Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hester Creek wins BC Iconic Reds tasting for 2012

Photo: Hester Creek winemaker Rob Summers with The Judge

Hester Creek Estate Winery’s The Judge 2009, its $45 limited production Meritage, led the field in the fifth annual BC Iconic Reds Tasting.

This is a crowning achievement for a winery that emerged from bankruptcy in 2004 and in eight years has become one of the Okanagan’s top wineries.

The Iconic Reds Tasting is organized by SIP Wines, a VQA wine store in Richmond. Because of the demand for tickets to the evening-long tasting, the event is now held in a spacious room at Richmond Golf and Country Club.

This year, the 100 or so participants tasted 20 exceptional wines before voting, by ballot, for their favourites. The wines, which had been double decanted, were all served blind so as to avoid the biases that come when one knows ahead of time which wine is which.

The icon wines are the top wine or wines in each winery’s portfolio, usually selling between $40 and $60 a bottle (you will note a few exceptions). These are usually small lot wines – 200 to 500 cases – selected from the best barrels in the cellar each vintage. There is more prestige than profit in small lot wines.

The prestige is important, of course. These wines signal to the market that the winery is serious about raising the bar. Consumers who won’t spend the big bucks for icon wines usually conclude - accurately, I believe, - that most of the other wines in the portfolio are made to rising levels of quality. Buy a bottle of Hester Creek’s Character Red for $20 and you will understand.

Some of the icon wines are made in commercial volumes, which I would define as more than 1,000 cases. These include Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin, Black Hills Nota Bene, Laughing Stock Portfolio and Painted Rock Red Icon. I believe the Mission Hill icons also are produced in greater than small lot volumes but the winery does not always disclose production volumes.

The Okanagan is likely to be taken more seriously on the global scene when some producers make significant quantities of their best wines and sell them nationally or internationally. These wines may seem expensive in the context of the B.C. market, where the average price of a VQA wine is $18. However, on the international market, our icon wines are fairly priced for their quality.

The list below begins with the six top wines as chosen by the tasters. The remaining wines are listed alphabetically because SIP’s backroom boys did not crunch the numbers for all 20. Judging from my own scores, you would be happy with any of these wines on your table.

Limited quantities of some of these wines can be purchased at the SIP.

I have included winery tasting notes where available and added a few of my own.

1. Hester Creek The Judge 2009 ($45). This is a Bordeaux blend from estate-grown fruit. It was aged 22 to 26 months in 75% French oak, 25% American oak. Here is an excerpt from the winery’s notes: “Heady aromas of warm spice, mocha and chocolate lead to a palate filled with vibrant cherry, allspice, caramel, cigar box with a soft round mid-palate. The wine finishes with long supple tannins making it approachable in its youth at the same time showcasing its ability to age for 5-8 years.”

My comments: The power of this wine begins with the toasty, bacon fat aromas acquired from time in toasted barrels. Yet the concentrated fruit, with notes of black currant and vanilla, handles the oak well. This is bold, rich wine with a lot of personality.

 2. CedarCreek Platinum Reserve Meritage 2009 ($39.90 for 515 cases). This is a blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot and 13% Malbec, aged 20 months in French oak (50% new barrels). Just released November 1, 2012, the wine comes with gold medals from the Canadian Wine Awards and the B.C. Wine Awards and a silver from the San Francisco Wine Awards. The winery’s notes: Aromas of “black currant, roasted coffee, violets” and flavours of “ripe black fruits and oak spice.”

My comments: This was actually my favourite. Dark in colour, it has explosive aromas of chocolate, black cherries and vanilla. It is rich and generous on the palate with concentrated flavours of figs, black cherries, chocolate and vanilla. The finish is long and elegant.

3. Lake Breeze Tempest 2009 ($35). These are the winery’s notes: “The sum is greater than its parts in this classic Bordeaux blend of 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in new French oak for 15 months, this wine is full and rich.”

My comments: The wine has brambly and vibrant aromas and flavours of cherry and mint, with earthy tannins on the finish.

4. Poplar Grove Legacy 2007 ($50). This wine spent 24 months in oak and another 24 months in bottle before being released. It is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Here are the winery’s notes: “The Legacy 2007 offers deeply concentrated and mature colour. The nose gathers aromas of currant, coffee and cedar. Initial flavours of blackberry, briar and ripe plums are followed by subtle hints of leather, spice and vanilla. A powerful mix of silky tannins and elegant fruit meet a balanced backbone of acidity creating depth and complexity. There is a sweet ripeness that makes this wine dangerously delicious. The finish is heartbreakingly long, like a French kiss goodbye at the train station.”

