Township 7 Vineyards & Winery has made winter more bearable for its clients with the release of four wines just before Christmas.
Two of the four – the Muscat and the Syrah – are exclusive to members of Township 7’s wine club. Most wineries now operate wine clubs. The Township 7 club is one of the most desirable, is only because winemaker Mary McDermott is such an accomplished winemaker.
It is hard to imagine club members not being satisfied with what is offered to them.
Here are notes on the current releases.
Township 7 Muscat 2019 ($26.97 for 101 cases). Here is a superbly crafted Muscat. It was fermented slowly and at cool temperatures in stainless steel. It begins with aromas of rose petals and spice. The palate delivers flavours of citrus, peaches and spice. The purity of flavour is exceptional. The finish is dry and persistent. 93.
Township 7 Riesling 2018 ($26.97 for 448 cases). This is a classic Riesling with aromas and flavours of lemon and with noticeably bright acidity. The wine is balanced to finish dry. Crisp and refreshing, this will benefit with several years of bottle age. 90.
Township 7 NBO 2018 ($35.97 for 807 cases). NBO means North Bench Oliver, the location of the winery’s Blue Terrace Vineyard that produces this fruit. The blend is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot. The wine was aged 24 months in barriques and large format French oak. It begins with aromas of black cherry, cassis and chocolate. The palate delivers intense flavours of dark fruit and spice. The wine should be decanted for current drinking. 91.
Township 7 Syrah 2018 ($37.97 for 641 cases). This wine begins with aromas of plum, pepper and cloves. Soft and generous on the palate, the wine delivers flavours of plum, dark cherry and blackberry. 90.
The red wines from Hester Creek Estate Winery invariably possess a house style which makes them delicious.
I may have explained the reasons before. Bear with me one more time.
Reason No. One: The winery’s Golden Mile vineyard has one of the best terroirs in the South Okanagan.
Reason No. Two: Most of the vines are mature – more than 20 or 25 years old. In Bordeaux, vines are just hitting their stride at that age. It is the same at Hester Creek.
Reason No. Three: The Italian-made Ganimede fermenters, which only Hester Creek has in British Columbia, enable the winemakers to produce wines with long, polished tannins. The technology recirculates the fermentations gases to break up the cap of skins very gently. The extraction of harsh tannins is minimal, resulting in red wines with an appealing, generous texture.
The latest reds from the winery all show this Hester Creek finger print. And the wines are from 2018, a fine vintage in the Okanagan.
The letter that accompanied the latest reds from Hester Creek also included a note of the 2020 vintage. “Overall, the 2020 growing season in the Oliver Osoyoos region was the fifth warmest in the last 23 years,” the winery writes. “Our impressions of this favourable growing season are concentrated flavours, ample acidity and plentiful colour, which we believe will make for an exceptional vintage.”
Here are notes on five current red releases.
Hester Creek Block 2 Reserve Merlot 2018 ($25.99). The Merlot vines in the vineyard’s Block 2 are 25 years old and the wine was depth and power. Aged 16 months in oak (75% French, 25% American), the wine begins with spicy black cherry aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, cocoa and cloves. 92.
Hester Creek Block 3 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($25.99). This wine was aged 18 months in oak (75% French, 25% American). This is a classic Cabernet Franc: savoury with aromas of black cherry and blackberry. The palate piles on layers of fruit – blackberry, blueberry, dark cherry with a note of mocha. 93.
Hester Creek Terra Unica Cabernet Syrah 2018 ($28.99 for 112 cases). This wine is exclusive to the winery’s Bench Club. It is a blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Franc, aged 16 months in barrel (70% French, 30% American). The wine begins with aromas of dark cherry mingled with smoky and meaty notes. On the palate, there are flavours of blackberry and plums. The texture is concentrated and earthy. Decanting is recommended. 92.
Hester Creek Terra Unica Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($28.99 for 266 cases). This wine, exclusive to the wine club members, was aged 16 months in oak (75% French, 25% American). It begins with aromas of cassis, blackberry, vanilla and herbs. On the palate, it delivers flavours of toasty oak mingled with black cherry. The ripe tannins give the wine a long and elegant finish. 93.
Hester Creek Syrah Viognier 2018 ($29.99). This is 83% Syrah and 17% Viognier, co-fermented, and aged 14 months on oak (60% American, 40% French). The wine begins with aromas of plum, blueberry, licorice and pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of dark cherry mingled with smoked meat and pepper. Long, ripe tannins give the wine a long velvety finish. 92.
Photo: Ann SperlingRecently, I drew up a list all the British Columbia-born winemakers working in our industry. There are more than 50 names on the list.
