Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SOWA Launches New Identity

In the position of president of the South Okanagan Wineries Association, or SOWA, you will find one of the most mature and grounded 25 year olds that you're likely ever to meet. Tim Martiniuk is the son of respected longtime grower Lanny Martiniuk and one half of the Tim and Jay Show when in the company of his winemaking twin brother. Tim is the public face of the family business that includes a boutique winery, vineyards and a nursery which he represents with the demeanor of someone who grew up in a family where children aren't coddled and are clearly encouraged to take on responsibility. It's a testament to his ability and passion for the industry that his peers have voted him to represent the interests of the association's wide range of members that include small family firms like the Martiniuk's Stoneboat Vineyards and large conglomerate-owned wineries like Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate.

The goal of SOWA is to promote the area's wine industry beyond simplistic non-SOWA efforts such as erecting a sign that claims Oliver as the "Wine Capital of Canada". The new message, as unveiled by the young SOWA president at the recent media diner of the 2011 Banee Wine Festival, is one of a sense of place - the uniqueness of the region's desert climate, which enjoys the most sun exposure in any of BC's grape-growing regions, and the diversity within the region as represented by the three benches: the Golden Mile, the Black Sage and the Osoyoos Lake benches.

The plan is to distinguish the region within BC with the help of some new branding material (colourful new logos and wine routes) and with the use of the new "Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country" moniker to promote a geographical identity. The message is solid, now the work to execute the vision begins.

The reality is that membership in the SOWA is voluntary and currently excludes some influential wineries. Recruiting new and former member wineries will go a long way to ensure the message stays on point and has a consistent delivery. The push for a geographical identify must also be represented in the product. Many south Okanagan wines are produced using fruit from more than one of the region's benches and this fact is not always communicated properly on the label. It could be argued that a wine's provenance is only of interest to few, but when climatic diversity is paramount to the uniqueness of a region, where the wine comes from becomes more than anecdotal. Tasting room comparisons between vineyard specific bottlings of the same varietal has been a success in Niagara where the practise is more commonplace. Terroir transmitting Cabernet Franc seems a likely candidate for the Oliver Osoyoos region, but acreage is low and ultra small-lot releases are not always economically viable.

Tim Martinuik has his work cut out for him. He will be wise to foster co-operation and a true partnership between the family-run wineries and the large corporate wineries as it will be essential to the success of the region as a whole. In today's tough economy a home-grown industry has one small advantage that associations like SOWA can leverage; many BC (and Alberta) families will be looking for more vacation options at home in Canada over the next few years rather than traveling abroad. Partnering with local hospitality businesses and city councils to make it easier for families to choose the staycation option is a likely next step. Perhaps changing the sign in Oliver to read "Wine Touring Capital of Canada" would be a good start.
 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2011 IconWines.ca

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reflections on the Canadian Wines Poured at the VPIWF

After each year's Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival I vow to attend more events the following year and in 2011 I find myself making this pledge yet again. It sneaks up on me and then is gone in a flash leaving me in its wake with nothing but notes collected from the trade tasting.

The focus of this site is the fabulous homegrown wines we produce in Canada and thus my notes reflect this focus. The festival provides the rare treat of tasting Canadian wines in a global context and I believe they fare extremely well when compared to the rest of the world. "Value" is relative and a subject for another story but the quality and character of Canadian wines fares very well.

Herder Winery and Vineyards
Owners Sharon and Lawrence Herder were on hand to showcase their wines at the only wine festival they pour at. A sneak peak at the upcoming 2008 Josephine was the main attraction - their old-world leaning, complex and textured Meritage blend. It won't be released until October for good reason as the wine shows great promise but was tasting very young and is not yet ready for market. Also on offer was a new entry-level 2009 Chardonnay (as opposed to their $35 Twin Benches Chardonnay not yet released), a 2008 Syrah with a lovely nose and a 2008 Merlot which was surprisingly powerful.  www.herder.ca/

