Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Naramata Bench Wineries' Simply Red Event

On September 22nd, Icon Wines had the privilege of attending the Naramata Bench Wineries Association's "Simply Red" event held at the fabulous Goldfish Pacific Kitchen in Vancouver, BC. Many fantastic producers were at the event and most had at least one new release to show off.

Located in the Yaletown area of downtown Vancouver, Goldfish Pacific Kitchen restaurant is a great venue for this short of industry event. The floor was opened up to allow easy access to the winery tables and the staff were very courteous to all in attendance. The food was first rate. A very well organized event that allowed the wines to take center stage.

Our palates were in heaven tasting the many new releases on hand but, unfortunately, they got tired before we could complete the full circuit and visit every winery table.

We visited:

Howling Bluff Estate Wines
Howling Bluff were unveiling their two new releases: 2007 Pinot Noir and the 2007 Sin Cera.

La Frenz Winery
Winemaker Jeff Martin was on hand to help pour all of the La Frenz current and new releases. New (and recent) releases include their 2006 Reserve, 2007 Shiraz and their 2007 Merlot.

Poplar Grove Winery
Icon Wines got to finally meet the winemaker/proprietor Ian Sutherland who was on hand to show off the release of their 2006 Merlot and Cabernet Franc as well as their new wine boxes for second lable Monster Vineyards products.

Van Westen Vineyards
Winemaker Robert Van Westen was pouring a two vintage vertical of his powerhouse Voluptuous (2005 & 2006).

Laughing Stock Vineyards
Proprietors Dave and Cynthia Enns were on hand to pour their soon to be released 2007 Portfolio and their second-lable red blend, 2007 Blind Trust Red . The Portfolio was presented in a three vintage vertical (2005, 2006 and 2007).

Kettle Valley Winery
KVW were pouring their complete line-up of current releases. Old Main Red was a stand-out.

Lake Breeze Vineyards
Lake Breeze were pouring their Seven Poplars Pinot Noir, Meritage and their signature red blend the 2006 tempest.

Black Widow Winery
Black Widow only make one red wine and this was on hand: their 2007 Hourglass which is a Merlot/Cab blend.

Look for full reviews of this fall's new releases from the Naramata Bench appellation to be posted soon on Icon Scores soon. - LC

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cellared in Canada

Much has been written recently about the "Cellared in Canada" issue, the unfortunate practice of a few Canadian wine producers importing bulk wine from other countries, bottling it in BC or Ontario and then passing the wine off to consumers as a local product with the complicit help of provincial liquor boards. We thought we would weigh in on the issue as well and help raise awareness in case there are any Canadian wine lovers or those that wanted to try Canadian wines who are not yet familiar with the practice.

The main issue, in our humble opinion, is the blatant deception at work. There is a place for budget import wines, but that place is not in the BC or Ontario wine sections of the liquor stores. We have been known to open a bottle of the easy drinking and affordable Copper Moon Cabernet Sauvignon for example, but we knew what we were opening. We fear that many people do not understand the difference, as all consumers are not complete wine geeks like we are at Icon Wines and read every word of the back label. These wines should be placed in a separate section and referred to as "Bulk Wine" or "Value Wine" as to not mislead the average wine consumer into thinking they are getting a Canadian grown and produced wine.

Even Wikipedia now has an entry on the subject ( which is curiously dated June, 2009 despite the fact that this practice has been going on for years. It is only recently, in the past three months or so, that the issue has gotten widespread attention and we believe this is, in part, due to the growing reputation of quality that BC and Ontario wines are attracting both at home and abroad. This could be the silver lining in the whole debacle. Canadians now care enough about their native wine industry that they don't want this reputation sullied by these impostors and are spreading the word on "Cellared in Canada". We don't think this public outcry would have taken place 5 years ago.

The logo from the "Boycott Cellared in Canada wines" Facebook page.

Tracking the issue online, articles on the subject started appearing early in the year, but it seems to have taken a couple foreign personalities to get the home front truly riled up. (Both internationally renowned Janice Robinson and the pro-business magazine "The Economist" have chimed in on the debate.) That's not meant as a criticism; it's very Canadian. Our own wine blog has been mum on the issue until now.

