Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Play Estate's spring 2021 wine release

Photo: Stephanie Bryers in the Play wineshop
These wines represent the second vintage made at Play by Stephanie Bryers. Formerly the assistant winemaker at Culmina Family Estate Winery, she joined Play early in 2019. She is bringing consistency to the portfolio of this Penticton winery after its earlier shaky start. Perched on a hillside overlooking Skaha Lake, the winery is owned by Calgary hotelier Stagewest Hospitality which includes dinner theatres in many of its hotels. The winery, which opened with wines from the 2014 vintage, is supported by the 12-acre estate vineyard as well as with purchased fruit.
Stephanie was born in Ontario in 1988. She acquired a passion for wines while working in a wine shop and taking sommelier training. “I decided I did not want to work in restaurants and pour wine,” Stephanie says. “I liked the idea of making it. We always had a couple of days [in sommelier training] where we would go to a winery and do a couple of punch downs for the fun of it, or help on the bottling line. I liked that so much more, so I went to school.” A 2015 graduate of Niagara College, she made wine in New Zealand, Portugal and Ontario before coming to the Okanagan. The wines reviewed here include six from the core portfolio and four from the winery’s value-priced “Spotlight” series.
Here are notes on the wines.
Play Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($21.99 for 230 cases). The wine begins with aromas of grapefruit. It is crisp and dry, with flavours of lime and grapefruit around a spine of minerality. 89.
Play Viognier 2020 ($21.99 for 200 cases). This wine is distinguished from the Spotlight Viognier by being made with techniques giving the wine a lush style. Some 35% was fermented in oak barrels; another 11% in stainless steel barrels. Four months battonage on the lees occurred with 46% of the wine. The wine has aromas of apricot mingled with oak. The texture is rich, with a spine of minerality. 90.
Play Saignée 2020 ($25.99 for 350 cases). This is 50% Merlot, 22 Syrah, with the rest of the blend undisclosed. This is made in the dry, Provence style that is fashionably pale in the glass. The wine begins with aromas of strawberry. The palate is fleshy with flavours of strawberry and peach. 90.
Play Cabernet Franc 2019 ($32.99 for 210 cases). The wine shows dark, spicy fruit aromas. On the palate, the flavours mingle black currant and fig with earthy notes on the finish. The wine has been aged on French oak for 16 months. 88.
Play Merlot 2019 ($28.99 for 234 cases). This wine was aged for 16 months in French oak. Dark in colour, it begins with aromas of black cherry, cassis and vanilla. On the palate, the concentrated texture supports flavours of black currant, blackberry and black cherry, with a hint of chocolate. 91.
Play Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($28.99 for 145 cases). This wine aged 16 months in French oak. It has aromas of spice and red berries. A hint of spice (white pepper) shows in the flavour along with notes of cherry and black current. While pepper is not typical in a Cabernet Sauvignon, it is appealing all the same. 90.
Play Spotlight Sémillon 2019 ($18.99). Think of a white Graves! The wine is lean and dry, with aromas and flavours of citrus. Some 56% was aged eight months in French oak. 88.
Play Spotlight Viognier 2020 ($18.99). The winery’s Viognier block was picked in two passes, a week apart, with the earlier pick retaining the acidity that gives this wine freshness. The wine has aromas and flavours of apricot with a hint of pineapple. The finish lingers. 90.
Play Spotlight Malbec 2019 ($22.99). Aged 16 months in French oak, this wine begins with bright aromas of spice and plum. These are repeated in the flavours where bright, floral fruit flavours mingle with a hint of vanilla. 90.
Play Spotlight Merlot 2020 ($22.99). Aged in French and American oak, this is a soft and quaffable Merlot with aromas and flavours of blueberry, black cherry, and black tea. 90.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Blue Mountain will open tasting room after all

Photo: The photogenic Blue Mountain vineyard
Only a few weeks after announcing the tasting room would not open this season at Blue Mountain Vineyard, there has been a happy change of heart, coinciding with the lifting of the travel restrictions. Blue Mountain’s many fans can once again visit their favourite winery. “We are pleased to announce that the Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars tasting room will open by reservation for the season on Thursday, July 1, 2021,” winery said in a recent email. “We are looking forward to reconnecting with you in person, particularly as this year marks the winery’s 30th anniversary, and we have a lot to celebrate!”
