Friday, September 30, 2016

Moon Curser releasing Dolcetto, with Cabernet Sauvingnon in the wings

Moon Curser Vineyards of Osoyoos, after making its reputation by championing varieties almost no one else grows, is now making a big bet on Cabernet Sauvignon, a mainstream variety if ever there is one.

During the past seven years, Moon Curser has planted two blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon, totalling just over five acres. Chris T0lley, who owns the winery with his wife Beata, notes that this is a quarter of Moon Curser’s total vineyards, all of which are in sun-drenched Osoyoos.

“It is not a variety you should plant elsewhere,” he believes.

Moon Curser’s first estate Cabernet Sauvignon was made in 2014 and is now in bottle. (The winery has released Cabernet Sauvignon in earlier vintages.) It is not yet released. Chris expects to release it in 2017 or 2018, depending on its development in bottle.

I tasted the wine this spring, however. It is already a promising wine. Moon Curser fans should keep an eye out for the release.

This does not mean that Chris and Beata are dropping the “off-beat” varieties already in their portfolio. These include:

·       Arneis. This lovely Italian white joined the Moon Curser range in the 2013 vintage. Moon Curser is believed to have been the first winery in Canada to grow Arneis and now has a 1 ½ -acre block.

·       Dolcetto. Moon Curser is just releasing its first Dolcetto this year, from its one-acre block. The other Okanagan producer with this Italian red is Stag’s Hollow Winery, which also released the varietal this year. According to Chris, whose father is from Italy, the grape’s name means “little sweet one,” an allusion to the wine’s soft, juicy character.

·       Tannat. This is a big tannic red grape found in the French wine region of Madiran and in Uruguay. Moon Curser may also have Canada’s only Tannat vines.

·       Touriga Nacional, the major Port variety in Portugal. A few years ago, Chris took over a block of that variety from another Osoyoos vineyard and released a red wine. He is now thinking of make a barrel or two of Port.

·       Carménère, the late ripening Bordeaux grape that was saved from extinction in Chile.  Black Hills Winery planted the first Carménère about a dozen years ago. A handful of other wineries in the south Okanagan, including Moon Curser, subsequently planted the variety and have a clientele for this dense, peppery red.

·       Tempranillo. This is a major variety in Spain and has been planted by a number of B.C. wineries, including Moon Curser.

Other varieties in the Moon Curser portfolio include the Rhone whites and Rhone reds, Malbec and Petit Verdot, all of which are grown in numerous other vineyards.

What is moving aside at Moon Curser? Merlot, for one. This is the most widely planted red in the Okanagan. As a result, it is hard for a small winery to attract notice with this ubiquitous varietal.

“We are moving away from Merlot,” Chris says. “It softens everything up nicely and the consumer likes it. But Malbec is a softer aromatic variety that I will trade for the Merlot.”

Here are notes on Moon Curser’s wines. I tasted many in the spring, several of which have been succeeded by the current vintage. I will try to update this blog when I can; but notes of sold-out wines give some indication of Moon Curser’s quality.

Moon Curser Arneis 2015 Contraband Series ($25.90 for 343 cases). The wine begins with a lovely aroma of melons and pineapples delicately accented with spice. On the palate, it delivers luscious flavours of peach, apple and pear. The texture is full and the finish is long. 92.

Moon Curser Afraid of the Dark 2015 ($21.90 for 464 cases). This is complex wine 43% Viognier, 40% Roussanne and 17% Marsanne.  This wine begins with very appealing aromas: honeyed melon and nectarine with vanilla. Richly textured but dry, the wine delivers flavours of apricot, guava, and mango, with a hint of honey and vanilla on the finish. 92

Moon Curser Dolcetto 2015 ($26.90). This is an unoaked red which suits the soft and juicy texture. The wine has luscious aromas and flavours of cherries, finishing with a fruit sweetness at the end. Of course, it is a dry wine. 90.

Moon Curser Tannat 2012 ($42.90 for 171 cases). This is a full-bodied red with power and with age-ability. It begins with aromas of dark fruit and spice, leading to flavours of figs, plums and dark chocolate. 93.