Icon Wines strives for independence and are not big on boycotts, but hitting companies (the large wine producers and the monopolistic liquor boards) where it hurts most, on the bottom line, seems the best way to get the seriousness of the issue across. The most disturbing part of this issue is that the large wine producers are basically saying "we don't care about our international reputation as long as we can make some money". I realize that these are businesses but can Canada afford to have their reputation tarnished when the industry is so young? Therefore, the partners of Icon Wines will pledge not to purchase any "Cellared in Canada" wines until these wines are mandated to be removed from the Canadian section in all liquor stores. We will research and name the guilty brands to avoid, but here's a hint: if you are considering a bottle of "Canadian" wine that is under $10, stop and read the back label. Chances are you will see "Cellared in Canada" in the fine print. - IW

Further reading on the subject:

The Vancouver Sun's Gord Hamilton article:
Janice Robinson's blog:
Uncorked Ontario blog:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Weekend in Woodinville - Part 3 of 3

Words and Photos by Liam Carrier
Edited by Sheila MacCallum

Novelty Hill/Januik

The first boutique winery on our itinerary was the joint venture Novelty Hill/Januik. The two firms share the same winemaker, Mike Januik, who was head winemaker at Chateau Ste-Michelle for ten years prior to leaving in 1999. The partnership is handy for a winemaker who, as a result, can increase his resources and production while showcasing his own label. The two wine lists are heavy with Washington State’s signature grape, Cabernet Sauvignon. Both lists offer single-vineyard terroir-driven wines, as well as blends and entry-level labels. The distinction between the two independent wineries, who share a production facility and tasting room, is in how they source their grapes. Januik wines are made from grapes sourced from select Columbia Valley vineyards; Novelty Hill relies primarily on grapes grown on its estate vineyard, Stillwater Creek.

By this point in the day, my wife was done with wine tasting. However, she found something else at the winery to satisfy her taste buds, something more precious and appealing to her palate than wine: pizza. On the day we visited the tasting room, the winery was offering stone-oven baked pizza as a lunch specialty. She enjoyed most of the pepperoni pizza, while I tasted wine for a $10 fee:

Novelty Hill 2005 Merlot – Columbia Valley. - $22
92% Merlot; 6% Cabernet Sauvignon; 2% Petit Verdot. 87pts.

Novelty Hill 2006 Sangiovese – Stillwater Creek Vineyard. - $25
95% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Paired nicely with our pizza. 86pts.
Januik 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon – Champoux Vineyard. - $50
Wine Advocate rated the '05, '04, ’03, ’02 and ’01 vintages 93 pts, 93 pts, 94 pts, 91 ptsand 95 pts, respectively. 92pts.

Januik 2006 Reserve Red. - $65
90% Cabernet Sauvignon; 7% Cabernet Franc; 3% Malbec; 2% Merlot. Wellstructured and balanced. This wine should age nicely with its high tannins and acidity. 93pts.

Brian Carter Cellars

We finished our Woodinville wine-tasting adventure at the smallest of the day’s wineries: Brian Carter Cellars. This was a wonderful way to end the day, as BCC strive for quality over quantity, making nothing but blends - thisadds uniqueness to the tasting experience compared to a standard winery that would offer both blends and varietal-specific wines. Many of the blends mimic famous regional specialties, but the flavours are pure Washington.

BCC uses grapes sourced from a number of different vineyards in Eastern Washington and creates a number of familiar blends: Bordeaux, white Rhone Valley, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Super-Tuscan. When we visited they were tasting four wines, but, sadly, not their flagship Bordeaux blend “Solesce”, whose current release is from the 2005 vintage and retails for $58.00.

At BCC I tasted:

2006 Oriana - $24
This is the winery’s take on a Rhone Valley white blend of 45% Viognier and 35% Roussanne with 20% Riesling added to aid the acidity and aromatic notes. This is a lovely wine full of apple blossoms, apricots and tangerines; would pair nicely with spicy seafood. 89pts.

2006 Tuttorosso - $30
69% Sangiovese, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Syrah. Floral and berry notes, medium-bodied pleaser with a spicy finish. Pair with pizza or tomato-sauce pasta. 90pts.

