Monday, June 21, 2010

A tasting cornucopia on Vancouver Island

Photo: Starling Lane vineyard

The 2009 growing season in the vineyards of Vancouver Island was one of the best in the decade. The proof is now emerging as the island wineries begin to release wines from that vintage.

Recently, I visited and taste at nearly all the island wineries. I will pass on my notes on the wines that most pleased me. At a few wineries, the visits were early enough in the morning that the owners chose to send me away with samples rather than taste. I will add those notes to this blog later. You may want to revisit this post a few times.

You might also taste these (and other) wines at Taste: Victoria’s Food and Wine Festival July 15 through July 18. The major tasting is at Crystal Gardens. Check

I have already blogged on the Rocky Creek Winery’s releases, the first of the impressive 2009 wines that came my way.

Several wineries, among them Blue Grouse and 22 Oaks, have yet to release their 2009 wines. Zanatta Vineyards has no vintage dates on its sparkling wines (notably the Taglio Rosso, a superb red bubbly of Cabernet Sauvignon and Castel).

Roger Dosman at Alderlea Vineyards will be releasing both a 2009 Gewürztraminer and a 2009 Viognier. The Viognier is made only on top vintages. This one, he says, “is pretty deluxe.”

None of the island wineries is large. Most of the wines are released in limited volumes of a few hundred cases at best. Don’t wait too long into the summer without scheduling your own island wine tour – or ordering some of the wine over the internet.

Because the 2009 season was long, warm and dry, the grapes matured very well, often so well that winemakers did not need to adjust either the sugar levels or the acidity.

That was in dramatic contrast to the vintages of 2007 and 2008. Both were wet and/or cool years, so much so that some vineyards abandoned late ripening grapes entirely. Good wines were made in both years by producers where there is first-rate grape growing and the winemaking.

So far, the 2010 vintage is shaping up as another challenge for the coastal wineries, although a warm, dry summer and a long autumn might save the year. No doubt, good wines will be made by those whose viticulture and winemaking is up to the challenge.

Meanwhile, there are those terrific 2009s to enjoy. Here are some notes.

Averill Creek Vineyard 2009 Gewürztraminer ($18.00). The wine begins with lovely aromas of spice and rose petals. On the palate, there are flavours of spice, lychee and citrus, with a refreshing, dry finish. 90.

Averill Creek Vineyard 2009 Pinot Grigio ($18.00). The wine is fresh, light and tangy, as the Pinot Grigio style should be, with green apple flavours and a crisp finish. 88.

Averill Creek Vineyard 2009 foch-éh ($18.00). This is a fun summer patio red from Maréchal Foch grapes vinified by carbonic maceration. Think Beaujolais Nouveau – soft and fruity. 87.

Beaufort Vineyard & Estate Winery 2009 Ortega ($18). A gold medal wine, this refreshing wine has zesty spicy aromas and flavours of grapefruit, not unlike Sauvignon Blanc. 88-89.

Beaufort Vineyard & Estate Winery 2009 Pinot Gris ($18). Two-thirds of the grapes in this wine are Okanagan, the rest from Vancouver Island. Tasting of pears and citrus, this is a crisp, refreshing white. 88.

Beaufort Vineyard & Estate Winery 2009 Siegerrebe ($18). This wine is made from the first estate-grown grapes from Beaufort’s young Comox Valley vineyard. The wine is packed with juicy flavours of tropical fruits and has a lingering finish. This won the winery a bronze at a competition in London. 90.

Beaufort Vineyard & Estate Winery 2009 Panacea ($18). Another gold medal winner, this is a lovely blend of Madeleine Sylvaner, Pinot Gris, Schönburger, with a dash of Siegerrebe. The wine is dry but so fruity that it tricks the palate into believing it is off-dry. There are flavours of pink grapefruit, honey dew melons and guava. 88-90.

Beaufort Vineyard & Estate Winery 2009 Wild Child ($17.50). This wine is so named because fermentation started on its own with the wild yeasts on the grapes. It is made with Madeleine Sylvaner but comes across as a peachy Chardonnay with dry, nutty finish. Most intriguing. 88.

