Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Quails' Gate small lot wines spice up the portfolio






Photo: Quails' Gate winemaker Nikki Callaway


The most popular white wine at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, year in and year out, is Chasselas Pinot Blanc Pinot Gris.

In 2017, winemaker Nikki Callaway and her team produced a stunning 18,300 cases of this wine. That is more than the total production of most Okanagan wineries.

As amazing as that number is, another interesting trend has emerged at Quails’ Gate. Nikki is adding small lots wines to the portfolio, perhaps for those looking for wines somewhat more exclusive that Chasselas and friends.


“Basically, it stems from me saying I have a tank or a few barrels of wine that are too good to go into the big blend,” Nikki says. “It could be new vineyard blocks coming on board, really impressive barrels or ferments, new winemaking styles we are trying, etc.”

Well received, these wines sell quickly from the Quails’ Gate wine shop and to members of the wine club. Some are also allocated to specific Vancouver restaurants, no doubt including restaurants that pour Chasselas by the glass all summer long.

Quails’ Gate has several blocks of Chasselas, a white vinifera variety associated with the white wines of Switzerland. The oldest block at Quails’ Gate was planted in 1963 and it was an accident. When Richard Stewart was developing the vineyard, he ordered, among other varieties, a labrusca grape called Diamond, then widely grown in Ontario and New York State. The nursery erroneously sent Chasselas vines.

A few years later, a French viticulturist who was visiting the Stewart vineyard correctly identified the vines as Chasselas. It was a fortunate mistake. Unlike Diamond, wine from Chasselas, if somewhat neutral, does not have the offensive aromas and flavours of labrusca.

The lucky Stewarts went on to plant more Chasselas in 1975, 1983, 1987 and 1989. The vineyard map I am looking at may be out of date. It would surprise me if all that Chasselas was retained but a good acreage is still in production.

Grant Stanley, the winemaker who preceded Nikki at Quails’ Gate, solved the somewhat neutral personality of Chasselas by adding Pinot Gris and later Pinot Blanc to the blend

“I can’t recall the year of the addition of Pinot Gris to the label,” Grant says. “We had been adding Pinot Gris to the blend for some time until the quantity reached a percentage that it had to be declared as multi varietal. Chasselas really has very little to offer in aromatics, so the Pinot Gris gives the blend some lovely pear aromas.”

The blend scored a home run.

“It’s funny, we could not slow down sales of that wine,” Grant says. “The liquor board was begging for more every year. I was making 12,000 cases in 2012.” That was his final year at Quails’ Gate. 

The brand has continued to flourish. At the same time, Nikki has added a number of small lot wines to the Quails’ Gate portfolio. In the current spring release, there are three. 
The Orchard Block Gewürztraminer is made with grapes planted in 1989 on a former orchard at the corner of Boucherie Road and Mission Hill Road.

The Shannon Pacific Viognier’s vineyard is not identified in the winery’s technical notes but it certainly is not the Shannon Pacific. That vineyard was planted in the 1960s on Black Sage Road by Richard Stewart in partnership with Calona Vineyards. The label is meant to memorialize that partnership. After the 1988 vine pull-out, the vineyard was sold as raw land, to be replanted a few years later by Burrowing Owl Winery, Sandhill Wines and Tinhorn Creek Vineyards.

The delightful Lucy’s Block Rosé is named for Lucy May Whitworth, a grandmother of the Stewart brothers. The grapes are from a new Stewart vineyard in East Kelowna, called Westpoint Vineyard.

Kudos to the winery for adding these and other small lot wines to its portfolio. They add spice to what is already a good portfolio.

Here are notes in the new releases.

Quail’s Gate Chasselas Pinot Blanc Pinot Gris 2017 ($17.99 for 18,300 cases). This is 60% Chasselas, 22% Pinot Blanc and 18% Pinot Gris, cold-fermented separately before being blended. The wine begins with aromas of melon and apple with undertones of lime and pear, all of which are echoed on the palate. This is a refreshing, easy-quaffing white looking for a warm summer’s day. 90.

Quail’s Gate Chenin Blanc 2017 ($19.99 for 3,000 cases). This wine begins with aromas of quince, pear and apple. It has a lively palate with bright, refreshing acidity and with flavours of lemon and melon. There is a good spine of minerality and the finish is dry. 91.

Quail’s Gate Dry Riesling 2017 ($16.99 for 3,600 cases). The racy acidity gives this wine a tangy and refreshing impact on the palate. There are aromas of lime and green apple that are echoed in the flavour, along with notes of minerality on the dry finish. The balance here between 7.8 grams of acidity and 7.5 grams of residual sugar creates an intriguing tension on the palate. I would recommend cellaring this for a year or two at least. 91.

Quail’s Gate Gewürztraminer 2017 ($16.99 for 5,900 cases). The wine begins with rose petal spice and lychee. The flavours include lychee and grapefruit with a light spice note on the finish, which is just off-dry. 90.

Quail’s Gate Orchard Block Gewürztraminer 2017 ($21.99 for 550 cases). The grapes for this wine are from a single vineyard that was planted in 1989. The aroma of lychee and ripe peach mingled with spice promises a rich wine; and the flavours deliver a bowl of tropical and stone fruit. 92.

Quail’s Gate Shannon Pacific Viognier 2017 ($23.99 for 1,030 cases). The wine begins with aromas of apricot and peach. Richly textured, the wine delivers flavours of apricot and mango with a hint of almond on the long finish. 91.

