Saturday, November 28, 2015

Township 7 releases show off two good vintages

Photo: Township 7 winemaker Mary McDermott

With these releases, Township 7 Vineyards & Winery shows off two strong vintages just in time for holiday buying.

Both of the firm’s wineries conveniently have seasonal open houses.

The 2014 Gewürztraminer, available just to the wine club members, was made by Mary McDermott, the winemaker who joined Township 7 that year from Ontario.

The 2013 wines were made by Brad Cooper, the former winemaker. However, Mary had a major hand in finishing and blending the reds, in effect giving those wines two parents.

Well, the quality is such that there is plenty of credit to go around.

With the exception of the Merlot, the volumes of these wines are relatively limited. They are available on line and also at Township 7’s wineries near Penticton and in Langley District.

The Naramata Bench winery offers visitors a Dickens-inspired Christmas on December 5, with live music, mulled wine and hot chocolate for the children.

The Langley winery has a Christmas open house on December 12 and 13. This is a charity event for Ronald McDonald House.

Here are notes on the wines.

Township 7 Gewürztraminer 2014 ($17.97  for 278 cases). The wine begins with aromas of ginger, orange peel and lychee. It presents intensely on the palate, with flavours of citrus. The finish is dry, punctuated emphatically with spice. 90.

Township 7 Merlot 2013 ($22.60 for 1,178 cases). The wine begins with aromas of plum, black cherry and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, tobacco and chocolate. Full in texture thanks to the 15% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, the wine has long ripe tannins, with a lingering finish of Christmas spices. 90.

Township 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($23.47 for 478 cases). The grapes for this are from the Blue Terrace Vineyard at Oliver, a long-time grower for Township 7. This wine has 15% Merlot in the blend to enrich the texture and mid-palate. The wine begins with aromas of black cherry and vanilla mingled with spice and cassis. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, vanilla, tobacco and chocolate, with a spine of minerality. The long ripe tannins give the wine a polished texture. It is drinking well now but the patient consumer who cellars this for another five years will be well rewarded. 92.

Township 7 Cabernet Franc 2013 ($27.97 for 278 cases; wine club only). The grapes for this are from the Rock Pocket Vineyard, also near Oliver. The wine begins with almost perfumed aromas of blackberry and black cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of spicy cherry with hints of cigar box on the finish. The tannins are firm. The wine needs to be decanted for immediate consumption but it will develop spectacularly in bottle over the next five or six years. 92.

Township 7 Reserve 7 2013 ($32.97 for 468 cases). This blend is 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc and one percent each Malbec and Petit Verdot. This wine begins with aromas of black cherry cassis and vanilla; the later reflects the 24 months of aging on French and American oak barrels. The wine is harmonious and full on the palate, with flavours of cassis, chocolate, tobacco and cedar. The ripe tannins allow for drinking this now, with decanting, but the wise choice would be to cellar the wine for five more years and let it blossom in the bottle. 92.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Steller’s Jay Sparkling Shiraz

Under the Steller’s Jay brand, Sumac Ridge Estate Winery has released just its second Sparking Shiraz.

This style of wine has been produced for many years in Australia. The Liquor Distribution Branch used to list several examples. There are none in its product catalogue now, which speaks to the limited popularity of this novel style of sparkling wine.

The first Okanagan Sparkling Shiraz was released in 2006 under the Sumac Ridge brand.

The second release, 1,000 cases, has just appeared under the Steller’s Jay brand. Several years ago, Constellation Brands, which owns Sumac Ridge, decided to turn Steller’s Jay into a stand-alone brand. The object is to reinforce the eminence of Steller’s Jay as a leading sparkling wine producer in British Columbia.

Almost a decade between sparkling Shiraz releases? That also seems to speak to comparatively limited demand for the wine that consumers hardly know.

It appears that Constellation Brands may allow another gap to develop before the next release.

To quote the Steller’s Jay news release for the current example: “… Holiday revellers are encouraged to add this exclusive wine to their cellars early as Sparkling Shiraz will not be available again next year.”

Why not? There is no explanation. If the wine is not made regularly, no one will expect to buy it regularly. Remember the chicken and the egg.

If you do find a bottle or two in a private wine store, I would encourage you to pick them up. Not for your cellar (it will not cellar was long as a more acidic sparkling wine) but for the festive fun you will have with this dark, frothy wine.

I think it would be a great base for cocktails and for punch bowls, even though punch bowls generally are a waste of good wine. This wine has such fruity flavours and looks so good that it will transform the punch from an afterthought to something rather special.

This is a bottled-fermented sparkling wine (like Champagne). Jason James, the winemaker who made it, is quoted as saying: “This is a very special wine with a lot of depth and complexity. Only premium grapes were selected and blended to produce this special sparkling wine. The base Shiraz was treated like a red wine; harvested at 24 brix and fermented on the skins. As a result, there is more tannin than in a normal sparkling.”

Both Jason and the back label recommend the wine be served with food, such as beef short rib. This is robust sparkler.

Here is a note on the wine.

Steller’s Jay Sparkling Shiraz NV ($25.99 for 1,000 cases). Open this wine carefully to avoid having the energetic magenta-coloured bubbles frothing all over the table cloth. With its deep colour and its bubbles, this is a spectacular wine in a Champagne flute. The flavours are intense, starting with black cherry and going on to chocolate, coffee and spice. The wine is technically dry, with its 25 grams of residual sugar balanced with modest acidity. The texture is plush and rich. This is a tour de force. 90-92.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Class of 2015: Indigenous World Winery

 Photo: Chief Robert Louie of Westbank First Nation

Indigenous World Winery
2218 Horizon Drive,
Kelowna, BC V1Z 3L4
(250) 769-2824

The Indigenous World Winery, which began releasing its wines this fall, is the second Okanagan winery with aboriginal ownership.

The first was Nk’Mip Cellars, which opened in 2002. A third is believed to be under development just outside Penticton.

