Photo: Roger WongLake Country’s Intrigue Wines opened in 2009, making a name as a producer of reliably made affordable wines.
The surprise among the current releases is the winery’s first reserve wine, a $45 red Bordeaux blend. Had the wine been available a few years ago, I would have included Intrigue in my 2017 book, Icon. This is definitely a wine that can be collected for cellar aging.
I have no idea why Roger Wong, one of the founders of Intrigue, waited until 2018 to make this wine. He has been making a comparable Red Meritage since the 2009 vintage at Gray Monk Winery where he made wine with nurturing Intrigue. In 2018, he was winding up his employment at Gray Monk. At the same time, he and his partners were undertaking a major expansion at Intrigue.
The Reserve Red is notable also because, like the Gray Monk Meritage, the grapes all were sourced in the South Okanagan. Many of the other Intrigue wines are produced from fruit grown in the North Okanagan where the vineyards rarely grow varieties needed for big reds.
Here are notes on the wines. The sparkling wines are also released in 200 ml splits, just right for one person.
Intrigue Social Bubbly 2019 ($20 for 2,000 cases). The blend is 31.2% Pinot Gris, 23.9% Pinot Blanc, 20.5% Gewürztraminer, 11.9% Kerner, 8.4% Chardonnay, and 4.2% Ehrenfelser. This is an off-dry frizzante style wine. Its active mousse creates a creamy texture on the palate. The wine is fruity, with aromas and flavours of apples and peaches. It is balanced to finish crisply. 90.
Intrigue Social Bubbly 2019 ($7 for 2,280 cases of 200 ml bottles). This is similar to the previous wine.
Intrigue I Do 2019 ($20 for 2,537 cases). This frizzante wine is made with 52% Riesling, 29% Gewürztraminer, 15% Merlot, 2% Pinot Gris, 1.7% Kerner, and 0.6% Ehrenfelser. The wine has a delicate rose petal hue and aromas of strawberry and raspberry echoed on the palate. The bubbles give the wine a creamy texture. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 89.
Intrigue I Do 2019 Bubbly ($7 for 2,280 cases of 200 ml bottles). This is similar to the previous wine.
Intrigue Social White 2019 ($15 for 5,605 cases). This is blend of 60% Riesling, 35% Gewürztraminer, 3% Muscat Canelli, 1.1% Kerner, 0.5% Chardonnay and 0.4% Ehrenfelser. The aromatics are appealing, with notes of a bowl of tropical fruits on the nose and palate. The underlying spice lingers on the finish. The wine is balanced to finish crisply. This is very good value. 88.
Intrigue Chardonnay 2018 ($17). This may be sold out, to be succeeded by the 2019 vintage. This is a fruit-forward Chardonnay, with only a portion fermented in French oak. The hint of oak adds complexity and mingles with notes of pear, apple and citrus. 88.
Intrigue Social Rosé 2019 ($17 for 3,776 cases). The blend is 37% Riesling, 25% Pinot Gris, 15.4% Gewürztraminer, 12.2% Merlot, 8.2% Rotberger, 2% Pinot Noir, and 0.2% Malbec. Light rose-hued, the wine begins with aromas of strawberry jam. On the palate, there is a medley of fruit flavours including Honeycrisp apple and raspberry. It is balanced to dryness. 88.
Intrigue Reserve Red 2018 ($45 for 430 cases). The blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petit Verdot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec, 8% Syrah and 5% Merlot, all sourced around Oliver. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak. This is the first reserve wine from Intrigue. It begins with aromas of black currant, black cherry and licorice which are echoed on the intense flavour palate. Like any collectible young red, this wine benefits from decanting. 92.
Photo: Ferdinand FochBoth the late Harry McWatters and Gray Monk Winery founder George Heiss disparaged the Maréchal Foch grape variety by saying it has not been exported from France: it has been deported.
That does an injustice to the variety, judging by the quality of Foch wines made every year at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery. The Stewart family claims to have been the first to plant Foch in the Okanagan.
Some history is in order. Eugene Kuhlmann, a plant breeder in Alsace, created Maréchal Foch in the 1911 at the Colmar research station. This was at a time when the French plant breeders were crossing vinifera with North American species in a search for varieties that could withstand the phylloxera and the oidium mould threatening Europe’s vineyards.