Quail’s Gate Rosé 2017 ($16.99 for 8,500 cases). The wine presents with a delicate salmon pink hue. The aromas of raspberry are echoed on the palate, along with notes of strawberry and cherry. The finish is crisply dry. 90

Quail’s Gate Lucy’s Block Rosé ($24.99 for 550 cases). This is 85% Pinot Meunier and 15% Pinot Noir. The wine has a light rose petal hue and a delicate wild berry aroma. But the juicy weight and the mouth-filling flavours of strawberry and raspberry quite take one by surprise. This is a lovely, elegant rosé. 92.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Black Widow's wines showcase the 2017 vintage







 Photo: Black Widow's Dick Lancaster

For my book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries, I chose a premium red blend called Hourglass as the iconic or collectible wine for Black Widow Winery.

That is not among the winery’s spring releases. As one would expect with a spring release, most of the wines are white (but with two fine reds).

On tasting the whites and the rosé, I learned two things:

·       The 2017 vintage wines are excellent.
·       And winemaker Dick Lancaster, who operates this winery with his family, get astonishing mileage from aromatic grape varieties.

For some background on the winery, here is text from John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

In the summer of 2000, while looking for a getaway cottage with a few vines, Dick and Shona Lancaster saw this property on Naramata Road. At three hectares (seven acres), it was bigger than they were looking for but, with producing vines and a panoramic view of Naramata Bench and the lake, it was too good to turn down. “Classic up-selling,” Dick says of the realtor. “And as soon as we got a vineyard, the goal was to set up a winery.”

Born in Toronto in 1953, Dick grew up in Montreal and picked up an interest in wine from his father, Graham, a long-term Air Canada’s food services manager. Dick began making wine from wild grapes while still in high school. A three-month tour of European wine regions in 1976 sealed that interest. In Vancouver, where he and Shona lived from 1970 until moving to the Okanagan a few years ago, Dick was an award-winning home winemaker for more than 25 years.

You could call Dick a polymath, given all the skills he has acquired. Starting in biology, he earned a master’s degree. Disillusioned by the lack of well-paying jobs, he took a real estate course, then sold cars and became district manager for a leasing company. Then he got a master’s degree in business administration and finally qualified as an accountant. From 1992 until 2008, he was a vice-president with Imasco Inc., western Canada’s largest stucco manufacturer. Naturally, Black Widow’s gravity-flow winery, which he designed, in finished in tawny-hued stucco. “How can I not use stucco?” he laughs.

The vineyard already had Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Schönburger when the Lancasters bought it. In 2001, they added Merlot and a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon, selling grapes until launching Black Widow in 2006. “We like wines that have some real flavour and character to them, and that comes from really ripe grapes,” Dick says.

The winery is named after the indigenous desert-dwelling spider that is, fortunately, so shy it is seldom seen. The insect should be avoided because the bite (only females bite) is highly venomous.

The spider has inspired many of the labels for the wines. Here are notes on the current releases.

Black Widow Pinot Gris 2017 ($23 for 505 cases). Made with estate-grown fruit, the juice was allowed to soak on the skins and then was fermented cool; some 15% was barrel-fermented in new French oak. That expresses itself only in the wine’s luscious texture. The aromas and flavours – pear, peach and apples – fill the mouth. The finish, with a hint of citrus, is refreshing. 91.

Black Widow Gewürztraminer 2017 ($25 for 125 cases). This is a full-flavoured Alsace style fermented dry, and it is all the more interesting for that, especially for those of us who find off-dry Gewürztraminer somewhat boring. This wine has aromas and flavours of spice, lychee and grapefruit, with a lingering finish. 92.                                                                                                           

 Black Widow Oasis 2017 ($23 for 460 cases). This is a blend of Schönburger, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris, all fermented separately in stainless steel. The wine has aromas of spice and grapefruit leading to flavours of peach, pear and grapefruit. The wine is aromatic but the finish is dry. 91.

Black Widow Muscat Ottonel 2017 ($25 for 105 cases). This wine is made with grapes from the Carpenter Vineyard, also on the Naramata Bench. It has delicate rose petal spice aromas. The initial delicacy of flavours shows remarkable intensity on the palate even though the wine is just 12.2% alcohol. The wine is finished just off-dry. 90.                      

Black Widow Sparkling Web 2017 ($24 for 230 cases). This is the winery’s second vintage of a dry, frizzante-style blend of Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. It is a versatile wine: the bubbles make it festive while the dry finish makes it a good luncheon wine. The spicy tropical aromas and flavours are appealing. 90.

Black Widow Rosé 2017 ($25 for 60 cases). Made with Syrah and Merlot, this rosé has that rich dark cherry hue which, alas, is going out of fashion. But if the intent is to make a full-flavoured rosé – as was obviously the intent here – the juice needs serious skin contact. This wine has aromas and flavours of strawberry compote, with a lot of fruit sweetness on the palate. 90.

Black Widow Phobia 2016 ($29 for 400 cases). This wine is 60% Syrah and 40% Merlot, aged in barrel for 17 months. Dark in colour, it begins with an almost jammy aroma of plum and black cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, black cherry, cassis with a hint of black pepper. 92.

Black Widow Red Back 2016 ($34 for 105 cases). This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot aged 17 months in barrel. It begins with aromas of mint and cassis. On the palate, the fruit flavours are vibrant, with notes of black currant. This wine expresses itself best when decanted and allowed to breath for several hours. 92.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Fort Berens is about to plant second Lillooet vineyard








Photo: The vineyard at Fort Berens


Now that spring has finally arrived, Lillooet’s Fort Berens Estate Winery can begin planting what it calls its north vineyard.

To be planted over two seasons, it will add 18 acres of vineyard, essentially doubling the acreage the winery has under vine. It confirms the success of the risk undertaken in 2009 when Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek, the founders of Fort Berens, pioneered viticulture at Lillooet.

“The expansion of the vineyard reflects our confidence in the Lillooet area growing region our determination to produce wines from our estate and from grapes from other vineyards in the Lillooet region,” they said in a recent note on the winery’s website. It also represents their anticipation that Lillooet is about to be recognized as a sub-appellation under the VQA rules.

