Vancouver Island Wine Blog Part 2 – The Old Guard is in Good Shape!

August 13, 2019

This is part two of the wine blog based on my recent visit to Vancouver Island wine country. And it focuses on three of the “old guard” – those wineries that have been there for a while. Some of them are my favourites and still making great wine!

Continuing to lead the pack is Averill Creek, just outside of Duncan near Mt. Prevost. Their wines were the first ones I ever tasted from Vancouver Island that were truly great – in fact, the 2006 Pinot Noir and 2007 Pinot Gris completely changed my mind about Vancouver Island wine!

Andy Johnson and his team continue to go from strength to strength, and I was pleased to see that they give people the chance to experience that in the tasting room. In addition to the “regular” tasting they offer a reserve tasting (for a slightly higher fee) and it is well worth the expense.

There were four wines, and all showed why Averill Creek continues to be the leader on Vancouver Island. First off, their 2010 Brut Reserve Sparkling Wine would give many Champagnes a run for their money. Still young at nine years old, it has just a tinge of yellow to it, and is filled with that classic toasty/yeasty/crisp flavour profile! Next up, their 2015 Reserve Pinot Gris. They oak this wine – something which can be controversial to some – but I loved it. It was light gold, with just the right amount of vanilla and butter to go with the citrus fruit. The final dry wine was the 2016 Reserve Pinot Noir. Just a baby, it was super tight, with tannin covering the cherry fruit, but you could sense the potential beneath it. I would give it at least 3 – 5 years before drinking. Last but not least was a Tawny Port style wine made from blackberries…and it was a dead ringer for Port!

Averill Creek is a Pinot Noir specialist, and while I didn’t taste their “regular” wine on the trip, I can highly recommend it (I have already bought four bottles). It is a great cross between Burgundy and California, with earthy, dark cherry fruit that is super ripe (but not candied). Year in, year out, it matches up with the best Pinots in BC.

The second of the old guard that is doing fine – thank you very much! – is Vigneti Zanatta, which is located west of Duncan. For years this winery has specialized in sparkling wines, sometimes from non-traditional grapes, and sold at very reasonable prices…and that continues to be the case.

I tasted three, all technically non-vintage, and can heartily recommend them all. The Brut Tradizionale is made in the Champagne style from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is crisp, clean, dry and relatively full-bodied with a touch of green apples – kind of like Spanish Cava crossed with Champagne. It would be great for any occasion.

Next, the Allegria Rose Brut is really something to look at – one of the darkest sparkling Roses I have ever seen! It is made from 100% Pinot Noir, and explodes with berry flavours. Again, bone dry…this one would be great really cold on a hot day.

Finally, my favourite of the trio is the Glenora Fantasia Brut. This used to be vintage designated…not sure why it isn’t any more…but I was told it is from the 2013 vintage…so almost 6 years old! This is definitely a Champagne style wine, loaded with aged flavours of yeasty and toasty bread. Made from the obscure Cayuga grape and aged on its lees for two years…wow!

Zanatta also makes still white and red wines, which are nice, but a surprise was one called Castel Nero, made from a clone of Cinsault and some grape I can’t remember. It would easily fit in at a Provence tasting…no oak, peppery dried berries and earth…I had a full glass at lunch, I loved it so much!

Speaking of lunch, if you are going to be a Zanatta around lunch, book a table – in advance – at their little restaurant. It has a beautiful patio, almost all the wines are available by the glass and the food is amazing (and well priced).

Final of the old guard I visited – the “newest old one” for me – is Rocky Creek. I had a great chat with the Assistant Winemaker (daughter of the owner/winemaker), who also took me through what continues to be a very solid lineup of white and red wines, as well as a sparkler. My favourites? The 2017 Pinot Gris has won all kinds of awards and is almost sold out. It is a fruity, dry, medium bodied beauty for drinking while it is fresh. For the reds, I will stick with the Pinot Noir – the wine that attracted me to Rocky Creek in the first place! It continues to be made in a California style, with lots of ripe cherries and just the right amount of vanilla, spice and cedar. It drinks well right now, but will keep for a few years if you want (although why wait?).