Indigenous World, which also intends  to open a distillery, is one of the numerous business ventures of the Westbank First Nation under Chief Robert Louie, an ambitious individual who has come a long way since his birth in 1951 in a home on a reserve. It had neither running water nor electricity.

“I learned to work at five years of age,” he says. “I started working in the Chinese vegetable gardens, along side my grandmother, my mother and my uncle. We have always been hard workers. On our own property here, we raised vegetables and provided our own food and raised our own cattle. I have known work since five years of age and I have not stopped working.”

The winery is the latest venture on a plate overflowing with activities in business and in First Nations politics. Currently, he is chairman of the Peace Hills Trust, the largest aboriginal financial institution in Canada. He is also chair of the First Nations Land Advisory Board, a national organization helping bands take steps toward self-government. He was chief of the Westbank First Nation from 1986 to 1996 and again since 2002. 

“At any given time, I am president and/or director of a dozen or more entities that the band is involved with,” Robert says. “And I have been doing that for the better part of 30 plus years.”

In his teens, he dropped out of high school – but not for long. He finished the twelfth grade, went on to get a business administration diploma and was on the way to a degree in commerce when he switched to law. He graduated from the University of Victoria in 1982 and practised with a Vernon law firm for several years before becoming general manager for the Westbank Indian Band Development Company Ltd.

“We run today quite a varied number of businesses,” Robert says of the self-governing Westbank First Nation. “The businesses include real estate development. We are partners in two shopping centres. We have interests in forestry. One of our major economic endeavours is management of about 150,000 acres of some of our traditional lands. We have a community forest license on them. On that we have logging and forestry operations; and responsibility to maintain the safety and the health of the plants and animals. We have investments both on and off the reserve. We have quite a number of entities that are in construction. We have bought and sold business in Kelowna.”

The Westbank First Nation has about 840 members and a reserve about 6,000 acres in size. But its proximity to Kelowna has provided an opportunity to develop residential and other property for non-aboriginals. About 10,000 non-band members  live on reserve land.

Robert’s appreciation of wine developed as he mixed with other business people national and internationally. He began thinking seriously about a winery four years ago after he met Jason Parkes, a consulting winemaker in West Kelowna.

“I first met Robert at a wine function – it had nothing to do with Indigenous World” Jason recalls. “He challenged me one day to make a wine that would be one of the better ones in B.C. When the day came that we shook hands, he looked me in the eye and said, ‘Okay, the best in B.C.’.”

A small vineyard, 2 ½ acres of Muscat varieties, was planted on the reserve in 2014, just large enough that Indigenous World qualifies as a land-based winery. Currently, it gets nearly all its grapes from established growers elsewhere in the Okanagan.

This summer, a winery was built with the capacity to produce as much as 10,000 cases a year. An elegant tasting room completed nearby has facilities for a restaurant in the future. An amphitheatre will be developed for musical and theatrical productions.

“I think wine is a good thing,” Robert says. “I know that [Osoyoos Indian Band chief] Clarence Louie and his people are proud of what they have accomplished with Nk’Mip Cellars. Our intention is to be equally as proud. We do not see it as a negative thing whatsoever. Times have changed. Wine and growing of wine and having wineries or distilleries is not a bad thing in this age. There is a market for it and a demand for it. It promotes tourism in the Okanagan Valley, not to mention the economic spinoffs.”

Jason is also coaching Trenton Louie, Robert’s son, whose aboriginal name in the Okanagan Syilx language inspired the label of Hee-Hee Tel-Kin, the winery’s easy-drinking blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

“That is his ceremonial name,” Jason explains. “It is a mystical stag, an alpine deer that is rarely seen. I have been working with Trenton for almost two years now. I am training him in the vineyard, getting him going out there. The main goal is to get Trenton learn about the winemaking; get him involved and hopefully develop him onto a winemaker in the next five to ten years.”

Here are notes on the wines.  Not included are two wines not yet available for tasting – a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir.

Indigenous World Pinot Gris 2014 ($19). This fruity wine has aromas and flavours of pears and citrus fruits. The luscious texture gives it a long finish. 88.

Indigenous World Gewürztraminer 2014 ($19). This wine is crisp and clean, with aromas of spice and grapefruit that are echoed on the palate. The lightness of body contributes to the wine’s freshness and elegance. The finish is dry. 90.

 Indigenous World Red Fox Rosé 2014 ($17.50). This is a blend of Zweigelt, Zinfandel and Pinot Meunier. It is a delicious rosé with aromas and flavours of cranberry and cherry. The finish is refreshingly tangy and dry. 88-90.

Indigenous World Hee-Hee Tel-Kin 2014 ($21). This is a generous and full-bodied red with aromas of black cherry and flavours of black cherry and chocolate. Think of Black Forest cake in a bottle, without a sugar overload. 89.

Indigenous World Single Vineyard Merlot 2013 ($35). The wine begins with aromas of cassis and vanilla that are echoed in the flavour, along with notes of chocolate and wild sage. The texture is full, giving the wine a long, generous finish. 91.

Indigenous World Simo Small Lot Red Blend 2012 ($40). Simo is the Okanagan Syilx  given to Robert  Louie by his grandmother.  The winery did her proud with this bland of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It was aged 27 months in new French oak. The wine has integrated the oak well. It offers a core of vanilla, cherry and other red berry aromas and flavours. The texture is elegantly polished. This wine has won several solid awards, including topping the list of Top 25 wines at Cornucopia. 92.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Black Sage Vineyard quartet of 2013 reds

Photo: Black Sage Vineyard winemaker Jason James

Several years ago, Black Sage Vineyard was spun off from Sumac Ridge Winery to become a standalone brand, beginning with wines from the 2010 vintage.

Constellations Brands, the owner of Sumac Ridge, wanted to raise the profile of the big reds from Black Sage Vineyard, and of Jason James, the winemaker.

“This new family of wines will showcase what happens when the right vines are planted in the right location,” Constellation wrote in a brochure describing the new brand.

