Archive for July, 2011

2011 Fraser Valley Wine Tour – 3 New Stars Taking Over!

July 26, 2011

I took advantage of the best weather of the year last Sunday — combined with the fact my wife and daughter were away
— to go check out what’s new with our Fraser Valley wineries. And boy, was I pleasantly surprised!

Specific winery/wine reviews will follow in the weeks to come, to give appropriate space and credit to both. But for now, here are some high level observations and conclusions.

1. Changing of the Guard

The first and most striking conclusion is that the ‘winery pecking order’ has changed almost completely (at least for my style of wines). Whereas before it was “Township 7 and everybody else”, there are now three wineries making better fruit-driven wines than T7 — Blackwood Lane, Mt Lehman and Vista d’Oro. And to be honest, it wasn’t even close. These three are head and shoulders above both T7 and everyone else.

2. A Great Range of Prices

Another thing that amazed me was the great prices on some of the wines. The vast propertion of the really good wines was around $25, with Mt Lehman, in particular, having some amazing wines for < $20! That bodes well for wine in BC, as the prices have only been going up in a lot of places, with the quality and value not necessarily following suit.

3. A New High End Wine Leader

Readers will be familiar with my rants about BC wines over $40. But Carlos Lee at Blackwood Lane has really got something going at his high end winery, even with a number of wines over that level (and a couple even more expensive than that). He is benchmarking himself against a whole different competition — first and second growth Bordeaux, California "cult" wines — and, at least in my tasting, he has a solid argument that his wines offer way better value!

4. Great Wines Made From Fraser Valley Grapes?

Finally, I need to do a bit more research to confirm it, but Mt Lehman in Abbotsford may be showing it is possible to grow and ripen grapes in the Fraser Valley that make great wines! To date, most of the wineries have gotten their fruit from the Okanagan, with the exception of some whites and sparkling wines. But Vern Siemens at Mt Lehman apparently even makes some of his reds from his own vines. If that is the case, it could change winemaking in the Valley (and in BC)!

In conclusion, then, it was a very enjoyable — and impressive — day of tasting. And it was exciting! To find this new level of quality was amazing, especially since it was so close to home. While the number of wineries is still small compared to the Okanagan or een Vancouver Island, the quality of some of them is right up there with the best. In fact, i know it was only one tasting, but the three new "stars" — Blackwood Lane, Mt. Lehman and Vista d'Oro — were second only to some of the big guns in Naramata (and ahead of most on the Island and many in Osoyoos and Oliver).

Stay tuned for some of the winery/wine reviews in the weeks to come.


For the Best French-style Syrah, Go to Nichol Vineyards!

July 18, 2011

I’m a huge fan of wines made of Syrah, both the super-ripe, jammy, high-alcohol Australian version (usually called Shiraz) and the leaner, meatier French style. And while I have lots of both in my cellar, if I had to choose my preference is for the latter.

I was introduced to Syrah at one of the first wine tastings I ever attended. Up to that point, most of my wine experience had been with Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, so I was used to smelling and tasting herbs and oak to go along with the berry fruits in the wine. What a surprise, then, when I put my nose in a glass of something called “Crozes-Hermitage”! Pepper, earth…those were new aromas! And in the mouth there was a meatiness to the wine and no sign of any oak. While I couldn’t pronounce the name, I found out it was made of Syrah and have been hooked on the grape since then.

Finding French-style Syrahs outside of that country has proven challenging over the years, however. California makes some wonderful ones, but they tend to be a lot riper and fuller-bodied. Italy’s and Chile’s are too earthy for me, and South Africa’s too funky. So I was both stunned — and very pleased — when I tasted my first bottle of Nichol Syrah.

It was the 1998 — that first great Okanagan red wine vintage — and oh, baby what a wine! By then I had been drinking and collecting some of those same Crozes-Hermitages I had orginally tasted (Hermitage has always been too expensive for me) and the Nichol was a dead ringer for a mid-weight Crozes. At the time it was just over $20 so I snapped up a half dozen bottles and then tasted them over a period of ten years. To my even greater delight, they got better as they got older. When that 1998 was ten, it was spectacular, with no sign of decline at all!!

Since then, I have bought Nichol’s Syrahs every year and found that even in rainy vintages, they are incredibly consistent and continue to age anywhere from 5 – 10 years. Part of the reason is the age of the vines — they are the oldest in the Okanagan and produce fabulously ripe fruit. The other is Ross Hackworth, who bought the winery from the original owners almost a decade ago and has carried on their wine making style and tradition. In my mind, it is clearly the best Syrah in BC, even in the face of previous challenges from Township 7 and new competition from Marichel. At about $32, it is at least $10 cheaper than a similar quality wine from France, so should be considered a great buy.

In very good years, Nichol also makes a small amount of a Reserve Syrah, which is darker and more brooding than its regular sibling. I’m still testing those ones from an aging perspective, but they look to be even longer lasting.

Finally, I would be remiss — even with all this talk about Syrah — to not mention Nichol’s great Pinot Gris. This wine is a true “Gris”, meaning they leave the skins on for a while to give the white wine extra colour. Depending on the year, that can mean it is anywhere from a light pink to almost orange! But it is still bone dry, crisp and clean, a beautiful wine, especially in summer.

So lots of props to Ross and Nichol for making such classic Syrah (and Pinot Gris). You can buy it at the winery, on-line or in select speciality stores. It is definitely worth the effort!


