Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Speed tasting in the South Okanagan

Photo: John Ferreira, proprietor of Quinta Ferreira

What would you say to tasting 50 or 60 wines in 90 minutes?

The South Okanagan Wineries Association came up with a format like that for media tasters during last weekend’s Banée (as they call their spring wine festival).

It certainly is an efficient way of covering a lot of ground in a hurry. Perhaps now we know how Robert Parker Jr. does it.

However, between that “speed” tasting and various other winery tastings, we saw a good many of the new releases from the South Okanagan. And the wines from the 2009 vintage are tasting very good.

It was a challenging vintage. Bud break was a few weeks later than usual, always a concerning beginning. However, the weather was superb for the rest of the season. The vines not only caught up; the grapes ripened earlier than usual during the long warm days of summer and autumn. The harvest began in early September.

Then about October 7, a sharp cold snap in both the Okanagan and the Similkameen froze virtually all the foliage, stopping the ripening process dead in its tracks. Fortunately, nearly all of grapes not yet picked were fully ripe.

Nature had handed the growers a scare at the start of the year and a scare at the end – but near perfect conditions in between. The 2009 wines, whites and reds, are full of flavour and have slightly less acid than the 2008 wines. The wines are a pleasure to taste.

At the speed tasting, each winery has its own table. Each taster was allotted five minutes at a table before being prompted by a bell to move to the next table. While it was a little hard to make considered notes at this breakneck pace, one got a snapshot of the wines in the room and a smattering of information.

Let me share some of wines that impressed me during this tasting and at other tastings over the weekend.

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2007: ($35 -Available in the winery only). This is a classic Burrowing Owl style – big and ripe, with flavours of plums, prunes, chocolate and fruitcake spices, with liquorice on the finish. 89-90.

Burrowing Owl Merlot 2007: ($30). Another satisfying, full and ripe red, with an almost jammy concentration of fruit flavours. 89-90.

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2007: ($33). Ripe and vibrant, with delicious brambleberry flavours. One of the Okanagan’s best examples of this varietal. 89

Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2008: ($30): Cherry and strawberry aromas and flavours with the full and velvety texture of this varietal. 88.

Burrowing Owl Meritage 2007: ($ NA): A cellar-worthy Bordeaux blend, this intense and concentrated wine begins with cedar and spicy berry and chocolate aromas. On the palate, there are bold flavours of black currants, blackberries, with notes of vanilla and earth. A great wine. 92-94.

Cassini Cellars Chardonnay Reserve 2008: Delicious, fruit-forward, flavours of citrus with cloves on the finish. 90.

Cassini Cellars Nobilus 2008 Collector’s Series: This is a 100% Merlot – bold and ripe, with flavours of plum and blackberry and with liquorice on the finish. 89.

Cassini Cellars Maximus 2007: A Bordeaux blend, this is a firm-structured red with flavours of red fruit, leather, minerals. 89.

Desert Hills Gamay 2009: ($20): A lovely fleshy wine with spicy plum and cherry flavours. 88.

Desert Hills Merlot 2007: ($24.95). A full, ripe wine with aromas and flavours of blackberry and black currant. 88.

Dunham & Froese Amicitia White 2009: ($24.90). Complex white blend with flavours of melon. 88

Dunham & Froese Amicitia Red 2008 ($24.90). Cellar-worthy Bordeaux blend, with a concentrated core of fruit and flavours of prunes, chocolates and tobacco. 88-90.

Fairview Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2009: ($20). Fairview owner Bill Eggert calls this his oyster wine because of its crisp minerality and its dry, refreshing finish. On the nose and the palate, there are notes of grapefruit and gooseberry. 89.

Fairview Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Premium Series 2007 ($40): This is a concentrated, age worthy Cabernet Sauvignon just beginning to show its sweet fruit flavours. 88-90. Still coming from Fairview is a Cabernet Sauvignon blend that Bill Eggert is calling Iconoclast. The price? $120.

Gehringer Brothers Dry Rock Chardonnay 2009: ($11.99). Fabulous value in a crisp and refreshing unoaked Chardonnay. 87.

Gehringer Brothers Auxerrois 2009: ($14.99). Why is this variety not fashionable? A delicious dry white with flavours of apricots and peaches. 88.

Gehringer Brothers Schönburger-Gewürztraminer 2009: ($14.99) A 50/50 blend of the varietals, the wine begins with lovely perfumed aromas and delivers lots of spicy fruit flavours. 88

Golden Beaver Heart of Gold 2009 ($18.90). An equal blend of three varieties, Viognier, Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc, this is a fruity wine that is full on the palate. 88.

Golden Beaver Gewürztraminer 2009 ($16.20): Light, refreshing and crisp. 87.

