Thursday, April 26, 2012

Naramata Bench 2012 Spring Preview

The Naramata Bench Wineries Association recently made its annual Spring trip to the Lower Mainland to show-off the wares of its member wineries. The Spring release is always dominated by white wines for which the Naramata Bench is well known and for which 2011 was a trying, yet, successful year. A few soon-to-be-released reds, mostly from 2010 were also on offer with mixed results. Pinot Noir and blends have been the most promising reds that I've tasted from that vintage, but only a spattering have become available thus far.

As with many of BC's wine regions, the wineries will source grapes from beyond the borders of their viticultural area - there are no rules that say otherwise and many producers do reference the source of the fruit on the label. But, how do you know what you're drinking if it isn't mentioned on the label? Generally speaking, if you're enjoying a big red blend from a Naramata Bench winery, the fruit will have been sourced from a vineyard in Oliver or Osoyoos. If you're drinking a fine Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc, then chances are the grapes are from Naramata. Think Burgundy and the Loire Valley and you'll likely pick a wine that will showcase the bench's unique terroir.

Many great wines are made on the bench and it's a lovely place to tour with fantastic views of Okanagan Lake. Most of the wines below will become available in the winery tasting rooms the first week of May when wineries begin to expand their operating hours for visitors. Although I ran out of time at the tasting before sampling all of the wines, here are a few highlights to source during your visit to the bench or from the growing number of wine shops carrying Naramata wines:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Best of BC: Pinot Blanc/Gris

Pinot Blanc could be the signature white varietal of BC if it was better known. Sadly, plantings have been reduced over the past 5 years with many producers focusing more attention on its mutant, genetic cousin, Pinot Gris.

$20 and below:

Fort Berens Estate Winery 2010 Pinot Gris - $18
Despite the winery's Lillooet address this wine is all Okanagan. Produced from West Kelowna grown fruit and fermented in stainless steel tanks, this Pinot Gris is fruit forward and terroir driven with excellent austere characters to balance the orchard fruit and lemon zest notes. Where to buy: Direct from winery.
Icon Score

Stoneboat Vineyards 2010 Pinot Gris - $18
Wisely, winemaker Jay Martinuik has kept the alcohol level down (12.9%) leaving a touch of residual sugar to balance the abundant acid typical of the 2010 vintage. Where to buy: Direct from winery.
Icon Score

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards 2012 Pinot Gris - $19
Lush and juicy on the nose with ripe pear, apple and tangerine aromas and a hint of tropical fruit notes in the background. Light mineral and green apple notes also help contrast the rich fruit making for a refreshing and compelling Summer sipper.
Icon Score

Cassini Cellars 2011 Mamma Mia Pinot Gris - $19
A fun, off-dry Pinot Gris with loads of apricot, apple and passionfruit flavours which is hard to miss on the shelves with its bold "Mamma Mia" branding and will pair nicely with your late summer BBQ fair or an early fall, spicy-Thai dinner.
Icon Score

Young and Wyse Collection 2011 Pinot Gris - $20
Cool, crisp and masculine with lively stonefruit, lemon/lime, pink grapefruit and peach skin characters and a nice mineral backbone highlighted by a steely finish and a touch of lingering spice.
Icon Score

Upper Bench Estate Winery 2011 Pinot Gris - $20
A taut, tart, tasty Pinot Gris produced in the Grigio style with no oak contact, no residual sugar and loads of fresh acidity. Definitely a Pinot Gris that offers a nice contrast to the oaked, full-bodied and nearly off-dry versions that have been popular in BC for years.
Icon Score

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery 2010 Pinot Gris - $20
Intense on the sublime nose with rich orchard fruit, cantaloupe and floral aromas followed by a slightly off-dry palate bursting with lemon, grapefruit, pear, hay and honey flavours. Where to buy: Direct from winery.
Icon Score

$30 and below:

Haywire Winery 2011 Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris - $23
A complete and compelling texture and mouth feel - especially during a cool, acidic year like 2011. Add to the mix the classic BC Pinot Gris citrus, white peach and mineral flavours with the acid and lees character of a still Champagne and you have yourself a tasty treat.
Icon Score