This spring, Fort Berens will plant five acres of Cabernet Franc and four acres of Merlot. Next year, the winery intends to plant 3.5 acres of Riesling, another two acres of Merlot, two acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and 1.5 acres of Grüner Veltliner.

The winery has just released two whites and a rosé from the 2017 vintage. “In a lot of ways, this was one of our most challenging vintages,” Rolf writes in a letter accompanying the wines. “After a few abundant vintages, we are now dealing with a smaller vintage. As farmers, we have to deal with the impact of the fluctuations in seasons and other new challenges. … [But] we are very proud of the quality of this vintage.”

Here are notes on the wines.

Fort Berens Riesling 2017 ($17.99 for 864 cases). This wine is slightly off dry but well-balanced, with a full texture and lingering flavours. It begins with aromas of lime and apple, leading to flavours of citrus and apple. The wine has almost 28 grams of residual sugar, which gives it a fleshy texture, but the eight grams of acidity offset the sugar and creates a pleasing tension on the palate. This wine is drinking well but it will age very nicely and develop even more complex flavours and aromas. 91.

Fort Berens Pinot Gris 2017 ($17.99 for 824 cases). The grapes are 80% from the estate vineyard and 20% from a Similkameen vineyard. Fifteen per cent of the juice was fermented in barrel with wild yeast; the rest was fermented in stainless steel. The wine begins with rich aromas of pineapple and mango. On the palate, there are flavours of ripe cantaloupe, pineapple and pear with a touch of minerality. The barrel-fermented portion as well as the 10.5 grams of residual sugar give the wine mouth-filling texture. 90.


Fort Berens Rosé 2017 ($17.99 for 658 cases). This is made with 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Gamay Noir. The Pinot Noir grapes were cold-soaked for three days before being pressed, to achieve the delicate rose petal hue. The wine begins with aromas of strawberries. On the palate, there are flavours of wild strawberries and raspberries. Just a hint of natural sweetness gives the wine a juicy texture. This is a wine with languid summer picnics written all over it – a delightful and satisfying rosé. 91.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Bonamici Cellars opens tasting room








Photo: Bonamici's Philip Soo and Mario Rodi


Bonamici Cellars is about to open a wine shop south of Okanagan Falls to complete its journey from virtual winery to land-based winery. There is a soft opening the first weekend in May but the official opening is scheduled for May 17, to run into the long weekend.

The shop is at 2385 Rolling Hills Road, on a property the owners of Bonamici acquired in 2016. It is in a burgeoning region for wine touring. Noble Ridge Vineyards and Liquidity Wines are just up the road while Blue Mountain Vineyards, Stag’s Hollow Winery, Wild Goose Vineyards, Meyer Family Vineyards and Synchromesh Wines are in the neighbourhood.

The winery is called Bonamici – Italian for good friends – because owners Philip Soo and Mario Rodi are old friends with shared passions for wine.

Mario, who was born in 1957 in northern Ontario, was just 12 when he started helping his immigrant Italian father crush grapes for the family’s wine. Philip was born in Vancouver in 1969, the son of immigrants from Hong Kong who were just discovering what little wine culture there was in Canada at the time. “We had family celebrations but they never encouraged kids to drink,” Philip remembers. “I was 12 or 13 when my first sip of alcohol, Baby Duck, was at a Christmas party.”

It seems that was enough to get Philip interested. After getting degrees in microbiology and food engineering, he was offered jobs at a pharmaceutical firm and a company that produced gourmet salads but, having been a good amateur beer maker while in college, he took a job with a manufacturer of beer kits “because it was in line with my hobby.” Subsequently, Andrew Peller Ltd. bought this company along with a wine kit company. Philip was then promoted to Peller’s winery in Port Moody in 2000. When the winery closed five years later, he moved to the Okanagan to become a consulting winemaker after turning down an offer to work at Gallo Brothers in California.

Mario spent about 20 years in food and soft drinks sales before joining Peller in 1995 as general manager of Wine Experts, as the kit company was called. He and Philip, who reported to him, became close friends. Mario left Peller in 2009. Deciding to stay in the wine business, he proposed Bonamici to Philip. “He is a great winemaker,” Mario says. “I focussed on the sales and marketing for my entire career. I thought this might be an opportunity for us to get together and build something great.”

Taking advantage of a great vintage in 2012, they bought grapes from Philip’s favourite growers and contacted space in an existing winery to make about 1,000 cases of wine. Two wines were released initially, a red blend and a white blend.

Operating as a so-called virtual winery gave Bonamici several years to establish its brand.  Bonamici has offered award-winning wines, even while working in another winery’s facilities. It was, in fact, the only virtual winery to win a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence.

The partners spent the virtual years in developing their own winery. In 2016, they bought the 4.25-hectare (10.5-acre) property on Rolling Hills Road.  “We have a wonderful southern sloping aspect,” Philip says. “It gets full sun from morning to night.”

They planted one acre each of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris last year. This year, they are planting another two acres: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese. Four acres remain to be planted, likely with red varietals.

“We are especially excited about the Sangiovese,” Mario says. “This is being grown specifically for our Belviaggio red blend which we will continue to model after the Super Tuscans.”   

The Bonamici label, designed by Hired Guns Creative of Nanaimo, celebrates the friendship by depicting two individuals floating along in the gondola under a balloon. An added touch is the capsule which repeats the balloon motif.

“The label is a metaphor for two friends on the journey of building a great wine company,” Mario says. “It is an adventure for the two of us.”

This is the most charming new wine label from an Okanagan winery in some time. The charm triggered a spontaneous smile when I first saw it in 2013. It continues to have the same effect.