That’s it for the old guard I visited…stay tuned next week for the new kids on the block!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

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VANCOUVER ISLAND WINE – THE OLD AND THE NEW (Part 1)

August 7, 2019

I managed to get a day to do some wine tasting on Vancouver Island this past weekend, first time in a few years (since I updated the last issue of my BC Wine Guide). It was a great day – beautiful weather, lovely drive up, down and back on the Malahat, and some pleasant surprises on the wine side of things as well!

I titled this piece “The Old and New” for two sets of reasons. This first is related to the wine region itself. The other has to do with the wineries…stay tuned for more on that next week.

On the “old” side of things, I encountered some of the same old issues that I see elsewhere in BC. The biggest is price – none of the wines I tasted were under $15, and most were in the $25 – $30 range (after tax). Now, some of that has to do with taxation…which wineries have no control over. And some is just overhead – land, equipment, salaries, etc. Again, not much you can do about that. And it didn’t look like people were making millions (just a living).

But the end result is that most of these wines have to compete in price with well established and – often – better wines from places like the south of France and Italy (as well as cheaper ones from South America and Spain). And that is a tough sell!

On the positive side of the price issue, thought, I didn’t see any trophy wines i.e. $60+ a bottle (except for library releases). Now, don’t get me wrong – I support the free market, and if you can get that for your wine, then go for it. But from a comparative quality point of view – not just on Vancouver Island but across BC – there is just no way that we can compete with similarly priced wines from areas like the Cotes du Rhone, Tuscany, and Piedmont.

Overall quality was up as well, and it was also nice to see  that the grapes which have historically done well on the Island – Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, in particular – continue to be the focus for most wineries, and still produce the best wines. I saw no Cabs or Chardonnays…probably because they just won’t get ripe enough there. There was also a nice mix of Marechal Foch and some Cabernet hybrids – on the red side – and various white wine grapes being used to make fruity, easy to drink whites. Oh, there was one Merlot…but more on that in a future blog…

Finally, perhaps the best of the “good” things was that sales of many of these wines on Vancouver Island are very good – many of the best were actually sold out! The purchasers are a mix of locals and tourists, with the former actually being a bigger market! That is great, as “buy local” should also include wine, and people are obviously willing to pay a bit of a premium to do that.

Overall, then, I was very impressed with the wine situation on Vancouver Island! As for the individual wineries – and their wines – stay tuned for next week!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

“Other” White Wines to Drink in the Summer

July 25, 2019

Summer is definitely here in Vancouver, and that means – because of the warmth – it is mostly white and Rose to drink (although the odd Gigondas does get opened…but that is another story…).

I have written about Rose already this summer, but what about whites? The usual choices are Chardonnay (oaked and unoaked), Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling (dry or off dry) and – if you are lucky – Viognier and Semillon (shout out to La Frenz on those ones!).

But there are others out there as well, and they won’t break the bank!

First, south of France. I mentioned Viognier already, but those are usually too expensive from France (Condrieu starts at $60 Canadian…). But there are blends out there, mixes of Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc, and they can be really refreshing! No oak (usually), crisp, clean, full bodied! One of my favourite producers in the South is Chapoutier and they make a great Cotes du Roussillon called Bila Haut that you can get here for about $17…I imagine it is under $10 in many other places without our taxes!

And how about Italy? Not known for its white wines usually, I have started to drink wines from the Falanghina grape, and they are very tasty! Again, super crisp and dry, no oak that I can see – although they are often a beautiful gold colour – and lots under $20. My favourite right now is Falanghina Sannio La Guardiense by a producer called Janare.

Last but not least my wine find of the year so far! Vinho Verde – literally “green wine” – is from Portugal and my past experiences have been that is not worth the bother. Then I saw one called Loureiro by Quinta do Ameal. What attracted me at first was the rating and review by the Wine Advocate for the 2017 vintage – 93 pts and a drinking window until 2030!

Now, that is ridiculous for a white wine (and even most reds), so I bought one – and it was crazy good! Again, no oak at all (notice the trend here), but beautiful gold colour, crisp, dry, citrus, quite big body. And it was $17!!! A bonus – I found a couple of older vintages in another store (2012 and 2013), same price, same kind of rating, and tried them – stunning! Super fresh, like they had just been bottled!

