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.