Monday, 31 July 2017

Collectibles: July 2017

Mid-year is always a particularly exciting time for BC wine enthusiasts and collectors: following the results of the All Canadian Wine Championships and then the BC Lieutenant Governor’s Awards in June, July reveals results of the highly respected National Wine Awards. The Nationals follow from the previous Canadian Wine Awards: many of the contributors to the defunct host publication Wine Access launched WineAlign a few years back, and continued the awards process. Amongst the many prominent accolades for BC wine coming out of this year’s competition were seven of 20 Platinum medals, awarded to the top 1% of wines entered. Needless to say there are plenty of superb wines from which to choose this month!

July 2017 BC wine collectibles

Privato 2014 Woodward Collection “Tesoro” Pinot Noir: The reserve-tier Pinot from Kamloops’ Privato is as good as gold this summer, receiving matching medals from both the All Canadians and Nationals. With a 91-point overall score at the Nationals, and a trio of glowing reviews from judges praising its irresistibility, the wine must have been within inches of a prestigious Platinum medal. While I visit the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys on a regular basis, making it up to Kamloops has been unfortunately neglected, but rapidly becoming an important expedition to consider. Fortunately wineries like Privato understand the importance of reliable retail channels as well, so I was able to find this fine bottle in Vancouver before it sells out. $46 Swirl VQA Store.

Stag’s Hollow 2014 Renaissance Pinot Noir: Another exciting new Pinot Noir came to me this month in my Stag’s Hollow Wine Club package, which is always a mystery collection until it arrives. Although the winery is already selling futures of the 2015 Renaissance Pinot Noir (only their sixth reserve tier Pinot in two decades), the current vintage remains well on hand, albeit only what remains of about 200 cases produced. It’s described as a bold, Californian-styled Pinot Noir, black-fruited with abundant French oak (50% of it new); although WineAlign judge Remy Charest pointed out “it has the stuffing to stand up to it,” in contributing to the Silver medal the wine received at the Nationals this month. With the winery suggesting aging through 2025 I’m in no hurry to crack mine open (and it’s secure under screwcap until that day comes). Winery Direct $40

The Similkameen Collective 2014 GSM: Expanding out from their Golden Mile Bench origins, Road 13 has made a major bet on the Similkameen Valley, showing off Cawston’s exceptional Blind Creek Vineyard in their Similkameen Collective project. The first release last year of GSM and Syrah-Viognier returned Gold and Platinum medals, respectively, from the 2016 National Wine Awards. This year’s GSM surged to Platinum status on the back of an excellent growing season that propelled the wine to “new heights,” in the words of WineAlign Judge Brad Royale. Despite the 100-acre size of Blind Creek, the grapes are spread thin across several clients, and only 126 cases of GSM have been produced (up from 104 last year though). The blend of 54% Grenache, 37% Syrah, 7% Mourvedre, and 2% Viognier found particularly strong favour amongst the judges this year, receiving a 92-point average score! Winery Direct $50

Burrowing Owl 2015 Syrah: Three Canadian Syrah were recognized with Platinum medals at this year’s National Wine Awards, and the pair of BC bottles include a surprising Naramata version (from Lake Breeze), plus this southern Okanagan stalwart. The generous vintage has resulted in a “ripe, rich, and meaty Syrah” that caught the attention of judges: David Lawrason’s 93-point review praises it for being “lavish and engaging” with “gorgeous textures.” In typical Burrowing Owl fashion the 18 months in oak were a complex affair, using a mix of 70% French, 15% American, and 15% Hungarian barrels of varying ages (30% new). Despite having been released just last month (with a limited availability warning) it is reportedly already sold out in the tasting room, so be sure to scour the shelves of local retail establishments! Winery Direct $35

Road 13 2015 Syrah Malbec: The friendly internal rivalry amongst Road 13’s various Rhone-inspired blends appears to continue this year as the contribution of 24% Malbec (and 3% each of Viognier and Gamay) has taken Gold at the National Wine Awards. A small lot Syrah blend with Mourvedre took Platinum last year while the Malbec inclusion only brought home Silver, now “redeemed” with a new vintage. Grapes from the winery’s extensive holdings in the south Okanagan and Similkameen valleys contributed to 347 cases of what the winery calls an “utterly hedonistic wine.” Tasting a sample at the winery while collecting my Club order I was readily persuaded to agree: the noticeable Malbec contribution provides for a darker and jammier profile than the excellent (and equally collectible) varietal Syrah I also obtained, with more tannin present in the rich and creamy palate. Winery Direct $37

Fairview Cellars 2014 The Bear: In the words of proprietor and winemaker Bill Eggert, 2014 was a “most awesome year,” allowing him to devote a larger percentage of the vintage than usual to his flagship red blend. The Bear has been an automatic purchase for many years given Bill’s veteran talent, hence providing me with a rotating six-bottle vertical that now yields a 2008 for current consumption. The wine is typically a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blend, including Merlot and Cabernet Franc, plus what Bill reports as “a small percentage of Malbec and an even smaller portion of Petit Verdot.” The grapes (with the exception of Malbec) come from the estate vineyard on the northern end of the Golden Mile Bench west of Oliver. The 650 cases assembled should last at least through the summer, but don’t dawdle! Winery Direct $40

La Frenz 2014 Grand Total Reserve: The icon wine at La Frenz is comprised of fruit from the Naramata Bench winery’s home “Rattlesnake” Vineyard, and their Golden Mile “Rockyfeller” Vineyard, which contributes Cabernets. Acquiring the newest release completes adds a sixth vintage to my collection, initiating another rotating vertical beginning with 2009. Having sampled all of those years (and beyond) at last year’s BCWAS-hosted vertical tasting, I look forward to what to the future holds. That anticipation includes this plush-textured blend of Merlot (42%), Cabernet Sauvignon (33%), and Cabernet Franc (25%), aged in (70% new) French oak for 22 months before blending and bottling of about 300 cases. Over at IconWines, reviewer Liam Carrier is equally confident in the wine’s future promise: his 93-point review strongly suggests more bottle age to “make the most of your investment.” Winery Direct $45

Monday, 3 July 2017

New Adventures: Bella Sparkling Wines

Since Jay Drysdale opened his tiny Bella bubbly house to the public in 2014 I’ve longed to visit the winery he opened with wife Wendy on the northern Naramata Bench. It’s taken me three years to get there, past myriad vinicultural distractions on the route from Penticton, but I couldn’t be more pleased to finally make it. The northern Naramata tasting room is a working one, with far more space devoted to riddling racks than people. Despite the relatively remote location, the venue was hopping on the recent long weekend, with visitors choosing from amongst dozens of unique, vintage stems and coupes for tasting the lively list of wines before they sell out mid-summer.