Black Sage Vineyard, a block of 115 acres on the east side of Black Sage Road, was planted in 1993 by Sumac Ridge partners Harry McWatters and Bob Wareham. At the time, it was the single largest planting of Bordeaux red varieties in the Okanagan. At the time, conventional wisdom still questioned whether the vines would survive in the Okanagan.

Several years ago, after Harry retired from Sumac Ridge, the vineyard was divided. His half is now called Sundial Vineyard and he is building a winery there (it is his idea of retirement). The other half, along with the Black Sage name, stayed with Constellation.

In 2005 Constellation also developed a 45-acre vineyard nearby. It was originally called the Thorpe Vineyard but has since also been renamed Black Sage.

That was a fortunate viticulture decision. The original Black Sage Vineyard suffered serious damage in the 2008 and 2009 winters. The winters were hard and early. It did not help that a neighbouring vineyard had installed wind fans which shoved cold air onto slightly lower Black Sage Vineyard.

“Black Sage is extremely hot but also extremely cold in the winter,” says Troy Osbourne, the vineyard manager. “We tried to figure out whether we can fix it with earthworks, and how much would it cost, and is it going to work in the end. We realized it would not be viable. We would create one big flat area that still would be frost prone.  So the way to do it would be with wind machines. We had inversion towers on this property and we measured the inversion. On nights when we had a frost event, it was seven degrees warmer five meters above the ground than it was at one meter above the ground. You put up a wind machine; it is 10 meters in the air. It will mix the air and give three to five degrees of protection.”

As a result, the vines, protected with wind machines, are productive again, season after season, growing the fruit that made the Black Sage Vineyard name legendary in Harry’s day. The Shiraz in the group of new releases is from the 2005 planting.

One might have expected that the cool 2010 and 2011 vintages would not produce the bold and generous wines the terroir is known for. However, the 2010 Merlot had 14% alcohol. Even in cool years, this is a good piece of dirt.

The 2013 reds, which were released this fall, are from a warmer vintage. Even if the stated alcohol of the Merlot is 13.5%, this wine and its companions present very satisfying textures so typical of the 2013s..

And considering the good genes of this vineyard, the wines remain reasonably priced.

Here are notes.

Black Sage Vineyard Merlot 2013 ($19.99 plus tax). This wine begins with aromas of plum, red fruit and vanilla. On the palate, the berry flavours are bright, almost jammy in their intensity. The tannins are round and soft. 91.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2013 ($20.89 plus tax). This is a classic example of this variety – bright and brambly, with aromas and flavours of plum, cherry and blueberry. The soft tannins add to the long and generous finish. 92.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($21.79 plus tax). This wine begins with aromas of raspberry, blackberry, vanilla and chocolate, leading to savoury flavours of cherry, red currant and vanilla. Again, the wine is generous with a lingering finish. 92.

Black Sage Vineyard Shiraz 2013 ($20.89 plus tax). This wine is available only in the wine shop at Sumac Ridge, and probably on line. It has the classic hint of pepper in the aroma and on the finish, along with aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum, vanilla and chocolate. 91.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Class of 2015: CheckMate Artisanal Winery

Photo: CheckMate wines come in heritage bottles

Anthony von Mandl’s genius at positioning his Okanagan wines reached an absolute pinnacle this week when he launched CheckMate Artisanal Winery’s  five Chardonnays in New York before releasing them in Canada.

Even before that event, the first bottle was presented privately to Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex. Next week, Anthony will fly to London to deliver the bottle personally and to have dinner at Buckingham Palace.

The point is to ensure the world, including the New York wine trade, takes notice of perhaps the most exceptional (and expensive) Chardonnay wines made, so far, in the Okanagan Valley.

In case Buckingham Palace and a toney New York restaurant don’t quite drive the point home, Anthony also has a current hook for these wines: climate change.

“Climate change is altering the wine world faster than anyone imagined,” CheckMate says on one of its information cards. “It has become too hot to make complex Chardonnays in some previously celebrated regions where the grape’s natural acidity is being crippled by heat.”

The card goes on to say that four years had been spent on a “daring initiative … to take advantage of climate change to make new world Chardonnay with old world elegance in North America.”

Clearly, Anthony wants to be a leader of the parade of vintners adapting to climate change. Just so that no one missed the point, one of the speakers at the CheckMate launch was a distinguished climate scientist. And two fine California Chardonnays were served at lunch as reference wines along with the five CheckMate Chardonnays. The Okanagan wines have fresher acidity.

There probably has not been a Canadian wine that launched first in the United States (at least not since Prohibition).  The CheckMate launch was a tour de force – as are the wines.

Anthony von Mandl (right) has a history with Okanagan Chardonnay. It began in 1992 when John Simes, then the newly recruited winemaker at Mission Hill, barrel-fermented some exceptional Chardonnay grapes he had secured for the winery.

Two years later, that wine won the trophy as the best Chardonnay at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. Almost certainly, it was one of the first meaningful trophies won by a Canadian Chardonnay in a major international competition. Mission Hill immediately positioned it as the “world’s best Chardonnay.”

The trophy put both Mission Hill and the Okanagan on the map. Mission Hill began buying vineyards in 1994. Now, Mission Hill and associated wineries are the largest vineyard owners in the Okanagan. There are Chardonnay blocks in 10 of those vineyards, including a vineyard bought in 2012 growing the clone from which the trophy-winning wine was made.

The 2012 vineyard purchases was part of deal that also included Anthony’s purchase of the former Antelope Ridge winery, which also had a block of mature Chardonnay. That 19-year-old winery was gutted and renovated to become the new CheckMate winery, dedicated to Chardonnay. Trial lots of wine were made there in 2012 but were never released. The debut wines are from 2013.

“I happen to love Burgundian Chardonnays,” Anthony told his New York luncheon guests. “I believed we could produce Chardonnays of similar sophistication.”

Deciding he needed an “intellectual” winemaker, he undertook a world-wide search. He selected Australian Philip Mcgahan (below), a former lawyer who had become a winemaker and was working at the prestigious Williams Selyem Winery in Sonoma.

