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!