Posts Tagged ‘Okanagan’

The Okanagan Wineries you REALLY Want to Visit

April 13, 2016

Okay, that time of the year again. Spring, which means wineries are putting out new releases and opening up their tasting rooms!

It also means the so called wine experts are starting to write about “where to go” to taste wine. And, as usual in BC, for some reason some of the best wineries are getting left off that list!

So here you go…based on my experience tasting BC wines since the breakthrough 1998 vintage, these are the Okanagan wineries that you want to go to, and the wines you want to taste there!

1. Naramata

Start here or finish here, doesn’t matter…this is the best wine region not only in the Okanagan, but in BC. Once there, you should check out:
* La Frenz (for all wines, as it is the best winery in Canada)
* Kettle Valley (for Pinot Noirs)
* Nichol (for Syrah)
* Marichel (for Syrah)
* Moraine (for Syrah, Pinot Noir and Riesling)
* Howling Bluff (for Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir)

2. Similkameen

Still a bit unknown, and not a lot of wineries, but do check out Eau Vivre (world class Pinot Noir, plus Malbec) and Orofino (amazing Cali style Syrah, plus Pinot Noir and Riesling).

3. South Okanagan

The Osoyoos/Oliver region is the area most well known, and the one the big critics like. But it doesn’t have the best wineries. There are some very good ones, however, so check out:
* Blue Mountain (actually in Okanagan Falls, but worth the trip, as with Kettle Valley, the best Pinot Noirs in BC)
* Church and State (Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay)
* Burrowing Owl (Syrah)
* Moon Curser (Syrah, Bordeaux blend)
* Cassini Cellars (Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay)
* Nk Mip (Pinot Noir, Syrah)

There you go…you can do these wineries in 2 days if you like. My wine guide can show you how!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

CABERNET SAUVIGNON – THE REAL “HEARTBREAK GRAPE”

January 7, 2016

Happy New Year, everyone!

To kick off the year, I am going to do as series of blogs on the major grape varietals/the wines they make. And to start, the so-called “king of grapes” – Cabernet Sauvignon. Although, for me, you could also call it the “heartbreak grape” (with all due respect to Pinot Noir).

Most people know about “Cabs”…they are probably the first red wines they tried! Initially made famous because of their role in the great Bordeaux wines of France, they became arguably even more popular in the last 30 years because of how they are made in California.

And there-in – at least for me – lies the paradox (and the heartbreak).

I, too, started off on Bordeaux when I “got into wine”. With no other reference points, I though all red wine was supposed to be like the way Cab was made into wine in Bordeaux – cedary, woody, with only hints of fruit (mostly cherries). I enjoyed it…or so I thought!

And then came California! I will never forget the night…I had started to read the Wine Spectator, which favoured California wines, and they were hot on Robert Mondavi’s winery. I had my first real job out of university, so a little money, and bought the 1985 and 1985 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons (for about $23)…and was blown away!

Super pure and ripe blackcurrants exploded on my taste buds, delicately covered by vanilla. Big, rich, not tannic at all…wow! I couldn’t believe it!

From then on, I searched out for those wines, including on a subsequent trip to Napa and Sonoma with my bride to be. It was amazing to find so many wineries making what I would come to call the California style of Cabernet Sauvignon (and Merlot and Pinot Noir, as well, for that matter).

From there, it became hard to go back to Bordeaux, although by then my new cellar was fairly full of it. I kept trying the wines as they aged, but found very few with any semblance of that purity of fruit. By contrast, as I go older, I found that many of the California wines still kept a lot of their fruit even as they aged!

For over thirty years I have been searching for those wines in all kinds of places – Chile, Spain, Australia, Washington State and – more recently – here in BC, but don’t find them as often as I would like. If anything, Australia is the best place for that style now.

Which is where the heartbreak comes in…along with the price I have to pay to find really good ones in California these days.

But sometimes –particularly if there is something to celebrate – it is worth it! Last year, in recognition of my Junior Girls 27 – 6 record, I bought a couple of bottles of the Caymus Vineyards Napa Valley Anniversary bottling (2010, I believe). Highly rated (95+) and over $65 up here…but amazingly ripe! And it reminded me of the first great Mondavi wines I tasted so many years ago.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

CALIFORNIA WINES MAKING A “VALUE” COME BACK IN BC?