2005 Byzance - $30
This is BBC’s take on a Chateauneuf-du-Pape blend of 57% Grenache, 22% Syrah, and 21% Mourvedre. Lots of spicy notes with a good balance of tannins and acidity. A satisfying long finish. 90pts.

2005 L’Etalon - $30
A Bordeaux-style blend of 55% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 7% Malbec. Layers of dark fruits, chocolate, leather, licorice with balanced tannins and acidity. This wine should age nicely for many years. Pair with your favourite cut of red meat when you pull it out of the cellar. 91pts.

In Conclusion

The Seattle/Woodinville wine region has a wide variety of wines and wineries to offer the consumer. It is a unique wine tasting experience for any enthusiast used to visiting Estate Wineries (like those from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia). Other wine regions could learn from this “bring not only the wine but the winery experience to the people” mentality. However, not all Washington producers follow this model, including some of the top Estate Wineries.

I very much look forward to my next trip to the Woodinville wine region as I only scratched the surface this time. There are many top producers that I have yet to visit, and many of the best wines that I have yet to taste – what a happy thought! I do have more anniversaries, both traditional and made-up, to celebrate in the years to come.

With the alcohol limit of 1.5 liters per person (with a 48-hour or longer visit to the U.S.A.) we were limited to bringing two bottles each home to Vancouver, BC. Having tried lots of great wine at the wineries we visited, I would have loved to have come back with a case or more, especially of the Brian Carter beauties. However, not wanting to break any laws, we stuck to the legal limit. Here’s what we bought for the cellar:

· One bottle of the fantastic and well-priced L’Etalon from Brian Carter Cellars, purchased direct, at the winery, so my tasting fee would be waved.
· One bottle of the spice-fest Byzance for $24.99, purchased at the Burlington Costco at a savings of $5 from the winery price.
· Two bottles of the 95-point scoring Flora Springs 2005 Trilogy for $39.99 each - also purchased at Costco.

Full-disclosure: the bottles of Flora Springs have nothing to do with the wineries in this article. They were simply too good a deal to pass up. Having visited Napa Valley’s Flora Springs earlier in the year and not being able to secure this fantastic wine, I was eager to add the bottles of Trilogy to my collection. Hopefully, this purchase will be a success story for The Cellar Experiment. - LC

Below are links to all of the wineries I visited on this trip:

Weekend in Woodinville - Part 2 of 3

Words and Photos by Liam Carrier
Edited by Sheila MacCallum

Chateau Ste-Michelle

The first winery on the tour was the iconic Chateau Ste-Michelle, Washington State’s oldest winery. We visited their appealing Chateau and took the free tour of the on-site facility that produces the winery’s white wines. (The red wines are made closer to where the grapes are grown in Eastern Washington, at their Canoe Ridge Estate.)

Navigating the selection of brands that Chateau Ste-Michelle produces can be a bit daunting. They make everything from entry-level whites and reds to single-vineyard terroir-driven wines. They also have a couple of interesting partnerships with two formidable European houses: Germany’s Dr. Loosen (the “Eroica” Riesling) and Italy’s Familia Antinori (the “Col Solera” super-Tuscan).

We tasted three wines as part of the tour. Sadly, they were not pouring the two partnership wines; Col Solera and Eroica.

Sadly, they were not pouring the Col Solera or the Eroica, but we did taste three wines as part of our tour:

2007 Indian Wells Chardonnay – Oak-aged Chard with tropical fruit flavours.
2003 Columbia Valley Syrah – Muted fruit flavours with Viognier and Cincault added to the final blend.
2007 Columbia Valley Muscat Canelli. Semi-sweet sipper with nectarine/apricot flavors.

I didn’t have enough time to fully score and review these wines, but I will say that the Muscat and Chardonnay impressed us (as did the friendly guide who took us on the tour, despite his excessive use of the word “especially”). However, the Syrah was bland and disappointing, an example of a unfortunate trend at some wineries to refer to their muted-palate Shiraz as “in the French style” and label it a “Syrah”, ignoring the fact that with a syrah, you still need to deliver a complexity of flavours.

Chateau Ste-Michelle has a great patio area near the entrance to the wine shop which gets lots of sun on a good day. They also have lovely picnic spots around the property, should you plan ahead and bring your own food. Looking at the hot, sunny patio we decided to buy a bottle of the 2007 Viognier and sit down to enjoy it in the sunshine.

