Archive for May, 2012

BC Pinot Noir – What Region Makes the Best?

May 17, 2012

I did BC Syrah’s last week, so this week will move on to perhaps the province’s best red wine grape – Pinot Noir! I was surprised to check my cellar book and find that I’ve already had 14 BC Pinots this year already, and the year isn’t even half over! And, interestingly, they have come from five different regions — Naramata, Okanagan Falls, Vancouver Island, the Similkameen Valley and the Fraser Valley. So which region, and which wines are best?

As always, style plays a big role here. As Pinot lovers know, the “hearbreak grape” can be made many different ways, from herbal/earthy/mushroomy to woody/black cherries to super ripe, sometimes even candied red cherry fruit. The wines I have in my cellar don’t represent the entire spectrum, but they are all different none the less.

The overall winner was the wines from Naramata, specifically those from Kettle Valley (’03 Hayman Vineyard and ’07, ’05 and ’02 Reserve). Readers of this blog know how much I love the Kettle Valley wines, and these examples didn’t disappoint! The ’03 Hayman — in my view, the best Burgundy-style Pinot in BC — was truly amazing. At almost 9 years of age, it still seemed young, but already had the earthy/black cherry complexity you find in older wines. And it was fully ripe with no dry, harsh tannins. A truly gorgeous wine!

The Kettle Valley Reserve Pinots weren’t too far behind. More California in style — meaning fruitier with less earth — they were still very ripe and complex. Even the ’02, at almost ten years of age, was still in stunning shape.

The other Naramata wine was from relative newcomer Howling Bluff. The 2007 won a bunch of awards when it was released and I could see why — a big wine for Pinot, with some tannin, it was a bit leaner in style but still had lots of ripe black cherry fruit. It will be interesting to see how the other bottle I have ages.

Almost in a dead heat with the Kettle Valley wines was my other favourite BC Pinot Noir — the Blue Mountain Reserve (or Striped Label) from OK Falls. I have been buying/drinking/cellaring this wine since first trying it in 1996 and it continues to go from strength to strength. Interestingly, this year I have tried the 2007 and 2002. The latter is the better wine right now, almost fully mature with earthy, spicy black cherry fruit and just a touch of wood. Quite an accomplishment for a 10 year old wine! The 2007 is also great, but right now it is for the super ripe cherry fruit, which will gain complexity as it ages. It’s nice to be able to drink a wine young and older — what a treat!

The unheralded Similkameen Valley provided another fabulous — and bargain — Pinot Noir, this one from Eau Vivre. It also won a bunch of awards when it came out and it was gorgeous, very much like the Eau Vivre, as it was made in a leaner but still ripe cherry style. And at $19 a bottle, it is an outrageous buy!

From Vancouver Island — which you don’t normally associate with wine — two different but nice Pinot Noirs. The first is Andy Johnson’s 2007 from Averill Creek in Duncan and it is once again gorgeous! How he gets his fruit this ripe, I don’t know, but it has beatiful black cherries and just the right amount of oak. The ’05 by Blue Grouse was more restrained, even a bit austere. I have no experience with this wine and wondered at the age of it, but it was still a good, solid wine. I’m not sure the wine was ever as ripe as some of the others, but its not a woody monster either.

Finally, the last place you would expect ripe wine, let alone ripe Pinot Noir. And that’s the Fraser Valley. But Vern Siemens at Mt Lehman is really working some magic out there, as evidenced by both his regular and reserve wines (both 2009s). The former is a bit light but bang on varietally, with cherries, earth and a touch of cedar. And for $17.95, it is a steal! The Reserve is a different beast — not tannic, but complicated, with more black fruit, earth and spice. I sense this could develop into something special.

So there you go — five regions, 14 wines, and not a clunker among them! A testament not just to BC Pinot Noir, but also to how it can age pretty well. Kudos to all of those producers.


Battle of the BC Syrahs

May 10, 2012

I was looking through my cellar book this week and realized I have already tried a number of my favourite BC Syrahs this year. That gave me an idea for this blog entry…why not review them all together after the fact in a kind of competitive format?

So that’s what I am going to do! The wineries/wines in question are Nichol (2009, 2004), Burrowing Owl (2008, 2007), Township 7 (2005), Cedarcreek (2007 Platinum), Nk Mip (2006 Qwam Qwmt), Church and State (2007 Coyote Bowl) and Marichel (2006).

One thing all of these wines had in common is that they are made in a true Rhone style. No jammy blackberry Shiraz here (not that there is anything wrong with that, as the Aussie section of my wine cellar shows!). But these wines are true to the French style.

No surprise — to me, anyway — is that after reviewing my tasting notes, the Nichol wines still come out on top. The ripe, peppery black cherries are great to drink young and, as the ’04 showed, they grow more complex as they age. At almost age 8, this could easily pass for a mid-weight Crozes-Hermitage from the northern Cotes du Rhone! Ross Hackworth continues to make the best Syrah in BC and at about $32 it represents great value.

After Nichol, though, it does get competitive! Burrowing Owl is definitely a contender for number two. Their Syrah is now the only red wine I can recommend given the price/value/style combination (oh for the days of the 1998 Merlot, maybe the greatest red wine ever made in BC!). Year in, year out, this is a stylish, peppery red wine with a bit of smoke to it, but little or no wood at all. And, interestingly, at $33 it is their cheapest red wine. It just doesn’t quite have the depth of flavour of the Nichol.

The Township 7 Syrah is a strange story. At one time a few years ago, it was my favourite BC Syrah, especially since the cost was in the mid $20. And the 2005 was one of those wines! They were actually riper than the Nichol wines, a touch less peppery and more fruity, but still not jammy. Not as long lasting, they were gorgeous young and the 2005 is still in great shape. But, alas, a style change at the winery in recent years (2007 onward) has resulted in woodier, less fruity wines that I can no longer recommend.

Marichel is a relative newcomer from Naramata and their Syrah is perhaps the ripest and richest of the bunch. Richard makes a gorgeous wine full of super ripe blackberries and cherries with slightly less pepper. It is almost Shiraz-like, but stops short of being jammy. My only quibbles — it is $40 (that’s pushing it for a BC wine) and it still doesn’t have a long enough legacy to know how it is going to age. But it is still definitely worth buying.

The Nk Mip was a bit of a revelation, quite frankly. I bought it on a bit of a whim without having ever tried it — loved the Pinot Noirs, and hoped for the best. And then when I opened the 2006 Qwam Qwmt(the reserve) — wow! Bang on French style Syrah, with lots of pepper and smoky black fruit. And $35 it is in the ballpark price wise…it will be interesting to see how it ages!

Church and State was another intriguing wine for me. Their Coyote Bowl vineyard makes some beautiful wines and this Syrah was the “pepperiest” of the bunch! At first I thought too peppery, but then the dark cherry fruit started to come through. It is also leaner than the others, which is something you often find in the northern Cotes du Rhone. Very good, if not great.

Last, but hardly least, was the Cedarcreek Platinum. I’m not usually a big fan of this winery, but bought the wine because it won a bunch of awards (even though it was $40). On tasting, it was good…but would have finished at the bottom of this tasting. Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice bottle of wine. But given the price and competition, it didn’t really stack up — not enough fruit, a touch of wood/cedar….

So there you have it — long live King Nichol, but kudos to the other wines as well! They show that Syrah is — along with Pinot Noir, which will be the next blog subject — the best red wine for BC.