Philip is a 2006 bachelor of applied science (wine science) from Charles Sturt University. He grew up in Queensland and worked in the Hunter Valley before joining Williams Selyem about 2010.

He did not have to be convinced that making great wine involved adapting to climate change. “I started my career in the Hunter Valley, where it is becoming too hot to make wine,” he says.

Given the run of Mission Hill’s Chardonnay blocks, he has narrowed his selection to a total of seven acres of vines in three different locations.

The Heritage Vineyard in the Golden Mile Bench appellation is adjacent to the CheckMate winery. “This vineyard contains what may be the oldest Chardonnay plantings in Canada,” the winery says. “These vines were planted 40+ years ago [with] an extraordinary, distinctive Chardonnay clone, of unknown origin, that we call Heritage.”   

The Barn Vineyard on Black Sage Bench has blocks of Chardonnay planted in 1999.  And the Border Vista Vineyard on the Osoyoos East Bench, tucked against the American border, has a block of Dijon clone Chardonnay planted in 1997.

The concept of vineyard blocks gave rise to the winery name.

“If you look at a chessboard and you think each of the individual squares being a block in a vineyard, it allows us to really dial in on specific blocks and make some very limited edition wines,” Anthony explains. “It will allow us to do interesting wines with interesting names. You could have all sorts of things to do with chess and it all dials back to the specific blocks the grapes are coming from, and the techniques we are using. There is a lot of expertise going in there.”

For all of his intellectualism and for all of the modern processing equipment, it is not Philip’s style to indulge in complex manipulation of the wines. The grapes are harvested by hand, at night when they are cool. He does some wild ferments in barrels or puncheons, stirs the lees periodically and then lets the wines age until they can be bottled, unfined and unfiltered.

“I let Mother Nature take its course over 17, 18 months,” he says.

The resulting wines are among the most sophisticated Chardonnays so far from the Okanagan. They are intense in flavour and terroir characters, with the acidity and structure reminiscent of great Burgundy. These age-worthy wines clearly raise the bar for Canadian Chardonnay, and for other producers who also can find something positive in climate change.

CheckMate has no tasting room. The wines will all be allocated through the winery’s website at 

These are the wines.

CheckMate Capture 2013 ($90). Border Vista Vineyard grapes are in this wine. A struggling wild ferment contributed to aromas that were initially slightly funky but evolved to notes of orange peel. There is more citrus and spice on the palate, with refreshing acidity. The texture is both firm and rich. 92.

CheckMate Queen Taken 2013 ($125). The grapes are from the Heritage Vineyard. This is 50% wild ferment. The aromas appeal with refreshing hints of citrus and brioche. On the palate, there is the note of white peach characteristic of the Heritage clone. The wine has a rich mid-palate texture, with a spice of minerality and with refreshing acidity. 95.

CheckMate Little Pawn 2013 ($110). The grapes for this are from the Barn Vineyard. Again 50% of the fermentation was with natural yeast. The wine has a strikingly floral aroma with subtle hints of citrus and well-integrated oak on the palate. The wine is exceptionally elegant. 94.

CheckMate Attack 2013 ($115). The grapes also came from the Barn Vineyard. What sets this off against the previous wine is that Attack was aged 18 months in a new oak foudre. That is a thick-staved oversized barrel, perhaps 1,000 litres in capacity. Wines age more gracefully in a foudre and take up imperceptible oak. This wine has aromas of brioche and spice with flavours of citrus, lychee and ginger. The clean fruit flavours are bright, refreshing and exciting. 94.

CheckMate Fool’s Mate 2013 ($80). This is a 17-barrel blend from grapes grown in all of the three selected blocks. The complexity of the wine makes the case for the assemblage. The wine has aromas and flavours of brioche and melon, with a rich texture and a long finish. 95

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Painted Rock adds Cabernet Franc

 Photo: Painted Rock's John Skinner

Now there is a new and stunning red wine from Painted Rock Estate Winery: the winery released its first Cabernet Franc from the 2013 vintage.

If there was ever a sign that Cabernet Franc is emerging in the Okanagan from the shadow of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, this is it.

The 2014 B.C. Wine Grape Acreage report found that 546 acres of Cabernet Franc were planted, compared with 756 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and 1,564 acres of Merlot.

Fine wines are made from the latter two varieties, with the Painted Rock Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot good examples.

Cabernet Franc, for the most part, has vanished into Meritage blends; and the blends are always the better for it.

But as a standalone wine - when I searched the list for one VQA store, I found just five Cabernet Francs. I found another three Canadian Cabernet Francs in the B.C. Liquor Stores catalogue and not many more at Everything Wine.

I know there are more excellent Cabernet Francs out there than that. If the new Painted Rock wine is an example, we need to have even more.

Cabernet Franc should suit the south Okanagan. It ripens a week earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. That was the rationale when producers like Tinhorn Creek initially planted a significant acreage but little Cabernet Sauvignon.

The only flaw in that rationale is that, in the blistering Okanagan summer, Cabernet Franc shuts down earlier that Cabernet Sauvignon. The vines are protecting themselves and saving water. By doing that, the vines stretch out the ripening process -- until Franc is just as late as Sauvignon.

Presumably, there is a viticultural solution. Certainly, it seems like Painted Rock’s John Skinner has it figured out.

But he also has a lot else figured out. These reds from the 2013 vintage all are excellent. They are bold and ripe, usually with alcohols approaching 15% - but with no heat on the palate. The Red Icon 2013 may be one of the best yet.

Here are notes.

Painted Rock Red Icon 2013 ($47.49). This is a blend of 33% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, 21% Petit Verdot, 12% Malbec and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). It begins with an inviting aroma of vanilla, black cherry and chocolate. On the rich and full palate, there are flavours of black currant, plum, dark chocolate and coffee. On the finish, there are notes of cloves, pepper, vanilla and chocolate. The texture is elegantly polished. 94.