The Chateau Ste-Michelle 2007 Viognier ($17) is a happy little wine out to please. It has crisp tropical flavours with just a touch of spice and residual acid. 25% is barrel fermented, adding a bit of gold to the colour and melon to the palate. An enjoyable summer sipper. Pair with seafood or a hot patio. 85pts.

Columbia Winery

We re-corked the Viognier from Chateau Ste-Michelle after consuming half of the bottle, to save our senses for the rest of the wines we would taste that day. We didn’t have far to go. Across the street from the Chateau Ste-Michelle gate is the entrance to Columbia Winery, which is currently undergoing renovations to revamp its tasting room and event facilities.
Columbia Winery sources their grapes from numerous vineyards east of the Cascade Mountains and like, Chateau Ste-Michelle, produces an array of brands ranging from their entry-level “Core Series” to their “Vineyard-Designate” wines from the Red Willow, Otis and Wyckoff vineyards.

At Columbia we tasted:

Yakima Valley 2007 Viognier - $26.00
Slight oaky and tropical fruit flavours with some spice and mineral notes. Tasty, but over-priced. 86pts.

Wyckoff Vineyard 2005 Chardonnay - $20.00
Lightly oaked Chard with apple, citrus and mineral flavours. 84pts.

Otis Vineyard 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon - $28.00
95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot blend. Medium garnet colour. Cassis and cherry notes with good tannins and acidity. Restrained flavours and subtle layers. Still developing. 88pts.

Red Willow Vineyard 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon - $30.00
95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec blend. Dark garnet core with vanilla, berry and pencil shaving notes. Full tannins and acidity. Shows good promise with more time to mellow. 90pts.

Red Willow Vineyard 2002 Syrah - $30.00
3% Viognier. Nicely matured Syrah ready to drink now. Pepper and smoke flavours with a lengthy finish. 88pts.

Tasting the Red Willow Cabernet Sauvignon side-by-side with the Otis Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is an exercise in the difference terroir makes on any grape variety. Both vineyards have old plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, both have steep southern slopes and sandy soils; however, the Otis vineyards yield wines that are more challenging and best enjoyed with food, whereas the Red Willow product is more accessible, with bold flavours that can be enjoyed solo. Discover for yourself which single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon you love best and experiment freely. There are many examples in Washington to choose from. - LC

In Part 3 we visit:

Novelty Hill/Januik
Brian Carter Cellars

Weekend in Woodinville - Part 1 of 3

Written by Liam Carrier
Edited by Sheila MacCallum

A Weekend Away

To celebrate the only-important-to-newlyweds milestone of six-months of marriage, my wife and I went on a weekend trip in June 09’. We weren’t celebrating six months because we thought it unlikely that we would make it that far, but rather because the date landed on a Friday and it gave us a nice excuse to plan a weekend away, something we rarely do. Also, due to a fantastic engagement party that my mother had organized to which everyone had brought a bottle of wine for us to consume when special conditions have been met, we had a nice bottle of champagne to be opened on the occasion of our six-month anniversary. Why not plan a trip around that?

And so we found ourselves at Tulalip Casino & Resort, in Washington State, about two hours south down the I-5 from Vancouver, BC or roughly thirty minutes north from Seattle. This resort caters to gamblers and shoppers with a 200,000 sq. ft. casino floor and adjacent outlet mall. Not big gamblers, I was eager to use the hotel primarily as a staging area for my assault on Washington State wineries, and my wife was eager to shop.

My goal for the trip was to visit two large wineries (Chateau Ste-Michelle and Columbia Winery) and two smaller boutique wineries (Novelty Hill/Januik and Brian Carter Cellars). (I would have loved to visit more wineries, but I had made a compromise with my wife: equal time for shopping and wineries.)

However, every trip to the US demands a visit to Costco, the world’s single largest wine buyer. Driving down from Vancouver on the Friday afternoon we had made said obligatory stop to the Costco near Burlington, WA. Prior to the trip I had done my research to choose which WA wineries we would visit on the Saturday, and I wanted to see if Costco carried any of their wines. I wasn’t disappointed.

