Friday, March 16, 2012

Of Stelvin and Corks

A Tale of Two Bottles...

The Debate
In North America, the screw cap bottle enclosure (or "Stelvin cap" as it is often referred to in a Kleenex sort of way) is still associated with cheap, "jug" wines to many wine drinkers and thus is rarely seen on quality, mid-to-high range products worthy of one's cellar. It's a perception that the Okanagan Valley's Tinhorn Creek Vineyards would like to change.

The winery's love affair with the screw cap began 10 years ago when they bottled half of the winery's first reserve level wine, the Oldfield Series Merlot, with traditional cork and half using the Stelvin metal enclosure. With the foresight and attention span that few producers have (or can afford) cases of both wines were squirreled away to gauge the aging ability of the screw cap wines against their identical corked brethren. The results have convinced Tinhorn's CEO and head winemaker Sandra Oldfield to switch the entire portfolio over to Stelvin - including their small-lot, age-worthy Oldfield Series releases. The only exception is the winery's 200ml Icewine/Late Harvest bottle which is expected to also switch to metal enclosures once a suitable replacement has been found.

The benefits of screw caps are many, ranging from ease of use (yes, not everyone enjoys uncorking a bottle of wine) to the financial piece of mind that when your wines that leave the winery, none will come back due to a tainted cork. But can screw cap enclosures truly allow the wine to evolve and live out its normal life-cycle of youthful-to-peak-to-unavoidable decline?

As with all living things, the key is oxygen. Too much will make the wine age fast and spoil. Too little will halt the natural development altogether. Cork does this very well allowing minute amounts of oxygen through its porous fibers allotting wine the controlled access it desires. The long track record of cork is mixed with both success and failure. Corks can dry-up and shrink over time which can lead to too much oxygen reaching the wine and they can taint the wine with trichloroanisle (or TCA) which makes the wine undrinkable. Both of these problems are avoided using a metal screw cap enclosure which, contrary to popular knowledge, does allow the wine to "breath" and therefore promotes the same evolution over time. However, so few age-worthy wines have been bottled under screw cap that little practical proof is available. Until now.

The Wine
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards 2001 Oldfield Series Merlot
At 11 years old, this Merlot, produced from fruit grown on the Golden Mile and Black Sage benches, serves to debunk two myths: 1) that Stelvin cap wines can't age and 2) BC wines won't survive a long incubation. The result? A resounding "Yes they can!" on both fronts.

When comparing the two wines side-by-side, I was amazed to find that the colour, from the core to the quarter-rim, was exactly the same tint and clarity of dark garnet. Both the screw cap and cork bottle had evolved beautifully with a lovely bouquet of raspberry-mocha, graphite and spices with fine mellowed tannins, spicy oak and dark berry fruit flavours on the mouth watering palate.

Was the screw cap wine better or worse than the cork bottle? No, the quality remained exactly the same - and isn't that the point? The wines did evolve differently with the screw cap bottle retaining slightly more elevated fruit character on the nose and the cork enclosed bottle offering a tad more spice on the palate. Otherwise, the wines were identical.... equal.

The Conclusion
The Tinhorn experiment is far from scientific with only one vintage and one variety selected for the double bottling. Yet, the result is pretty persuasive with the main point being that the wine was proven to age as if it had been enclosed by cork without the 10-15% of heartache involved with spoiled wine. Hopefully more folks will accept screw cap enclosures on cellar worthy wines over time, but admittedly, there will always be wine lovers who will prefer their wines enclosed with a material that pops when pulled rather than one which cracks when twisted. Perceptions are hard to change.
 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2012

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Diva(s) at the Met

"Every bottle tells a story."

A popular phrase in the wine industry and a view of wine that I share, however, it must be noted that not every story is well written or entertaining. At the 4th annual Diva(s) at the Met event, part of the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival program, the audience was treated to 6 stories authored by 6 accomplished and entertaining women who shared their personal connection to the products on offer and to the industry they love, one so often dominated by men.

Hosted by Vancouver's Daenna Van Mulligan, better known as The Wine Diva (@TheWineDiva), the evening is equal parts pious and playful. At the heart of it Diva(s) at the Met shines a deserved spotlight on the talented and extremely passionate women who work in wine alloting them a showcase to do what women do best; share. Sharing their personal stories, their history, their knowledge and sharing their passion for wine that transcends gender inequality and serves to inspire more women to join the profession. 6 stories, all charming in their own way.

#1 - Chateau Ste. Michelle 2010 Columbia Valley Chardonnay - 86pts
This buttery, orchard-fruit-aplenty Chardonnay from Washington State's largest winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle was presented by export manager Alexandra LaFontaine who discussed her long circle back to wine after following a few boys around the world and working in other industries. A fairly straight-forward Chardonnay with nice acid and MLF notes.

#2 - Peller Estates 2009 Rivate Reserve Syrah - 87pts
Stephanie Leinemann, the winemaker at Peller Estates Okanagan, was up next and presented a very drinkable, medium-bodied Syrah from the winery's Private Reserve line. Stephanie represents a generation of winemakers who are in their first career and who were charmed by the industry at a younger age. After studying at Brock University she returned to her native Okanagan to work for Peller. Simple and satisfying, this Syrah offers good typicity for the variety in BC for under $20.

#3 - Bodega Elias Mora 2007 Gran Elias Mora - 90-91pts
Wine #3 was presented by both the exporter, Natalie Bonhomme (also an accomplished winemaker with her own label) and by the winemaker herself, Victoria Benavides, a petite and charming women sporting bright lipstick red shoes. In broken English, Victoria described her passion for winemaking and for her excellent flagship wine, the Gran Elias Mora, a delicious, feminine and tannic Tempranillo produced in the Toro region of Spain. Unfortunately, this wine is not available in Canada.

