Monday, November 18, 2019

Moon Curser mixes novelty with quality


Photo: Moon Curser's Chris Tolley

 This year, Moon Curser Vineyards had on a remarkable roll at wine compositions.

At the National Wine Awards, it was judged the best performing small Canadian winery and the second most awarded winery in the entire competition.

In the BC Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards, Moon Curser’s Touriga Nacional took one of the 12 platinum awards. That is the equivalent of an Award for Excellence under the previous format for these awards.

And the list goes on. None of the wines reviewed here have won less than silver; most have come away with gold medals. Clearly, the quality is consistently high and the wines are always interesting..

Here is an except from the fifth edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide that provides some background on this Osoyoos winery which opened in 2006.

In the crowded field of Okanagan wineries, Moon Curser Vineyards differentiates itself with innovative wines from varietals that almost no one else grows. These include Arneis, an Italian white; Tannat, a red identified with Uruguay; and Touriga Nacional, the great Portuguese red. Soon, the winery may offer a Dolcetto after planting that Italian red in 2013.

Another example of how owners Chris and Beata Tolley think outside the box was their decision in 2011 to rechristen the winery and put edgy gothic labels on the bottles. The couple – she is a former chartered accountant, he a former software engineer - decided that the winery’s original name, Twisted Tree, was bland and too similar to other winery names. With the help of marketing consultant Bernie Hadley-Beauregard (of Blasted Church and Dirty Laundry fame), they researched South Okanagan history and discovered a tale of gold smuggling.

“Moon Curser is a synonym for a smuggler,” Beata says. “The whole idea is that the wine is all about the place. We picked Osoyoos for the sunshine and the heat. We wanted something that talked about the location but we did not want to do it in the traditional way. There is a history of gold smuggling that took place here during the gold rush of the 1800s. The smugglers would curse at the moon because the border agents would catch them” in its light. The labels echo this story: Dead of Night, an excellent blend of Tannat and Syrah, features a fox and an owl with a lantern.

Moon Curser makes excellent wines with mainstream varietals but Chris cannot resist pioneering new varietals. A few years ago, a neighbour, a fruit packer of Portuguese heritage, planted a small vineyard with just over a hectare (three acres) Touriga Nacional, a notoriously late ripener. The young vines were decimated by an early freeze in 2009 but the surviving vines, harvested in November, produced a ton and a half of the ripest fruit Chris bought in 2011. Chris purchased the vineyard and replaced the ailing Touriga Nacional with mainstream varieties, but not before propagating Touriga cuttings for his own 2014 planting.

The payoff is coming in the multiple awards the winery is getting. I suspect the awards come not only because the wines are good but also because they are different. When a panel of judges has had to plough through, say, 40 Merlots, it is quite refreshing to be presented a Touriga Nacional or a Tempranillo or a Carménère. Consumers should have a similar experience.

Here are notes on current releases from Moon Curser.

Moon Curser Arneis 2018 ($22.99 for 252 cases). Arneis is an Italian white variety that has been revived from near extinction – thankfully. The wine is delicious with aromas of honeydew melon and apple, leading to flavours of apple and nectarine. The palate is refreshing with lively acidity. 92.

Moon Curser Afraid Of The Dark 2018 ($29.99 for 706 cases). This wine is 45% Roussanne, 37% Viognier and 18% Marsanne. The grapes were co-fermented. This is a luscious wine with aromas of nectarine, peach and tropical flowers. The palate echoes those flavours along with apricot and pear. The finish is crisp and fresh, with a very clean focus. This is drinking well now but has the potential to develop even more complexity with a few more years of bottle age. 92.

Moon Curser Dolcetto 2018 ($24.99 for 438 cases). This is another Italian variety. It is a fruity red for early and easy drinking, with aromas and flavours of blueberries, blackberries and cherries. 90.

Moon Curser Carménère 2017 ($39.99 for 291 cases). This is the winery’s seventh vintage of Carménère, an old Bordeaux red that is adapting very well to the South Okanagan. This wine begins with what the winery calls an “opulent nose”  - and I quite agree with that. There are aromas of cherries mingling with pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry, raspberry and blackberry mingled with pepper. The texture is plush and the finish goes on and on. 92.

Moon Curser Tempranillo 2017 ($39.99 for 345 cases). This is a Rioja grape variety that Moon Curser planted in 2005. The wine begins with aromas of cherry and plum. It delivers a ton of fruit to the palate: cherry, ripe blueberry and plum with a hint of vanilla. 92.

