Friday, October 29, 2010

A surprise from Château Pichon Longueville

Photo: Gildas d'Ollone, general manager of Château Pichon

Bordeaux’s 1975 vintage was one of the most controversial in that decade. Most of the reds were markedly tannic. Tannin will always soften with age but the question is whether there is any fruit left by that time.

I have tasted a number of 1975s over the years. A few were satisfactory but many were lean and dried out.

And then I got to taste the 1975 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. It is a delightful wine, with mellowed tannin and with fruit still fresh and alive. The alluring bouquet shows that perfumed sweetness that happens when Cabernet Sauvignon spends a long time in the bottle.

Perhaps this is all academic. It would be a rare cellar that still has any 1975 Bordeaux, if only because the wine should have been consumed by now. In his The Great Vintage Wine Book, Michael Broadbent – having tasted the wine in 1978 – recommended drinking it between 1983 and 1995. Well-stored red Bordeaux has remarkable longevity, however.

This bottle of 1975 came directly from the cellars of Château Pichon. Gildas d’Ollone, the winery’s general manager, presented this wine plus some current vintages at a recent Vancouver tasting for members of the Guild of Sommeliers.

He was supposed to be in Vancouver this spring at the Playhouse International Wine Festival. However, he was among the number of European producers who were prevented from coming when the volcano in Iceland basically shut down Europe’s air space. His wines were at the festival, presented by Sid Cross, one of Vancouver’s super-tasters and a friend of the Pichon wines.

Gildas had a second reason for coming to Vancouver this fall. Like most leading Bordeaux producers, Château Pichon is being besieged by buyers from China who would take all of the production if allowed.

“I want to keep our wines in traditional markets,” he says. “I don’t want to have all of our wines put into one basket.”

Château Pichon is one of the second growth estates in Pauillac, a neighbour of Château Latour, a first growth. The winery has records of vineyards from the late 1600s, when it and other properties were all owned by a very large landowner. In 1700 what became the Pichon vineyards formed the dowry when the landowner sent off his daughter to marry Jacques Pichon de Lonqueville, the president of the Bordeaux parliament.

Ownership has changed several times, usually driven by French inheritance laws. In 2007 the winery was on the market again because the family faced payment of inheritance taxes. A number of offers were made and the winner was Roederer, the great Champagne house.

Aside from making significant investments in the vineyard, Roederer has not messed around with this great chateau. Interested in maintaining the style of the Pichon wines, Roederer kept the staff intact (other than adding to the vineyard staff). The elegant Gildas d’Ollone, a nephew of the previous owner, remains the general manager.

What is the Pichon style? “We are not a blockbuster wine,” Gildas says. “We have never been. The challenge is to get balance with finesse.”

The winemaking has changed a lot since the 1975 vintage but balance and finesse would describe that wine. That was a warm, dry growing season. By September, the grapes hanging in the vineyard were small with thick skins, little juice and green seeds, a recipe for excessive tannin. Then the weather forecast threatened rain. Many producers chose to pick.

Pichon took the risk of leaving the grapes hang after the rain. It harvested grapes with adequate juice and ripe seeds, making one of the better wines of that vintage. As Michael Broadbent wrote: “… the really well-run properties made outstanding wine ….”

Perhaps the biggest change in Bordeaux wines over the last 15 years has been the greater concentration in the wines resulting from generally smaller production per vine. More recently, global warming also has influenced the vintages: grapes are often riper, higher in sugar, yielding wines which, if not blockbusters, are bigger than was traditional.

The Pichon 2003, one of the wines Gildas poured, is as rich and bold as this chateau has produced because 2003 was an unusually hot year. Gildas may grumble that it is not a traditional Pichon and will not age that long but, to a New World palate, this is really delicious wine. The fruity aromas jump from the glass and blackberry and cassis flavours emerge from a concentrated wine.

Gildas suggests that the Pichon 2004 and Pichon 2007 are “benchmark” wines from the château.

The 2004 is an elegant medium-bodied wine with aromas of red fruit and flavours of blackberry, black currant, spice and cedar. The finish lingers.