The Burlington Costco carries two of these wineries including three of their signature wines:

Chateau Ste-Michelle 2005 Col Solare - $54.99 US
Chateau Ste-Michelle 2007 Eroica Riesling - $19.99 US
Brian Carter Cellars 2005 Byzance - $24.99 US.

Instead of purchasing the above wines on reputation alone, we decided to purchase a couple bottles that we were more familiar with for our evening consumption. These were:

Francis Ford Coppola 2006 Black Label Claret – $14.99 US. This claret is a beautiful Bordeaux blend, rich in colour and aroma. Strong tannins do not distract from the taste but do shorten the finish slightly. 89pts.

Edge 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon - $15.99 US. Edge is Signorello Vineyard’s entry-level Cabernet Sauvignon and a big seller north of the border. This is a Napa Valley Cab Sauvignon charmer. 89pts.

Both of these wines retail around the $30 mark in Canada - how lucky the Americans are to drink such good wines at the $14-$17 price point!

When we arrived on the Friday night we also enjoyed our bottle of champagne, Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve, to celebrate our “anniversary”. This was fabulous champagne, full of citrus and melon aromas with comforting yeast notes. Crisp lemon zest and mineral flavours with a pleasing long finish. 91pts. -LC

In Part 2 we visit:

Chateau Ste-Michelle
Columbia Winery

Sunday, September 13, 2009

2006 Bordeaux Tasting, Vancouver, BC

On September 13th, 2009 IconWines principles LC & HC participated in a tasting of select 2006 Bordeaux wines. The event was held at Marquis Wine Cellars in downtown Vancouver and timed to coincide with the store's first release of this above-average vintage to the public; a full three weeks prior to the government liquor board's release scheduled for Saturday, October 3rd.

Purchasing Bordeaux wines from a private store like Marquis helps to ensure the consumer can get a hold of the wines they most want as many of the top labels will sell-out quickly. However, this convenience does come at a cost as the prices are 15%-20% higher than the posted prices for the government liquor store's Bordeaux release.

The 2006 vintage is certainly above-average, but as it follows the much lauded 2005 juggernaut, it arrives with much less fanfare and lower expectations. This is reflected in the prices to a degree, however, will it be enough to get us all to buy? Reports and reviews from experts help us form an opinion and our own expectations but getting a chance to taste for yourself is invaluable.

We tasted (in order of lightest to heaviest):

Chateau La Tour Carnet, Haut-Medoc
Chateau Cantemerle, Haut-Medoc
Clos de l'Oratoire, St. Emilion
Clos du Marquis, St. Julien
Chateau Clinet, Pomerol
Chateau Lascombes, Margaux
Chateau Clerc Milon, Pauillac
Chateau Pichon-Baron, Pauillac
Chateau Montrose, St. Estephe
Chateau Pape Clement, Pessac
Chateau Coutet, Barsac
Chateau Rieussec, Sauternes

Overall the vintage shows good promise with good acidity and tannin structure which will age well. (Full tasting notes will be available on Icon Scores shortly.) One of the wines that we had great expectations for but were a bit underwhelmed with upon tasting was Chateau Montrose. This wine had been highly scored by the Wine Advocate at 95 points. Both HC and myself found the flavours a little too subtle. A quality wine nevertheless, but perhaps not the star of the vintage that we had hoped. A valuable lesson that the advice of others (including ours) must be considered for what it is, an opinion.

Let us know what you think of the 2006 Bordeaux vintage by contacting us at We hope to hear your opinions on the subject.

Happy tasting,


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cowichan Valley - Part 3

Words and Photos by Liam Carrier
Edited by Sheila MacCallum

Godfrey-Brownell Vineyards
We concluded our wine-tasting excursion with a visit to Godfrey-Brownell Vineyards. Access to the winery is via a long dirt road that weaves first through a wooded area and then through the rustic estate vineyards. “Rustic” is my attempt at a non-judgmental description of Godfrey-Brownell’s philosophy of vineyard management which includes “multiculturalism for plants and fauna.” Broom and Alder trees are allowed to grow randomly in both the estate vineyards and their offsite vineyard named Basking Turtle (below the Averill Creek vineyards on Mt Prevost). The winery is experimenting with herb cover crops to fight powdery mildew at both vineyards. They are somewhere between a fully biodynamic winery and an organic farm, growing crops which have a self-imposed limit of 4800 cases per year.