The tasting room will be open from noon to 4 pm, Thursday through Saturday. “Health and safety continue to be our top priority, so we will be limiting groups to a maximum of 4 people,” the winery said. “Masks will be required indoors. Reservations are required for in-person visits to the tasting room. The $10 per person tasting fee will be reimbursed with the purchase of 1 or more bottles.” I am not sure how one would enforce a mask policy at the same time as guests are tasting wine but I am sure Blue Mountain will figure it out.
One of the wines available for tasting is the winery’s 2019 estate Chardonnay, made with fruit from vines that are between 13 and 30 years of age. There are five clones in the blend. Typical of the Blue Mountain style, winemaker Matt Mavety has gone to some lengths to produce a complex wine that would do any good Burgundy estate proud. The fruit was all hand-harvested. Whole clusters were pressed to assure purity of the juice, which was then fermented with indigenous yeasts. Fermentation took place in French oak barrels (new to three-years old). The wine was aged 17 months in barrel on fine lees. The wine was blended in March, bottled in April and released in May. The winery suggests the wine can be aged four to six years.
Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2019 ($28). The wine begins with aromas of citrus with a touch of vanilla and a hint of the buttery character imparted by malolactic fermentation. The palate is rich, with flavours of citrus, apricot and spice mingled subtly with oak and toasty lees notes. The finish is very long. 91.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Stag's Hollow makes a statement with rosé

Photo: Keira LaFranc of Stag's Hollow
In its two Okanagan Falls vineyards, Stag’s Hollow Winery grows the mainstream varietals but also nurtures several varietals rarely found elsewhere in the Okanagan. The winery’s spring release includes two table wines made with Tempranillo, the Spanish red varietal, and one made with Dolcetto, the Italian red. (The winery also has another Italian red, Teroldego, and a Spanish white, Albariño.)
Stag’s Hollow winemaker Keira LeFranc demonstrates the versatility of Tempranillo by releasing two different styles. One is a conventional barrel-aged full-bodied red. The other, dubbed Joven or young, is made to be light and fresh. Both are appealing. The Dolcetto rosé will infuriate those consumers and critics who have climbed on the Provençal bandwagon in recent years to praise anaemic-looking rosé. This wine, which is quite spectacular in the glass with its vibrant magenta colour, takes its inspiration from the darker rosé wines of southern Italy. As the winery says on the back label: “This is not your Nonna’s Rosato.”
I applaud Keira. I also enjoy the pale rosé wines that are fashionable but I prefer a rosé to have great visual appeal as well as delivering great fruit. This one does that. Keira achieved it by crushing the grapes by foot before giving the crushed fruit five days of skin contact to extract colour and flavour. Then the wine was fermented in concrete and aged in stainless steel to preserve all the savoury fruit flavours. Stag’s Hollow also bottled this wine in an attractive clear bottle. It should be hard to keep the wine on the shelf.
Here are notes on the wines.
Stag’s Hollow Dolcetto Rosato 2020($24 for 87 cases). This wine announces itself with an electric magenta hue in the glass. It delivers with assertive aromas – cherry, raspberry and pomegranate. There is more pomegranate on the palate, along with sour cherry. The finish is quite dry. 91.
Stag’s Hollow Tempranillo Joven 2019 ($21 for 153 cases). The wine was aged about nine months in stainless steel and neutral oak barrels. There is three percent Dolcetto in the blend. This is a bright and refreshing wine, with cherry and blackberry aromas and flavours. 90.
Stag’s Hollow Tempranillo 2018 ($28 for 344 cases). This wine was fermented in an open top fermenter and aged 20 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of blackberry, black currant and cherry. These are echoed on the palate, along with notes of red currant, chocolate and oak. With breathing, the tannins become silky. 90.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Lake Breeze's Garron Elmes is now an old-timer

Photo: Lake Breeze's Garron Elmes
Garron Elmes, the president of Lake Breeze Vineyards, is now the longest tenured winemaker at the same winery in the Okanagan. That is remarkable, not just because winemakers move around a lot but also because the ownership of Lake Breeze has changed several times since Garron arrived to do his first vintage there in 1995. “He is creative and consistent,” Gary Reynolds, a previous owner, once told me.
