Wednesday, November 30, 2011

BC Red Icons: the fourth annual tasting

Painted Rock Estate Winery, which John and Trish Skinner opened only two years ago, is on a roll.

In the recent Canadian Wine Awards, Painted Rock was first among British Columbia wineries for the Winery of the Year award and third overall, just pipped by two Ontario wineries.

Painted Rock entered 13 wines in competition and came away with three gold medals, four silvers and six bronzes. One of the three golds was the winery’s 2009 Red Icon, which finished second as the top British Columbia red after Church & State’s Coyote Bowl Syrah 2009.

And at Sip Wines fourth annual tasting of B.C. Iconic Reds, Painted Rock Red Icon 2009 was scored in first place among the 19 great Okanagan and Similkameen blends.

Sip Wines is a VQA wine store in Richmond. The first three tastings of “iconic reds” were held in the store. This year, the demand of Sip’s customers was so great that the tasting was moved to a room at the Richmond Country Club big enough to handle a sit-down tasting for more than 100.

This is a very professionally-run tasting. To begin with, the wines were all decanted several hours before the tasting. These were all young wines made, in general, to be cellared for 10 or so years, in the tradition of great Bordeaux reds. Decanting the wines and letting them breathe accelerates their development and enables us to enjoy them sooner.

The wines were served blind, one at a time, and in good stemware. No one, other than Sip proprietor Simon Wosk – who did not have a vote - had any idea what the order was until all the wines had been tasted and all the ballots were tallied.

Guests at the event were able to order their favourite wines. When a winery agrees to enter its wine, Simon makes every effort to get an allocation set aside for attendees at the tasting. For the most part, these wines are produced in small volumes, with sales limited to the winery and to very few wine stores.

There was one wine here that I had never even heard of. I suspect most of the attendees have not tasted most of these wines because they are so hard to get.

For collectors of fine British Columbia wine, this tasting should be one of the highlights of the year. None of these wines disappoint. Only three of the wines has less than 90 points on my score card (one 88 and two 89s). The others ranged from 90 to 95: impressive winemaking!

Here are my notes on the 19 wines in the order that they were ranked by the attendees.

Painted Rock Red Icon 2009 ($55). This is a big, unfiltered red, a blend of Merlot (30%), Cabernet Franc (29%), Cabernet Sauvignon (25%), Petit Verdot (15%) and Syrah (1%). This is the third vintage of Red Icon and the first with no Malbec in the blend. It begins with aromas of spice, blackberry, black currant and dark cherry. It shows a rich texture with flavours of berries, plums, dark chocolate and vanilla. This is a wine, while still youthful and in need or cellaring, which has both power and elegance.

Church & State Quintessential 2008 ($50). This is a blend of five Bordeaux varietals (the percentage of each is not available). Each varietal was aged separately in French oak for 12 months and then, after the wine was blended, it spent another 12 months in French oak. The wine soaked up the wood very well; it does not intrude on the vibrant aromas and flavours of red fruit (raspberry, cherry), with hints of mocha and red liquorice. The fine-grained tannins give the wine a supple, accessible texture.

Laughing Stock Portfolio 2008 ($40). The wine is 53% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. This is a big, satisfying wine with 14.6% alcohol. It shows 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.

Mission Hill Oculus 2007 ($70). This is 50% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. It is a big wine with muscular, but ripe, tannins, a structure to enable to wine to age 10 or 15 years. The wine offers layer upon layer of flavour. The initial aromas were primarily oak and dark chocolate; plum and cherry aromas developed with time. On the palate, the flavour layers revealed plum, currants, figs, chocolate, with a hint of spice on the finish.

Poplar Grove Legacy 2007 ($50). This is 71% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. Here is a wine that spent two years in barrel and another two in bottle before release. Even with all that barrel and bottle age, it retains vibrant flavours of currants and blackberries, aromas of plum and vanilla. The fine-grained tannins contribute to a full texture.

CedarCreek “Colbert Edition” Platinum Reserve Meritage 2006 ($45 for a production of 144 cases). This is a blend of 40% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Malbec, 9% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. There are aromas of cassis, spice, vanilla leading to plum flavours with a hint of eucalyptus. The texture is still firm enough to suggest aging this wine a few more years.

Why Colbert Edition? A few years ago, CedarCreek managed to buy 40 very expensive barrels made from a 350-year-old oak in the French forest of Bertrange. The story has it that the trees were planted under the directions of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the finance minister to Louis XIV. Four of those barrels were used to age this wine for 19 months.

Lake Breeze Tempest 2008 ($35). This is 50% Merlot and 25% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The wine begins with an attractive perfume of blueberries and cassis. Rich on the palate, it tastes of plum and black currant and red liquorice. The wine is elegant and balanced.

