Archive for August, 2012

Wine Competitions: Why — or Why Not — to Go in Them?

August 21, 2012

A comment by Tony Gismondi in his wine column last Saturday in the Vancouver Sun reminded me of something else I wanted to blog on — Wine Competitions. So before I talk about the BC white wines I tasted on my recent Okanagan tour, let me wade in on that subject!

The specific question from Mr. Gismondi was why all wineries don’t submit wines to these competitions (in this case, to the 2021 Canadian Wine Access awards). But I think the real question is actually the opposite – why go in them in the first place?

The first reason is that there now seem to be so many of these competitions that everybody gets to win something! I noticed that on my recent trip to the Okanagan – almost everyone had won some kind of award. And that made me wonder whether it has become like Grammar School Sports Days — everybody gets a ribbon for participation? But doesn’t that dilute the whole idea of winning?

Second, I understand that the publicity of winning can help to sell more wine. But if you already sell out anyway, then why go through all the time and expense? Many wineries I consider to be the best already sell out their best wines — La Frenz (for almost all their wines), Kettle Valley’s Reserve and Hayman Pinot Noirs, Blue Mountain’s Reserve Pinot Noir, and Nichol’s Syrah. If they entered those wines and won, chances are they would just have to tell new customers ‘no’ when they called/came in to buy them.

Another reason for entering, of course, is prestige and/or ego (often opposite sides of the same coin). But if you separate that out from the previous reason – to sell more wine – then I wonder…what are you trying to prove, and to who? If it is peer-based recognition you are looking for, wouldn’t that be a better competition to set up?

The last couple of potential reasons for entering – or not entering – these kinds of competitions are, shall we say, on the “dark side”.

The first is to help justify and/or sell expensive (or overpriced) wine. Readers of this blog already know my views about BC wines selling for more than $40. But if you make them, and they are sitting on your shelves…will you do anything (short of dropping the price) to move them? Certainly an award from the ABC Wine Competition might help (although not necessarily have anything to do with the quality of your wine).

My final potential reason for not entering these kinds of competitions may sound a bit paranoid. But what if the judging is inherently biased in favour of certain wineries (and/or the style of wines they make)?

Let’s face it — the big wineries in BC have the largest marketing and advertising budgets. With that comes significant influence with reviewers, judges and retailers. So do they maybe get some favouritism? And, if they do – or some perceive that they do – is it enough for some of the smaller wineries to not get involved?

I don’t know the answer to those questions and readily admit they are pure supposition. But it is starting to seem like more than a coincidence that many of the smaller wineries which make more fruit forward wines are not entering the big competitions and/or losing to the big guys, many of whom make super tannic, woody and herbal red wines. It makes me, at least, wonder if something is going on.

In conclusion, my advice to folks who buy wines based on whether they have done well in competitions is – as Elmer Fudd used to say – “be very, very careful”. Always think about the style of wine that you like, read the description (if it is there) and then make your choice. And don’t be surprised if the “gold medal” tastes more like tin.



August 15, 2012

After being so pleased to find what a great state BC Syrah and Pinot Noir are in during my recent Summer 2012 Wine Tour, it was disappointing to see that the classic red Bordeaux varietals — Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc – continue to really struggle.

Or at least that is the case for the Cali/Aussie style of fruit forward and dominant wines. Lots of wineries are making the more old world style — with more of a focus on herbs and wood — but most of these are so tannic it is hard to find any fruit in them at all. The ‘big red wine” problem continues…look for a future blog on this topic.

And the price? Well, don’t get me started…this is the area where BC has its biggest issues, with so many wineries making $40 and $50 wines that are, frankly, not worth the money. Another future blog on its own!

But on to the wineries — and wines — themselves. A warning, though — this isn’t going to be pretty!

1. Township 7 2008 Cabernet and Merlot

As readers know, T7 used to make my favourite BC Cab and Merlot. But after the 2006 vintage…well, definitely a change in style! Both of these 2008s are quite herbal and woody, with the Cab also really tannic. Not for me!

