Monday, October 25, 2010

10 Years of Nota Bene

Quick pop quiz! Name a top-end BC wine that has been made continuously for 10 years... yep, there are but a handful. Mission Hill's Oculus, Blue Mountain's Pinot Noir and Black Hills' Nota Bene are the only reds that come to mind. Why? For one, the premium wine industry in BC is still very young. Sure, we've been making wine in BC for decades, but premium, cellar-worthy wines have only been produced in the Province since the mid 90's.

Arguably, of those few, no other wine has had more effect on the collectability of BC wines over the past decade than Nota Bene. Thus forever altering why we add BC wines to our cellars. Gone are the days when we added BC wines to our cellars simply to see how they would perform with extra time in the bottle. Now, a growing percentage of the wine-buying population, add these elite, Iconic wines to their cellars for equal parts status and drinking enjoyment. So, how do they fare over time?

I had the opportunity to attend a recent 10-year vertical tasting of Nota Bene at Black Hills Estate Winery - a virtual time-capsule of Okanagan Valley vintages from 1999 to 2008. Except for the first year, the wine has changed the percentage of its components only minimally from vintage to vintage reflecting the medley of varietals planted in the estate vineyard. This "field blend" approach has its challenges, but certainly allows the terroir show through and reflects vintage variation.

The tasting was hosted by winery president Glenn Fawcett who clearly understands the power of the Nota Bene brand and has changed very little around its production since taking over the firm in 2006, except to fund upgrades in winery equipment. These improvements on the winery floor and in the cellar will effect quality more than character and will mean the Nota Bene of tomorrow should out-live the Nota Bene of the past - depending on the vintage conditions.
Black Hills Estate Winery President Glenn Fawcett

The wines were poured from standard 750ml bottles for the vertical tasting. However, a later event afforded the opportunity to taste a few of the vintages in double-magnum format (3L bottles). Notes on the double-magnums when applicable.

1600 cases. 64% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc.
Dark brick colour, with warm, candied-fruit and prune aromas. Very earthy, almost pinot-like in character with forest floor, stewed-fruit flavours. A bit tired and past its prime. Drink now.

Double-Magnum: Much more lively. More prominent red fruits on the nose. Has peaked and is drinking beautifully now. Drink 2010-2012.

1800 cases. 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 23% Merlot.
First vintage where Cabernet Sauvignon was king. Medium garnet core, brick rim. Stewed tomato aromas dominate the hint of dark fruit notes left. Mostly lightened, savoury notes remain. A bit tired and past its prime. Drink now.

Double-Magnum: As with the 1999, the large format bottle has allowed the wine to age more slowly and the "old wine" characters are charming rather than a burden. Has peaked and is drinking beautifully now. Drink 2010-2012.

2200 cases. 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc.
Medium garnet core, watery rim - very clear. Nice smoke, earth and herbaceous characters above the remnants of dark fruits. Savoury on the palate. Balance remains intact. Has peaked and is on the way down so enjoy soon. Drink 2010-2011.

Double-Magnum: Still fresh with more aging potential. More fruit than the 750ml bottling. Drink 2010-2013.

2200 cases. 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc.
Dark garnet. Herbs and oak aromas with some prune notes. Fresher and more vibrant on the nose and palate than the older vintages. Candied fruit and licorice flavours. Big and bold - a classic Nota Bene. Peaking now/soon. Drink 2010-2012.

2400 cases. 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc.
Dark garnet core, dark brick rim. Hefty. Super-hot vintage (major forest fire year). Less funky earth notes than the 2001/02. Fruit much more prominent with nice tartness on the palate. Oak and cedar aromas and flavours. Drink 2010-2013.

Double-Magnum: Has yet to peak. Fresh and vibrant. Drink 2012-2015.

2800 cases. 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc.
The 2004 was the stand-out for me at the tasting. Pinot Noir in appearance only with a crystal clear, light-garnet colour. Elegant nose of red fruits, licorice, chocolate and minerality. Crisp and vibrant on the palate. Drinking beautifully now and will likely peak in another year. Drink 2011-2014.