Taster's choice rules at Bella when it comes to drinking vessel.

Jay & Wendy’s mantra of “Celebrate Today” was on point as Jay opened what seemed like countless bottles, so many that I honestly lost track of some! To keep at least some focus only Chardonnay and Gamay are used for a growing series of micro-lot (e.g., 50 cases) wines made all Brut Natural with no dosage. From the traditional method “Vineyard Series” of 2016 three Gamay from West Kelowna and a pair of Naramata vineyards offered plenty of crunchy red berries and stone fruit, while Chardonnay showed varietal character from Keremeos and Kamloops. Ancestrale method wines in the 2016 “Natural Series” encompass the first estate fruit in a blend of Chardonnay & Gamay, plus a lime and spiced apple iteration of the Keremeos Chardonnay, and two more Gamay, including a re-visit to the Westbank vineyard source. A major treat was also on offer as the single Reserve Series was opened to reveal a luxurious 2013 Chardonnay from Oliver’s Secrest Vineyard, full of classical Champagne character after 42 months on the lees.

Riddling racks on display for a close look at the Bella process.

Collectible: 2016 Chardonnay - Eastside (Ancestrale). In this case Eastside refers to the Southern Okanagan, and the grapes come from Michael Bartier’s Black Sage Bench vineyard (on the east side of the valley) outside Oliver. One of several ancestrales making inroads at Bella, the wine undergoes a single fermentation that concludes in bottle (instead of the typical tank-based primary and a more controlled secondary in bottle). The technique is riskier and makes for some natural cloudiness, but the results can be stunning, as Jay reports: “You will never taste a more intensely flavored sparkling wine than an ancestrale.” The nose of tropical and citrus fruits leads into a buttered popcorn palate that made this one an immediate purchase, and at only 9.1% alcohol one really can celebrate today, or any day - at least while the 50 cases produced remain available!

Sunday, 2 July 2017

New Adventures: vinAmité Cellars

The Coulombe family winery is two years young this summer, since opening in 2015 (and tweaking the name since) with an enviable location on Highway 97 outside Oliver. Since having first tasted, and thoroughly enjoyed, the wines - presented by daughter Catherine Coulombe - at last fall’s Garagiste North Festival in Penticton, I’ve been eager to visit the winery in person. A couple attempts in May fell through, but as it turned out the shelves were nearly empty at the time, with a full slate of new releases anticipated in June. Among those new wines I heard about through the grapevine was a special release varietal Petit Verdot that piqued my curiosity.

Settle down for a while amongst original artwork and artisanal foods, including this selection from thesaltcellar.ca

Arriving at seemingly the perfect time, I was fortunate enough to be guided through the portfolio (from a vineyard-view table on the back patio) by the ebullient Catherine herself, who serves as both knowledgeable Tasting Room Manager and Assistant Winemaker. The cozy lounge is richly decorated with art from Catherine’s talented sister Nathalie, and fine cheeses and charcuterie are available to enhance and extend one’s experience. All business, I delved straight into each of the eight wines on hand, all small lots of less than 250 cases. Highlights included aged Pinot Gris from 2015, richly textured with honeyed peaches; 2015 Chardonnay, lightly oaked for just four months and offering a pleasing popcorn profile; plus new 2016 Gamay, very pretty indeed with spiced cranberries and a fresh, silky, palate. Red blends from 2015 comprise “Petit Claret”, “Hidden Corner”, and “Compass”, a favourite with ripe berries, cocoa, and vanilla atop structured tannins from 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Malbec.

vinAmite 2015 Petit Verdot

Collectible: 2015 Petit Verdot. Used most often in small proportions for blends, varietal Petit Verdot is rare worldwide, so it’s always exciting to see a local example. In this case, Proprietor Ray Coulombe set himself on a “mission”, as Catherine puts it, to obtain these grapes from a local partner grower in the south Okanagan. Only three (French oak) barrels were produced of what is hoped to be an inaugural vintage (there is a larger lot of 2016 aging in the cellar, and plans for 2017), divided amongst one new barrel, a one-year-old, and a three-year-old, where the wine spent 14 months before bottling. Having a taste at the winery revealed near perfect varietal character, with all the inky, floral aromas and powerful palate one would expect; the ripe, dark fruit is nearly Port-like in its concentration. Needless to say I look forward to longer-term aging of this particular rarity. Winery Direct $55

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Collectibles: May 2017

Three cheers for 2014: the rich, ripe reds of that superb vintage are seemingly everywhere one looks in the Okanagan these days. A recent trip to Osoyoos provided the opportunity to stock up on the latest and greatest from the cellar door, leaving me with a divine selection to fawn over this month. While it may seem odd to have focused on so many big reds in the summer, rest assured there were more than enough bottles of white and Rosé keeping these cellar-dwellers company on the ride home. And not every white is destined for immediate consumption, because locally legendary Riesling is just as age-worthy as the neighbouring collectible reds.

May 2017 BC wine collectibles

Synchromesh 2016 Black Label Storm Haven Vineyard Riesling: The 2016 vintage at Alan Dickinson’s Okanagan Falls home vineyard was split into 182 cases of this Black Label, wax-sealed reserve plus a White Label for earlier consumption. While both wines host a generous 38 g/L of sugar, the bracing acidity is even higher in the Black Label version, providing for a stunning pH of 2.81 and a very long life ahead. The team at GismondiOnWine have tasted nearly every vintage since the inaugural 2010, culminating in a library tasting in mid-March that found even the “vibrant and youthful” 2011 (with 55 g/L) to have “so many years to go still”. Anthony Gismondi’s 93-point review of the newest release praised the benefits of long hang time last fall, finding the purity of fruit to be “impressive to say the least.” Winery Direct $40

Church & State 2014 Merlot: Wrapped in the winery’s new Signature Series label, with varietally-unique calligraphy, 450 cases of Merlot come from a blend of Black Sage Bench and Golden Mile fruit from two vineyards, including the home Coyote Bowl property. One of several generous new 2014 reds, the Merlot has done particularly well for the winery, being named Best of Class (Double Gold) at this year’s All Canadian Wine Championships, one of two (the other for Trebella 2015) in addition to a pair of Gold medals. Even before the All Canadians, February’s New World International Wine Competition in California bestowed the honour of Best Canadian Wine for this Best of Class Merlot. Released just in time for the busy summer touring season, stocks are already growing low thanks to the intense roasted cocoa aromas and rich, round blueberry palate, followed by a sweet and savoury smoked finish to wrap it all up. Great for summer barbecue season no doubt, but secure under screwcap with further cellaring in mind. Winery Direct $40