Moon Curser Syrah 2013 ($26.90 for 1,059 cases). This is described by the winery as medium-bodied but I thought the texture was generous. It has aromas and flavours of plum and fig with a hint of oak. 91.
Moon Curser Syrah 2012 Contraband Series ($31.90 for 444 cases). This is definitely full-bodied. A portion of the wine is made with grapes from a premium Syrah block and a portion is from juice that has been concentrated by bleeding off some for rosé. The wine has been aged in French oak (30% new). This has the classic deli counter spice aromas and gamy, earthy flavours of the variety, along with flavours of black cherries and black olives. Black pepper punctuates the finish. 91.

Moon Curser Malbec 2013 Contraband Series ($31.90). This is also a full, fleshy wine with aromas and flavours of blueberries, blackberries and currants. There is spice on the finish. 91.

Moon Curser Tempranillo 2014 Contraband Series ($31.90). Still firmly structured, this wine should be cellared a few more years. The wine has plum, black currant and other dark fruits on the nose and palate. The finish lasts and lasts. 90-92.

Moon Curser Carménère 2013 ($42.90). Dark in colour with spice ar0mas, including fennel and pepper. The palate delivers flavours of black currants, espresso and dark chocolate. 91.

Moon Curser Petit Verdot 2013 Contraband Series ($31.90 for 246 cases). As always, the wine presents in the glass with a black as night colour. Everything else is intense as well, from aromas of violets and dark fruits to flavours of figs, black cherries, dark chocolate, licorice and a note of graphite on the finish. 91.

Moon Curser Border Vines 2013 ($26.90 for 1,710 cases). This is 32% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Malbec, 18% Petit Verdot and 4% Carménère. The wine begins with aromas of black cherries and black berries. These are echoed on the palate, along with flavours of blueberries and spicy cedar, reflecting the French oak in which the wine was aged. 90.

Moon Curser Dead of Night 2013 ($42.90).
This is Moon Curser’s flagship red, a inspired blend of more or less equal parts Tannat and Syrah. The latter adds flesh to the military backbone of Tannat. Bold and richly texture, the wine frames its plum, blueberry and spice with a backbone of oak and minerality. 94.

Moon Curser Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (not released). This is a big, ripe Cabernet Sauvignon with long and firm tannins at this stage in its development. There are aromas and flavour of black currants, with layers of flavour to develop in bottle. 92-94.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Clos du Soleil: Grand Cru winemaking in the Similkameen

Photo: Michael Clark at the Clos du Soleil winery

The latest releases from Clos du Soleil Winery show that winemaker Michael Clark has stamped his French-inspired sensibilities firmly on this Similkameen winery.

That is a very good thing, in my view. Most of us cannot afford the wines from Bordeaux’s classified growths, at least on a regular basis. The Clos du Soleil wines, while not always budget-priced, are much more affordable, with a quality rivalling classified growth wines.

French wine inspired this winery from the start, when a group of four couples headed by Spencer Massie began planting the vineyard in 2007. Spencer, a former officer in the Canadian navy, once told me: “I love everything classic French; my family roots go back to Normandy.”

There also was a more recent inspiration as well. Spencer and Bonnie Henry, his wife, ran the Marathon du Médoc in 2002. I doubt anyone would forget running a race with wine tasting stations en route.

Michael Clark joined the Clos partnership in 2012. Now he is the winery’s managing director as well as the winemaker. This is his second career. He was previously a banker and a bond dealer.

Michael, who was born in Cambridge, Ontario, in 1972, describes wine as “my number one passion literally before I could drink wine. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with wine. Champagne is for Breakfast – I read that book when I was probably 10 years old. I don’t know other children who love to read wine books.”

Initially, he set out on a career in theoretical physics with bachelor’s degree from Queens University and then a master’s degree from the University of British Columbia. Then he switched to finance with a master of business administration from UBC, where he also founded a campus wine tasting society.

“Then I worked in finance in Canada and in the U.S. and Switzerland, for about 15 years.” That included eight years with two Swiss banks where, while holding senior positions, he committed to winemaking by taking winemaking and viticulture courses there in 2010. He then gained experience by doing crushes at wineries in Switzerland and in Bordeaux.

In 2011, he enrolled in the rigorous winemaking program from the University of California at Davis. While still in Europe, he began researching British Columbia winemaking opportunities before making Clos Du Soleil his choice. Consulting winemaker Ann Sperling had made the first five vintages before handing over to Michael.

He provided the missing link at Clos Du Soleil. None of the four couples in the founding partnership lived in the Okanagan or the Similkameen.