When the variety was commercialized in 1921, it was name to honour Maréchal Ferdinand Foch who had been a leading general in the French army during World War 1, ending the war as Commander in Chief of the Allied Forces.
Many of these hybrids were imported by Ontario and New York vineyards either before or just after World War II because they were more disease resistant than vinifera and made better wine than the old labrusca varieties.
Most of the hybrids were pulled out after the 1988 vintage. They were judged of insufficient quality to make wines of international standard compared with vinifera grapes. As well, growers had learned how to nurture vinifera successfully.
The late Richard Stewart, whose family now operate Quails’ Gate, planted Foch in 1969 on the vineyard near Westbank. For some reason, it was not pulled out in 1988 – a good thing, as it turns out.
Stewart also planted Pinot Noir in 1975. It was one of the first Pinot Noir plantings in Canada. It eventually set Quails’ Gate on the road to becoming one of the country’s leading Pinot Noir producers, with at least eight clones in the vineyard. As a wine, Pinot Noir is the polar opposite to Maréchal Foch.
To get back to Foch, Quails’ Gate in 1994 hired a new winemaker, Jeff Stewart, from Australia (now the owner of La Frenz Winery on Naramata Road). He brought a Shiraz-maker’s mentality to the Foch and, in the 1994 vintage, made a dense and concentrated red that the winery released as Old Vines Foch. It became a cult wine and has never lost that following.
The dramatically improved quality of the wine compared with virtually every Foch that preceded it had much to do with how the grapes were grown. Left to its own devices, the Foch vine (and other red hybrids) will produce easily ten tons of grapes an acre. That was why most Okanagan red table wines in the 1980s were thin and light.
However, when the yield is reduced to something sensible, perhaps four tons an acre, the resulting wines have weight and flavour.
The Quails’ Gate advantage with Foch is a combination of good viticulture and mature vines, which limit yields naturally. The winery’s Old Vines Foch Reserve is made with grapes from those 1969 plantings. Its Old Vines Foch is made with grapes from 30 plus-year-old vines in an Osoyoos vineyard that also escaped being pulled out.
Here are notes on the wines.
Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch 2018 ($25.99). This wine was aged in oak barrels for 19 months after fermentation in stainless steel, with nine days skin contact. The colour is quite dark. On the nose, there are aromas of spice and plums: think of a figgy pudding! The palate is generous, showing flavours of cherry and plum. 90.
Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch Reserve 2018 ($46.99). This wine was an astonishing 19 days on the skins during fermentation – astonishing because the grapes are dark, with red flesh. This wine, which is quite dark in colour, was aged for 20 months in American oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of cherry, vanilla and black olives. Those are echoed on the palate, along with flavours of coffee and dark fruits. There is a touch of oak on the lingering finish. 92.
Quails’ Gate Fortified Vintage Foch 2017 ($26.99 for 375 ml). Dark in colour, this wine seems a cross between a ruby port and a tawny port. It begins with rich aromas of fig, plum and dark fruit, which is echoed on the palate. The texture is generous and warming and the finish lingers. 90
Photo: Leslie and Jim D'Andrea of Noble Ridge
On its website, Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery, based near Okanagan Falls, currently offers free shipping to major centres for orders of as few as six bottles at a time.
It is, of course, not the only winery offering deals on shipping wine to online purchasers. Many wineries began doing it in the spring when, due to the pandemic, winery visits were not allowed. When the restrictions were relaxed in June, some producers discontinued free shipping.
Late this fall, I have noticed some resuming this incentive to its customers, as some restrictions again have been imposed on visiting wineries.
I single out Noble Ridge’s free shipping because it applies to three recent releases that are already quite affordably priced.
In a note accompanying the release of the wines. Noble Ridge’s chief executive, Leslie D’Andrea, writes: “We believe that wine, when consumed responsibly, can offer great relief and aid in these crazy times.”
She adds that the winery “a surprising but encouragingly busy summer and fall season. Our guests came out in force, spending time enjoying Noble Ridge wine in our picnic and outdoor tasting areas with their family and friends.”