2900 cases. 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc.
Dark garnet-ruby core. Big, aromatic nose. Dark jammy fruits and mint aromas. Bold vintage. Far from peaking. Drink 2011-2015.

3300 cases. 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc.
Dark ruby colour. Fresh plum, mint, sweet dark fruit aromas with some prune notes. Very focussed and sharp - a classic Nota Bene. Far from peaking. Drink 2012-2016.

3900 cases. 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc.
Balanced vintage with a good growing season and decent ripeness. Dark ruby colour. Dark fruits with fig and some nice spice characters. Very youthful still. Should peak between 2013-2014. Drink 2011-2016.

Double-Magnum: Tasted fresh, juicy and vibrant like it had just been released. Drink 2014+.

4300 cases. 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc.
Intense aromas of cassis, dark fruit, licorice, oak spice, French vanilla, forest floor and cigar box. Equally big flavours of cherry cola, blackberry liqueur, blueberries, espresso beans, wet cigar and toasted oak follow suit on the richly-textured and full-bodied palate. Drink 2010-2014.

Double-Magnum: (Tasted at the BC VQA trade show) Tasted like it was right out of the barrel. Fresh and vibrant. Large format bottles of the 2008 will increase the lifespan of this release, however, I would still recommend enjoying this vintage sooner than the 2005-07's. Drink 2013-2016.

3300 cases produced. 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot and 16% Cabernet Franc.
Not yet released and only recently bottled, the 2009 vintage was poured as a barrel sample to preview the upcoming release (est. June 2011). Having tasted many 2009 barrel samples lately I am very excited about this vintage and the Nota Bene is no exception. Production is down due to crop damage in the spring of 2009, but a hot summer and dry Fall has produced big fruit flavours and ripe tannins (ripest in years).
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 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Charles Herrold Leaving Blackwood Lane

As Charles Herrold transitions from full-time winemaker and co-owner of Langley's Blackwood Lane Winery to his new role as consultant for the firm, his exit will be best characterized as a shuffle, rather than a sprint. A specific succession plan has not yet been enacted and Herrold will continue as consultant until such a time as the winery finds, or develops, a suitable replacement. 

In the winery's cellar sits several years worth of his wines patiently waiting to be released including three vintages of their flagship Bordeaux-style blend "The Reference" (the 2007 is soon to be bottled; the 2008 is blended and in barrel, the 2009's components are aging separately in barrel). The 2010 harvest and crush is still under Herrold's guidance and the winemaking will continue to follow the script he's developed over 20 years of experience.

Herrold has been increasing his holdings and connections in Washington state over the past several years and will be focusing more time on his yet un-named proprietary lable of premium, small-lot wines. Releases under this new lable will include a familiar, Reference-inspired blend of all five Bordeaux varietals (est. 500 cases), a small release of Petit Verdot (est. 50 cases) as well as two signature Washington state varietals: Syrah and Sangiovese (est. 100 cases each). It is, as of yet, unknown if the wines will become available in BC upon release.

As for Blackwood Lane, the stewardship of the brand will remain under the direction of majority owner Carlos Lee and will continue to focus on both ultra-premium releases like The Reference and mid-range wines like Vicuna Roja. The winery has recently purchased vineyards in the Osoyoos region which will give them greater control over quality and they will continue to develop their Langley property's vineyard potential.

We'll have more information on their upcoming 2007 vintages releases over the next few weeks.
 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

BC VS Ontario - Chardonnay

In our BC VS. Ontario series we are looking to showcase the differences and uniqueness of Canada's two main wine producing Provinces. In this article we look at Chardonnay which grows well on the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario and in the many different climates of the long Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. The aim is not competition but rather an exploration on what makes the wines produced both different and similar. We've selected two Chardonnays from each region that show the styles :

Hidden Bench Estate Winery 2008 Chardonnay - $32
Chateau des Charmes 2006 Paul Bosc Vineyard Chardonnay - $22

Okanagan Valley:
JoieFarm 2008 Reserve Chardonnay - $30
Mission Hill 2007 Perpetua - $33

The Niagara Peninsula may offer the terroir in Canada that resembles Chardonnay's famous ancestrial home, Burgundy, the closest. It may be to no one's surprise then that the best Chardonnay produced here are Burgundian in character: elegant, austere and age worthy.