Moon Curser Syrah 2017 ($25.99 for 1,228 cases). This wine begins aromas of plum, cedar and black pepper. On the palate, there are generous flavours of plums and figs with a touch of pepper on the finish. 90.

Moon Curser Malbec 2017 ($30.99 for 515 cases). The wine begins with aromas of blueberry and raspberry. On the palate there are flavours of blueberry, black currant, fig and a touch of pepper. 91.

Moon Curser Petit Verdot 2017 ($30.99 for 368 cases). Dark in hue, this powerhouse wine needs to be decanted and given time to reveal its complex flavours. It begins with aromas of blueberries, fig and plum. On the palate, there are flavours of fig, dark chocolate and cigar box with a spine of slate. 93.

Moon Curser Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($39.99 for 335 cases). This wine begins with aromas of black cherry, cassis and blueberry. These dark fruits are echoed on the palate where the long, ripe tannins give the wine length and elegance. Decanting is recommended. 91.

Moon Curser Tannat 2015 ($N/A for 76 cases). This robust red is seldom grown outside of Uruguay and the south of France. Moon Curser is believed to be the only producer of Tannat in the Okanagan. The wine begins with a medley of floral and spicy dark fruit aromas. On the palate, the wine is rich, almost porty, with flavours of plum and black cherry. There is a note of spice on the finish. 92.

Moon Curser Touriga Nacional 2017 ($39.99 for 337 cases). This Portuguese red is rarely grown in the Okanagan but, on the evidence of this, makes an excellent wine. It begins with aromas of blackberry, raspberry and cherry, echoed on the palate where the flavours mingle with white pepper and leather. 93.

Moon Curser Border Vines 2017 ($25.99 for 1,372 cases). This is a blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec, 4% Carménère and 2% Cabernet Franc. It begins with aromas of black currant and spice, leading to flavours of black currant and black cherry. The lingering finish has notes of red berries and spice. The tannins are ripe but firm and the wine should age well for up to 10 years. 91.

Moon Curser Dead of Night 2017 ($39.99 for 387 cases). This is a 50/50 blend of Tannat and Syrah – not co-fermented. It begins with aromas of black cherry, plum, raspberry and spice. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, fig and deli meats. The texture is fleshy and generous. 93.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Iconic Reds 2019: BC's leading Meritage wines

Launched in 2008, the BC Iconic Reds tasting has now established itself as the premier annual tasting of the best red Meritage wines from British Columbia.

The recent 12th annual tasting featured 20 wines, merely a slice of the top reds that are available.

Consumers familiar with British Columbia reds could readily come up with another 20. That would make for a great but long, palate-tiring evening. As it is, the tasting lasted about three hours.  

The Iconic Reds competition originated with the SIP Wines VQA store in Richmond. When that store closed four years ago, sponsorship was taken over by Sutton Place Wine Merchants.

The tasting emerged from brainstorming between the late John Levine and the owners of SIP Wines, Simon and Sandi Wosk. John had volunteered to advise the Wosks soon after they opened the store; and they welcomed his enthusiastic input.

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 that were taking place in the quality of the wines. The Iconic Reds competition was conceived to bring more attention to the growing number of  superb wines.

This year, about 110 tasters converged at a ballroom at Vancouver’s Sutton Place Hotel to judge 20 of the Okanagan reds. The wines, which had been decanted in the afternoon, were served blind one at a time in a random order. The wines were not identified until the three-hour tasting was over.

At the end, the tasters voted for their top five picks, an arbitrary but sensible number to prevent overwhelming the computer tabulation. In fact, the points were tabulated for the top six.

I have listed the winners, followed by the others in alphabetical order. The tasting notes are from the wineries where notes are available. Otherwise, I have inserted other 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. Lake Breeze Tempest 2014 ($57.50). Winery notes: A classic Bordeaux blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. Aged in new French oak for 15 months, this wine is full and rich.

2. Mt. Boucherie Summit 2016 ($54.99). This is 51% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec and 3% Syrah, aged 24 months in French oak (35% new). Winery notes: The 2016 Summit is a proprietary red blend with intense aromas and flavours of cassis, black and red fruits, fresh tobacco, cedar, and distinct minerality.