Mt. Boucherie 2014 Winemaker’s Reserve Syrah: After a tumultuous couple of years in receivership, established West Kelowna winery Mt. Boucherie re-emerged this spring, as John Schreiner detailed in a February article. Most important to consider from John’s detailed summary of the proceedings is that talented and committed Winemaker Jim Faulkner remained at the helm throughout. As the budgetary prospects improved Jim could finally acquire bottles and labels for reds that include this smoothly aged Similkameen Valley Syrah, after it spent an unexpected 22 months in oak. The resulting 381 cases of “full and rich” wine are felt well-worthy of a 92-point score in John’s experienced eyes. Later in the same month, a taste by David Lawrason at WineAlign yielded similar accolades, with another 92-points for the “classic Syrah nose,” fine tannins, and elegant, rich palate. Winery Direct $40

Church & State 2014 Malbec: Having taken some time off after two consecutive Best of Class awards for 2011 and 2012 vintages the Malbec is back at Church & State. Sourced from the Rattlesnake Vineyard on the Golden Mile, 225 cases of what is always a local rarity snagged one of the winery’s aforementioned Gold medals at the All Canadians (and the only Gold-medal Malbec in the Single Red Varietal category). I was fortunate enough to enjoy a sample upon visiting the winery, and found black cherry and chocolate aromas hinting at what is another ripe and rambunctious red. Equally rich and intense as the Merlot, I briefly reminded of drinking chocolate upon tasting the full-bodied purple-fruited palate. Here’s another exciting candidate for the cellar if you can keep it closed in the meantime. Winery Direct $35

Quails’ Gate 2014 “The Boswell” Syrah: Since the initial 2012 release (intended as a one-time only anniversary wine) received one of the BC Wine Awards’ new Platinum medals in 2014, Quails’ Gate has been one to watch for Syrah. While the winery’s focus remains Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, small amounts of winery exclusive Syrah (unexpectedly from West Kelowna) continue to impress: 570 cases of the latest have garnered universal praise in preview tastings last year. GismondiOnWine’s Treve Ring complimented the “haunting” complexity and finesse for 91-points in October; John Schreiner paralleled his score of 2013 with another 94-point review in December; and Deanna Van Mulligen felt 93-points was well worth it in February for the “amazing structure.” Over at WineAlign reviewers exalted the focus, length, and richness, with emphasis on its cellaring potential for enjoyment into the next decade - I’m more than happy to oblige. Winery Direct $61

Little Engine 2015 Platinum Cabernet Franc: After opening last summer with high-end Chardonnay and Pinot Noir the fuller-bodied reds at Little Engine have now come into play, and the top tier Platinum series has supplanted Gold at the apex of their portfolio. John Schreiner was invited to preview the new releases earlier this month and had nothing but good - and very good - things to say. I stopped by soon afterwards, with an eye to examining wines that garnered some of John’s highest scores ever. The 96-point Platinum Merlot was in my sights, but as good as it was, I was struck even greater by this powerful Cabernet Franc, still 95-points as far as John was concerned (and a complimentary 89-points from Anthony Gismondi); the mouth-watering intensity had me excited to lay down a bottle. Of the three new Platinum reds, the Cabernet Franc is most rare, at just 49 cases produced - now minus one precious bottle. Winery Direct $86

Covert Farms 2014 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: It’s been awhile since I tasted a barrel sample of this young and highly promising Cabernet alongside the BC Wine Appreciation Society in March of last year. In the meantime, it was bottled and apparently quietly released at the Oliver tasting room below McIntyre Bluff. Visiting the secluded tasting room amongst 650 organically-farmed acres   provided the opportunity to get a bottle from the mere 48 cases produced. It’s become evident that 2014 was a well-above-average vintage for BC Cabernet Sauvignon, and Covert’s micro-lot is further testimony. A taste during my visit showed off dark and intensely ripe dried fruits, with age-worthy tannin to boot, and a mouth-watering selection of the winery’s descriptors that include red licorice, cocoa, vanilla, and baking spice. Winery Direct $59

Sunday, 21 May 2017

New Adventures: Lariana Cellars

The boutique Osoyoos winery of Dan & Carol Scott launched in 2013 with a portfolio of one wine (a “stunningly good” Viognier praised by John Schreiner). After sufficient aging, a red blend from the inaugural 2012 vintage was eventually released, and last year an exciting varietal Carménère (from 2013) came along as well. Having followed Lariana’s progress thanks to John’s updates I was particularly excited to taste the newest releases this spring at a BC Wine Appreciation Society “Tweetup” in February - where the 2014 Carménère was my pick of the night and has been on my mind every since.

Lariana's "tasting room" decor is spartan and charming - perfect!

After a few mis-starts, I was finally able to visit the petite operation recently, finding myself literally steps from the U.S. Border in the Scott’s unassuming winery building. While a formal tasting room is absent, the tidy winery serves the purpose just fine, and Dan was present to show off his current bottles and a little sample of what’s to come. The tropical and delicately creamy Viognier 2016 has clearly benefited from five months on fine lees in a concrete egg, while retaining bright, clean citrus. The 2012 “Twelve” blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and 1% Carménère is still available, and a taste offered toasty, structured stewed raspberry. The follow-up “Thirteen” ditches Merlot for Cabernet, Syrah, and 12% Carménère to yield a complex nose of leather, vanilla, black cherry, and chocolate before the fine and approachable tannins unwrap impressive purity of fruit. On the way from 2015 will be a small lot of varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, and another vintage of Carménère just being bottled - an exciting barrel sample was deliciously fresh and juicy.

Lariana Cellars 2014 Carménère

Collectible: 2014 Carménère. Varietal Carménère is extremely rare in BC - I know of only three - but it’s worth noting this wine has been shepherded by consulting winemaker Senka Tennant, who founded Black Hills and introduced BC’s first Carménère there years ago. Last year’s inaugural vintage struck John Schreiner as a “swaggering example” worthy of 92-points, and the newest showed me bewitching purple-fruited perfume and a well balanced, textured, and fruit-forward palate. The Carménère is a valued contributor to the flagship red blend, which I hope will not lead to its undoing as a single varietal. After 120 cases were released from the 2013 vintage, even less was made in 2014 (96 cases), and I’m told the crop was down in 2015! Winery Direct $45

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Collectibles: April 2017

Another big month for local wine clubs was on offer, as the first shipment of the year for many sees devoted collectors reaping the rewards of pre-releases and exclusive specialties. Ironically, one of the oldest new releases is a 2013 Pinot Noir wisely and patiently bottle-aged at the winery to maximize near term enjoyment, while elsewhere elegant 2014 and bold 2015 reds are appearing in greater numbers. For those looking to get a head start on finding these particular rarities take heed of the access given in advance to members. Now that seemingly every winery has a club they are ensuring the commitment is worth one’s while – guaranteed access is one way to do so; I know I consistently enjoy the serenity of certainty.