Pichon 2007 ($129.00), which recently arrived in this market, shows smoky and red berry aromas, with flavours of blackberry, plum and graphite. The texture is juicy and the tannins are fine and ripe. While this wine is drinking well now, it clearly will cellar for a decade or two. 91 – 93 points.

Occasionally, Pichon’s second wine makes it into the market as well. The Reserve de la Comtesse 2006 might be available in private wine stores for about $80. It is also very fine, with a fleshy concentration and flavours of plum, chocolate and cedar. 89.

When a great château makes a second wine, it is hardly second rate. There is always good wine left over after the property’s first wine is blended. These are blended into second wines. They will taste different from Le Grand Vin because the varietal composition is different, but the wines still have all that great breeding – at a lower price.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Calliope Wine is back again

Welcome back, Calliope!

This was the wine label under which Ross and Cherie Mirko sold their Okanagan wines from 2001 until the fall of 2005 when they moved to New Zealand.

The label was purchased by Chris Wyse, the president of Burrowing Owl Estate Winery. He also has a small vineyard in the Similkameen Valley.

He has just released the first Calliope wine since 2005, some 535 cases of Sauvignon Blanc made with grapes from vineyards at Keremeos and Summerland. This means that, unlike Burrowing Owl, the Calliope wines are not limited to estate-grown grapes.

According to the Calliope web site ( “The freedom granted to the winemakers with the Calliope brand offers a chance to break from tradition and to express their creative talents with non-estate grapes vinified in small batches. New frontiers and flavour profiles will be explored, along with interesting blends that highlight the terroir and characteristics of the various grapes used. Oak applications will be minimized and closures may be screw caps or corks with an emphasis on early consumption.”

Here is a bit of history of a brand named for the tiny hummingbird that is indigenous to the Okanagan. The original Calliope was a partnership involving two couples. Both Ross and Cherie are winemakers: he worked for CedarCreek, Blasted Church and then Lang Vineyards; Cherie was the winemaker for St. Hubertus Estate Winery.

Their partners were viticulturist Valerie Tait and businessman Garth Purdy (who eventually turned their interest over to the Mirkos).

Calliope Vintners was a virtual winery launched on a shoestring: no bricks and mortar nor vineyards of its own. The partners sourced grapes from selected vineyards and made the wines initially at Thornhaven Estate Winery and subsequently at Poplar Grove Winery.

“Starting Calliope like this has been good,” Ross told me in 2003. “Financially, it’s been great. We couldn’t be in business otherwise. But now we need to take the training wheels off and get into business quite seriously. If we can’t get into business on our own, we’re not going to continue doing this – making wine in other facilities.” Calliope was making about 1,000 cases a year.

The original Calliope label

Calliope wines were also sold though the tasting rooms of the other wineries until 2004, when Poplar Grove’s increasing production squeezed Calliope from the wine shop. Calliope continued selling under the Poplar Grove license via the Calliope web site and to the customers that the well-received wines had gained.

“Rumours abound about Calliope no longer being in business but this is not true,” Cherie wrote in June, 2004, in a covering note included with three wine samples send to the media. (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Merlot/Cabernet blend, all from 2002). “We have three fabulous reds currently available and are actively sourcing fruit for this coming harvest. There will be some restructuring of how we do business over the next year but other than that, our passion to create excellent Okanagan wines is unabated and our goals & philosophy remain the same.”

Both Ross and Cherie have family ties in New Zealand. With wine industry opportunities available for them there, they decided to wrap up Calliope in 2005. They sold the brand to the Wyse family and moved to New Zealand.

Brands have rarely changed hands in the Okanagan. However, Calliope had established a good name for itself, with absolutely no baggage. As well, the Wyse family’s interest in birds is well known.

The debut Calliope Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($16.99)is widely available in private wine shops (listed on the Calliope web site). This complex white begins with herbal and citrus aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of lime and pear with good minerality. There is a very subtle hint of oak (the wine spent two months in barrel). The flavour profile is emboldened by the wine’s 14.4% alcohol, no doubt a reflection of the ripeness of the Similkameen fruit. This is nicely balanced by the bright acidity of the Summerland fruit (90).