Many Okanagan and Similkameen wineries were surprised at the success of summer and fall wine visits and sales, considering the three months of restrictions they weathered. And they are all anticipating a more normal 2021.
Here are notes on the good value wines from Noble Ridge.
Noble Ridge Stony Knoll Chardonnay 2019 ($22.99 for 626 cases). The wine was fermented 94% in stainless steel tanks and 6 in one-year-old barrels. A fruit-forward Chardonnay, it begins with apple, pear and citrus. The palate delivers flavours of apple and pear framed with good minerality. The finish is crisp. 91.
Noble Ridge Reserve Pinot Grigio 2019 ($19.99 for 807 cases). The grapes were whole cluster pressed and fermented cool in stainless steel. The wine has aromas and flavours of apples, pears and melon. The bright acidity gives the wine a refreshing vibrancy. The finish lingers. 91.
Noble Ridge Meritage 2018 ($21.99 for 1,165 cases). The blend is 83% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes were fermented after a three-day cold soak. The wine was aged 12 months in barrel (75% French, 25% American, and 20% new). The aromas of black cherries, currants and raspberries are echoed on the palate. There are hints of cedar and chocolate as well. 91.
Photo: Fort Berens winery at Lillooet
Fort Berens Estate Winery was included the first time in the Okanagan Wine Tour Guide that Luke Whittall and I released this spring.
The winery, of course, is in Lillooet, at least a three-hour drive from the Okanagan. The reason for adding the winery to the guide is that wine touring has long since expanded beyond the Okanagan. During the first five edition, the Tour Guide gradually expanded to include all wineries in the British Columbia interior. The drive to Lillooet, whether from Kamloops or from Whistler, is a great scenic road trip. The reward at the end of the drive is a winery with very good wines and with excellent food services.
Here is an excerpt on Fort Berens from the Tour Guide. I have taken to reproducing excerpts because the book was released in later April when, due to COVID-19 restrictions, no one was touring wineries or looking for a thorough wine touring guide.
With a flair for history, Dutch immigrants Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek named their winery after an 1859 Hudson’s Bay Company trading post that was never completed. In contrast, their $7.5-million winery, completed in 2014, anchors one of British Columbia’s newest wine regions.
Trained in economics and finance at the University of Groningen, the couple left high-powered careers in the Netherlands to become wine growers. “One of the primary reasons why we chose to start a vineyard was that we could not foresee ourselves working in a corporate environment and having kids,” Rolf says. They arrived in the Okanagan in 2008 with two young children. They found the cost of Okanagan-vineyard land prohibitive. On the advice of viticulturist Richard Cleave, they leased property at the edge of Lillooet and planted 8 hectares (20 acres) of vines in 2009.
The vineyard was not entirely a shot in the dark. BC Electric Company planted grapes in the late 1960s on its experimental farm near Lillooet, managed by Robert Roshard. In 2005 his daughter, Christ’l Roshard, then Lillooet’s mayor, planted a small test plot of vines to kick-start economic diversification. Two years later, the provincial government and the BC Grapegrowers’ Association launched a multiyear viticultural trial at five vineyards near Lillooet. With the encouraging results from this project, Rolf and Heleen undertook a large-scale planting of vinifera. When that succeeded, they doubled the vineyard in 2018 and 2019.
Fort Berens bottled wine from the 2007 and 2008 vintages they had purchased—the owners needed something to sell when the winery opened—and sourced grapes from both the Okanagan and Similkameen while waiting for their vineyard to produce. Lillooet has proven well suited for grapes. The growing season is as hot, if not hotter, than Osoyoos. The wide diurnal swings between hot days and cool nights result in full-flavoured grapes with good acidity. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Riesling and even Cabernet Sauvignon and Grüner Veltliner are successful here.
With its excellent wines and its restaurant, Fort Berens is giving Lillooet the economic lift that Christ’l Roshard was seeking in 2005. Four other vineyards and a second winery have since been established in the Lillooet region. A two-hour drive north of Whistler, Lillooet (population 2,300), dramatically sited beside the Fraser River, no longer is too remote for wine touring.
Here are notes on the current releases.