April 2017 BC wine collectibles

Mirabel 2015 Pinot Noir: It’s a bold proposition to come out of the gate with an icon-class Pinot Noir and the $70 price to match, but the collectible first vintage from this new label has strong pedigree. Doug and Dawn Reimer have taken the time to establish their eleven-year-old South Kelowna vineyard and personal brand while selling high quality grapes to respected wineries like Meyer and Foxtrot. They contracted highly talented winemaker Matt Dumayne out of Okanagan Crush Pad to produce their first vintage, already receiving glowing reviews: John Schreiner’s profile of the Reimer’s endeavour last fall included a 95-point score for the Pinot. There’s no tasting room or wine shop to visit yet, and unless you want to order it direct by the case (from 237 produced), New District is Mirabel’s exclusive retail partner – particularly fortunate for Vancouver residents! New District $89

Tinhorn Creek 2013 Oldfield Series Pinot Noir: With vineyards on the Golden Mile and Black Sage Benches Sandra Oldfield’s Oliver winery tends towards Bordeaux reds, but Pinot Noir has always had a place. A few years ago, Sandra and her team realized the Pinot Noir fared much better with additional bottle aging, and so the varietal tier gets one year, and the reserve sees a full two years of rest before release. After spending 18 months in neutral oak 850 cases were bottled in May 2015, awaiting public release within the next couple of months; Crush Club members get earlier access in their tri-annual shipments. Winemaker Andrew Windsor must be excited to exhibit his first work in this varietal series since taking the lead just months after harvest: the typical dark fruit, chocolate, and spice of southern Okanagan Pinot should be well evident, extending the previous vintage’s elegance and refinement. Winery Direct $35

Laughing Stock 2015 Syrah: The rich and elegant Syrah put forth by David & Cynthia Enns is an immediate buy upon release for me, even though it gets much less exposure than their famed Portfolio red blend. Their Osoyoos vineyard yields sublime fruit that has garnered awards for past vintages that include a Platinum Medal at the National Wine Awards, Decanter Regional Trophy, and Lieutenant Governor’s Award. From the “spectacularly warm spring” of 2015 comes a brand-new release I was overjoyed to find in triplicate amongst my latest Preferred Share Wine Club order. The “fabulously ripe” fruit was 40% fermented in oak puncheons and tank (some whole cluster), before 14 months in 35% new French oak before bottling of 948 cases. My triplets provide for present and future enjoyment as I age some into the next decade. Winery Direct $40

Poplar Grove 2013 Munson Mountain Cabernet Franc: Poplar Grove Wine Club’s first action in 2017 didn’t disappoint, sending out their newest members only, single vineyard Cabernet Franc. The Munson Mountain vineyard is adjacent to the Penticton winery, and has been directed into this rarity for the fourth time as a Club treat. Bottle-aged eight months longer than the now-sold-out regular (Osoyoos sourced) Cabernet Franc, the Munson bottling is earthier and shows more minerality, with fine tannins and a very long finish. Having received three bottles and already had a taste, I look forward to aging the remainder, up to ten years from vintage in the eyes of the winery. Only 340 cases were produced, versus 500 for the regular varietal production, and it remains Club exclusive, for now. Winery Direct $40

Tinhorn Creek 2014 Oldfield Reserve Cabernet Franc: Alongside a pair of Pinot my newest Crush Club order contained upcoming Cabernet Franc, exhibiting new branding that returns to the “Reserve” language in use long ago. I can’t help but notice a growing trend back to darker labels for premium wines, after the bright white of the past several years: witness last month’s collection of examples. This smartly dressed new Franc is coming soon, after 800 cases aged a year in bottle starting since last May. It’s a true reserve, selected after French oak barrels (25% new) spent a year maturing before assessment, blending, and another six months in oak for the best of them. In some years (e.g., 2011) none are deemed worthy, and so this marks the fourth vintage (and a very high quality one at that) since the inaugural 2010, making Cabernet Franc the youngest of the winery’s reserve red portfolio. Winery Direct $35

Poplar Grove 2013 CSM: Although renowned for Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and the iconic Legacy red blend, Poplar Grove’s cryptic CSM can be overlooked by some people, to their great misfortune. Unlike the Munson Cabernet, the 600 or so cases of CSM have become readily available via the winery (but unlikely elsewhere), where fans can enjoy this delightfully creative melange of 29% Cabernet Franc, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Syrah, 18% Merlot, and 7% Malbec. The newest blend is particularly complex, not only including Malbec for the first time, but bringing Cabernet Franc to the forefront after excluding it entirely over the past couple of vintages. The name is primarily intended to refer to Cabernet(s), Syrah, and Merlot, but fortunately Malbec also starts with M and fits in easily, plus CCSMM doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. Winery Direct $35

LaStella 2014 Espressivo: It’s not often that the measured and focused portfolio at LaStella witnesses the birth of a new wine, so one is inclined to take notice when it does happen. With the Merlot-dominant “Fortissimo” blend now firmly established in the family, as it were, a new blend leaning on Cabernet has been introduced, from just 123 cases of the inaugural vintage. Like Fortissimo, Espressivo includes a touch of Sangiovese paying tribute to the winery’s Tuscan influences, with 5% (at first) complementing 55% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Merlot, all aged 18 months in 20% new oak, both French and Hungarian. An early taste by the WineAlign crew this month found favour amongst David Lawrason, who acclaimed the richly textured, powerful ode to Italian reds. I myself was pleased with the dark and spicy palate, in contrast to Fortissimo’s (equally enjoyable) lush berries, during a preview tasting last month, and am happy to find it a home in my collection. Winery Direct $46

Friday, 31 March 2017

Collectibles: March 2017

In offices across the world, the fiscal year is coming to a close and people and plans are wrapping up, but in the (northern hemisphere) wine world this means springtime! By now the fall harvest fermentations are in barrel, what was in barrel is being bottled, and warehouse space is getting the squeeze; it’s one of many reasons for new releases. Another reason being simply that bottle aging of old vintages has concluded and it’s time to share the results with the world. This month welcomed everything from a triplet of fresh, young Pinot Noir looking for some cellaring, to big bold red heavyweights that can still manage further slumber despite their more advanced years.