The winery was opened in 1996 by Paul and Vereena Moser, a Swiss-born couple who bought a Naramata Bench vineyard in 1994 after leaving South Africa, where he had run several manufacturing businesses. To make his wine, he recruited another South African, Garron Elmes. Born in 1972 in Capetown, Garron then was a young graduate from the agricultural college at Stellenbosch. The Mosers sold the winery in 1998. The new owners tired of the wine business by 2001 and sold Lake Breeze to two business couples from Alberta, all high-powered financial executives. One of those couples, Drew and Barbara MacIntyre, then bought out their partners to become sole owners in 2011. The MacIntyres not only kept Garron. They promoted him. And they invested to expand the winery and to secure additional vineyards, either by lease or by purchase. Lake Breeze now farms about 60 acres, all of it in the Naramata Bench and much of it contiguous to the winery. The winery also buys fruit from other selected vineyards, including one near Keremeos producing top flight Sauvignon Blanc.
“The philosophy when we started out with Paul Moser was well-priced wines that over-delivered for what you paid for them,” Garron says. “That has always been my philosophy.” Along with assistant winemaker Victor Costa, he has been taken the opportunity to expand the portfolio with premium and ultra-premium wines, without taking away from the quality of the “regular” wines. In 2016, the winery crowned its portfolio with a $90 Merlot and a $60 Chardonnay under the MacIntyre Heritage Reserve label. At the same time, the winery expanded its Cellar Series of wines, inserting a more affordable premium tier between its regular range, priced between $19 and $24, and the MacIntyre Heritage wines. “This is our third or fourth vintage making the Cellar Series,” Garron says. “We just wanted to do something, when we had a tier of wines that was small production, that it was what we thought was best of the best. We would put those under the Cellar Series label. All of the wines are named after different winds.” For example, Alizé, French for trade wine, is 100% Roussanne. This is a varietal rarely seen on its own because it is usually blended with Marsanne and Viognier into what the industry calls a Rhône blend. “We first made Roussanne in 2016,” Garron says. “I got some fruit and decided to make something different for our wine club. The wine turned out so well that, when that block of fruit became available the next year, we snapped it up. Of all the wines we make right now, this is probably my favorite out of the whites.”
Here are notes on the wines.
Lake Breeze Unoaked Chardonnay 2019 ($19). “I was shooting for a simpler style, a typical Chardonnay with green apple, a bit of pear,” Garron explains. “Nice crisp acidity. It is designed for early drinking. It falls in line with the style of the majority of our whites. Very little manipulation; just looking for pure fruit expression and balance.” This is a very crisp, focussed white which showcases the fruit. 90.
Lake Breeze Pinot Gris 2019 ($22). Lake Breeze also produces one of the best Pinot Blancs in the Okanagan. It is rarely tasted side by side with the Pinot Gris, so as not to confuse consumers. This wine has aromas and flavours of pear, citrus and spice. For a bit of complexity, Garron gave skin contact to less than 10% of the fruit before pressing off the juice and fermenting it in stainless steel. 90.
Lake Breeze Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($22). To achieve complexity and to add texture, Garron fermented about 20% of the wine on skins with wild yeast. This was blended later with the portion fermented in stainless steel. The wine begins with dramatic aromas of gooseberry and spice; these are echoed on the palate, along with hints of lime and herbs. The finish is crisp and fresh. 91.
Lake Breeze Alizé 2019 ($25). The grape here is Roussanne grown at one of the highest elevation vineyards on the Naramata Bench. This lush wine delivers dramatic aromas of honeysuckle, guava and peach leading to layers of tropical fruit on the palate. 92.