Mission Hill Estate Winery
Mission Hill was pouring their legacy series wines (the big boys) alongside a new Reserve-level Viognier. The Viognier was of the tart and crisp variety rather than the richly-textured version that is so popular in BC these days. The legacy series wines are fronted by the showpiece of their portfolio, the 2007 Oculus which has recently garnered a lot of praise (including 95pts from James Suckling). Is it as good as folks say? Well, having tasted it only once at a festival it's hard for me to say in detail or truly pass judgement... but it just might be the best Oculus yet! www.missionhillwinery.com/

Osoyoos Larose
The Vincor partnered winery were pouring their excellent entry-level 2007 Petales d'Osoyoos blend and three vintages of the namesake Osoyoos Larose "Grande Vin". The 2006 is aging well showing firm tannins. The much-lauded 2007 has a gorgeous nose but is still quite youthful and needs more time in the bottle to mellow. The 2008 won't be released until the fall and shows the green tannins of a less than ideal ripening vintage. www.osoyooslarose.com/

Painted Rock Estate Winery
Proprietor John Skinner was pouring wines from his up-coming 2008 releases and their 2009 Chardonnay which was released last fall. The star of the line-up is the new 2008 Red Icon which has subsequently been released just this week due, in part, to industry feedback at the trade tasting. Half as much Red Icon was produced in 2008 as their inaugural release in 2007 due to self-imposed low yields in response to the tricky 2008 growing season. Also, no Cabernet Sauvignon was used in the Red Icon blend in 2008 which should mean more of the single varietal release will be available this year. www.paintedrock.ca/

Quails' Gate Estate Winery
Quails' Gate were pouring a couple of their recently released 2010 whites: the excellent and very crisp Chenin Blanc and the juicy and fresh Gewurztraminer. The two Stewart Family Reserve wines (a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir) were fantastic: structured and expertly oaked. Especially the Pinot whose texture and refinement impressed me greatly. www.quailsgate.com/

Sperling Vineyards
Sperling was pouring their entire line-up of wines except their most popular and successful wine "Market White" which is a blend of aromatic varietals. The whole line-up, a Riesling, an Old Vines Riesling, Pinot gris and Gewurztraminer were mostly quite low in alcohol and high in residual sugar.  www.sperlingvineyards.com/

Wayne Gretzky Estate Wines
Sadly, only three Ontario wineries made it to the festival. Henry of Pelham was showcasing their decent entry-level "Sibling Rivalry" red and white blends and Pillitteri was showcasing their icewines. The Wayne Gretzky Estate Wines impressed me the most with a succulent Sauvignon Blanc, an easy-drinking Riesling and a fabulous, low-alcohol Cabernet-Merlot "Estate Series" blend. Hopefully, we will see more of these surprisingly good wines out west.  http://www.gretzkyestateswines.com/

A few other wines of note:

Tantalus have released their newest addition to their small line-up: the 2009 Chardonnay. Priced at $30 it enters the stiff competitive world of BC top-end Chards... and fares well. Cool, crisp, mineral and well balanced. A nice addition to the fray.

The 2010 Small Lot Viognier from Sandhill seems to be a return to the more tart territory of the award winning 2008 vintage after the 2009 version charmed us with its hot-vintage-richness.

Hester Creek have been through a recent brand updating exercise and have two new proprietary blends (a white and a red) called "Character" which seem poised to take on the well-priced and fellow Golden Mile Bench "Honest John's" products from Road 13 Vineyards.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

One Day Tour - South Okanagan

Touring the South Okanagan can be dangerous. Firstly, you'll likely overspend your established budget twofold due to all the amazing wine on offer. Secondly, the physical beauty and tranquility of the region may entice you to peruse the local real estate listings looking for a property with enough land to start your own winery. And thirdly, your realization and disbelief that Oliver, "Canada's Wine Capitol", has no wine store to speak of may drive you to quit your job and turn your quaint dream of running a wine shop into a reality. Been there, almost done that.

This tour is designed as a loop, starting at the south end of the Black Sage Bench, up through Oliver and then back down the Golden Mile Bench. Perfect if you are staying in Osoyoos. I have left off some fabulous wineries due to the limitations of a one day tour and due to the fact that I haven't been to visit every winery yet myself (there are so many to explore).

1. Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
The only thing that detracts from the beautifully situated winery, tasting room, hotel and restaurant is the outline of the massive buses perched in the parking lot that unload large groups of thirsty folks who fill-up the wine shop. My recommendation, should you find yourself queued behind a large group of mega-coach-tasters, is skip ahead to #2 on the list and then come back. It will be worth the effort as Burrowing Owl produces excellent wines, year after year and offers one of the best views of the entire valley. Photo opp anyone?
Key wines to try:
Pinot Gris 2010
Syrah 2011 2012
Meritage 2006 2007 2011
Cabernet Franc 2004 2008 2009 2011 2012
Athene 2011 2012

2. Desert Hills Estate Winery
Although Desert Hills has been around for a while the family-owned winery has yet to establish itself with an obvious notoriety or identity. However, they have gained acclaim and recognition for a few of their single varietal wines and Meritage blend making it well worth the visit. Taste for yourself and perhaps bring home a wine you wouldn't likely have been introduced to.
Key wines to try:
Gamay 2008

3. Black Hills Estate Winery
Although the most famous of the Black Hills wines, Nota Bene, sells-out every year, you can still get a taste of this cult favourite wine by visiting the tasting room in person and signing-up for the "tasting experience" tour ($20 a head). Visit the winery's website for booking information.
Key wines to try:
Syrah 2009 2011 2012
Alibi 2009 2012 2013
Nota Bene 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012

4. Stoneboat Vineyards
At some point I will have to stop referring to Stoneboat Vineyards as an up-and-coming winery. For the meantime, the moniker fits as some folks still haven't heard of them or have yet to visit. Go already! They produce exceptionally well-priced aromatic whites and medium-bodied reds.
Key wines to try:
Chorus 2008 2009 2010
Pinot Noir 2007 2009
Pinotage 2007 2008 2009

Optional Add-on (if you have time):
Not ready for a bite to eat yet? Have time to squeeze in an extra winery? If "yes" then drive over to Le Vieux Pin and taste their new Rhone Valley wines and well made entry level blends.

Drive to Oliver

5. Fairview Cellars
After driving up to Oliver, and perhaps stopping for lunch along the way, head towards the Fairview Golf Course (follow the signs), take a right and head up the hill a ways to Bill Eggert's Fairview Cellars. If there is a sign blocking the entrance to the long driveway, then he's not home (or not available) if there isn't then head on up to the tasting room where you will be warmly greeted and regaled with entertaining opinions and stories. You will also be tasting some of the best Cabernet-driven blends in BC and an under-appreciated Sauvignon Blanc.
Key wines to try:
Sauvignon Blanc 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Two Hoots 2004 2008 2009 2010 2011
The Bear 2003 2004 2007 2008 2009 2010
Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 2010
Madcap Red 2007 2008 2011

6. Tinhorn Creek Vineyards
Heading south along the Golden Mile Bench will lead you to Tinhorn Creek (again, follow the signs). Tinhorn's tasting experience is threefold: a large tasting room, a self-guided tour of the facility and, new this year, a restaurant. Two tiers of wines await you: great value varietals and the premium Oldfield Series. There should be something for everyone in your group.
Key wines to try:
Oldfield Series 2Bench White 2009
Cabernet Franc 2007 2008
Oldfield Series 2Bench Red 2007
Oldfield Series Syrah 2007

7. Hester Creek Estate Winery
A small re-branding effort is underway at Hester Creek: primarily, slick new labels and new wines. A good result all-round but the most significant upgrade is the overall improvement in quality of the entire portfolio. It doesn't hurt that the wines are well priced too.
Key wines to try:
Pinot Blanc 2009
Reserve Cabernet Franc 2008
The Judge 2007

