Friday, October 22, 2021

The Sipster's Guide: a refreshing look at wine tasting

The best $20 you will ever spend on wine will be to buy Luke Whittall’s The Sipsters Pocket Guide to 50 Must-Try BC Wines, just being released by Touchwood Editions. This is one of the year’s most original wine books. Fifty wines are reviewed – and every review is fresh and lively, often amusing and always enlightening. At the end of the book, I wanted another 50 of Luke’s wine reviews. And since this is volume one, it seems that Luke and Touchwood are anticipating future volumes.
Before I continue to discuss the book, I must note that Luke and I are colleagues and friends. Touchwood also acknowledges this in the brief biographical note on its web site: “Luke Whittall has worked in cellars, vineyards, and wine shops since 2005 and is currently a wine instructor at Okanagan College. His first book, Valleys of Wine: A Taste of British Columbia’s Wine History was published in 2019 and he co-authored The Okanagan Wine Tour Guide with John Schreiner in 2020. He lives in Okanagan Falls, BC.” Sipster is a slim 140-page volume with a bland, uninspired cover, which is at odds with the very attractive and well-organized interior, featuring a full-colour photograph of each wine. There are reviews of six sparkling wines, 17 white wines, five rosés, 17 reds and five dessert wines. The products are from wineries located in most of the British Columbia wine regions. And there is a good index.
“Rather than focus on the flavours, aromas and amazing production techniques of a wine, I will focus on the experiences the wines inspire,” Luke writes. There are no point scores; each wine is instead given an attitude. For example, The One, a sparkling wine from Noble Ridge Vineyard and Winery, has a “joyful” attitude. The Poplar Grove Winery Rosé has an “endearing” attitude. And so on. Luke asserts that his book “presents a new way of thinking about wine to help you accurately decide which wines to seek out on your next trip to the store or your next visit to wine country.”
You will get the idea if I quote some of the gems that I found in the book. Luke describes Integrity Frizzante, a Prosecco-style sparkler from 8th Generation Vineyards, as a Swiss Army knife because it “can go anywhere and fit any mood or occasion with ease.” The wine’s attitude is Go-Getter and the pairing suggestions include Miss Vickie’s potato chips.
The personality of Fitz Brut from Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards is said to be operatic. Luke spins musical themes through the entire review, starting with the “tinny” sounds of peeling the foil and the “downbeat” when the cork is removed. There is as “crescendo” of bubbles which refuse to “decrescendo” in the glass. “Even after sipping,” Luke writes, “you can still hear the music as the bubbles pop in your mouth.” That review reminded me of another biographical detail about Luke: he is also an accomplished musician.
The rosé from French Door Estate Winery, a new producer on Black Sage Road, is assigned the “romantic” attitude. “… This wine,” Luke writes, “feels like a quiet, intriguing conversation with someone you’ve never met before but feel instantly connected with.” Contrast that to my more conventional review of the same wine: French Door Rosé 2020 ($30). This is a blend of Mourvèdre and Grenache. This is a striking dry rosé with aromas and flavours of pine needles and orange peel. It is somewhat reminiscent of a fine single malt scotch without the bite of the alcohol. A superb rosé with food. 92.
Among the white wines is one of my favourites, the Albariño from Stag’s Hollow Winery. When I reviewed the 2020 vintage, I wrote: “Lovely floral aromas mingle with melons and apples. On the palate, there are flavours of stone fruit, lime and lemon. The finish is refreshing, with a lift of bright acidity. 92.” Luke’s review of the same wine is as refreshing as the wine. “I would swear that there is an herb garden in my glass when I sip this wine,” Luke writes. “There is tarragon and cilantro, parsley and rosemary, sage and basil, among many others. As the wine warms, more herbs come out to play. This is a doggy’s nose view of walking through a garden with all of these amazing herbs in full aromatic bloom.” What follows is a brief discussion of the sensory ability of dogs.
I was struck by Luke’s erudite reference to the great American photographer Ansell Adams in his review of Menhir, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend from Corcelettes Estate Winery in the Similkameen. “Adams captured every part of the scene with a sharpness and detail that became his trademark,” Luke writes. “If a wine could be a photograph, this one would be a beautiful landscape of the Similkameen Valley – if Adams had photographed the Similkameen Valley. “There are so many gradations of colour, texture, taste and aroma in this wine, and no detail has been blurred.”
The attitude of Lakeside Cellars Syrah is “Texas Gunslinger.” Luke describes it as “Meat and wood in a glass. Smoked brisket or pork shoulder and dried hickory, to be more precise.” I expect a swaggering red when I get my hands on a bottle. Luke even includes a fruit wine: Cherry Baby from Nostalgia Wines near Oliver. The attitude is “flirty” – if only because of the sexy cupcake on the label. “… There are some people who just leave you breathless. Speechless even. If you ever found yourself breathless in the presence of someone like that, then you already know what this wine is like. … This is about as playful as they get.” This a delightful book. And it will make you rethink how you taste and appreciate wines.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Maverick: winery in a hurry

Photo: Maverick's winemaker Andrew Windsor
Under its new owners since April 2020, Maverick Estate Winery is in a hurry. It was producing about 4,000 cases a year when it was taken over by Jan Nelson and Andrew Windsor. It produced 6,200 cases in the 2020 vintage and expects to produce about 9,000 cases this fall. “Our goal is to grow to about 15,000 cases,” says Jan, the winery’s president. “So far, we have been able to grow organically. We have not had to go for more capital to our partners. We have been managing to do it just with cash flow and mortgages from the bank. The goal is to grow as quickly as we can without overstressing ourselves or putting ourselves in financial peril. We want to get to 15,000 cases as quick as we can.”
Their partners are Bob and Barb Shaunessy, the former majority owners of Tinhorn Creek until that winery was sold in 2017 to Andrew Peller Ltd. At the time, Andrew Windsor was the winemaker at Tinhorn Creek while Jan was the sales and marketing manager. The backing from the Shaunessys gave them a running start to acquire an established winery with a solid reputation. A producer of quite superb wines, Maverick opened in 2013 with a highway-side tasting room midway between Oliver and Osoyoos. The original owners were Bertus Albertyn, his father-in-law Dr. Schalk de Witt, and their families. Bertus is a South African trained winemaker who came to the Okanagan in 2009. Before opening Maverick, he was the winemaker at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery. He has developed a significant business as a consulting winemaker.
Jan and Andrew are building quickly on their running start. While the previous owners had been selling some of the grapes from the four vineyards Maverick farmed, Jan and Andrew began phasing out the sales contracts after the 2020 vintage. “This year, we are not selling most of our grapes,” Jan says. “We have increased production. I think we will do about 9,000 cases this year, from our estate vineyards and by picking up a little from around the neighbourhood to compliment what we already grow on our sites.” They are also plan to develop two vineyards on a nearby mountainside where Maverick purchased 77 acres this year with two plantable benches. A lower bench will be planted primarily with Bordeaux reds and Syrah. The cooler upper bench will be planted with Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. “And we are thinking of planting some Tempranillo and Vermentino there, just for fun,” Jan says. “By the time those two are planted, we will have around 60 acres of producing vineyards. Our goal is to be self-sufficient, if we can be. With grapes in such limited availability, I don’t see it getting easier for us to buy grapes on the market.”
The rapid rise in production is outstripping the capacity of Maverick’s original winery. “This year we will be doing 140 tons of fruit in a place that was typically doing 60 tones of fruit,” Jan says. “It requires a lot of quick flips in tanks and barreling down quickly, so we can use tanks for second and third round.” To relieve the capacity crunch, Maverick is leasing a production facility from nearby Kismet Estate Winery. “It’s basically a warehouse but it was their original winery,” Jan says. “We have leased that so we can produce wine over there while we rebuild here on site.”