Here is a note on some of the current releases.

Bonamici Pinot Grigio 2016 ($16.50). The flavours are spicy and rich, with notes of pear and ripe apple. 88. 

Bonamici Sauvignon Blanc Viognier 2016 ($19.25). This inspired blend is 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Viognier. It begins with herbal aromas recalling Sancerre whites but with the backbone and structure and stone fruit flavours of Viognier. The finish is crisp and tangy 90.

Bonamici Merlot Cabernet Franc 2015 ($22). This is 58% Merlot and 42% Cabernet Franc; and the wine is nearly sold out. The wine begins with aromas of cassis and blackberry. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and brambly, dark fruit. 90.


Bonamici Belviaggio 2014 ($30.50). This is 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Syrah and 10% Malbec, aged in oak for 15 months. The wine still has a firm, age-worthy texture. It has aromas and flavours of cassis, black cherry and plum mingled with a touch of pepper. 91.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Okanagan Falls nearing sub-appellation










Photo: Barrels and vineyards at Stag's Hollow


The wineries of Okanagan Falls are in a race with those of the Naramata Bench to secure the next sub-appellation designation in the Okanagan

Because sub-appellations are based in part on soil types, not all of the member of the Okanagan Falls Winery Association will be in the sub-appellation. No doubt, there will be a solution. Perhaps the wineries on the east side of Skaha Lake will come up with their own sub-appellation.

Whatever the outcome, all of the producers have interesting wines which they showed off recently at their annual Vancouver tasting. Here are notes.


Blasted Church Vineyards

This winery, which opened in 2000, has been operated since 2002 by Evelyn and Chris Campbell. Part of the success of this property are the colourful labels which are based on the story of how a church was dismantled in 1929 to move it from Fairview to Okanagan Falls. The contractor set off a dynamite charge in the church to loosen the nails. The church, still open in Okanagan Falls, became known as the “blasted church.”

Pinot Gris 2016 ($22). The wine is a basket of fruit, with aromas and flavours of pear, pineapple, peach and citrus. 90.

Mixed Blessings Viognier 2016 ($22). Fermented and aged in stainless steel, this wine has aromas and flavours of stone fruit, with the classic mineral spine of the variety. The finish is crisp and dry. 91.

Merlot 2015 ($26.99). This bold, ripe wine reflects the warm 2015 vintage. It has aromas of blueberries and black currants which are echoed on the palate, along with plums, chocolate and a hint of vanilla. 91.

Syrah 2015 ($29.15). This wine begins with aromas of blackberry, black cherry and pepper, leading to flavours of dark fruits. The long ripe tannins give the wine a satisfying elegance. 90

Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars

The Mavety family have been farming their Okanagan Falls property since 1972. Their vineyard, the largest in the region, is focussed on Burgundian varietals. All the wines are estate grown. Matt Mavety makes the wine and his sister, Christie (l), looks after the marketing.

Chardonnay 2016 ($20.90). This wine begins with aromas of citrus, a hint of  butter and very subtle oak leading to flavours of apple and citrus. This is a complex wine, rich on the palate but fresh on the finish, which lingers. 92.

Gamay Noir 2016 ($22.90). This deep-hued wine begins with aromas of cherry, leading to flavours of cherry, mocha and spice. The wine is full on the palate, with a velvet texture. 90.

Reserve Brut 2009 R.D. ($39.90). This elegant wine is 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir, a classic Champagne blend. The wine was aged on the lees for six and a half years, was disgorged in August 16, and aged more than a year in bottle before release. The wine, which has a fine mousse, begins with aromas of brioche and apple which are echoed in the flavours, along with a hint of strawberry. Time on the lees has given this wine an appealing rich and creamy texture. 93.




Crescent Hill Winery

Crescent Hill is a small winery at the south end of Penticton, high above Skaha Lake. While the winery opened only recently, the vineyard is almost 40 years old. The winery pays tribute to Teresa Wiseman’s father, Glennallyn, who gets credit for planting Penticton’s first vineyard. She runs the winery with her partner, Russell.

Glennallyn Private Reserve Gewurzztraminer 2015 ($NA). The richness and depth of this wine reflects the benefit of old vines. It has aromas and flavours of spice, orange zest and lychee. 90.

Cristal’s Fault Riesling 2016  ($NA). This is slightly off-dry, with aromas of herbs and citrus echoed on the palate. 88.

Curvy Gurl Chardonnay 2015 ($NA). This unoaked Chardonnay is juicy, with flavours of  apples, peaches and melons. 88.

Olde Orchard Muscat 2016 ($NA). The Muscat grape in this wine is Pearl of Csaba, one of the earliest white vinifera planted in the Okanagan. There is rose petal spice on the nose and absolutely a ton of tropical fruit on the palate. 90.

Consensual Chaos 2016 ($NA). This is a Zweigelt rosé with a touch of Gewürztraminer to add spice to the strawberry and cranberry flavours. 89.

Krāzē Legz Vineyard and Winery

Gerry and Sue Thygessen opened this Kaleden winery in 2010. The wines and the tasting room reflected a Roaring Twenties theme that resonates well in the wine shop but not so well in restaurants and wine stores, where the name is unlikely to be explained. As a result, 90% of the wines now are sold under the more accessible Skaha Vineyard label.

Skaha Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2017 ($21.25). This is a textbook Pinot Blanc – fresh and crisp, with aromas and flavours of fresh apples and with a bright finish. 91.

Skaha Vineyard Unoaked Chardonnay 2017 ($21.25). This wine is also crisp and fresh, with aromas and flavours of apple and pink grapefruit. 91.

Skaha Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2014 ($25.85). This is a bold and dark wine with brambly blackberry and cherry aromas and with layered flavours of dark fruit. 92.

