Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Wine Islands Tasting

Photo: Saturna Island vineyards

It is spring in British Columbia when the wine tasting season is in full flood.

This week it was the turn of the Wine Islands Vintners Association, which assembled 28 of its members and their products in the Empress Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom.

In the time available to me, I was unable to get to every table but, with a little speed tasting, I covered a representative cross-section. Omissions in the reviews below only mean I could not get to every one of the more than 100 products.

The event also served as the launch for Island Wineries of British Columbia, edited by Gary Hynes, the editor of EAT Magazine. It is published by Touchwood Editions and sells for $29.95.

Since I have a somewhat comparable book coming off the press any day, it would be a conflict to review this book. Except to say that it is a handsome book, with superb colour photographs. There are more than enough features to this book that I am happy to recommend it. If I were an island resident, I would be sending gift copies to my friends who live elsewhere.

My book is called John Schreiner’s BC Coastal Wine Tour Guide (Whitecap Books, $20). As the title suggests, I cover not only island wineries but also those of the Fraser Valley and the Lower Mainland (extending as far as Lillooet). While the books overlap, they are so substantially different that – dare I say it – you need both!

The surprise for many readers will be just how many producers there are. Fully a third of the 210 licensed wineries, cideries and meaderies in British Columbia are in the coastal regions. Good wine touring itineraries can be set up without ever driving as far as the Okanagan. Arguably, the infrastructure on the islands – restaurants, accommodation – is even more developed than in most parts of the Okanagan.

While some coastal wineries supplement their vineyards with grapes purchased from the Okanagan, many make wines exclusively from grapes and fruit grown in coastal and island vineyards. These terroirs are substantially different from the Okanagan, producing wines that are distinctive. Climate vagaries make the coast region a tough place for viticulture. However, when nature gets it right, as in the 2o09 vintage, excellent wines are made. And when nature does not get it right, as in 2010, the wine growers dig deep into their pools of skill to make good wines.

Quite a number of wineries make commendable Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, two varieties that generally grow well on the coast and the islands.

Photo: Pinot Noir bunch at Garry Oaks

Both recent vintages (and a few older ones) were on display at the WIVA tasting. Here are notes on some my discoveries.

Blue Grouse Pinot Noir 2006 ($28). Hans Kiltz has had this Cobble Hill winery for sale for some time, apparently without attracting an acceptable offer. When you taste the Blue Grouse wines, you want Hans and Richard, his son, just to keep running it. This is a lovely Pinot Noir, gracefully silky after five years of age, with good concentration of flavour (cherries, plums, spice) and a long finish. 90.

Blue Grouse Black Muscat 2009 ($26). As far as I know, no one else grows this grape in British Columbia. Hans used to make a dessert wine but he has now begun vinifying it as a dry red table wine. It is a brilliant success, an exotic wine with aromas of spice and wild strawberries and flavours of spiced cherries and mulberries. 91.

Church & State Pinot Gris 2009. This is from the winery’s Saanich vineyard where, in future, the winery expects to make primarily sparkling wine. Most of its wines are made in its other facility in the Okanagan. This is one of the best Island Pinot Gris wines, with mouth filling flavours of pears and citrus. It is crisp but very well balanced. 90.

de Vine Vineyards Pinot Noir 2009 “The Vixen” ($24). This is a new winery that opened its tasting room last year on Old West Saanich Road. The winery gets grapes from its young vines but also buys some from the Okanagan. Winemaker Ken Winchester does a fine job. This wine is elegant and delicate, with aromas and flavours of strawberry and with a silky texture. 89.

Enrico Winery and Vineyards Pinot Noir 2009 ($18.50). This is another new winery with a tasting room not far from Mill Bay. This wine is light in colour but comes through with a fuller texture (a Pinot Noir characteristic) and with strawberry and cherry flavours. 88.

Garry Oaks Winery Blanc de Noir 2010 Rosé ($17.99). Even when the vintage is hard, as in 2010, Garry Oaks’s co-owner, Marcel Mercier, is able to deliver good grapes to his winemaking partner, Elaine Kozak. This rosé, made with Pinot Noir and Zweigelt, is a solid dry rosé, tangy and refreshing with flavours of citrus and rhubarb. 90.

Garry Oaks Winery Pinot Gris 2009 ($21.99). Refreshingly crisp, this wine has layers of fruit flavours, including apples and pears. 90.

Garry Oaks Winery Prism 2009 ($19.99). The winery has given a pronounceable name to its Gewürztraminer. It presents aromas and flavours of lime and grapefruit and has a clean dry finish. 90.