Pouring for us was one of the many exchange student/traveler/workers who run the tasting porch – an outdoor area adjacent to the main winery building. The setting is pastoral and earthy. I enjoy open-air tastings very much, but I wonder what they do on rainy days? Live jazz accompanied our tasting which was a treat for the senses.

At Godfrey-Brownell we tasted:

2006 Bacchus - $18A light, crisp wine with apple and citrus flavours. Medium acidity. 82pts.

2005 Chardonnay - $18A maloactic fermented, oak-aged Chard with full-bodied flavours of melon and butter. Lacking residual acidity and layers. 83pts.

2004 William Maltman’s Double Red - $22A blend of Marechal Foch and Gamay Noir, this wine has a dark garnet colour and dark fruit nose. Full-bodied on the palate. 87pts.

2003 Reserve Pinot Noir - $30A light-garnet coloured Pinot aged in older French oak. Soft intensity on the nose with a palate of soft tannins and a medium finish. 84pts.

2003 Reserve Merlot - $40Made from south Okanagan grapes. Intense on the nose. Nicely matured dark yet transparent ruby wine that has smooth tannins and an inviting full-bodied palate. 89pts.

2002 Reserve Foch - $40This is very smooth wine that shows its age. Roasted marshmallow on the nose, dark-ruby colour, full-bodied with a long finish. A unique and quality wine coming into its peak, but over-priced. 90pts.

Cowichan Valley - In Conclusion
There are many more wineries to visit and many more wines to try in the Valley and in other Vancouver Island appellations; this was but a small taste of what is on offer. I hope this article helps illustrate the diversity of the product and producers available on Vancouver Island to the BC wine enthusiast. I look forward to furthering my own exposure to this unique region and broadening my knowledge of these wines.

If you have any recommendations for Vancouver Island and Gulf Island wineries to visit and wines to try, please send them my way:

Cowichan Valley - Part 2

Words and Photos by Liam Carrier
Edited by Sheila MacCallum

Twenty-Two Oaks Winery
The second stop of the day was Twenty-two Oaks Winery, the valley’s newest firm. Pinot Noir, Marechal Foch, Cabernet Franc and Tempranillo vines were planted in 2007 but have yet to produce a first vintage. The winery recently opened their tasting room, pouring wines that were produced for them by Summerland’s Adora Estate Winery: a Pinot Gris and two red blends: a Syrah-Merlot-Gamay and a Syrah-Foch.

I didn’t take the time to properly review or score these wines as they are not representative of what the winery will produce in the years to come. Of the current wines for sale, the Syrah-Foch blend is worth a try but at $22 is a bit over-priced. I look forward to tasting their first vintage, which may not be available until Spring 2011 – especially Vancouver Island’s first Tempranillo.

Zanatta Winery and Vineyards

The next stop was to the island’s oldest winery and vinfera plantings; Zanatta Winery and Vineyards who offer a flight of both sparkling and table wines. Named for the now-deceased family patriarch, the winemaking is currently headed by daughter, Loretta Zanatta, who specializes in Champagne-style sparkling wines. Sadly, the tasting was limited to the current still wines on offer which was disappointing. I would have happily paid for a taste of their flagship sparklers. Unfortunately, I was left with tasting a flight of table wines that overall seemed as though they were produced as an afterthought.

At Zanatta we tasted:

2008 Ortega - $15.95Produced yearly from 1989 and commercially available since the winery opened in 1992. A decent dry white with some layers of fruit flavours. 82pts.

2008 Pinot Grigio - $17.95A stainless-steel fermented bland Pinot lacking acidity and complexity. 80pts.

N/V Damasco - $15.95This is a non-vintage blend of four varieties that has an intense floral-perfume nose but falls flat on the palate with muted acidity and tropical fruit flavours. 80pts

2007 Pinot Nero - $21.95This was the best of the bunch and would make a nice accompaniment to roasted duck in a fruit-based sauce. Decent acidity and berry flavours, medium tannins and finish. 84pts

I was left feeling disappointed and annoyed that the winery wouldn’t show off what some of the locals had raved about: their sparkling wines – even for a fee. On a positive note, the restaurant/wine bar attached to the winery looks interesting and inviting. Should I have more time upon my next visit I will give it a try. All wine can be improved by a judicious pairing with food.