March 2017 BC wine collectibles

Meyer 2015 Reimer Pinot Noir:  The calendar year’s first Wine Club shipment from Burgundian specialists Meyer included the both the attractive 2015 Tribute Chardonnay, and one of their vineyard-specific Pinot Noir. Despite the oppressive heat of 2015 and the early start to harvest, the Reimer Vineyard fruit in East Kelowna wasn’t harvested until mid-October, then given 11 months in (27% new) French oak before 400 cases were bottled in September. Interestingly, Doug & Dawn Reimer - from whom the French clone grapes originate - recently launched their Mirabel Vineyards label, with the inaugural 2015 Pinot Noir. Initial trepidation about the future of Jak Meyer’s access to their well-respected grapes seems to have been tempered recently with word the partnership is expected to continue for the near future. Winery Direct $40

Meyer 2015 Old Block Pinot Noir: The opportunity to add a couple bottles to my four-pack of Club-designated wines allowed acquisition of some of the smaller production Pinots from Meyer. The Okanagan Falls estate vineyard’s one acre “Old Block” originates in 1994, but couldn’t be exclusively bottled until additional (2009) plantings had matured enough for production (of the “regular” McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir). By 2014 that time had come and the first lot of 205 block-specific cases were acclaimed at the National Wine Awards last year. Slight growth to 234 cases in 2015 comes with high expectations as a result, but the release is so recent few have yet had a chance to share their findings, and I’m afraid my single precious bottle is destined for the cellar until next decade. Winery Direct $50

Meyer 2015 Micro Cuvee Pinot Noir: Not only are the lots of wine at Meyer separated by vineyard, and block, but further barrel selection is conducted to yield the pinnacle of production. A small lot of Chardonnay sees similar treatment, and in 2015 the Micro Cuvee Pinot Noir came from two puncheons and one barrel of Pommard Clone 91, with the winery going so far as to detail the three French forests from which the vessels originated. The Pommard block was harvested in late September, about a week before the Old Block mentioned above, and likely saw the same 11 months in oak as the other lots, with the difference coming down to the unique expression of that one new puncheon, a second one-year-old, and the two-year-old barrel (yielding 110 cases). The Micro Cuvees (both Chardonnay and Pinot) are reliably the best of what is already a top-tier portfolio from Meyer. Winery Direct $65

The Similkameen Collective 2013 GSM: I was able to obtain a bottle of this joint venture’s (inaugural vintage) Platinum-medal-winning Syrah-Viognier last fall, but had to painfully pass on the GSM at the time for budgetary reasons. Wouldn’t you know, it showed up in this month’s Road 13 Wine Club selection, as the Golden Mile winery is one of the key partners (and actually makes the wine). I’ve been coveting a bottle since John Schreiner had a chance to taste the launch portfolio last spring, and found the “bold and elegant” blend worthy of 93 points in his opinion. Having been awarded Gold at last summer’s National Wine Awards, it’s a special rarity as one of the few instances of BC Grenache from this growing category. I look forward to the day I can attend a Grenache gathering just like the upcoming BC Pinot Noir Celebration! Winery Direct $50

Stag’s Hollow 2014 Renaissance Merlot: One of several varieties grown at the Okanagan Falls estate home vineyard, Merlot - and this reserve tier version - has for many years been the flagship from Winemaker Dwight Sick’s diverse portfolio (even as Grenache sneaks up from behind). The newest vintage has emerged from the wings as the remaining 2013 is sold through the wine shop; my bottle came in this month’s Wine Club shipment. Fermented and aged in (50% new) French oak, the 2014 Merlot aged for 15 months before being blended with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, as is the common practice with this particular wine. While the newly introduced screwcap closure may suggest otherwise to some, further cellaring would be best, although the winery admits it is “more approachable than the past two vintages.” I’m sure all the dark fruit and mocha under that cap would show quite well at present after decanting however. Winery Direct $40

C.C. Jentsch 2014 Small Lot Cabernet Franc: Chris Jentsch was present in person at last month’s Vancouver International Wine Festival, pouring a few of his Golden Mile Bench wines, all of course for sale in the on-site BC Liquor Store. A few bottles of the rare and pricey Cabernet Franc remained available afterwards and were subsequently shifted to local store shelves, at which point I was able to rectify having missed this charmer at the Festival. Initial release of 151 cases last summer was met with praise from John Schreiner, who felt 92 points best summarized this “ripe and exuberant wine.” Having been bottled just before release, after 16 months in oak, further maturity in bottle seems to have left it none the worse for wear: “a few months down the road from our last tasting this Cabernet Franc remains impressive,” said Anthony Gismondi at the time of the Festival, when 90 points was still felt well worthy. BC Liquor Stores $58

Nk’Mip 2014 Qwam Qwmt Cabernet Sauvignon: Optimal conditions in 2014 ensured the ideal opportunity for ripe Cabernet Sauvignon from our (technically) cool climate terroir, and Winemaker Randy Picton’s work with the variety is always one of the first places to look for quality. Harvesting fully developed grapes at the very end of October led to 18 months in French oak before release last year, from which time it remains broadly available given expected large production. Big compliments came from GismondiOnWine after a few vintages away: while newer contributor Treve Ring assigned “only” 89 points, the usually conservative Gismondi himself practically gushed in his 91-point review last December, finding this big red to be “in perfect balance” and clearly at the top of the tier for the variety in BC. BC Liquor Stores $35

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Enotecca’s Prudent Evolution

I recently enjoyed the valuable opportunity to visit the head office of two of my favourite and most respected wineries, and sample several brand-new releases. Enotecca Wineries is the parent company of both LaStella and Le Vieux Pin, Italian- and French-inspired wineries in Osoyoos and Oliver respectively. The two wineries share key staff, including highly talented Winemaker and Viticulturist Severine Pinte, who emigrated to Canada in 2010 after extensive education in France, and many years of international experience. Severine is now a Managing Partner, alongside Sales & Marketing Director Rasoul Salehi, who was eager to share with me the near-perfect 2016 vintage.

LaStella 2014 Espressivo

Although Rasoul hinted that a few new and upcoming reds from recent vintages were available, the focus was on the brand new 2016 whites and Rosés from both wineries. It is broadly acknowledged, and emphasized by Rasoul, that 2016 was a particularly excellent vintage – in his opinion the best since 2011. (Although thought of as cool, 2011 yielded beautifully-focused, elegant wines, as my own experience has born out.) For the varieties and styles aimed for at both LaStella and Le Vieux Pin, 2016 offered an ideal long, consistent, and moderate growing season without the overly high heat of recent years. As the most youthful whites trickle into the market these past couple of months, consumers are getting a chance to experience the quality on hand.

LaStella’s musically-named wines include a pair of crisp, dry whites in the form of “Leggiero” In-Oaked Chardonnay and “Vivace” Pinot Grigio, both echoing the style of northern Italy. Fresh out of the gate they are exactly that – fresh – with bountiful fruit presence and balanced by precise acidity, and deliciously moderate alcohol (e.g., 12-13% was typical for all whites, despite fermentation to dryness). Incorporating fruit from a newly acquired Golden Mile vineyard with old vines Chardonnay, Leggiero 2016 offers bright green apples and sourdough bread with lip-smacking minerality. Immediately expressive on the nose, with a basket of green and pink citrus fruit, Vivace 2016 is equally juicy, with a “chiselled” fruit cocktail palate of which LaStella is rightfully proud – it is a notably different beast than the lusher stone fruit of many BC Pinot Gris.