JoieFarm 2011 Pinot Blanc - $23
Sourced from established Kelowna and Naramata Bench vineyards, the fruit for this Pinot Blanc received a Chardonnay-like treatment of barrel fermentation resulting in a wine of equal complexity and intrigue.
Icon Score

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mollydooker Delights

Mollydooker winemaker and co-proprietor, Sparky Marquis, visited Vancouver in March for a whirlwind tour of wine shops and choreographed press tastings, keeping alive the fine Australian tradition of a personal approach to selling their wines. That's not to say that the Aussies have cornered the market on communicating the story behind the bottle for consumers but they do it well and in a honest way: a well rehearsed-honesty to be sure, but honest just the same.

Sparky's charm is rooted in his storytelling ability, a common trait among the many Australian winemakers I've had the pleasure of meeting. The stories behind the Mollydooker wines are endless but tend to begin and end around the central theme - an Aussie term for a Left-Handed person - alternately used as a verb and adjective.

The winery aims to "wow" with big wines that, on occasion, announce as a scream their varietal character. There are three main tiers of 'Dookers with the entry-level wines being the "loudest" and the cellar-worthy, top-end wines having the most to say.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Rosé Elevated

Sales for rosé wines are on the rise yet sadly too many wine drinkers still associate blush wines as either overly feminine or unsophisticated (the later excuse being ripe with sexist undertones). Personally, I am not afraid to say that I love rosé wines and don't think twice about ordering it in a restaurant in plain sight of other patrons. Does this mean I'm more in-touch with my feminine side or more comfortable with my masculinity? No, of course not. To say 'yes' would be to lend credence to the concept that the light cherry, cranberry or salmon coloured wines are exclusively feminine to begin with. I simply enjoy the unique body, texture and refreshing qualities a good rosé can offer and I hope to encourage others to put aside their prejudices and explore its wonderful ability to pair with (nearly) all foods.

Decent, satisfying and food-friendly rosé wines are produced all over BC but three producers have managed to elevate its production to an art form. The much anticipated release and quick sell-out of said wines speaks to the quality that consumers have grown accustomed to from Stag's Hollow, Tinhorn Creek and JoieFarm, the latter perhaps being the most responsible for the style's rebirth at the till.

Partially, what makes these three wines so special is the fact that all are planned, not happened upon. There is no "well, this Cabernet block is crap and under ripe, maybe we can make a rosé out of it" conversation at these wineries. But rather they ask, "What will make our rosé better this year?"

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Tinhorn Creek Spring Preview

2011 was another tough and intriguing cool-climate vintage for the Okanagan Valley. One that started even later than 2010 which was one of the hardest and coolest growing seasons in 15 years. Through 2011, things were shaping up to be very much the same as 2010 with a late, Indian Summer providing just enough heat and sunshine to ripen the grapes before the onset of frost, which was devastating for the producers who gambled on a longer hang time for their crop. Except, the frost didn't come in 2011. At least, not to the degree it did in 2010 when a sudden drop in temperature in October wreaked havoc for many. The result was a longer than normal harvest with some vineyards leaving fruit hanging well into November and even into January of 2012 for a few Icewine harvests.

Previewing upcoming releases, including the much anticipated and inaugural release of the Oldfield Series Pinot Noir from the 2008 vintage, winemaker Sandra Oldfield and viticulturalist Andrew Moon paced invited media through the range of  the newly bottled 2011 white varietal wines to be released in May.

Cab Franc Block - Black Sage Bench
The backdrop for the preview tasting included visits to the winery's vineyards on the Black Sage Bench and the Golden Mile Bench where the winery is based. The tour was interspersed with the new wines and discussions about the winery's concerted effort to remain a steward of the land from which their product is sourced rather than a profiteer? Few wineries put forth the effort that Tinhorn Creek does to achieve a conscious-appeasing carbon-neutral result from the production of their wines. It's an expensive endeavor but one they seem committed to maintaining and even improving as projects like the winery's on-site composting mature.

Full reviews will be posted on as the wines are released.