Hester Creek The Judge 2007 ($50 for a production of 220 cases). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with about two years of barrel age and more than a year of bottle aging before release. It is a big wine with firm tannins, with mint, vanilla and black currants on the nose and with a complex flavour profile – currants, black pepper, figs, with a hint of liquorice on the finish. The 2008 vintage of The Judge has just been released through the winery’s website.

Nk’Mip MəR’R’IYM 2009 ($50). This wine is a blend of 45% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. In keeping with the winery’s name – which means marriage – this struck me as quite a pretty wine with sweet aromas of cherry and blueberries and with flavours of cherry and blackberry.

Mission Hill Compendium 2008 ($40). This is 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. This is a richly satisfying wine, beginning with appealing aromas of black cherries, vanilla and spice. On the palate, there are flavours of black currants and plums with notes of sage and tobacco.

Fairview Cellars Bear’s Meritage 2008 ($35 but sold out). The blend is not available on the label but the minty note on the nose suggests this might be built around Cabernet Sauvignon. On the palate, the fruit flavours are vibrant, with notes of black currant and liquorice. There is also a taste of black chocolate in this interesting wine.

The following two wines were tied.

Black Hills Nota Bene 2009 ($53). This is 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, a fairly classic blend. Those who collect this wine will find this ripe, rich vintage reflects the house style that has been consistent throughout its history. There is vanilla, eucalyptus and dark fruits on the nose, with flavours of plum, black cherry and chocolate. The ripe tannins give the wine an immediate accessibility but it certainly will cellar well over the next five years.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2007 ($45). This is 70% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. I tasted this wine recently in a more leisurely setting at home and I reproduce those notes. This is a dark, concentrated wine with aromas of red fruit and cedar and with a complex palate of black currants, plums, coffee, chocolate, liquorice and cedar. On first opening, the tannins were firm and even a bit bitter on the finish, which is quite normal for a young red made in the Bordeaux style. Half a bottle was reserved for re-tasting on the second day, by which time the wine had rounded out to a rich palate with Christmas pudding flavours. If you must open the wine now, please decant it an hour or two ahead of time. If you can, put it away until at least 2015.

Clos du Soleil Signature 2009 ($39.90 for a production of 275 cases). This is a blend of 41% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot and 4% Malbec. It presents a delicious array of red fruit flavours – currants, black cherries – with the added complexity of chocolate, fig and tobacco notes. The 18 months spent in French oak added a touch of cedar and vanilla.

Mission Hill Quatrain 2008 ($45). This wine is either sold out or not released yet because it is not on the winery website. This is a blend of 34% Merlot, 29% Syrah, 22% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. The two Cabernets in this interesting blend seem to give the wine aromas of mint and cassis while the other two give the blend a lovely core of fruit – plum, black cherry, black currant. There is also a note of mocha. The wine still has a firm structure.

LaStella Fortissimo 2009 ($35). This is 67% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc and 8% Sangiovese. This wine has appealing aromas of black fruit and vanilla and these carry through on the flavours. The wine is still firm and a long way from peaking – but it will with patient cellaring.

Herder Josephine 2008 ($50 with a production of 3,180 bottles). This is a blend of 81% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Cabernet Franc. Stated alcohol is 14.8%, again not an issue, given the fullness of the fruit and texture. The wine begins with dramatic aromas of spicy blackberries and blueberries. On the palate, there are flavours of blackberry and black currant, with the cedar notes often found in a Bordeaux-style red that has been aged in good oak.

Clos du Soleil Eclipse 2009 ($Not released yet). The winery made just four barrels, about 100 cases, of this blend of 50% Merlot, 25% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The wine is quite Bordeaux in style, with concentrated textures, aromas of spice and mint and flavours of currant and blackberry.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2008 ($100 for the magnum). This is a blend of 60% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. Don’t be alarmed that this wine was at the end of the ratings. The wine is too young to reveal its potential, especially when served from a magnum. But this magnum will be spectacular in 2020. I thought it already better than this last place finish suggested, with a powerful aroma of dark fruit and plum jam. On the palate, there are notes of currants, dark chocolate, pepper and minerals. The texture is nicely concentrated.

As it happens, Laughing Stock has just released the 2009 vintage, suggesting the 2008 could be hard to find. The wine was not in the Sip tasting but here are my notes on it.

Laughing Stock Portfolio 2009 ($42 for a production of 1,990 cases). This is 36% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 14% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot, with an alcohol of 14.4%. In the style one has come to expect of Portfolio, this is a big ripe wine with aromas of red fruit, mocha and the oak that comes from its 19 months of barrel aging. Generous in texture, it has layers of flavour – plum, black currant, black liquorice – with ripe but firm tannins. This wine will cellar well. 92.

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