3. Intersection Axiom 2014 ($45). This is a blend of 33% each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Winery notes: The wine is full and robust with chocolate and cocoa notes from 12 months in oak, ripe roasted red pepper from the Cabernets, and dark fruit from the Alluvia Merlot. A wine with vivacious tannin and fantastic ageing potential, the Axiom can be enjoyed for many years to come. Ground coffee, dark chocolate, and cherry jam on the nose open up into star anise, roasted capsicum, and black pepper. Hints of mushroom and cedar on the palate point to the wine’s time in oak. Mouthfeel is rich and developed with well-structured tannin that will continue to age for more than a decade. The long finish lingers with tones of earthy plum preserves.

4. La Stella Espressivo 2016 ($49.99). Tasting note by Anthony Gismondi: “Like its sibling, Fortissimo, the Espressivo is a Tuscan-inspired red blend, identified by its dominant Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese, all sourced from the home vineyard on the Osoyoos west bench in the southern Okanagan. After 20 months in Slavonian and French oak barrels, puncheons, and botti, the 2016 Espressivo expresses very ripe, soft, plump fruit, with plush plum, blackberry jam, thorns and mild baking spices.”

5. Black Hills Nota Bene 2016 ($60). The blend is 43.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 14.5% Cabernet Franc; aged 16 months in barrel. Winery notes: This wine possesses intense aromas of raspberry, crushed violets and cassis on the nose. A second sniff presents gentle scents of leather, white pepper and subtle menthol. Flavours of raspberry and cocoa hit the palate and linger, revealing a full and elegant mouthfeel with notes of earth and cigar box in the background.”                 

6. Summerhill OM 2014 ($65).  This is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot and 5% Malbec, aged 30 months in French and American oak barriques. Winery tasting note: “Unfined and unfiltered. Cellaring and decanting highly recommended.”

The remaining wines are listed alphabetically.

Black Sage Meritage 2015 ($60). Winery notes: There are plenty of cassis, blackberries, vanilla, dark chocolate and roasted coffee notes on the nose. The palate displays luscious blackberries, rich dark plums, smoky toasted notes and a lengthy finish of dark chocolate. The acidity is well balanced with the rich full tannins in this full-bodied wine.

CedarCreek Desert Ridge Meritage 2016 ($49.99). This is 43% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Malbec, aged 18 months in French oak. Winery notes: Brambly dark fruit, cassis, toasted clove and sweet baking spices are abundant in this intensely fruitful wine. Full-bodied with structured tannins.

Clos du Soleil Signature 2015 ($44.90). This is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. It was aged 15 months in French oak barrels. Winery notes: Enjoyable in its youth, the balance and structure of this wine will ensure its ability to age for many years. The taster is enveloped in a dense aromatic profile of cassis, raspberry and blackberry, with hints of violet. On the palate the wine is layered with flavours of sun-ripened cherries, raspberry, cassis, mint and blackberry, with complex notes of graphite, sagebrush and pepper. Structure is provided by the soft but full tannins, and a stony mineral quality to the long finish.

Fort Berens Red Gold 2016 ($44.99). Winery notes: On the nose, Red Gold opens with notes plum, dark chocolate, and tobacco leaf. This age-worthy, full bodied red boasts flavours of black plum, blackberries, and raspberries. This vintage of Red Gold is a blend of five different vineyards. More than a quarter of the wine was made from estate Cabernet Franc, which was dried after harvest in a passimento style increasing the grape’s sugar and flavour concentration. The blend ratio is 38% Cabernet Franc, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% merlot and is a culmination of the finest select barrels in our cellar.

Hester Creek The Judge 2016 ($43.99). This is 37% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 24 months in barrel (75% French, 25% American). Winery notes: From an outstanding season, our winemaker has selected the best barrels in our cellar for a Merlot dominant Bordeaux style wine. Beautifully balanced, this vintage has concentrated sage, sandalwood, malt and Italian plum aromas. Plush flavours of ripe dark cherry, black currant, mocha, anise and a hint of spearmint greet the palate. A long savoury finish follows with well integrated, finely woven tannins.

Kettle Valley Old Main Red 2015 ($38). This a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, with a total of 5% Malbec and Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 20 months in French oak. Author’s notes: “This is a rich, bold red with aromas and flavours of plum, cherry and other dark fruits.”

Lariana Cellars Sixteen 2016 ($44.90). This is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Syrah, 9% Carménère. Winery notes: In the glass, wafting with aromas of black crunchy fruits and sweet spice layered with cassis. Lip smacking flavours of dark plums wrapped in mocha notes with deep umami undertones follow. All this voluptuous fruitiness is supported by fine structure with suede-like texture delivering sweeping grip at the end.

