Sunday, May 26, 2024

Little Engine Wines launches new wine series

Photo: Winemaker Scott Robinson
Since opening in 2016, Little Engine Wines and its winemaker, Scott Robinson, have delivered top quality wines at prices commensurate with the quality. Now the owners, Steven and Nicole French, and their winemaker, have launched a series of wines – the Elevation Series – that are somewhat more affordable and more informal. The winery says these are “a new collection of playful, quality wines, made for spontaneous occasions.”
In a note with the new releases, Steven says: “Our Elevation wines continue to deliver quality while peeling back some complexity [and] revealing refreshing minerality, brightness and juiciness.” You get the idea when you compare how the Elevation Pinot Noir and the premium Gold Pinot Noir are made. The latter had lengthy maceration time and long aging in French oak barrels. The Elevation Pinot Noir had a short cold soak; was fermented cool in stainless steel and had no aging in oak at all. The Elevation Pinot Noir is crafted to be an easy-quaffing, fruit-driven wine whose price reflects that less time was invested in making it. That is not to suggest that Scott, the winemaker, was cutting any corners. He set out to make a completely different wine, and had success at the task.
Here are notes on current releases from Little Engine.
Little Engine Elevation Rosé 2023 ($34 for 313 cases). This wine is made by the saignée method by draining the juice from crushed Pinot Noir after 24 to 36 hours of skin contact. The wine presents in the glass with an appealing dark rose petal hue. The wine has aromas of strawberry, plum and watermelon; these are echoed on the juicy palate. 90.
Little Engine Elevation Chardonnay 2023 ($36 for 790 cases). This wine was fermented in stainless steel with a variety of cultured yeasts. This is an utterly delicious, fruit forward wine. The aroma is a display of orchard fruits: peach, apple mingled with citrus. The palate is crisp and refreshing, with flavours of peach and citrus fruits. 92.
Little Engine Elevation Pinot Noir 2023 ($38 for 565 cases). Think of this fruit bomb as a Beaujolais Nouveau! The wine was fermented cool in stainless steel and did not see any oak aging. The wine is bursting with aromas and flavours of cherry and plum. 90.
Little Engine Gold Chardonnay 2021 ($59 for 357 cases). This wine had a long, cool fermentation in French oak barrels and then was barrel-aged on the lees for 17 months. The final blend was drawn from 50% new French oak barrels and puncheons, with the rest from second and third-fill barrels. This outstanding Chardonnay has layers of aroma and flavour. It begins with aromas of mandarin orange and apricots mingled with vanilla. The palate is rich and creamy, with flavours of citrus and stone fruit. The finish lingers. 94.
Little Engine Union 2021 ($63 for 495 cases). This is a blend of 69%, Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was aged 16 months in French oak barrels (41% new). The wine has aromas and flavours of cherry, black currant and red licorice. 88.
Little Engine Gold Pinot Noir 2021 ($68 for 385 cases). The grapes for this wine are destemmed into one-ton fermenters, undergoing a cold soak of six to seven days before being allowed to ferment with natural yeast. The cap is plunged by hand, with total maceration time about three weeks. The wine is aged in French oak puncheons (43% new) and second-fill barrels. The wine is bold and rich in colour, aroma and flavour. On the silky palate, there are flavours of cherry, pomegranate and spice. 93.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Cowichan Valley wineries strut their stuff

Photo: Blue Grouse winery in the Cowichan Valley
The Cowichan Valley profile as a British Columbia wine region is on the rise, reflecting the steady increase in quality from ever more accomplished vineyards and winemakers. The profile got an especial lift when the Jackson Family of California invested in two of the region’s wineries. Since 1992, when the pioneering Vigneti Zanata opened, wineries and vineyards have done a lot of trial-and-error work, especially with hybrid grapes, to settle on the best varietals. There was early excitement over the grapes developed by Swiss plant breeder Valentin Blattner; several wineries have learned how to work successfully with these. But it has become increasingly obvious that Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are carrying the flag going forward.
The majority of Cowichan Valley wineries showed their latest products at tastings late month in Victoria and Vancouver. Here are notes on some of the wines.