So there you go…some white wine options for the summer. If you can check them out!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

 

Rose…cold, dry and cheap…and in a box!

July 11, 2019

Okay, its summer…or supposed to be (still waiting on the weather)…but it is definitely Rose season!

And let’s keep it simple with Rose…it should be cold, dry and cheap…and you can even buy it in a box!

Let’s back track a bit…I just got back from Europe, and even though it was a June vacation, there was still lots of Rose available in restaurants in Belgium, Holland and Denmark! Only a couple of euros a glass in restaurants, and in the supermarkets? How about the same price…for a bottle!

Meanwhile, back in my home town…all these beautiful looking bottles of French Rose for over $25 and $30 a bottle, plus tax? And our local wines are still in the $18 – $20 range.

Sorry, but no way!

Fortunately, I have found the solution…or two solutions!

There are two 1 litre bottles available for $12.99…one from the south of France (Cotes Mas) and one from Chile (Cono Sur). Both are crisp and dry!

Even better? A box! La Vieille Ferme, a great value French producer, makes a 3 litre 2018 vintage Rose for $33.00!

I just bought a box, put it in the fridge…and it is great! Just like being in the south of France (although still twice the cost).

So don’t give in to the expensive wines! Buy Rose, but buy it dry and cheap!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com

 

Pacific Northwest Wine Tasting Surprises!

May 9, 2019

Just finished #dish2009 tasting by the BC Hospitality Foundation and – once again – lots of surprises!

The wines were from Washington State, Oregon and California, and there was a pretty broad representation – over two dozen wineries and close to 100 wines. I decided to focus on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and ‘big’ reds, as I only had about 90 minutes.

The Chardonnays were mostly what I call the ‘Cali’ style – fermented/aged in oak, with at least some degree of malolactic fermentation. That resulted in nice golden colours, lots of lovely buttery/vanilla citrus fruit. Only one completely unoaked wine, but a few a mix of stainless steel and oak. My favourites were from Deloach (2016 Russian River Valley), Ponzi (2015 Reserve), Ferrari-Carano (2016 Sonoma) and Walt Wines (2016 Sonoma Coast).

Pinot Noirs were next and they were my first surprise – and a good one! Sometimes North American Pinot can go off the rails in two ways – too much ripe fruit, making it taste like candy, or too much of trying to be Burgundy (which means not enough fruit and more wood/herbs).

But almost all of these wines were in the middle – lots of ripe fruit but very sophisticated indeed! And there were some truly stunning – if expensive – wines! Oregon Producer Ponzi had their ‘15 Reserve and it was dark but full of ripe, dark cherries and ripe tannins. My tweet said ‘a world class wine’, and it was! Only slightly behind was the ‘16 Russian River Valley by Paul Hobbes and the 2016 Sonoma Coast from Walt Wines – both were beautiful, rich, young wines with lots of life ahead of them. Finally, the 2017 Russian River Valley from Deloach was also very nice. A general observation was the wines from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma were the best, confirming its Pinot rep!

On to the ‘big’ reds from California, and my other surprise – and not a good one!

I tasted about a dozen Cabs, Cab blends and Zin/Syrah/Petit Syrahs and found – tannin. Super tannin, so much my cheeks were sucked in! And I couldn’t find the fruit!

What a disappointment! Similar to many wineries in BC, these seemed to going for Bordeaux style instead of taking advantage of the regional strength – ripe fruit! I will never forget my first Cali Cab wines in the mid ‘80s – they were stunning for their ripe black currant fruit. Even the Reserves were ripe and could be drunk young.

But not these ones! Maybe they will become smooth and elegant, but they will never be fruity. Too bad!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com

NEW ZEALAND WINE – IT’S MORE THAN SAUVIGNON BLANC

May 3, 2019

I had chance this week to attend New Zealand Wine’s “Pure Discovery” tasting in Vancouver and came away both impressed and with some different views on that country’s wine!