October 29, 2015

Quick question for you – what do the ’13 Dancing Bull Zinfandel, ’12 Smoking Loon Syrah and ’12 Louis Martini Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon have in common?

Yes, they are all from California…and all solid wines. But more importantly, they are all under $20 in BC liquor stores, with the first two being less than $15! And I would bet that for our friends in the US, you can find them for around $10 in Costco or other grocery stores.

My question is…how do they make this kind of quality, at this price, for the BC market?

When I first started getting into wine back in the ‘80s, I drank a lot of California wines. And there were some amazing bargains back then.

But then the Canadian dollar tanked, and for a long time many – most? – California wines just became too expensive. Even four or five years ago when our dollar was at par with the US dollar, the prices just didn’t seem to come down very much, whether it was for the inexpensive wines or the premium ones.

But now, that seems to be changing…even though our dollar is once again falling!

So what gives?

I know the wines I mentioned above – and probably many others – are made in great quantities, which helps keep the per bottle cost down. But still…with our bizarre tax regime, the only way a California wine can sell for $15 is if it “landed” here at under $10, which I assume would be the price in the US (if not less given the exchange range).

Factor in the average price of BC wines now hovering close to $20 – for far lower quality – and it presents an interesting quandary.

And one I don’t have an answer to!

If you know, please pass on the reason. In the meantime, I guess I will be buying ore California wine to drink during the week!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

So who are they making $50+++ BC wines for any way?

October 14, 2015

So I read in the local paper recently that one of BC’s biggest, highest profile wine producers has decided to launch a new brand. It will only be available on-line or at restaurants and be priced — I assume for the on-line purchases – from $85 – $120. I expect restaurants would at least double that price.

When I saw this, I was flabbergasted! It adds to a growing number of BC wine producers who are making wine for sale at $50 or more (sometimes a lot more).

Now, I have ranted about BC wine prices before. But after another cup of coffee (and a few deep breaths), I thought of another question – who exactly are these wines being made for any way (regardless of whether they are worth the price or not)?

The ‘casual’ wine drinker? I don’t think so. Few would go over $20 for a bottle of wine (let alone $50++).

The average wine dweeb like me? Again, I don’t think so. When I get to the $50 level – which isn’t very often for my cellar – I think about wines I know are great and will age well. Like northern Rhones (Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, Cornas, Cote Rotie), southern Rhones (Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas), Barolos, Barbarescos, Brunellos…All of these have proven histories. The BC wines in question…not so much (if at all). So I am supposed to trust my money on that?

As gifts, perhaps, to wine dweebs like me? Perhaps…although if you know the wine dweeb well, you probably also know the kind of wine they value…and it wouldn’t be these wines.

For restaurant diners, then? Well, at 250 % average markup…I doubt it. If I am going to spend $150 or more a bottle (and that is a big if), I am going to buy one of the wines I mention above!

That leaves me with…tourists particularly those from countries with favourable currency exchanges and/or who want to bring a ‘special’ gift home.

And there it was – bingo! That must be the market!

If that is the case, so be it…and I wish the producers all the best. But I would also offer a warning, and a concern.

The warning? I see lots of those $50+ wines languishing on Liquor store shelves, and assume that is also the case at the wineries themselves. But if the wineries want to take that risk, it is their money!
My concern, however, is bigger.
There are more and more amazing BC wines being made for $20 – $40. Even in a restaurant, they represent good value for money. My hope is that flashy marketing campaigns for more expensive – but not necessarily better – wines won’t mean residents and tourists miss out on what is really the ‘best in BC’!

SB
http://www.sbwinesite.com

2015 Victoria Wine Festival

September 23, 2015

I’m looking forward to my first trip to the Victoria Wine Festival. With family on Vancouver Island, we get there fairly often, and I try to ‘do’ the wineries once a year as well. But to date, I have been to their Festival.

And after scanning the wineries/wines, I am looking forward to it even more!