2. La Frenz 2010 Cabernet, Merlot and 2009 Total Reserve

Next stop La Frenz and my favourites! Both the 2010s are fruit forward and ripe, with lovely vanilla overtones. More cassis and mint in the Cab, and black plums/licorice in the Merlot. Just gorgeous, and below $30!

I didn’t taste the latest Total Reward, but this is a nice Bordeaux-style blend, way riper than those from France and although pricey (at $40), still lots less than most of its competitors.

3. Hillside 2009 Cabernet Franc and Mosaic

I like their Syrah, but the Cab Franc and Bordeaux blend are too herbal and/or tannic for me!

4. Nichol 2009 Cabernet-Syrah and 2010 Nine Mile Red

I’m a huge fan of Nichol’s Syrah and white Pinot Gris, but the other reds don’t really do it for me. Both blends are too herbal, woody and tannic in style (is this starting to sound familiar?).

5. Howling Bluff 2009 Cin Sera

The last vintage of this Bordeaux blend was way too tannic for me, but this one is better balanced. Still not as much fruit as I would like, although at $31 it beats many on price.

6. Painted Rock 2009 Merlot and Red Icon

What a disappointment Painted Rock was! Both the Merlot and` Red Icon were so tannic, I couldn’t find any fruit at all, and the prices…?? As a certain TV show would say…FUGGATABOUTIT!

9. Church and State 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

I loved Church and State’s Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah, but the Cabernet Sauvignon is too tannic for me.

10. Quinta Ferreira 2009 Cabernet Franc and 2008 Obra Prima

Don’t know what is going on here…all tannin, all the time, but where is the fruit?

11. Cassini Cellars 2010 Merlot

This winery is on its way to challenging La Frenz as best overall in BC. The 2010 Merlot is amazingly ripe and fruit forward, no oak, and at $19.99 a ridiculous value!

12. Moon Curser 2010 Merlot

Again, too much tannin in both the 2010 Merlot and 2010 Border Vines Bordeaux blend. The latter is a bit surprising, as I loved the 2009 and at $24.95 it was a great bargain.

13. Young and Wyse 2010 Merlot and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

Same story at Young and Wyse with their ’10 Merlot and ’10 Cabernet. The Merlot has better fruit, but both are too tannic.

14. Burrowing Owl 2009 Cabernet and 2009 Cabernet Franc

While made in the Bordeaux style, both these wines are riper than most. But I’m not sure at $38 and $33 they are worth it. Stick to their best wine, the Syrah!

16. Eau Vivre 2009 Bhuddaful

Great name and surprisingly ripe Bordeaux style wine! The ’09 Bhuddaful is tannic, but has lots of ripe cherry and blackcurrant fruit to support it. And for $26, it is a real competitor!

17. Seven Stones 2008/09/10 Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon

Same as last year and same story – regardless of the varietal, these red wines are tannic, earthy, herbal and woody. Where’s the fruit?

That’s a lot of Bordeaux varietals…so what is the conclusion? Well, for that Cali/Aussie style of wine, La Frenz is still clearly the winner for their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. And their Total Reward is the best Bordeaux style wine out there. But Cassini is challenging with their Merlot and watch out for Eau Vivre’s Bhuddaful.

But it doesn’t look good after that. Not sure if it is the winemaking, terroir or what, but it is hard to recommend Cabernet and Merlot wines from BC at this time. So aside from the ones above, stick to Syrah and Pinot Noir – you will fare better!


The Best Pinot Noir in BC

August 8, 2012

The second most consistent red wines during my recent 2012 Summer Okanagan Wine Trip were the Pinot Noirs. Below are the highlights, followed my rankings of the current ‘best in BC’!

Before getting into it, though, an important caveat – neither the great Kettle Valley wines (Hayman and Reserve) and Blue Mountain Reserve were available to taste on the trip. I also didn’t make it to NkMip (which makes very good value Pinot Noir).