I always try to avoid bringing in pre-conceived ideas to wine tastings, so with this one the key word was Sauvignon Blanc. New Zealand has been famous for it for years, including from popular producers like Oyster Bay, Kim Crawford and Babich. Now, I like SB, but wanted to know if there was more to New Zealand!

So, for whites, I went Chardonnay hunting – and I was surprised for sure! I tasted about ten wines and came away with one common theme regarding the style. It was French – not Californian – but also the Chablis-style of French Burgundy. That meant not as much vanilla/butter/hazelnut on the nose (which usually comes from oak) and more fresh, crisp citrus fruit (from making and aging the wines in stainless steel instead of oak barrels). Even those producers that did say they used oak usually relied on previously used barrels to limit the influence. If you enjoy this style of Chardonnay, I would highly recommend New Zealand, especially from producers like Kumeu River Estate (a particular favourite of mine), Greywacke, Villa Maria and Sacred Hill. While none of the wines were cheap – ranging from $22 – $50+ – they are certainly cost-competitive compared to Chablis from France.

I went to Pinot Noirs next, as they have become the “go to” red wines for New Zealand. I really didn’t know what to expect, so was surprised to once again feel like I was in a Burgundy tasting! Medium red in colour, lean red cherry fruit, a mix of herbs and wood, and fine to medium tannins – that was a fairly consistent description of most of the wines. You would certainly never mistake them for fruit-forward, vanilla laced California wines, that is for sure! It would be interesting to see how they aged, which is something I have had mixed results with for Burgundy as there is not a lot of obvious fruit when they are young, and many can therefore dry out over the years. Leading producers at the tasting included Craggy Range, Luna Estate, Mud House and Sacred Hill.

Last but least I had to look for some Syrah, of course…and I found a couple of beauties! Te Awanga had two – an entry level for about $22 and a reserve for about $28, and they were lovely! 100% Syrah, slightly riper than the northern Rhone (but not jammy or oaky at all), I really liked them! And the best wine of the tasting – as well as the most expensive – was the Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah. It had some Viognier in it, and was a young Cote Rotie look alike. Although at $110, it was out of my snack bracket!

So “big picture” takeaways? There is a lot going on with New Zealand wine, well beyond Sauvignon Blanc and the big-name producers. Go check out some Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and – if you can find it – Syrah. You won’t be disappointed!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com

Rose Season is Back!

April 24, 2019

Sunny weather is slowly coming back to the Lower Mainland of BC, and that means its time to think about Rose again!

I went to a spring Rose release event today and tasted some great wines…but first, a bit of a Rose primer for those note familiar with the wine and its different styles.

First off, the wine – Rose is made from red grapes that the vintners leave the skins on for a while. The longer the skins stay on, the deeper the colour, and vice versa. That colour, by the way, can vary from just barely pink to almost red.

Style of Rose is even more important, and there are four basic styles – three dry and one sweet. First, the sweet, and only two words needed – white Zinfandel. Not good, like bubble gum…don’t go there.

Other three all have their merits. Popular today is the very fruity, sometimes off-dry version. Made in BC and California, it can be very refreshing – and dangerous, it goes down easy – on a hot summer day on the patio!

Classic Rose is bone dry, crisp…and cheap! In the south of France, it is drunk in the summer extremely cold, and is super refreshing. And cheap? Often in restaurants it is included in the meal! But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good…I love that style!

Last but not least, Roses that age. Not for everyone – both because of the style and the cost, which can be in the $30+++ range – it can still be very nice. Tavel from Tavel makes some great ones, as do producers in Bandol. But more like a red wine than a Rose – big body and finish, can age for years.

Now back to the tasting today…all “spec” wines, all dry, but a great mix of producers from different countries.

A new producer – and my favourite today – was Laurent Miquel from the south of France. They had three wines, ranging in price from $10.99 – $18.99, and all were pure, fresh, fruity and bone dry. Interestingly, the cheapest – Vendages Nocturnes Classic 2017 – was my favourite, even though it is a year old!

There were also a couple from Italy that I liked. ’07 Villa Marchesi Trevenzie ($11.49) and Rivera Rose Castel Del Monte DOC 2017 ($12.99) were both very good and great values – light pink, dry and great, crisp finish.