Avoiding overlap, Le Vieux Pin’s portfolio includes a long-time fan-favourite Sauvignon Blanc, harvested spectacularly early in 2016 by mid-August, to yield just 12% alcohol. First impression makes it clear this is not a standard simple sipper, if the $30 price tag wasn’t evidence enough; it is a complex, food-focused wine sparking thoughtful contemplation. I was struck by the nose of Guava and rich tropical fruit, showing little grassiness beyond some light herbaceous notes. The clean and fresh citrus palate was terrifically long-lasting, with enjoyable subtleties changing alongside the temperature. Just as distinct is LaStella’s fun-loving Moscato D’Osoyoos, where 44 g/L of sugar in 2016 is well balanced and pumped up by enthusiastic effervescence. I have no doubt that all 800 cases of this perfect breakfast wine will sell out once again, as the gorgeous musk melon nose and peach palate gain it even further fans.

With Spring well on its way wine fans are fortunate both wineries long ago embraced Rosé, offering opportunity to love either iteration. I have long-favoured Le Vieux Pin’s “Vaïla” Pinot Noir, but was surprised to lean for LaStella in short order. The 2016 “LaStellina” Rosé is much lighter in colour than previous iterations, entering with a traditional off-dry palate but finishing surprisingly dry (just 5 g/L is paired with 12.9% alcohol). Two thirds Cabernet Franc shows off red fruit and forest floor, while Merlot and 4% Sangiovese offer additional complexity to the silky palate. In contrast, Vaïla’s pure Pinot expression is bone dry as usual, lightly pinked and delicately creamy from time on the gross lees. Its rhubarb and rose petal profile comes in a close second to LaStellina this year, but I have no qualms about my inevitable purchase of both bottles.

Warmer weather welcomes reds as well as whites, and it is here that some very calculated growth is taking place. Neither winery has been focused on expansion, as the goal has always been to produce the best possible wine, but in doing so there can be germination of new opportunities. A few years back Le Vieux Pin’s renowned Syrah selection birthed the accessible Cuvée Violette, aggressively priced to become a restaurant favourite in no time. After some months without stock, merchants and customers must be relieved to see the newly released 2015 vintage, and should be quite satisfied with the big floral, mocha nose, black fruit flavours, and peppered finish from soft, ripe tannins. A generous 1,300 cases are available, and plans for larger releases to come are in place once the new Golden Mile vineyard comes on stream.

As Le Vieux Pin further cultivates Syrah, LaStella is shepherding small plantings of Sangiovese towards greatness. I was lucky enough to get an early taste of the 2014 “Arioso” Sangiovese, already oozing appeal with a ripe and ravishing nose. One experimental barrel in 2012 has yielded to a relative boom of 106 cases from 2014, set for release towards the end of 2018 in all likelihood. The newest Fortissimo, an existing Super Tuscan blend, deftly incorporates 11% Sangiovese alongside a quarter of Cabernets and nearly two thirds Merlot as 1,711 cases of 2015 are now available. Even more exciting, new sibling “Espressivo” will soon arrive to provide complement from 2014 with 55% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 5% Sangiovese. Although only 123 cases of the inaugural release have been produced, gradual growth is hoped for, offering a darker, spicier partner to Fortissimo’s lush earthy berries.

My visit concluded with an extra treat thanks to the always-impressive Coravin, with which Rasoul was able to offer tastes of the 2006 and 2008 Allegretto Merlot. Having over a decade behind it, 2006 was unnervingly smooth, with continuing complexity of forest floor, black olives, and leather. There were in fact still some tannins lurking in 2008, but the ripe and mouth-filling palate was going strong, showing rich fruit with a coffee-flavoured, meaty undercurrent. As both wineries enter their second decades, I look forward to seeing similar iterations of Espressivo, Arioso (and all the other superbly crafted reds) in the future. In the meantime, I have plenty of options for my glass this summer.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Curve Ahead: A Beer Post!

I recently had the delightful opportunity to visit Victoria for the closing weekend of Victoria Beer Week, and better yet, it was all complimentary! No, I wasn’t being feted for my tireless work nit-picking BC wine, I quite surprisingly won an online contest. My prize package for two included flights on Harbour Air, two nights in a suite at Swan’s Hotel & Brewpub, and tickets to Friday night and Saturday afternoon events. With my wife’s blessing and encouragement (allowing her to avoid it), I brought along a friend (and home-brewer) much more likely to appreciate the suds.

Co-Producer Joe Wiebe addresses beer fans at The Hudson, while Wandering Mollusk is hard at work

Our Friday afternoon harbour-to-harbour flight from Vancouver gave us a good view of the city we had both called home at one point in the past, with anticipation of visiting some old haunts. The evening welcomed “Friday Night Casks #2”, the sequel to the previous weekend’s opening cask celebration. Expecting traditional oak casks we were pleasantly surprised to see many steel kegs amongst the breweries present in the Victoria Public Market at The Hudson (just one block from my old apartment). Some purists will likely scoff, but I prefer the higher carbonation in kegs over casks.

Fortification courtesy of Saltchuck Pie Company and L'Authentique Poutine & Burger

A monumental two dozen BC craft breweries (and cideries) were present in the cavernous space formerly the ground floor of The Bay department store - now remade into a striking market for local food and goods vendors. Armed with tasting tokens we set out to find the most exciting rarities and experiments to be had. Our high expectations were easily met with a great many extremely creative brews; some of my favourites incorporated exciting fruit-forward infusions: Category 12 Danish Blonde with Cucumber & Lime, Coal Harbour Sunrise Gose with Apricots, Lighthouse Perfect Storm Grand Marnier Citrus Ale, Steamworks Flagship IPA with Mango, and Yellow Dog High 5 Hazy IPA with Pineapple. Even host Swans had joined the infusion action by adding Apricots and Roasted Habanero to their heritage Scotch Ale “Regal Standard” to give it a memorable spicy kick!

