Archive for September, 2010

10 BC Wines to Drink From Your Cellar this Fall

September 30, 2010

It seems to be the time of the year for “top ten lists” (both the Sun and Globe carried lists in the past couple of weeks).  So I thought I might as well weigh in with the top 10 BC wines from your cellar to drink this fall (in alphabetical order):

1. Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir

One of the longest aging Pinots from the province, particularly in hot, ripe years. I had my last bottle of the 2000 late last year and it was still  in beautiful shape. So are the 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005, all of which I have also had in the last year or so. 2006 and 2007 are still probably a little young for me, although a 2007 drunk at Lift Restaurant in July was stunning. It blew away one of our party from California.

2. Kettle Valley Hayman Vineyard Pinot Noir

This is the longest living Pinot I BC and one of the rarest (only about 80 cases a year). Those lucky enough to have it in their cellar can dig out any of the ’02 – ’05 vintages and treat themselves! I had both the ’03 and ’04 this year and they were great.

3. Kettle Valley Reserve Pinot Noir

A slightly more Californian take on Pinot Noir (similar to the Blue Mountain Reserve), it also ages well but is more approachable young.  ’02 – ’06 would provide great drinking (I had the.   In the past year, I have had the ’03 and ’04 and they were lovely.

4. La Frenz Cabernet Sauvignon

The great thing about this wine as it ages, the oak settles down a bit but the fruit remains amazingly fresh and ripe (an amazing accomplishment given how hard it is to get this varietal fully ripe on a regular basis). I recently had the 2005 and 2006 and both are still young but drinking beautifully. I would expect the same for 2002 and 2003, both of which I tried last year.

5. La Frenz Merlot

Not as long lived as its Cab brother, but the ’05, ’06 and ’07 all tasted great when tasted this year.

6. La Frenz Small Lots Riesling

Only one white wine, but it is a beauty! This wine is so tasty young it is hard to resist, but bottles of the ’06, ’07 and ’08 were nicely developed this year. In a good vintage, this may well be a 10 year wine as it is made similarly to its German cousins i.e. a touch sweet on the finish.

7. Nichol Syrah

Maybe the best French-style Syrah in BC, it als gets more complex with age. I had both the ’98 and ’00 at age ten and they were gorgeous, dead ringers for a Crozes-Hermitage from the Rhone Valley. Also try the ’02 or ’03 (both gorgeous this year), or even the ’04. I am still experimenting with the Reserve; the ’03 was great this year, but young still.

8. Nota Bene

Price increases have pushed this wine off my “buy lists”, but I still have the ’02 and ’03 from before things went nuts. Great for Bordeaux lovers!

9. Township 7 Syrah

This wine is not as big or long lasting as the Nichol, but the ’03, ’04, ’05 and ’06 were all outstanding this year. I hope the same will be said for the more tannic/less fruity 2007.

10. Township 7 Merlot

Finally, maybe the nicest “fruit driven” Merlot from B.C.  The ’06 and ’05 were beautiful this year and not showing any signs of decline.  The 2007? See my comments about the Syrah above…

So there you go…a few bottles to keep you warm on a cold, rainy night!


La Frenz Continues Domination in Fall Naramata Bench Simply Red Tasting

September 23, 2010

 Over a dozen producers from Naramata brought out their latest red wines for a tasting at the Vancouver Art Gallery and my favourite wineries/wines showed once again why they are, well, my favourites!

Here are my highlights:

1. La Frenz’08 Grand Total Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Reserve Pinot Noir all were outstanding. It was the first time I had tasted the Meritage, and it is really ripe for a Bordeaux style red. I noticed the Cab is now sold out! The ’08 Montage is a fruit bomb for $22 and the ’08 Tempranillo a lighter style but good for the same price.  The only red I wasn’t impressed with was the ’08 Shiraz, which seemed a bit thin too me (although it just won gold at the Canadian Wine Championships).

2. Nichol — Ross is back with a new Syrah and a new label. The ’08 Syrah is same French style, though, with earthy, peppery, black fruit and fairly strong tannins. Another 5 + year wine and good value at <$30. As an aside, Ross said there was so little ’07 that it got blended. He made a few cases of Reserve, but it went fast.