My comments: This has appealing aromas of red fruit, spice and vanilla, with rich and lively flavours of black currant, cherry and vanilla. Next time I take a train ….

5. Nk'Mip Mer'r'iym 2009 ($50 for 440 cases).  These are the winery’s tasting notes: “Mer’r’iym is a blend of 46% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. The aromas are of blueberries, black currant, smoke and tobacco with flavours of dark fruits and cherry leading into a lengthy structured finish.”

My comments: This wine gave me the impression of being more mature than it was, perhaps because it is ripe and fleshy on the palate. It begins with aromas of plum jam and vanilla, continuing to flavours of plums and coffee with a touch of cedar on the finish,

6. Painted Rock Red Icon 2009 ($49 at the winery, $55 retail). This is another multiple award winner, including a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence. The blend is 30% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot, 1% Syrah. These are the winery’s notes: “Plenty of dark, dusty cocoa and espresso flavours contribute to a good earthy backbone, while blackberries, black Kalamata olives, prunes and currants provide healthy fruit character. An Okanagan dusty sage element adds another layer of complexity, which becomes a slight minty element on the long, beautiful, chocolaty finish. Good tannins will allow this wine to lay down for a few years.”

My comments: 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 with power and elegance.


Black Hills Nota Bene 2010 ($55 for 3,300 cases). This is 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot and  11% Cabernet Franc, aged 80% in French oak, 20% in American oak. Here are winemaker Graham Pierce’s tasting notes:  Aromas of chocolate, star anise, spicy pepper, raspberry and cloves come forth on the nose. On the palate there is great weight and nice tannin intensity. This gives way to flavours of mocha, cherry cola, coffee and chocolate with a subtle hint of smoky leather and cigar box.”

My comments: The Cabernet Sauvignon contributes a touch of mint to the aroma and flavour, complementing the cassis aroma. The wine has luscious flavours of black currant and plum, with long, ripe tannins.

Blasted Church Nothing Sacred 2009 ($39.99 for 229 cases). This is 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petit Verdot, 22% Cabernet Franc and 12% Merlot. These are the winery’s notes: “Colour: Dark ruby garnet. Bouquet: Berry, cassis, oak. Palate: Full bodied, rich with a long finish.”

My comments: Generous in texture, the wine begins with aromas of vanilla and black cherry. On the palate, there are rich flavours of spice, plum, figs, dark chocolate and earthy tannins.
Church & State Quintessential 2008 ($50). This is a blend of all five Bordeaux reds (percentages not available). The wine comes with three golds and one silver in international and national competitions. These are the winery’s tasting notes:  “Deep crimson in colour, almost inky. Rich black and red fruit on the nose, leads to deep flavours of raspberry, cherry, chocolate and hints of herbs. Mouth feel is rich and full, with delicate fine grained tannins. Long, lingering finish showing cedar and currant.”
My comments: The colour has taken  on some hues of maturity. The wine begins with bright aromas of red berries and spice. On the palate, there are flavours os spicy berries, with notes of cedar and herbs.

Clos Du Soleil Signature Red 2010 ($39.90 for 275 cases). This wine is made with the five Bordeaux varietals. Here are the winery’s tasting notes: “This superb blend is a true contender for BC’s place on the world stage of premium red wine. Unfiltered and unfined, there are notes of cassis and blackberry that greet the nose. They are echoed on the palate with a soft note of oak that complements the dark berry fruit balanced with good acidity and black plum freshness. Decanting this wine opens up multiple layers of ripe black fruits in addition to darker essences of cocoa and espresso. The finish is long and leaves you pondering the complexity of this very structured wine.”

My comments: Clos Du Soleil is a past winner in the Icon tastings and showed well this year against increased competition. This wine begins with appealing brambly and mocha aromas. The first impression on the palate is of ageable firmness, behind which are bright flavours of blackberry, black currant, with tobacco and cedar on the finish.

Clos Du Soleil Winemaker’s Reserve 2009 ($58.85 for 100 cases). These are the winery’s notes: “A dominance of Merlot brings smoothness and charm to the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in this superb blend. The nose is layered, intricate, and beautiful, with sweet cherry, prune, cassis, and subtle, well integrated oak nuances. On the palate, it is very smooth and perfectly balanced, with plush, sweet dark fruit and hints of soft espresso gently framed by velvety tannins.”

My comment: This was one of the most Bordelaise of wines in this tasting, with a youthful of greenness mingled with black currant aromas and flavours. I found the structure more firm than the winery’s notes but I also felt this has excellent cellaring potential.