Even without tasting these wines, however, I still found some beauties.

1. 2010 Howling Bluff ($35)

I’ll start in Naramata with a wine that is quickly making a name for itself. Previous vintages won BC Lieutenant Governor’s Awards, and the ‘10 may challenge for that as well. It has good colour for a Pinot (which can be quite light), and a beautiful, Burgundy style nose – meaning cherries, spice and earth, with just a touch of vanilla (from the oak barrels). In the mouth, it is super ripe without being candied, medium bodied, with more cherries and spice and some ripe but firm tannins. A candidate for up to 5 years cellaring, I think, and while not cheap at $35, it is a top tier BC Pinot for sure.

2. 2010 La Frenz (?)

I actually had this one in a restaurant in Osoyoos and was really surprised how good it was, as I haven’t associated La Frenz with Pinot Noir in the past. Not as big as the Howling Bluff and with more vanilla (from the oak), it is still a beautiful, spicy, cherry-flavoured wine that is a cross between California and Burgundy. This bottling is only for the restaurant industry (it was under $50 on the wine list), but I have also had the $32 Reserve in the past and it is very good, made in a similar style.

3. 2009 Stag’s Hollow ($25)

This one looked good and smelled even better, with vanilla, spicy cherries and earth. But in the mouth, it was too tannic and light on fruit. Even at $25, it was not worth buying for my tastes.

4. 2009 Church and State ($26)

This “regular” bottling (as compared to the Coyote Bowl, more expensive version) was very nice and a good buy for the price. Like La Frenz, a cross between California and France in style, with riper cherry fruit. It also was fairly tannic, but unlike the Stag’s Hollow there is enough fruit here to balance the tannins.

5. 2009 Cassini Cellars Reserve ($25)

When I stuck my nose in this wine – and then tasted it – I just wrote down “wow”! A gorgeous, California style Pinot Noir, with super ripe black cherries, earth and spice, great texture and a finish that goes on and on. There is even some tannin lurking underneath, but so much fruit you almost don’t notice it.

6. 2009 Seven Stones ($28)

The first of the Similkameen wineries I visited, their Pinot Noir smelled fantastic — just like a French Burgundy. But then when I tasted it, it was really tannic (like all their red wines). In fact, I had trouble finding the fruit in my puckered mouth.

7. 2008 & 2009 Eau Vivre ($19)

I was really looking forward to going back to Eau Vivre, as it had been one of my revelations a couple of years ago. And I wasn’t disappointed – in fact, the wines were even better than before. Both the 2008 and the 2009 were gorgeous, more Burgundy than California, with earthy, spicy dark cherries, super ripe but not candied, and with surprisingly big body for a Pinot. The only difference is that the 2009 has a bit more vanilla (from more oak) – the critics seemed to like that, as it won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award. And the price is ridiculously cheap — $19! It could easily sell for $10 – $15 more a bottle!

8. 2010 Robin Ridge ($22)

Finally, if it hadn’t have been for Eau Vivre, I would have said the Pinot Noir from Robin Ridge was the best value I tasted. At $22, it packs a lot of punch in a California/Burgundy style, with light tannins that will carry it easily for a couple of years.

So based on this tasting, who is making the best Pinot Noir in BC? Well, putting aside Blue Mountain (for the Reserve) and Kettle Valley (for the Hayman and Reserve), I would say that Eau Vivre, Cassini and Howling Bluff were the winners for me. The La Frenz and Church and State were also worth buying.

And how good were they? Well, one of the first wines from my cellar I had when I came back from my trip was a Tasmanian one that my favourite critic the Wine Advocate gave 91 points to. And it was good – but the top wines from my trip were just as good, if not better. And with the Tasmanian wine being $30, the BC wines were often better values.