Maverick’s tasting room, while architecturally appealing, also provided too small. “In 2019, they apparently had 19,000 or 20,000 visitors- in a tasting room with a table than can seat eight and at a five-meter-long tasting bar. I don’t know how they did it,” Jan marvels. “Once the Covid restrictions came in, we had to pull back on having any sort of crowd at the tasting bar. So we started doing tastings outside on the little patio and inside, in the private room. This year, we built an outside tasting garden that can sit 45 people at a time. It allowed us to offer a different sort of experience to what the Okanagan was offering previously. Going to a tasting bar, stretching out an arm and hoping for a tipple is hopefully a thing of the past.”
Here are notes on current releases from Maverick. The winery expects to be sold out by the end of the year.
Maverick Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($19.98). This wine is fresh and zesty, with aromas and flavours of lime mingled with herbal notes, along with papaya and passionfruit. 91.
Maverick Cross Road Chardonnay 2020 ($26.98). This is a delicious, fruit forward Chardonnay. It begins with aromas of peach and apple. The full-flavoured palate delivers stone fruit and apple with spicy oak on the finish. 90.
Maverick Provenance Pinot Noir 2020 ($27.98). This wine was aged eight months in two-year-old barrels. The wine is youthfully bright and vibrant, with aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry. On the finish, there is spice and a hint of oak. 90.
Maverick Bush Vine Syrah 2019 ($29.98). This is a boldly flavoured wine, beginning with aromas of delicatessen meats mingled with black pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of fig, plum and pepper, with an earthy, meaty finish. 92.
b>Maverick Carbonic Syrah 2020 ($34.98). By applying carbonic fermentation to whole grapes, winemaker Andrew Windsor created an unusual but delicious Syrah. The wine is big and lush, due to the soft tannins. There are aromas and flavours of plum and pepper with a touch of licorice on the finish. The slight chilling recommended by the winery gives lift to the freshness of the fruit flavours. 91.
b>Maverick Rubeus 2019 ($24.98). This is a blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It begins with aromas of blueberry, cherry, plum and spice, which are all echoed in the sweet fruit on the palate. There also are notes of chocolate in the earthy finish of this complex and age-worthy wine. 92.

Friday, October 15, 2021

CedarCreek releases stunning Pinot Noirs

Photo: Winemaker Taylor Whelan
One surprise in this fall’s releases from CedarCreek Estate Winery is that they include the first sparkling wine ever released by the winery. CedarCreek is 35 years old. It is astonishing that there was not a bubbly in the portfolio before this – although there almost was.
CedarCreek was previously owned by Senator Ross Fitzpatrick, who also owns Greata Ranch near Peachland. Darryl Brooker, the CedarCreek winemaker at the time, had begun laying down base wines for bubble in 2012 from Greata Ranch fruit. That might have led to a CedarCreek sparkling wine but for the Senator’s decision to sell CedarCreek in 2014 to Mission Hill’s Anthony von Mandl. Darryl was promoted to Mission Hill. While selling CedarCreek, the Senator retained Greata Ranch as well as the sparkling wines that Darryl had laid down. In 2017, Fitzpatrick Family Wines opened at Greata Ranch, specializing in sparkling wines. It was not until 2020 that Taylor Whelan, the CedarCreek winemaker who took over from Darryl, got around to adding a sparkling wine to the portfolio. The impetus may have been his access to fruit from one of the best von Mandl vineyards, Jagged Rock on Black Sage Bench. The fruit was Pinot Noir, also something of a surprise. Black Sage Bench is usually not regarded as the right terroir for that varietal. But with good viticulture, the vineyard obviously produces Pinot Noir suitable for sparkling wine.