Fairview Cellars The Bear 2010 ($35). This is made with the five Bordeaux reds, with Cabernet Sauvignon anchoring the blend (at least 50%). The wine represents the best barrels in the winery’s cellar.

My comments: Bill Eggert, the iconoclast who owns Fairview, is either too busy or too modest to publish tasting notes. This wine begins with aromas of oak and red fruit, leading to flavours of currants, lingonberries and blueberries.

Gray Monk Odyssey Meritage 2009 ($34.99). This is a blend of about 56%, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Cabernet Franc. I know it does quite add up but the winemaker was working from memory when he showed me the wine in 2011. It is Gray Monk’s first Meritage.

My comments: These are my notes from tasting it on release: “It is a rich, generous wine with aromas of black currants, chocolate and vanilla and flavours of dark plum, figs and chocolate. The finish is long with earthy and smoky notes.” At the most recent tasting, I found the wine even more elegant with a year on bottle.

La Stella Fortissimo Selezione de Famiglia 2009 ($35 for 367 cases). This is 67% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Sangiovese and 5% Cabernet Franc.

My comments: Here are my notes from a tasting earlier this year: “This is a bold red with an appealing aroma of black currants and with brambly flavours of currants, plums and black berries. There is a lovely core of sweet fruit on the palate supported by ripe tannins.” At the Icon tasting, I also noted additional flavours of figs, coffee and dark chocolate; and a structure suggesting this is a candidate for several more years of cellaring.
Laughing Stock Portfolio 2010 ($42 for 1,675 cases). This is 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 18% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. These are the winery’s notes: “The resulting wine has a nose of dark berries, tobacco and a hint of clove. On the palate, black cherry compote with toasted nuts and will pair well with roasted meats. Full-bodied the extra Cab Sauv creates a strong backbone that bodes well for aging. More classic Bordeaux than new world.”
My comments: It begins with an exuberant brambly aroma of currants and blackberries mingling with cloves and spice. Generous on the palate, with long ripe tannins, the wine has flavours of black cherry, black currant, vanilla, mocha and spice. This is a complex and satisfying wine that is drinking well now but will age to greater complexity over the next five years.

Mission Hill Compendium 2009 ($45). 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot.

My comments: Mission Hill this year chose not to enter its $80 Oculus in the Icon tasting, offering instead its two little brothers. Well, not so little. They were among my top scoring wines. Compendium begins with an alluring aroma of blackberry with a twist of orange peel. On the fleshy palate, there are flavours of plum, currants, figs and chocolate with a touch of cedar and with long ripe tannins.

Mission Hill Quatrain 2009 ($45). 35% Merlot, 30% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc.

My comments: There is an elusive floral and berry note on the nose, with a hint as well of vanilla and black cherry. The palate is generous, with flavours plum, prune, black currant and chocolate. There is a bit of a brooding personality here, likely reflecting the Syrah in the blend.

Noble Ridge King’s Ransom 2009 ($65).  These are the winery’s notes: “The 2009 King's Ransom is our super-premium wine, produced only in extraordinary seasons. The 2009 King's Ransom Meritage is made from 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot grapes, all grown in our Okanagan Falls vineyard. Beautiful aromas of cherry, spice, leather and vanilla initially greet you. The big, chewy, blackberry and dark cherry flavours combine with strong yet silky smooth tannins.”
My comments: The wine shows aromas of vanilla and cherry. I was also struck at the silky elegance of the texture which led me to conclude I was tasting a wine that had been longer in barrel and bottle. It is an appealing wine.
Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2008 ($45 for 18,000 six-bottle cases). This is a blend of 60% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc. 5% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. These are the winery’s notes: “This rich full-bodied wine features a deep intense ruby colour, and deliciously persistent aromas of ripe red raspberry, dark chocolate with toasty caramel and vanilla notes. Opulent notes of blackberry fruit, spice and pepper grace the palate with a well-rounded tannin structure and fruit-driven lingering finish.”

My comments: There is a charming delicacy to the berry aromas and flavours of a wine which always has had an elegant Bordeaux styling.

Summerhill OM Organic Meritage 2008 ($50 for 154 cases). This is a blend of 61% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Merlot. The wine was aged 30 months in French oak. Each bottle is individually numbered. These are the winery’s tasting notes: “Notes of blackberry, black cherry, plum, cedar box, vanilla and black pepper.” This wine is now sold out at the winery; the next planned release is from the 2010 vintage.

My comment: The wine begins with the perfumed aromas of raspberry and plum, leading to flavours of currants, blackberries. There is spice and a touch of coffee on the finish. The texture is elegant and svelte.

No comments: