Archive for April, 2012

Naramata on the River Tasting a Huge Success

April 29, 2012

The first major “BC wine” event of the year is really the Naramata Bench Spring Release. It sees a selection of the wineries located on the ‘bench’ above Lake Okanagan offering a selection of their upcoming wines for both the trade and public to taste.

This year’s event had one major difference – it moved from downtown Vancouver to the newly renovated River Market at the Quay in New Westminster. That change turned out to be a fantastic success (and not just because it was in my home town!). Close to 400 tickets were sold and everyone seemed to have a fabulous time – kudos to Trudy Van Dopp and company who put the whole thing on!

I went to both the trade and public events, which this year include 20 of the Naramata Bench wineries. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, my usual ‘stars’ were shining once again!

Leading the way was La Frenz. Jeff and Niva Martin showed once again why — at least in my opinion — theirs is the best overall winery not just in BC, but in Canada as well. And that is for quality and value!

Their 2011 whites are ridiculously good and significantly underpriced. They were pouring the Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Viognier and…wow! The SB is a classic varietally, with fresh grasses and citrus on the nose, medium body, and tart (but ripe) grapefruit with nice, refreshing acidity.

The Riesling is made just a touch off dry in the German/Alsace style, although not heavy or cloying at all. Classic petrol and mineral aromas are followed by a smooth, lush, fruity wine. Of note is how this wine ages – I have kept past vintages for 5+ years and it just gets better!

Finally, the Viognier — and I bet Rhone producers in France would be afraid of this baby. One of the most aromatic of white wines, it has literally a fruit cocktail of aromas and flavours. Surprisingly big in body, it is also bone dry on the finish.

All three of these wines are the best made in BC each year and, amazingly, their prices stay the same — in the $20 – $24 range! As I said, ridiculous value (easily worth $10 a bottle more). I can’t wait for the Semillon, which is also one of my favourites.

Being early in the year, there were only two new reds — the ’10 Merlot and ’10 Reserve Pinot Noir (the latter for restaurants). But boy – what wines!

The Martins are clear leaders in producing fruit-forward red wines, which I love (and, since wine is made from fruit, is what it should taste like…but that’s another story…). The ’10 Merlot is, again, the best made in BC, with cherries, plums, a touch of vanilla (from the oak) and a bit of mint. It once again drinks very well now, but I suspect based on past vintages will age for 3 – 5 years easily. And at $26 — well, just try to find a California Merlot of this quality for that price!

The ’10 Reserve Pinot is also really good, a Cali/Burgundy style with sweet (meaning ripe) cherries, earth and spice components lovingly wrapped in a vanilla “velvet glove”. My experience is this wine also improves with a few years of age. And while it’s not cheap — at $32 — it is worth the price tag.

The other two stars at the tasting were Nichol and Kettle Valley. The former had the new vintage of its Pinot Gris, and the ’11 is very good once again. Almost pink in colour (from time on the skins), it is classic non-oaked Gris – bone dry, with citrus flavours and good acidity. A good value at $22.

The true star at Nichol, of course, is the Syrah. And while the ’10 had just been bottled (literally that morning, meaning it is 6 months away from release), the ’09 is in fabulous shape! Purple, with classic Rhone aromas and flavours of pepper, earth, meat and black cherries, there is virtually no oak and only ripe tannins. A 5 – 7 year wine, it is good value at $32.

Finally, Kettle Value, and first some disappointing news. Stop the presses – there will be no ’09 Hayman or Reserve Pinot Noirs! The explanation was a ‘mixing error’. The only upside is that all the fruit will go to make the regular 2009 Pinot Noir, with no price increase! At $26, this could turn out to be the red wine bargain of the year when it is released

I did taste the ’08 Reserve and regular Pinots, however, and both are in great shape, particular the former! Classic Cali style — with ripe red cherries, vanilla and earth, very ripe but not candied or jammy at all.

So all in all, a great event, and the great producers continued to lead the way. I can’t wait to get up to Naramata this summer to taste the more of the reds and see I can find some new stars to look at!


Preview of the annual Naramata Bench Spring Release Tasting

April 19, 2012

The first big event of the BC wine season is next week, and very happy to have it in my home town of New Westminster! The Naramata Bench Spring Release Tasting offers the opportunity to taste some of the new releases from what I believe is the best part of BC’s wine country — the Naramata Bench, which is located above Lake Okanagan just outside of Penticton.

