Photo: SOAHC winery's Kim McLaughlin and Jamie Fochuk
The Wildebeest Restaurant at 120 West Hastings in Vancouver has emerged as a funky but effective venue for wine tastings.
It seems especially suited to artisanal wineries. The nine producers at this year’s tasting included several scheduled to be at the much larger Garagiste tasting within the week, artisanal meaning much the same thing as garagiste.
The Wildebeest is a long, narrow room, which makes for cozy quarters around the tasting tables, all of which usually are arrayed against one wall. However, the people who attend these tastings are, for the most part, sommeliers and restaurant wine buyers, well indoctrinated in tasting room etiquette. In other words, these people do not belly up to a table and stay there, cutting off access to the wines and the principals (unlike the tasting room at the International Wine Festival).
There also is a constant ebb and flow of attendees during the three hours allowed for tasting. One can overstay a bit but not much because the restaurant needs to reset the tables for dinner. I did push it a bit but, for once, I touched base at every table.
Here are my notes. Prices usually are retail unless – where they end in odd cents- it is the so-called hospitality price, which excludes 15% tax.
Anarchist Mountain Vineyard is a tiny producer based on a three-and-a-half-acre vineyard that seems precariously perched on the side of Anarchist Mountain, overlooking Osoyoos. The vineyard was planted in 1985 by Anthony Dekleva. It is now owned by viticulturist Andrew Stone and his partner, Terry Meyer Stone. So far, their well-crafted wines are made by consultants in custom crush wineries.
Anarchist Mountain Elevation Chardonnay 2013 ($26). This is a pristine and focussed wine with lovely flavours and aromas of citrus and ripe apples that linger on the finish. Think of Chablis with weight. 90.
Anarchist Mountain Wildfire Pinot Noir 2014 ($35 for 70 cases). Andrew is so encouraged by the Pinot Noir on his site that he has replaced two of his three acres of Chardonnay with Pinot Noir. This wine begins with appealing aromas of raspberry and cherry that are echoed on the palate. Chris Carson, the winemaker who crafted this wine, fermented partially with whole clusters. He succeeded in creating a wine with a good backbone of long, ripe tannins. 91.
Anarchist Mountain Mayhem Merlot 2013 ($35 for 90 cases). Made by winemaker Mark Simpson with fruit for Anarchist’s 18-year-old Merlot vines, this is a bold and concentrated wine. It has 15% alcohol, balanced with rich flavours of black currant, plum, blueberry and chocolate. 90.
Fairview Cellars, named for the nearby mining ghost town, is where viticulturist Bill Eggert planted vines in 1993. His 6 1/2-acre vineyard, on a plateau overlooking the first hole of the Fairview golf course, grows primarily red varieties, with Cabernet Sauvignon accounting for half the area. Bill’s reds are notable for their longevity. At the tasting, he poured a delicious 2008 Cabernet Franc, one of his library releases.
Fairview Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($18.17). This is a Sauvignon Blanc in the Sancerre style, with an herbal aroma and with flavours of lime, lemon and herbs. The finish is tangy. 90.
Fairview Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($18.17). What a vintage difference there is in the juicy and tropical 2015 Sauvignon Blanc. There is a delightful medley of peach and guava on the palate. The rich and generous texture reflects the hot 2015 season. 91.
Fairview Gusto Bianco 2014 ($15.05). This off-dry wine – 14 grams of residual sugar – is Sauvignon Blanc with a touch of Semillon. The wine, a crowd pleaser, has flavours of pink grapefruit and nectarine. 88.
Fairview Crooked Post Pinot Noir 2013 ($21.19). Crooked Post is the label Bill uses for Pinot Noirs blended with estate fruit and purchased fruit. This is a medium-bodied Pinot Noir with fresh wild strawberry aromas and strawberry flavours. On the palate, the texture is silky. 88.
Fairview Eagle Bluff Pinot Noir 2014 ($N/A). The fruit for this wine is all from Bill’s Vaseux Lake vineyard. The wine begins with a dark hue and spicy aromas of plum and strawberry, echoed in the concentrated fruity flavours. The long velvet tannins give the wine good weight. 92.
