Monday, April 2, 2012

A taste of Vancouver Island

The vintages of 2010 and 2011 have been among the most challenging ever faced by the wineries on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

I approached last week’s Victoria tasting (the fourth annual) by the Wine Islands Vintners Association with considerable curiosity to discover what quality wines the producers managed to release. For the most part, they did very well.

Let’s begin with two examples. For many island producers, the signature white grape is Ortega, a cross created years ago in Germany. The parents are Müller-Thurgau, which on its own produces generally bland wines, and Siegerrebe, an early ripening variety producing vividly fruity whites. Ortega splits the difference – the wines are seldom bland but neither have they inherited the exhibitionism of Siegerrebe.

There were two especially good 2011 Ortega wines in the tasting room. Cherry Point Ortega 2011 ($18.75) begins with powerful aromas of grapefruit and delivers tangy flavours of lime and grapefruit, with a touch of spice on the crisp finish. 91.

Starling Lane Ortega 2011 ($19) is a little more delicate and less thespian than Cherry Point’s but is equally tasty, with citrus and grassy aromas and flavours, and with a clean, crisp finish. 91.

Starling Lane Siegerrebe 2011 ($19) is a new varietal from this Saanich winery and also impressed me, with its juicy melon, grapefruit and spice aromas and flavours – and with restraint for a variety that can be over the top. 90.

Venturi Schulze Vineyards Millefiori 2010 ($23) is a blend of Ortega and Siegerrebe. The wine displays the crisp, dry house style that makes you reach for good west coast seafood. It begins with citrus and green apple aromas and delivers fresh, tangy grapefruit flavours. 89.

The other white variety that has proven itself in many coastal vineyards is Pinot Gris. In the Okanagan, the variety usually produces ripe and fruity whites. In the cooler coastal terroir, the variety usually produces lighter whites sometimes sold under the Italian varietal name, Pinot Grigio, because the style is close to the light, low alcohol style of the northern Italian examples.

Enrico Winery & Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2010 ($17) is one such wine. The wine is crisp, light and delicate, with citrus and green apple aromas and flavours. 87.

Similar in style, if not name, is 22 Oaks Pinot Gris 2010 ($18), with appealing aromas and flavours of grapefruit and with a tangy, refreshing finish. 88.

On the other hand, Hans Kiltz, the owner of Blue Grouse Estate Winery near Duncan, likes Alsace Pinot Gris. He uses the French varietal name and makes his Pinot Gris wines in that style. Blue Grouse Pinot Gris 2009 ($25) – from the last hot vintage on the island – shows good weight on the palate; it tastes of pear and apple and has a long, satisfying finish. 90.

The obvious wine for Island producers, given the bright acidity in most vintages, is sparkling wine. Venturi Schulze Brut Natural KS Cuvee 2008 ($35) would be at home in a line-up of Champagnes. It is made with two red and two white varietals, none of which the winery discloses. Crisp and dry, it has yeasty aromas and flavours, along with notes of citrus and pear, and with a big rush of creamy bubbles. 88.

Zanatta Winery & Vineyards, also just outside Duncan, has made sparkling wine a specialty. The flagship here is Zanatta Glenora Fantasia N.V. ($27), a wine made with the Cayuga grape, a fruity white grown only by this winery. This wine delivers flavours of apples and green melons along with lively bubbles and a crisply dry finish. 88.

As for red varietals, many coastal producers are making Pinot Noir, but with mixed results. Some of the wineries, in an effort to extract colour, are also extracting a little too much tannin. As a result, youthful Island Pinot Noirs need to be cellared for a few years so that the tannins soften and the fruit is liberated.

Now, there is much to be said for a mature Pinot Noir. Hans Kiltz says that his Blue Grouse Pinot Noir 2006 ($28) spent 18 months in barrel and three years in bottle before release. This is a wine with good texture, with black cherry flavours and with a hint of oak. Even at six years, the wine still has fresh fruit and a lively acidity on the finish. 90.