The 2010 Calliope Sauvignon Blanc is already in tank.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Howard Soon marks his 30th winemaking anniversary

Photo: Sandhill's Howard Soon

This is Sandhill winemaker Howard Soon’s 30th year as a winemaker in the Okanagan.

His career, which began with Calona Wines in 1980, is remarkable not just for longevity but accomplishment. He began making award-winning wines at Calona but really blossomed when Calona’s parent company launched Sandhill in 1997. To cite just one notable achievement, Sandhill was Canada’s Winery of the Year in the 2009 Canada Wine Awards.

Sandhill makes only single vineyard wines – from its own vineyard on Black Sage Road and from three other vineyards. The object is to produce wines that express the terroir, whether in a large volume release like the Pinot Gris (grown in a Naramata Bench vineyard) or as a handcrafted “Small Lots” release like Sangiovese.

In the latest releases, Howard has taken that one step further by offering two wines from exceptional single blocks in the vineyard. It is considerable extra work but it is also the way to allow superior blocks to show their special terroir.

These are the current releases:

Sandhill Pinot Gris 2009 King Family Vineyard ($18.99). The winery released 5,150 cases of this wine in April and there is still a good supply in wine stores. This has a string of medals including a recent gold in the B.C. Wine Awards. It is a textbook Pinot Gris with aromas and flavours of citrus, apples and pears. 89.

Sandhill Chardonnay 2008 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($17.99). The price of this compared to the previous wine reflects to moderately flagging popularity of Chardonnay. The assumption is that consumers were driven away by the overoaked Chardonnays from Australia and California in the 1990s. Well, it is time to get over that. Fully 20% of this wine was fermented in stainless steel to preserve the fruit; the rest was barrel-fermented, a technique that integrates the oak subtly in the wine. The result is rich on the palate, with flavours of tangerine, butterscotch and spice. Production: 4,107 cases. 89.

Sandhill Gamay Noir 2008 Sandhill Estate ($19.99). Here is the Okanagan’s answer to Beaujolais – a tasty medium-bodied red with notes of spicy cherries. Production: 1,802 cases. 88.

Sandhill Merlot 2008 Sandhill Estate ($19.99). This is an uncomplicated wine – juicy in texture with flavours of blackberries and black currants. Production: 4,750 cases. 88.

Sandhill Cabernet Merlot 2008 Sandhill Estate ($19.99). This is a blend of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc and – here’s a surprise twist – 8% Barbera. The result is a very nice wine for the price, medium to full-bodied, with aromas of plum and vanilla and flavours of plums and black currants with some of the Barbera’s earthiness tweaking the complexity. Production: 6,130 cases. 90.

Sandhill Syrah 2008 Sandhill Estate ($21.99). Here is a plump, satisfying red, with aromas and flavours of spice, leather, chocolate and vanilla. Production: 1,873 cases. 90.

Sandhill Small Lots Single Block Chardonnay 2008 Sandhill Estate Block B11 ($29.99). Only 132 cases of this wine were released. Very elegant, it shows aromas and flavours of tangerine and other citrus fruits, butter and very expensive oak. This is a tour de force and it is sold out. 90.

Sandhill Small Lots Viognier 2009 Osprey Ridge Vineyard ($24.99). The winery made 615 cases of wine. It is a spectacular wine, with dramatic aromas of peaches and orange blossoms, leading to flavours of tropical fruits, from guava to pineapple. There is even a hint of white pepper on the finish. 92.

Sandhill Small Lots Barbera 2007 Sandhill Estate ($29.99). This is the Okanagan’s only Barbera and only 270 cases were released from this vintage. It begins with an array of berry aromas, shows flavours of black cherry and spice on the palate and finishes with notes of sour cherry, red plum and spice. 88.

Sandhill Small Lots Sangiovese 2007 Sandhill Estate ($29.99). This is believed to be the Okanagan’s only Sangiovese; some 430 cases were released. The wine is vibrant and harmonious, with tastes of cherry, red plum and vanilla. It was aged for 20 months in one-year-old French oak barrels, an effective way of giving the wine an elegant texture. 90.