Skaha Vineyard Impulsion Reserve 2013 ($29.75). This is a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc, aged 24 months in French oak. It is a harmonious wine with a generous texture. It has aromas and flavours of black cherry and blackberry mingled with vanilla and chocolate.

Liquidity Wines

Ian MacDonald, formerly a businessman specializing in uniforms for Olympic events, now leads a group of investors who operate this winery. The wine shop houses a bistro and an art gallery. Winemaker Alison Moyes makes increasing artistic wines to match.

Liquidity Estate Chardonnay 2016 ($26). Crisp and clean, this is a lovely fruit-driven wine. It begins with aromas of citrus and apple. On the palate, there is a medley of peach and ripe pear flavours. 90.

Liquidity Estate Pinot Noir 2016 ($26). Dark in colour, this is an intense, concentrated Pinot Noir with aromas and flavours of cherry and vanilla and a hint of spice on the finish. There is a good cellar life ahead of this wine: I would recommend not opening it for another couple of years. 90-92.

Meyer Family Vineyards
JAK  (left) and Janice Meyer offered just Chardonnay when they debuted wines from a Naramata Vineyard in 2008. Then they bought a larger Okanagan Falls vineyard as well. Now, the winery produces 8,000 cases a year, including Pinot Noir and sparkling wine. And a budget Gewürztraminer because that variety was already planted.

Extra Brut Methode Traditional ($40). Crisp and dry, this wine has flavours of lemon mingled with the bready notes of lees. 91.
McLean Creek Gewürztraminer 2016 ($18). This is a refreshing wine with aromas and flavours of lychee, grapefruit and spiced herbs. 90.

McLean Creek Chardonnay 2016 ($33). This was aged 11 months on the lees in French oak (20% new). It begins with aromas mingling lees notes with lemon and apple. On the palate, the wine is crisp, with bright acidity and with citrus flavours. 90.

Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($40). The grapes for this wine come from a fine Kelowna vineyard that now makes its own wine under the Mirabel label. The wine is bright, with aromas and flavours of cherry mingled with vanilla. The texture is silky.

Nighthawk Vineyards

Nighthawk Vineyards, which is operated by Daniel and Christy Bibby, is located on a vineyard so near to Green Lake that the Gewürztraminer vines got an bath in this spring’s floods. With any luck, it will only mean a saving in irrigation for this three-year-old winery.

Gewürztraminer 2015 ($19.90). This is a classic Alsace style wine, with spice, grapefruit and lychee aromas and flavours and a rich, concentrated palate. The finish is crisp and balanced to dryness.

Chardonnay 2016 ($24.90). This wine has had eight months in French oak, just enough to impart a Burgundian personality. There are aromas and flavours of citrus and herbs mingled with a moderate touch of oak. The finish is crisp. 90.

Pinot Noir 2015 ($24.90). This wine was aged in concrete with the result that the fruit flavours are bright – cherry and strawberry – while the finish is silky. 90.

Cabernet France 2015 ($39.90). Here is another example of a winery raising the profile of a red variety that does so well in the Okanagan. This wine begins with aromas of blackberries and cherries that are echoed on the palate. The long, ripe tannins give the wine a generous texture. 92.

Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery

Former Calgarians Leslie and Jim D’Andrea opened this winery in 2005. Several years ago, when Jim retired from practicing law, they moved to a home on site, with great views of vineyards and Vaseux Lake.


“The One” Sparkling Wine 2014 ($39.90 for 310 cases). The is a traditional method sparkling made with 82% Chardonnay and 18% Pinot Noir. The wine spent 27 months on the yeast lees before being disgorged. The wine begins with aromas of biscuits and citrus, leading to flavours mingling biscuit, apple and citrus. The bubbles give it a creamy texture. The finish is crisp and fresh. 92.

Pinot Grigio 2016 ($19.90 for 422 cases). The wine begins with aromas of pear and apple, echoed on the palate. The winery describes this as “surprisingly voluptuous” – and I would agree. It should be labelled Pinot Gris, except that this has become something of a brand in the Noble Ridge portfolio. 89.

Mingle 2016 ($19.90 for 637 cases). This is almost sold out and will soon be succeeded by the 2017 vintage. Mingle has always been an appealing white blend. This vintage is 45% Chardonnay, 29% Gewürztraminer and 26% Pinot Gris. The Gewürztraminer contributes spice in the aroma and the palate. The other varietals add texture and flavours of apple and grapefruit. 90.

Stony Knoll Chardonnay 2016 ($24.90 for 486 cases). This is also almost sold out. The wine is fruit forward with flavours of citrus, apples and peaches. It was fermented 94% in stainless steel and 6% in year-old barrels, primarily to contribute texture. 90.

Reserve Chardonnay 2014 ($29.90 for 300 cases). Almost sold out, this award-winning wine was fermented in stainless steel, not allowed to have malolactic fermentation and aged 14 months in French oak ($20% new). Aromas and flavours of toast and vanilla mingle with mandarin orange and almonds. The finish lingers. 92.

Estate Meritage 2016 ($24.90). The wine has aromas and flavours of black currant and black cherry with notes of vanilla and chocolate on the long finish. 90.

Reserve Meritage 2015 ($34.90 for 750 cases). This is 77% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% each of Cabernet Franc and Malbec. The wine was aged 15 months in French (75%) and American (25%) barrels, of which 40% were new. This is a bold wine, with 15% alcohol reflecting the hot vintage. Aromas of blackberry and blueberry jump from the glass, leading to richly satisfying flavours of dark fruits, chocolate and tobacco. 93.

Painted Rock Estate Winery
This winery opened in 2009 on a vineyard overlooking Skaha Lake. It is also near the Skaha climbing bluffs. Painted Rock arguable has the most elegant tasting room among this group of wineries. You can sometimes find owner John Skinner holding court here.

