Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Upper Bench's New Releases

Naramata Bench's Upper Bench Estate Winery has 6 new releases for the new year. They range from a masculine, single-vineyard Merlot to a light and fruity Pinot Blanc (with a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay somewhere in-between). 

Look for cheese pairings for each of the wines on their website that are produced at their own Creamery, run by the winemaker's wife, Shana Miller. 

2014 Pinot Blanc - $19
Sadly, not a lot of Pinot Blanc is produced and released as a single varietal in BC - more should be. It usually makes a leaner, fresher and subtler wine than its more rambunctious cousin, Pinot Gris. And that's exactly what you get with the Upper Bench, stainless-steel fermented version: crisp acidity, fresh, clean orchard fruit flavours, subtle, delicate aromatics and a balanced, refreshing finish with a touch of lingering citrus peel and spice.
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2014 Riesling - $22
'Beauty and the Beast' may best describe the dichotomy of this Upper Bench Riesling. Opens with a delicate nose of nectarine, apricot, pear and steely, lemon/lime aromas, followed by a racy, mouth-watering palate bursting with bright, Granny Smith apple acidity and flavours. Citrus and stonefruit notes add depth while hints of sweet, orchard fruit help to balance the apple-rind infused, short-ish finish.
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2014 Chardonnay - $25
consistently well produced Chardonnay that is full-bodied and loaded with juicy orchard fruit flavours and tangy citrus acidity which invigorate the palate and begs, no, demands to be paired with smoky Gouda cheese. Finish is long and mineral-y with rich, leesy brioche notes and some lingering spice. Enjoy now or over the next 2 years (and don't forget the Gouda).
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2013 Pinot Noir - $28
A terroir-driven, earthy Pinot with prominent oak influence on the rustic, spicy-raspberry nose and on the dry, full-ish palate where wild berry acidity leaves you salivating for the next sip. Finishes long but slightly astringent, with residual, dusty tannins and lingering blue fruit and dry herb flavours. Ready to be enjoyed now and will hold for a few years.
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2013 Yard Wine - $30
A robust and rustic blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon, co-fermented and aged for 20 months in 30% new French oak prior to bottling. Needs ample decanting before the nose opens up to reveal layers of brambly dark fruit, sweetened soil and vanilla-chocolate toast. The palate is big and nasty with lingering, blueberry purée and chocolate-covered coffee bean flavours, lip-smacking acidity and grippy tannins that edge towards raspy.
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2013 Four Shadows Vineyard Merlot - $TBA
A masculine Merlot with a cool-berry, menthol and earthy-oak profile on its generous nose and dry, dusty-tannin palate. Notes of licorice, briquettes, vanilla and dark chocolate-cherry are present to add depth and intrigue for your senses. Finish is long and grippy. Age this one for another year before diving in.
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See related:
Get To Know... Gavin Miller

Monday, March 7, 2016

Featured Wines: The Hills Have Wines

If any of the wines in this week's Featured Wines column tickle your fancy, you can order them directly from Jordan by email ( or find him in the Vintage Room of Everything Wine's Morgan Crossing location in South Surrey.

The Hills Have Wines: Gigondas and White Hermitage

Hills are awesome. Not only do they break the monotony of flat landscapes (or “violently disturb the peace” if you’re from Saskatchewan), but they provide activities for many, like slinkys, self-aggrandizing snowballs, or little engines that could. Hills rock.
Wine geeks like hills too, but not for rolling down. Hills, depending on their aspect and slope, can provide the perfect conditions for vineyards, staging the vines to better capture the sun, and forcing the roots deeper into the earth by denying them the lazy, yummy topsoil that they would find further down on the valley floor. Hills make great wine, so in a country as wine-soaked as France, they’re celebrities (though admittedly so is David Hasselhoff, so that may be a low bar).
Gigondas, a 30 minute drive east of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (11 minutes if French) in the southern Rhone valley, is a hillside village with almost no flat parts, positioned partways up towards the Dentelles de Montmirail (the peaks of this range look like a vampire’s underbite). Beneath the village, rocky and sandy soils give fruit and body, while the vineyards around and above the town show typical limestone-y structure and minerality. Overwhelmingly Grenache, the wines are like CNDP’s less refined, rural cousin: similar in build, but they don’t know any jokes without bad words and they’re always kinda covered in dirt.
If you believe the legend, Crusader Gaspard de Sterimberg returned wounded to France in 1224 and built a chapel on top of a small hill overlooking the northern Rhone river (and what is now the town of Tain). He built a small chapel to honour Saint Christopher, and lived there as a hermit until he died, pausing in his prayer and repentance only to tend to his vineyards, planted to the way-cool new grape variety he brought back from the Holy Land: Syrah. Disappointingly, that Syrah Origin Story is false, but the chapel is real and the hill is now called Hermitage, one of the most Rockstar hills in all of winedom. Syrah is fittingly the only red grape planted here, but about 10% of this hill is planted to whites Marsanne and Rousanne, which brings me to:
E. Guigal 2011 Hermitage Blanc
Believe the hype. One hand slaps your face and one hand caresses it, with equal measures of creamy body and citrus/quince bracing acidity. Thick and layered with nuttiness and stone fruits, this is a white wine made for Red Wine Season, predominantly Marsanne (95%), and drinks well now but will develop into something profound. A future classic? 95 points Wine Spectator, $73.29 +tax

Ferraton Pere & Fils 2011 Ermitage Blanc “Le Reverdy”
A joint venture between the Ferraton Family and the Rhone icon Michel Chapoutier (more cool stuff from him coming soon), this equal blend of Marsanne and Rousanne (50/50) seeks to make friends rather than make a statement. Creamy, dry and rich (Rousanne brings the comfort food) showing ginger, peach, pear, honey and vanilla cookies. The spelling “Ermitage” is the traditional one, before French explorers discovered the letter H. 94 points Robert Parker, $116.99 +tax

Chateau de Saint Cosme 2013 Gigondas
The Barruol family have owned and operated this house since 1570, and they’re on their 14th generation farming this village-altitude vineyard Le Poste, which surrounds the family’s iconic chapel. They manage to attain a certain timeless, quiet power here, with super-concentrated, peppery fruit and a long, mineral finish, all of which is accomplished without the “big” glycerine of New World wines, or even of the wines from further down the hill. The perfumed, floral nose evolves pretty much in front of you, and as exciting as it drinks currently, I’m going to put some away until 2020. 96 points Wine Spectator, $141.99 +tax

E. Guigal 2011 Gigondas
Ok, here’s the delinquent in this group. As pretty and elegant as Le Poste is, it probably surrenders its lunch money to this bruiser from down the hill on the wrong side of the tracks. Deeper and more ragged, this Grenache has a core of chocolatey tar surrounded by black fruit and obvious wood. It drinks well now (with protein) but time may smooth the contours. 91 points Wine Spectator, $41.79 +tax