As with Pinot Noir, its Burgundy cousin, Chardonnay loves warms days and cool nights making the Niagara Peninsula a natural fit for the grape. The temperature on the peninsula is regulated by the two Great Lakes which form its Northern and Southern borders; Ontario and Erie. The best plots for Chardonnay depend on the style of wine the winery wants to produce - or, the wineries let the terroir dictate the style. Vineyards inland from lake Ontario, right up against the Niagara Escarpment, like Chateau des Charmes, tend to be warmer than vineyards closer to Lake Ontario, like Hidden Bench, where the hot Ontario summer is cooled by winds coming from the lake.

The other similarity to Burgundy is that most Niagara Peninsula wineries produce single vineyard Chardonnay (many produce more than one) which showcase the terroir of a specific site, offering unique tastes and characters. The practise of identifying and cataloging the unique qualities of each plot of land took Burgundian monks centuries to perfect which means any similar work done on the Niagara Peninsula will pale in comparison - but the effort is being made.

Oak programs ranging from 100% new French oak to older wood and even Canadian oak are implemented on the Peninsula and varry greatly from winery to winery with many fine un-oaked Chardonnays being produced as well.

The Hidden Bench 2008 Estate Chardonnay is an example of the blending that does occur on the Peninsula when constructing a house style. The winery produces two single vineyard Chardonnay as well.
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Chateau des Charmes produces two single vineyard Chardonnays and when tasted side-by-side one can taste the difference between the terroir that produces the juice. The Paul Bosc Vineyard is closer to the lake than the home St. David's Bench Vineyard and has a slightly cooler microclimate. The resulting wine, the 2006 Paul Bosc Vineyard Chardonnay, is the more masculine of the two with austere mineral qualities.
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The Okanagan Valley of British Columbia produces a range of Chardonnay styles from light and fragrant to serious and oaky. The practise of showcasing terroir is strong in BC but does not always conform to the Burgundian notion of a single plot of land. Many BC wineries are still in the long process of experimenting with their vineyards, learning what to plant (or re-plant) in the best sites. When their own plantings do not suffice they will source the fruit they need from the many grape farmers throughout the valley. The best examples of this practise are still able to create a blend that accurately represents the unique characteristics of the Okanagan. In contrast, many blended BC Chardonnays fall short and the consumer is simply left with a basic, albeit sometimes well made, but otherwise uninspired single varietal wine that does not speak to its place or even vintage.

Fairly new to BC, there is a growing trend towards producing single vineyard Chardonnay. They are few and far between today and have a long way to go to catch up the the terroir specific releases so common in Niagara.

The JoieFarm 2008 Reserve Chardonnay is produced from grapes sourced from many different sites in the Okanagan valley, this is an excellent example of the top blended Chardonnay that BC has to offer.
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The Mission Hill Estate Winery 2007 Perpetua is produced from grapes grown exclusively in their Osoyoos vineyard. The Perpetua has excellent fruit intensity and flavour complexity which balances well with the acidity and creates a lovely, long finish.
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Seek out these four wines, or similar wines, and do your own comparison. You may find you prefer one style to the other or maybe you'll enjoy them all for their differences. Due to Canada's archaic liquor laws and feuding Provincial liquor board monopolies, this may be hard to do. Fine restaurants and social media are good resources to source hard-to-get wines in your corner of the world.
- Liam Carrier ©copyright 2010

Best of Niagara: Pinot Noir

The Niagara Peninsula may offer the terroir that resembles Pinot Noir's famous home in Burgundy the closest in Canada. It may be to no one's surprise then that the best Pinots produced here are Burgundian in character: earthy, austere and age worthy. The following Pinot Noirs, sorted by price point, tick all the boxes:

$30 and below:

Tawse Winery 2007 Pinot Noir - $25
The nose offers ripe fruit aromas of cherry, raspberry and plum with vanilla and earthy notes. An echo of sweetness on the otherwise dry palate from the concentrated fruit flavours of dark cheery, raspberry and oak spice. Where to buy: Direct from winery and LCBO Vintages.
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$40 and below:

Chateau des Charmes 2007 Paul Bosc Vineyard Pinot Noir - $35
This is an extremely mineral and earthy Pinot that needs time in your cellar. Buy, hold and wait to enjoy this excellent Pinot Noir. Where to buy: Direct from winery.