Merlot 2014 ($34.99 for 1,356 cases). This is a bold (15.2% alcohol), richly flavoured and concentrated Merlot. It was aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). It begins with aromas of spicy red fruit, leading to flavours of black cherry, blueberry, mocha and vanilla. 92.

Cabernet Franc 2015 ($44.99 for 400 cases). This is a wine remarkable for its power (15.3% alcohol) and intensity of flavour. Aromas of cassis, blackberry and cherry bound from the glass, followed by a rich medley of red fruit on the palate, including cherry, blackberry and raspberry. The hint of mocha on the finish supports a lush texture. 93.

Syrah 2015 ($39.99). This wine delivers terrific fruit aromas and flavours – black cherry, blackberry and fig, with notes of leather, vanilla and pepper. The wine was aged 18 months in barrel (30% new), of which 80% was French oak and 20% American oak. 92.

Red Icon 2015 ($54.99 for 1,487 cases). This blend is 45% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, 11% Malbec, 11% Petit Verdot and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine begins with aromas of black cherry, cassis and vanilla which are echoed in the flavours. The texture is rich and concentrated, backed by long ripe tannins. On the finish, mocha and coffee mingle with spicy dark fruit. Decanting helps open up the aromas and flavours. It would be preferable to let it blossom in bottle for five or 10 years before opening it. 94.


Pentâge Winery

Julie Rennie and Paul Gardner (left)  opened this winery in 2003 on a vineyard high above Skaha Lake. The signature feature here, aside from excellent wines, is the cave that Paul blasted from solid rock, a work that consumed about 10 years of labour. If no tour is available, you can always peer in through the massive windows in the aircraft-hanger-sized door.

Pinot Gris 2016 ($20). This crisp wine has aromas and flavours of pear and citrus. 90.

Viognier 2015 ($23). The wine was fermented and aged half in stainless steel and half in older French oak for about eight months. The wine has aromas of citrus, pear and stone fruit that are echoed on the palate. 90.

Syrah 2013 ($26). This wine was aged 15 months in oak and a further two years in bottle before release. Time has polished the tannins. The wine has aromas and flavours of fig and black cherry with notes of spice and black pepper punctuating the finish. 92.

Pentâge 2012 ($35). This is 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Cabernet Franc, 18% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 2% Syrah. It has aromas and flavours of dark fruit mingled with dark chocolate, tobacco and toasted oak. 91.

Play Estate Winery
This winery’s attractive wine shop and restaurant are perched on a Penticton hillside overlooking the north end of Skaha Lake. The labels are replete with theatrical references because one of the ownership group, the Pechet family of Calgary, operate Stagecoach Theatre. The partner at the winery is sommelier Mohammed Awad (right).

Ad Lib 2016 ($20). The wine is 75% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Sémillon. Crisply dry, the wine begins with herbal and spicy aromas, leading to flavours of lime and a hint of anise on the finish. 89.

Moscato 2016 ($20). This crisp and refreshing Muscat wine has spicy aromas with flavours of spice and lime.  90.

Improv 2015  ($25). The blend is 55% Merlot, 20% Syrah, 17% Cabernet Franc and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine has a mouth-filling texture with flavours of black cherry, tobacco and vanilla. 90.

Applause 2015 ($40). The blend is 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc and 20% Merlot. This wine was aged in oak for two years, polishing the texture. Full-bodied, the wine has aromas and flavours of dark fruits with a touch of dark chocolate. 91.




See Ya Later Ranch

High on the side of Hawthorne Mountain and backing onto a high elevation vineyard, Sea Ya Later Ranch offers visitors stunning views over Okanagan Falls and the valley. It also maybe the most pet-friendly winery in the valley. One of the former owners of the property was a dog lover. The 12 dogs he owned all were buried here under headstones. The names of some of the dogs, like Ping, now appear on wine labels. The winemaker is David Saysomsack (left).

Riesling 2016 ($16.99). The wine is crisp, with tangy notes of lemon mingled with good minerality. 90.

Pinot Gris 2017 ($16.99). Appealingly fresh, with aromas of pears, peaches and ripe apples. 90.

Pinot Noir 2016 ($19.99). There is three per cent Zinfandel in this wine, presumably to darken the colour. The wine has a juicy texture, with aromas and flavours of cherry and ripe strawberry. 90.

Ping Meritage 2015 ($24.99). This is a good value Meritage. It begins with aromas of cassis and black cherry, leading to flavours of black cherry, black currant, chocolate and vanilla. The long, ripe tannins help make the wine easy to drink. 90.

Stag’s Hollow Winery

This Okanagan Falls winery which opened in 1995 has been expanding its portfolio in recent years with Italian and Spanish varietals. Stag’s Hollow is one of just two wineries with Dolcetto. Winery owners Larry Gerelus and Linda Pruegger are among a group of wineries from around the world who have been invited to pour Dolcetto at big tasting in Italy in May while winemaker Dwight Sick (right) minds the store.

Albariño 2017 ($18.99). The wine begins with floral and citrus aromas that lead to intense flavours of lime and grapefruit mingled with herbs. 91.

Dolcetto 2016 ($21.99). Dark in colour, the wine has aromas of cherry and raspberry which are echoed on the palate. There is an intriguing hint of almond on the finish. 91.

Pinot Noir 2015 Shuttleworth Creek Vineyard ($25.99). When this vineyard was planted in 2012 and 2013, Stag’s Hollow made a big bet on Pinot Noir, planting five clones. The bet is paying off. This is bright, vibrant wine with aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry and a silky texture. 91.