“Anybody will tell you that I am a bit of a detail person,” he told a group tasting last year at the winery. “It served me well in finance and it is serving me well now. I think that plays well in winemaking, which is the sum of a million little details that add up to the final wine. Every single year with all of our wines, I am trying to tweak things to make it [the wine] better than the previous year.”

His approach, he says, is “in line with the overall philosophy of Clos – being based on a Bordeaux aesthetic – where the art of winemaking reaches it pinnacle in the art of blending. The whole magic of blending is that you take two barrels and they can work together synergistically, or not. So there are months of trialing; swapping out one barrel and putting in another to see how they work together. There are no magic formulas.”
The current releases all involve very effective blending. Here are my notes on these wines as well as on three earlier releases that were overlooked during my busy summer.

Clos du Soleil Estate Reserve White 2014 ($59.90 for 50 cases). This wine is 71% Sauvignon Blanc, 28% Sémillon, fermented in barrel with wild yeast and aged eight months in barrel on lees that were stirred occasionally. The minerality of the wine reflects that the grapes were grown on a small patch of stony soil. The wine begins with aromas of lemon that are repeated on the palate along with flavours of pears. The wine has an elegantly polished texture with a hint of vanilla on the finish. 91.

Clos du Soleil Capella 2014 ($$27.90 for 375 cases). This is 88% Sauvignon Blanc and 12% Sémillon. This austerely dry wine could fit easily in a lineup of good white Graves, with its aromas of grapefruit and flint. On the palate, there are flavours of grapefruit, under ripe nectarine, flint and herbs. This wine should be aged a few years so that it can develop its latent flavours of honey and nuts. Some 55% of this wine was fermented in French oak barriques and the rest was fermented in stainless steel. About half the wine was fermented with wild yeast. All the wine was aged in barrel on the lees for 10 months. 91.

Clos du Soleil Fumé Blanc 2015 ($20 for 311 cases; sold out). This is 88% Sauvignon Blanc, 18% Sémillon. Both were fermented separately in stainless steel, with just a light oak contact to broaden the texture and get the “fume” character. The wine begins with citrus aromas, leading to flavours of lime mingled with herbs and a hint of oak. It is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Clos du Soleil Growers Series Pinot Blanc 2015 ($19.90 for 206 cases). This is a textbook example of Pinot Blanc, a crisp and refreshing wine. It has aromas and flavours of apple, melon and nectarines that still taste fresh from the garden. 90.

Clos du Soleil Rosé 2015 ($19.90 for 589 cases; but sold out). This is made entirely with Cabernet Sauvignon, with the grapes getting between 24 and 48 hours of skin contact. It has aromas of cherry, raspberry and blackberry, leading to flavours of cherry and pomegranate. The mouthful of fruit flavours disguises the fact that the wine is dry. It is a very good food wine. 91.

Clos du Soleil Signature 2013 ($44.90 for 850 cases). The winery’s flagship wine, this is a blend of 51% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc and 2% each of Petit Verdot and Malbec. The wine was aged 17 months in French barrels. The aromas explode from the glass – cassis, vanilla, black cherry and chocolate – followed by a burst of ripe flavours of cherry and blackberry with notes of coffee and chocolate. The toasty oak frames the rich, ripe fruit on the palate. 93.

Clos du Soleil Estate Reserve Red 2012 ($59.90 for 100 cases). This is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec, virtually all from a select block in the vineyard. The wine was aged 17 months in French oak. The wine begins with aromas of cassis, plum, mint, coffee and leather. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, black cherry with a hint of cedar on the finish. The wine has ripe but firm tannins and has the structure to age toward a peak in perhaps 15 years. 94.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Toasting Les Dames

Photo: Mireille Sauvé,

Les Dames d’Escoffier is an international organization that. For 25 years, has celebrated and supported women working in the food and wine industry.

This fall, the very active Vancouver chapter has released two wines – a red and a white and both selling for $25 a bottle. The proceeds from the sale of these wines, which are in private wine stores and restaurants, will be used by Les Dames to support the education of women involved in the wine industry. The wine is also on Some 6,240 bottles have been released.

The wines were made by Mireille Sauvé, a Vancouver wine marketer and sommelier. She was a previous scholarship recipient through the Les Dames d’Escoffier program. She credits that contribution for allowing her to complete her dream of becoming a sommelier – in fact Canada’s youngest female sommelier, graduating from George Brown College in 1997.

Mireille worked established women within the industry to source the grapes for the Dames Wine. Ann Sperling of Sperling Vineyards runs the vineyard where many of the grapes were sourced. Katie Holmes of Summerhill Winery and Janice Meyer Stevens from Meyer Family Vineyards also helped source fruit and worked with Mireille from the cellar to the bottling line. In her news releases, Mireille added that “these are just a few of the fine women involved in the project.”

The wines were made at the Meyer winery under a custom crush agreement.

Here are notes on the wines.

Dames White 2015 ($25 for 327 cases). This is 80% Pinot Blanc, 10% Riesling and 10% Gewurztraminer. The wine begins with a lively aroma of peach and pineapple. On the palate, its is bright and refreshing with flavours of lemon, lime and apple. The finish is tangy. 90.

Dames Red 2013 ($25 for 173 cases). This is 70% organic Merlot and 30% organic Syrah. It begins with aromas of cassis, cherry and blueberry which are echoed on the palate. Medium-bodied with soft tannins, it is a juicy and drinkable red. 88.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Vanessa releases its 2013 reds

Photo: John Welson and Suki Sekhon of Vanessa Vineyard

At a recent private tasting, members of the Vanessa Vineyard wine club got their first look at the two reds comprising this new winery’s second release.

A public release is imminent. These are remarkable wines, not to be missed by those who like their reds bold and ripe. Who doesn’t?

I am including Vanessa Vineyard in a forthcoming book on British Columbia wines that, in my view, should be considered for collector wine cellars. Currently, the wines are being sold through Vanessa’s web site. There are plans to build a tasting room next year at the vineyard, just beside Highway 3 south of Cawston.

For background on the winery, here is a sneak preview of the profile in the book, which is scheduled for release next spring from TouchWood Editions of Victoria.

This 30-hectare (75-acre) Similkameen Valley vineyard was developed on exceptionally rocky raw land. To prepare it for planting in 2006, the vineyard managers brought in a rock crusher more appropriate, perhaps, to a quarry. The machine wore out two sets of teeth while pulverizing the rock. It is not surprising that the red wines from this vineyard have a spine of minerality that should contribute to their longevity.

The specifications released with the first wines outline this terroir: “The vines grow in rows of rocks, stressing the plants, absorbing the day heat and imparting that warmth during the cooler nights. This gives the grapes their unique and complex character. The west to southwest exposure on which the rocky vineyard sits benefits from the afternoon sun, which contributes to lengthening the growing season and producing low yields of intensely ripe fruit.”

Proprietors John Welson and Suki Sekhon did not necessarily have a winery in mind when they bought this property in 2005. Suki is a successful Vancouver developer, while John is a retired stockbroker who is passionate about wine. In his Vancouver business, Suki constructs buildings that are leased to clients. He thought he could develop a vineyard and then lease it to a winery. That is not the wine industry’s usual business model. Wineries need to know the quality of the grapes before committing to buying them. When the vineyard produced fruit, Suki and John began selling grapes to Andrew Peller Ltd., the owner of nearby Rocky Ridge Vineyard and also Sandhill Wines. In 2010, Howard Soon, the Sandhill winemaker, added a Vanessa Cabernet Merlot blend made with their grapes to his portfolio of single-vineyard wines.

That wine helped encourage John and Suki to open a boutique winery. “We kind of went into this initially, basically to build a vineyard, and then, as you get into it, the industry just pulls you along,” John admits. They arranged to have Howard’s colleague, Red Rooster winemaker Karen Gillis, make their initial vintages, beginning with 440 cases of Meritage and 186 cases of Syrah in 2012. This grew to a total of about 3,000 cases in 2014. The intent is to plateau at that level of production of premium wines while continuing to sell grapes.

Except for two acres of Viognier, the Vanessa vineyard is planted entirely to sun-loving reds: Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Suki had concluded that it is one of the warmest sites in the sun-bathed Similkameen and is best suited for red varietals. He will find a cooler site if he and John decide they need white wines in their portfolio.

Old maps show that an easement for a stagecoach road from Osoyoos to Princeton ran by the property. For a time, the partners considered calling the winery Stagecoach Road or Old Stagecoach Road. In the end, they opted for Vanessa, the name of Suki’s eldest daughter.

Here are notes on the wines.