Fort Berens Chardonnay 2019 ($20.99 for 663 cases). Seventy-five percent of this wine was fermented in stainless steel; the rest in French oak barrels. The wine was barrel-aged for seven months. The result is an appealing fruit-forward Chardonnay, with aromas and flavours of apples, pears and pineapples. The oak portion adds a touch of butter to the flavour palate. The finish is crisp and fresh. 90.
Fort Berens White Gold 2018 ($29.99 for 248 cases). This is a reserve Chardonnay from a special block on the winery’s Lillooet vineyard. The wine was fermented in French oak barrels, primarily with natural yeast. It begins with aromas of vanilla. Butter and stone fruit. On the palate, the wine is rich and creamy, with flavours of ripe apples and peaches mingled with subtle notes of oak. 92.
Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2018 ($28.99 for 904 cases). Half the grapes were fermented as whole clusters to promote carbonic maceration. The result is a wine with bright, expressive fruit aromas and flavours – aromas and flavours of raspberry, cherry and blackberry. Light chilling accentuates the vibrant fruit. The finish is long. 91.
Fort Berens Cabernet Franc Reserve 2018 ($36.99 for 247 cases). The fruit was fermented with wild yeast and the wine was aged 14 months in barrel. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of plum, blackberry and cherry. With good intensity on the palate, the wine delivers layered flavours of cherry, blackberry and black currant. The finish is persistent. 93.
Fort Berens Meritage 2018 ($27.99 for 2,159 cases). This is a blend of 68% Merlot, 30% Cabernet
Sauvignon and 28% Cabernet Franc. Grapes were sourced in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys as well as the estate vineyard. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged about a year in French and American oak barrels. It begins with aromas of cherry, plum and chocolate. Rich in texture, it delivers flavours of plum, black currant and dark cherry with touch of vanilla and mocha. 91.
Fort Berens Meritage Reserve 2018 ($36.99 for 330 cases). This is a blend of 57% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc and 17% Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery took considerable pains to build complexity into this wine. A portion of the Cabernet Franc was passimento style (partly air dried). While 75% of the Merlot and Cabernet Franc were crushed, the remainder was left as whole clusters. The Cabernet Sauvignon portion had 48 hours of cold maceration before being crushed and fermented. This portion also was aged in American oak. The wine begins with aromas of vanilla, raspberries and cherries. The long, ripe tannins contribute to the rich texture. There are flavours of blackberry, black cherry, chocolate, vanilla, with a lingering spice on the finish. 92-93.
Those who visit wineries may have noticed how many wineries have friendly dogs.
Victoria writer Troy Townsin spotted that in 2006 when he was signing his books at Okanagan wineries. It gave him an idea for a great fund-raiser. Every year since 2007, he has photographed and produced his attractive Winery Dogs of BC Wall Calendar. The proceeds from selling the calendars have yielded more than $10,000 for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Another cause has been added for the 2021 Winery Dogs calendar: It will also raise funds for the Cure Blau Syndrome Foundation. The explanation, which follows shortly, is rather sad.
But first, I want to announce a contest to allow two of the readers of this blog to win a calendar, which sell for $15. Troy has set aside two calendars for this competition.
I would like readers to send in short anecdotes about their pets to my email address, which is firstname.lastname@example.org. I will publish some of the best in a future blog. And I will toss all names in a hat, pull out two and have calendars sent to you.
Everyone else can go to Troy’s website, www.polyglotpublishing.com, to purchase calendars. He ships them world-wide.
I can recommend these calendars highly. Troy is an excellent photographer and his calendars are very well produced.
I came to know Troy and to appreciate his calendars when we were both judges at the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards of Excellence in Wine. Until a few years ago, the judging panel met at Government House in Victoria for a few days every summer. We tasted and judged at least 500 of the best wines from British Columbia and have awards to the 12 to 15 of the very best.
The seven-person judging panel was expert and also collegial to work with. Troy was one of the best. And the rest of us also looked forward to working with him because he brought a Winery Dogs calendar for each of us. With about 30 dogs featured in each calendar (more than one to a page, depending on the image), this calendar has special appeal to dog lovers.