Fairview The Bear Premiere Series 2012 ($34.99). This is a powerful Meritage blend with aromas of cassis and flavours of black currant, plum, black olive and chocolate. The texture is firm. This is a wine to be cellared. 91.
Fairview Iconoclast 2010 ($75.09). This wine – which retails for $100 with taxes – is the third vintage of Fairview’s ultra-premium Cabernet Sauvignon. This is an elegant and polished wine, with aromas of cassis and with flavours of mulberry and lingonberry. There is a touch of spice on the lingering finish. 93.
Orofino Vineyards was opened in 2005 near Cawston by John and Virginia Weber, former Saskatchewan residents who changed careers in 2001 when they took over a Similkameen Valley vineyard. Initially, they drew attention with Canada’s first winery built with straw bales (a second has just opened near West Kelowna). Now, they are much better known for premium quality wines.
Orofino Hendsbee Vineyard Riesling 2014 ($22). The wine has aromas and favours of petrol and lemon with a spine of minerality. The texture is concentrated and the finish is dry. This will develop well with age, as John showed by pouring a library wine, a 2007 Hendsbee Riesling. 90.
Orofino Scout Vineyard Riesling 2014 ($22). This wine is finished with a touch of residual sugar, softening the texture. On the nose and palate, there are aromas and flavours of lemon and peach. The fruit lingers on the palate. This is the one I would drink now while cellaring the Hendsbee. 90.
Orofino Celentano Vineyard Gamay 2015 ($23). This is a juicy and appealing wine, with gobs of cherry on the nose and the palate and with subtle hint of earth on the finish. 89.
Orofino Wild Ferment Syrah 2015 ($29 for 160 cases). Not only was this fermented with wild yeast but – a first for Orofino – it was fermented in a concrete vat. The texture of this wine is soft and rich, with aromas and flavours of plum and black cherry: a youthful fruit bomb. 90.
Orofino Red Bridge Red 2013 ($25). This wine is a departure from previous Red Bridge wines, which were all Merlot from a Kaleden vineyard. With this wine, Orofino is completing its focus on just Similkameen fruit. The wine also is a blend: 70% Merlot, 20% Syrah and five percent each of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. It is a delicious wine, with aromas of cassis, flavours of black currant and black cherry and a hint of cedar on the finish. The texture is generous. 92.
Orofino Beleza 2012 ($34). This is Orofino’s flagship red, a blend of 40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The wine is a powerhouse of almost port-like fruit that creates a rich, intense mid-palate. It begins with aromas of dark fruits and chocolate, leading to flavours of plum, black cherry and chocolate, with a touch of sage on the finish. 93.
Pentâge Winery. which opened near Penticton in 2003, has a remarkable winery in a cave carved from bedrock. The winery is worth the visit just to see this feat of engineering by owner Paul Gardner. The wines are pretty interesting as well.
Pentâge Riesling 2012 ($19). Crisp and dry, this has aromas and flavours of petrol, along with flavours of lemon and green apple. 89.
Pentâge Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon 2012 ($21). This wine begins with aromas of lemon and gooseberry and delivers flavours of lemon and grapefruit. The wine has good weight, with a finish that is dry and that lingers. 90.
Pentâge Rosé 2014 ($17.30). This a rosé of Gamay and Zinfandel grapes. Those raised on off-dry white Zinfandels should note that this is a seriously dry rosé with spicy cherry and plum flavours. 89.
Pentâge Gamay 2013 ($21). Here is a lively red for Beaujolais lovers, with aromas and flavours of cherries and red berries. 88.
Pentâge Cabernet Franc 2012 ($N/A). Vibrant and brambly, the wine delivers aromas and flavours of blackberry and black cherry. The finish persists. 90.
Pentâge Haitus 2012 ($23). This is a blend of 35% Cabernet Franc, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 6% Tempranillo, 5% Zinfandel, 4% Malbec and 2% Pinot Noir. The wine delivers complexity one usually does not see at this price: layered fruit aromas and flavours of blackberry, black currant, black cherry and spice. 90.