Arguably, the most respected one is Ann Sperling, the co-proprietor of Sperling Vineyards in Kelowna. Her roots go back a long way, as is indicated by the winery’s slogan: “Love and Labour since 1925.” That was when an ancestor, Peter Casorso, planted vines on a property still called Pioneer Ranch.
Ann’s father, the late Bert Sperling, married into the Casorso family and took over running the vineyard in 196o. Ann grew up on this historic vineyard. She went to the University of British Columbia to earn a degree in food sciences.
On 1984, Ron Taylor, then winemaker at the Andrés winery located in Port Moody, recruited her to do quality control. He soon switched her to a winemaking role. In 1991, she moved to CedarCreek Estate Winery where she was the winemaker through the 1995 vintage.
She crafted some legendary wines early in her career in British Columbia. “Even at André’s, I was experimenting with late harvest wines,” she told me a few years ago. “I made some botrytis-affected Ehrenfelser two or three times when I was there. I would come out and do the hand-picking myself. As well, my dad had Optima. I remember the first time I made botrytis-affected Optima [because her father could not sell the grapes].” She continues to be interested in late harvest wines, as two recent releases indicate.
In the 1992 vintage at CedarCreek, Ann made a Merlot so good that the judges at the 1993 Okanagan Wine Festival competition insisted it be given a platinum award rather than a gold medal. To this day, CedarCreek’s top reserve wines are released as platinum wines.
After CedarCreek, she moved to the Niagara wine region where she has had a distinguished career at Malivoire, Flatrock Cellars and subsequently at Southbrook Vineyards. She helped the wineries transition to organic winegrowing. She has done that again at Sperling Vineyards, the Kelowna winery she launched in 2008 with siblings.
“It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to make wine here [Pioneer Ranch], because I am so familiar with every foot and every slope and every grape on the property,” she told me after she returned to Okanagan winemaking.
While getting Sperling Vineyards off the ground, she also made the wines for two other wineries that were being launched at the same time: Camelot Vineyards in Kelowna and Clos du Soleil in the Similkameen Valley. Both have since employed their own winemakers.
As if that is not enough, she and husband Peter Gamble own a small vineyard in Argentina which produces premium red wine.
She is respected throughout the Canadian wine industry. She should get an Order of Canada for her accomplishments in viticulture and winemaking. Sperling Vineyards is a leading producer of sparkling wine, old vine Riesling and natural wine, among other wines.
Here are notes on current releases, which are all organic.
Sperling Late Harvest Vidal 2018 ($30 for 375 ml). Golden in the glass, this wine begins with intense aromas of ripe pineapple mingled with a suggestion of botrytis. The wine is luscious on the palate with intense flavours of ripe pineapple and apricot. Bright acidity balances the 123 grams of residual sugar. The finish goes on and on and on. Try this wine with Cambozola cheese. 92.
Sperling Late Harvest Pinot Gris 2010 ($40 for 375 ml). This surprisingly fresh for a 10-year-old wine. It has aromas of spice mingled with honey, which is echoed on the palate. There is a hint of tobacco on the finish, perhaps a suggestion of botrytis. The wine is well-balanced: sweet but not overly so. 91.
Sperling Dry Riesling 2018 ($35 for 202 cases). This wine, which is austerely dry, is made with fruit from the estate’s 1978 Riesling block. The wine has aromas and flavours of lemon and lees. The wine needs to be decanted for consumption now. It will age superbly. 90.
Sperling Old Vines Riesling 2016 ($96 for a magnum). The fruit also comes from the 1978 Riesling block. The wine also has bright acidity and great ageability, with a little residual sugar. There is lemon zest on the nose and flavour, with a hint of petrol developing. The flavours are intense and the finish is very long. 93.
Sperling Pinot Noir 2018 ($35). This is a light and fruity take on Pinot Noir that can be served slightly chilled. There are aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry. 88.
Sperling Speritz Pet Nap 2019 ($30 for 368 cases). This dry and lightly effervescent wine is 85% Perle of Csaba, 15% Chardonnay. Perle is an aromatic variety no longer widely grown in the Okanagan. The Sperling vines were planted in 1934. The winemaking for this wine was basically hands-off: it was fermented with natural yeast in the bottle. It was not fined or filtered and it was bottled with light lees. The wine is fresh and lively, with hints of citrus. 90.
Photo: Adrian CassiniWhen the Golden Mile Bench sub-appellation was created several years ago, it excluded the vineyards and wineries immediately adjacent to Highway 97.
The apparent reason is that these are at a lower altitude than the Golden Mile vineyards, and have differing exposures to the sun.
Thanks to an initiative taken by Adrian Cassini – whose Cassini Cellars winery is right beside the highway – a new sub-appellation called Golden Mile Slopes is working its way through the regulatory process.
