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.