Lake Breeze Aura 2018 ($35). This a Pinot Noir grown on the estate vineyard. The clone is uncertain. Paul Moser referred to it as the Geisenheim clone but Garron has not done the confirming (and expensive) ampelography. In any case, he thinks it makes a good Burgundian-style Pinot Noir with classic forest floor notes supporting the cherry aromas and flavours. 91.
Lake Breeze Mistral 2017 ($35). The grape here is Syrah grown on the Naramata Bench. The floral aromas lead to notes of plum and cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of dark cherry and fig mingled with black pepper. This is a well-structured wine with long ripe tannins and a lingering finish. 92.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Fort Berens releases debut Grüner Veltliner

Photo: Rolf de Bruin
The spring wine release from Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet includes the winery’s first Grüner Veltliner. The major white varietal in Austria, Grüner Veltliner was first planted in the Okanagan about a decade ago by Culmina Estate Winery. That brilliant wine has inspired a number of other producers to plant it, including Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Bordertown Vineyards & Estate Winery and Peak Winery.
The co-founder of Fort Berens, Rolf de Bruin, first planted a trial block of Grüner Veltliner in 2011. He committed fully to the varietal by planting an acre in 2019 in the winery’s new Red Rock Vineyard. The entire 18-acre Red Rock Vineyard has been planted over two years, beginning in 2018, to double the size of Fort Berens estate vineyards at Lillooet. In addition to Grüner Veltliner, Red Rock also grows six acres of Merlot, five acres of Cabernet Franc, 3 ½ acres of Riesling, and two acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit in the winery’s 2020 Grüner Veltliner was purchased from the Okanagan in 2020. “While these grapes are not from our property,” Rolf explains, “we wanted to experiment with this varietal as we look ahead to producing our first estate vintage of Grüner Veltliner in 2021 or 2022.”
Here are notes on that wine and on the other releases.
Fort Berens Dry Riesling 2020 ($21.99 for 332 cases). This wine is made with 82% estate fruit and 18% fruit from The Rise Vineyard near Vernon. The wine begins with aromas of citrus. On the palate, the citrus flavours mingle with mineral notes. The finish is crisp and dry. This is a wine which will benefit from another year in the bottle. 91.
Fort Berens Riesling 2020 ($19.99 for 1,430 cases). The wine begins with aromas of lemon and green apple, echoed on the palate. The residual sugar in this wine, 9.3 grams a litre, is exquisitely balanced with lively acidity, giving the fruit a lively lift on the palate. The refreshing finish persists. 91.
Fort Berens Pinot Gris 2020 ($19.99 for 1,126 cases). Grapes for this wine were sourced from the estate vineyard, from a small vineyard near Lytton and from a vineyard in West Kelowna. Whole clusters were pressed with only free-run juice used. Fermentation was cool, in stainless steel. The wine has aromas of tropical fruits (kiwi, lime), with mouth-filling flavours of lime, grapefruit and pear. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 91.
Fort Berens Grüner Veltliner 2020 ($21.99 for 340 cases). This is the winery’s first release of a wine made with Grüner Veltliner, a leading Austrian white varietal. Fort Berens has an acre in a new vineyard near the winery. This wine, however, is made with grapes the winery purchased from an Okanagan vineyard just to get an early start on making the wine. The aroma delivers an intriguing tropical medley leading to flavours of apple and stone fruit. 90.
Fort Berens Rosé 2020 ($19.99 for 1,179 cases). This wine is made with 80% Pinot Noir grapes, 16% Cabernet Franc and 4% Merlot. The crushed grapes soaked on the skins for 48 hours. The result: a rosé that is beautiful in the glass and packed with aromas and flavours of watermelon, raspberry and strawberry. The finish is dry and refreshing. 92.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Black Widow Winery expands Naramata Bench holdings

Photo: Shannon, Dick (centre) and James Lancaster
Since opening in 2006, Black Widow Winery has relied on grapes from its seven-acre property on Naramata Road, along with purchased fruit. Now, the winery has begun to bring on production from a five-acre property, also on the Naramata Bench, that winery owner Dick Lancaster bought five years ago as his daughter, Shannon, and son, James, were joining the business.
