Archive for September, 2011

Moon Curser – New Name, New Style — Better Wine!

September 29, 2011

Changing your name — regardless of the product — is the oldest marketing trick in the book. The hope, of course, is that customers will look at it differently and maybe, just maybe, buy it because its new. But while people might be willing to give the new name a try just because it is new, it rarely is enough to sustain the product if it isn’t any good.

So when I saw that Twisted Tree Vineyards from Osoyoos had changed their name to “Moon Curser”, I was hesitant to say the least. In its former incarnation, I had enjoyed a couple of their wines — particularly the red wine blend Six Vines a year ago — as well as the fact that they were making some relatively obscure white Rhone varietals. So why change?

Well, the new name and label hopefully wasn’t the reason. The darkened images of wolves etched onto the dark glass are strange and hard to discern. They might appeal to abstract artists, but that is about it.

But when I tasted three of the new wines, well…that was a different story!

The 2009 Syrah was the first and it is gorgeous. Dark red, with classic French-style Syrah aromas of pepper and black cherries, no oak in sight, but really ripe — but not jammy — black fruit. Medium body with ripe tannins almost hidden underneath the fruit, it has potential to develop over the next few years. And at $24.95, it is very competitively priced compared to other BC Syrahs. Unfortunately, it is sold out at the winery, although may still be at some VQA stores.

Just as good — and maybe better given the style — is the 2009 Border Vines. This new incarnation of the Six Vines wine is a Bordeaux blend, but boy has the style changed — for the better! Instead of leaning towards herbal and woody, there is much more ripe cherry/black currant fruit. While not completely California in approach, it is a really nice balance between that and France and – like the Syrah — has room to develop. It also is $24.95, which definitely puts it in value territory given how much Cabernet blends are in BC.

The final wine I tasted was the 2009 Tempranillo. Interestingly, I tasted Twisted Tree’s 2008 the year before up in Osoyoos and thought it was way too tannic for the amount of fruit in the wine. This version is much better, with more emphasis — again — on fruit, which is earthy and ripe. It is lighter than the other two reds and, at $29.99, more expensive, so I can’t say it is a bargain. But it is a good expression of this Spanish grape and certainly worth trying.

There are other wines as well that I didn’t try, including a high end Dead of Night ($38), a Merlot (sold out) and whites such as a Chardonnay ($22), Viognier ($22) and a Rhone mix called Afraid of the Dark (sold out). Judging by the “sold out” moniker, at least some of these are good as well.

So a refreshing discovery when it comes to the name change game. The lesson learned is don’t just change your name, change your style. And if that results in better wine, then the change is definitely for the better!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

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Ridge Vineyards — thanks for the (continuing) memories!

September 20, 2011

A quick break from BC wines this week because I had one of my favouites over the weekend…and wanted to write about it because the winery has so many special memories for me.

It was the Lytton Springs Proprietary Wine from Ridge Vineyards in California. The ’02 vintage of this mostly Zinfandel-based wine was a stunner — at 9 years old, still deep red with ripe blackberries, garrigue and a lush, soft texture — very much what Chateauneuf du Pape might taste like if it came from Cali!

Ridge was one of the first wineries to get famous for its Zins, with owner/ winemaker Paul Draper acknowledged as one of the pioneers for this grape (including the Monte Rosso, which was a ‘cult Zin’ before there were cult Cabs!).

My first Ridge memory came from the original wine cellar purchase back I made in the mid-1980’s ($1000 cash spent on about 50 bottles before BC govt liquor stores took credit; but that’s a whole other blog in itself!)

It was the 1979 Paso Robles Zinfandel and I remeber it for two reasons. First, it was my introduction to Zin, and what an intro — purple, mouth staining and really powerful! But the other reason I remember it was because of the way my Mom (who also had a glass) reacted to it — her face flushed red at the high alcohol! She liked it, but too strong! Every time I drink Ridge,I think of her (she passed away 20 years ago now).

I soon after started to cellar two Ridge wines — the Lytton Springs and Geyserville Zins — because they were such amazing values. Always super ripe, almost like blackberry liquor, highly rated (90+ by Parker) and capable of 6 – 8 years of cellaring — all for <$30 at the time!

