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

Sunday 19 February 2017

Home Country Celebration at VanWineFest

At the close of last year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival the traditional theme revelation for the coming year took many by surprise, with the exciting news that home country Canada would be in focus for 2017. The opportunity to coincide and connect the long-running Festival’s 39th year with the nationwide Canada150 celebrations wasn’t one to be missed, and the advocates and organizers pushed hard to make it happen. After waiting all year long and seeing the build-up and announcements as more wineries and events were added I’m beyond pleased the big, busy week has finally taken place! Humbled with generous media credentials, and armed with a Gold Pass for good measure, I devoted the past week to everything Canada has to offer the oenophile, from sea to shining sea.

Balcony view over the Wines of Canada Party at The Permanent

Particular anticipation for the grand Festival Tasting Room was obviously present in spades, given the presence of 76 Canadian producers and their principals, alongside the friendly competition found in over one hundred additional international wineries. Before and between the big trade and consumer tastings Thursday to Saturday there were dozens of parties, dinners, and educational seminars as well, with precious little time to attend even a handful. I myself managed to sneak in a few visits to other events in between my time in the Tasting Room, starting with the Wines of Canada Party on Wednesday night. “The Permanent” a restored heritage hall in downtown Vancouver, hosted 31 Canadian wineries to kick off the Festival, and offered a diverse collection of national foods (including mouth-watering Lobster Profiteroles, Sweet Cheese Beignets, and PEI Potato Tart Pizzette). Nova Scotian bubbly champion L’Acadie Vineyards joined several Ontario wineries and many of my personal BC favourites to pour a number of samples not to be found in the Tasting Room.

Exclusive to Wednesday evening’s festivities were several sparkling rarities such as 8th Generation’s “Confidence” Frizzante Rosé, generously aged 2009 “Zephyr” Brut from Lake Breeze, renowned traditional method “The One” from Noble Ridge, and Sperling’s beautiful 2010 Sparkling Brut – a memorable highlight of the night for me. Just some of the other treats for this special crowd included sold out 2015 Rosés from 50th ParallelBench 1775 (the rare “Glow” Malbec), Hester Creek, and Vancouver Island’s Unsworth Vineyards, plus newly bottled 2016 from Evolve Cellars. Hester Creek was also showing off their never-to-be-missed Trebbiano, and Moon Curser’s Arneis made for another Canadian curiosity; meanwhile ripe Viognier from Red Rooster and delicate Ehrenfelser from Summerhill offered more reasons pay attention. Only several reds were on hand, and I couldn’t resist a sip from Howling Bluff’s legendary Pinot Noir and the ravishing Road 13 Syrah Malbec, despite both wines returning to the Tasting Room in the days to come.

A small glimpse at the Canada 150 lunch menu before it was snapped up

Before the Thursday opening of the Tasting Room to members of the public, a small Festival Toast reception was held in private, serving additional wines from selected participating wineries. I was lucky enough to be present, where the talented Vancouver Convention Centre culinary team provided an extensive menu to fortify guests for the evening ahead. Delicious morsels to pair with a dozen-plus wines included Alberta Beef Tataki, Maple-seared Sockeye Salmon, Weathervane Scallop Ceviche, and Baked Oysters Rockefeller. Closson Chase and Devonian Coast Wineries charmed with Ontario Chardonnay & Pinot Noir, plus refreshing Nova Scotian sparkling; and a half-dozen BC wineries shared a few bonus bottles as well. Among those local exclusives were Private Reserve Pinot Noir and the exciting Old Vines Auxerrois of Gehringer Brothers, as well as Viognier and Merlot from Golden Mile neighbours Gold Hill. Liquidity, Tightrope, and TIME shared the top selections from their Tasting Room tables, and Tinhorn Creek brought out the ever-reliable Oldfield Series Merlot to supplement the full slate of Oldfield (Reserve) wines to be found inside.

Jak Meyer pours his celebrated Okanagan Falls Chardonnay & Pinot Noir at the Canada 150 Luncheon

Three days of extensive exploration in the Festival Tasting Room guaranteed enjoyment of hundreds of BC and Canadian wines, not to mention the stellar international contingent. Commentary on the great many standouts from our local producers is coming soon; it was exciting to see how many wineries pulled out all the stops for this very special year. For a prized opportunity to delve into food pairing the on-site Saturday luncheon celebrated all things Canadian in great style. In the Convention Centre’s beautiful upstairs promenade, overlooking the harbour and North Shore mountains, the stellar coast-to-coast grazing menu complimented another couple hundred wines from all 76 Canadian wineries in attendance. Beyond the convenience of going straight into the afternoon Tasting Room session to follow, the theme region Saturday lunch is a hugely valuable event, with near-endless, mouth-watering food all crafted with the wines in mind.

Other countries may have their legendary foods but the variety of historical flavours and styles in Canada is a cuisine unto itself, and it was all on display for the lucky attendees. It was honestly challenging to try it all, with the seafood alone including Wild Prawns, PEI Mussel and Clam Chowder, Nova-Scotia fried Oysters, West Coast King Crab & Halibut Cheek Cakes, and Maple-seared Sockeye Salmon (with Wasabi lime foam no less). If that wasn’t enough, and a hearty red wine one had in hand, St-Albert Cheddar & Leek Quiche led into Oven-roasted Ratatouille, then Bison Tataki, Coffee BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders, Alberta Beef Short Rib & Poplar Grove Tiger Blue Polenta, and Ivanhoe Aged Cheddar Gratin Potatoes. Of course one also couldn’t miss the Butternut Squash Agnolotti & Lac Brome Duck Confit, nor the Canadian Prosciutto-wrapped asparagus with White Truffle oil. A Canadian culinary celebration wouldn’t be complete without our much-loved regional desserts, and the kitchen didn’t miss a chance to provide Nanaimo Bars, Maple Sugar Tarts, classic Blueberry Grunt, and groan-inducing Apple Pie Ice Cream Shots. The best part was that no matter what you piled on your plate, there was a Canadian wine to match and enhance the food, a reminder (or enlightenment for some) of the great breadth and depth available here at home.