Averill Creek Vineyard near Duncan prides itself on Pinot Noir (and, in fact, is one of two British Columbia wineries invited to the International Pinot Noir Conference in Oregon this year).  Averill Creek Pinot Noir 2009 ($26 for a production of 1,000 cases) is a lovely fresh Pinot Noir, with aromas and flavours of raspberry and strawberry. The silky tannins that make a Pinot Noir so appealing have begun to develop. 89-90.

Averill Creek Pinot Noir Reserve 2009 ($60) is probably the wine that got the winery invited to the Oregon conference. Not only does winery owner Andy Johnston tent his Pinot Noir to kick start its growth; he benefited from a great vintage in 2009. This wine announces itself with dramatic aromas of raspberry, strawberry mingled with oak. On the palate, it is rich and full-bodied, with toasty strawberry flavours and with silky tannins. 92.

A few other interesting reds flourish on the coast. Garry Oaks Winery on Salt Spring Island has succeeded with Zweigelt, an Austrian red. Garry Oaks Zeta 2009 ($23) is a full-bodied red, with notes of black cherry and blackberry and with a touch of spice on the finish. 90.

Blue Grouse Black Muscat 2009 ($26) is an unusual red – a dry red with a great deal of personality. It begins with an exotic note of spice on the aroma and delivers bright brambly berry flavours, again with a note of spice. This would be an excellent wine with venison. 91.

Several of the wineries have begun to release reds made with Blattner hybrids which may or may not be the future of Bordeaux-style reds on the Island. One of these hybrids, called Cabernet Libre, strikes me as too untamed, with its smoky nose and gamey flavours, although it is okay for blends. Cabernet Foch, on the other hand, makes a fuller, smoother red. Enrico Cabernet Foch 2010 ($17) is dark in colour, with aromas of plum and chocolate and with flavours of plum and vanilla. 88.

The workhorse red hybrid still is Maréchal Foch, a grape which ripens early, has a dark colour, good fruit and soft tannins. Averill Creek released its Foch under a proprietary name, Prevost, in the vintages 2007 through 2009.

Andy Johnston has concluded that the name is not grabbing the consumer, even though the wines are good enough, so he is changing the name to “Foch Cab”. The wine now is mostly Maréchal Foch with a Blattner red in the blend. I was impressed by the yet to be released Foch Cab 2010 Reserve ($N.A.). This is a bold, ripe red with juicy textures and spicy flavours of plum and black cherry. 89-90.

The tasting in Victoria also include ciders (I missed both producers), mead and fruit wines. Tugwell Creek Honey Farm & Meadery Solstice 2010 ($19) is a lovely metheglin (spice-flavoured) mead from B.C.’s first meadery. Just off-dry, this mead has a long, long finish of honey and cloves. 88.

Short of time, I could get to only one of the four fruit wineries – Blue Moon Estate Winery of the Comox Valley. Nearly all of its fruit wines are dry and made in styles that pair easily with fruit. I especially like Blue Moon Sirius 2011 ($16.90), a dry and full-bodied wine made with seven different apple varieties. It has the character and finish of good English cider. 89-90.

When it comes to dessert wines, Vancouver Island uses blackberries. Cherry Point Solera Blackberry ($26 for a half bottle) is so port-like in its rich, barrel-aged flavours that the wine has a following among the Navy officers at Esquimalt. 90.

Not to be missed is Venturi Schulze Brandenburg No. 3 2008 ($35.60 for a half bottle), an amber-hued wine that tastes like black currant jam but is balanced to finish off-dry. This wine would be especially delicious with some creamy blue cheese. 90.


is.girl said...

New to reading your blog, but I have a question for you.

My partner and I are looking at entering the wine industry on the Island. Right now we're investigating different properties, their profitability, WSET courses and the legislation surrounding the industry.

What is your opinion on the viability of the industry on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands?

JohnSchreiner at Goodgrog said...

Please send me an email at and we can get a discussion going on your question. John