Then, perhaps my most amazing Ridge memory. As part of the Vancouver Wine Festival in the early 1990's, a new trendy restaurant called Lumiere hosted a dinner paired with Ridge wines. The chefs just happened to be Rob Feenie (now famous as Canada's first Iron Chef) and his sous chef Frank Pabst (now almost as well known as the head chef from Vancouver's Blue Water Restaurant). It turned out to be the best food and wine experience in my life — and remains that way to this day!

For the wines, two different vintages of the Lytton Springs, Geyserville and Monte Rosso!! And the food — Feenie's soon to be famous smoked black cod was on the tasting menu, as well as the best dish I have still ever eaten. It was a sea scallop topped with foie gras, wild mushrooms, crispy pancetta and dabbed with jus!! Unbelievable! I can still almost taste it. Although the restaurant has since closed and the chefs moved on, it remains one of my great wine and food memories.

Finally, I actually got a chance to meet Mr. Draper at the Vancouver Wine Festival a few years ago. He was just there, standing at the Ridge tasting booth, looking quite unassuming. I don't think folks actually knew who he was! Personally, I felt intimidated — all I could do was introduce myself, shake his hand and say how much I loved his wines. I remember he smiled.

I still have both the Lytton Springs and Geyserville in my cellar (in addition to the '02, the '05 and '06 are there). They are expensive now, over $50 usually, so it's tougher to justify. But they continue to amaze me when I open them.

And that — plus the memories — is why I will continue to look for Ridge and its Zinfandels for many years to come!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

A New BC Wine Star – Mt. Lehman Winery

September 7, 2011

Even though I just wrote that headline, have been to the winery and tasted the wines, I still can’t quite believe it. To be able to drive less than an hour from my home in New Westminster and taste world class wines — including many grown from grapes on the property — is truly amazing!

But that is what we have with Mt. Lehman winery (www.mtlehmanwinery.ca) in Abbotsford, B.C. Owned and operated by Vern Siemens, it has 16 acres planted to vines that include pinot noir, pinot grigio, chardonnay, merlot and a “smattering of others” (winery quotes). And while they were an eye opener to me, they have obviously caught others’ attention — in 2010 they won 22 awards and, to date in 2011, have won an additional 19!

Mt. Lehman is equally as strong on the whites and reds (and has a killer Rose as well, but more of that later). The whites are grown on-site and range from the 2009 Viognier-Marsanne ($19.90) (hard to believe these finicky Rhone varietals could grow so well here) through two Chablis-style, non-oaked Pinot Gris and Chardonnays, and finally the 2010 Reserve Viognier ($23.90) that just won the Lieutenant Governor’s Award (and it is outstanding, as good a Viognier as I have had in a long time!).

The afore-mentioned 2010 Rose ($14.90) is made from Pinot Noir and gives La Frenz’s wine a run for the money. Deep, deep pink, with super ripe strawberries, medium body and just a touch off dry — like summer in a glass!

Interestingly, the reds just get better! A knockout bargain is the 2010 Cabernet-Foche ($13.90) which — for the price — might be the best value red wine made in BC. The Marechal Foche dominates in this wine, with wonderful meaty, black cherry fruit, medium body and no hard edges (but no oak or jamminess either). The regular 2009 Pinot Noir is also amazing for $15.90 — light in colour and size, but bang on varietally with super ripe cherry fruit and just the right amount of oak.

Kicking it up a notch is the 2009 Syrah ($22.90) which is a serious, French-styled wine. Classic peppery black fruit here, no obvious vanilla or oak (this is no Shiraz) and a long, lip smacking finish. I think it will easily last for 3 – 5 years, although it is hard to resist now.

The final red I tried was also gorgeous — the 2009 Pinot Noir Reserve Platinum Label ($31.90). More Burgundy than California here, with earthy cherry fruit, herbs, a touch of earth and even mushrooms in the medium bodied wine. I am going to watch this one over a couple of years — it could become very, very exciting with some bottle age (not that it isn’t very nice now!).

Price, quality, value, selection — Mt. Lehman seems to have it all going on. The only downside is I have only seen the wines at the winery itself, although for us in the Lower Mainland that isn’t so bad, as it is a nice afternoon drive to taste/buy them.

And if they continue to produce this kind of wine, watch out — we may have a new contender in my top tier of BC wines!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com