Laughing Stock Portfolio 2016 ($49.99).  This is 51% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, and 1% Petit Verdot, aged 20 months in French oak (33% new). Winery notes: Baked plum, red fruits and baking spice rise up from the glass like the TSX in a bull market. On the palette this wine is lively and powerful with fresh tobacco leaves, vanilla brioche, and cherry on the finish. This elegant blend has round tannins and a long finish with lots of aging potential.  

Noble Ridge Reserve Meritage 2016 ($34.99). This is 59% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% each Cabernet Franc and Malbec. It was aged 15 months in French and American oak (40% new). Winery notes: Aromas of cranberry and cassis are complimented by hints of spice and savoury earthiness. 

One Faith Certitude 2016 ($49.99). This is 45% Cabernet Franc, 33% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, and 1% each of Petit Verdot and Malbec, aged 16 months in new French oak. Author’s notes: “This begins with a dramatic cassis aroma that simply bounds from the glass. The palate is rich in fruit flavours – black cherry, black currant and blackberry. The tannins are long and supple.”

Painted Rock Red Icon 2016 ($54.99).    This is 45% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, 11% Malbec, 11% Petit Verdot and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). 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. 

Poplar Grove The Legacy 2015 ($52). This is 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 21 months in French barriques and a further two years in bottle before release. Winery notes: Rich intensity begins with deep garnet hues in the glass. Bold aromas of cassis and black cherry arrive first with a strong and sultry backbone of dark chocolate. Our Legacy’s prominent and considerably big mouthfeel is a culmination of plums, vanilla and blackberries.

Road 13 Fifth Element Red 2017 ($46.99). The blend is 52.2% Merlot, 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. The lots were aged separately in French oak (25% new) before being blended. Winery notes: This impressive wine opens with powerful notes of black cherry, black currant, roast beef, sage and wild game interwoven with lashings of pepper, tobacco, vanilla and cream. The tremendous aromatic complexity carries onto the palate, which is supremely rich and supple, with abundant silky tannins.

Siren's Call Harmonious 2015 ($35). Author’s notes: “This wine is anchored around 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah in the blend. Dense and layered, the wine has aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant and spice.” 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

CheckMate's five latest releases

Photo: Winemaker Phil McGahan

Visitors to CheckMate Artisanal Winery this summer found the winery in the midst of reconstruction. The rebuild should be complete by next summer.

However, CheckMate did not miss a beat when it came to offering tastings. For several seasons, the winery has operated a “pop-up” tasting bar on the knoll in front of the winery. With windows on three sides, the tasting bar offers excellent views over the Golden Mile sub-appellation.

It also offers tastings of some of the more expensive, and best, Chardonnay and Merlot wines made in the Okanagan. Some visitors have just turned and left rather than pay the refundable tasting fee to sample wines retailing for $100 a bottle, plus or minus.

That has always struck me as unfortunate. How often does one get to taste a $100 wine? Even if the refundable tasting fee strike you as a bit aggressive, it is not too much to pay for a tasting of wines we never experience on a regular basis. The experience also provides some perspective on the relationship between wine quality and wine prices.

This winery and its vineyard were acquired in 2012 by Anthony von Mandl, the owner of a winery empire anchored around Mission Hill Family Estate.

Domaine Combret, the original winery on this site, was established in 1994 and later changed its name to Antelope Ridge. It was operated by the Combret family until it closed and was purchased by von Mandl.

At the same time, von Mandl was able to buy a neighbouring vineyard with legendary Chardonnay vines. Mission Hill bought grapes from that vineyard in 1992, making the delicious Chardonnay that won a major award in London in 1994. That wine gave Mission Hill and the Okanagan Valley serious international recognition for the first time.

With access to these and other grapes, it is no surprise that CheckMate makes superb Chardonnay wines. In fact, Phil McGahan, the Australian winemaker who runs CheckMate, works with just two varieties: Chardonnay and Merlot. That is typical of the focus that one finds among top estates anywhere in the world.

The reconstruction of the former Combret winery gives Phil a state-of-the-art winemaking facility. He already accesses some of the choice vineyard blocks farmed in the south Okanagan by Sebastian Farms, von Mandl’s vineyard holding company. That enables Phil to make seven different Chardonnay wines and four or five different Merlots, all expressing the various terroirs from which the fruit comes.

The five wines just released by CheckMate are made with fruit from vineyards on the Black Sage Bench, the Osoyoos East Bench and the Golden Mile Bench. The differences from each of these terroirs is subtle but distinctive. Over the years, consumers of CheckMate wines likely will develop preferences for what wines they choose to buy and cellar.