Painted Rock Cabernet Franc 2013 ($44.99). This is a delicious wine. To bring out the best, one should decant it and let it breath for an hour or two. That reveals classic brambly aromas. The flavour palate is a riot of red fruit, including plum, blackberry and cherry with a hint of chocolate and tobacco. The rich finish includes notes of red plum jam. 92.

Painted Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($34.69). Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of vanilla, black cherry and red fruit. The texture is full and polished, with long ripe tannins. The wine has ripe flavours of black cherry, black currant and plum. The sweet fruit flavours linger on the finish, along with hints of tobacco and cedar. This is an elegant and sophisticated Cabernet Sauvignon. 92. 

Painted Rock Merlot 2013 ($34.69). Dark in colour, this brooding Merlot  begins with aromas of plum, cassis and spice, leading to flavours of cassis and blueberry. There is a hint of chocolate and espresso on the finish. This is another wine that benefits from decanting, to allow the concentrated texture to reveal the aromas and flavours. This wine will blossom with five or more years of cellaring. 92

Painted Rock Syrah 2013 ($34.99). The aroma is ripe and inviting, with notes of plum, black cherry and pepper. Svelte and polished in texture, the wine has flavours of red fruit with hints of dark chocolate and black coffee. The pepper on the savoury finish punctuates a delicious wine. 93.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

BC Iconic Red Wines Tasting: eighth annual

 Photo: LaStella winemaker Severine Pinte, maker of one BC Red Icon

The eighth annual B.C. Iconic Red Wines tasting, which took place November 12, seems to prove that this event is becoming a tradition.

So it should. It reminds us that in 25 years, our wine industry has learned to grow wines that have taken their place among the world’s wines.

The tasting was conceived and is sponsored by SIP Wines, the Richmond VQA wine store operated by Simon and Sandy Wosk. The idea of a competition among the best of British Columbia’s Bordeaux style reds emerged from a brainstorming between the Wosk and the late John Levine, an extraordinary wine lover.

The iconic reds generally are wines priced at $35 and up. The highest-priced red in this year’s tasting sells for $85, plus tax.

These are world class wines and should command aggressive prices. It costs money to grow premium grapes and turn them into premium wines.

For most consumers, these would be special occasion wines. They are the kind of wines bought by collectors with wine cellars. Most of the vintages tasted here are comparatively young; all of them will be even better with four or five years of bottle age. Every one has the ability to cellar at least 10 years.

For this tasting, the wines were all double decanted and allowed to breath for several hours, effectively softening the tannins to make the wines more approachable now. The wines were served blind and in a random order. The 70 or so tasters scored each wine and voted for their favourites at the end of the evening.

I have provided either the winery’s tasting notes or, when those were not available, my own notes. I have listed the wines alphabetically, summarizing the results at the top.

These were the seven top choices by the tasting group.

1. Black Hills Nota Bene 2103.

2. Lake Breeze Tempest 2011.

3. Cassini Cellars Maximus 2012.

4. Nk'Mip Cellars Mer'r'iym 2012.

5. Lariana Cellars Twelve 2012.

6. Church & State Quintessential 2012.

7. Gray Monk Odyssey Meritage 2012.

Congratulations to all who participated . There was not a single wine that I would not have in my cellar.

Black Hills Nota Bene 2013 ($61.99)
Cabernet Sauvignon 49%, Merlot 40%, Cabernet Franc 11%. Alcohol 13.7%. Production 3,300 cases.
Winery tasting notes: “Its tantalizing signature of sweet, ripe cherry complimented by its dusty earth undertones is salivating. Rich, smooth tannins coat the palate resulting in a juicy mouth feel with an alluring gilt of violets, flowery undertones and a lingering finish reminiscent of a sweet cigar box.”

Cassini Cellars Maximus Collector’s Edition 2012 ($39.99)
53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc. Production 700 cases and 500 magnums.
 Author’s tasting notes: “The wine has aromas of cassis and black cherry. The wine presents a polished texture of silky tannins, with intense flavours of cassis, cherry, blueberry, vanilla and cocoa.”

Church and State Quintessential 2012 ($58.99)
Merlot 45%, Cabernet Sauvignon 45%, Cabernet Franc 3.33%, Petit Verdot 3.33%, Malbec 3.33%. Alcohol 14.3%.  Aged 22 months in French oak (33% new). Production 150 cases.
Author’s tasting notes: “The wine is generous in texture and in flavours. It begins with aromas of black cherry, black currants, vanilla and truffles. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, mulberry, black cherry and dark chocolate.”

Clos du Soleil Estate Reserve Red 2012 ($63.99)
Cabernet Sauvignon 53%, Merlot 27%, Cabernet Franc 13%, Petit Verdot 6%, Malbec 1%. Production 100 cases.
Winery tasting notes: “This 2012 red Estate Reserve is a highly perfumed and expressive wine, displaying a layered complexity. On the nose the wine offers beautiful violet and other floral notes, followed by ripe fruit aromas, dominated by raspberry and blackberry, on a background of cedar and exotic spice. On the palate the wine is fresh and lively, first showing juicy, fresh raspberries, blackcurrant, flinty stoniness, and spice. The wine is mouth-filling and rich with fine tannins, while maintaining a sense of elegance and delicacy.”

Clos du Soleil Signature Red 2012 ($48.99)
Cabernet Sauvignon 48%, Merlot 42%, Cabernet Franc 9%, Petit Verdot 1% . Aged 18 months in French oak barrels.
Winery tasting notes: “The nose opens with aromas of cassis, blueberry and dark cherry, on a background of spice and mixed herbs. On the palate the wine is full, long and elegant.  Bright fruit flavours of cherry and black and red currant flow seamlessly into a long finish with notes of tobacco and black pepper.  Enjoyable in its youth, the fine tannins and beautiful balance of this wine ensure its ability to age for a decade.”

Gray Monk Odyssey Meritage 2012 ($38.99)
Merlot 48.6%, Cabernet Sauvignon 28.6%, Cabernet Franc 17.1%, Malbec 2.9%, Petit Verdot 2.9%.  Alcohol 13.7%.  Aged in new French oak barrels. Production 860 cases.
Author’s tasting notes: “This is a lush and generous red, beginning with aromas of black cherry and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, black currant and leather with a hint of minerality on the long finish.”