Excitement to be had from Powell Street and Twin Sails, among many others

Sleeping off the many hard-to-miss brews, plus a hearty brunch at John’s Place, fortified us for Saturday’s new release celebration “Lift Off!” Under some daunting clouds outdoors in Centennial Square a dozen brand new beers were being sampled for the first time - and in gratitude the sun eventually emerged. Mindful of the job ahead of us we set out to sample each and every one in the lengthy afternoon allowance (1-6pm). All the beers will eventually find their way to taps and bottles in the near future, but it was a priceless opportunity to preview those we hope to be drinking this summer. Powell Street’s “Ode to Wallflower” Gin Barrel-aged Citra Pale Ale was one such delicious drink, a “hyper-local” collaboration between the brewery and neighbouring Odd Society Spirits. Equally striking, in a whole other direction was Twin Sails’ stunning Blonde Stout, conditioned on coffee, cocoa, vanilla, and toasted coconut to leave a major impression. I was further engaged by crisp hops in Yellow Dog’s tart Domesticated Sour Wild IPA, Spinnakers’ refreshing “Juice Monkey” IPA, and 4 Mile’s terrifically tropical Mosaic Session IPA. Everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time relishing the early-access VIP treatment at this well organized and smoothly executed exhibition.

The bustling crowd had on-site stores from which to bring home the memories

With Saturday capping the week via the highlight of Lift Off, the evening saw a celebration of the many hard-working organizers, volunteers, and sponsors who made the seemingly flawless festival possible. Back at The Hudson we were honoured to join the revelry, where any leftover kegs and casks were soon helpfully emptied, plus a few special gems saved in anticipation of appreciation. The acknowledgements were well worthy, for events like this - even day-long, not to mention a full week - live and die on the backs of the time volunteered by passionate advocates. Should you find yourself with opportunity to join the fun in subsequent years - as I certainly hope to – keep Victoria Beer Week on your radar!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Collectibles: February 2017

One of the largest gatherings of Canadian wine was shared with lucky locals at this year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival, featuring a national focus to mark our sesquicentennial celebrations. While numerous charming Ontario and Nova Scotia contributions were on hand, the Festival’s on-site BC Liquor Store carried particularly generous reams of rarities and pre-releases from BC’s top wineries. For those looking to jump the line, the Festival offered notable advance purchasing opportunities. I took advantage of the occasion to stock up on some excellent cellar-worthy reds amongst other gems.

February 2017 BC wine collectibles

Liquidity 2014 Estate Pinot Noir: The young Okanagan Falls winery helmed by  experienced cross-Canadian winemaker Alison Moyes produces no less than three Pinot Noir from mature vines in ideal terroir. Five different clones were blended to yield the workhorse version, the only one remaining in stock before release of the 2015 vintage. While small lots of the higher tier Reserve and “Equity” bottlings sold out in short order at least some of the Estate’s 910 cases remain for sale. In spite of what may seem to be an entry-level price point, the wine was one of six BC Pinots to garner Gold at the National Wine Awards last summer. Second only to one (of three) from neighbouring Meyer Family Vineyards, Liquidity’s offering was the best value amongst those top drops, accompanied by a slew of compliments from the judges, including optimism for its aging potential. VIWF BC Liquor Store $30

Van Westen 2015 “VD” Pinot Noir: Since 2011, Naramata’s Robert Van Westen has been producing a collaborative Pinot Noir with industry veteran Tom DiBello. The resulting wine, cheekily named VD, is released annually on Valentine’s Day, and the newest now gives me five vintages merrily aging away. In Rob’s bigger red portfolio the VD is an outlier next to a series of Bordeaux varietals and blends, and always shows up in the smallest numbers: just 86 cases were eventually bottled from the warm 2015 vintage. The bountiful conditions that year have resulted in a more fruit-forward wine than previous iterations, with fewer earthy notes in favour of generous ripe fruit and toasty spice. It remains on the fuller side of Pinots, dark and rich, for fans of a more intense style, but still retains floral aromatics to remind you of its provenance. Winery Direct $40

Foxtrot 2014 Foxtrot Vineyard Pinot Noir: After ten vintages the Allander family’s Burgundian icons have become a benchmark in BC, and the newest release launches their second decade from a position of great strength. John Schreiner’s recent update on the winery’s progress includes extensive coverage of Foxtrot’s growing international presence, and substantial vineyard expansion. The flagship wine in the growing portfolio is the Foxtrot Vineyard Pinot Noir, from the original estate plantings on the Naramata Bench. It should come as no surprise that Winemaker Gustav Allander has continued to work wonders with the exceptional fruit, providing for Schreiner’s easy 93-point score from an elegant and seductive wine that “is appealing to all the senses.” Apart from ordering case lots from the winery (where there is no tasting room), the bottles for sale at the Wine Festival were the best prices in town; lucky shoppers snapped up signed bottles with rapidity. VIWF BC Liquor Store $59

Culmina 2014 Merlot: After the Triggs family’s ambitious new project launched with the 2011 vintage Culmina tripled the red portfolio last year by introducing the first varietal wines to accompany the Hypothesis blend. The second varietal vintages were on hand at this year’s Wine Festival, including new Cabernet Franc, alongside existing Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The 2014 Merlot was the only one actually for sale, but still a lucky break as formal release (and final pricing) is not anticipated until June (to provide for a full year of bottle age). Little surprise it’s still young and tight, but the move towards less new oak as the winery ages is a great thing: last year’s 50% new French is now just 15%, letting the Golden Mile Bench fruit shine even brighter after 16 months in barrel. With anticipated aging of at least several years, I’m holding mine until the twenties. VIWF BC Liquor Store $36

Church & State 2013 Quintessential: The icon wine from Church & State has bounced around vintages lately, and 2010 is in fact the current release, with 2013 anticipated later this year (and 2011 and 2012 sold previously). Vintage variation leads the decision to bottle age as necessary, regardless of envisioned schedule. Finding the pre-release 2013 at the Wine Festival was a perk not to be missed: a taste poured by Marketing Manager John Pullen greatly impressed thanks to robust integration of the complex blend. The Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc came from three distinct south Okanagan vineyard benches (Golden Mile, Black Sage, and Osoyoos East), aged in one third new French oak before 475 cases were bottled. Fans will be glad to know that’s a heck of a lot more than the 100 cases of 2012 that took home a Lieutenant Governor’s Award in 2015. VIWF BC Liquor Store $56

Sandhill 2014 Soon Series Red: I was lucky enough to visit the beautiful, recently-renovated Kelowna tasting room of Sandhill during precisely the right time last July, and snagged the ultra-rare inaugural “Soon Series” wines. A step up from the already exclusive Small Lots series, the Soon Series pay homage to long-time Head Winemaker Howard Soon, whose signature prominently graces the crisp white label. Like last year, a mere 50 cases were made of the second vintage, and it was generously being sampled and sold at the Wine Festival; I was thrilled with the dark berries and chocolate flavours amongst very fine, ripe tannins. The unusual blend includes 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petit Verdot, 8% Malbec, and 5% Merlot, aged in new French and American oak for 22 months after co-fermentation. Currently available and in stock exclusively at the Kelowna tasting room, it doesn’t even appear on the Sandhill website! VIWF BC Liquor Store $69