Vanessa Meritage 2013 ($36.99 for 625 cases). This is a blend of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Cabernet Franc 32% and 24% Merlot. It is a bold red, beginning with aromas of vanilla and spice that reflect the 18 months the wine had in barrel. The barrel regime was complex: individual varieties were fermented in and aged eight months in barrel. Then the wine was blended and aged another 12 months in French and American oak barrels, of which 60% were new. On the palate, there are flavours of black currants, black cherries, coffee and licorice. The finish is lingering, with notes of spice and cedar. 92.

Vanessa Syrah 2013 ($34.99 for 270 cases). This is 91% Syrah co-fermented with 9% Viognier in the classic style of the Rhone. This wine has been aged 18 months in French and American barrels, again 60% new. Powerful aromas explode from the glass: white and black pepper, gamy red fruit, chocolate and licorice. All of this is echoed on the palate, along with flavours of plum, figs, black olives and leather. 92.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

White wine specialists: Gray Monk, Township 7 and Terravista

Photo: Gray Monk Estate Winery 

Surely, the end of summer does not bring down the curtain on enjoying white wine.  I would like to recommend interesting wines from three different Okanagan producers.
The senior member of this trio is Gray Monk Estate Winery which is making its 34th vintage this year. The winery made its reputation with its white wine. While the winery now includes good reds in its portfolio, white wines still rule. No winery in the Okanagan makes as much Pinot Gris as Gray M0nk (almost 26,000 cases in 2015).

Gray Monk was one of the earliest wineries to plant Pinot Gris in the Okanagan. It may well have been the first, importing the variety fr0m a nursery in Alsace in 1976, along with Auxerrois and Gewürztraminer. Pinot Gris took a long time to catch on with consumers. The variety was only five percent of total white grape production in 1997. Today, it is the most widely planted white, well ahead of Chardonnay, and the go-to house wine for many restaurants and many consumers.

The second member of this trio is Township 7 Vineyards & Winery, which celebrated its 16th anniversary in September, 2016. Unlike family-owned Gray Monk, Township 7 has changed ownership three times. Each new owner has invested in expanding Township 7’s production and market penetration.

Township 7 operates two wineries. The original winery in Langley gives it year-round exposure to wine consumers in the Lower Mainland. The second winery, just expanded, is near Penticton, almost at the start of Naramata Road. The location guarantees steady tasting room traffic.

The third member of this trio is Terravista Vineyards. This winery, located on the upper Naramata Bench, is operated by Senka and Bob Tennant. They were one of the two couples that started Black Hills Estate Winery on Black Sage Road, south of Oliver. After Black Hills was sold in 2006, the Tennants took a few years off and then, in 2009, planted two Spanish white varieties – Albariño and Verdejo - entirely new to the Okanagan.

During the last five years, or so, these have been blended into a wine called Fandango. In the past two vintages, some of the Albariño has also been released as a single varietal white. These are exceptional wines, as is the Terravista Viognier, made from purchased grapes and now sold out.

The volumes of wines made at Terravista are never large. You need to react quickly when there is a new release. I happened to be in Scandinavia in August when these wines were released and when I would have preferred to review them. All are superb seafood wines and equally great patio wines. And these wine have each won gold medals at the Canadian Wine Awards.

Here are notes on the wines. With the exception of Terravista, prices exclude taxes.

Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2015 ($15.99 for 25,946 cases). The volume of this wine is greater than the total production of most B.C. wineries. Clearly, there is no problem selling the wine because each refreshing glass tastes like you want a second glass. It begins with fruity aromas of grapefruit and peach which are echoed on the palate, along with flavours of citrus and pear. 90.

Gray Monk Gewürztraminer 2015 ($14.79 for 7,175 cases). Gray Monk also pioneered this variety in British Columbia. It begins with aromas of lychee, spice and herbs. On the palate, there are flavours of lychee, pink grapefruit and peach. The wine’s 14 grams of residual sugar makes this a very consumer friendly wine, although it finishes too sweet for my palate. 88.

Township 7 Chardonnay 2015 ($19.97 for 548 cases). Consumers should pick up a few bottles of this wine if only because most of the grapes in it came from the Sundial Vineyard on Black Sage Road. Harry McWatters sold it early this year and the current owners are expected to phase out selling fruit as they develop a new winery over the next few vintages  This wine begins with aromas of citrus and apple. Half of the wine was fermented in French oak and the subtle toasty oak aromas and flavours delicately frame the apple, peach and vanilla flavours. 91.