The operative word is cellar. These are all wines that, which approachable on release, will certainly be even better with five or more additional years of aging in the cellar.

Here are notes on the current releases.

CheckMate Capture Chardonnay 2016 ($90). The fruit is from a vineyard in Osoyoos right on the U.S. border; it is one of the top vineyards in the Sebastian Farms stable. The wine was fermented in barrel (80% with wild yeast) and aged 16 months in French oak (44% new). This elegant wine begins with aromas of peach and citrus. The palate echoes those fruits, along with spice notes. 94.

CheckMate Queen Taken Chardonnay 2016 ($125). The fruit is from the Dekleva vineyard on the Golden Mile – the one that produced the legendary 1992 Chardonnay. The wine was fermented in barrel (91% with wild yeast) and aged 16 months in French oak (42% new). The wine has a rich texture. It begins with aromas of peach and pear. On the palate, there are flavours of nectarines with a hint of minerality and spice. 95.

CheckMate Queen’s Advantage Chardonnay 2016 ($85). The fruit for this wine is a field blend of unknown clones from the original Combret vineyard. The wine was barrel fermented (90% with wild yeast) and aged 16 moths in French oak (50% new). The wine has the concentration and texture that old vines can deliver. It begins with stone fruit aromas mingled with buttery notes. On the palate, there are buttery citrus flavours with hints of oak spice on the long finish. 96.

CheckMate Opening Gambit Merlot 2015 ($85). The fruit is from Osoyoos East Bench vineyards. It was fermented entirely with wild yeast, given extended skin contact, and aged 21 months in new French oak. Rich and concentrated, the wine begins with aromas of black currant, black cherry and raspberry. The dark fruits carry the palate and fill the mouth. There is a note of spice on the lingering finish. 96.

CheckMate Black Rook Merlot 2015 ($85). The fruit for this wine is from a vineyard on the Black Sage Bench. Fermentation was with wild yeast, followed by extensive skin contact and 21 months aging in French oak (100% new). The wine begins with aromas of raspberry, black cherry and vanilla. On the palate, there are rich flavours of black cherry, sage and licorice, with supple ripe tannins. 95.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Tinhorn Creek at 25

Photo: Tinhorn Creek's Andrew Windsor

At a 25th anniversary dinner this summer, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards served its flagship red, The Creek, with one of the courses – and some guests complained that the estate Cabernet Franc was not being poured.

“We can never make enough of it,” winemaker Andrew Windsor says of Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Franc has always competed with Merlot for top billing among the Tinhorn Creek reds but, until recent years has lacked Merlot’s popularity. In fact, in 2010 and 2011, the winery considered pulling out some of its Cabernet Franc and replacing it with Merlot.

That did not happen – and the winter of 2014-2015 showed what a stroke of good luck that was for Tinhorn Creek. Severe winter cold damaged and even killed Merlot while Cabernet Franc sailed through the winter largely unscathed. The dead Merlot vines were replaced with Cabernet Franc (and some Cabernet Sauvignon).

“It is probably one of the most ideally suited grape varieties for the Okanagan in terms of its ability to tolerate cold winters and to come back thriving,” Andrew says.

And as the complaining guests showed, Cabernet Franc now has a solid foothold among consumers. “It is always going to be a variety that will be in high demand,” Andrew says. “We won’t be able to make enough of it, unless we rip out other varieties and plant more Cabernet Franc.”

It would be hard to suggest what variety Tinhorn Creek might eliminate from its vineyards since all sell well. The last variety eradicated (about five years ago) was Kerner when Andrew stopped making Icewine. That block was replanted with Roussanne, a variety that produces a far better table wine, as the first released this year showed.

However, Merlot is not likely to leave the Tinhorn Creek portfolio either. “It is the most consistently best wine for us historically,” Andrew says.

Here are notes on current releases from Tinhorn Creek.

Tinhorn Creek Blanc de Noir 2016 ($35 for 70 cases). This is Tinhorn Creek’s first traditional method sparkling wine, with Pinot Noir grapes from the winery’s Golden Mile block. The wine was released for the winery’s 25 anniversary in June; another 1,000 bottles remain en tirage for the 30th anniversary. Two years of lees aging have imparted brioche and briny aromas and flavours that mingle with citrus notes. The texture is creamy. 91.

Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris 2018 ($19.99). This wine was bottled 10 days after fermentation finished in order to preserve the freshness of the fruit. The wine, indeed, is a fruit basket with aromas and flavours of peaches and pears. 91.

Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2018 ($17.99). The wine begins with aromas of strawberry, banana and spice. It is fleshy in texture, thanks to 10 grams of residual sugar, and it has flavours of citrus. It has a lingering and rich finish. 91.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve Rosé 2018 (Sold out). This is made with Cabernet Franc. The wine, also bottled in December 2018, has a salmon pink hue and aromas and flavours of spice and orange. 91.

Tinhorn Creek Rosé 2018 Innovation Series ($32 for 150 cases). The winery employed an unusual technique to make this wine. A small vat of Pinot Noir was drained at the end of fermentation, leaving the skins behind. Fermenting Chardonnay from a stainless steel tank was poured onto the skins and left for 25 hours. Then the wine was transferred back to stainless steel to finish fermenting. The result is a dry and savoury rosé, with a pale pink hue and with flavours of pear and apple. 92.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve Roussanne 2017 ($N/A). The wine is bold and buttery, with aromas and flavours of stone fruit. The texture is unctuous and the finish is very long. 92.

Tinhorn Creek Pinot Noir 2017 ($23.99). The wine begins with aromas of spice and cherries. On the palate there is dark fruit with savoury notes on the finish. The texture is silky. 90.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve Syrah 2016 ($34.99). The wine displays the aromas and flavours of delicatessen spices and meats with a juicy palate of plum and dark fruit and a touch of white pepper on the finish. 93.

Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc 2017 ($24.99 for 3,322 cases). The grapes for this wine were fermented slowly (six to eight weeks) with wild yeast, allowing a gentle extraction of colour and flavours. The wine went into barrels, primarily French and Hungarian oak. The latter oak seems to accentuate the bright brambly aromas and flavours. There also are flavours of raspberry, blueberry and red currant. The texture is generous, with long ripe tannins rounded by the 16 to 18 months of barrel aging the wine had. 91.

Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2017 ($23.99 for 4,781 cases). The wine was aged 12 to 14 months in oak barrels. Deep in colour, the wine begins with aromas of blueberry and cassis. On the full-bodied palate, there are flavours of dark fruit and earthy tannins. 91.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve Cabernet Franc 2016 ($34.99 for 966 cases). This wine was aged 18 months in French oak (35% new). The blend is 88% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. Generous in texture, the wine has aromas and favours of black cherry, plum and fig, with an extended finish. 93.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve Merlot 2016 ($29.99 for 1,764 cases). This wine was also aged 18 months in French oak (35% new). The blend is 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 1% each of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. It begins with aromas of black cherry, cassis and plum. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, black currant and licorice. The tannins are firm and the wine benefits from being decanted. 93.

Tinhorn Creek The Creek 2015 ($55). The blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 7% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged for two years in barriques (mostly French and 40% new). Typical of the vintage, this swaggering wine is bold and powerful, with aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant, plum and blueberry. 95.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

BC wines: Nothing left to prove?

Photo: Wine celebrity Steven Spurrier

It is time to drop the inferiority complex about British Columbia wines.

The British Columbia Wine Institute (BCWI) recognized that when it announced that the fifth Judgment of BC wine tasting, held recently in Penticton, is the last in this series of tastings.

The format has always been a blind tasting of British Columbia wines along side imported wines. The concept recalled the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976 when Steven Spurrier, then a young wine merchant in Paris, staged a tasting of California and French wines.

At the time, California wines also suffered from an inferiority complex. Spurrier believed that many California wines ranked right up there in quality with French wines. To the astonishment of the French wine critics at the tasting, it turned out he was right. The California wines were as good as, if not better, than the French wines. That tasting did wonders for the reputation of California wines.

The BCWI invited Spurrier to participate in both the first and the fifth of the Judgment of BC tastings. In each of these tastings, British Columbia wines have held their own against selected imported wines.

That was not a surprise to those of us who have been tracking the astonishing rise in the quality of British Columbia wines during the last two decades. The BCWI has concluded this series of tastings because, frankly, British Columbia winemakers do not have anything to prove any more.

That may explain why one seldom hears any more that British Columbia wines are “world class.” That tiresome phrase was ubiquitous in wine writing when the wines were not yet world class. That is no longer the case.

“Of course, that doesn’t mean that we will ease up,” says Manuel Zuppiger, the winemaker at Arrowleaf Cellars, and a winner at this year’s Judgment. “The pursuit of making great wines never really ends. It does mean that we can be confident that we’re on the right path.”