“It was originally an orchard in the 1930’s and was turned into pasture for beef cattle about 45 years ago,” Dick says. “One of my sons came up with the clever vineyard name, Beau-Vines, as a play on that. We planted it with Pinot Noir, Gamay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. We have about three acres of vines, with a higher density planting. We’ve had some soil nutrient deficiencies that have made for a slow start, but we’re releasing our first Pinot Noir since 2011. The 2020 Rosé is largely based on the Syrah and Cabernets from this site. The Pinot has been blended with a small portion of Gamay, and we have 100 cases coming out in July.”
The winery projects it will get a “decent tonnage” this year and a full crop next year from the Beau-Vines Vineyard. “The idea behind the purchase was not so much to increase production, but allow us to be more self-reliant and to increase the red wine portion of our business, as well as rosé,” Dick says. “We’ve cut back on some of the grapes we purchase. We hope to maintain a 3000-case production average.” Much of Black Widow’s wine is snapped up by its very loyal wine club, a loyalty that the Lancasters foster with special events at the winery. For example, the winery is holding what is called an “En Primeur” tasting of yet to be released reserve red wines. The tastings are schedule for June 26 and June 27 at the winery, with limited seating available. “Our 2019 Merlot, Syrah, Hourglass and Vintage One will be accompanied this year by a 2020 Pinot Noir,” the winery has announced. “All but the Syrah will be available for sampling.” The wines will be bottled and released in July.
Here are notes on currently released Black Widow wines.
Black Widow Pinot Gris 2020 ($25 for 320 cases). The wine presents in the glass with a very slight and appealing blush. It has aromas of citrus and apples, leading to an abundance of fruit flavours including peach, pear and apple. 90.
Black Widow Dry Gewürztraminer 2020 ($24 for 115 cases). Think of Alsace when drinking this wine. It begins with aromas of lychee, pineapple and spice, which are echoed on the palate. The rich, almost oily texture recalls the concentration of dry Alsace Gewürztraminer wines. 91.
Black Widow Oasis 2020 ($25 for 330 cases). This is a blend of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Schönburger. The wine begins with aromas of spice and rose petal. Rich in texture, the wine delivers flavours of apple, papaya and spice, with a crisp, dry finish. 90.
Black Widow Sparkling Web 2020 ($26 for 220 cases). This is a blend of Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. It is made as a dry frizzante wine, crisp and fruity with floral aromas. It is lively and refreshing. 91.
Black Widow Rosé 2020 ($30 for 190 cases). This wine blends juice of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, with added touches of Merlot and Pinot Noir. The wine presents with an appealing rose petal hue, with aromas and flavours of watermelon, cherry and raspberry. The finish is crisp, dry and refreshing. 91.
Black Widow Phobia 2019 ($34 for 275 cases). This is a blend of 70% Merlot, 30% Syrah aged in barrel for 17 months. It begins with aromas of cherry, blackberry and plum. The juicy and rich palate delivers flavours of blueberry and dark cherry with a hint of pepper. 91.
Black Widow Red Back 2019($38 for 100 cases). This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, aged 17 months in oak. This is a bold wine that is drinking well but will age very well. Aromas and flavours of black currant and dark cherry are mingled with notes of chocolate, tobacco and oak. 92.
Black Widow Hourglass 2018 Reserve ($50 for 750 ml, $27 for 375 ml). The winery produced just 260 cases and is sold out except for 375 ml. bottles. This is blend of 73% Merlot and 27% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was aged in French oak (40% new) for 21 months. It is a polished wine, beginning with aromas of black cherry, cassis, tobacco and chocolate which are echoed on the palate. There are fine silky tannins on a concentrated texture. The finish is long, with a note of spice. 93.
Black Widow Vintage One 2018 ($52 for 750 ml bottle; a limited number of 375 ml bottles available). This is a port-style fortified Merlot barrel-aged for 21 months. Total production is just 75 cases. The wine is dark in colour. The aroma explodes with sweet cherry and black licorice. It delivers delicious flavours of sweet berries mingled with spice and chocolate. It has the appealing freshness of late-bottled vintage port. 92.