3. Township 7 — finally got to taste the ’07 Syrah, and it seems to be same style as in the past ie French. However it isn’t as ripe or fruity as in the past…I wonder…same with the ’07 Merlot which is more like Bordeaux now and a bit too tannic for me.  ’07 Cabernet Sauvignon is just plain tannic. Style change?

4. Howling Bluff – the ’08 Pinot Noir is not the same style or quality as the ’07, which was stunning. Barrel sample of ’09 is riper and has potential. Both ’07 and ’08 vintages of the Sine Cera Meritage are too tannic for me.

5. Laughing Stock’08 Blind Trust (mostly Merlot) is really ripe and fruity, a fair buy at $28.95. The ’07 Portfolio, the flagship wine, is quite closed down and a little tannic, but there is fruit there; will be interesting to try in a couple of years. ’08 Portfolio is riper, like the Blind Trust, and may be a better wine. And the new ’07 Syrah has some Viognier in it; interesting but at $34 I am not sure.

6. Kettle Valley — their best wines (the Hayman and Reserve Pinots) are long sold out, but the regular ’07 Pinot is nice and complex for $24. The ’07 Cab and Malbec are also very ripe, but $35. And the Starboard port wine is bang on stylistically and $20 a half bottle.

7. Red Rooster – the ’07 Pinot Noir was a lovely surprise at $19.99, but only a 100 cases made. The ’07 Reserve Merlot is nice, but too dear at $29.99. And the ’07 Cab/Merlot and Meritage are too Bordeaux in style for my tastes.

The rest of the wineries/wines I wasn’t as impressed with. Van Westen, Black Widow and Lake Breeze seemed committed to the “big red wine” trend (too much tannin/not enough fruit for me). D’Angelo (which has a beautiful B&B, by the way) had a Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Cab/Merlot and Meritage that were too pricey and not my style. And Poplar Grove’s ’06 Merlot was pretty thin; the ’07 Syrah was better, but too expensive.

So there you go; a good event and always nice to taste through so many new wines.  But choose carefully based on the style you like the best!


Burgundy Tasting Provides Lesson in Style and Value

September 20, 2010

I was kindly invited to Marquis Wine Cellar’s “Burghound” event this past weekend, which featured a tasting of higher end white and red Burgundies. The main “take aways” for me were about style preference and how relative value can be.

First off, though, kudos to John and all the folks at Marquis for bringing in “The Burghound” (world renowned Burgundy expert Allen Meadows) and doing the tasting. They showed once again why they are the leading private wine store in BC.

Next, some thoughts from the tasting, first on style. Now, I know what my preference is for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the grapes of Burgundy). For whites, I like oak, with the vanilla, butterscotch and lush mouth feel that comes from malolactic fermentation. And for reds, while I like most California style Pinots for their ripe fruit, I also enjoy the earthier, almost gamey fruit in a lot of Burgundies, a style typified here by Kettle Valley’s Hayman Vineyard Pinot.

So I was a bit surprised that I wasn’t that taken by the wines at the tasting. Two of whites were more Chablis style, pretty lean. Only one was made in my style, but even it seemed light.

Two of the three reds were more my style on the nose, but again, seemed lighter on the fruit side of things, especially given the tannin levels.

But I was obviously in the minority, as everyone else seemed to enjoy the wines.  Some were close to a state of rapture! Obviously their style, to put it mildly.

When you add in the second factor — value — I have to admit it left me scratching my head a bit. The cheapest white was $59.99; the red, $38.95. And they went up — way up — from there, well over $100.

Now I recognize our obscure tax system plays a big part in that.  Those same wines are probably up to half as expensive in Alberta or the US. And it may well be that relative to the kind of Burgundy wines they were ie within Grand Crus and Premier Crus, they might be good values.  Looked at straight up from a price perspective, however, they are not going to be attractive to most wine drinkers and collectors.

But maybe that’s okay too. The wines are made in small quantities and those who love them buy them.  So why complain?

Bottom line is that it shows once again the importance of knowing the style you like and how you personally define value.  Whether it is Burgundy, Bordeaux or BC, it is different for everyone!


Should B.C. look to Washington State for its wine future?

September 7, 2010

I was in Seattle for a couple days over the long weekend and came away both amazed — and impressed — at the approach taken towards wine (including how the local wine industry is supported).  And it left me wondering — should that be the model we are looking for in BC?