#4 - Lapostelle 2010 Cuvee Alexandre Carmenere - 89+pts
A serious and oaky Carmenere presented by the winemaker, Andrea Leon Iriarte, a woman who found great success in the wine industry at a young age and could have settled in any of the world's major regions (of which she worked many). She chose, however, to return to her native Chile to start a family and produce world renown wines all the same. Sadly, another wine fest bottle that is not available in Canada

#5 - Bergevin Lane 2009 Wild Child Merlot - 88pts
Annette Bergevin, one third of the ownership group of Walla Walla winery Bergevin Lane, presented the firm's entry level Merlot, a tasty wine that opened up through the evening but one that suffered from a surprisingly short and forgettable finish. Annette focused her story on the formation of the winery with
business partner Amber Lane and her grape-growing father Gary Bergevin. The famed Canoe Ridge vineyard is their playground and offers a unique terroir to explore and cultivate into their multi-tiered line of wines.

#6 - Yalumba Wines 2007 "The Menzies" Cabernet Sauvignon - 91pts
As the last presenter, Jane Ferrari, the communications director for Australia's Yalumba, stole the show by going with a well executed comedic tale rather than deliver the 6th "how I got into wine" story of the evening. A seasoned veteran of the personal approach to selling wine, Jane spoke mostly about the family behind the Yalumba brand, the Smith family from Angaston, adding a relatable element to the fine Cabernet Sauvignon that finished off the evening. Fairly light for an Aussie Cab, the wine comes from Coonawarra fruit grown on limestone vineyards. Has the weight and refinement of a fine super Tuscan.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Vancouver Wine Fest Lives On!

The sad news that the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company was closing was shortly followed by happy news for BC wine lovers that the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival will live on. Run as a separate business entity, the wine fest may undergo some re-branding before next year's event but we can expect the same efficiency and attention to detail that makes our home market wine fest one of the most respected and best attended in the world.

From the winery principals I spoke to, including Brian Lynn, the proprietor of Majella Wines in Coonawarra, I heard rave reviews on how the festival is run behind-the-scenes where small things like a properly communicated schedule go a long way to making our international visitors feel welcomed. Lynn also mentioned the amazing volunteers who he credited most for making the Vancouver festival a must-attend event for their small winery.

Next year's theme region has already been announced as California and the global focus is Chardonnay. Hopefully, this will mean a higher attendance of wineries from Burgundy, a famed region for Chardonnay that was under represented at the 2012 festival.

Keep an eye on the festival website for more information on next year's event:

Thursday, March 1, 2012

BC Wine Deal: March 1st, 2012

The following wines have been reduced in price at participating VQA wine shops and BCLDB stores.

D'Angelo Sette Coppa was $29.92 is now $21.90
Domaine de Chaberton Merlot was $23.99 is now $19.49
Fork in the Road Red was $19.99 is now $18.99
Fork in the Road White was $17.99 is now $15.99
Jackson Triggs Cabernet Sauvignon Silver Series was $16.99 is now $15.49
Jackson Triggs Meritage Silver Series was $19.99 is now $18.49
Jackson Triggs Sauvignon Blanc Grand Reserve was $15.99 is now $14.49
Jackson Triggs Riesling Black Series was $13.99 is now $12.49
Jackson Triggs Viognier Silver Series was $15.99 is now $14.49
Prospect Chardonnay was $12.99 is now $10.99
Prospect Regatta Red was $14.99 is now $12.99
Prospect Shiraz was $16.99 is now $14.99
Rigamarole Red was $14.99 is now $12.99
See Ya Later Ranch Pinot Gris was $19.99 is now $17.99
See Ya Later Pinot Noir was $22.00 is now $20.00
See Ya Later Riesling was $16.99 is now $14.99

Monthly Picks: March 2012

This month we've focused our suggestions on wines that are drinking nicely now and should develop further with some patience. Buy two bottles, drink one now and lay one down for 1-2 years. Then compare your notes from each tasting and see for yourself if you notice any improvement or evolution in the wine.

Finca Sophenia 2009 Reserve Malbec - $14-16
This is the Malbec to seek out for all of the folks who are tired of overly juicy and predictable Mendoza examples that are available at this price point. Ready to drink now and may development further over the next 2 years.
Full Review

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards 2009 Merlot - $19
The hot, intense summer of 2009 cooked the red grapes nicely upping the concentration on the nose, palate and in the colour.
Full Review

Nk'Mip Cellars 2008 Merlot - $20
Currently on sale for $18.49 at BCLDB and VQA stores. A masculine wine with strong savoury characters of mocha, oak, tobacco and mint on the nose and palate while offering a welcomed vein of dark fruit tang and lingering spice on the long finish.
Full Review

Perrin et Fils 2009 Les Cornuds - $20
The Syrah is the dominant component in this well made Côtes du Rhône Village blend, yet the tannins are fairly mild, though don't let that deter you from laying down one or two bottles for further development.
Full Review

Stag's Hollow Winery 2009 SHV Pinot Noir - $25
The fruit aromas are accompanied by savoury, earthy notes of mushrooms, forest floor and smoke creating a developing bouquet that deserves time to evolve in the glass before drinking.
Full Review

JoieFarm 2009 Reserve Chardonnay - $30
The long, long finish delights with both savoury oak and ripe pear fruit flavours and just a touch of lingering spice. Utterly charming now, but should age nicely if properly cared for.
Full Review

Painted Rock Estate Winery 2009 Red Icon - $55
A harmonious blend of 30% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot and 1% Syrah delivering massive complexity and concentration that never overloads the dry palate rather evolves slowly in the glass to reveal layers of the flavour profile.
Full Review