First and foremost, what a delightful surprise to see so many small, but great BC Wineries are going to be there! My tasting list will certainly include:

• Quail’s Gate – their Old Vines Marechal Foch is perhaps the best in BC, with rich, meaty flavours
• Moraine – a relative newcomer, Moraine is making great Rhone style Syrah, full of peppery, earthy cherries
• Howling Bluff – rapidly becoming the standard barrier for value-priced white wines, Luke’s
Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend is amazing, and his more expensive Pinot Noir shows great potential as well
in a Burgundy/Cali cross style
• Gray Monk – I stumbled across their sparkling rose (Odyssey Brut Rose) and was amazed at the fresh
strawberries in this wine
• Marichel – Richard is a Rhone-specialist! His Syrah is richer and riper than almost all others in Naramata
(think Aussie Shiraz without the jam) and his Viognier is old-school – floral, dry, with none of the fruit
cocktail flavours you get from many new world wines
• Perseus – another newcomer making great value wines, including a non-oaked Merlot that fairly bursts with
cherries and berries
• Eau Vivre – last but not least, this Similkameen Winery goes from success to success with its multiple award
winning Pinot Noir, which remains a steal at about $20!

With that list, I could spend a good part of my evening!

But it looks like there are other great wines to try as well. From France, I see Perrin’s Vacqueyras Le Christin, a Grenache blend from the southern Rhone that is accessible young but ages beautifully; it is an annual Robert Parker favourite, and I have multiple vintages in my cellar.

Italy is well represented with Barolos from Damilano, Altesino’s Brunello di Montalcino, and Amarones by La Dama. These are expensive wines and it is great to get a chance to taste them in this format! The challenge is deciding if there is enough fruit to survive the tannin…but I am up for it!

Finally, don’t forget California! Ravenswood has a couple of Zinfandels, which are classic blackberry bombs! Belle Glos’ single vineyard Pinot Noir is also there, which I have never tasted but heard good things about. And Stag’s Leaps’s Petite Sirah, usually a brooding giant of a red wine with years of aging in it.

Sparkling, white and red…that will be my tasting strategy, and I will try to tweet out my tasting notes in real time!

So stay tuned, and if you want more info about the event, check out the website at http://www.vicwf.com.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

STYLE 101 Part 2: That Damned Merlot!

April 23, 2015

Ah, Merlot…what a wine! Its popularity took a hit because of the movie Sideways a decade or so ago, as Myles continually expressed his hate for it. I’m not sure what the impact actually was on sales, as it still remains a popular pick for many people.

It is also another red wine that shows how important a particular wine-making style can be. Because while the name may be the same on the bottle, many Merlots could not be more different!

To start, the differences are similar to those of Cabernet Sauvignons. Fruity or more woody/herbal – that is a fair generalization. Similarly, California tends to produce more of the former style, while Bordeaux focuses on the latter, often at great expense (Chateau Petrus from Pomerol is one of the most famous – and expensive – wines in the world).

Now, I may be wrong about Petrus, because I have never tasted it, and probably never will. But that actually isn’t the style difference that if find most interesting and, in fact, frustrating, about Merlot.

My beef is with coffee, mocha…and chocolate!

Now, not the hot beverage (which I like) or the sweet (which I also like, but doesn’t like me very much, at least in terms of putting on weight). I mean the flavours.

Look at the wine reviews or descriptions of many Merlots and you will often see reference to coffee, mocha and/or chocolate aromas and flavours. For some, that may be a good thing. But for me, it is a big warning sign!

Because, at least to my palate, coffee + mocha + chocolate mean even less fruit flavour than your straight woody/herbal Merlot. Something just seems to happen when they all come together, and as a result I often cannot find any fruit at all!

Case in point, a BC winery (whose name I will keep to myself) that used to make maybe the best Merlot in the province (at a good price too). It was full of ripe – but not sweet or jammy – black plums, a touch of vanilla, and some licorice/mint. Never very tannic, it was just brilliant to drink.

And then the owners sold the winery, and the new proprietors started to make the Merlot (and all the red wines) in a more Bordeaux style. And that’s not my style. So my cellar – and recommendations – went from full to, now, almost non-existent.

Interestingly, most of the California Merlots I can afford to try (many are now out of my spice bracket) have kept to the fruity style. And there are a couple of others up here – La Frenz and Perseus – that still go in for the fruit-first style.

Since that is my style, that’s what I go for –at least in wine. Coffee, mocha and chocolate? That I will keep those for breakfast and dessert.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

STYLE 101 – Cabernet Sauvignon

April 10, 2015

I always talk about how important it is to know the “style” of wine you like, so decided to expand on the concept in a series of blogs on different flavour styles for both red and white wines.

At the risk of simplifying things too much, style often comes down to two things – fruit and everything else (wood, herbs, etc.). And the best example of that are the red wines made from is perhaps red wine’s most famous grape – Cabernet Sauvignon.