In part 3: Godfrey-Brownell Vineyards...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Cowichan Valley - Part 1

Words and Photos by Liam Carrier
Edited by Sheila MacCallum

Cowichan Valley

Vancouver Island, off the west coast of British Columbia, is home to a number of wine sub-appellations. Cowichan Valley is the most widely planted and was the focus of a recent trip to the Island in September, 2009 to visit family. Access to the Island is limited to flying (expensive) or via the provincial-run ferry system from the mainland where you can either take your car or purchase a walk-on fare. Transit options to the wine regions are limited if you don’t have your own car or a tall uncle waiting for you on the other side as I did.

Knowing that we would have only a few hours free for wine tasting (this was primarily a family trip and not a business trip) I took full advantage of the two-hour crossing time on the ferry to research the wineries I wanted to visit. The list contained the largest, the newest, the oldest and the most “granola” of the Vancouver Island wineries.

Averill Creek Vineyard

The first stop of our short tour was Averill Creek Vineyard, home to the Island’s largest estate planting of vinifera. Positioned on south-facing slopes at the base of Mt Prevost, the winery boasts 30+ acres of vines: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Gewürztraminer, Marechal Foch, and an early ripening Foch-Cabernet hybrid.

Proprietor Andy Johnston, a former private-practice MD from Edmonton, was on hand to conduct the pour in their modern tasting room with stunning views to Saanich Inlet. Based on his sincerity, professionalism and friendly demeanor, he was likely an MD with a long waiting list. Meeting him I was reminded of the Richard Attenborough character from Jurassic Park with his white hair and beard, who “spared no expense” to bring his dream to fruition. Of course, Andy is neither delusional, nor fictional but his dream of operating a world-class winery has benefited from a similar do-it-right attitude.

At Averill Creek we tasted:

2008 Somenos Rose - $17
A blend of Marechal Foch, Pinot Noir and Merlot, cold fermented. This wine has a nice balance of acidity to fruit flavours that would make for a lovely summer patio sipper. I wish I had discovered this Rosé earlier in the year. 87pts

2008 Pinot Grigio - $18
Fermented in stainless steel, this wine, along with its Pinot Gris cousin, shows the skills of the Averill Creek team in handling the white varieties. This is a gold-medal winner that showcases the fruit and mineral flavours a quality Pinot Gris can offer. 90pts.

2007 Pinot Gris - $23
This is a barrel-fermented cousin of the Grigio (from the same grapes) that has gone through a full maloactic fermentation which infuses butter and cream fruit flavours. Despite this calming of the acid application, the wine possesses enough residual acidity to balance the oak and fruit flavours, resulting in a special wine. A future gold-medal winner. 91pts.

2007 Pinot Noir - $28
Johnston next poured his 2007 Pinot Noir, taking out proper Burgundy glasses for the tasting. I could tell this varietal was a labour of love for him and the Averill Creek product does show great promise. The winery uses the Stelvin enclosures on all its wines which ensures freshness and limits post-production flaws. It also slows the aging of a wine to a crawl and you can taste that with this Pinot Noir - it is very young. Given time this Pinot will open up and deliver. 87pts.

2007 Prevost - $22
This is Averill Creek’s sly take on a Bordeaux-style blend using Marechal Foch, Merlot and a Foch-Cabernet Sauvignon hybrid. The Prevost has many of the characteristics of a new-world Meritage blend: dark-ruby colour, big berry and oak flavours. 85pts

2008 Cowichan Black - $18
The tasting was capped with a quality fruit desert wine made of 100% Vancouver Island-grown blackberries. Semi-sweet with a slight acidic finish and only 16% alcohol makes this a great pairing for vanilla ice-cream or enjoy on its own. 86pts

Averill Creek Vineyard is a winery to watch. They have all the right ingredients to produce quality wines: a modern gravity-flow winery, up to date techniques and a superior terroir. They also have something less tangible – a desire to be a world-class outfit. That’s nice to see. Look for Averill Creek in the coming vintages, you won’t be disappointed. -LC

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

2009 Ahmic Lake Pinot Noir Showdown - Part II

The Results:

The showdown was a success. All judges took the tasting somewhat seriously and no one claimed to know exactly what they were doing which made it fun as we were able to learn together and find commonalities and differences in personal experiences. It was also good that the judges did not agree on everything and peoples preferences really guided the rating.

