Thursday, November 25, 2010

A tasting of iconic BC red wines

For three years now, SIP Wines, Simon Wosk’s VQA wine store in Richmond, has hosted a tasting of British Columbia iconic red wines.

Every year, the tasting becomes larger. This year, there were 17 wines, all of them red blends of Bordeaux varieties or Bordeaux varieties with the addition of Syrah. The wines were all tasted blind to prevent any one from voting for their favourite label.

The event, one of the hotter tickets on Greater Vancouver’s wine scene, was sold out this year, with about 30 guests attending. The success of the event is beginning to strain the capacity of the store. If it continues to grow, Simon will look for a larger venue.

An icon wine can generally be defined as a wine that is priced at $50 a bottle or more. Not every wine in the tasting was that expensive. The wine that received the most votes from the crowd, Clos du Soleil Red 2007, was $39. The 2008, just being released, is called Signature. The price remains unchanged.

An icon wine is not just about price. It is generally the flagship in a winery’s portfolio. If it sells for less than $50, it only means that some winemakers see no need to have an aircraft carrier as the flagship.

Having said that, an icon wine is hardly going to be inexpensive. Wines of premium quality begin with low-producing vines that yield grapes with concentrated flavours. These wines generally are aged in the winery’s best and most expensive barrels. Remember that a premium French oak barrel costs $1,000 to $1,200. The barrel cost alone is $3 to $4 a bottle. Add the raw material costs, the packaging costs, the winemaker’s salary. Pretty soon you get a big number. The producers of iconic wines are not gouging.

These wines are also special because all are built to age. These are not wines for consumption 20 minutes after you get home. These are wines that connoisseurs collect and lay down for another five or 10 years. Then they should have flowered to their full glory.

Simon and his staff at the wine store double-decanted this wines in mid-afternoon for the tasting that began at about 7.30 p.m. That aeration allowed the wines to open up. All had wonderful aromas and, with one exception, all had supple and ripe tannins. They were ready to drink. This is a tip for the impatient collector.

I am listing the wines in the order in which they were ranked by the participants. However, the notes and the point score are mine alone. I had somewhat different preferences on occasion. That is not because I have a better palate, just personal preferences.

All 17 wines have merit. I did a similar iconic tasting a few years ago and found the quality variable. The current lot of iconic wines are consistently better, reflecting older vines, better wine growing, better winery equipment and better winemaking.

These are the wines.

Clos du Soleil Red 2007 ($39). A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot and 18% Cabernet Franc. The wine has an appealing aroma of cassis, vanilla and plum jam, with spicy berry flavours and a sort, ripe texture. I reviewed this a few years ago and gave it 88. The extra bottle age has allowed the wine to develop gracefully. 93.

Mission Hill Compendium 2007 ($40). This is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 21% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. The aroma is elegant and restrained, with notes of spice, mint and cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, black cherry, chocolate, even tobacco. 92-93

LaStella Fortissimo 2008 ($35). This wine, not yet released, is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese (about 8% of the latter). This wine, aged mostly in puncheons rather than smaller barrels, begins with sweet berry aromas (blackberry, currant). On the palate, it has savoury, minty flavours with notes of cherry. It is a concentrated wine with firm tannins. 91.

Church & State Quintessential 2007 ($49.90). This is a blend of all five Bordeaux grape varieties. It begins with aromas of cherry and chocolate that reminded me, pleasantly, of Black Forest cake, enhanced with a touch of oak. On the palate, there is sweet, even jammy, flavours of plum and cherry, with lingering fruit on the finish of this delicious wine. 89.

Mission Hill Quatrain 2007 ($45). This is a blend of 42% Merlot, 24% Syrah, 19% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine begins with striking aromas of blackberries, mocha, pepper and even violets. On the palate, the wine is rich, with flavours of blackberries, plums and black currants. On the finish there is spice and liquorice. This is a wine that struts. 94.

Laughing Stock Portfolio 2007 ($40). Another blend incorporating the five Bordeaux reds, this begins with aromas of cassis and other sweet berries with a touch of mocha. It has flavours of black berry and black currants, with a ripe, rich and earthy concentration. This wine may be sold out; the equally impressive 2008 was released recently. 90-92.

Mission Hill Oculus 2006 ($150 for a magnum). Another blend of Bordeaux varieties, this is Mission Hill’s aircraft carrier. It begins with aromas of vanilla, blackberry and lingonberry. On the palate, there are juicy and generous flavours of red fruit. The tannins are firm. This is built for the long haul, even if it appeals right now. 92.

Sumac Ridge Pinnacle 2005 ($50). A blend of Bordeaux varieties with Syrah, this is the granddaddy of B.C. icon wines – the first vintage was 1997 and it was the first $50 table wine from a B.C. winery. The aromas here include vanilla and dark fruit, leading to flavours of fruit, herbs and tobacco. The backbone of tannin is still firm. 88.

Road 13 Fifth Element Red 2006 $41.90). This is 38% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Franc, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec and 6% Petit Verdot. It begins with bold aromas of plum, vanilla and earth, leading to flavours of plum and chocolate. The texture is cut-with-a-knife rich. It is a bold, brooding red with a long finish. 89.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2007 ($45). A blend of the five Bordeaux varieties, this wine is made by a winery that is a joint venture with a Bordeaux winery. The style of the wine reminds very much of classic Chateau wines from Bordeaux that are tight and unyielding when young because they are meant to be aged for seven to 20 years. Assessing this wine now is all about predicting the future. 87 if you open it tonight, 90 plus is you open it in 2017.

CedarCreek Platinum Meritage 2007 ($39.90) This is 44% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. It begins with aromas of plum, cassis and vanilla. On the palate, the wine is richly concentrated, with chewy flavours of plum and black cherry. 91-92.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2006 ($45). What a difference the extra year of bottle age makes. It shows where 2007 is headed. The wins begins with bold aromas of red fruit and vanilla. The texture is concentrated, with flavours of red fruit, dark chocolate, mint and tobacco. The firm tannins suggest a long life for this wine as well. 90-91.

Black Hills Nota Bene 2007 ($52.90). This cult wine is sold out, as is the 2008. The 2007 is 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc. The Cabernet Sauvignon shows through in the notes of eucalyptus and spicy flavours. I would cellar this a few more years. 88.

Poplar Grove Legacy 2006 ($49.90). A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec, the wine spent 24 months in barrel and another 18 months in bottle before release. This is an elegant and polished wine, with sweet fruit on the nose and flavours of black currant, plum and mocha. 89-91.

Fairview Cellars Bear’s Meritage 2007 ($35). Another blend of Bordeaux varieties, this has appealing aromas and flavours of plums and sweet berries, with a touch of mint and spice. The finish is elegantly polished. 90-91.

Painted Rock Red Icon 2007 ($54.94). This wine won a Lieutenant Governor’s award of excellence. The blend is 33% Cabernet Franc, 20% Petit Verdot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot and 15% Malbec. The aroma is complex – red berries, mint, toast, bacon fat. On the palate, there are flavours of cassis and red liquorice. 90.

Herder Josephine 2006 ($39.90). This is blend anchored with Merlot, supported with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It begins with sweet aromas of boysenberry and cassis and oak. On the palate, there are notes cassis, spice and cedar. The wine impressed me as Bordeaux in style; I found it more appealing than the group and scored it 91.


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