8. Road 13 Vineyards
Ending your busy day of wine tasting at Road 13 Vineyards will be just what the doctor ordered. They have a picnic license for their property which means you can purchase a bottle and actually drink it outside while you sit and enjoy the view of the valley from, nearly, the exact opposite spot you were at when your adventure began at Burrowing Owl that morning. Apropos, don't you think?
Key wines to try:
Chenin Blanc
Honest John's White 2008 2009
Honest John's Red 2008
Pinot Noir
Jackpot Riesling 2009
Fifth Element 2005

Optional Add-on (if you have time):
If you managed to visit 60% or more of the above wineries in one day then consider yourself a real pro. If, for some miraculous reason, your designated driver is still speaking to you and willing to make one more stop, then head down from Road 13 back on to the highway and stop in to visit one of the new kids on the block, Cassini Cellars. Great Syrah, Red Blends and Chardonnay wines await you.

Happy touring,
 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2011 IconWines.ca

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

BC Wine Deal: April 5th, 2011

The following wines have been reduced in price at participating VQA wine shops like Kensington Squares Wines in Burnaby. Some reductions are due to new vintages being released and others are simply to help move stock.

Black Hills Alibi was $29.90 is now $24.90
Cedar Creek Estate Pinot Noir was $26.90 is now $24.90
Chaberton Gamay Noir was $15.25 is now $13.49
Kalala Cuvee Blanc was $14.97 is now $11.95
Le Vieux Pin Petit Rouge was $23.90 is now $20.90
Mission Hill Five Vineyards Rose was $14.99 is now $13.99
Rigamarole Rose was $14.99 is now $13.99
Rigamarole Red was $14.99 is now $13.99
Rigamarole White was $14.99 is now $13.99
See Ya Later Pinot Gris was $16.99 is now $15.49
See Ya Later Riesling was $16.99 is now $15.49
Strut Red Over Heels was $13.99 is now $12.99
Strut Risque was $13.99 is now $12.99
Strut Well Heeled was $13.99 is now $12.99
Township 7 Chardonnay was $20.00 is now $18.49
Township 7 Merlot was $25.00 is now $22.99

One Day Tour - Niagara Peninsula

A one day tour of the wineries of the Niagara Peninsula doesn't do the amazing region justice, but that may be all the time you have. Eventually, as our own exposure to the peninsula wines increases, we will split this list into a full day in Niagara-On-The-Lake and the Niagara Escaprment, but for now consider the following concise list the highlights.

Seeing all of the wineries of the Niagara Peninsula is impossible - and honestly, seeing half of the wineries I've listed below will be tough enough. Paruse the list and pickout the wineries that seem to the most interesting to you. Depending on where you're staying, you may want to switch to a reverse order. I would recommend starting further away from where you're staying and working your way "home".

Start in Niagara-On-The-Lake

1. Jackson-Triggs Niagara
Might seem strange to start with the flagship winery of the Vincor wine world, but its very conglomerate-ness is the reason to visit. You can taste and purchase the fantastic Le Clos Jordanne portfolio in the JT tasting room along with their complete proprietary line-up of wines. For fun, ask one of the tasting room staffers to explain the difference between the Black, Black Reserve, Silver and Gold series of wines. Look for the tiny plume of smoke that will inevitably escape from their ears.
Key wines to try:
LCJ Village Reserve Chardonnay 2007
LCJ Talon Ridge Pinot Noir 2007
LCJ Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir
LCJ Le Grand Clos Chardonnay

2. Stratus Vineyards
Just up the road from JT and a favourite of IconWines.ca. A stunning and gorgeous tasting room to visit - especially if you like ultra-modern design. You'll be paying for your tasting flight - a common aspect of winery visits in Ontario - but it will be worth it. Winemaking (and branding) at its finest is on display. Back vintages are often available for the blends - the varietals tend to sell-out each year. Their proprietary red blend was our 2010 Icon Wine of the Year. Winery also produces a second label called Wildass which others less expensive options.
Key wines to try:
Red 2007
White 2006
Cabernet Franc 2007
Red Ice Wine 2007