Full marks to all the wineries that are coming to pour their wines, which this year includes: Black Widow Winery, D’Angelo Estate Winery, Elephant Island, Orchard Wines
Hillside Estate Winery & Bistro, Kettle Valley Winery, La Frenz Winery
Lake Breeze Vineyards, Laughing Stock Vineyards, Misconduct Wine Co., Nichol Vineyard & Estate Winery, Poplar Grove Winery, Red Rooster Winery, Therapy Vineyards
Township 7, Vineyards & Winery and Van Westen Vineyards!

While I don’t know exactly what wines will be poured yet, I can unequivically recommend three wineries regardless of their offerings.

The first — and leading overall winery in BC, if not in Canada — is La Frenz. Whites, reds and rose, they do it all, both in terms of value and quality. Jeff and Niva Martin (orginally from Australia) have risen head and shoulders above everyone the last few years. For whites, they make the best Semillon, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier — all for around $20 (which is outrageous, given the quality level). Their Rose is also usually the best in BC, especially when made from Syrah. It balances super ripe fruit with just the right amount of residual sweetness — adult soda pop for drinking on the balcony on a hot day (if we ever get that weather).

And reds? Well, the Martins are proponents of fruit forward red wines, including some of the best California-style Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Reserve Pinot Noir you will find (all for around $30, which is again a great value). Even their highest price wine — a Bordeaux blend called Grand Total Reserve — is great at about $40 (I wish real Bordeaux tasted that ripe and cost that little!). They also make great sweet wines, including Muscat, Tawny Port and a killer Vintage Port in the coolest half bottles.

The other two wineries I consider specialists. Even though they make good wines across the board, they stand out in my mind for what they do best. At Kettle Valley, that means Pinot Noir, and specifically their Reserve and Hayman Vineyard bottlings. More Burgundy than California in style (especially the Hayman, which is only made in very small quantities), they can age for 5 – 10 years. I have drunk the Hayman at 10 and been amazed — it is a dead ringer for Premier Cru Burgundy at about 1/3 to 1/4 the cost (about $40).

Last but not least is Nichol Vineyards, where Ross Hackworth makes the best Syrah in B.C. and Canada. Don’t just take my word for it — esteemed British wine critic Jancis Robinson said the same thing! This is real French-style Syrah — no jamminess or oak here, just deep purple colour, pepper, black cherries and a touch of licorice. Even more amazing, if you keep it for 6 – 8 years, it evolves into a wine that is exactly like a Crozes-Hermitage from the northern Cotes du Rhone (and at $32 about a fraction of the price!).

So there’s a primer for you! Tickets are still available for the event on April 24th at 6:30 at the River Market at Westminster Quay. You can get them at 604.521.7887 or 1.888.981.9886 or (website is


What I Drank on my 50th Birthday…or How Good is a $3000 Bottle of Wine Supposed to Be?

April 12, 2012

Well, I did it! As promoted in last week’s blog, it was my 50th birthday this week and I had made the decision to drink a real “trophy” wine from my cellar — the 1982 Chateau Margaux. Both Parker and the Wine Spectator had rated it 98 – 100 points on a regular basis, so even though my taste for Bordeaux had changed over the past twenty years, it should be great, right?

Well, let me take you through the process, step by step. I bet you figure out the answer before I even describe the wine itself!

I took the bottle out of my cellar on Sunday to let it stand up for couple of days. At almost 30 years old, it was the last of my original wine cellar purchase of 1986. As it sat on the bureau, I took a closer look. The fill was pretty good for 30 year old wine — a little low, but still in the neck. No outward signs of leakage or anything, so that was a good sign.

As I got the decanter ready, I decided to double check the last rating from the Wine Advocate. And that’s when I saw the current price — a range from $760 to (gulp!) $3350!!!

I stopped for a second, cork screw in hand. Should I really drink this wine? Maybe sell it instead? No, that isn’t why I collect wine, so that was dismissed right away.

But how good could it possible be? What is $3350 supposed to taste like?

I took a deep breath and then slowly started to take the capsule off. That’s when the first danger sign showed up.

Underneath the red fil coating, there were stains on the outside of the bottle! A sure sign that there had been some leakage!

Well, no stopping now. I put the corkscrew in — the cork was soft, but not brittle — and started to turn. I made sure it went in deep, as it was a very long cork. And then as I started to pull — more bad news! Red stains down one side of the cork. There had been some leakage!