Rose – the wine for summer!

July 13, 2011

Even though the weather in BC refuses to be consistent with the season, we have started to drink Roses anyway! They are our favourite summer wine ever since our trip to the south of France back in 2006.

Prior to that, I was — honestly — quite prejudiced against Rose. My only real experience was from my alcohol-laden youth, where Rose meant Mateus or (even worse!) Cracklin’ Rose from the Okanagan Valley in BC (this was pre-Free Trade and the planting of real grape vines). Sweet, syrupy and awful — that pretty much summed up my Rose experiences.

And then we got to France. It was July and, typical for the season, stinking hot! Especially in Provence. At one point we were driving on the A5 and kept seeing these signs in French with the number 45 after them. It was only after arriving at the walled city of Carcassone that I realized it was a warning to “keep hydrated” because it was 45 degrees Centigrade!!!

As you can imagine, that meant drinking red wine was out of the question. And whites — well, make them cold enough, and most lose any character at all. Which left us with Rose, which became particularly tempting because it often came with the prix fixe meal for free!

What a revelation! Ranging in colour from light to deep pink, it smelled of ripe strawberries and cherries, had some of the body of a red wine, but was cold and dry on the finish. Most were bone dry, although we also found some that were just a touch sweet. They were perfect with just about everything we ate, from cassoulet to duck confit, terrines and even steak tartare.

So when I got home, my mission became to find Roses here! At first I had mixed luck — some were too expensive, some too dry, and some too sweet. Some were also too old — Rose needs to be very fresh, one year old at the most (except for the great ones from Tavel in France). Eventually, I landed on a number of regular great buys and, interestingly, a number of them came from BC!

Best of the bunch, year in, year out, is from La Frenz in Naramata. The 2010 version just arrived yesterday and — WOW!!! Deep pink (almost purple), exploding with super ripe grapefruit and strawberries, it is lush, medium bodied and just a touch off dry. My wife said it was the way “adult soda pop” should taste like. This is the wine to drink on the deck in the sun. And for $18, it is tough to find a bargain as good as this.

Another good one is the 2010 Somenos Rose from Averill Creek on Vancouver Island. Andy Johnston is known best for his Pinot Noir, but this is a beautiful Rose. Lighter and drier than the La Frenz, it finishes really crisp and dry, quite like one from France. A buck less at $17, it is another great bargain.

The third Rose from BC that is consistently good is the one from Quail’s Gate. A bit darker than the Averill Creek — but still lighter than La Frenz — it is crisp, clean and, at $14.99 a good bargain. Even better, it is in the regular BC government liquor stores, so widely available.

There are lots of other Roses out there to try, so please do! Even if the weather doesn’t turn, you can chill them, sit in a lawn chair (even if you get rained on) and pretend it is summer in France. Sante!


Moon Curser – New Name, New Style, Great Value Wines!

July 4, 2011

The oldest marketing trick in the book — for wine or any other product — is to change your name and then sell based on that new sexy identity. It doesn’t usually work if its just a name change. But if the product is actually new and better, watch out!

And that may be what the new Moon Curser Vineyard in Osoyoos has in front of them. The former (until last year) Twisted Tree Vineyards, they mysteriously changed their name in 2011 for the release of their 2009 wines. But based on my tasting of three of them, it is more than just a name change — these guys are really on to something!

I visited Twisted Tree last summer during my annual summer wine tour and while I liked their Bordeaux blend (then called Six Vines), all the reds seemed to suffer from that “big tannic red wine” syndrom. The whites were interesting, especially the Rhone varietals (including Roussane and Marsanne blends, if I remember correctly), but some bad experiences with white Hermitage meant they weren’t really my style.

So what a surprise when I was in the Edgemont Village VQA store last week and, in talking to my old buddy Dave, he showed me these “new” wines. I was curious and — based on his recommendations and the fact that three of them were under $30 — I bought the Border Vines, Syrah and Tempranillo to given them a try.

Wow, what a first impression they made! The 2009 Syrah is made in the classic French style, with lots of peppery black cherry fruit, no noticeable oak or jamminess, and both lush and smooth. Interestingly, the rest of the wine was just as good the next day — a good sign for short term aging. And the price? Well, at $24.95, this was some serious value!

The 2009 Border Vines may be even better, if only because I am so often disappointed with these so called Bordeaux-style wines. All the Bordeaux red grapes are represented here and they are blended beautifully with the oak and herbs! Really reminded me of a baby Nota Bene but at less than half the price ($24.95 vs. $53). And, like its Syrah sibling, it also tasted great the next day. A fitting follow up to the 2008 Six Vines that won so many awards last year!

Last of the three was a bit of a stranger for the Okanagan — Tempranillo, the native Spanish grape. The 2009 is lighter than the other two and shows more oak, but the vanilla overtones mix well with the ripe black currants. My favourite Tempranillo-based wine is Pesquera from Alexandro Fernandez, and this was like its little brother! My only quibble is the price — $29.95 might push it out of the “value” category, but still a very nice wine indeed.

There is also a $24.95 Merlot and $38 Tannat/Syrah blend that I didn’t taste, plus a few whites. Hopefully I can get to those this summer.

But for now — at least based on these offerings — we have a new value contender in the red wine category! Well done, Moon Curser!