CedarCreek’s estate vineyard in East Kelowna has superb terroir for Pinot Noir – so much so that the winery has released four this year. The quality is simply stunning. These include the Block 2 and Block 4 Pinot Noirs, another legacy of Darryl’s time at CedarCreek when he identified a lower block and a higher block in the vineyard that yielded quite different, but outstanding, wines. After von Mandl bought CedarCreek, Darryl Brooker was promoted to senior winemaker and then president at Mission Hill. Last year, he left to become CEO of a cannabis company. The practice of identifying superior blocks in the vineyard has been continued by Taylor. The current releases include a superb block-designated Riesling and a block-designated Platinum Chardonnay.
Wines designated Platinum formerly were the top of the range at CedarCreek. However, the new releases now include some wines designated Aspect, which seems to be even a step up from Platinum. That likely reflects Taylor’s work in converting CedarCreek to organic viticulture and winemaking. “This incredible, five-year long effort is finally coming to fruition and the vineyards and wines have never approached the health and quality they are showing now,” he writes in a recent note on the release. “With each passing year, we are seeing the difference organic viticulture makes – the soils are alive, the vines are stronger, and we are seeing natural allies, like Kestrels, worms, beneficial insects and songbirds returning to the vineyards.”
Here are notes on the CedarCreek releases.
CedarCreek Jagged Rock Platinum Sparkling Rosé 2020 ($35). This sparkling wine is made with Pinot Noir. The wine is crisp and fresh, with a pale hue and an active mousse. It is light and fruity, with a dry finish. 90.
CedarCreek Estate Riesling 2020 ($20.99). This wine was fermented on stainless steel with organic yeast and aged three months in stainless. It is a bright, vibrant Riesling with racy but well-balanced acidity. There are aromas and flavours of lemon and lime, with a touch of grapefruit. The finish is dry. 91.
CedarCreek Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($20.99). This was fermented with 94% in stainless steel and 6% in concrete and oak, with organic yeast, and aged three months on the lees. There are herbal notes in the aroma leading to flavours of lime and green apple. The finish is crisp and dry. 90.
CedarCreek Platinum Block 3 Riesling 2019 ($29.99). This elegant wine is reserved for CedarCreek’s wine club members. The wine was fermented 75% in stainless steel, 25% in French oak barriques, all with organic yeast. There is a whiff of petrol, leading to aromas of lime. On the palate, there are flavours of lime, lemon and nectarine. The texture is full, with bright, well-balanced acidity. 92.
CedarCreek Platinum Chardonnay Block 5 2018 ($34.99). This wine was fermented with wild yeast in foudres and barriques; and aged 12 months in oak, six months in stainless steel. Only 18 barrels were produced. The oak has not been allowed to dominate. The wine has an intriguing aroma - the winery calls it “flinty struck-match”. I also find hints of citrus. On the palate, there are flavours of citrus leading to a clean, dry finish. 91. CedarCreek Cabernet Franc 2019 ($N/A). This is 90% Cabernet Franc with 10% Merlot, aged 12 months in French oak. It begins with brambly aromas leading to flavours of plum, blackberry and black currant. Firm tannins make this a candidate for aging. 90.
CedarCreek Estate Pinot Noir 2019 ($26.99). The fruit was fermented with wild yeast in a combination of small stainless steel and concrete vessels and aged 12 months in French oak. The wine, dark in colour, begins with aromas of cherry mingled with oak. On the palate there are flavours of blackberry and raspberry with savoury forest floor notes on the finish. The wine is full-bodied and firm. 91.
CedarCreek Platinum Home Block Pinot Noir 2019 ($55). This wine was fermented with wild yeast and aged 16 months on lees in French oak. It begins with dramatic aromas of dark cherry and plum. The intense flavours on the palate include plum, dark cherry and cranberry. The wine is full-bodied. The finish is long, with a hint of anise. 93.