Finally, a couple of sparkling Roses to round out my favourite wines. A Cava from Spain was no surprise – NV Giro Ribot was deep pink, fresh and fruity with small bubbles – and a good deal for $18.49.

But a wine from the United Kingdom? Coates & Seely Hampshire Sparkling Brut is expensive at $51.99, but very similar in style to real Champagne.

If you see these wines, definitely check them out. And if not – go cheap and dry, and keep it cold!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com

 

 

OKANAGAN FALLS SPRING RELEASES

March 27, 2019

Well, its that special time of year again…no, not Christmas, or even back to school…It is Spring, which means the wineries are starting to offer tastings of their new releases!

First one was today, from Okanagan Falls. Fourteen wineries and a total of 56 wines…not all new releases, but some very interesting wines indeed, and many that I can recommend.

For those not familiar with Okanagan Falls, it is the area northwards along the East Bench of Skaha Lake and across the water to Kalenden. From there, it is south over rolling hills above Vaseux Lake. Beautiful country, to be sure…and home to some very good wines!

I started with the new white wines. Among the most impressive for me was the 2013 Rousanne/ Marsanne/Viognier from Pentage Winery. At almost 6 years old, this hardly qualifies as a “new release”, but it was beautiful and still tasted very young. Dry and quite full bodied – as is usually the case with white Rhone wines – with crisp citrus flavours.

The other white wine I really enjoyed was the 2018 Albarino from Stag’s Hollow. This varietal – from Spain – is rare for BC, but showed great freshness, with dry citrus fruit and no oak at all. Great for summer sipping!

There weren’t as many new Rose’s as I would have thought, but I did find a couple I liked. The 2017 Nelly’s Rose from See Ya Later was one of them, and though now almost two years old, it still had fresh strawberry fruit and was just a touch off dry. Even better was the 2018 Syrah Rose from Stag’s Hollow. It was light pink and bone dry, crisp and refreshing – definitely a summer patio wine.

As for reds, the best were – no surprise – Pinot Noirs and Syrahs. The 2015 Reserve Pinot Noir from Nighthawk Vineyard was very nice – done in concrete vats, so no excessive oak to cover up the ripe, earthy red cherry fruit. Even better was the 2016 Pinot Noir Stag’s Hollow Vineyard from Stag’s Hollow. This was a beautiful, full-bodied wine with earthy cherries that have just a touch of vanilla and ripe tannins – at least 2 – 3 years aging here.

Finally, Syrah, my favourite varietal from BC! First a surprise – 2016 from Blasted Church, who I did not know made one. It is classic northern Rhone style, with peppery, earthy back cherries and no oak. Gorgeous for drinking now. The other one that really stood out was from Pentage – the 2014. It is two years older but a bigger wine, with the same flavour profile but still fine tannins, suggesting a few years in the cellar wouldn’t hurt.

Those are the highlights, then, at least for me. Lots to choose from this spring from Okanagan Falls!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com

 

2019 Vancouver International Wine Festival

February 21, 2019

That time again…the Vancouver International Wine Festival!

So much to do, so many wines to taste…160 wineries from 16 countries pouring 1450 wines…and California is the feature wine region.

With so many options, here are some suggestions on wineries – and wines – to check out.

California

Being the “feature” region usually means having the most wineries/wines, and this year is no different! While there are some new names to check out, I would go with some of the long term stars of the region. Wagner Family of Wine, for example…don’t know for sure, but will Caymus be there? If so, their Cabernet Sauvignons are legendary! And how about Ridge Vineyards? Zinfandel put them on the map…look for both the Lytton Springs and Geyserville blends, two of my favourite wines. Last but not least, Beringer…another Cabernet Sauvignon legend, although don’t ignore their Merlots and Reserve Chardonnay!

Canada

Wines from across Canada are once again at the festival, but stick with BC for the best! Burrowing Owl’s Syrah is consistently among the best in the province, for example. Church and State makes another great Syrah, as well as solid Pinot Noirs and Bordeaux blends. Finally, Nk Mip Vineyards, a First Nations winery from Oliver, makes outstanding Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay in the Qwam Qwmt series.

