Sunday, April 18, 2010

Joie! Spring is Here

JoieFarm Releases Their 2009 Vintage Wines For Spring

When chef and sommelier Heidi Noble met sommelier Michael Dinn I don't know if it was love at first sight, that's a tale for the couple's future grandchildren, but I will venture a guess that the courtship's catalyst was wine and perhaps, specifically, a mutual love of Alsatian wine.

The wines of Alsace are certainly chief among the inspirations for the business (Dinn) and winemaking (Noble) tandem behind the Naramata Bench producer. However, the end product is pure Okanagan. Noble, along with assistant winemaker Robert Thielick, have crafted a solid line-up of wines that range from the everyday delight of their Rosé to the cellar-ready and "Lieutenant Governor's Award of Excellence" winning Reserve Chardonnay.

The 2009 vintage is characterized by strong fruit concentration and equally strong acidity. The blending of fruit from different Okanagan properties is key to their ability to deliver their wines with the level of complexity (and production) they desire and the public demands. The JoieFarm flight sells-out every year for good reason: they produce a high-quality, high-demand product. Buy early and enjoy throughout the summer.

Below are our notes on the new Spring 2009 releases from JoieFarm which are available directly from the winery through their website (click here) or at select private wine shops like Marquis Wine Cellars.

2009 A Noble Blend - $24
The JoieFarm flagship wine. An homage to Alsace "Gentil" wines composed of Alsatian varietals Gewurztraminer (60%), Pinot Gris (20%), Pinot Auxerrois (12%) and Riesling (8%). The end result is a beautiful wine that sings a seductive, feminine song in the glass. 90pts
Full Review

2009 Un-Oaked Chardonnay - $23
Aromas of green apple skins, sweetened shredded coconut and canned pineapple. The palate offers orchard fruits, pineapple, lees and the minerality of polished riverbed stones. A quality and tasty, full-textured wine with good acidity, fruit concentration and just a touch of residual sugar. Definitely a Chardonnay for the A-B-C (Anything But Chardonnay) crowd. 89pts
Full Review
2009 Rosé - $21
Solid fruit concentration on the palate with slightly effervescent citrus acidity makes for a bright, refreshing drinking experience. A touch of tannic astringency rounds out the texture and fills-out the body. 88pts
Full Review

2009 Riesling - $23
Aromas of lemon, gooseberry, smooth slate and kumquat with dried-ginger spice. Crisp acidity balances the concentrated sweet fruit flavours on the palate and helps create a bright, refreshing wine with a long, satisfying finish. 89pts
Full Review

2009 Muscat - $23
Good fruit concentration of pear, tangerine and fresh, wet grape aromas with a touch of soap and floral notes. The palate offers ripe, juicy peaches and tangy, citrus fruit acidity which cuts the touch of residual sugar. 88pts
Full Review

2007 Reserve Chardonnay - $30-40
Released in the Fall of 2009 and now sold-out at the winery. Only available at private wine shops. Youthful aromas of butter, pear, apple with floral and mineral notes. On the palate you will taste flavours of lemon, pear, wet cement, green apple, melon and oak notes with high-minus acidity and a seemingly never ending finish. 92pts
Full Review

Naramata Bench Spring Release - Part 2

Part 2 of our coverage of the 2010 Naramata Bench Spring release trade tasting:

Lake Breeze Vineyards
Lake Breeze has a full flight of wines including reds, blends and a premium "Seven Poplars" line but it's their whites that have made them a 'must' to visit on the Naramata Bench. Of course, their sun-drenched patio bistro helps too.

2009 Gewurztraminer - $17.99
The Lake Breeze Gewurztraminer is all about the balance of acidity to fruit concentration to residual sugar and they handle this beautifully. Classic lychee fruit, floral notes and spice. 90pts

2009 Pinot Blanc - $16.99
A light, tasty treat of a wine. Light citrus and orchard fruit on the light nose with solid fruits on the palate. Touch of residual sugar with a long finish. 89pts
Full Review

2009 Pinot Gris - $17.99
Nice touch of toasty oak balanced with crisp acidity. Smooth, full mouth feel with a long finish. 88pts

2007 Seven Poplars Pinot Noir - $24.99
Aromas of caramel cream, red berries and earthy notes on the nose. Palate is warm and smooth with both fruit and earthy flavours. Good tannins and acidity but with a bit of an aftertaste. 86pts.