Hester Creek Trebbiano 2008 ($19.09). The Italian varietal white, crisp with good melon flavours, is unique to Hester Creek. I asked winemaker Ron Summers why no other winery in the Okanagan has not also planted the variety, since it clearly succeeds. “They tried,” he said with a straight face, “but we killed them.” 89.

Hester Creek Pinot Blanc 2008 ($16.09). The makes as much as 5,000 cases a year and makes it very well. The 2008, crisp with fresh apple flavours and good body, is as good a Pinot Blanc as anyone makes. 90

Inniskillin Okanagan Marsanne Roussanne 2009 Winemaker Sandor Mayer showed this still as a tank sample. Wait for it. The wine begins with aromas of elderberry flowers. The intense flavours include spiced pears. The finish is very long. The wine is impressive. 93.

Inniskillin Okanagan Malbec 2008 ($NA): The latest is a succession of fine Malbecs, this wine begins with alluring lavender aromas and shows flavours of cherry, blackberry and vanilla. 89-90

Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($NA). Tangy and refreshing, with grapefruit and gooseberry flavours. 88-90.

Jackson-Triggs Rosé 2009: ($NA). A dry, Merlot-based rosé, this wine offers a big mouthful of strawberry and cherry flavours. 88.

Nk’Mip Cellars Chardonnay Qwam Qwmt 2008: ($24.99). Buttery, with flavours of tangerine, this is a barrel-fermented Chardonnay that keeps the honeyed fruit central in the flavour profile. 90

Nk’Mip Cellars Meritage 2007: ($NA). This elegant Bordeaux blend, full, ripe and expressive of red berry flavours, already has a silver medal in competition. 90.

Oliver Twist Viognier 2009: ($19.90). The wine begins with an attractive perfumed aroma, leading for flavours of pineapple and guava and a dry finish. 88.

Oliver Twist Syrah 2008: ($27.90). The winery’s Bruce Hagerman believes this is the best red he has made – and he’s right. It ripe and voluptuous, with meaty, spicy flavours. 88

Quinta Ferreira Mistura Branca 2008: ($19.90). This Muscat and Gewürztraminer blend shows spicy, honeyed flavours and then surprises you with a crisp, dry finish. 88.

Quinta Ferreira Mistura Tinto 2008: ($19.90). Winery owner John Ferreira calls this red his house wine. If you get invited to his house, say yes. This is a delicious red with flavours of black currants and chocolate. 88.

Quinta Ferreira Obra-Prima 2007: ($34.90). Five variety Bordeaux blend, this elegant wine is full on the palate, with plum, chocolate, leather, coffee and vanilla. 90

Road 13 Jackpot Riesling 2009: To be released in September at $30, this is a crisp, mineral-laden white with lime flavours. 90.

Road 13 Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2009 ($19.99). This has become a cult wine - floral in the nose, packed with melon and mineral notes and crisp on the finish. 90.

Rustico Farm & Cellars Last Chance ($NA). The name was inspired by the story of a miner called One-Armed Reid who staked a mineral claim in the Okanagan years ago; it was his last chance to make it. This may be your last chance to taste a wine built around Chancellor, Merlot and Zinfandel because the Chancellor vines are on the way out. 88.

Silver Sage Gewürztraminer 2009 ($17.95). The attractive white begins with rose petal aromas and delivers lychee flavours. 88.

Silver Sage Pinot Blanc 2009 ($15.95), Crisp, with refreshing apple flavours. 88.

Silver Sage The Flame 2009 ($24.95). A late harvest Gewürztraminer flavoured with hot red peppers. A pungent wine to wake up a tired palate. How does one score it? Beats me but is sure is different.

Stoneboat Vineyards Pinot Gris 2009: A lovely wine – a big mouthful of peaches and pears with a lingering finish. 88-90.

Stoneboat Vineyards Faux Pas Rosé 2009: ($NA). A Pinot Noir rosé with a splash of Pinot Blanc, this wine has refreshing, juicy strawberry flavours with a dry finish. 88.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench White 2009: ($23). This is Sandra Oldfield’s increasingly complex blend in what she describes as the mainstream style for B.C. whites: “crisp, clean … less is more.” Aromatic on the nose, it delivers flavours of citrus, melon, guava and spice, with a dry finish. 88-90.

Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris 2009: ($16.90). This wine has a pristine focus on the fruit – notes of pear with anise on the crisp finish. 88

Twisted Tree Viognier Roussanne 2009 ($NA). Crisp, fresh white, with a spine of tannin from the Viognier and a touch of melon and pineapple on the palate. 88

Twisted Tree Marsanne Roussanne 2009 ($NA). Also crisp and fresh, with herbal, citrus and melon flavours. 90.