Township 7 Unoaked Chardonnay 2015 ($17.97 for 398 cases). This is an exuberant wine brimming with pure fruit, including apples, pears and pineapple. With just three grams of residual sugar, the wine is crisply refreshing. Once again, each glass tastes like you want to have a second glass. 90.

Township 7 Riesling 2015 ($24.97 for 398 cases). The price premium says a lot about the rising profile of Riesling. This wine has laser focus of aromas and flavours, beginning with citrus aromas that lead to flavours of lime and lemon around a backbone of minerals. The racy acidity a refreshing tang. Think of a dry Mosel. 90.

Terravista Fandango 2015 ($24.90). This is a blend of Albariño and Verdejo. It begins with aromas of melon and Asian pear. The flavours are intense, with notes of apple, green plum, cantaloupe with a delicate and refreshing squeeze of lemon.  The wine’s 14% alcohol contributes to the good weight of this delicious wine. 91.

Terravista Albariño 2015 ($24.90). This is a fresh and fragrant wine, with floral and fruity aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of honeydew melon, green apple and citrus, with bracing but refreshing acidity on the finish. 91.

Terravista Viognier 2015 ($18.90). This wine begins with aromas of pears and stone fruit, leading to apricot on the rich palate. 90.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Black Sage reds show off great 2014 vintage

Photo: 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.

The current releases are from the 2014 vintage. In the opinion of many, that was one of the best vintages yet in the Okanagan this century.  

The notes accompanying the wines include a harvest report. “The summer of 2014 was particularly hot in the Okanagan Valley for extended periods, and stretched out into the fall with warm days and nights,” the report says.

“This seemed like perfect weather for grape growing, yet the heat did provide some challenges for our vineyard team,” the commentary continues. “Harvest was delayed for the Merlot grapes to reach peak flavour development and slightly higher alcohol levels, while varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz thrived in the heat on Black Sage bench.”

The varieties reviewed here were picked in late October, with the exception of Cabernet Sauvignon. The season gave the winery the luxury of picking fully ripe grapes in early November. There is no variety that benefits from a long hang time like Cabernet Sauvignon.

The quality of these five wines, all made by winemaker Jason James, certainly solidifies Black Sage Vineyards as a standalone brand. There is enough volume of the Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that the wines are available across Western Canada. The Shiraz and the Zinfandel are available at Sumac Ridge and selected private wine stores.

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

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. 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, then called Sundial Vineyard, was sold earlier this year. The new Chinese owner is building a new winery there.

The other half of the vineyard, 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,” said 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.”
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 and presumably the Zinfandel in the group of new releases is from the 2005 planting.

Here are notes on the wines. All were tasted over two days and most were richer on the second day. That shows these wines have the structure to develop to a peak in about five years. Prices do not include tax.

Black Sage Vineyard Merlot 2014 ($22.99). This wine was aged 14 months in barrel – 65% French, 35% American – of which 20% was new oak. The wine begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry and vanilla. The palate has good concentration, with flavours of plum, black cherry, black currant and blackberry. 91.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2014 ($24.99). This had the same barrel treatment as the Merlot. The wine begins with spicy, brambly aromas, leading to flavours of cherry, blackberry and raspberry with undertones of spicy oak. The texture is firm. 91.

Black Sage Vineyard Shiraz 2014 ($20.89). This was aged 14 months in barrel – 65% American, 35% French – of which 20% was new. The wine begins with aromas of black pepper, black cherry and vanilla. The ripe flavours include plum, cherry and chocolate with a touch of spice. The finish lingers, with savoury game notes. 90.

Black Sage Vineyard Zinfandel 2014 ($23.49). This wine had a barrel treatment similar to the Shiraz. It begins with brambly aromas of red berries, cherries and red licorice, leading to flavours of plum and blackberry. Long ripe tannins give this a generous texture. 90.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($24.99). The barrel treatment is similar to Merlot. This is an elegant and satisfying wine. It begins with aromas of cassis, vanilla and spice, leading to flavours of black cherry and black currant. A hint of oak lingers on the long finish, mingled with ripe tannins. The surprise came on retasting the wine on the second day, when the tannins had developed a bitter edge, threatening to overwhelm the fruit. I would recommend enjoying this as soon as you decant it. 90.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Reviewing Painted Rock's Red Icon

The British Columbia Wine Institute has facilitated at least two visits to the Okanagan by the eminent British wine writer, Steven Spurrier, a consulting editor at Decanter.