Laughing Stock Vineyards
David and Cynthis Enns have created a winery known as much for its clever branding as for the wines they produce. That is not to say solid craftsmanship isn't at work. It is. Beyond the branding are some very good wines.

2008 Chardonnay - $26
A major oak butter-bomb that may be tough for the ABC crowd but for Chardonnay lovers who like toasty aromas and cream on the palate along with their fruit and minerality. Good complexity. 89pts

Poplar Grove Winery
The Naramata firm has one of the best views of Okanagan Lake (and the bench). They have lovely wines and cheeses to match the view. Second label, Monster Vineyards, makes quality wines closer to the $20 price point where as the Poplar Grove red wines can get pricey.

2008 Chardonnay - $22
Only 17% oaked but that 17% goes a long way to add toasty notes and creamy texture to this tasty Chardonnay. Good complexity of flavours with orchard fruits, minerality and citrus acidity. 88pts

2006 Cabernet Franc - $35-40
A great example of one of BC's increasingly popular red varietals. Cabernet Franc ripens well in BC and avoids green aromas and flavours. This dark garnet coloured wine has a big nose and palate to match. It has been well aged at the winery and tastes sublime. 91-92pts

2006 Legacy - $50
Merlot-heavy Meritage blend (think Bordeaux's Right Bank) with a good amount of Cabernet Franc which shows nicely on the nose and a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon. An absolutely lovely wine that has been built to age. 92-93pts

Therapy Vineyards
The 2009 vintage white wines are the first to be released that were solely under the direction of Therapy's new winemaker Steve Latchford. We'll be watching the firm's progress with its new talent eagerly. In the past the clever marketing has, on occasion, been more charming than the wines. Their impressive Merlot shows promise.

2009 Freudian Sip - $18.99
A pleasing white blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Viognier and Muscat delivers bright fruit flavours on the palate and nose with a touch of honey notes. Off-dry with a medium finish. Could use a bit more acid to truly round out the balance. 86pts

2008 Chardonnay - $23.99
A full-bodied oaked Chardonnay with good crispness. Citrus notes and ripe orchard fruit flavours with toasted oak and butter notes. Wet stone minerality adds complexity. 87pts

2008 Merlot - $25.99
Great tannins and texture are a happy surprise with this Merlot that tastes of chocolate and dark berries. Wine lovers who find Merlot boring should definitely give this one a try. 88pts

2007 Freud's Ego - $15.99
Recently discounted down from $20, this is a bargain Bordeaux blend that needs food to bring out the flavours. On its own it falls a bit flat. 85pts

Van Westen Vineyards
Winemaker Robert Van Westen makes all-natural, no additive, no nonsense wines. He doesn't filter or manipulate in anyway. This produces wines that can be very exciting and even a bit intimidating with strong tannins on the palate (that is the case for his red blend called Voluptuous - but we love it all the same). This Spring he has three new whites on offer and each one is impressive and worth a taste.

2008 Vino Grigio - $18.90
This is Pinot Gris done as an Italian Pinot Grigio which is to say un-oaked and full of fruit intensity. A perfect wine for a hot deck on a sunny day - very refreshing. 88pts

2008 Vivacious - $18.90
Two words describe this wine accurately: "Yum" and "Eee". Actually, you can't improve on the name. Pinot Blanc never tasted so complete and fulfilling - it does have a touch of Pinot Gris added to help round out the flavour and texture. Excellent fruit concentration. 89pts

2008 Viognier - $24.90
Definitely one of the best Viognier in the Provence currently on offer. This varietal is growing in popularity and anyone jumping on the bandwagon should try Robert's. Good crispness of citrus acidity with a healthy nose and full-ish palate of tropical fruits. 90pts

In a very general conclusion, the Naramata Bench Wineries Association's Spring release event was highlighted by some incredible 2009 vintage whites. Not to say there aren't some fantastic reds coming out, but the '09 whites stole the show. The long , hot Okanagan summer of 2009 seems to have produced intense aromas and flavours and allowed for full ripeness on the early ripening white varietals. A sudden and strong Fall frost may have caused some problems for 2009 vintage reds, time will tell.
- By Liam Carrier

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Naramata Bench Spring Release - Part 1

This year's Naramata Bench Wineries Association's Spring Release event was held at The Westin Bayshore Hotel in downtown Vancouver on April 12th and featured both red and white wines from the member wineries. The event showcases the upcoming vintage releases but also allows the wineries to preview new small-lot wines, one-off specials and works-in-progress. Below are the tasting notes of our returning favourites and mischievous debuts (both impressive and otherwise).