But then the cork came out with a pop, and completely intact. Slowly I tilted the wine over the decanter and began to pour. The medium red liquid came slowly out, and there wasn’t very much sediment at all, a third bad sign. At 30 years old, there should have been a lot!

I finished decanting and looked at the finished product. A little sediment had accumulated at the end, but that was it. My wife joined me as I poured us a couple of glasses, just enough to smell and taste.

My first impression was — at least its not corked or oxidized! That’s a relief!

But the nose was quite muted. Not much fruit, mostly cedar, wood, a little earth. I took another deep breath and tipped the wine into my mouth.

Smooth, elegant, with mostly cedary/woody flavours, but still a hint of dried cherries in the back. Ironically, it was like so many other Bordeaux I had tried. Not bad, but just not a lot of fruit.

My wife and I looked at each other. She pointed out that it was very elegant, and that was true. Maybe that was what 30 year old wine tasted like? We drank the bottle with our pate de fois gras and duck confit…it went very well with the meal. And then it was gone.

Afterwards, I tried to figure out how I felt about it. Not devestated, for sure. Disappointed — perhaps. Relieved that it hadn’t been “off”? Definitely. Something I would always remember? Yes, but necessarily because it was a great wine!

So any lessons here for others in a similar situation? Nothing profound, I’m afraid. Maybe don’t be afraid to drink your supposedly “best” wines (regardless of how much they have appreciated in price), but also don’t get your hopes too high…and enjoy the overall occasion…it was a great event, after all! And always have a backup wine in case you need it!


What Wine to Drink on My 50th Birthday?

April 5, 2012

Okay, I’m turning 50 next week…big occaison, obviously, and it demands a great wine to go with it!!!

So what to drink? Something I go out and buy, probably spending more than I should because of the day?

Or something from my cellar? A more logical — and cost-effective — choice, for sure. But what? Something old, which risks oxidation? Something new, which might be too tannic?

And what kind of wine? The highest rated would seem to be the most logical choice. But having been into wine for almost 30 years now, I have also gone through phases and my tastes have changed.

It turns out my highest rated (and, by coincidence, most valuable) dry red wine is the 1982 Chateau Marguax. It has received 99 points from both the Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate and, at 30 years old, definitely ready to drink. It was purchased back in 1986 for about $100, it is now listed at US $500 – $800! Yikes!

What’s the downside, you say (aside from drinking something that is so valuable)? Well, anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows that….I know don’t like Bordeaux very much! Not enough fruit, too much wood…don’t get me started.

But surely, you say, a first growth Bordeaux from a great vintage that is rated that highly…it must be great, right? Thinking back, the only other first growth I have ever tasted was a 1997 Chateau Mouton Rothschild. It was only a few years old at the time and not from a great vintage, but I do remember loving the fruit intensity of that wine. So it should be good, right?

The other issue — mentioned above — is what shape the Margaux will be in. It has followed me in my life’s travels, from when I lived at my parent’s house (where it was stored under the bed), to an appartment (stored in a separate room), to our first house (a cool cellar downstairs) to our current house (another cool cellar downstairs). There is no sign of leakage and the fill looks good for a 30 year wine. So it should be good, right?

Finally, there is the issue of expectations. I have only tried a wine that was that highly rated once in my life — the 2007 Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage de Beaucastel by Chateau de Beaucastel. Had it at the Vancouver International Wine Festival a few years ago at a tasting…it was rated 100 by Parker and it was amazing! Pure Grenache-flavoured fruit, incredibly long finish, rich and pure…

But what if I am disappointed? What if it is off, or even just average? Is it worth the risk?

To be honest, I don’t know the answer. But I have had it earmarked for this birthday for over twenty years now.

So…here is what I’m going to do! I will open it — it just makes sense. But I will also have a back up wine, one I know I will love, like a Chateauneuf du Pape or old vine Aussie Shiraz. And if the Margaux is off — or even just average — I am going to switch it up!

I always tell people that life is too short to drink bad wine. Well, given the occaison, I am going to amend that saying and say that life is too short to drink average wine.

I will have a great bottle of wine to go with the Pate de Fois Gras, Duck Confit with mushroom risotto, and raw milk cheeses I am planning for dinner next Wednesday, April 11th. But which one will it be? Stay tuned next week…and find out!