It has begun to pay off. In the August edition of Decanter Magazine, he published a list of British Columbia wines that have most impressed him. They included a pair of 2013 reds from Painted Rock Estate Winery – the Red Icon and the Syrah.

All of the wines on the Decanter list have also been reviewed favourably by Canadian writers, myself included. What Spurrier’s comments prove is that we are not just the hometown cheering section.

I detest the cliché, world class, but the fact is that there are plenty of wines in British Columbia every bit as good as those of other important wine regions. It helps to have outside verification.

Spurrier awarded 94 points to Painted Rock’s Red Ic0n 2013. Curious, I went back to my reviews of Painted Rock reds late last year. Here is what I found for Red Icon:

Painted Rock Red Icon 2013. 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.

To stay one step ahead of Decanter, here is my review of the recently released 2014 Red Icon.
Painted Rock Red Icon 2014 ($55). This is 33% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 19% Malbec, 16% Petit Verdot and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon. Once again, it was aged 18 months in French oak (30% new), accounting for the svelte, polished texture of its long, ripe tannins. It begins with aromas of black cherry, black currant, spice and vanilla. The palate is rich, with flavours of black cherry and black currant mingled with notes of blackberry, mocha, tobacco, vanilla and spice. The wine, if decanted, is accessible now but is built to age for 10 or 15 years. 94.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

La Frenz Winery to add a sparkling wine

Photo: Winemaker Dominic McCosker

For years, I have thought that the wines from La Frenz Winery would an excellent choice for a desert island cellar if one were limited to just one Okanagan winery.

The La Frenz portfolio is extensive and the wines have always been well made, as a review of the winery’s awards will attest. Until now, there has been one hole in the portfolio – no sparkling wine. How would one celebrate being rescued from the island?

However, Dominic McCosker, the winemaker who joined La Frenz owner Jeff Martin in 2014, delivered good news when I tasted with him this summer. “We have started doing a sparkling that will fall under the reserve portfolio,” he says.

He admits it is a challenge to develop a focus in a portfolio as extensive at that at La Frenz. “But what do we drop?” he asks. “I enjoy making them all and we believe we make them well. When you are making everything well and selling it all, it is hard. With our vineyards, we have most of the varieties covered.”

Like Jeff, Dominic, who was born in 1976, is from Australia. “Previously, I was working in agricultural labs, research labs; and travelling a lot,” he told me in an interview in 2013.  “I liked wine from an early age; my family liked wine. And I like the whole science background to it. I was working in agricultural labs and travelling on and off with my partner … backpacking in Europe. Then we decided to do one last travel and we came to visit some friends here [in the Okanagan] and decided to stay.”

He started in the Okanagan wine industry 2007, in the vineyard and cellar at Tantalus Vineyards. “Then I did some harvests at home,” he said, “and did a college course here to back up my biology degree from at home.”

In 2008, he moved to CedarCreek Estate winery to spend four years as an assistant winemaker. Then he became the winemaker at St. Hubertus Estate Winery for two vintages before moving to La Frenz on the Naramata Bench.

“I took the opportunities that I could,” he said. “The two vintages I did in Australia [2008 and 2011] were really helpful.  I worked at Harewood Estate Winery in The Great Southern region for a really good winemaker. He was just super generous with his knowledge. Then the last one I did was at Cape Mentelle.”

Clearly, it has given him the experience and the confidence to take over at La Frenz, one of the most respected wineries in the Okanagan. He has begun to bring some slight changes in the style of some of the wines (less oak in Chardonnay), but not so much as to upset the regular buyers of La Frenz wines.

“I have been working on adding a little more depth and weight to the wines since I got here,” he says. “The Syrah - we have changed from labelling it as Shiraz to Syrah, because that is the style I am doing. If the consumers see Shiraz, they think Australian Shiraz. And that’s not what we are doing. I don’t want them to be disappointed or confused about what it is. I am co-fermenting it with the Viognier and trying to get more finesse. I think it matches better with the fruit we have.”

And he says the 2014 Syrah is his favourite red from that vintage.

Here are notes on current releases. Some are sold out since I tasted with Dominic because I was in Scandinavia for most of August and reporting in tastings was delayed.  The prices do not include tax.