Renaissance Pinot Noir 2014 ($30). This bold, intense wine begins with  aromas of cherries and strawberries mingled with notes of earth and spice. Savoury flavours of plum and black cherry framed by oak make a statement on the palate. The wine, which was aged 13 months in French oak (50% new), is age-worthy. 92.

Synchromesh Wines
This small winery is about to get bigger. Last year, proprietor Alan Dickinson (left) bought 102 acres of raw land adjoining Synchromesh’s five-acre Storm Haven vineyard. This year, he will begin planting about 30 acres, primarily with Riesling and Cabernet Franc, the signature varieties at Synchromesh. The remainder of the land, which wraps around Peachcliff Mountain, will remain a nature preserve.

Riesling 2017 ($23). This wine is a blend of the four vineyards from which Synchromesh draws Riesling grapes (three on the Naramata Bench plus the estate vineyard). It begins with aromas of lemon and lime. These are echoed on the palate along with flavours of pineapple and apple. In the signature Synchromesh style, the wine balances 42 grams of residual sugar with 10.3 grams of acidity to deliver bold flavours and a tangy finish. 91.

Riesling 2017 Storm Haven Vineyard ($40 for 186 cases). Here, 53.5 grams of residual sugar are balanced with 11.4 grams of acidity, almost creating a tension on the palate and a finish that, remarkably, is dry. The aromas and flavours are intense: lime, lemon, grapefruit and ripe mango with a backbone of minerality. 93.

Cabernet Franc 2016 Cachola Family Vineyards ($28 for 487 cases). This vineyard is just north of Oliver. In style, this vibrant and fresh red recalls Loire Valley reds. It has aromas and flavours of blackberry, raspberry and cherry. 92.

Tertre Rouge 2014 Turtle Rock Farms ($40 for 200 cases). Motor racing fans – Alan Dickinson’s father once raced sports cars – will know that Tertre Rouge is a famed corner at Le Mans. This is “where perfect driver balance and finesse are key to a clean exit leading to one of the longest straightaways in motor racing,” the winery explains. It is a simile for this long-lived wine, a blend of 54% Merlot and 46% Cabernet Franc aged 20 months in French oak (45% new). The winery describes it aptly as a dark and brooding wine with flavours of brambly, dark fruit. 92.

Wild Goose Vineyards & Winery
I ran out of time to stop at this table but I will visit the winery this year. The wines never disappoint. More often, they sweep you away with their quality. Visitors to the winery in recent years also have been able to  enjoy the food at the Smoke & Oak Bistro, with a patio overlooking vineyards.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Friday, April 27, 2018

Marquis Wine Cellars champions Greek wines





Photo: Wine merchant John Cleredis (l) with Yorgos Svanias, export manager for Domaine Skouris

Food & Wine Magazine, in a web posting, declares: “Greek wines may be the most underrated on the planet.”

That is more than a little surprising, given that the Greeks have been making wine for thousands of years, probably longer than the Romans. Yet Italian wines are widely available while Greek wines are scarcer in wine stores than hen’s teeth.

The BC Liquor Distribution Branch, for example, lists nine Greek products (including two spirits and one retsina) compared with 544 Italian products.

John Cleredis, a Vancouver wine merchant of Greek heritage, has just done something to rectify that shocking oversight. After a recent visit to a wine fair in Greece, he has imported 24 Greek wines for his Marquis Wine Cellars store, one of the oldest and best private wine stores in Vancouver.

“There are three or four or five more producers I want to bring in but I need to start slowly,” he said recently at a luncheon where he introduced one of the producers, Domaine Skouras, and its export manager, Yorgos Svanias. Five wines were served at the luncheon, including two excellent wines from Skouras.

John’s timing may be spot on. In a world where wine consumers seem to be looking for something new, Greek wines are ready to be discovered.

There are several reasons why Greek wines are not yet widely available. Most of the 500 wineries in Greece are small, lacking enough wines to export. There are perhaps five large producers in international markets. The brands familiar to consumers would include Boutari, Achaia Clauss and Tsantali.

Domaine Skouras, founded in the 1980s, is one of twenty or so medium-sized producers that make between one million and two million bottles a year.

The Greek financial crisis that began a decade ago has given producers some incentive to export and develop new markets. Recently, groups of producers have been active in Quebec and Ontario, and in the United States, the largest overseas market for Greek wines.

To develop export sales, the Greeks need to overcome the perception left by bad retsina and mediocre table wines of a generation ago. The fact is there has been a sea change in the quality of Greek wines as a younger generation with better training has taken over wineries and vineyards.

One of the producers represented at Marquis is George Diamantakos. “I met Diamantakos last year,” John Cleredis says. “I believe he went to school in Bordeaux. A lot of Greek winemakers have gone to school in Bordeaux; some in Italy.”

Greeks have the advantage, and perhaps the disadvantage, that their wines are made with indigenous grape varieties not grown elsewhere. This gives the wines aromas and flavours that are distinctive, pleasantly so.

If you are bored with, say, Chardonnay, how about a bottle of Preknadi White? If you want a change from Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, how about a bottle of Agiorgitiko?

The wineries, of course, recognize that consumers in export markets have a lot of difficulty with the names of the Greek grapes. “Gewürztraminer is not an easy one to pronounce either,” Yorgos says, “but people got used to it. Maybe some of the Greek names might be difficult but I think we are going to get there.” 

Agiorgitiko is the most widely planted red variety in Greece, making wines whose styles range from Beaujolais to Chianti. This variety eases into export markets under the name, Saint George, which appears to be a translation of the Greek name for the variety.

“Why is the wine called Saint George?” Yorgos asks rhetorically. “In the days of the Ottoman Empire, the only reason that the Turks, who are Muslim, would let us make wine was to offer it to our saints. So the Greeks would make a wine for Saint George, the protector of the land. That is why they give the name to the variety – Agiorgitiko/Saint George.”