3. Coyote's Run Estate Winery
Coyote's Run is situated on St. David's Bench and offers an intriguing tasting room experience where you can sample, side-by-side, varietal wines from two unique vineyards that make up the bulk of their portfolio. They also produce some fun white wines that make for excellent cottage patio fare.
Key wines to try:
Pinot Blanc 2009
Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir
Black Paw Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2007 2008

4. Château des Charmes
Not far from Coyote's Run, also on the St. David's Bench, is the massive Château des Charmes winery and visitor's center. Their portfolio of wines is equally massive, but their are real gems hidden inside. They conduct tours daily and if you or your group are looking to add that experience to your wine tour then this is the place to do it.
Key wines to try:
Estate Bottled Aligoté 2008
Gamay Droit 2008
Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2006
Paul Bosc Estate Riesling Icewine
Equuleus 2007

Optional Add-on (if you have time):
Head east from Château des Charmes to the Niagara College Teaching Winery where many Canadian winemakers learn their trade. The college offers multiple tours and has an on-site wine shop that sells the winery's student participant wines.
Drive East to Vineland
5. Tawse Winery
In recent years, Tawse Winery has elevated its stature to one of the best wineries in Canada. Any trip to the Niagara Peninsula demands a stop at Tawse to taste their exquisite vineyard specific varietal wines and their above average entry level "Sketches" label. Was named the 2010 "Winery of the Year" by Wine Access magazine.
Key wines to try:
Quarry Road Chardonnay
Sketches of Niagara Riesling
Growers Blend Pinot Noir 2007
Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2008

6. Wayne Gretzky Estate Winery
Many of the world's celebrity fronted wineries serve-up boring and predictable plonk. Not so for the Wayne Gretzky Estate Winery product which produce a number of quality single varietal wines and blends. That said, part of the draw is the kitsch association to one of Canada's true icons.
Key wines to try:
Founders Series Riesling
Estate Series Sauvignon Blanc
Estate Series Cabernet Merlot

Drive East to Beamsville

7. Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery
Hidden Bench produces ultra premium, small lot wines and have been gaining an international presence by entering Decanter's International Wine Awards competition and faring well.
Key wines to try:
Estate Chardonnay 2008
Tete de Cuvee Chardonnay
Felseck Vineyard Riesling
Nuit Blanche-Rosomel Vineyard

8. Thirty Bench Wine Makers
The best tasting experience (of many) at Thirty Bench is the side-by-side-by-side comparison of the three vineyard specific Rieslings grown on the property. Some of the differences are subtle and others are glaring - its a fun way to learn the affect that "terroir" has on the grapes and resulting wine. Thirty Bench also offer library releases of past vintages occasionally, so you never know exactly what will be available when you visit.
Key wines to try:
Red 2007 2008
Triangle Vineyard Riesling
Wood Post Vineyard Riesling
Steel Post Vineyard Riesling
Small Lot Cabernet Franc
Small Lot Chardonnay 2007

9. Fielding Estate Winery
The family-owned Fielding Estate Winery is a great place to end your tour of the Niagara Peninsula. The laid-back tasting room has a great view of the surrounding area and the friendly staff will treat you to a tasting of their multi-tiered portfolio of wines.
Key wines to try:
Viognier 2009
Red Conception 2006
White Conception

 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2011 IconWines.ca

Monday, April 4, 2011

March Meritage Rd4 - The Championship Match

The March Meritage championship match was played out in Mike Nierychlo's Garage in the heart of Langley, BC - recorded for prosperity (and promotion) on video tape. The Black Sage Bench conference champion, Black Hills 2008 Nota Bene went toe-to-toe with the Golden Mile Bench conference champion, Fairview Cellars 2008 The Bear. For the final, the wines were tasting side-by-side in an epic, Jake LaMotta VS Ray Robinson battle of attrition.

Check out more videos from Mike Nierychlo at http://www.mikenierychlo.com/

Cult favourite Nota Bene was able to use its reach advantage (mailing list, of course) early on in the match over the smaller, underdog The Bear, while offering ease of drink at only 3 yeas of age. Both wines battled hard with their excellent expression of terroir, dark fruit and savoury character for round after round. But in the end, it was The Bear's longevity that squeaked out the victory and brought home the title of 2011 March Meritage champion.