The recent fifth Judgment pitted four different varietal wines from British Columbia against comparable wines from elsewhere in the world. There were ten wines in each flight (six each from British Columbia). All were tasted blind and rated by 30 judges. The judging panel included, in addition to Spurrier, wine experts from not just British Columbia but from China, the United States and elsewhere in Canada. These were not cellar palates.

In the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah classes, the top-rated wines all were from British Columbia. Only in the Riesling class did British Columbia emerge a runner-up to a very fine Riesling from the Mosel. The style of that wine was significantly different from all the other Rieslings and was perhaps not a fair comparison.

(The same thing happened a few years ago in an earlier Judgment’s flight of Pinot Gris wines. An Alsace Pinot Gris blew everything else off the table. But for reasons of terroir and climate, British Columbia Pinot Gris is never, or almost never, made in the style of Alsace.)

The British Columbia wines for the fifth Judgment were selected earlier from a much larger group of wines. That ensured, or should have ensured, that only the strongest British Columbia wines took on the world. Overall, these were 40 good wines.

Here are the results.


1. Meyer Family Vineyards Tribute Series Chardonnay 2016 ($30.52).
2. 50th Parallel Estate Chardonnay 2016 ($27.95).
3. Craggy Range Chardonnay Kidnapper’s Vineyard 2017 ($32.99). New Zealand.
4. Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay 2017 ($28.99).
5. Chartron et Trébuchet Pouilly Fuissé 2017  ($38.99). Burgundy.
6. Laroche Chablis Premier Cru La Chantrerie 2016 ($42.99). Burgundy.
7. Tantalus Vineyards Chardonnay 2015 ($31.99).
8. Monte Creek Ranch Chardonnay Reserve 2016 ($24.99).
9. Culmina Family Estate Dilemma Chardonnay 2014 ($31).
10. Bethel Heights Vineyard Eola Chardonnay 2015 ($62.99) Oregon.


1. Nik Weis St. Urbans-Hof Wiltinger Alte Reben 2014 ($34.99). Mosel.
2. CedarCreek Estate Platinum Block 3 Riesling 2018 ($29.99).
3. St. Hubertus & Oak Bay Vineyards Family Reserve Riesling 2014 ($$26).
4. Tightrope Winery Riesling 2017 ($19.05).
5. Culmina Family Estate Decora Riesling 2014 ($24.99).
6. Upper Bench Estate Riesling 2017 ($23.99).
7. Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling 2015 ($37.99). Washington.
8. Rieslingfreak No. 3 Reverence of Riesling 2018 ($39.89). Clare Valley, Australia.
9. Martin’s Lane Fritzi’s Vineyard Riesling 2016 ($65).
10. Nigl Dornleiten Riesling Kremstal 2015 ($37.30). Austria.

Pinot Noir

1. Arrowleaf Cellars Archive Pinot Noir 2016 ($35).
2. La Crema Pinot Noir Monterey 2016 ($36.45). California.
3. Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Dundee Hills 2015 ($41.99). Oregon.
4. Sperling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2016 ($29.99).
5. Meyer Family Vineyards McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir 2016 ($56.62).
6. Louis Jadot Beaune Grèves Premier Cru 2015 ($99.91). Burgundy.
7. Shaw+Smith Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir 2016 ($67.74). Australia.
8. Tightrope Winery Pinot Noir 2016 ($36.99).
9. Quails’ Gate Richard’s Block Pinot Noir 2017 ($29.99).
10. CedarCreek Estate Platinum Block 2 Pinot Noir 2016 ($64.99).


1. Tightrope Winery Syrah 2016 ($36.99).
2. Le Vieux Pin Winery Cuvée Violette Syrah 2016 ($37.99).
3. Stag’s Hollow Winery Amalia Vineyard Syrah 2016 ($28.99).
4. Saint Cosme Crozes-Hermitage 2016 ($58.99). Rhône.
5. Torbreck Woodcutter’s Barossa Shiraz ($36.99). Australia.
6. Time Winery Syrah 2014 ($35).
7. Painted Rock Syrah 2016 ($39.99).
8. Domaine Jamet Syrah Collines Rhodaniennes 2015 ($47.74). Rhône.
9. C.C. Jentsch Cellars Syrah 2016 ($36.99).
10. K Vintners MCK Syrah 2015 ($47.97). Washington.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Meyer Gewürztraminer and friends

 Photo: Meyer Family Vineyards owner JAK Meyer

Gewürztraminer is a wine that seems to be slowly falling out of favour, perhaps because too many in previous years were boring and sweet. Consumer palates have moved on.