Sandhill Small Lots Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah 2007 Sandhill Estate ($29.99). This is a blend of equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Part of the winery’s Small Lots Program, just 420 cases were released. There is plum and leather, smoke and cocoa in the aroma, with flavours of berries and chocolate. The tannins are still firm. 88.

Sandhill Small Lots Syrah 2008 Phantom Creek Vineyard ($39.99). The Phantom Creek Vineyard is just across Black Sage Road from the Sandhill Vineyard. It often produces the winery’s showiest Syrah. This 2008 is rich and seductive, with aromas of violets, blackberries and spice. On the palate, it is like drinking a Black Forrest Cake with its layers of chocolate, black cherry and spice. There is a touch of pepper on the lingering finish. Only 166 cases were made. 92.

Sandhill Small Lots One 2007 Phantom Creek Vineyard ($34.99). There are 498 cases of this wine, a blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, 10% Malbec and 3% Syrah. The wine begins with alluring sweet and floral aromas – very likely the contribution of the Petit Verdot. It is full-bodied with flavours of currants, spice, tobacco and cedar. 90.

Sandhill Small Lots Two 2007 Sandhill Estate ($34.99). This is a 336-case blend of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot and 14% Cabernet Franc. This seems a little fuller on the palate that Sandhill One, perhaps because of the Merlot in the blend. It begins with aromas of red berries, toasty oak and spice. It shows flavours of plums and black currants, with a touch of pepper on the finish. 90.

Sandhill Small Lots Three 2007 Sandhill Estate ($34.99). There are 266 cases of the winery’s version of a Super Tuscan red. It is a blend of 55% Barbera, 36% Sangiovese and 9% Merlot. It is an elegant red, with the earthiness of the Barbera tamed by its partners. It tastes of cherries and spice. 90.

Sandhill Small Lots Single Block Merlot 2007 Sandhill Estate Block C8 ($34.99). Only 119 cases were made of a wine from the C8 block of Merlot in the Sandhill Vineyard, notable for the intensely flavoured grapes it yields. This is a rich and concentrated wine with flavours of plums, black currants, blackberries and chocolate, with spiced red fruit on the lingering finish. 91.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Nichol releases Naramata Village Grown wines

Naramata is one of the strongest place names, if not the strongest, in Okanagan wine but its use on wine labels is still in a grey area.

The regulators recently stopped Poplar Grove Winery from using Naramata Bench on its labels. Apparently, that is not yet an approved geographic indicator.

However, the new releases from Nichol Vineyards all proclaim “Naramata Village Grown” on the labels. Presumably, that can be defended because the vineyards supplying Nichol are within the boundaries of Naramata Village.

Who knows? It might even get its own appellation one day. One can find appellations elsewhere in the wine world that are even smaller. For example, the tiny but historic Portuguese appellation of Carcevelos has been reduced by Lisbon’s urban sprawl to one vineyard.

Judging from the latest reds released by Nichol, an apparent terroir effect does give the wines a unity of style. With the exception of the Syrah, where varietal expression dominates, the reds show similar bright fruit tones. Perhaps that is also the result of the seven grams per litre of acidity left in most of the reds, ensuring that the wines are lively.

The current releases also include a Gewürztraminer 2008 ($16.90), a wine with an intense concentration of flavours of grapefruit rind, goose berry and spice. The wine is finished dry in a slightly austere Alsace style, making this an excellent food wine. 88.

The Nichol Syrah 2008 ($29.90) must be singled out for its historic position among Okanagan Syrah. The founders and former owners of this winery, Alex and Kathleen Nichol, were the first in the Okanagan to plant Syrah, in 1991 or 1992. Other wineries took note after the winery’s spectacular 1994 Syrah was released. Since then, the variety has become the fourth most widely planted red in British Columbia. In good years, Syrah wines are among the best from the Okanagan or Similkameen wineries.

In 2008, Ross Hackworth, the current owner of Nichol Vineyards, made 470 cases of Syrah. A wine with a fine, deep colour, it begins with aromas of plums and spices. On the palate, there are flavours of plum and black cherry, leather and earth, delicatessen meats and pepper on the finish. It is a bold and satisfying red. 91.