Alderlea Vineyards was established by Roger and Nancy Dosman on a farm near Duncan which they bought in 1992. They opened the winery six years later after their vineyard was in production. When the Dosmans decided to retire, Zachary Brown (photo) and his partner, Julie Powell, bought the winery in April, 2017. They had been searching for a vineyard and winery for several years, having decided to leave their corporate careers behind. Zachary, long a passionate winemaker, increased Alderlea production from 2,000 cases a year from a 7.5-acre vineyard to 3,200 cases in 2023 after securing more fruit from the five-acre Saison Vineyard nearby.
Alderlea Vineyards Bacchus 2023 ($26.55). Bacchus has proven to be one of the most successful white varietals for Vancouver Island. From its mature block, Alderlea makes a crisp, refreshing wine with aromas and flavours of lime and lemon. 90.
Alderlea Vineyards Pinot Gris 2023/b ($26.55). The grapes are left on the skins 24 hours after being crushed to pick up colour and flavours. The result is a pretty wine that is appealing in the glass. The wine has aromas of peach leading to a bowlful of fruit on the palate: peach, ripe pear and mango. The finish is dry. 90.
Alderlea Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2023 ($27.70). This wine is reminiscent of the lively New Zealand style of Sauvignon Blanc. Zesty and refreshing, the wine begins with aromas of gooseberry and fresh grass, leading to lime and green apple flavours. 90
Alderlea Vineyards Clarinet 2022 ($27.70). Made with Maréchal Foch grapes, Alderlea’s original owner called it Clarinet because, in his words, “it is too good to be called Foch.” That was a time when the winter-hardy hybrid varietal had an undeserved bad reputation due to poor viticulture. Zachary Brown is a meticulous grower and a good winemaker. This is a rich, dark red with aromas and flavours of blackberry and dark cherry, with a hint of black pepper on the finish. 91.
Alderlea Vineyards Pinot Noir 2021 ($32.30). This varietal has emerged as the best red vinifera for the Cowichan Valley. This wine as aromas and flavours of cherry and cranberry; the structure has a bit of grip, suggesting potential for aging. 90.
Alderlea Vineyards Merlot 2020 ($32.30). Merlot is rare on Vancouver Island but it does thrive in Alderlea’s warm vineyard. The wine, which was aged in older oak barrels, has aromas and flavours of black currant, dark cherry and blackberry. 90.
Alderlea Vineyards Matrix 2021 ($27.70). This wine is a blend of Blattner red hybrids with about 20% Merlot. The wine begins with earthy notes in the aroma leading to dark fruits on the palate. 89.
Averill Creek Vineyard, north of Duncan, was opened in 2006 by Andy Johnston, who was making a career shift from medicine. His primary ambition has been to produce the best Pinot Noir in Canada. The current winemaker in charge of executing that ambition is Brent Rowland (pictured) who joined the winery in 2018. A graduate of the University of Adelaide’s enology and viticulture program, he has made wine in Australia, New Zealand and Ontario before coming to Averill Creek to focus on Pinot Noir.
Averill Creek Pinot Gris 2022 ($30). The wine was aged in neutral oak and in a concrete egg. It is crisp and fresh, with aromas and flavours of pear with a spine of minerality. 90.
Averill Creek Chardonnay 2022 ($36). This is just the second estate-grown Chardonnay from Averill Creek. The wine is fruit-forward with aromas and flavours of pear, apple and citrus; but there is also bright acidity and minerality to give the wine good texture. The finish is persistent. 91.
Averill Creek Somenos Rosé 2021 ($30). This serious rosé is just coming into its own. It has aromas and flavours of strawberry and spice. 90.
Averill Creek Pinot Noir 2022 ($34). This wine was whole bunch fermented in order to accentuate the varietal’s perfume. The wine begins with aromas of spiced cherries, which echo in the savoury flavours. The texture is still firm, with a good backbone of ripe tannins to support development as the wine ages. 91.
Averill Creek Joue Red Field Blend 2022 ($27). The Joue line of wines was introduced by Brent to give him the flexibility to make quaffable field blends. This is a soft red blend with flavours of plum and cherry. 88.
Blue Grouse Estate Winery and Vineyard, which opened in 1993, is one of the oldest wineries in the Cowichan Valley. However, it has expanded substantially under recent owners. The winery was acquired in 2022 by members of the Jackson Family from California. Two years earlier, the Jackson Family had purchased Unsworth Vineyard.