It was a bit of a surprise, therefore, when a recent quartet of wines from Meyer Family Vineyards of Okanagan Falls included Gewürztraminer.

Meyer is well known as a producer of premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. However, the winery inherited a block of Gewürztraminer vines when JAK Meyer, the winery owner, purchased an Okanagan Falls vineyard in 2008. Much of the vineyard has since been replanted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While some Gewürztraminer also was pulled out, JAK kept a block which, the winery says, was planted in 1994 with cuttings from Germany.

Hats off to JAK for that decision. Meyer now produces one of the Okanagan’s best Gewürztraminers. The wine is neither boring nor sweet. The downside is that Meyer made just 360 cases of it in the 2018 vintage, and the wine is now sold out. You may want to reserve some from the 2019 vintage.  The other three wines reviewed here still are available.

For some background on Meyer Family Vineyards, here is an except from my 2017 book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries.

The winery was launched by JAK Meyer and his partner, Janice Stevens-Meyer. It was a hobby initially. Born in Alberta in 1958, JAK had succeeded as an investment dealer and real-estate developer while becoming passionate about wine. 

With help from James Cluer, MW, then a Vancouver wine educator, JAK bought a 1.5-hectare (3.5-acre) Chardonnay vineyard that had been planted in 1994 on Old Main Road near Naramata. He engaged an architect to design a winery while arranging to have both the 2006 and 2007 vintages made by Michael Bartier, whose mastery of barrel-fermented Chardonnay is legendary.

“During blending [the 2006 Chardonnay],” recounts the notes on the vintage, “five French oak barrels stood out as being superior quality. Blended together, the five barrels created a truly special wine that demanded to be bottled on its own as a small batch or Micro Cuvée.” Ever since, the flagship Chardonnay from Meyer has always emerged from the best barrels, while also being a single-vineyard wine. Virtually all the Chardonnay from the Old Main Road vineyard is treated the same way: fermented in French oak and aged on the lees for seven or eight months before being bottled. Those barrels that do not rise to the Micro Cuvée standard are usually blended and bottled for the winery’s Tribute Series Chardonnay—also a fine wine that some collectors even prefer.

The winery was still something of a hobby, producing 600 cases of wine a year, when JAK began marketing the wines in February 2008. He discovered “how much work it is to sell the wine,” he recalls. “We realized that we will never make money at 600 cases. So we made the commitment to expand in the spring of 2008.” Before the year was over, JAK had taken over an uncompleted winery and vineyard in Okanagan Falls. The 6.5-hectare (16-acre) McLean Creek Road Vineyard, as it is called now, has been replanted largely with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Here are notes on the four recent releases.

Meyer McLean Creek Road Gewürztraminer 2018 ($15.75 for 360 cases). Behind this wine is detail-oriented winemaking. The first picking went into the press as whole bunches and was pressed gently. Subsequent picks were destemmed; the berries were slightly crushed and left 24 hours on the skins before being pressed. Both lots were combined for a long, cool ferment with wild yeast in both stainless steel and seasoned French oak barrels. The wine remained five months on fine lees. The wine begins with aromatic spicy aromas. It is full on the palate, with flavours of grapefruit and lychee.  The finish is dry with lingering spice. 91.   

Meyer Okanagan Valley Chardonnay 2018 ($17.49 for 1,600 cases). Think Chablis! This is a crisply refreshing and fruit forward Chardonnay. It begins with aromas of citrus leading to flavours of citrus, peach and apple. 91.

Meyer Stevens Block Chardonnay 2018 Old Main Road Vineyard ($24.45 for 350 cases). This wine comes from an acre of Chardonnay planted in 2006 with two French clones. Whole clusters were pressed gently, with the purest juice from initial pressing kept for this wine. A long cool fermentation with wild yeast lasted two months in stainless steel. The wine was aged six months on fine lees in older French oak. The result is an elegant wine with aromas and flavours of citrus, tangerine and peach. The finish is lingering. 93.

Meyer Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir 2018 ($22.71 for 2,600 cases). This is the winery’s entry level Pinot Noir, with fruit vineyards in Okanagan Falls, Southeast Kelowna, Naramata, Kaleden and Osoyoos. The grapes were pressed and left on the skins for a cold soak before fermenting with wild yeast. There was also a post-fermentation maceration before the wine was pressed into old French oak barrels for eight months. The wine begins with lively cherry aromas leading to cherry and raspberry on the palate. The wine is fresh and fruit forward. Even so, it will benefit from decanting. 90.