Monday, November 12, 2012

Discovering BC wine value at Cornucopia

Photo: Snow making at Whistler/Blackcomb

How do British Columbia wines stack up against the world?

The British Columbia Wine Institute has begun sponsoring comparative tastings which let consumers reach their own conclusions. It is an interesting and worthwhile experience.

The most recent such tasting was a well-attended seminar during the Cornucopia Wine and Food Celebration at Whistler. To remove any label bias that the tasters might have, the wines are always served blind. Tasters make their own notes; they guess which are the B.C. wines; and they vote for their favourites by show of hands. Only then are the identities of the wines revealed.

The BCWI is trying to make the point that B.C. wines today compare well to the rest of the world, in quality and in price. The wineries here constantly have to deal with the complaint that B.C. wines are too expensive. The way to counter that is to taste B.C. wines blind against imports that are similarly priced (or more expensive). Then you discover that B.C. also delivers good value.

 To be fair, you could also skew the test by inserting some notoriously good value wines from Chile or Argentina. I suspect the Errazuriz Sauvignon Blanc at $13.99 would best any B.C. Sauvignon Blanc – and quite a few from New Zealand. But hardly anyone in B.C. or New Zealand has production costs as low as they are in Chile.

 While B.C. production costs are relatively high, the soils and climate of the Okanagan and the Similkameen are unique in the wine world. The terroir enables the wineries here to produce distinctive premium wines that are worth the price.

 Chardonnay comprised the first of four flights in the recent BCWI tasting: Heggies Eden Valley Chardonnay 2010 from Australia ($27.99); Chartron et Trebuchet Chapelle 2010 Pouilly-Fuissé from France ($32.98); Tantalus Vineyards Chardonnay 2010 ($29.90) and Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2010 ($29.99). I scored the Quails’ Gate wine first, followed by Heggies, Tantalus and Charton et Trebuchet. The scores were close, although each wine is quite distinctive in personality.

 The second flight was Pinot Noir: Nk’Mip Cellars QwAM QwMT Pinot Noir 2010 ($29.90) and SpierHead Winery Pinot Noir 2010 ($17.90), both from the Okanagan; Whitehaven Greg Series Pinot Noir 2009 from New Zealand ($34.99); and Bouchard Père Chambolle Musigny 2009 from France ($61). The Nk’Mip Cellars and the Whitehaven wines were tied in my notes, followed by SpierHead, with the Burgundy in last place by slight margin. Consider the prices and ask yourself where the best value is among this foursome.

 The third flight was given over to Syrah: Quinta Ferreira 2010 Syrah ($29.90) and Thornhaven Syrah 2010 ($24.90), both from the Okanagan; and Torbreck Woodcutters Shiraz 2010 ($32.99) and Romain Duvernay Côte Rôtie from France ($64). This time my favourite was the French red but Quinta Ferreira and Torbreck were just a point back and Thornhaven a further point back. All of the wines are solid and the B.C. wines provide good value.

 The final flight was Meritage: Lake Breeze Vineyards Meritage 2010 ($19.90) and Painted Rock Red Icon 2009 ($55), both from B.C.; and Duckhorn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from Napa ($69.95); and Clos du Marquis 2008 Bordeaux from France ($78). For my palate, the Red Icon blew away the field while Lake Breeze tasted really good for the price. I would think BCWI made its point.

 From this tasting, I headed for the trade tasting and discovered more good value B.C. wines. Unfortunately, the trade tasting ended before I could explore all of the B.C. wines. Here are notes on wines that I liked.

From Kalala Organic Estate Winery: Kalala is a West Kelowna winery marketing this brand, plus two others – 3Cru and Dostana – under the banner, Organic Estates of British Columbia. Obviously, the wines are all grown organically.

Kalala Harmony White 2010 ($13.95). This white is a delicious blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Auxerrois. The tropical fruit aromas explode from the glass, followed by luscious tropical flavours. The fruit is sweet on the palate but the finish is dry. 90.

Kalala Pinot Noir 2010 ($18.95). The wine begins with raspberry and oak aromas, leading to flavours of raspberry and cherry. The texture is still a little firm; lay this wine down for a year and let it blossom. 88.

3Cru Wanderlust 2011 ($16.90). This is 75% unoaked Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Gris and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. There are herbal, citrus and melon aromas and flavours. The finish is crisp. 89.

3Cru Traveller 2009 ($16.90). This is a Meritage blend with a rich, juicy texture and aromas and flavours of plum and black currants. 89.

Dostana Chardonnay 2010 ($18.90). This unoaked Chardonnay is crisply dry with appealing citrus aromas and flavours. 89.

Dostana Merlot 2008 ($29.90). Finely concentrated, this wine spent 30 months aging in oak. However, this is not an oaky wine. The flavours are rich and figgy, with hints of black currant and cedar. The wine is still developing toward a peak that is a few years away. 88-90.

From Backyard Vineyards in Langley: I reviewed a few of these wines in July. At the time, I was displeased with the Pinot Gris. I don’t know what the winery has done since but the current bottling of the same vintage is much better and the price is $2 less. Unfo
rtunately, there are no prices on the website and only two of the wines are listed in the Cornucopia tasting book even though several more were available at the trade tasting.