Rosewood Estates Winery and Meadery 2007 Beamsville Bench Pinot Noir - $36
Winner of a gold medal at the 2009 Wine Access Awards. More residual sugar than most of the other top Pinots, but the balance works. 11 months in French oak. Where to buy: Direct from winery.
Coyote's Run Estate Winery 2008 Black Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir - $36
The St. David's Bench winery makes two single vineyard Pinot Noirs and they are fun to taste side-by-side in the tasting room. Chances are this is the Pinot you'll leave with. Very well made and tasty. Where to buy: Direct from winery.

Norman Hardie 2008 Niagara Pinot Noir - $39
Produced from fruit grown on the Beamsville Bench on the Niagara Peninsula. Technically, Norman Hardie is a Prince Edward County producer, but this wine is so good we thought we'd sneak it in. Where to buy: Direct from winery.

Le Clos Jordanne Estate Wines 2007 Talon Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir - $40
The Talon Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir offers elegant, developing aromas of dark cherry, raspberry seed, oak spice and steely minerality on the nose. The palate recalls the limestone terroir with earthy flavours, austere acidity and smooth, integrated tannins. Very Burgundian in character. Where to buy: LCBO Vintages and Jackson-Triggs Niagara.
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- Liam Carrier ©copyright 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Best of Niagara: Chardonnay

The terroir of the Niagara Peninsula offers many amazing plots for growing Chardonnay which empart unique characteristics to the wine. This supports the trend to release single-vineyard Chardonnays by many of the region's top producers. Blends are also popular, but many wineries prefer to showcase the multiple single vineyard Chardonnays they produce which allow for side-by-side comparison. A fun and tasty experience.

The use of oak varries from producer to producer. Style, terroir and budget affect each wine's selected oak treatment, including many fine un-oaked Chardonnays on the market. Below is a selection of the Chardonnays, both oaked and otherwise, sorted by price point, that we feel are the best of Niagara:

$20 and below:

Fielding Estate Winery 2009 Un-Oaked Chardonnay - $15.95
Aromas of lemon drops are followed by orchard and citrus fruit flavours. easy going, summer sipper at a great price. Where to buy: Direct from winery or online.
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Chateau des Charmes 2007 St. David's Bench Vineyard Chardonnay - $20
Château des Charmes produces two single-vineyard Chardonnays. The St. David's Bench Vineyard Chardonnay, from the home vineyard (and further from the lake than the Paul Bosc Vineyard), is the warmer, more feminine of the two. Where to buy: Direct from winery or online.
$30 and below:

Chateau des Charmes 2006 Paul Bosc Vineyard Chardonnay - $22
Barrel fermented, the wine spends one year in French Oak "sur lie" and as a result has some of the leesy and autolytic notes one would expect. However, it is the stonefruit and mineral qualities that characterize this wine. Where to buy: Direct from winery or online.
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Le Clos Jordanne 2007 Village Reserve Chardonnay - $25
The entry-level Chardonnay from Le Clos Jordanne is far from a bottom feeder. Good concentration of aromas and flavours of classic orchard fruits with good minerality. A blend of fruit grown on the winery's 3 main vineyards. Where to buy: LCBO stores and Jackson-Triggs Niagara.