Nichol Cabernet Franc 2008 ($26.90) is another of this winery’s signature varieties. The style is pleasantly rustic, quite fitting for this brambly varietal (the winery’s food pairing includes short ribs). The wine has aromas and flavours of black cherry and raspberry framed with oak and tannin, with dark chocolate on the finish. The winery made 260 cases. 88.

In the 2007 vintage, Ross blended 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Syrah to make 578 cases of Cabernet Syrah 2008 ($28.90). It is a good blend, with the Cabernet contributing the bright cherry and blackberry aromas and flavours while the Syrah brings plum, leather and black pepper to the party. 89.

The other important red varietal in this vineyard is Pinot Noir; Nichol grows two clones, making for complexity in the wine. Some 565 cases were produced in 2008. The Nichol Pinot Noir 2008 ($26.90) is charming and medium-bodied, with aromas and flavours of rose petals, strawberry and salmon berry. There is a touch of bitterness on the finish, suggesting that the tannins have not yet evolved into the variety’s silky texture. 86.

New from Nichol is a proprietary red, 9 Mile Red 2008 ($26.90), bearing the original name of Naramata. This 215-case wine is a blend of 57% St. Laurent and 43% Pinot Noir. Alex Nichol used release the St. Laurent on its own, offering only a small volume because so little of the variety is planted there. Putting two varieties that are compatible into a blend means the winery can release a reasonable volume. This is a vivacious wine with aromas of cherries and somewhat tart cherry flavours with a spicy finish. 87.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Laughing Stock releases its Gold Medal Portfolio

The latest two releases from Laughing Stock Vineyards have come with the announcement that the winery is launching a wine club.

This is another clever marketing device from this well-regard Naramata Bench winery. Given the swelling number of wineries in British Columbia, every winery has to sell a bit harder, even producers as accomplished at Laughing Stock.

David and Cynthia Enns, Laughing Stock’s founders, formerly worked in the investment business. At Laughing Stock, which opened in 2005, they have continually mined the rich vocabulary of the investment business. The flagship red is called Portfolio; two companion blends are called Blind Trust.

They have dipped into the same well for their club. It is called the Preferred Share Wine Club. There are two levels of membership: Series A Preferred and Series B Preferred. There is no fee to join other than committing to order wine regularly.

If you follow the investment business, you know that Series A Preferreds always rank ahead of Series B, with more benefits. Likewise with the Laughing Stock wine club.

The A members order wine by the case. They get free delivery and are first in line to order new releases, including releases of the so-called Small Cap limited production wines. There are other perks as well, including invitations to events in the winery and free tastings.

The B members are those who sign up for three shipments a year, each of six bottles of specially selected wines. They are also first in line for new releases. They pay for shipping. They also get invited to winery events and free tastings.

Other wineries operate similar clubs. The attraction of any of these clubs is the convenience of being on the list to buy for your favourite wines once you have figured out what you want to collect.

Laughing Stock Portfolio is one of those reds that should be collected by anyone serious about building a cellar of British Columbia wines. The winery encourages this by publishing a vintage chart on its web site and by offering advice on the likely cellar life of its wines.

Portfolio is a Bordeaux blend. The first vintage was 2003. Only 500 cases were made, so there are not many cellars that still have some. The winery advises drinking it up by 2012. A customer review on the web site basically confirms that.

Early each year, about eight months before the wine is released, the winery offers Portfolio at a discount of about $5 a bottle to customers who pre-order by the case and pay in advance. This is called selling futures. The big Bordeaux houses do it all the time.

Surprisingly, only a handful of Okanagan wineries do it. To be sure, a winery needs to have a track record of consistent quality before customers will spend three or four hundred dollars on wines they have not tasted. Laughing Stock has acquired such a track record.

The latest release is Portfolio 2008 ($40) and it just won a gold medal at the B.C. Wine Awards. The winery made 2,050 cases. The wine is 53% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. The grapes were picked between October 14 and October 28 in what proved to be a very good vintage. As usual, the ticker tape around each bottle shows trading values of some equities at that period. Figuring out the stock symbols is part of the fun of drinking this wine. The wine spent 19 months in French oak, 40% of which was new and the rest was one-year-old.