Once it is approved, a number of producers who thought they should have been in the original sub-app now will have one of their own with which to label their wines. The wineries likely to have access to the new sub-app, in addition to Cassini, include Intersection, C.C. Jentsch, Rust, Castoro de Oro, Maverick, Winemaker’s Cut and Gold Hill.
“There is the same soil at the bottom of the valley as at the top,” Adrian Cassini contends.
Having said that, the wines as Cassini and at Gold Hill Winery also have a house style that sets them apart. It may be the terroir but it is also the penchant of these producer to make bold wines.
The red wines at Cassini positively swagger with power. These are generous wines. The current releases – some sold out since I got around to tasting the samples – are accompanied by a fortified Muscat, an unusual wine that also shows some swagger in the glass.
Adrian, who opened this winery in 2009, was born in Romania but he adopted his maternal grandfather’s name for the winery as well as his surname. Cassini rolls off the tongue more easily that his birth name, Capaneata.
At Gold Hill Winery, every wine is bursting with flavour. The red wines frequently have 15% alcohol (sometimes 16%) but seldom are “hot” because the fleshiness and the flavour more than carry the alcohol.
Gold Hill was opened in 2011 by Sant and Gurbachan Gill, immigrants from India in 1984 and 1989 respectively. They now farm about 75 acres. Consulting winemaker Philip Soo made the wines until last year when veteran viticulturist and winemaker Valeria Tait moved to Gold Hill from Bench 1775 Winery.
She has had a long relationship with the Gill brothers, including having designed one of Gold Hill’s major vineyards.
The Gill brothers have argued that the property including their vineyard had been referred to as Golden Mile long before a sub-appellation was declared. It seems that the orchards which preceded the current vineyards were so exceptional that the owners began referring to the area as the Golden Mile.
Whatever appears on future labels, the wineries here now produce interesting wines. Here are notes on wines from two producers.
Cassini Muscat N.V. ($25 for 225 cases of 500 ml or 375 ml). This fortified Muscat begins with aromas of baked apples and Crème Brulé which are echoed in the flavours. The wine is balanced with just a slightly sweet note along with the warmth that comes from 17% alcohol. 90.
Cassini Quattro 2017 Collector’s Series ($34 for 500 cases). This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Dark in colour, the wine has aromas of cherry and cassis mingled with oak and vanilla. On the palate, the wine is full-bodied, with flavours of dark fruits mingled with leather and dark chocolate. This wine is best decanted. 91.
Cassini Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 Collector’s Series ($36). This is one of the boldest Cabernets one is likely to find in the Okanagan – fully ripe in aroma and flavour. There are notes of cassis, plum, blackberry, black cherry and dark chocolate on both the nose and the palate. The finish is quite persistent. 93.
Cassini Maximus 2016 Limited Edition ($44). Here is another big wine (15.4% alcohol) that benefits from decanting. The blend is 46% Cabernet Franc, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. It has aromas and flavours of black currants, black cherry, dark chocolate, leather and vanilla. 93.
Cassini Maximus 2017 Limited Edition ($44 for 550 cases). This is 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot and 8% Malbec. It is a big wine (alcohol 15.5%). The aromas of black currant, cocoa and vanilla are echoed on the palate, where there are bold flavours of dark ripe fruits with a long finish. 93.
Cassini Cabernet Franc 2016 Limited Edition ($40 and sold out). The wine begins with classic brambly aromas along with notes of plum. The flavours are intense, with notes of plum, black currant, dark chocolate and vanilla. 91.
Cassini The Aristocrat Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 Limited Edition ($40 for 300 cases). This wine is now sold out. Those who have it in their cellars have a fine bottle, and one that should be aged for five to 10 years more. The wine begins with an appealing aroma of cassis mingled with black cherry, blackberry and mocha. The flavours echo the aromas. 92.
Gold Hill Cabernet Franc 2016 ($34.99). The wine begins with an appealing aroma that mingles black cherry, raspberry, blackberry and black currant. On the palate, there are intense brambly flavours echoing the nose, with spice and vanilla on the finish. Decant this wine to let it express itself best. 91.
Gold Hill Syrah 2016 ($34.99). This is a big (14.9% alcohol) wine, typical of the Gold Hill style. Even the aroma is rich and concentrated, with notes of plum and raspberry that carry through to the palate, along with flavours of plum, black cherry, and leather. There is a slight hint of pepper and spice on the palate. 91.
Gold Hill Grand Vin 2016 ($64.99). This is the winery’s flagship Bordeaux blend. The alcohol, at 14.4%, is lower than customary for Gold Hill, giving the wine more of a Bordelaise elegance. There are herbal notes in the aroma leading to bright flavours of black cherry, blackberry and spice. This wine should also be decanted if you want to consume it in its youth. 92.