La Frenz Riesling 2015 ($17.30). A youthful Riesling, this should be cellared a year to let it develop. It is a wine with pristine aromas and flavours of lemon and lime, with just a hint of petrol. 90.

La Frenz Viognier 2015 ($20.78 but sold out). One-third of this was fermented in a concrete egg while the remainder was fermented in stainless steel. The wine begins with ebullient tropical fruit aromas, leading to flavours of guava, stone fruit and citrus on the palate. The texture is rich and the finish is remarkably fresh for such a ripe wine. 92.

La Frenz Alexandria 2015 ($19.04 but sold out). This Muscat wine has a huge following among fans of off-dry white wines. The winery describes it, aptly, as “flamboyant.” It has layers of aromas and flavours – mango, peaches, lychee and rose petal spice. 91.

La Frenz Reserve Chardonnay 2014 ($25.13). This wine was aged 15 months in barrel. Dominic has begun to reduce that by a few months but age it longer in bottle before release. But he is moving carefully since there is a wide following for a Chardonnay with noticeable oak. I enjoyed the toasted oak notes on the palate because they are balanced by the bold buttery flavours of guava and marmalade. 91.

La Frenz Vivant 2014 ($21.65). This is Dominic’s take on a Rhone white, with Chardonnay standing for the Marsanne that La Frenz does not grow. The wine is 52% Viognier, 38% Chardonnay and 10% Roussanne. When the varieties were pressed, the free run juice was kept separate; all was fermented very slowly in barrel (10% new) and kept on the lees for nine months, with regular stirring. The result is a wine with floral and fruity aromas, leading to flavours of guava, orange peel and cantaloupe.  The texture is rich and the finish is persistent. 92.

La Frenz Ensemblé 2014 ($21.65). This is 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Sémillon. The wine was fermented slowly in barrel (10% new) and aged 11 months on the lees. The model for this wine is Graves. The wine’s racy acidity brings an appealing freshness to both the aroma and the palate. There are layers of exotic tropical flavours and a long, long finish. 93.

La Frenz Pinot Noir 2014 ($19.91 but sold out). The winery grows its Pinot Noirs on a Naramata Bench vineyard called Desperation Hill, perhaps because of its steep aspect. It has proven to be an excellent vineyard, with variations in soils between the top and the bottom that deliver an array of flavours and concentration. The regular Pinot Noir has plum, cherry and strawberry on the nose and the palate. Silky in texture, the wine has a feminine delicacy. 91.

La Frenz Pinot Noir Reserve 2014 ($30.35). Four clones from the best blocks in the vineyard are in this wine, which finished its slow ferment in French oak (30% new). It was aged a total of 15 months in barrel, two months longer than the regular. The wine has more depth of flavour and concentration. The wine begins with aromas recalling flowers as well as forest floor. It delivers flavours of cherries and strawberries mingled with savoury spice. The texture is absolutely plush and the finish is very long. 94.

La Frenz Syrah 2014 ($24.26). Perhaps five percent Viognier was co-fermented with the Syrah, a technique to fix the dark colour and lift the subtle note of violets in the aroma. Full-bodied, the wine has flavours of plum and black cherry, with a savoury earthiness on the palate. There is white pepper both in the aroma and in the finish; and the texture is firm. This is definitely a Rhone-style wine, not a Shiraz. 92.

La Frenz Malbec 2014 ($21.65). Dominic wonders whether this variety is suited to the Okanagan because it is difficult to get it adequately ripe in a cool year. However, 2014 was an very good Malbec year. This is a dark, concentrated red with big ripe tannins. It begins with aromas of blueberry and blackberry, leading to flavours of black cherries, plums and mocha. 91

La Frenz Grand Total Reserve 2013 ($39.04). This is the winery’s flagship Bordeaux blend, a dense wine built to age for at least 10 years. (I think La Frenz, like most Okanagan wineries, is on the conservative side about how long the top blend can be cellared.) This is 58% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Cabernet Franc. The single varieties were aged 22 months in barrel (50% new) before being blended and aged 12 months in bottle. The wine has aromas of black currant mingled with leather. The palate is big (14.7% alcohol). The layers of flavour – black currant, espresso coffee, dark chocolate – are still held tightly by the tannins. Decant for immediate consumption if you don’t have the patience to wait. 93.