Thirty Bench Estate Winery 2007 Small Lot Chardonnay - $30
A superb example of a restrained, complex and very tasty Beamsville Bench Chardonnay. This wine is a master-class on the balance of sugar to acid and the balance of fruit to mineral flsvours and aromas. Both are done beautifully. Where to buy: Direct from winery.
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$40 and below:

Hidden Bench Estate Winery 2008 Estate Chardonnay - $32
Brilliant in every way. Concentration, crispness and character. Simply devine Chardonnay with present but not overdone oak treatment. Where to buy: Direct from winery or online.
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Flat Rock Cellars 2007 Reserve Chardonnay - $35
This focused and concentrated Chardonnay is a blend of two clones, 76 and 95, grown in the vineyard surrounding our the estate. Where to buy: Direct from winery or online.

Tawse Wines 2008 Quarry Road Chardonnay - $35
Organic and Biodynamic farming practice combined with an excellent terroir to create an extremely intense and refined Chardonnay. Big fruit and big mineral aromas and flavours. Exquisite. Where to buy: Direct from winery and LCBO.

Le Clos Jordanne 2007 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay - $40
Won the "Judgement in Montreal" tasting and beat-out top Burgundy and California Chardonnays. More concentrated and focused than the Village Reserve release. Where to buy: LCBO stores and Jackson-Triggs Niagara.

- Liam Carrier ©copyright 2010

Best of Niagara

Our Best of Niagara section is an evolving resource rather than a one-time or yearly list. Use it to look-up the top performing single varietals and blends being produced in the Niagara Peninsula wine region of Ontario. Grouped by varietal or blend and sorted by price-point for quick reference. New wines will be continually added as we discover them. Links to full reviews are posted when available.

Pinot Noir
Red Blends
Coming Soon:
Best of the Rest

Thursday, October 7, 2010

BC Wine Deal: October 6th, 2010

The following wines have been reduced in price at participating VQA wine shops like The Wine Emporium in Langley. Some reductions are due to new vintages being released and others simply to move stock.

Arrowleaf Merlot was $16.99 is now $14.99
Arrowleaf Un-Wooded Chardonnay was $12.99 is now $9.99
Cedar Creek Syrah was $24.90 is now $22.90
D'Angelo Merlot/Cabernet was $19.90 is now $14.90
Hester Creek Chardonnay/Semillon was $15.99 is now $14.99
Rigamarole Red was $14.99 is now $13.99
Rigamarole White was $14.99 is now $13.99
Therapy Pinot Noir was $26.05 is now $21.99
Therapy Shiraz was $28.04 is now $22.99
Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay was $16.99 is now $15.99
Township 7 Sauvignon Blanc was $18.99 is now $17.49
Jackson Triggs Riesling Ice-Wine was $59.99 is now $49.99

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Barrel Tasting at Fairview Cellars

Fairview Cellars is located on the Golden Mile Bench just outside the town of Oliver, BC. Diehard fans of the wines produced by winemaker and proprietor Bill Eggert know that the best way to go about procuring his coveted product is to visit in-person for the full experience. Eggert is one of the most personable (and knowledgeable) characters in the BC wine industry. The quintessential farmer-turned-winemaker who understands that great wines come from great terroir and careful vineyard management. His 6 acre home vineyard has long been a bastion of ripening Cabernet Sauvignon which forms the core component of his top Meritage blends. Through new vineyard expansions (both purchases and partnerships) Fairview Cellars is beginning to expand its portfolio of wines and volume of cases produced.

On October 3rd, I had the pleasure of tasting a few of the upcoming releases and barrel sampled new additions to the Fairview Cellars line-up.

2008 Premier Series "The Bear" - $35
The latest release of Fairview Cellar's flagship Meritage blend is available now in the tasting room. Always a wine to buy and hold (or collect as many do). The 2008 vintage continues the house style of a big, bold, complex and compelling Bordeaux-inspired blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Full Review and Icon Score Coming Soon

2008 Premier Series Cabernet Sauvignon - $40
As I stated in the intro, Bill's home vineyard produces great Cabernet Sauvignon which is used in the Bear. He also bottles some as a straight 100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in 1/3 new, 1/3 2nd fill and 1/3 3rd fill French oak.
Full Review and Icon Score Coming Soon

2008 Madcap Red - $27
The new Madcap, Bill's Merlot-heavy Meritage blend, should be released November-ish, but has no firm date as of yet. Always the red wine of the line-up that is the most approachable in its youth. Big dark-fruit flavours and tasty, round tannins.
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2008 Premier Series Iconoclast - $120
Starting with the 2008 vintage, Bill has selected his best barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon and treated it to 100% new French oak. Smoother, rounder and more feminine than the standard Cab. Very limited release available only in the tasting room.