Congratulations to Bill Eggert and Fairview Cellars!

 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2011 IconWines.ca

One Day Tour - Central Okanagan

This wine tour focuses on the Naramata Bench and Okanagan Falls which I've summarized with the use of "Central Okanagan". Personally, I like to combine the two appellations when I visit as the drive between them is manageable and quite pretty. Plus, Okanagan Falls needs more press as it is a hidden gem of an appellation just off the highway that so many folks drive past without stopping when headed South to the Oliver wineries. The extra mileage may make your offer to be the day's designated driver costly to the personal relationships with your fellow tourers, but it will be worth it when you get home with all your wine-related loot. Start at the north end of the Naramata Bench and work your way south towards Penticton.

1. Van Westen Vineyards
Look for the a-frame sign perched along Naramata Rd as an indication of availability or better yet, make an appointment. Winemaker and proprietor Robert Van Westen is passionate about his estate grown wines and the positive energy is infectious. A great way to start your wine tour. All of the wines are named with "V" words because... vell, vhy not?
Key wines to try:
Viognier 2008
Vino Grigio 2008
Voluptuous 2006

2. Lake Breeze Winery
Should you choose to take this tour in reverse order, then Lake Breeze would be a good place to end for a late lunch as their on-site, patio-style restaurant is excellent. The wines are very well made and their best releases speak to one of the Naramata Bench's strengths: top-notch white varietals.
Key wines to try:
Pinot Blanc 2008 2009
Gewurztraminer 2008
Bench White
Seven Poplars Sauvignon Blanc

3. Poplar Grove Winery
The Poplar Grove Winery is currently building a new facility which may effect its order in the day's tour (stay tuned). You'll get two wineries in one as the firm offers a second label called "Monster Vineyards" which are easy-drinking and more affordable. Also on offer is excellent handmade cheeses to enjoy with your wine.
Key wines to try:
Chardonnay 2008
Cabernet Franc 2006
The Legacy 2005 2006

4. Nichol Vineyard
Ross Hackworth owns and operates the ultimate boutique winery on the Naramata Bench offering excellent, well-made, estate-grown wines. The hard-to-find releases makes Nichol a must-visit winery on any tour through the Naramata Bench.
Key wines to try:
Pinot Gris
Cabernet Franc 2006
Syrah 2008
Pinot Noir 2008

5. La Frenz Winery
La Frenz has such a large portfolio of wines that if it were a restaurant's menu then Gordon Ramsey would be yelling at them to cut it down to less than half. But it's hard to argue with the success that Jeff and Niva Martin have created as a top producer of... everything. A must for every visit to the Naramata Bench.
Key wines to try:
Chardonnay 2008 2009 2010 2011
Sauvignon Blanc 2009 2011 2012
Montage 2007 2008 2009 2012
Shiraz 2006 2008 2010 2012
Grand Total Reserve 2006 2007

Optional Add-on (if you have time):
If you've been wise with your time and fancy a bite to eat then stop-in at Hillside Estate Winery to sample their wares and visit the top-notch bistro in the back.

Drive south to the Skaha Bench

6. Painted Rock Estate Winery
Visiting the tasting hut (I hasten to call it a room) at Painted Rock is sometimes a time-share experience as folks wait to get into the cramped space. A more complimentary tasting room is planned that will match the quality of the wine but is a ways off. With any luck you'll visit when proprietor John Skinner is present and pouring the wines he's so rightfully proud of. Amazing views of Skaha Lake await you from the perfectly contoured vineyard.
Key wines to try:
Chardonnay 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Syrah 2007 2008 2009 2012
Red Icon 2009 2010 2011 2012

7. Blasted Church
Blasted Church wines are fairly easy to get a hold of as the BCLDB stores carry a few skus, however, the winery is worth a visit if for nothing else but the best view of Skaha Lake available. There is a reason the property is popular for weddings and receptions - it's breathtaking. Not that the wines aren't worth mentioning as well.
Key wines to try:
Hatfield's Fuse
Pinot Gris
Mixed Blessings