In April this year, Stacy Hornemann (left), a 2013 graduate of the University of California Davis, took over as the winemaker and viticulturist at Blue Grouse. Prior to that, she has spent most of her winemaking career at Stonestreet Winery in the Sonoma Valley, one of the Jackson properties in California. At the Cowichan Valley tasting, her first on Vancouver Island, Stacy was pouring wines that had been made by her predecessor, Bailey Williamson.
Blue Grouse Traditional Method Paula Sparkling Wine 2018 ($36.99). This is a blend of 48% Müller-Thurgau, 45% Ortega and 7% Pinot Gris. The wine was aged on the lees for 24 months, acquiring a hint of brioche in the aroma and on the palate. Crisply dry, the wine has flavours of apple and citrus. 90.
Blue Grouse Ortega 2022 ($28.99). This is a white varietal that does very well on Vancouver Island. This wine has aromas and flavours of grapefruit and other orchard fruits. The finish is dry. 91.
Blue Grouse Pinot Gris 2022 ($29.99). Sixty percent of this wine was matured in concrete while 40% was fermented in French oak barrels and aged seven months in barrel. It is a delicious wine with flavours of peach and pear. 91.
Blue Grouse Chardonnay 2022 ($30.99). This wine was barrel-fermented and aged seven months on oak. However, the bright acidity of Vancouver Island gives this the freshness of Chablis, with aromas and flavours of citrus. 91.
Blue Grouse Rosé 2022 ($27.99). This wine is made with Gamay Noir. It begins with an appealing hue leading to aromas and flavours of pomegranate, raspberry and watermelon. 90.
Blue Grouse Pinot Noir 2021 ($38.99). This wine partially whole cluster fermented in an amphora. The finished wine was aged in oak barrels for 16 months. There are aromas and flavours of cherry with classic forest floor notes on the finish. 88.
Cherry Point Estate Winery, which opened in 1994 near Duncan, was purchased in 2008 by Xavier Bonilla(right) a native of Colombia, and his wife, Maria. The 34-acre vineyard, begun in 1990, grows an astonishing range of varietals. The winery has the flexibility to make exotic blends.
Cherry Point Old Vines Siegerrebe 2022 ($30.80). This is an aromatic varietal which jumps from the glass. The palate delivers flavours of grapefruit and lime, with a finish balanced toward dryness. 90.
Cherry Point Old Vines Ortega 2022 ($30.80). This is a crisp, well-textured wine with aromas and flavours of grapefruit, pear and apple. 90.
Cherry Point Gitano Old Vines Coastal Red 2019 ($27). Gitano means gypsy, a hint at the personality of this blend, based on Pinot Noir. There are aromas and flavours of cherry, raspberry and spice. 88.
Cherry Point Bête Noir Gran Riserva 2018 ($30). This is a blend of Agria and Zweigelt, deliberately modelled on the red wines of Rioja that Xavier admires. There is dark, brooding fruit in the aroma and flavour of this wine with plum and spicy oak on the finish. 90.
Divino Estate Winery was founded in the Okanagan in 1982 by Joe Busnardo, an immigrant from Italy. He moved the winery in 1996 to Cobble Hill in the Cowichan Valley, where he planted a vineyard half the size of the former Okanagan property (now Hester Creek Estate Winery). Joe’s objective was to slow down a bit. He celebrated his 90th birthday in April and, according to daughter Carla (left), he is still pruning the vines.
Divino Unoaked Chardonnay ($NA). This wine manages to be both tart and sweet at the same time, with flavours of ripe apple. 87.
Divino Trebbiano NV ($NA). This is a great Italian white; Joe planted it both in the Okanagan and later in the Cobble Hill vineyard. The wine is tart and fresh with flavours of grapefruit. 88.
Divino Pinot Noir 2011 ($NA). This wine is aging well, with flavours of cherry and cranberry and with a soft texture. 88.
D>ivino Merlot Cabernet NV ($NA). This is a tightly structured wine with firm tannins and flavours of black currants. 89.
Emandare Vineyard made its first vintage in 2015 after Mike and Robin Nierychlo had resuscitated a 20-year-old vineyard and built a winery. The wines are estate-grown from an organically dry-farmed vineyard. The wines designated FTV include fruit from nearby vineyards – From The Valley.
Emandare Gewürztraminer 2023 ($30 for 70 cases). This wine was fermented in neutral barrels and left on the lees for four months. The wine has aromas and flavours of citrus and spice, with a crisp, dry finish. 91.