SOAHC Estate Wines, a new biodynamic winery in Fruitvale (east of Trail), made its first ever appearance at a Vancouver tasting. (The name is “chaos” spelled backwards.) The vineyard has been planted since 2010 by Jamie Fochuk and his partner, Kim McLaughlin, with guidance in vine choices and winemaking from consultant Alain Sutre. Maturing vines enabled the winery to produce about 900 cases in 2015. Jamie brought along two promising tank samples of Riesling and Chardonnay from 2015.
SOAHC Riesling 2014 ($20.49). Tangy and dry on the finish, this wine has already begun to develop the classic petrol (marmalade if you wish) notes on the nose and palate. It has flavours of lime and grapefruit, with good weight. 90.
SOAHC Chardonnay 2014 ($20.49). This wine has aromas and flavours of citrus and apple with the buttery notes from partial malolactic fermentation and subtle oak. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.
Synchromesh Wines, which opened in 2011, has made a name for its well-crafted Riesling wines. Owner Alan Dickinson offered six (!) at this tasting. He seems to have cherry picked some of the best Riesling vineyards on the Naramata Bench to complement his own Okanagan Falls vineyard.
Synchromesh Riesling 2015 ($14.69). This is a tangy wine whose bright acidity is modified by a welcome dash of residual sugar. The wine has aromas of lemon and lime, with flavours of lemon and crab apples. 90.
Synchromesh Riesling 2015 Drier ($14.78). The wine begins with aromas of lemon with a hint of nectarine, leading to flavours of lemon and lime and petrol. The acidity is bright and, as the label says, the finish is dry. 90.
Synchromesh Riesling Thorny Vines Vineyard 2015 ($19.09). This is a vineyard on the southern end of the Naramata Bench, planted with the renowned Clone 21B vines. It begins with aromas of lemon and apple and delivers honeyed flavours of lemon and lime. Vibrant acidity makes for a refreshing finish. 91.
Synchromesh Riesling Bob Hancock Vineyard 2015 ($19.09). This 3.5-acre vineyard at the north end of Naramata Bench is planted with self-rooted Clone 21B on gravelly loam. The wine has a fleshy texture and peach aromas and flavours with lemon on the finish. The acidity and the spine of minerals add complexity. 91.
Synchromesh Riesling 2015 Four Shadows Vineyard ($19.09). This vineyard is high up on the Naramata Bench. The bracing acidity is balanced with 52 grams of residual sugar. This is a wine with intensity and weight with aromas and flavours of grapefruit, apple and pineapple. The finish is very long and seems almost dry – a tour de force of winemaking. 92.
Synchromesh Riesling Storm Haven Vineyard 2015 ($30.39). This is the estate vineyard with vines that are now mature. There is a whiff of petrol, even though the wine is young. The flavours are intense – lime, lemon, grapefruit and mango – with good acidity and a spine of minerality. 92-94.
Synchromesh Cachola Family Farms Cabernet Franc 2014 ($16.49). This is wine delivers lots of aroma and flavour with a juicy texture. There are notes of raspberry, cherry and spice. 90.
Terravista Vineyards is the Naramata Bench encore by Bob and Senka Tennant, former owners of Black Hills Estate Winery. The Terravista portfolio is dedicated just to white wines, including two Spanish varieties, Albariño and Verdejo, from the estate vineyard, and Rhone whites from the south Okanagan.
Terravista Fandango 2014 ($24.90). This is the blend of the two Spanish whites. It is a fresh and juicy wine with aromas and flavours of lemon, honeydew melon, peach and apple. The finish is long. 91.
Terravista Figaro 2014 ($23.90). This is a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. It begins with herbal aromatics and delivers stone fruit flavours with a hint of hazelnut. The finish is dry and austerely crisp. 91.
Terravista Viognier 2014 ($18.90). Crisp and firm, this wine has aromas of apricot and flavours of apricot, melon and lime, with a nice spine of minerals. 90.
TH Wines opened in 2012 as Tyler Harlton Wines. It still operates from an industrial park at Summerland. Tyler, a Saskatchewan native, could be described as a polymath. He also has a law degree from McGill but has a wide range of interests from hockey to organic farming. He produces interesting wines.