During the last four years, Troy had his young daughter, Lexi, assist in setting up some of the photographs. Her role was to get the dogs to look at her and Troy while he taking the photographs. It was, as she once said, “the hardest job of all.”
Sadly, her life was taken last October by Blau Syndrome, a genetic inflammatory disease so rare that, according to the MedicalNewsToday website, it affects one child in a million.
“The earliest symptom is usually granulomatous dermatitis, a type of skin inflammation that causes a continuous rash,” the website says. “The rash may be scaly or form hard lumps under the skin. It may develop on the arms, legs, and torso.” The rash can develop around the first year of age. The other effects of the disorder are increasingly more damaging to the patient.
“Lexi was the inspiration and original founder of the Cure Blau Syndrome Foundation, a non-profit that her parents started to search for a treatment and a cure,” Troy writes. “The work is continuing to honour her legacy and to fund research into treatments for the inflammatory condition.”
In the 2021 calendar, Lexi is pictured along with several of the winery dogs she coaxed into posing for Troy’s camera.
I would urge my readers to consider this calendar. The causes it supports have a great deal of merit.
For those wishing to compete for a calendar, the deadline is December 21, in order to give Troy time to get the calendars in the mail.
Photo: Painted Rock's John Skinner
Painted Rock Winery began producing small lot wines several vintages ago. These are outstanding expressions of the varietals growing in the winery’s Skaha Bench vineyard.
They are released first to the Painted Rock wine club. Because the production usually is just a few hundred cases of each, the wines sell out quickly. Several of the wines reviewed here are sold out.
Of course, that is the point of a wine club. It is a rare winery in British Columbia without a wine club to lock in sales and loyal fans. In a year like 2020, wine club sales may well have made the difference for wineries when wine touring was not allowed for about three months in the spring.
Painted Rock, of course, has become well established since making its first vintage in 2007. Proprietor John Skinner told the wine club this fall that 2020 “has been a year of growth and change for Painted Rock.”
The pandemic did interfere with many of the winery’s usual marketing efforts this year. John told this to his wine club:
“In response [to COVID-19] we cancelled our visit to ProWein in Düsseldorf, the launch of the Okanagan Wine Initiative wineries in Singapore in March, and our annual Canada Calling event in London.”
He continued: “With great sadness, we also had to cancel all weddings and celebrations that were scheduled to take place at Painted Rock this summer. Instead, my daughter Lauren with a wonderful, socially-distanced, safe, and fun picnic option on our lawns with picnic lunches from The Bench Market. And we are offering charcuterie by La Cucina. Both are amazing local businesses that we are so proud to work with.”
Like many other wineries, Painted Rock also asked visitors to reserve tastings online and in advance.
“It has really enabled us to pay close attention to you, our valued guests, and pace visits to that everyone can relax and enjoy safely,” John writes. “We hope you found the process simple and user-friendly.”
Here are notes on the wines.
Painted Rock Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($39.99 for 225 cases; wine club exclusive). This is 77%
Syrah and 23% Cabernet Sauvignon. The varieties were fermented separately and aged 18 months in oak (30% new). It begins with aromas of black cherry and cassis, leading to flavours of dark berries with a hint of pepper and chocolate on the finish. It is generous on the palate. 92.
Painted Rock Malbec 2018 ($44.99 but sold out). Sadly, only 170 cases of this magnificent wine were made. It is dark, with the floral aroma classic to this varietal, mingled with cassis and plum. It is rich on the palate with flavours of dark cherry and blackberry mingled with mocha and spice. 93.
Painted Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($39.99 for 305 cases; but sold out). This is an elegant, powerful example of Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). Aromas of vanilla, red currant, blackberry and dark cherry jump from the glass. There are layers of cherry, other dark fruits along with leather and dark chocolate on the palate that carry through to a long finish. 93.
Painted Rock Cabernet Franc 2018 ($44.99). The winery has just a single three-acre block of Cabernet Franc. Twenty-five days on the skins, which twice-daily punch-downs during most of that time, has give the wine a satisfyingly concentrated texture. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak (40% new). It begins with appealing brambly red fruit aromas. The spicy black currant, blackberry and plum flavours mingle with hints of chocolate and cedar on the finish. 92.