Culmina 2013 Hypothesis: While the varietal reds at Culmina get a year of bottle age, the blended Hypothesis has at least two years time to contemplate its fate. That being said, Don Triggs didn’t miss the opportunity to submit his third vintage for review just after bottling in 2015, and even that young Hypothesis struck a chord. WineAlign’s top talent thrice provided 91+ point accolades as early as November 2015, praising the depth, balance, and elegance at present despite significant aging potential. Like the Merlot, oak treatment has changed as the winery has more used barrels with which to work: 70% new oak in the second vintage has stepped down to 60% in year three. Eschewing any additional varieties, the blend is a minimalist Bordeaux red, with 38% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Franc, and 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, harvested from the Golden Mile estate. With just a single bottle at hand, I hope to obtain more during the winery’s anticipated fall release later this year; my growing vertical is edging up in size! VIWF BC Liquor Store $44

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Collectibles: January 2017

Although maintaining budgetary restraint before the upcoming Vancouver International Wine Festival – and the acquisition opportunities it offers – is often necessary this month, a few collectibles must be mentioned. Upon review I was very pleased to have amassed a diverse range to launch the year, from Cowichan Valley Pinot Noir to Osoyoos Tannat. Any one of these exceptional wines would keep you warm in the crisp weather that remains in our midst, but could easily handle aging to even further greatness in the years ahead.

January 2017 BC wine collectibles

Carson 2014 Pinot Noir: When he isn’t delivering world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for the Meyer family in Okanagan Falls, Winemaker Chris Carson quietly releases small lots of his own-branded bottles. A mere 295 cases of Naramata Bench Pinot Noir came from a one and a half acre block in 2014, hand harvested and wild fermented before spending 11 months in (one third new) French oak. Carson makes no bones about the wine’s cellaring potential, listing an optimistic 15 years on the label, but he’s built up a lot of trust at Meyer that carries over to the personal brand he started in 2011. The Dijon 115 clone makes for what Anthony Gismondi feels is an “exuberant, fruity, spicy” wine even riper than the superb 2013 I was more than happy to acquire previously. Marquis Wine Cellars $40

Averill Creek 2014 Somenos Series Pinot Noir: It’s no secret Vancouver Island wines are a rarity in retail stores just a few kilometers across the Straight of Georgia. I get few opportunities to add the Island’s top wines to my collection, but jumped at the chance to piggyback on a friend’s case order for this extreme rarity. Already highly respected for his complex and finely crafted Pinot Noir, Proprietor Andy Johnston stepped up his game recently with the new premium-tier Somenos Series. The inaugural Pinot Noir is the Cowichan Valley’s bold, earthy, rich expression of the grape, and a wine Anthony Gismondi puts in contention for the Island’s best Pinot Noir yet. Keep your eyes peeled to see if any of the 300 cases make it over to the mainland. Winery Direct $44

Cassini 2013 Grand Reserve “Nobilus” Merlot: I stopped by Cassini Cellars’ convenient roadside Golden Mile winery late last year just as three new premium reds were released. Despite having closed the tasting room for the season proprietor Adrian Cassini generously took time away from several recently-arrived bins of (immaculate) grapes to ring in my enthusiastic purchase. The Merlot is his smallest lot of the batch, with only 187 cases produced after two years in new French oak, and was named best in class with a Double Gold at the 2016 All Canadian Wine Championships. John Schreiner focused on the new “high calibre” reds in his December review, finding the Merlot worthy of 92 points amid mention of its superb aging potential. Winery Direct $40

Cassini 2013 Collector’s Series Cabernet Franc: The new follow-up to last year’s Lieutenant Governor’s Award-winner has continued the tradition of excellence, taking home a Gold medal from the All Canadians last spring. It’s hard not to be taken in by Liam Carrier’s recent enthusiasm for the “stunningly beautiful” and utterly unique profile that evokes the coasts of California and Australia. Mention of the Cabernet Franc goes hand in hand with the equally superb 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (“The Aristocrat”), bought from the winery at the same time. Last May the 2012 vintage received 94 points and a Best in Class nod from the Los Angeles International Wine Competition; the 2013 is already equally highly regarded: 93 points from John Schreiner parallels Wine of the Year praise from the fans at IconWines. Winery Direct $34

Painted Rock 2014 Red Icon: Although 1,153 cases were ultimately produced of this top tier red from the Skaha Bench, it remains a preeminent collectible alongside other smaller lot rarities. Given the wine’s cachet it can often be just as hard to come by as much more limited bottles, resulting in an early release when the Painted Rock tasting room ran out of 2013! The (thoughtful) roller-coaster blend in Red Icon upped Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon this vintage, to combine 33% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 19% Malbec, 16% Petit Verdot, and (still only) 11% Cabernet Sauvignon. The established oak regime using just 30% new barrels should let the ripe 2014 fruit shine, even over the long haul (where the wine really excels). John Schreiner sought to “stay one step ahead of Decanter” (where Painted Rock’s wines are increasingly reviewed quite favourably) with a taste in September, complimenting the svelte polish with 94 points of praise. Winery Direct $55

Burrowing Owl 2013 Meritage: With the arrival of 2013, the days are numbered for 2007 in my cellar – the old must make way for the new, and a decade is long enough to slumber. Needing room for the newest vintage is great motivation for drinking up its well-aged ancestors. After at least fourteen vintages of Meritage this legendary Black Sage Bench winery is one of the few to retain the trademarked nomenclature for their flagship red. The name is technically accurate, given the blend of 39% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot, and 3% Malbec, so why fix what isn’t broken. The components spent a total of 21 months in barrel (18 separately before blending), ensconced within a complex mix of European and American oaks of various ages. Finding a few bottles at retail level is unusual, but Burrowing Owl seems to be loosening up their notoriously tight grip in favour of greater shelf presence these past couple years. Firefly Fine Wine & Ales $58

Moon Curser 2014 Dead of Night: Chris Tolley’s commitment to – and success with – Tannat has yielded one of BC’s most unusual and desirable wines. Although uncommon varieties are prevalent at the Tolley family’s Osoyoos winery this equal-parts blend of Syrah and Tannat is considered the icon, and well known for its rich intensity. In 2014 the terrific growing season was a boon to heat-loving reds: one of the Tannat lots – a blend of both estate vineyards – came in at nearly 28 brix! After what must have been an exciting fermentation, the components aged in French and Hungarian oak for one year, with just 25% of the barrels being new. Bottled last March at a generous 14.6% declared alcohol (and nearly 3g/L of sugar remaining) it should age wonderfully under screwcap despite the fine and soft tannins said to exist at present. I’m in no rush as the 2009 vintage stares me down from the wine fridge. Winery Direct $43