Drive to Okanagan Falls

8. Stag's Hollow
Sure, you've seen one or two of their wines at the BCLDB and VQA stores, but unless you've visited the tasting room and tried the full range of wines, including their excellent Cachet line, you "don't know Stag". Great views of a very pretty hidden valley await you from the tasting room parking lot. Visit with the knowledgeable and passionate owners or catch a glimpse of their talented winemaker Dwight Sick at work.
Key wines to try:
Syrah 2008 2009 2010
Heritage Block 2007 2008 2010 2011
Grenache 2012 2013
Riesling 2013 2014
Syrah Rosé 2009 2011 2012 2013

9. Meyer Family Vineyards
Meyer produces some of BC's best (and most expensive) Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines but they are expanding their portfolio with more varietal wines and are now offering "entry level" Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines that are well worth the money.
Key wines to try:
Tribute Series Chardonnay 2007 2009
Micro Cuvée 2009
Maclean Creek Pinot Noir 2008
Optional Add-on (if you have time):
Head over to the other side of the valley to See-Ya-Later Ranch to enjoy an excellent line-up of well-priced wines and an amazing view of the valley. I place SYLR in the "Add-on" category as their wines are quite easy to procure via the BCLDB and VQA stores "back home".
Happy touring,
 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2011 IconWines.ca

Sunday, April 3, 2011

March Meritage Rd3 - Final Four Results

The March Meritage semi-finals took place on Saturday, April 2nd with the winner of the Black Sage Bench Conference, Black Hills 2008 Nota Bene, taking on the Wild Card Conference champion, Mission Hill 2007 Compendium, and the survivor of the Golden Mile Bench Conference, Fairview Cellars 2008 The Bear, versus the Naramata Bench Conference winner, La Frenz 2007 Grand Total Reserve.

The final will take place on Sunday, April 3rd in Langley at the famed Mike Nierychlo Garage and will be recorded (somewhat) Live!

Complete Box Scores

W - (1) FC '08 The Bear: Points: 91-93. Cost: $35
L - (2) LF '07 Grand Total: Points 92-93. Cost $40
Game notes: In what some believed was the true final of March Meritage, the bracket alignment saw The Bear from Golden Mile Bench took on the Grand Total Reserve from Naramata Bench in the hottest contested battle yet seen in the competition. The silky smooth texture and complexity of the Grand Total took on the exquisite expression of terroir from The Bear. The result was a close, back and forth war of superior red wines. In the end The Bear outlasted the Grand Total with its ageability and fierce, man-eating bite.

W - (1) BH '08 Nota Bene: Points: 91. Cost: $53
L - (1) MH '07 Compendium: Points: 91+. Cost: $45
Game notes: The two highest priced remaining wines faced off in the second semi-final of the final four. The elegant and age worthy Compendium took an early lead in the match until the Nota Bene rebounded with an excellent use of its field blend and layers of complexity attacks. The infamy of the Nota Bene's blend proved too popular for the refined upstart Compendium (only in its second vintage) and the Black Hills Meritage punched its ticket to the championship match.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Charles in Charge

Winemaker Charles Herrold heads south and things are looking up.
Photo courtesy of Celebrity Wine Tasting
 After a seemingly innocuous October departure from Langley-based Blackwood Lane, which he had co-founded with current winery president and now majority-owner Carlos Lee, winemaker Charles Herrold is more forthcoming on why he requested to be bought-out of the partnership. Differences in vision for the boutique winery, whose business model is to produce small-lot, ultra-premium wines and charge equally ultra-premium prices, are at the root of Herrold's desire to distance himself from the firm.

I had originally reported that upon his formal departure as winemaker in October, Herrold would remain a consultant to the winery which seemed wise due to the lengthy incubation of the firm's high-quality, Bordeaux-styled blends: The Referènce and The Alliànce. However, Herrold is eager to update that he no longer has any ties to the winery and is focusing his attention on his Washington State projects. This means that, for the Blackwood Lane faithful, the recently released 2007 Reference will be the last of the big reds to have been blended and shepherded by Herrold. Future releases are now under the direction of Lee who has taken over the head winemaker duties.