Wine 1: Accumulated score was 34 out of 50.

Judge 1: Distinct. Nose was caramel and subtle. Palate was dry with a smooth mouth feel. The finish had tight tannins and long. 8.5 out of 10.

Judge 2: Nose was subtle and distinct. Palate was very light and dry. The finish was spicy, peppery, and long. 7.5 out of 10.

Judge 3: Nose was pleasant. Palate was dry and light. Finish was excellent. 8 out of 10.

Judge 4: Nose was cherry. Palate was oak, with smoky tobacco. The finish was dull and dry. 5 out of 10.

Judge 5: No comments. 5 out of 10.

Wine 2: Accumulated score was 41.5 out of 50.

Judge 1: Nose was chocolate, smoke, and strawberries. Palate was silky berries. The finish was tangy and long. 8.5 out of 10.

Judge 2: The nose was berries. The palate was fruity. The finish light and long. 9 out of 10.

Judge 3: The nose was sweet. The palate was fruity. The finish was sweet, tangy and long. 7 out of 10.

Judge 4: The nose was chocolate and strawberries. The palate was sweet and fruity. The finish was warm. 8 out of 10.

Judge 5: No comments. 9 out of 10.

Wine 3: Accumulated score was 41 out of 50.

Judge 1: The nose was fruit forward and floral. The palate was smooth berries. The finish was spice pepper and short. 9 out of 10.

Judge 2: Very good. The nose was very berry. The finish was smooth. 9 out of 10.

Judge 3: The nose was tangy. The finish was greasy?? 6 out of 10.

Judge 4: The nose was floral. The palate was smooth and fresh. The finish 8 out of 10.

Judge 5: No comments. 9 out of 10.

So in the end wine number two was had the highest accumulated score and is the preferred Pinot Noir out of the three, however wine 3 was an extremely close second.

The Winner:

Drum roll please. The people's preferred Ontario Pinot Noir out of the three tasted is the 2007 Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve. This wine scored well from all. It was the cheapest of the three tasted and has the highest production, however it is hard to get outside of Ontario (i.e I have never seen any of Le Clos Jordanne in BC). The most interesting thing is that the Village Reserve is the entry level Pinot of a flight of four. I can't imagine what Le Grand Clos is like. If the entry level is this good watch out for the others.

The runner-up for the Pinot Noir Showdown is the 2007 Tawse Pinot Noir. Personally I thought this was the best of the bunch, and except for one judge who scored it low, this would have been the preferred wine.

Last but certainly not least is the Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir. This was by far the most distinct of the three tasted and I think had a little more complexity than the others. It was not as fruit forward as the other two. An interesting note is that Pascal Marchand who helped consulted for Le Clos Jordanne was hired by Tawse for their Pinot's and this was evident looking back especially in the taste.

Conclusions and Insight

This experiment was an interesting test to find the people's preferred Ontario Pinot Noir out of three in relatively the same price range from similar appellations. For the most part the variables that could bias the results were accounted for and the results are fairly reliable. After completing the experiment there were a few things that I learned that were insightful that should be considered for similar showdowns in the future:

1) More judges would definitely add to the reliability of the results. The more people judging will lessen the impact of one or two outlier scores that might have skewed the results.

2) A better mix of judges. Although there was a reasonable cross section I think an equal number of educated wines drinkers compared to average drinkers would be beneficial and give a more representative indication of how the wine performs.

3) Average wine drinkers like tastes they can easily identify. The fruit forward wines tended to score better than the subtle and distinct one. This does not necessarily mean that the distinct wine is better however the wines that were fruitier were more liked by the judges.

In conclusion all the wines tasted in the showdown were excellent, however the Le Clos Jordanne came out on top. Overall this was a great experience to get insight into what people prefer and how to improve on future experiments. The 2009 Ahmic Lake Pinot Noir Showdown was a great success in market research and fun!! HC