This is a big, satisfying wine with 14.6% alcohol, hardly noticeable amid all this concentrated fruit flavours. It is approachable already but has the structure to age for 10 years. I tasted my bottle over two days, a way of accelerating the aging. It showed superbly on the second day – and it was already very good on the first: spicy red berries and vanilla on the nose, flavours of plum and black cherries and ripe tannins that make the wine rich on the palate. 91-92.

The winery has also released 740 cases of its Chardonnay 2009 ($26). In a time when a growing number of producers are releasing cocktail party Chardonnays (aka unoaked Chardonnay), this is a Chardonnay made as it should be. Laughing Stock’s use of oak hits the fine balance where the oak notes are the harmony behind the melody of the fruit.

This wine was fermented in puncheons, which are twice the size of standard wine barrels. These impart less oak flavour (although the oak always integrates better with the fruit in barrel fermented wine as opposed to merely barrel-aged wine). This wine has hints of toast and almonds on the nose and has rich flavours of tangerines and butterscotch. There is enough acidity to give the wine a refreshing finish. 88-90.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Averill Creek releases its 2008 Prevost

Photo: Averill Creek's Andy Johnston

Fans of Averill Creek Vineyard’s Prevost, the winery’s proprietary red blend built around Maréchal Foch, might be alarmed to learn that the exploding bear population in the Cowichan Valley has eaten a significant tonnage of the vineyard’s Foch this year.

“I sometimes spend the whole day patrolling the vineyard,” Averill Creek owner Andy Johnston said as the vineyard prepared to pick the Foch recently.

He theorizes that bears are coming down the forest slopes of Mount Prevost in search of foraging territory not already claimed by other bears. On one occasion this fall, a female bear simply left one of her two cubs in the vineyard.

Bears have been among several issues this year, one of the most challenging vintages on Vancouver Island since Andy planted the vineyard in 2002. The late spring and the cold September delayed ripening of the grapes. Then rain, or the threat of rain, forced the vintage crew to pick some varieties before rot set in.

As a result, Averill’s Creek’s 2010 Pinot Noir is expected to be lighter than previous vintages. “It’ll be lunchtime Pinot Noir,” Andy says.

The late ripening Merlot, which is tented to kick start it in spring, has gone primarily into rosé, although Andy expected to pull the best bunches from the sorting table to make a few barrels of red. Last week, he was worried about the Pinot Gris but a week of dry and sunny weather since then has been beneficial.

Last week, Andy was thinking of diverting some of his Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in a base wine for sparkling wine, an excellent idea in a vintage like 2010. It would be Averill Creek’s first sparkling wine.

When all is said and done, I expect that Averill Creek will, as usual, make quite drinkable wines from 2010. “And I have lots of great wine in the winery from 2009,” Andy says. The 2009 vintage was one of the best in the Cowichan Valley that anyone can remember. Averill Creek’s releases of 2009 reds will include both a Reserve Pinot Noir and a Reserve Foch Cabernet.

Foch Cabernet is Andy’s term for the Blattner red that others are calling Cabernet Foch.

The variety is a component of the Prevost blend. The first vintage of Prevost was 2007. That wine is 85% Maréchal Foch, 10% Foch Cabernet and 5% Merlot. The 2008 Prevost, which is just being released, is a similar blend.

The unreleased 2009 Prevost (the wine spends about 11 months in French oak, 25% of it new) is 80% Maréchal Foch, 15% Foch Cabernet and 5% Merlot. Andy describes this as a “big, Saint-Émilion-style Bordeaux wine.”

It remains to be determined whether there will be a 2010 Prevost, chiefly because the vineyard may not have produced enough Merlot to support the blend. Of course, the bears have made inroads on the Maréchal Foch as well.

Prevost 2008 ($20) is a deep-hued red. It begins with aromas of cherries and plums and a hint of smokiness. On the palate, there are bright flavours of the fruit – again cherry, perhaps a touch of cranberry. It is a lively, medium-bodied wine with 12% alcohol, with fresh acidity and with soft tannins. 88.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

BC Wine Awards gold medalist wines

Photo: Adrian Capeneata's Cassini Cellars named best new winery

There are 34 gold medal wines among the award winners in the inaugural British Columbia Wine Awards, held last week in the Okanagan. Entries totalled 450 wines.

