Photo: John Levine's stetson crowns 20 iconic BC reds
A red from Road 13 Vineyards, Fifth Element 2013, was the top pick of the 100 or so wine lovers at this year’s BC Iconic Reds tasting.
This was the 10th annual tasting, featuring some of the best of BC’s red Bordeaux blends. The competition originated with the SIP Wines VQA store in Richmond. When that closed two years ago, sponsorship was taken over by Sutton Place Wine Merchants.
The tasting, which the sponsors now bill as “British Columbia’s Premier Wine Tasting Competition,” emerged from brainstorming between the late John Levine and the owners of SIP Wines, Simon and Sandi Wosk.
John, a restaurateur and the founder of the Vancouver International Wine Festival, was an extraordinary wine lover and a perceptive champion of British Columbia wines. He recognized the dramatic increases in the quality of the wines. The Iconic Reds competition was conceived to bring more attention to these superb wines.
Tasters now meet in a ballroom at the Sutton Place Hotel to taste and judge 20 leading Okanagan red wines. The wines, which had been decanted in the afternoon, were served one at a time in a random order. Of course, the wines were not identified until the two-hour tasting was over.
At the end, the tasters voted on their top five picks, an arbitrary but sensible number to prevent overwhelming the computer tabulation. In fact, the points were tabulated for the top seven (with a tie for sixth place).
I have listed the winners, followed by the others in alphabetical order. The tasting notes are from the wineries where such notes were available. Otherwise, I have inserted my tasting notes.
These are 20 of the best reds from excellent recent vintages. Some of these wines are hard to find but Sutton Place Wine Merchants has allocations of all. The limited volumes mean buyers will need to move quickly to get these.
1. Road 13 Fifth Element 2013 ($49 for 852 cases). The blend is 45% Merlot, 18% Syrah, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13$ Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Winery notes: “This impressive wine opens with lifted aromas of black cherry, cassis, pomegranate, and liquorice, along with notes of baking spice, cedar, tobacco and mint. The palate is big, soft and silky with an overall impression of fruit intensity, elegance and polished tannins, but with a nice vibrant core of acidity to keep the wine living well into the future.”
2. Church and State Quintessential 2013 ($55 for 477 cases). Blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc. Aged 22 months in French oak (30% new). Winery notes: “Dense and dark in colour with ultra-black cherry and cassis aromas complexed by notes of coffee and baker’s chocolate. On the palate, there is dark concentrated black cherry fruit and gorgeous tannin structure producing great richness and length, but with impeccable balance.”
3. Lariana Fourteen 2014 ($45 for 450 cases). The blend is 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 11% Carmenère. The wine was aged 18 months in barrel, predominantly French. Winery notes: “Yielding aromas of ripe crushed blackberries and black currants, the structure is further supported by their same silken richness. Dark plums laced with a chocolate licorice note continue to the intensely generous flavourful finish."
4. Painted Rock Red Icon 2015 ($53.83). The blend is 45% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, 11% Malbec, 11% Petit Verdot and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 18 months in 30% new French oak. Winery notes: “This wine invites you in with rich aromas of blackberry, dark plums, cassis and sweet spices. The palate, with its velvety tannins and high acid, offers bold and juicy black fruit layered with pepper, baking spices, vanilla and chocolate.”
5. Cassini Cellars Maximus 2014 ($45 for 550 cases). The blend is 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 4%Malbec. The wine was aged 14 months on new and two-year-old barrels (80% French, 20% American). Winery notes: “This … has intense aromas of black currant, black pepper, strawberry jam, vanilla, cocoa and tobacco. This full-bodied wine finishes with a nice oaky balance, a long lingering silky finish and soft and subtle tannins.”
6. Blind Creek Collective Consensus 2014 ($60 for 198 cases). The blend is 36% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot, and 1% Malbec. Author’s tasting notes: “This is a seamless Meritage blend, with aromas of cassis, blueberry and vanilla. It delivers spoons full of luscious red berry flavours to the palate. The finish is persistent with lingering bright fruit flavours.”
6. Perseus Invictus 2014 ($54.99). The blend is Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Winery notes: Winery notes: “This wine bursts out of the bottle with concentrated aromas of black cherry, truffle and shades of pencil lead which lead into an opulent yet well structured wine of impressive complexity. Flavours here straddle both old world and new, with boysenberry, anise and dark chocolate hints. The mouth-feel is all velvet with long, lingering tannins.”
The remaining 13 wines are listed in alphabetical order.
Black Hills Nota Bene 2015 ($59.90). The blend is 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc. Alcohol 14.8%. Winery notes: “Early season heat in 2015 was followed by a perfect balance of warm days and cool nights. This provided the perfect conditions for the development of rich and complex flavours … .This complexity c0ntinued to develop during 16 months in French and American oak. The result is luscious aromas of dark chocolate and ripe black cherries and cassis with hints of vanilla and baking spice. The rich flavours are further refined by earthy slate and cedar followed by just a hint of savoury black olive on the palate.”