Backyard Vineyards Pinot Gris 2011 ($13.99). The wine has crisp, fresh flavours of citrus and pear. 87.

Backyard Vineyards Blanc de Noir Brut ($N.A.). The consulting winemaker here is Mark Wendenberg, an artist when it comes to making sparkling wine. This creamy but dry bubble has the classic toasty and bready flavours that derive from time aging on its fermentation lees. There are also fresh citrus flavours. 88.

Backyard Vineyards Nosey Neighbour Red 2011 ($N.A.). This is a blend anchored around Zweigelt. It is a juicy textured red with jammy cherry and black currant flavours and with spicy blackberry on the finish. 88.

Backyard Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($19.99). This red is made with Okanagan grapes since the varietal would not ripen in the Fraser Valley. This Cabernet begins with aromas of mint, blueberry and vanilla. On the palate, the tannins are ripe but firm enough to allow some cellaring. There are flavours of black currant and vanilla. 87.

Backyard Vineyards Black Sage Syrah 2010 ($24.99). Here is a wine with excellent varietal expression: white pepper, plum and black cherry aromas and flavours. It is a full bodied red. With breathing, the cherry flavours pop out vividly amid the pepper and vanilla notes. 90.

From Kettle Valley Vineyards at Naramata:

Kettle Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($24). This style of this wine recalls Sancerre, with its intense and concentrated flavours and aromas of lime and herbs. This is a honeyed note on the finish but the wine is dry. 90.

Kettle Valley Viognier 2011 ($26). This wine begins with an appealing aroma of pineapple and apricot. On the palate, there are flavours of stone fruit and citrus. There is good weight on the palate, along with a crisp finish. 90.

Kettle Valley Pinot Noir 2009 ($26). This has hints of spice and strawberries on the aroma and the palate. The firm texture suggests that a few more years cellaring would allow this wine to really blossom. I once opened a 10-year-old Kettle Valley Pinot Noir that was at its glorious peak. 88-91.

Kettle Valley Malbec 2009 ($38). This is a concentrated red that has a good seven to 10 years ahead of it. Now, it begins with spicy red berry aromas. On the palate, the flavours are almost brooding – fig, currants, spice and a touch of earthiness. 88-92.

Kettle Valley Merlot 2008 ($26). Six years of age have enabled this wine to develop glorious aromas and flavours of cassis and blueberries. 90.

Kettle Valley Old Main Red 2009 ($38). This is the winery’s flagship Bordeaux red, made with all five varietals. This is a complex and generous wine, with aromas of black currant and vanilla and with flavours of currants, plums, coffee and chocolate. 92.

From Covert Farms Family Estate Winery at Oliver: This winery changed its name this year from Dunham and Froese but still has some wines under the previous label. The winemaker for the Dunham and Froese label was Kirby Froese, the former partner. Michael Bartier of Okanagan Crush Pad took over in the 2011 vintage and Bailey Williamson did the 2012 vintage.

Covert Farms Rosé 2011 ($16.99). This is an unusual blend – Sauvignon Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier and Malbec. The colour presumably comes from the latter variety, along with notes of raspberry. The wine finishes crisply and is perhaps too dry. A few grams of residual sugar would have improved the charm that one looks for in rosé. 88.

Covert Farms The Bluff 2010 ($25.99). This is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petit Verdot. It is a delicious red, with long ripe tannins and good concentration. There are hints of sage and mint on the nose, with flavours of black currants and chocolate. 91.

Dunham and Froese Amicitia Red 2009 ($25.99). This red blend, put together by Kirby, is a juicy blend, tasting of plum and black cherry. The blend is 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 12% Syrah, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec, 4% Merlot. 90.

Covert Farms Amicitia Red 2009 ($25.99). This bottling was tweaked by Michael but retains the generous character of the first bottling, with a little more firmness of texture. The blend is 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc, 12% Syrah, 9% Petit Verdot, 8% Malbec, 4% Merlot and 1% Zinfandel.90

Dunham and Froese MDC 2009 ($25.99). This is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% each of Syrah and Zinfandel. The wine is a tribute to proprietor Gene Covert’s late father, Michael. It is a delicious red blend, bursting with cassis and blueberry. 90.

Covert Farms MDC 2010 ($25.99). This is also 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% each of Syrah and Zinfandel. This is another dark and brooding red with the spicy blackberry flavours of Zin lighting up the mid-palate. 88-90.

From Pentâge Winery at Penticton 

Pentâge Pinot Gris 2011 ($17.50). This is an unusual but delicious take on this variety, beginning with an aroma recalling figs and honey. On the palate, there are flavours of citrus and pear. The finish is crisp and dry. 90.

Pentâge 2007 Pentâge ($28). This is a complex five-variety red blend, with flavours of cherry and black currant. 89.

From Ex Nihilo Winery in Lake Country

Ex Nihilo Merlot 2008 ($34). This is an elegant and silky Merlot, with blueberry and blackberry aromas and flavours. 90.

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