2011 Gewurztraminer - $17.99
Hard to improve on the 2010 Goo, but first impressions are they managed to do it. Lower alcohol and slightly drier than previous vintages - a welcomed change. Produced from fruit grown on the Golden Mile property, just up the hill from the winery.
Icon Score

2011 Pinot Gris - $17.99
Possibly the best Pinot Gris the winery has yet to produce. First impression was the balance of RS-to-acid-to-body seemed absolutely spot on.
Icon Score

2011 Chardonnay - $17.99
We tasted the new vintage of Chardonnay only a day after it had been bottled resulting in a bit of bottleshock. The acid levels and ripeness seem to be where they should be, but an overall impression was hard to construct.

2011 2Bench Rose - $23
Made from Cabernet Franc grapes with minimal skin contact, the 2011 version does not disappoint. In fact, it's the best one yet. Production is higher this year so you should be able to find this wine a little easier than in the past - look for it, you will not be disappointed.
Icon Score

2008 Oldfield Series Pinot Noir - $35(est)
Waiting four years before releasing a wine to the consumer is mostly unheard of in the Okanagan Valley as wineries can't afford the cost of holding back product that people are ready to purchase. Tinhorn decided to bite the bullet and hold-out for an extra year for the standard Pinot Noir and two full years for their new Oldfield Series Pinot Noir, much to the chagrin of their finance and marketing people. Alas the wait is (nearly) over and it was worth it. This reserve Pinot is just that much more refined and elegant that the varietal series Pinot Noir. The result is more depth, more character and more presence in the glass. Yum. Look for a June or July release date.
 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2012

Thursday, April 5, 2012

BC Wine Deal: April 5th, 2012

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

Calliope Riesling was $15.99 is now $14.99
Domaine de Chaberton Canoe Cove Cabernet/Merlot was $19.99 is now $17.49
Domaine de Chaberton Canoe Cove Shiraz was $25.99 is now $22.99
Hillside Reserve Merlot was $24.99 is now $17.49
Hillside Rose was $19.00 is now $16.99
Inniskillin Cabernet Sauvignon was $16.99 is now $15.49
Inniskillin Reserve Merlot was $16.99 is now $15.49
Inniskillin Reserve Pinot Blanc was $13.99 is now $12.49
Jackson Triggs Chardonnay Private Reserve was $12.99 is now $11.49
Jackson Triggs Merlot Black Series was $14.99 is now $13.49
Jackson Triggs Shiraz Private Reserve was $19.99 is now $18.49
Road 13 Stemwinder was $21.99 is now $19.99
Saturna Island Pinot Gris was $16.99 is now $14.99
Sumac Ridge Pinnacle White was $18.99 is now $13.29
Summerhill Baco Noir was $24.95 is now $19.95
Township 7 Chardonnay was $19.99 is now $18.49
Township 7 Merlot was $24.99 is now $22.99

Monday, April 2, 2012

Chilean Syrah

For lovers of Syrah, Chile may be the undiscovered country.

One of the pleasures of the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival is the opportunity it provides to broaden your experience and knowledge of lessen-known delights. In a Wines of Chile sponsored guided tasting, hosted by Master of Wine Rhys Pender and wine educator DJ Kearney, I was afforded the chance to immerse myself into Syrah and explore its many incarnations in Chile's diverse terroir.

Aconcagua Valley
A short distance north from the capital city of Santiago lies the Aconcagua Valley with 1098 hectares of grapes planted mostly to red varieties including 94 hectares of Syrah. Cabernet Sauvignon is king in Aconcagua making up nearly half of the total plantings (475) but a few producers are experimenting with Syrah creating pleasant, juicy and reasonably complex examples.

Viña Errázuriz 2009 Max Reserva Syrah - $19.99
Licorice, cherry liqueur aromas stand out above classic red fruit and spice layers. A more straight-forward palate follows with intense black cherry, round spice and balsamic flavours.
Icon Score

Viña Arboleda 2009 Syrah - $21.99
You'll find pronounced aromatics on the nose with both fruit and savoury flavours on the palate. Violets and rose petal aromas are followed by concentrated raspberry, coffee grinds, smoke, mineral and black pepper notes.
Icon Score

Limari Valley
The Limari Valley, Chile's second most northern wine growing region, sees less than 4 inches of rainfall on average per year. The intriguing terroir experiences a Carneros-like morning fog effect from the Pacific Ocean which burns off in the afternoon and exposes the vines to the intense sunlight into the evening. Syrah makes up less than 10% of the plantings in the region at 112 hectares. Expect mineral rich Syrah reminiscent of Saint Joseph.