D’Angelo Estate Winery
This family owned and run estate winery chose to pour back-catalog wines rather than new releases. Their wines are available through VQA stores.

2005 Sette Coppa - $30
A Meritage blend of the 5 main Bordeaux varietals. This estate grown wine has benefited nicely from the five years of aging since its harvest in 2005. The name translates from the Italian as :Seven Measures". Nice concentration of fruit on the beautiful nose and smooth palate. 89pts

2006 Pinot Noir - $25
A classic Pinot Noir garnet in appearance, this example of the heartbreak-grape does not possess classic Pinot Noir flavours or aromas. A smooth, medium palate with decent fruit concentration and chemical notes.  It fell quite flat on the palate. 84pts

2005 Merlot-Cabernet - $20
85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. The Cab does add some needed character to the nose but the Merlot suffers from being too vegetal. 85pts

Hillside Estate Winery
One of the oldest wineries from Naramata made the biggest impression for us at the event with a solid flight of whites and reds. We've found Hillside to be hit and miss in recent vintages but their current flight of whites and reds are, on the whole, fantastic.

2009 Old Vines Riesling - $18.99
First vintage since 2007. A touch of sugar on the palate with excellent control of the spectrum of mineral flavours the 25+year old vines. Very long finish with a full texture in the mouth. 88pts

2009 Muscat Ottonel - $17.99
A nearly colourless but very tasty Muscat full of fruity aromas and flavours of citrus, apricot and light orchard fruits. 87pts

2008 Reserve Pinot Gris - $19.99
Although only partially oak-aged, the oak aromas and flavours dominate the fruit and leave this wine a little unbalanced. In the competitive world of BC Pinot Gris this one competes but doesn't place. 85pts.

2007 Viognier - $24.99
Light straw in appearance. Warm honey and floral notes on the nose with bright tropical fruits on the palate. Light and smooth mouth feel with a medium finish. Could use a touch more acidity, but very solid Viognier. 88pts

2007 Cabernet Franc - $24.99
Cab Franc is gaining popularity with Canadian producers and they are becoming quite adept at creating full bodied and round wines with amazing aromas.  The 2007 CF had notes of currant, chocolate with a touch of spice.  Well balanced and built to age for a few years.  Very nice and a good price.  88pts.

2008 Old Vines Gamay Noir - $24.99
Intriguing colour of a dirty strawberry. An easy-drinking wine with good mouth feel and ligering spice. Medium finish. Kind-of a Pinot Noir-Syrah cross. Great food wine that would pair nicely with Turkey or light game. 87pts

2006 Syrah - $29.99
A nice addition to the growing list of excellent BC Syrah. Aromas of candied cherries, tobacco and spice wrapped in a Rhone-style bright nose. Good acidity and fruit concentration on the smooth textured palate. Balanced, long finish. 88pts

2006 Mosaic - $39.99
Nearly every winery feels compelled to make a high priced, Bordeaux-inspired, reserve blend but only a few can truly pull it off, worthy of their price tags. The Hillside example is a good effort but falls a bit flat and lacks concentration on the nose and palate. 87pts

Howling Bluff Estate Winery
The tiny estate winery currently only produce three wines; a Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon, a red blend called Sin Cera and an award winning Pinot Noir. Only the white blend and Pinot are new releases this Spring.

2008 Pinot Noir - $29.99
Fantastic example of Naramata's ability to make terroir-driven Pinot Noirs when the fruit is left to show its natural flavours and the winemaker avoids interfering with too much oak. They get it just right. Nicely balanced with a smooth, long finish. 90pts.

2009 Sauvignon Bland-Semillon. - $18.99
This is an odd wine. A blend of Bordeaux's classic white varietals that has produced off-putting aromas of  pungent feet and cat's pee. Solid fruit concentration on the overly sweet palate. 85pts

La Frenz Winery
An Icon Wines favourite with good reason - they have an uncanny ability to produce quality wines year-in and year-out. Winemaker Jeff Martin is especially gifted at producing well-balanced whites and the 2009 vintage examples are no different. Look for a classic, elegant new lable when you visit the winery this Spring.