Beaufort Vineyard & Estate Winery 2009 Ça Beautage ($. N.A.). Like the Siegerrebe, this wine is from the winery's Comox Valley grapes - Marechal Foch, Leon Millot and Cabernet Foch. This is a big, bold red, with spicy flavours of black cherry, chocolate and liquorice. 90.

Blue Moon Estate Winery 2009 Dusk ($17.90). Blue Moon is a fruit winery near Courtenay that grows or tries to buy organic fruit. Dusk is an off-dry blueberry wine delicious on its own but dry enough to pair with food. 88.

Blue Moon Estate Winery 2009 Soleil ($16.90). This is a blend based on nine varieties of organic apples. Vibrant and refreshing, it is balanced just off dry. 88.

Blue Moon Estate Winery 2009 Midnight ($16.90). This wine just burst with the aromas and spicy flavours of blackberries. The residual sugar is balanced by a tangy acidity. The winery, which also has a cooking school, suggests this wine cane be paired with a range of foods, from curries to chocolate. 88

Carbrea Vineyard & Estate Winery 2009 Gewürztraminer ($22). Made from estate grapes on Hornby Island, this wine begins with a rose petal aroma. On the palate, there are notes of grapefruit and spice. 87.

Chase & Warren Estate Winery Alsatia 2009 ($N.A.). You have to go to the winery in Port Alberni to get this wine, a white blend based on Pinot Gris and Auxerrois. The wine is juicy and harmonious. 87.

Cherry Point Estate Winery 2009 Ortega-Siegerrebe ($N.A.). There are new owners, a new winemaker and new ideas at Cherry Point, one of which is adding 20% Siegerrebe to increase the fruity aromas and flavours in this blend. 88.

Cherry Point Estate Winery 2009 Gewürztraminer ($N.A.). This off-dry white shows peach and lychee flavours, with moderate spiciness. 88.

Divino Estate Winery Trebbiano 2009 ($N.A.). Joe Busnardo planted this white Italian variety in the Okanagan and planted it again when he relocated his winery to the Cowichan Valley in 1996. The wine is crisp, refreshingly light, with citrus notes. 87. Most of the Divino wines are either non-vintage or older vintages (including a 1989 Chardonnay from the winery’s Okanagan period). The tasting room is open Friday and Saturday afternoons and there is no spittoon because Joe believes in swallowing wine.

Enrico Vineyards 2009 Pinot Gris ($N.A.). This south Cowichan Valley winery expecting to open its Telegraph Road tasting room next year. I was given a taste of an unfinished but promising tank sample of Pinot Gris. I scored it 87 but I would like re-taste it after winemaker Sarah Cosman does the final polishing filtration and bottles it.

Garry Oaks Winery 2009 Pinot Gris ($23.90). Recently released by this Salt Spring Island winery, this wine has already won a gold medal in a credible competition. This wine begins with aromas of citrus, apricots and spice. On the palate, there are rich flavours of peach, apricot, ripe apples, with a spicy finish. 90.

Garry Oaks Winery Prism 2009 ($21.90). This bold Gewürztraminer announces itself with a dramatic spicy aroma. On the palate, it has the richness of fruit and texture that recalls a fine dry Gewürztraminer from Alsace. The winery’s notes speak of flavours of peach, ginger and lime and I certainly concur. 91.

Garry Oaks Winery 2009 Blanc de Noir ($19.90). This silver-medal rosé is made from estate-grown Pinot Noir, with the addition of 15% Zweigelt juice for colour and texture. The wine begins with strawberry and rhubarb aromas, strawberry and fruit punch flavours and a dry, refreshing finish. 89

Glenterra Vineyards 2009 Vivace ($20). When John Kelly took over this Cobble Hill property, he kept a block of experimental vines and now produces remarkable blends. Vivace – dry, crisp, with complex flavours of herbs and melons – is a field blend of 30% Pinot Gris, 10% Ortega, 10% Müller-Thurgau, 5% each of Bacchus, Siegerrebe, Auxerrois, and Chasselas; with the remaining 20% consisting of Ehrenfelser, Schönburger, Muscat, Wurzer, Regent, Huxelrebe, Gloria, Reichensteiner and Cantaro. There is probably no other wine in the world quite like this. 88.

Glenterra Vineyards 2009 Gewürztraminer ($22 but sold out). Only 35 cases were made of this delicately perfumed wine, with citrus and lychee flavours and with a crisp finish. 88.