When most people hear about Cabernet Sauvignon, they think of two places – Bordeaux, France, and Napa Valley, California. Interestingly, that is also a good way to start describing the differences in style of Cabernet Sauvignons made in these two different places.

Let’s start with Bordeaux, since it is the older, more established and – in the minds of many – more prestigious of the two wine regions. In general, the style of Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines here is less “fruit forward”, with more emphasis on the “other” aromas and flavours. Yes, you can find the classic black currants, but that isn’t what you usually first notice in most wines. Instead, you “smell” the wood – usually cedar – and then taste both that woodiness, along with herbs and a whole lot of non-fruit flavours. Overlaying all of this are tannins, sometimes quite firm, the purpose of which is to help the wine age over time. As that happens (anywhere from 8 – 20+ years for the more famous and expensive wines), the wine softens and becomes easier to drink, although the fruit also dries out and becomes even less evident.

In California, however, you find almost the exact opposite style in many of the Cabernet Sauvignons! The emphasis is instead on “fruit first”, which can mean an explosion of black currants on the nose and in the mouth, super ripe but not jammy (like you often find in Australian Shiraz). Layered over top is wood, but in this case in the form of vanilla from oak barrels. In the right proportions, the mix can be delicious! And the combination can be such that you may not even taste the tannins. But they are often still there, as many of the best California Cabernet Sauvignons can age for decades.

Same grape, but often completely different wines! I say “often” because, like all generalizations, the above characterizations are not always borne out. I have heard of — and, on a few special occasions, tasted – amazingly fruity wines from Bordeaux, but they have usually been the really expensive ones (which I can’t afford). Similarly, there are also California Cabernet Sauvignon producers – as well as others around the world – who try to emulate the Bordeaux style, and quite successfully!

In closing, I want to emphasize that this isn’t a case of one style being better than the other. It is about what style you like the best! And, most importantly, knowing what that style is, so when you go to spend your hard earned money on a Cabernet Sauvignon, you can know in advance what you are probably going to get!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

TOP FIVE WINE WISHES FOR 2015

January 7, 2015

Happy New Year to all! As a first blog of 2015, I thought I would put out my top five wine wishes for the year:

1. The Rhone keeps it going

My favourite wine region has been on a roll for a number of years now, and after tasting many 2012s – and some early 2013s – it looks like the good times will continue! Whether it is Grenache dominated wines in the south or Syrah in the north, the fruit flavours are ripe and pure, the herbs beautifully integrated (love that garrigue!) and there is no wood or jamminess to the wines. Keep it going, Rhone!

2. Wine taxes get fixed

Everybody always complains about “wine prices”…but my beef is with the taxes, not the prices. When I see the values you can get just across the border in the US at places like Costco (and even regular supermarkets), I know that price really isn’t my issue – it’s the government taxes that drive up the price! I have absolutely no beef with the government getting its fair share…but come on! When a wine like Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon is $9.99 at Costco in Bellingham and $29.99 in Vancouver, well…you can see the problem.

3. Wine Competitions and Awards “Come Clean”

This is a particular pet peeve of mine. There are all of these competitions up here every year, and the same things always happen. The big wineries are the only ones that enter – or can afford to enter – so they win the awards. And then they (and the judges, media, etc.) talk all year about the “best wine in BC” or the “best wine in Canada”, even though the wine dweebs know it is a farce. Maybe I will have a competition for the best wines in BC that never enter (or are awarded) prizes…

4. Stupid and/or obnoxious wine labels disappear

As a PR person in my real life, I understand the marketing reasons for catchy wine labels. But it has really gotten out of hand for many countries. Do wine makers (or their marketing departments) really think that what sells a wine is what is on the outside of the bottle (instead of on the inside)? Like in anything, make a good product, build a good reputation, and results will come.

5. Fruit will finally triumph over wood

This final wish is purely a style preference, but I would love to see more fruit forward red wines that don’t rely on a thick coating of cedar and oak. It seems like people have been trying to copy Bordeaux forever, and – in my opinion – it just does it work. California and Australia have the right approach – since wine is made of fruit, it should also taste like fruit!

There you go; a start to 2015!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

Does the Region on Your Wine Label Really Matter?