Emandare Sauvignon Blanc 2022 ($32 for 90 cases). The estate-grown grapes are from the oldest Sauvignon Blanc block on Vancouver Island. Barrel-fermented and left on the lees for four months, this is a vibrant and zesty wine with aromas and flavours of lime, pears and kiwi. 91.
Emandare FTV Chardonnay 2022 ($30 for 200 cases). The wine has aromas and flavours of apple and citrus, with bright acidity and a backbone of minerality. 89.
Emandare PS 2022 ($26 for 100 cases). This is a blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Siegerrebe. The wine is an aromatic sipper with flavours of pear and with an earthy note on the finish. 88.
Emandare FTV Rosé 2022 ($26 for 150 cases). This is an unusual field blend of 52% Tempranillo, 38% Siegerrebe and 10% Marechal Foch. The wine is a fruit bomb with flavours of strawberry, watermelon and pink grapefruit. 90.
Emandare Maréchal Foch 2022 ($36 for 155 cases). Wines like this are doing much to restore this varietal’s reputation. The wine was fermented and aged in neutral French oak. There is an appealing freshness to the fruit aromas and flavours: plum, black cherry, black currant. 90.
Emandare Pinot Noir 2022 ($40 for 155 cases). The wine was fermented and aged in neutral French oak. Juicy in texture, the wine has aromas and flavours of black cherry and cranberry. 90.
Enrico Winery opened in 2010 not far from Mill Bay. Today, the winery is run by the family of the founder, the late Harry Smith. Enrico is supported by a 50-acre vineyard planted with eight different varietals. The general manager is Lorin Inglis (left).
Enrico Celebration Charme De L’Île NV ($27). This is a Charmat method sparkling Pinot Gris. The wine is crisp and fresh, with notes of citrus and apple. 89.
Enrico Revelation Charme De L’Île NV ($34 for four 250 ml cans). This is crisp and refreshing sparkling wine, with aromas and flavours of cranberry, raspberry and watermelon. 89.
Enrico Tempest Ortega 2022 ($24.75). This is a light-bodied aromatic wine with flavours of orchard fruits, including apple and peach. 90.
Enrico Coronet Oaked Reserve Petite Milo 2021 ($28.50). Light notes of French oak support flavours of green plum and apple. 90.
Enrico Red Dragon Rosé 2022 ($24.75). Made with Pinot Noir, this is refreshing rosé with aromas and flavours of strawberry and raspberry. 88.
Enrico Newton Pinot Noir 2021 ($34.50). This richly textured wine was aged in French oak, with toasty oak notes supporting flavours of cherry and plum. 90.
Enrico Corivese 2021 ($28.50). This varietal, planted in 2017, is perhaps the newest Blattner hybrid on Vancouver Island. It is a hybrid of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine opens with dark fruit aromas leading to flavours of fig, with an earthy note on the finish. 89.
Enrico Lionheart NV ($38.75 for 500 ml). This is a Port-style wine made with Cabernet Foch grapes. The wine is rich and heady, with 19% alcohol, delivering bold flavours of dark fruit. 90.
Rocky Creek Estate Winery, after opening in a house near Ladysmith in 2005, moved three years later to the Cowichan Valley where owners Linda (right) and Mark Holford established a vineyard. They planted a number of the hybrids created by Swiss plant breeder Valentin Blattner. The objective was to make full-bodied wines. They also have vinifera vines.
Rocky Creek White Blend 2022 ($25). The wine is reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc – crisp and tangy with lime and lemon aromas and flavours. 90.
Rocky Creek Katherine’s Sparkle 2017 ($19). This is an aromatic but dry blend primarily of Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Gris, Ortega, Siegerrebe and Kerner. There is a note of brioche in the aroma and a medley of fruits on the palate. 88.
Rocky Creek On The Mark NV ($25). This is the last release of this creative blend, anchored by 40% Tempranillo supported with Maréchal Foch, Gamay and Pinot Noir. The wine was aged in American oak. The wine, with just 10% alcohol, is soft and juicy with cherry and blackberry flavours. 88.
Rocky Creek Cabernet-Foch NV ($40). This is the winery’s premium red from Blattner varietals. Aged in French oak, the wine has flavours of plum, black currant and spice with an earthy note on the finish. The tannins are firm. 90.