"The Wrath" - Release date TBD - $60 (estimated)
This will be a new wine in the line-up to be released some time in 2011. The fruit for this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine comes from a Golden Mile Bench property that Eggert has been cultivating for 5 years. The "Wrath" is a nod to the "Grapes of Wrath" and the hardship it suggests in getting the new vineyard site to the point where it will produce quality fruit (or any fruit at all). It could also refer to the "The Wrath of God" due to the seemingly spiteful nature of Bill's run of bad-luck with the site (feasting dear and wrathful hail). 2009 produced the first serviceable crop from the site and the timing couldn't have been better. The combination of the hot season and the vineyard site has produced the ripest Cabernet Sauvignon I have ever tasted in BC. The barrel sample reminded me of a Napa Valley Cab. I look forward to trying it again once it's ready for release. Keep an eye out for this one!

We also tasted barrel samples of Cabernet Sauvignon that will go into the 2009 Bear and Iconoclast. Wow. I'll reserve final judgment until I taste the finished product next year, but early samples suggest that 2009 may be a vintage for the ages if you are a fan of big, ripe Cabernet Sauvignon-based red blends.

To stay abreast of release dates, visit the Fairview Cellars website and get on Bill's mailing list.
 - Liam Carrier

Monday, October 4, 2010

Barrel Tasting at Stag's Hollow

On October 3rd I visited winemaker Dwight Sick at his picturesque Okanagan Falls winery Stag's Hollow. The scene from the cellar door is of a beautiful hidden green valley with sloping vineyards twisting this way and that. Down the slope, below the cellar is a steep bowl in which grows one of the only Tempranillo plantings in BC. The fruit from this block, as well as the product from a Grenache plot in a vineyard near Penticton, go into blends that Dwight described as "keeping the winemaker happy" wines. I would call them two of the most unique wines soon to be released in BC (target is currently December). They can be pre-ordered here.

2008 Tempranillo Blend "Limited Edition" No. 01 - $50
A "Super-Douro", if you will, blend of 40% Tempranillo, 35% Merlot, 20% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. A fine example of constructing a unique taste out of different components and techniques. Fairly butch, yet refined and fun. Only 250 half-cases available (6X750ml).

2009 Grenache Blend "Limited Edition" No. 02 - $50
A blend of 50% Grenache,  46% Syrah, 3% Viognier and 1% Marsanne is Dwight's take on the many blends on offer in the Southern Rhone. A truly special wine with layers of complex aromas and flavours that delivers Carmenere-like food pairing options. (Restaurants should be stocking up!) Only 80 half-cases available (6X750ml).

We also tasted the components to a few 2009 vintage reds still in barrel: the Syrah/Viognier, the Estate Merlot and the SHV Pinot Noir. Both the Syrah and Merlot will typify the bold fruit character and ripe tannins of the hot 2009 growing season. The Pinot is produced with the appropriate let-the-land-speak approach but I was left not knowing what it was trying to say...yet. The Pinot needs more time to find its voice. All three will be released next year. Keep a look out for release dates from the winery - especially for the Syrah!

One last preview that we tasted was the new fully-oaked Renaissance-level 2009 Chardonnay which will be replacing the estate grown "2008 SHV Chardonnay". The 2009 is positive step forward from their current Chardonnay which I found to be "a nice drink" but lacked the winemaker's signature that the 2009 will have. Look for its release next Spring.
 - Liam Carrier

Reviews coming soon:
Stag's Hollow 2008 SHV Pinot Noir
Stag's Hollow 2008 Simply Noir

Current releases available:
Stag's Hollow Winery 2007 The Heritage Block
Stag's Hollow Winery 2008 Syrah
Stag's Hollow Winery 2008 SHV Chardonnay