Viña Tamaya 2010 Reserve Syrah - $19
Inspired by Northern Rhone vinification techniques, this Syrah is co-fermented with 5% Viognier and aged in French oak for 9-12 months creating an enticing Syrah with good minerality and aromatic elements.
Icon Score

Elqui Valley
Nestled at the southern end of the Atacama desert, the vines of the Elqui Valley live a harsh life. Extreme sunlight is tempered by high altitude vineyards (some of the highest on Earth) where the term "cool-climate" is used freely. Syrah plantings make up only 29 of the 508 hectares of the region, but the variety is generating a lot of buzz.

Geo Wines 2009 Chono Syrah Reserva - $18
Originating from Chile's driest wine region, this savoury, terroir expressing Syrah offers a gorgeous palate of oak spice, minerals, smoked meats, leather and dark, brooding fruit.
Icon Score

De Martino 2008 Alto Los Toros Syrah - $45
At 1600m above sea level, the Alto Los Toros vineyard is one of the highest altitude plantings in the world. The result is an excellent, dense, cool-climate Syrah with concentrated licorice, vanilla and red fruit flavours and loads of spicy, mineral notes.
Icon Score

Colchagua Valley
One of Chile's largest and most diverse wine regions with over 23,000 hectares under vine, the Colchagua Valley is home to many of the country's best known brands like Cono Sur and Montes. Look for vineyard information when available with Alpalta and Ninquén being two of the best for Syrah.

Viña MontGras 2009 Antu Syrah - $21.99
Produced from fruit grown in the Ninquén Mountain Vineyard, Chile's first high altitude vineyard. Well balanced with good complexity and concentration for the price. Has the tannins and acid to age well, should you care to wait.
Icon Score

Viña Ventisquero 2007 Pangea Syrah - $59.99
A full bodied wine that although offers plenty of classic Syrah red fruit notes, tends to be memorable for its layers of savoury and robust characters like smoked meats and white pepper.
Icon Score

Viña Montes 2007 Montes Folly - $86.99
Produced from 17-18 year old vines from the Alpalta vineyard that are really producing some amazing fruit. Remains the champion of all South American Syrah and the wine to gauge against.
Icon Score
 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2012

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Monthly Picks: April 2012

Spring is here and (hopefully) the weather is turning. Time to break out the crisp, juicy white wines and enjoy the return of outdoor dinning.

Graham Beck Wines 2010 The Game Reserve Sauvignon Blanc - $15
Clean, crisp and focused, this South African Sauvignon Blanc has a lot going for it with good varietal expression of lemon/lime and kiwi fruit with typical grassy notes wrapped within a tart, mouth watering embrace of green apple acidity.
Icon Score

Quails' Gate Estate Winery 2011 Gewurztraminer - $17
The palate is oily, chewy and off-dry, typical for the Alsatian variety. What makes the 2011 memorable is the rich fruit flavours are balanced with a higher level of acidity from the cooler, late harvest vintage.
Icon Score

Oyster Bay Wines 2010 Sauvignon Blanc - $17
Classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with loads of gooseberry, green apple, sweet grass and lemon drop aromas and flavours without pungent cat's pee notes.
Icon Score

Fort Berens Estate Winery 2010 Chardonnay - $18
A nice, warm nose of candied fruit, ripe pears, apple cider and candy floss aromas greets you at-first-sniff. The dry, vibrant palate follows with rich orchard fruit flavours and mouth-watering acidity.
Icon Score

Unconventional Wisdom 2010 Told You So - $22
The "Told You So" white is their easy-going, floral-nosed Viognier with 10% Sauvignon Blanc added for some extra green apple acidic bite.
Icon Score

Meyer Family Vineyards 2010 Tribute Series Chardonnay - $35
The acid is higher in the 2010 release than that of the sublime 2009 vintage, but the oak treatment and malo-lactic fermentation has balanced the tartness with a welcomed creamy texture.
Icon Score