CedarCreek Aspect Block 2 Pinot Noir 2018 ($65). This is a wine club exclusive. The fruit is clone 115, fermented in concrete tanks with wild yeast. It was aged 14 months in French oak (18% new). This is a seductive wine, beginning with floral and strawberry aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of strawberry, cherry and plum with touches of spice. The texture is silky. 97.
CedarCreek Aspect Block 4 Pinot Noir 2018 ($65). This is also a wine club exclusive. There are three clones in this wine, 115, 667 and 777. It was fermented with wild yeast in concrete and aged 14 months in French oak (22% new). This wine has a brooding personality in contrast to the seductive prettiness of Block 2. There is more forest floor here, with savoury – and what the winery calls gamey – notes of dark fruit. The texture is rich and there is a spicy note on the finish. 95.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Da Silva offers a large portfolio

Photo: Twylla and Richard da Silva
The extensive wine portfolio at Da Silva Vineyards and Winery reflects Richard da Silva’s deep roots in the Okanagan. He has extensive connections to top growers, as well as ownership of his own vineyards. That gives him a wide choice of varietals with which to make wine. There were 14 wines in the portfolio this summer. All are well-made and interesting wines.
For background on this Penticton winery, here is an excerpt written by Luke Whittall from our Okanagan Wine Tour Guide, which was published in 2019.
If the name of this winery is not familiar to you, perhaps the original name is. Until 2018 the winery on Upper Bench Road just outside of Penticton was called Misconduct Wine Co. The change came about as an evolution of the vision by owners Richard and Twylla Da Silva. When Misconduct was originally launched in 2008, it was one of BC’s first virtual wineries. With no wine shop to promote the brand, it relied on online marketing and the help of a friend’s wine agency for wholesaling. It was designed to be very low-key and off the radar. The branding, with 1920’s Prohibition gangster-era themes, and the lack of a wine shop were both “a bit risqué” for the time admitted Richard. “I thought it was cool that in an industry that was all about personality and ego, that we could actually go counter that and do something in the shadows.”
Even though the wines were all very good, it was still a tough sell. Richard quickly learned that his customers wanted to know that the wines came from somewhere specific and that someone was confident enough to stand behind it without being secretive about it. With a wine industry as small as BC’s, staying in the shadows was not something the Da Silva’s could do for long. Richard and Twylla soon purchased an old house on Upper Bench Road which was became the wine shop in 2011. Since customers wanted to know where the wines were coming from, Richard started promoting the vineyards that supplied the grapes for his wines. The concept of ‘wine from a place’ has always been important to the Da Silva’s even before starting Misconduct.
Richard, who was born and raised in Oliver, comes from a family that can trace their farming history back to the 18th century in Portugal. Extended family members worked in the Okanagan in orchards from the mid-1950s and then in vineyards once the grape growing industry got started in the late 1960s. The family experience with soft-fruits and grapes has given Richard access to a deep understanding of the many regions of the Okanagan. “That’s where the family farming experience comes in,” explained Richard, “because you have to know those nuances when you’re growing soft fruits.” The grapes for all of their wines come from specific vineyard sites throughout the Okanagan that tap into Richard’s family knowledge of top-quality growing areas and sites. As Misconduct evolved, a new line of wines called the Suspect Series was created and based on single varieties from single vineyards. With a slight tweak of the branding in 2018, the Suspect Series became Da Silva Vineyards and Misconduct became a sub-brand of Da Silva.
Here are notes on the wines. The reserve wines are called Legado, Portuguese for legacy.
Da Silva Chardonnay 2020 ($27 for 244 cases). This wine was fermented in stainless steel and then spent just eight weeks in new American oak barrels. The result is a fruit-forward wine with aromas and flavours of apple and citrus, with just a subtle hint of oak. There is good weight on the palate and the finish is crisp. 91.