Australia

Not a big selection this year to choose from, but check out Vasse Felix/Yalumba. The Yalumba Signature is a super-ripe Bordeaux-blend that can last for decades.

France

Even fewer French wines this year, unfortunately, but nice to see Chateau Pesquie from the Cotes du Ventoux. They make outstanding reds, including the Quintessence.

Italy

Last but not least, Italy…and more than a few choices this year! Want Chianti? Check out the wines of Antinori, one of my favourite producers. Brunello di Montalcino? How about Altesino, a great producer. And if you love Barolo, it is hard to beat the wines of Marchesi di Barolo.

So there you go…if you just taste the wines from the wineries above, that will give you at least 20 – 25…which is a great start!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

 

 

So much to do, so many wines to taste…160 wineries from 16 countries pouring 1450 wines…and California is the feature wine region.

 

With so many options, here are some suggestions on wineries – and wines – to check out.

 

California

 

Being the “feature” region usually means having the most wineries/wines, and this year is no different! While there are some new names to check out, I would go with some of the long term stars of the region. Wagner Family of Wine, for example…don’t know for sure, but will Caymus be there? If so, their Cabernet Sauvignons are legendary! And how about Ridge Vineyards? Zinfandel put them on the map…and look for both the Lytton Springs and Geyserville blends, two of my favourite wines. Last but not least, Beringer…another Cabernet Sauvignon legend, although don’t ignore their Merlots and Reserve Chardonnay!

 

Canada

 

Wines from across Canada are once again at the festival, but stick with BC for the best! Burrowing Owl’s Syrah is consistently among the best in the province, for example. Church and State makes another great Syrah, as well as solid Pinot Noirs and Bordeaux blends. Finally, Nk Mip Vineyards, a First Nations winery from Oliver, makes outstanding Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay in the Qwam Qwmt series.

 

Australia

 

Not a big selection this year to choose from, but echek out Vasse Felix/Yalumba. The Yalumba Signature is a super-ripe Bordeaux-blend that can last for decades.

 

France

 

Even fewer French wines this year, unfortunately, but nice to see Chateau Pesquie from the Cotes du Ventoux. They make outstanding reds, including the Quintessence.

 

Italy

 

Last but not least, Italy…and more than a few choices this year! Want Tuscany? Check out the wines of Antinori, one of my favourite producers. Brunello di Montalcino? How about Altesino? And if you love Barolo, it is hard to beat the wines of Marchesi di Barolo.

 

So there you go…if you just taste the wines from the wineries above, that will give you at least 20 – 25…which is a great start!

 

SB

 

www.sbwinesite.com

WHAT IS THE “BEST” WINE?

October 18, 2018

I get the question a lot, and I’m sure we have all heard it – what’s the best wine? Seems simple…but its not…and the answer really goes to what wine is all about!

At the most basic, “best” is a relative term, whether in business, sports or wine. And that’s because it all depends on what you, the individual, value the most.

Wine is a great example. We just went through the annual Bordeaux release. Regardless of the quality of the vintage, there are some of the world’s most famous wineries involved, names that are legends – Lafite, Mouton-Rothschild, Latour, Petrus…but does that make them the best, or making the best wine?

This is an easy example for me, because – deep breath – I don’t like Bordeaux. So my answer would be “no”.

But the reason I don’t like it is actually the answer to the definition of “best”…I don’t like the Bordeaux style of wine. Herbaceous, woody, super tannic…and not a lot of fruit (at least in the cheaper wines, as I have never been able to afford the wines I mentioned above).

So for me, I would say the best wines come from the Cotes du Rhone – north or south, made from Grenache and Syrah – or the Piedmonte in Italy (Barolos and Barbaresco). The mix of ripe fruit and underlying herbs, lack of oak/wood, ageability…that is the recipe for “best” for me.

When I started getting into wine over 35 years ago, a wine educator said “the best wine is the wine you like the best”. That seemed simplistic to me at the time, but the more wine I have tasted and drunk over the years, the more I believe he was right.

So the next time someone asks you “what is the best wine”, answer it with another question…”what wine do you like the best”?

Because that’s the answer!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com