Hester Creek The Judge 2012 ($50.99)
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc. Alcohol 14.2%. Aged 26 months in oak barrels. Production 900 cases.
 Author’s tasting notes: “This is a dark, concentrated wine beginning with aromas of black cherry, plum and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, dark chocolate, vanilla and cedar. The texture is rich and elegant with a long, long finish.”

LaStella Fortissimo 2013 ($41.99)
Merlot 39%, Cabernet Franc 38%, Cabernet Sauvignon 17%, Sangiovese 6%. Alcohol 14.9%. Aged 19 months in French and Slavonian barrels and puncheons (new and used). Production 833 cases plus 113 cases of 375 ml, 96 magnums and 12 double magnums.
Author’s tasting notes: “The model for this wine, which includes six per cent Sangiovese in the blend, is a Super-Tuscan blend.   The Sangiovese adds the dusty tannins one finds in Tuscan reds (aging the wine 19 months in French and Slavonian oak also plays a role). The wine has aromas and flavours of black currant and cherry.”

Lake Breeze Tempest 2011 $51.99
Merlot 45%, Malbec 30%, Cabernet Franc 10%, Cabernet Sauvignon 10%, Petit Verdot 5%.
Winery tasting notes: “The sum is greater than its parts in this classic Bordeaux blend. Aged in new French oak for 15 months, this wine is full and rich.”

Lariana Cellars Twelve 2012 ($48.99)
Cabernet Sauvignon 53%, Syrah 25%, Merlot 21%, Carmenère 1%. Alcohol 14%. Aged 18 months in 90% French oak, 45% new. Production 480 cases.
Winery tasting notes: “Dominated by aromas of black fruits with a slight hint of black olives and licorice. The palate is further substantiated with a concentrated yet broad profile of Italian plums and black cherries [with] gentle supple tannins.”

Laughing Stock Portfolio 2013 ($45.00)
Merlot 41%, Cabernet Sauvignon 30%, Cabernet Franc 18%, Malbec 8%, Petit Verdot 3%. Alcohol 14.4%. Aged 19 months in French oak (55% new). Production 2,500 cases.
Winery tasting notes: The wine “is a complex layering of blackberry compote and clove spice aromas that jump from the glass. Solid notes of black fruit and dark chocolate, with tannins that are already soft and plush, thanks to a warm growing season. The end result is a smooth, long finish and a wine built to age.”

Mission Hill Compendium 2011 ($85.99)
Cabernet Sauvignon 44%,  Merlot 43%,  Cabernet Franc 13%. Alcohol 13.5%. Aged in French oak barrels for 13 months. Production 1,275 cases.
Winery tasting notes: “Rich and full bodied this wine has great colour, elegance and ripe fruit exhibiting smooth concentration. The nose is a lovely balance of cedar, dark chocolate, black plum, raspberries and blackberry jam. With ample tannins and fresh acidity, this wine will cellar well.”

Mission Hill Quatrain 2011 ($74.99)
Merlot 54%,  Syrah 21%,  Cabernet Sauvignon 13%,  Cabernet Franc 12%. Alcohol 13.5.  Aged in French oak barrels for 12 months. Production 1,200 cases.
Winery tasting notes: “Firm, rich and dense, the 2011 Quatrain combines power with finesse, offering a deep mix of chewy dark cherry and dark chocolate together with wild herb and loamy earth notes. Syrah adds a juicy-fleshy texture to this uncommon blend, lending a seamless profile of ripe fruit and spice to this harmonious and youthful wine.”

NK’Mip Cellars Mer’r’iym 2012 ($52.99)
Merlot 59%, Cabernet Sauvignon 22.7%, Malbec 12.3%,  Cabernet Franc 6%. Aged in predominately French oak barrels for 18 months. Alcohol 15.09%.
Winery tasting notes: “Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec all come together to create an elegant wine that is all about balance, texture, and length. Aromas are of blueberries, black currant, smoke and tobacco with flavours of dark fruit and cherry leading into a lengthy structured finish.”

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2011 ($45.99)
Merlot 48%, Cabernet Sauvignon 33%, Petit Verdot 10%, Cabernet Franc 6%, Malbec 3%. Alcohol 13.8%. Aged 18 to 20 months in French oak (60% new). Production 3,000 cases.
Winery tasting notes: “The 2011 vintage features a very deep, intense colour. The nose is rich and complex with toasty caramel and espresso aromas, opulent black currant notes, spices and eucalyptus. Ripe velvety tannins enrobe a silky texture.”

Painted Rock Red Icon 2013 ($58.99)
Merlot 33%,  Cabernet Franc 29%,  Petit Verdot 21%,   Malbec 12 %,  Cabernet  Sauvignon 5%. Alcohol 14.9%. Aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). Production 985 cases.
Winery tasting notes: “Dark and rich, cassis, blackberry, vanilla and  spice on  the nose. On  the palate more ripe black fruit, dark chocolate, vanilla and baking spice with mouth filling ripe tannins & high acidity. Give this wine maximum cellar time for the ultimate reward.”

Perseus Invictus 2013 $56.99
Cabernet Franc 42%, Merlot 38%, Cabernet Sauvignon 13%, Malbec 7%. Alcohol 14.5%. Production 700 cases.
Winery tasting notes: “Our 2013 Invictus showcases the true potential that Bordeaux style wines can achieve here in the South Okanagan. This wine bursts out of the bottle with concentrated aromas of black cherry, ripe plum and dark chocolate. The bouquet is echoed on the palate with additional hints of clove, eucalyptus and smoked meats. This well-structured, balanced wine has a velvety mouth-feel with long, lingering tannins.”  