Here are some strong arguments in favour (in chronological order):

Thursday, Sept. 2nd, 6:30 pm — an hour into the Amtrak ride to Seattle (an option chosen to beat the Labour Day line ups), and I am hoping for a glass of wine to go with dinner. Maybe “hoping” is the wrong word; given my experience on airlines — poor quality, high price — “dreaming” might be a better description. So imagine my surprise when the selections are half bottles of the 2007 Hahn Cabernet and 2008 Ste. Michelle Chardonnay! Both are highly rated, terrific wines and they went for…$13!! I later saw full bottles in stores for $22…now that is a deal!  I know of now such opportunity in B.C. (or Canada, for that matter) when it comes to wine value on rail, plane or any other commercial transportation.

Friday, Sept. 3rd, 10 am — obligatory Starbucks in front of me, I pick up a free copy of “SeattleMet” magazine whose cover reads “100 Best Washington Wines”. In addition to twelve pages of wine reviews (and not just the “heavy hitters” like Woodward Canyon and Quilceda Creek; many I have never heard of, and most have high scores from the Wine Spectator or Parker), I read that the industry has grown from 150 wineries in 2000 to 650 today…could that be where we are going in B.C.?

Friday, Sept. 3rd, 4pm — after a thoroughly enjoyable visit to the Seattle Art Gallery (both an Andy Warhol and Kurt Cobain exhibition), I drop in at their Taste restaurant to see if I can just have a glass of wine. “Absolutely”, says the hostess, showing me to a seat at the bar. Then, in response to my “what do you have by the glass” question, the exuberant and slightly bemused bartender gives me a list of almost 80 wines, all from Washington and Oregon, few of which I have ever heard of, and 15 of which are available by the glass!!! Looking for a Rose, I am given two to try first before I have to choose — each under $10 a glass.

I said I was impressed, being a B.C. “wino”, which quickly resulted in the Beverage Director Kris Rezac coming over for a chat. He told me all the wines on the list come from within 150 miles, and many are from smaller wineries who make limited quantities. His list changes regularly and he is always looking for new wines.  I asked him about BC wines, which he is also interested in (they fit the 150 mile profile) but is having trouble finding. After saying I would send him some names, he poured me a sample of a local Gamay/Pinot blend by Chehalem called Cerise (a beauty). And as he leaves, Kris points out you can also buy the wines to take home at a 25% discount!

Now compare this to our experience in BC.  I love the VAG, but there is no quality wine selection, let alone quality BC wine selection. And while an increasing number of restaurants do have good BC wine lists (places like the Naramata Inn and Spa, Cafe Brio in Victoria and Lift in False Creek), I don’t know any offering 20 B.C. wines by the glass.

Friday, September 3rd, 7pm — with my son dropped off at the Megadeth/Slayer concert (our reason for being in Seattle), I settle in at Cafe Campagne for a french bistro dinner. The food was fabulous (including a divine country pate), and the wine list stunning, with well over 20 wines wines by the glass (including six different Roses) and 30 half bottles! Dining alone, I chose a split of Bergstrom Cumberland Pinot Noir (’92’ by Parker) that was stunning.

Once again, think about the comparable experience for a single diner in Vancouver. It’s hard to think of a restaurant with that kind of options.

September 4th, 10 am — looking to buy my maximum 1.5 litres of wine to bring home that night, I am confronted — again — by a great selection of half bottles of local and imported wines at Pike & Western Wine Shoppe, DeLaurenti Food and Wine, and Sixth Avenue Wine Seller. Selections from Washington, Oregon, California — as well as Chateuneufs from France and Barolos and Babarescos from Italy — gets me thinking. If I go for half bottles, I can get four rather than two. And with my wife not drinking reds, that is a perfect size when I eventually pull them out of my cellar (as wines over 8 years old just don’t last over night).  I end up choosing the 2007 Vieux Telegraph Chateauneuf and the 2003 Paje Barbaresco from Roagne, both 95+ wines by that will age for decades.

There is, of course, no such selection of half-bottles in our government liquor stores. And while I give credit to  Marquis Wine Cellars, Liberty Wine Merchants and Everything Wine for carrying more, they don’t have near the selection — or pricing — that I saw in Seattle.

So put it all together, and I think there is a compelling reason to look to our friends to the south when it comes to the future of wine here in B.C.  The combination of prices, selection, quality and — perhaps most importantly — support for their smaller, boutique wineries would look very good here!