Garry Oaks Winery Pinot Noir 2008 ($22.99). The 2008 vintage was almost as tough as 2010 but you would not know it from this wine. It has vibrant flavours of cherry and strawberry and has begun to develop the supple texture of this variety. 89.

Garry Oaks Winery Zeta ($22.99). This is the winery’s Zweigelt, an Austrian red grape that grows well on the islands. A medium-bodied wine, this has an array of red berry flavours, with a spicy finish. 88.

Morning Bay Vineyard Chiaretto 2009 ($14.99). This is a light rosé-style red from varieties in this winery’s Pender Island vineyard. Fresh and crisp, it has notes of strawberry and red currant. 87.

Muse Winery Pinot Gris 2010 “legally blonde” ($19). Here is a crisp white that shows the steely acidity of the vintage. It has flavours of lime and grapefruit and has a tangy finish. Oysters would be in order with this. 87.

Muse Winery Chardonnay/Sémillon 2010 “burgundian beauty” ($19). Made with Okanagan grapes, this wine has some toasty notes in the aroma, with flavours of citrus. The Sémillon adds a nice grassy note. 87.

Muse Winery Pinot Noir 2009 “latitude attitude” ($26). The subtext on the wine labels here refers to entertaining back labels as well as reflecting the larger than life personalities of the owners. This wine is still firm. It has begun to express cherry and strawberry flavours but has the structure to age well for several years. 87.

Rocky Creek Winery Ortega 2010 ($17.90). Winery owners Mark and Linda Holford dealt with the challenge of the cool 2010 vintage by leaving grapes on the vines – as Mark recalls – “until Halloween.” This wine’s vivid aromas (gooseberry, grassy) recall Sauvignon Blanc. It has lime and grapefruit flavours and the acidity, while fresh, is under control. 88.

Rocky Creek Winery Pinot Gris 2010 ($17.90). Here is a crisp, tangy white with flavours of citrus and rhubarb. 88.

Rocky Creek Winery Robin’s Rosé 2010 ($17.90). Mark and Linda brought a tank sample of a wine not yet bottled. The aromas are still developing and should reflect the cherry and cranberry flavours of this Pinot Noir rosé. 87.

Rocky Creek Winery Pinot Noir 2009 ($21.90). This is a fairly intense take on the variety, with cherry and red berry flavours, and a texture that is still developing. 87 – 89.

Salt Spring Vineyards Blattner White 2009 ($19.90). This is the first white wine released in British Columbia from Swiss hybrid grapes developed by Valentin Blattner (hence the name). This wine has peach and tropical fruit flavours with a note of honey and a touch of sweetness. The 2010 vintage, I am told, is totally dry. 88.

Saturna Island Family Estate Winery Pinot Gris 2009 ($15.99). A refreshingly crisp wine with good weight and with apple and pear flavours. 88.

Saturna Island Family Estate Winery Blanc de Noir 2009 ($13.99). This vineyard, for some reason, has a block of Merlot and, of course, it seldom gets ripe. The winemaker in 2009 had the clever idea of making rosé. Almost white, it has flavours of melons and apples and a tangy finish. 87.

Saturna Island Family Estate Winery Rosé 2009 ($15.99). Made with Pinot Noir, this refreshing rosé has flavours of raspberry and strawberry. 88.

Saturna Island Family Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2009 ($N.A.). By bleeding off some juice for the rosé, the winery improved the concentration of the Pinot Noir table wine (a common industry practice, by the way). This is a full-bodied wine with spicy black cherry flavours and even a touch of chocolate. The winery is releasing about 450 cases. 90.

Photo: Ben McGuffie, Jill Ogasawara of SouthEnd Farm

SouthEnd Farm & Vineyards Black Crow 2009 ($16.90). This is a red blend from the only winery on Quadra Island, probably incorporating some Agria. The wine has spicy, gamy flavours of plum and cherry. 87.

Starling Lane Winery Célébration Brut N.V. ($27.90). A fine dry sparkling wine with toasty and bready aromas and with crisp, citrus flavours. 88.

Starling Lane Winery Maréchal Foch 2009 ($23.90). When Island wineries want to make big reds, this is usually the variety of choice. Black in colour and soft in texture, this wine has gobs of plum and chocolate flavours. 89.

Starling Lane Winery Pinot Noir 2009 ($25.90). This attractive wine has ripe flavours of cherry and strawberry, with a hint of smokiness (perhaps from the barrels) and with a supple texture. 90.

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