2009 Riesling - $19
Released on May 1st. Made from grapes grown on their Osoyoos property, this excellent, well-balanced, off-dry Riesling has good fruit concentration matched against refreshing, crisp acidity and stony minerality. A long, long finish. 90pts
Full Review

2009 Chardonnay - $20
Released on May 1st. A 50% oaked Chardonnay that display classic flavours of orchard and tropical fruits with excellent minerality and crispness. A bit toastier than the 2008. 89pts

2008 Reserve Chardonnay - $29
Should be released in June. An exceptionally smooth and refined Chardonnay with good aging potential. Big orchard fruit concentration with a touch of residual sugar. Beautiful. 90-92pts

2008 Malbec - $25
A fresh, bountiful candied-fruit nose. The palate is tasty and food friendly but lacks a bit of complexity. 86pts

-Continued- Go To Part 2

Friday, April 9, 2010


Below is a listing of some of Icon Wines' favourite websites related to wine.


Robert Bell's Wines of Canada
A great resource for Canadian winery details, from coast to coast.

Mike and Mike's Wine Garage TV
Fun videos that cover wine basics, winery profiles and events in BC.

John Schreiner on Wine
Knowledgable articles on the BC wine industry and tasting notes.

Daenna Van Mulligen's WineDiva
Vancouver's most personable (and pinkest) wine writer and reviewer.

United States:

Barbara Evans' Seattle Wine Gal
Great resource for Washington State wines and Social Networking Tips.

World Wide:

Wine Searcher
Want to price a wine online? Go here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Blackwood Lane 2007 "En Primeur"

Visiting Blackwood Lane is always a joy. Principles Carlos Lee (operations) and Charles Herrold (wine maker) are both passionate characters and very welcoming to their Fraser Valley winery. The tasting room is nicely situated on a cherry-blossom treed hill which looks out over a beautiful piece of land in southern Langley. The partners have a number of plans for the site which will help make it more of a must-see destination for the Vancouver crowd which the winery needs to attract in order to thrive. Plans for a cave cellar and restaurant as well as new plantings on their property and the adjacent property will create the effect of a grand estate. One worthy of matching their incredible wines.

Recently, we visited the winery to get a taste of the upcoming 2007 vintage releases which included a barrel tasting of the 2007 The Referènce, the 2007 Alliànce, and the 2007 Merlot which is the first of this vintage to be bottled. Below are some of our notes for this upcoming vintage which we had the pleasure to taste "En Primeur":

2007 Merlot
Big, fruity nose of dark cherries, oak, milk chocolate, maple syrup and a hint of slate with a splash of Cabernet Franc funk. Palate is full of intense flavours of fruits and oak with good tannins and acidity which will integrate more fully with another year of aging. 90-92pts
Full Review

2007 Alliànce
Concentrated berries including blueberry and blackberry on the nose with pencil shavings, cement, and slate tones.  As you search the nose you may also find a little bit of perfumed floral or violet trying to escape.  The palate is toasted with beautifully integrated berry fruit and oak with a touch of milk chocolate. The tannins are high, with medium+ acid making this a very age worthy wine. The pencil shavings and minerality continue through the palate and into a lengthy finish. This has Charles written all over it.  Superb. 94+pts  

2007 The Referènce
Old world meets new world and make love (producing "Nold" babies, perhaps?). An elegant wine with perfectly integrated tannins. The nose and palate change in the glass revealing layer upon layer of flavours and aromas. This vintage is extremely concentrated and showcases beautiful BC fruit.  The nose expresses cedar, cassis, caramel, and rose with less of the oakiness found in the Alliance, and a touch of Charles' signature pencil shavings.  These flavours proceed onto the palate with some light toast.  The finish is extremely long.  Charles has painted a masterpiece with the 2007 Reference.  95-97pts

The new vintage is an impressive next step in the ever evolving career of wine maker Charles Herrold. The 2007 vintage seems to have had longevity and elegance in mind which, for collectors, should be very exciting. For the rest of us, we'll have to be a little patient and lay wines like the 2007 Merlot and 2007 Alliànce down for a year or two before enjoying them. The 2007 The Referènce would also benefit from more time in the bottle but will drink beautifully upon release.

The winery has not yet announced a release date for all three wines. In the meantime, they have limited quantities of their excellent 2006 Merlot still available as well as the two flagship Bordeaux blends.
 - Liam Carrier and Hugh Carter