Da Silva Chenin Blanc 2020 ($25 for 175 cases). This wine is made with fruit from Da Silva’s Hidden Hollow Vineyard in Penticton, fermented in stainless steel. It begins with aromas of quince and citrus. On the palate, the wine is bright and tangy, with flavours of green apple and a spine of minerality. 90.
Da Silva Cor de Rosa 2020 ($26 for 344 cases). This is a bold, full-flavoured rosé made with 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Merlot from Da Silva’s Blenheim Hill Vineyard in Penticton. The grapes were cold-soaked for 24 hours, extracting flavour and a slightly bronze hue. There are aromas and flavours of ripe strawberries and plums. 90.
Da Silva Fumé Blanc 2020 ($27 for 271 cases). The wine, which was barrel-aged for eight months, begins with aromas of lime mingled with herbs. On the palate, flavours of lime and grass are supported by herbal notes. Think Sancerre. 91.
Da Silva Isabella Frizzante 2020 ($27 for 272 cases). This is 75% Riesling, 25% Muscat. Lightly carbonated, the wine has fine bubbles. It has aromas and flavours of spice and stone fruit. The finish is crisp and fresh. 90.
Da Silva Pinot Noir 2018 ($39 for 342 cases). Fruit from two Penticton vineyards was fermented in open-top fermenters and aged two years in medium toast barrels (50% French oak, 50% Hungarian oak) The wine has aromas and flavours of cherry mingled with notes of vanilla and classic forest floor. 90.
Da Silva Merlot 2017 ($35 for 172 cases). The fruit for this wine is from two Penticton area vineyards. The wine was aged 36 months in barrel (50% French, 50% American). It has aromas and flavours of cherry, cassis, vanilla and spice. The extended barrel time has given the wine soft, polished tannins. 90.
Da Silva Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($38 for 250 cases). This wine, with fruit from the Black Sage Bench, was aged 26 months in barrel (50% French, 50% American). It has aromas and flavours of plum, cherry, cassis and spice, with supple, ripe tannins. 91.
Da Silva Cabernet Franc 2017 ($40 for 197 cases). This wine was aged 36 months in barrel (50% French, 50% American). The wine begins with a toasty aroma of red peppers and cherries. On the palate, there is delicious ripe red fruit. 91.
Da Silva Vinho Branco 2020 ($24 for 272 cases). In the Portuguese tradition, this wine is a field blend of four varietals: Pinot Gris, Viognier, Pearl of Csaba and Chardonnay. The juice was cold settled and cold fermented in stainless steel and left on the fine lees for four months. The wine has aromas and flavours of honeydew melon, citrus and stone fruit. Bright acidity gives the wine a crisp finish. My experience with this wine suggests it benefits from being decanted. 90.
Da Silva Vinho Tinto 2017 ($28 for 272 cases). In the Portuguese tradition, this wine is a field blend of five varietals: Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. The wine is intriguingly rustic; deeply flavoured with notes of plum, cherry and spice. The finish lingers. 90.
Da Silva Legado Series Merlot 2012 ($110 for 98 cases). This wine was aged 26 months in French and American oak. It is a densely textured, concentrated red that benefits from decanting. It has aromas of cassis and licorice, leading to flavours of dark fruit mingled with vanilla. 92.
Da Silva Legado Series Chardonnay 2016 ($50 for 98 cases). This was fermented in stainless steel and aged 24 months in French oak barrels. The wine has a golden hue. The aroma is still fresh and vibrant, with notes of butter and Mandarin orange. The palate is rich, with flavours of orange, butter, almond and vanilla, with the oak flavours very much in check. This is an elegant wine with a lingering finish. 92.
Da Silva Legado Series Pinot Noir 2018 ($60 for 100 cases). Fruit from two Penticton area vineyards was fermented in open top fermenters and aged 24 months in medium-toast barrels (50% French, 50% Hungarian). The most exceptional barrels from that vintage were selected for this premium Pinot Noir. It begins with intense floral aromas. On the palate, there are savoury flavours of cherry and spice. 92.