Glenterra Vineyards 2009 Pinot Blanc ($23). This is a delicious blend made of equal parts Okanagan and estate grapes, all certified organic. The wine begins with appealing spicy oak and fruit on the nose. The rich palate shows citrus and apple flavours framed by just the right touch of oak. 90

Mistaken Identity 2009 Abbondante Bianco ($17.90). From its organic Salt Spring Island vineyard, Mistaken Identity got grapes ripe enough to produce a wine with 13.2% alcohol. This blend is built around Madeleine Angevine but also includes Madeleine Sylvaner, Siegerrebe, Ortega, Reichensteiner and Pinot Gris. Well-balanced and crisply finished, this refreshing wine has herbal and melon notes on the nose and on the palate. 89.

Mistaken Identity 2009 Pinot Rosé ($17.90). This is a 135-case blend of 40% organic Pinot Noir from the Okanagan and 60% organic Pinot Noir from the island. The result is a refreshing, medium-bodied, dry rosé with appealing aromas and flavours of raspberry and strawberry. 88.

Salt Spring Vineyards 2009 Aromata ($19.90). Light and refreshing, this wine begins with floral aromas and presents flavours of herbs and citrus, with a touch of spice on the finish. It is a blend of Auxerrois, Sylvaner and Bacchus. 88.

Salt Spring Vineyards 2009 Blanc de Noir ($18.90). This Pinot Noir rosé is made entirely with estate-grown grapes. The lovely strawberry bronze hue gives it immediate eye appeal. The flavours recall rhubarb and strawberry. The wine is light and refreshing. 88.

Later this season, the winery will be releasing a white yet to be named that is made from two of the Swiss hybrid grapes grown on the island, Petit Milo and Epicure. This promising new blend shows honeyed fruit flavours on the palate but finishes crisp and dry.

Starling Lane Winery 2009 Pinot Blanc ($18.90). The wine shows flavours of melons and apples and as a tangy, crisp finish that says, bring on the oysters. 89.

Starling Lane Winery 2009 Pinot Gris ($18.90). This wine begins with appealing fruity aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of pear and citrus. The wine has a crisp, zingy finish. 90

Starling Lane Winery 2009 Gewürztraminer ($18.90). The wine begins with spicy and floral aromas. On the palate, there are ripe flavours of spice and grapefruit. The finish is dry and lingering. 89.

Starling Lane Winery 2009 Ortega ($18.90). If you tasted this zesty wine blind, you might take for a Sauvignon Blanc with its notes of lime and grapefruit and its refreshing finish. This wine raises the bar with Ortega. Surprisingly, winemaker John Wrinch complains it is not complex enough and he is debating what to blend into the wine. I’d caution: it’s not broke, be cautious fixing this delightful white. 90.

Starling Lane Winery 2009 Star Ortega ($18.90). This is an off-dry version of the Ortega. The 10 grams of residual sugar lift the mouth-filling peach flavours. It has been a big hit in the wine shop. 90.

Starling Lane Winery 2009 Wild Blackberry ($22.90 for a half bottle). Almost every island winery has a so-called blackberry port; this is one of the best. It begins with appealing aromas of the berries, with hints of cinnamon. On the palate, there is sweet juicy fruit. The wine has just the right amount of sweetness with exquisite balance that keeps the wine refreshing. 90

Venturi-Schulze Vineyards Terracotta 2009 ($32.00). The winery has taken a blend of Ortega and Siegerrebe to a higher level, producing a rich, golden-hued wine with flavours of apricots and tangerine and a nutty note on the finish. Marilyn Schulze says the wine reminds her of “pie crust.” 90.

Venturi-Schulze Vineyards Pilastro 2009 ($19.50). A blend of Schönburger and Kerner, this fruity wine tastes of peaches, tangerine and melon. It is an off-dry wine exquisitely balanced to appeal to a wide range of palates. This is one of this winery’s first off-dry table wines and it is flying out of the tasting room. 88-90. This is one of several innovations at this winery. Venturi-Schulze has switched to screw caps on conventional bottles after more than a decade with crown caps on Champagne bottles. The labels also have switched to an exciting contemporary design.

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