Cassini Cellars The Godfather 2012 ($80 for 150 cases). The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon 41.78%, Cabernet Franc 33.33%, Merlot 16.6%, Syrah 8.29%. Alcohol 14%. Author’s tasting notes: “The wine begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry, and vanilla. The wine has a lusciously ripe, almost chewy texture with flavours of blackcurrant and black cherry and a hint of mint.”
Clos Du Soleil Signature Red 2014 ($44.90 for 29 barrels). The blend is 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec. Winery notes: “The taster is enveloped in the dense aromatic profile of ripe red barriers, forest undergrowth, and hints of both cedar and mint. On the palate the wine is the epitome of elegance with integrated flavours of black currant, blackberry, raspberry and black pepper notes. Displaying a voluminous structure built fine tannins and fresh acidity, it ends with a very long finish.”
Hester Creek The Judge 2014 ($45). Winery notes: “Handsome aromas of dark cherry, anise, leather, cocoa and toasty oak lead to a palate frames in light caramel, cherry and blackberry fruit. [It has] medium soft tannins with a lengthy finish.”
Lake Breeze Tempest 2012 ($49.90). The blend is 45% Merlot, 30% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. Winery notes: “Aged in new French oak for 15 months, this wine is full and rich. Following on the heels of the 2008 Tempest, which won “Red Wine of the Year” at the All Canadian Wine Championships, this wine will continue to improve over the next several years.”
La Stella Fortissimo 2015 ($35 for 1,711 cases, 125 magnums, 12 double magnums). The blend is 63% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Sangiovese and 9% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged 15 months in French and Slavonian Oak barrels and puncheons. 16% new, 9% second fill, the balance in neutral barrels. Winery notes: “Overall the wine has fantastic layers of flavour and nuances. Bing cherry mingles with red and black cherry fruit. Herbal underbrush notes meet tobacco notes and damp earth.”
Laughing Stock Portfolio 2015 ($44.99 for 2,500 cases). Aged 20 months in French oak (40% new, 60% second fill). Winery notes: “The 2015 vintage of Portfolio has a bold nose with aromas of blackberry, warm raspberry, vanilla bean and some earthy herbal notes. The tannins are powerful but have a velvety texture that will provide longevity in the wine, as it has in previous vintages. As always, Portfolio is a full bodied wine with ample concentration and complexity that will develop for years to come.
Mission Hill Oculus 2013 ($135 for 79 barrels). The blend is Merlot 51%, Cabernet Sauvignon 23%, Cabernet Franc 22%, Petit Verdot 4%. Aged 14 months in French oak. Winery notes: “Firm and graceful, this polished red delivers a core of black currant, dark plum, and fig layered on top of black licorice and dusty earth details, all lending to the flavour’s tension and traction. Despite the wine’s dense, dark, and brooding personality, it is graceful and elegant with restrained oak influence and seamless integration of all elements.”
Nk’Mip Mer’r’iym 2014 ($54.99). The blend is 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec. Winery notes: “Aromas of blackberry, tobacco, juniper and mint lead to flavours of berry fruits and chocolate. This is a full bodied wine with a soft entry that gives way to a fully structured palate with balanced acidity and great length.”
Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2014 ($45.99). The blend is 68% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 8% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot; and 5% Malbec. Author’s notes: “The wine was aged 18 to 20 months in French oak, with 60% of the barrels new and 40% one year old. The blend and the barrel selection lead to wine with a fine concentrated structure. There are aromas of black currant and other dark fruits with a touch of vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, black cherry and spiced black fruit framed with vanilla and long, ripe tannins.”
Poplar Grove Legacy 2014 ($50). The blend is 44% Cabernet Franc, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 4% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 21 months in French oak. Author’s notes: “The wine begins with appealing aromas of cassis, black cherry and blackberry. These are echoed on the palate, along with dark fruits, spice and chocolate. The long ripe tannins give the wine a polished, elegant texture.”
Road 13 Fifth Element 2012 ($49). Blend is 46% Merlot, 18% Syrah, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 9% Cabernet Franc and 6% Malbec. Winery tasting notes: “Ample notes of cigar box, leather, and black currant dominate the nose on this wine. This wine has a rich mouthfeel with full flavours of blackberries and dark cherry, rounded off with baking spices & an extremely long finish.”
Tinhorn Creek “The Creek” 2014 ($55 for 1,475 cases). The blend is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. Winery notes: “Fermented using wild and selected yeasts, the wine is aged for 24 months in French and Hungarian oak barrels (40% new). Boasting opulent flavours of blueberry, cassis and black cherry, with a warm toasted spice finish - the flagship wine’s rich undertones and full-bodied palate make it a perfect pairing for richer dishes.”