The complete list of gold, silver and bronze medalists is now posted on the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society web site.

I was one of the dozen judges. As always when I am judging, I find surprises among the results, especially when these results are compared with other competitions during the year.

For example: Painted Rock Winery’s Red Icon 2007 received one of the 11 awards in the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards of Excellence in June but a bronze in the B.C. Wine Awards. That should tell you that wine judging is not an exact science. It should also tell you that, if you cannot find gold medal winners in the wine stores, there are some awfully good wines among the silver and bronze medalists.

Twenty-seven wineries shared in the gold medals. The only multiple gold winners were Jackson-Triggs (five) and Sandhill (four). They also did very well in the silver and bronze categories. Traditionally, these two wineries have often taken home more medals than their peers. It is true that they enter more wines but both are very accomplished producers.

Other surprises on reading the awards:

* The judges did not like oaked Chardonnay. The two gold medal Chardonnays are fruit-driven examples. I note that with some sadness because I think wine judges are reflecting an unfortunate bias in the market against complex, barrel-fermented Chardonnays in favour of cocktail-party Chardonnay.

* Two fruit wines won gold medals. The Mulberry Pear dessert wine from Rustic Roots of Cawston is unusual and delicious while the Raspberry from Summerland’s Sleeping Giant Winery busts firm the glass as only good raspberry wines can.

* While the competition was open to Vancouver Island wineries, I am only aware of one that entered. That is hard to understand, given the quality of the 2009 vintage on the island. Perhaps the cost of entering deterred those wineries. Some may still be labouring under the misconception that the odds are against them in any Okanagan competition.

The competition handed out four super awards. The best white wine was judged to be Mission Hill’s Reserve Riesling 2007. The best red wine award went to Desert Hills Estate Winery for its Syrah Select 2007. The best dessert wine award went to Inniskillin Okanagan for its Dark Horse Vineyard Riesling Icewine 2008.

And the best “new” winery award went to Cassini Cellars of Oliver, which opened in 2009 and won four medals in what I assume was its first time competing in the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society’s fall competition. The award is made by the society, not by the judges, providing recognition to industry newcomers.

It is a big boost for Adrian Capeneata, Cassini’s owner, and Philip Soo, his consulting winemaker.

Here are the gold medal wines.

Arrowleaf Cellars First Crush Rosé 2009
Blasted Church Vineyards Chardonnay Musqué 2009
Cassini Cellars Pinot Noir Reserve 2007
CedarCreek Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2008
Church & State Wines Pinot Noir 2007 Hollenbach Vineyard

Desert Hills Estate Winery Syrah Select 2007
Domaine de Chaberton Estate Winery Siegerrebe 2008
Hester Creek Reserve Cabernet Franc 2007
Inniskillin Okanagan Riesling Icewine 2008 Dark Horse Vineyard
Intrique Wines Riesling 2009

Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Proprietors’ Reserve Dry Riesling 2008
Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Grand Reserve Riesling 2008
Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Grand Reserve Merlot 2007
Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Proprietors’ Reserve Shiraz 2007
Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Grand Reserve Shiraz 2006

La Frenz Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Lake Breeze Vineyards Pinot Gris 2009
Laughing Stock Vineyards Portfolio 2008
Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Riesling 2007
Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Painted Rock Estate Winery Merlot 2007
Peller Estates Chardonnay Family Series 2009
Quails’ Gate Winery Optima Late Harvest 2008
Road 13 Vineyards Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2007
Rustic Roots Mulberry Pear 2008

Sandhill Pinot Gris 2009
Sandhill Small Lots Barbera 2007
Sandhill Small Lots Petit Verdot 2008
Sandhill Small Lots Syrah 2008
See Ya Later Ranch Brut N.V.

Silkscarf Winery Viognier 2009
Sleeping Giant Winery Raspberry 2009
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards Oldfield Series Syrah 2007
Twisted Tree Vineyards & Winery Tempranillo 2008