However, every winemaker I know is a proud poppa (or momma) to their wine and despite the split from Blackwood Lane, Herrold was enthusiastic to sit down with me to taste the new releases (now available via the winery's wine shop in Langley) and preview barrel samples from his new Washington State winery - yet unnamed.

The setting was at The Pearl on the Rock restaurant in White Rock while the restaurant was closed and the staff were busy prepping for the evening and attending to business. The business in question, on this afternoon, was a blending session with the executive chef, Jeremy Keighley, and wine director, Jordan Carrier, that was equal parts sales pitch and masterclass in the art and application of combining different varietals of together to produce a wine whose sum is greater than its parts.

Seeking a new white and red house blend, Pearl has hired Herrold to produce the wines for which he will use contracted and proprietary Washington State fruit - the focus of his winemaking activities post Blackwood Lane. Sitting in on a blending session is like witnessing the birth of a work of art or a creative idea - in physical form. The detail with which Herrold can speak to the properties and process behind each varietal is astonishing. One can see the passion and pride for his vocation in every description. From custom grooved oak barrels to attentive fruit selection, Herrold speaks with the demeanor of a master craftsman and the air of a minister inspiring his flock.

A Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Riesling, all from the 2010 vintage, are tasted in order and then in various combinations. The consensus is that the clean and crisp Riesling is to be the backbone of the blend but that its muted nose needs a lift. First, the Gewurztraminer is tried and 15% is added to the Riesling - too sweet and oily. Next, 10% Pinot Gris is added to the Riesling and the missing aromatic element found - we have a winner.

The red varietals, except the Cabernet Franc (Wahluke Slope), are all from the Columbia Valley area known as The Benches. As with the whites, the red varietals (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Petit Verdot/Malbec bottled together) are each tasted separately to appreciate what each may bring to the finished blend. The Merlot: mid-palate expression of dark berries and major tannins. The Cab Franc: candied fruit and good acidity. The Cab Sauv: smoky texture and round tannins. And the Petit Verdot/Malbec: tobacco and toasted raspberries.

After various combinations and pricing considerations (the Cabernet Sauvignon is too expensive for a restaurant house wine) the consensus was a Cabernet Franc-heavy blend with both the Merlot and the Petit Verdot/Malbec added to round out the desired flavour profile. Follow The Pearl on the Rock on Twitter @PearlRestaurant for news on when the new blends will be available in house.
Also tasted during the session was a test blend of what Herrold expects to be his Referènce-like flagship red blend and a standalone Syrah for his new Washington State label. The Cabernet Sauvignon heavy blend shows great promise and classic Herrold character but needs time in barrel to come together (2012 release is estimated). The Syrah, with concentrated black cherry and white pepper notes, was absolutely outstanding and almost seemed ready for market. 95+ point territory for this barrel sample - simply divine. We will eagerly track the development of the new wines and winery and post follow-up information here and via our Twitter account @IconWines.

Notes on the new Blackwood Lane releases:

Blackwood Lane 2009 Pinot Noir - $44
Possibly, the quintesential BC Pinot Noir as it requires no "Burgundy-esk" or "Central Otago-like" descriptor. This Pinot is pure BC... and that's a major compliment.
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Blackwood Lane 2008 Vicuna Roja - $24
A unique blend of 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot and 10% Malbec, the 2008 Vicuna Roja makes for an excellent "entry" wine for a winery who's portfolio boasts some of the most expensive wines in Canada.
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Blackwood Lane 2007 Cabernet Franc - $44
An excellent Cabernet Franc with red berry, cedar, licorice, spice and oak characters whose mid-palate has been filled-out with 10-12% Merlot adding to the excellent and succulent texture.
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Blackwood Lane 2007 The Referènce - $99
A BC Wine icon whose nose possesses the depth and mystery of a Louis Carroll rabbit hole. Falling in can prove to be very rewarding and very expensive.
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 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2011 IconWines.ca