Unsworth Vineyards opened in 2011 and was originally owned by Tim and Colleen Turyk and their son, Chris. In 2020, they sold the winery to Barbara Banke and Julia Jackson; members of the Jackson Family of California. The new owners, who are developing more vineyards, have raised the production to 10,000 cases a year and have begun to build a new winery with the capacity to produce 50,000 cases a year. Winemaker Dan Wright (left) will have his hands full.
Unsworth Pinot Gris 2023 ($26.90). The winery calls Pinot Gris the “signature grape” of Vancouver Island. (In fact, this varietal does well in most British Columbia wine regions.) This is an appealing white with aromas and flavours of peach and pear. 90.
Unsworth Pinot Gris Saison Vineyard 2022 ($29.90). The Saison Vineyard near Duncan has emerged as one of the best in the Cowichan Valley. Unsworth has been buying some grapes here since 2010. This single vineyard Pinot Gris is an elegant white with a fleshy texture and flavours of pear and apple. 91.
Unsworth Chardonnay 2021 ($34.90). This barrel-fermented Chardonnay was aged 15 months in French oak (5% new). The wine begins with aromas of apple mingled with vanilla, with are echoed on the palate along with notes of spice. 91.
Unsworth Pinot Noir 2021 ($38.90). This Pinot Noir, incorporating grapes from the estate and from two other Cowichan vineyards, was whole-berry fermented in stainless steel and matured 15 months in French oak barrels (15% new). The wine has bright aromas and flavours of cherry. 90.
Unsworth Pinot Noir Saison Vineyard 2021 ($74.90). This is selection of special barrels. There are three clones in this wine: 828, 667 and 777. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged 12 months in French oak (20% new). This is a full-textured Pinot Noir, with aromas and flavours of cherry and plum. There is a silky finish. 92.
Venturi Schulze Vineyard opened in 1993 near Cobble Hill after Giordano Venturi and partner Marilyn Schulze moved to Vancouver Island to follow their winemaking ambitions. The winery earned an early reputation with its wines but is almost as famous for its balsamic vinegar, modelled on those made in Modena, Giordano’s Italian birthplace.
Venturi Schulze Brut Naturel 2016 ($32.10). Made with Pinot Auxerrois grapes, this traditional method sparkling wine is a complex wine with brioche in the aroma and flavour mingled with citrus. The finish is crisp and dry. 92.
Venturi Schulze Maranello 2022 ($30.10). This is a natural wine, with the grapes pressed by foot. The juice is taken off the skins when a deep rose hue has been achieved. The wine has aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry. 89.
Venturi Schulze Pinot Noir 2017 ($45.10 for 107 cases). This wine was aged in French oak barrels, perhaps a bit too long, thanks to pandemic-related delays. The fruit flavours are still bright but there is a hint of oxidation. The wine benefits from breathing. 85.
Venturi Schulze Pinot Noir Reserve 2016 ($60.10 for 171 cases). This wine, from one of the top vintages in the valley, was aged three years in mostly older French oak barrels. The wine is rich on the palate with lots of dark fruits with a touch of cigar box and forest floor. 92.
Venturi Schulze Raven The Thief 2018 ($29 wholesale). This wine is 100% Zweigelt. It begins with aromas of cherry and cranberry which are echoed on the palate, with a hint of French oak and firm tannins on the finish. 90.
Zanatta Estate Winery, which established by Dennis Zanatta in 1992, is now the oldest winery in the Cowichan Valley. It was a participant in grape trials that established the viability of the valley for wine. Loretta Zanatta, with winemaking training in Italy, and her husband, Jim Moody run the winery today.
Zanatta Glenora Fantasia Brut 2021 ($27). This is a sparkling wine made with the only planting of the Cayuga grape in British Columbia. The wine is crisp and fresh, with notes of grapefruit on the palate. 90.
Zanatta Tradizionale Brut NV ($32). This sparkling wine is made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It begins with aromas of brioche and citrus and echoes those notes on the palate. The finish is dry. 89.
Zanatta Damasco NV ($22.50). This is an aromatic blend of Ortega, Muscat, Auxerrois and Madeleine Sylvaner, with notes of spice in the aroma and on the palate. 88.
Zanatta Pinot Nero 2021 ($29.90). The winery calls this wine by the Italian varietal name in honour of Dennis Zanatta, the founder of the winery and Loretta’s father. This wine was aged about 12 months in French oak. The wine has aromas and flavours of dark cherry, plum and forest floor. 90.