There is another complicating factor: most consumers outside Greece are unlikely to distinguish between a grape name on the label and the protected designation of origin. One of the wines at Marquis from Diamantakos is Naoussa Red ($50).

Naoussa is a designated viticultural area in northern Greece. In fact, it was the first region in Greece to get its own appellation (in 1971). The major red grown here is Xynomavro. The Naoussa reds have a fine reputation and are sometimes compared with Nebbiolo wines from Italy.

As challenging as the Greek names seem, it is well worth the effort to become familiar with them. Some consumers in British Columbia appear to have made the effort. One of the wines listed here is a Boutari Naoussa ($17.49).

Boutari also lists, at the same price, one of the important white Greek varieties: Moschofilero (also spelled Moscofilero). The wines from this variety are fresh and crisp, with aromas and flavours recalling Muscat, even though the variety is not related to the Muscat family.

The wines offered at Marquis generally are priced from $26 to $60 a bottle. Clearly, John Cleredis selected premium wines to represent the new Greece. Here are notes on the five tasted at lunch.

Domaine Skouras Moscofilero 2016 ($32.95). This wine has aromas of rose petals, spice and orange peel, leading to flavours of citrus and peach. Bright acidity gives the wine a crisp, refreshing finish. 91.

Diamantakos Preknadi 2016 ($43.39). Preknadi is a native Greek varietal that was on the verge of extinction when George Diamantakos rescued it. The wine is rich on the palate, with flavours of melon and apple. The finish is dry. A complex white. 92.

Diamantakos Naoussa Red 2013 ($50.34). George Diamantakos makes just two wines – and he makes them very well. This is a bold red, with aromas of figs, plums and black cherry that are echoed in the flavours. The texture is full and the flavours are still fresh. 92.

Domaine Skouras Nemea Saint George 2014 ($34.69). This is a medium-bodied red reminiscent of a fine Chianti. It has aromas and flavours of cherry. 91.


Tetramythos Roditis Nature 2016 ($37.30). Roditis is the most widely planted white varietal in Greece. This wine was made in ancient amphorae. It is crisp and fresh with a spine of minerality. The complex flavours mingle herbs, honey, melon and apple. 91.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Sea Star processes its first Saturna Island grapes





Photo: Sea Star's David Goudge



The 2017 releases from Sea Star Vineyards and Winery show a significant increase in the volume of rosé, some 337 cases more than in 2016.

That is the first tangible benefit from last year’s decision by Sea Star owner David Goudge to acquire Saturna Island Vineyards.

Sea Star is on Pender Island. It was the closest, and most logical, winery to take over Saturna where, in spite of a 38-acre vineyard, no wine had been made for a number of years.

The Saturna Island winery was conceived by Vancouver securities lawyer Larry Page. The vineyard was planted between 1995 and 2000. The winery itself struggled, in part because Saturna Island is not readily accessible to wine tourists and in part because a succession of winemakers led to an unfocussed portfolio.

No wines have been bottled there since the 2012 vintage. Since the last winemaker there was injured on the job, the vineyard has fallen into disarray. The unpruned vines are so tangled that a tractor could not be driven between most rows. The vineyard and winery, once advertised for $15 million, were finally available at a fraction of the price.

Sea Star opened in 2014, two years after David purchased the assets of Morning Bay Vineyard & Estate Winery, which was also struggling at the time. The turnaround by David and his winemaker, Ian Baker, was so successful that Sea Star soon was scrambling to find enough grapes to meet the demand for its wine. The Saturna Island vineyard will resolve that problem, at least in time.

“We were able to harvest nine tons of perfectly healthy Pinot Noir last October from a large portion of the vines on Saturna,” David says. “That was remarkable, considering they were completely neglected for over four years. There was blackberry to contend with and thistle - but remarkably no disease issues. It bodes very well for the terroir being well suited to growing grapes.”

Renovating the vineyard began in January with aggressive pruning. “There will be virtually no grapes this year, but next year we should begin to reap the rewards from proper vine management,” David says. “Priority has gone into the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris blocks.”

Here are notes on the current releases.


Sea Star Salish Sea 2017 ($23 for 600 cases). This is a blend of Ortega and Siegerrebe. There is a lightly spicy aroma leading to a medley of fruit flavours, including grapefruit and cantaloupe. 90.

Sea Star Ortega 2017 ($22 for 533 cases). The wine begins with aromas of guava and melon, leading to flavours of cantaloupe, apple and grapefruit with refreshing acidity on the tangy, lingering finish. 91

Sea Star Pinot Gris 2017 ($23 for 189 cases). The wine begins with aromas of pear, pink grapefruit, with a note of herbs and spice. On the palate, there are flavours of  melon and pear mingled with a hint of lemon. The texture is full while the finish is crisp and dry. 90.


Sea Star Siegerrebe 2017 ($22 for 289 cases). This aromatic wine begins with aromas of lemon, lime and spiced rose petal, which are echoed on the palate along with flavours of lychee. The finish, which lingers, is refreshing and balanced to dryness. 90.

Sea Star Stella Maris 2017 ($24 for 431 cases). This is a blend of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Ortega and Schönburger. This is a complex wine, with layers of aroma and flavours. It begins with aromas of citrus, fresh apple and spice and it delivers flavours of apple, peach, pink grapefruit and melon. 92.

Sea Star Blanc de Noir 2017 ($24 for 1,156 cases). This is made with grapes from both the Clam Bay Vineyard on Pender Island (a neighbour to the Sea Star vineyard) and the recently acquired Saturna Island Vineyard. The delicate pink hue mirrors the trend to light-coloured rosés that is in fashion. It has the silky texture of Pinot Noir with good weight on the palate. It has aromas and flavours of strawberry and a dry finish. 91.