August 1, 2012

As I mentioned in my last blog, perhaps the most consistently BC red wine I tasted on my Okanagan wine tour last week was Syrah. But that begs the obvious question – which winery makes the best one?

Well, read on for my reviews (in alphabetical order)…and conclusion!

1. Burrowing Owl – this is now their best and most consistent wine, and the ’09 is another example. Purple/red, classic peppery, black fruit with appealing smokiness, ripe but not jammy, and no oak in site. For $33 at the winery, it definitely competes!

2. Cassini Cellars – Another very, very strong offering from this up and coming winery, the ’09 is riper than Burrowing Owl’s, less smoky, but still French in style (with no oak or jam). And at $29…this is a very, very good wine.

3. Church and State – in my experience, rarely do ‘Award Winning Wines’ live up to the hype, but the ’09 Coyote Bowl Syrah (a “wine of the year”) is an exception. Dark purple, it is the second ripest Syrah in my tasting (next to Marichel), with gorgeous pepper, earth and light smoke. It also has some tannin, which is ripe so doesn’t show up until the end. Winery price is $34.95 ($40 elsewhere), so not cheap…but is it really the best?

4. Hillside – this Naramata winery is just plain solid! Nothing fancy in this 2008, just peppery, earthy, medium bodied black cherry fruit. At $24.95, it is the cheapest so far!

5. Marichel – Richard Roskell is an artisan who is committed to Syrah and Viogner, Rhone style, in Naramata! He makes two Syrahs – one mixed with Viognier which, at about $17, is an unbelievable bargain in fruit forward, unoaked red wine. Just gorgeous! But his estate Syrah is serious…and at $40 it better be. Dark, brooding, the ripest of all the OK Syrahs I tasted, but still avoiding the jamminess of Shiraz. I really like it…just had the 2006 vintage, and it is aging really well, and the 2008 seems destined to do the same.

6. Moon Curser – former Twisted Tree winery in Osoyoos continues to make good value Rhone style wines. The 2010 Syrah is dry and has the most tannin of any Syrah I tasted, but there is also lots of fruit…I bought a couple to see what they taste like in a few years. At $24.95, worth the risk.

7. Nichol – Ross Hackworth has the oldest Syrah vines in BC and makes the most Rhone-style wine. What does that mean? Well, as in the 2009, expect a leaner style, more pepper and smoke, but still very ripe fruit (and no oak or greenness). The “kicker” here is what happens as this wine ages…it takes on the meaty, secondary flavours of a great North Rhone wine, becoming a dead ringer for a Crozes-Hermitage by age 8. And it can last 10 years in a good vintage. Not cheap at $34.95, but worth it for sure!

8. Orofino – the lone Similkameen entrant, I tried their Scout Syrah for the first time and was impressed! The ’10 is very ripe and a touch tannic, but the peppery black fruit easily accommodates that. And at $28.99…it competes!

9. Painted Rock – what a disappointment, unfortunately. A Lieutenant Governor’s Award winner, maybe, but really tannic, I can taste the oak…and at $40? Nope…not for me.

10. Quinta Ferreira – finally, another disappointment here. I liked – and bought – the 2008, even thought it was a bit tannic, but the 2009 is really tannic, woody and not at all fruity. Regardless of price, this is not my style of wine.

So there you go…10 Syrahs…and which is best?

Well, how about two, because there are a couple of different styles here. Best truly Rhone style Syrah is still from Nichol. I don’t know how Ross does it, but if you like Crozes-Hermitage/Hermitage – and want to spend half as much money – buy the Nichol. An absolutely amazing wine and so consistent from year to year.

But the other – even though it is the most expensive – Marichel. The ripeness and density of fruit is fabulous, like a hypothetical cross between an Aussie old vine Shiraz and a Rhone wine. Plus, really artisanal winemaking from Richard.

Honourable mention to Burrowing Owl, Cassini Cellars, Church and State and Hillside.

Next week, tune in for a Pinot Noir review!