. Consistent appeal such as this suggests competent, non-interventionist winemaking and trustworthy reliability in bottle as well. The 2014 Signature will emerge sometime next year, with little rush given the winery’s efforts to increase bottle-aging before release. Interestingly, it was revealed that Petit Verdot has reached record proportions - into the unusual double-digits - for 2014, which should provide yet another unique and expressive perspective in Signature’s lineage.

The modest and focused portfolio of wine produced at Clos du Soleil gains a little additional variety thanks to an homage to Sauternes found in the late harvest “Saturn” Sauvignon Blanc. The vertical tasting concluded with a single flight of the four vintages in existence: 2010, 2011, 2013, and the brand new 2014. Harvested late in the season and fermented slowly over months in neutral oak puncheons, Saturn is eminently ageable, developing the same complex honeyed fruit as Capella over time, but richer by an order of magnitude. Although a glass of Saturn is itself dessert, Shayna & Shulman had assembled four precise and sublime petit panna cotta for a final food pairing, with flavours of Lemon Lavender, Honey, Earl Grey, and Pumpkin Latté.

Shayna & Shulman Quartet of Panna Cotta

In the glass the four Saturn samples shared a common age-induced colour transition as Capella had earlier displayed, with the eldest 2010 warmly golden against the youthful blonde of 2014. The wines had aged with ease, such that 2010 offered tropical passion-fruit and nutty, honey-soaked apricot nectar. Even so, I further preferred the 2011, in which beneficial Botrytis had set in by harvest, rendering the most intense, expressive nose of all four and lip-smacking marmalade on the finish. Clean and ripe, 2013 was showing more stone fruit plus some balancing pithy bitterness, while the presently tangy 2014 retained yeasty aromas amongst fresh apricots before a teasingly long, delicate finish.

Like any good wine tasting, we ran over schedule and were left longing for more, lingering over panna cotta and the last precious drops of Saturn. A round of thanks to the chefs, staff, and hosts ensued before guests dispersed to further explore the winery and vineyards. I myself couldn’t miss a gander at three huge new cubical concrete fermenters awaiting red varieties, while white bubbled away in tanks and puncheons alongside. Mike’s excitement about the upcoming reds was palpable as he showed off the tanks and discussed strategy for the remainder of harvest and crush. Another year for the record books should maintain the annual Vertical Tasting as a regional highlight in high demand!