TH Wines Riesling 2014 ($26.99). Almost austere in its dryness, this wine delivers aromas and flavours of lime and petrol around a mineral backbone. 88.
TH Wines Viognier 2014 ($24.99 but sold out). Pity this is sold out. It has classic aromas and flavours of apricots and peaches with a spine of minerals. It has a crisp and dry finish. 89.
TH Wines Rosé 2015 ($22.99). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Salmon pink in hue, it has aromas and flavours of spicy cherry with a hint of red licorice. The finish is dry. 89.
TH Wines Pinot Noir 2014 ($32.99). This well-made wine has aromas of strawberry. On the palate, there are flavours of strawberry and plum. The tannins are silky. 90.
TH Wines Cabernet Merlot 2012 ($34.99). This is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec. It has aromas and flavours of cassis and blueberry with spice and earth on the finish. 90.
Van Westen Vineyards was opened near Naramata in 2005 by Robert Van Westen, a member of a family that also grows incredible cherries. The winery is in a former fruit packing house. The tastings here are informal and friendly. All of the wines have names starting with V.
Van Westen Vino Grigio 2014 ($19.90 for 325 cases). This is Rob’s take on Pinot Gris – a crisply refreshing white with aromas and flavours of apple, pear and lemon. 90.
Van Westen Vivacious 2014 ($19.90 for 524 cases). This is Pinot Blanc, usually with a dash of Pinot Gris. It begins with aromas of apples and green melon, delivering flavours of apple, pear and citrus. 90.
Van Westen Viognier 2014 ($24.90 f0r 174 cases). This is a textbook Viognier, beginning with aromas of apricot. On the palate, there are flavours of apricot and orange with a not of spice and ginger on the crisp finish. 91.
Van Westen Vixen 2014 ($19.90 for 73 cases). This is a spectacular late harvest wine (70% Pinot Blanc, 30% Pinot Gris) touched with botrytis. The wine begins with honeyed aromas of fruit mingling with sweet tobacco. On the palate, there are intense flavours of ripe pear and mango. The sweet finish is very well balanced with acidity, creating a finish that lasts and lasts. 92.
Van Westen Vicicle 2014 ($24.90 for 200 ml; 195 cases produced). Lush and tropical, this wine has aromas and flavours of marmalade, along with a medley of flavours that include baked pear and baked apples. 88.
Van Westen/Dibello Pinot Noir 2014 ($39.90 for 134 cases). This wine is a collaboration between Rob and his friend, winemaker Tom DiBello. Tom’s fingerprints are here with the fairly bold oak aromas. They mingle with strawberry and raspberry aromas and flavours. The palate is firm but evolving toward a silky texture. 89.
Van Westen Violeta 2012 ($34.90 for 92 cases). This is a Malbec. Full-bodied, it has aromas of blueberry and vanilla and delivers flavours of blueberry, plum, and blackberry with spice on the finish. 91.
Van Westen Vivre la Vie 2012 ($29.90 for 113 cases). This is Rob’s Merlot – a wine with a concentrated texture that frames the rich flavours of plum, black cherry and black currant. 92.
Van Westen Voluptuous 2012 ($29.90 for 341 cases). One of the winery’s flagship reds, this has always been a field blend of 67% Merlot and 33% Cabernet Franc. It has aromas and flavours of cassis, plum, black olives, dark chocolate and black coffee. On the finish, there is a note of spice and sage. 92.
Van Westen V 2011 ($34.90 for 426 cases). This is 49% Merlot, 24% Malbec, 21% Cabernet Franc, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot. The wine is intense and complex, with aromas and flavours of black currant, black olives, dark chocolate and sage. Not yet at its peak, this is a wine that will cellar well for at least 10 years. 93.
Van Westen Vulture 2012 ($39.90 for 76 cases). This is Rob’s Cabernet Franc. It begins with aromas of raspberry, black cherry and plum and delivers flavours of spice, black currant, raspberry and milk chocolate. 92.