Poplar Grove Legacy 2011 ($54.99)
Merlot 43%, Cabernet Franc 41%, Malbec 13%, Cabernet Sauvignon 3%. Alcohol 14.5%. Production 550 cases.
Author’s tasting notes: This firmly textured wine begins with aromas of black currant and black cherry, which are echoed on the palate, along with flavours of coffee and dark chocolate. There are spicy fruit flavours on the lingering finish.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Class of 2015: Nighthawk Vineyards

 Photo: David and Melanie Flotten (left); Christy and Daniel Bibby

Nighthawk Vineyards
2735 Green Lake Road,
Okanagan Falls, BC, V0H1R0
T. 250.497.8874

Seven or eight years ago, Daniel and Christy Bibby spent a weekend at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery and came away wanting to be in the wine business as well.

In British Columbia’s burgeoning wine industry, that’s a familiar story. It just took time to realize the dream of Nighthawk Vineyards, which opened this summer on a vineyard a kilometre or so past See Ya Later Ranch Winery.

In fact, there is a Nighthawk sign on the See Ya Later Vineyard; and visitors to Nighthawk often are referred by See Ya Later.

“They have been fantastic neighbours to us,” says David Flotten, a partner at Nighthawk with his wife, Melanie.

“One of the nice things about the Okanagan wine industry is that there are so many small wineries,” Daniel adds. “They really work together and help each other out. We have had everything from viticultural advice to loans of equipment … all kinds of different things. It is a great community.”

Who would not want to be part of a community like that?

Born in Edmonton in 1968, Daniel has come into the wine industry by way of the hospitality business.

“I was an executive chef for a number of years,” he says. “Then I became a director of food and beverage; then a director of operations; a hotel manager and a general manager. Christy and I and the kids have transferred back and forth.”

Currently, he is the general manager of the Delta Grand Okanagan, one of Kelowna’s major hotels, and the ninth hotel at which he has worked.

 Christy was born in Brampton, ON, and grew up in Vancouver. The mother of four grown-up children, she is an education professional, specializing in special needs and behaviour. She also looks after Nighthawk’s wine shop and the accounting.

David, their partner, was born in Edmonton in 1969. He was in the same Grade Two class as Daniel. Later, the two worked together in several restaurants.

“When I left that behind, I became an electrician,” David says. With that skill, he now installs diagnostic imaging equipment for the medical industry in western Canada. Melanie has had a career in government and currently is the executive assistant to Agriculture Canada’s regional director in Summerland.

“We have complementary talents,” David says. “Dan is a very good businessman, a good spokesperson, a good sales person. I am excellent at keeping equipment working, and at production.  But we all cross over: this is a huge team effort here. We all do a bit of everything.”

“We have always loved this valley,” Daniel says, referring to the Okanagan. “At the hotel, we started to have more and more visitors and clients who would ask to be taken to wineries. We had to find different pockets of wineries all the time. We ended exploring the whole valley from top to bottom. Eventually, we started falling in love with it.”

Then came the weekend at Burrowing Owl.

“We woke up in the morning and said, how can we make this our lifestyle?” Daniel recalls. “On our drive back, we started to see a few vineyards for sale. We started to do some research. We happened to be looking on line and we found this place.”

Nighthawk Vineyards is a charming place, with a log house and another building now the wine shop, perched on a plateau. It looks out over the vineyard which slopes toward Green Lake, an alkaline but spring-fed lake.

Daniel and Christy’s initial offer for the vineyard fell through. The capital they needed was contingent on selling their home in Kelowna and, at the time, they could not do it. But the vineyard nagged at them for years.

“We would come up here every year for five years, driving past the gates, looking in,” Daniel says. “Eventually, the owners called us back.”

The situation had changed by this time, which was 2014. The owners had an urgent reason to sell. Daniel and Christy had partners, and both couple were able to sell their homes.

David and Melanie, also wanting a lifestyle change, had just moved to the Okanagan in 2014 from Nanaimo.

“We had been talking about this dream for quite some time,” Daniel says. “Dave and Melanie are very good friends of ours.  As the dream started to come together, we said, let’s work together.”

The 10-acre vineyard is planted to three varieties: five acres of Gewürztraminer, three of Pinot Noir and two of Chardonnay. Some of the vines are 15 years old.

The previous owner had been selling the Gewürztraminer to Desert Hills Estate Winery and that winery had been winning awards with that wine. When Daniel and David acquired the vineyard, they also arranged to have Desert Hills make some of the initial Nighthawk wines. In the 2015 vintage, they turned to Matt Dumayne, the chief winemaker at Okanagan Crush Pad Winery.

“We are doing part of the winemaking here, but under Matt’s watchful eye,”
Daniel says. “It is a great learning process for us.”

It is likely it could be all in the family one day. Daniel and Christy’s son, Dakota, who worked the 2015 crush at a major winery, is studying viticulture and enology.

“We always plan on remaining a farm gate winery,” Daniel says. “I always want to be in touch with our guests. What is a real charge with us is to be able to walk the vineyard with people and talk about what makes the grapes grow; and to taste them off the vines.”

The goal is to grow the winery to a production of 4,000 or 5,000 cases, using their own grapes and purchased grapes, including a long term contract with a grower near Oliver.

The winery name, and the vineyard name before that, is rooted in nature. 

“It was named for the nighthawks that come and nest in this valley,” Daniel recounts. “They are a unique bird to Canada; usually a warm climate bird. They come here because this is the northern tip of the Sonoran dessert.”

The labels are by Kelowna artist Alex Fong, reflecting the enchanting views of the vineyard that inspired him to paint two canvasses for the partners.

Here are notes on the wines.

Nighthawk Pinot Gris 2014 ($18.90 for 56 cases).  Forty-eight hours of skin contact contributed to this wine’s cleanly focussed aromas and flavours … melon, apple, citrus. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Nighthawk Gewürztraminer 2014 ($19.90 for 112 cases). This wine has the intense aromas and flavours – lychee, spice and ginger – for which this terroir is noted. The wine has a lingering dry finish. 90.

Nighthawk Viognier 2014 ($21.90 for 112 cases). The winery describes this as “decadent” – which I take refers to juicy, fleshy texture. The aromas of apricot and peach are intense, lingering on the long finish. 90.