November 21, 2014

A bit of ‘wine buzz’ recently up here in BC around new or sub-regions in different parts of our Okanagan Valley, where the vast majority of our great wine is made. And that got me thinking – does this kind of identification really matter and, if so, why?

It’s certainly not new, of course! Bordeaux and Burgundy have led the way in this area for over a hundred years, breaking up their Crus — and even certain vineyards – based on differences that the French call terroir. And both Napa and Sonoma valleys in Cali have done it extensively over the past 40 – 50 years.

But back to my questions – does it matter, and if so, why?

There is no doubt that certain grapes grow differently in different soils and climates, producing different flavored wines. One has only to taste even a generic Bordeaux compared to a similarly priced Cali Cabernet Sauvignon to see that. So – from a consumer point of view – I can see the benefit if it is explained that way ie if you know the style of Cabernet or Chardonnay you like, that could help you pick out wine.

It could help winemakers too, of course. No use planting a varietal in soil/climate that won’t usually allow it to ripen fully on a regular basis. Hence the lack of Grenache in BC (which needs lots of sun and heat).

But there are two areas (no pun intended) where I get suspicious. The first is around sub, sub, sub regions. Does the wine really taste that different to justify that? Or is it just marketing and promotion…which brings me to my last concern.

If producers — or geographical areas, for that matter – are charging more because of a perceived quality difference, well…I’m not sure I agree. Even in Bordeaux and Burgundy you see Grand/Premier Cru wineries and vineyards in a range of different area. Promote the producer/wine as better – absolutely. But the region or sub-region?

The main reason for my argument comes back to the fact that everybody likes different styles of wine. The ones they like best they will think are the best…but that is for them. The opposite is also true. I have a friend who loves Bordeaux-style Cabernet as much as I dislike them, and actually traded me some Okanagan wines for them (which I love) for that reason.

So beware the wine region buzz! Focus instead on matching the style of wine you like with what is – or can – be made in whatever region you are in or tasting. That is a better way to help guarantee your enjoyment!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

WHEN THE GRAPES IN THE GROUND DON’T MATCH UP WITH THE BEST WINES

November 5, 2014

As a BC wine dweeb, I was a bit shocked this past week to see the annual update on grape acreage in BC. It wasn’t the amount – we jumped over the 10,000 acre mark, which is great!

No, it was the “top grapes in the ground” that left me shaking my head. They were – in descending order – merlot, pinot gris, pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, gewürztraminer, cabernet franc, syrah, riesling, and sauvignon blanc.

For those who know even a little about BC, the first reason for my incredulity may be apparent. Our climate – while nice – is not as conducive to red grapes as to white, and certainly not to red grapes that ripen later – like merlot and cabernet sauvignon. So to see those as #1 and #5 seemed odd. Many of our wines made from these grapes are quite woody and herbal, as well as tannic, with little obvious fruit. Kinda like most Bordeaux, without the prestige! And cabernet franc? Come on…even in the Loire Valley – where it is famous – the wine is green and unripe. Only in California can they occasionally get it ripe enough to make it worth drinking.

The same kind of argument can be made for our white wines. Chardonnay needs to be ripe to be good…and very few producers here make good ones. Meanwhile, most of the pinot gris is hard to distinguish from the other white wines.

At the other end of the spectrum…how can riesling be second from the bottom? Of all the grapes on that list, it is the one that can have the highest acidity and doesn’t need to get super ripe to make great wines.

Not only that, we make arguably the best riesling in Canada (if not North America). Taste the wines from La Frenz or Tantalus…you will be blown away.

The same can be said for Syrah, which is maybe our most consistent – and maybe best – red wine. How can it finish second to last?

Pinot noir is about the only one that makes sense to me…we make some great pinot here, although a lot of thin, insipid stuff too.

So what’s up?

Well, I think I know the answer, and it is simple. Taste is relative, and reputation plays a big role. For the average wine drinker names like “Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay” are well known, so that is what they buy, whether it is good or not.

And…I guess…that is okay. Certainly, if that is what most people like, then they should get what they want.

But my heart actually aches for what people are missing. Some of our small producers make stunning wines for the “other varietals” – and even outstanding wines of the popular ones that taste nothing like the everyday Cabernets and Merlots – and few people will ever taste them. I know these producers probably don’t care, because they sell all of their wines to wine dweebs like me.

But I can’t help wish that everyone knew how good these wines were!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com