Nighthawk Merlot 2011 ($24.90 for 56 cases). This wine had 18 months in French and American oak barrels. It has aromas and flavours of black currant, plum and black olives. 88.

Nighthawk Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($29.90 for 112 cases). Ths wine spent 20 months in French and American oak. It begins with aromas of toasted oak, vanilla and cherry. It has long ripe tannins but with a firm, ageworthy texture. 89.

Nighthawk Syrah 2011 ($31.90 for 56 cases). This wine spent 20 months in oak.  Big and bold, the meaty and berry flavours are bracketed by pepper on the nose and on the finish. 91.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Nota Bene is one of BC's most collected reds

Last year Black Hills Estate Winery offered its regular customers a two for one deal.

The winery would give two bottles of a current vintage of Nota Bene for every bottle of an older vintage the customers were prepared to part with.

The response was, as you might image, pretty good. It enabled Black Hills to refresh its stock of library wines.

In turn, that has allowed the winery to offer vertical tastings. The most recent, a six-vintage vertical, was offered recently at the Cornucopia wine festival in Whistler.

Glenn Fawcett, the president of Black Hills, says that the winery’s original owners might have set aside perhaps five cases a year for the library. In 1999, when the first vintage of Nota Bene was made, it is safe to say hardly anyone in the Okanagan gave much thought to cellaring wines for future vertical tastings.

Even today, not enough wineries have been around long enough to host verticals. Hopefully, they are putting wines away for such tastings in the future.

In the last year, I have attended public vertical tastings hosted by Mission Hill (for Oculus), Black Widow (for Hourglass), Laughing Stock (for Portfolio) and Clos du Soleil (for Signature).

I have also been privileged to do a number of private vertical tastings. I am completing a book for next spring on British Columbia wines that, in my opinion, should be collected. I am setting out to make several points through the book:

  • By collecting your same favourite wines every year, you will soon have a vertical of five or more vintages of those wines. By tasting them side by side more than once, you get to understand the wine, how it develops in the bottle, and how the vintages differ.
  • The wine tastes better when you can invite a few friends to experience a vertical tasting. For many consumers, this is still a rare experience. It should not be.

Nota Bene, the Bordeaux blend from Black Hills, is one of the three or four most collected wines from the Okanagan.

The wine became a cult wine almost as soon as the 1999 vintage was released in 2001. I predicted as much in my review when I wrote: “A Noteworthy and Collectible Wine. For collectors of British Columbia wines, the latest must-have wine is the 1999 Nota Bene from Black Hills Estate Winery, a producer near Oliver which has just opened. This has all the marks of becoming a cult red wine capable of appreciating in value."

That first vintage was 1,600 cases. The 2012 vintage was 3,800 cases and the 2013 was 3,200 cases. Nota Bene production was been capped around that figure.

Here is a tip if you can’t get any Nota Bene: the reds that don’t make the cut for Nota Bene in any vintage end up in a second label called Cellar Hand Punch Down Red. It sells for about $25, half the price of Nota Bene, but it punches (pun intended) well above its weight.

If you start collecting wines for verticals, you can safely assume that any collectible B.C. red, if stored properly, will live for at least 10 years and probably longer.

The Nota Bene vertical at Cornucopia had three wines older than that, including the 1999. If you have this wine in you cellar, drink it now. It is fully mature and is sliding.

The surprise is that it is still drinkable. That wine was made with grapes from four-year-old vines. The original winery was an old Quonset hut. Yet Senka Tennant, the Black Hills winemaker, with guidance from Washington State winemaker Rusty Figgins, made a solid wine.

I previously tasted the 1999 two years ago, when I was a guest at a private Nota Bene vertical. The group’s favourite wine was the 1999 (mine that evening was the 2005).  Here is what I wrote:

Nota Bene 1999: The fruit aromas and flavours have matured, developing earthy notes and ephemeral fruit favours that typify a well-aged wine. The complexity reminded one taster of an aged Italian red from Tuscany.

It so happened I still had a bottle of the 1999 in my cellar. In view of the vote – it was not my top pick - I opened it the following day. The fruit in my bottle was more vibrant (one expects bottle variation as wines age), deliciously sweet up front with a spicy berry note on the finish. It has begun to slide from its peak, but with remarkable elegance.

Two years later, the wine’s flavours also reminded me of an old Tuscan red, with notes of forest floor and mushroom on the dusty finish. The wine has made it to 16 years but it has hit the wall.

Here are notes on the five other vintages tasted at Cornucopia.

Nota Bene 2000: The wine has some truffle aromas, with flavours of plum, cassis and cigar box. The texture is polished and elegant. The wine has peaked but is holding well.

Nota Bene 2004: This bottle is better than the one I tasted two years ago. That one began with spicy berry aromas, leading to flavours of black currants, plum and cigar box. This one has developed a lovely core of sweet fruit, including black currants and cherry. It is at a peak that should last a few more years.

Nota Bene 2006: This wine is a milestone for Black Hills, which had replaced its challenging Quonset hut with a new winery, well equipped with all the tools needed for modern winemaking.  The 2006 is full on the palate, with distinctive aromas and flavours of blueberry and cassis. When the wine was released, winemaker Senka Tennant described it as “appealing for its layers of dark fruit with a hint of spice, olives and cedar on the nose; full bodied and balanced with silky velvety tannins and a great lengthy rich finish.”

Nota Bene 2008: This begins with an appealing aroma of red fruit, vanilla and mocha. It is rich and ripe on the palate with flavours of plums, black cherries and vanilla. On the finish, there are hints of chocolate, red berries and spice.

Nota Bene 2013: This is an elegant and harmonious wine, reflecting the winemaking style of Graham Pierce who took over from Senka in 2008 when the ownership of Black Hills changed. This wine is approachable now, with a little decanting, but it has the structure to last at least 10 years. It has aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant and blueberry with a touch of spice and cigar box on the finish, no doubt from the time the wine spent in barrel.