Posts Tagged ‘Pinot Noir’

What’s up with Fraser Valley Wine in the Summer of 2019 – Part 2: The Old Guard  

September 12, 2019

Similar to what I did for Vancouver Island, I am grouping my wine tasting tour into two parts. The first I am calling “the old guard”, as these are wineries I have been going to for years now.

First stop was Domaine Chaberton in Langley, and for more than the wine – the restaurant Bacchus Bistro! One of the great secrets of the Valley, this is as good a French bistro as you will find anywhere, including in Vancouver. Duck confit, boeuf bourgignon, pate, French onion soup – they have it all, large portions, great quality and value. Plus most of their wines are by the glass!!

After “fueling up” there, I tasted the latest of their wines, and three continue to stand out for me. For whites, they make a great oaked Chardonnay – their Reserve – which is made in classic California style, with lovely vanilla and butter covered citrus. I also love their Rose – called “Pink” – which is a touch on the off-dry side, but wonderfully fruity and fresh. Last but not least, their Syrah. I think it is their best red wine, made in a Rhone style, which means pepper, earth, dried cherries – and no oak. It drinks well now, but also ages for up to 5 years.

From Chaberton, I circled back to Vista D’Oro, a somewhat eclectic winery and farm. I say “eclectic” because you never know what they will have available! In the past, I have had wonderful Pinot Noirs – made from Vancouver Island grapes – but this time there was only Marechal Foch. But that was fine! They make one of the best around – ripe, meaty, full of fruit and no oak. Not for keeping/aging, but what a joy to drink now!

The last of my “old guard” is out in Abbotsford – Mt. Lehman Winery. Verne has been making great wines for ridiculously low prices for years, and this visit was no different. The had almost ten different wines to taste!

Most impressive? For me, on the whites…it was their Reserve Chardonnay. I am a big “oaked” Chardonnay fan – I know, not a popular thing these days – and this is absolutely gorgeous! Light gold, classic Cali style with vanilla and butter covered citrus fruit, but not too much wood on the finish. And it is under $20 with tax included! That is stupid good!

 Following a similar theme…Verne’s Pinot Noirs! His regular is – get this – is $12.96 plus tax! You can’t find a better wine value from BC or anywhere for that price! Bright cherry fruit, a touch of vanilla and spice…it would blow away other Pinots at twice that price!

Except for his Reserve Pinot, of course! The 2014 is the same price as his Reserve Chardonnay…and even better! If Burgundy, or California or the Okanagan could make a wine like this for that price…simply amazing! Ripe cherries and tannins, just the right balance of wood and fruit…it is beautiful at almost 5 years old now, but I bought a few to see how they age…crazy good!

That is it for my old guard…some new finds next week!


Vancouver Island Blog Part 3 – The New Guard!

August 22, 2019

Last – but not least – on my trip to Vancouver Island were two new wineries. Well, one with new owners…and one that is only a couple of years old!

I started at Alderlea Vineyards (on the other side of the Island Highway from where you turn to go to Averill Creek). I have tried to find this winery a couple of times before but either couldn’t find it or it was closed. Well, this time I found it…it was open…and boy, was I impressed!

New owners is the reason, I think…Zac and Julie bought the winery a couple of years ago and were pouring the results of there efforts, both white and red.

For the whites, my favourite was one called 2018 Valerie, co-owner Julie’s wine made from a blend of Ortega and Viognier. It won a Gold medal at the recent Canadian Wine Championships and I can see why…explosively fruity but bone dry, just lovely!

But, as a “reds guy”, it was the Reserve Pinot Noir (2016) that really turned my head! Burgundian in style, but with very ripe fruit and tannins (most Burgundies would die for this level of fruit concentration). It also has tremendous potential (although beautiful to drink now as well). And at about $32 it represents amazing value!

Oh, and that Merlot I mentioned in Blog Part 1…Zac got this smile on his face as we were talking about fruit-forward wines…then he looked sideways and with a finger beckoned me back into the cellar…where he got me a sample of something from a barrel. “Merlot” he said…and when I stuck my nose in it…wow! Pure plums and blueberries…super ripe, no oak presence at all…if the wine stays that way when bottled, I will buy…a lot of it!

The other winery I “found” is called Emandare. It is the same side of the Island Highway as Alderlea, although a bit closer. I got to meet Mike, the co-owner/winemaker…he bought the site with vines a few years ago. Major emphasis on quality fruit, and it showed in the wines!

The 2018 Sauvignon Blanc was my favourite white…crisp, clean, no oak, lots of citrus…too bad it is already sold out! But, once again, it was a Pinot Noir that stole the show!

At first, when I saw the price – $45 – I paused…a lot for a BC wine…and not a reserve either. But when I stuck my nose in the glass…wow…it was pure berry Pinot Noir, very rich and ripe without being jammy and candied. It was even better in the mouth, with firm but ripe tannins wrapped around the cherry fruit. It is a few years away from being at its best…and I decided to buy a couple to see how it turns out!

That was all the time I had for the day, but if the future of Vancouver Island is represented by these two wineries, it is in very good hands indeed!


Vancouver Island Wine Blog Part 2 – The Old Guard is in Good Shape!

August 13, 2019

This is part two of the wine blog based on my recent visit to Vancouver Island wine country. And it focuses on three of the “old guard” – those wineries that have been there for a while. Some of them are my favourites and still making great wine!

Continuing to lead the pack is Averill Creek, just outside of Duncan near Mt. Prevost. Their wines were the first ones I ever tasted from Vancouver Island that were truly great – in fact, the 2006 Pinot Noir and 2007 Pinot Gris completely changed my mind about Vancouver Island wine!

Andy Johnson and his team continue to go from strength to strength, and I was pleased to see that they give people the chance to experience that in the tasting room. In addition to the “regular” tasting they offer a reserve tasting (for a slightly higher fee) and it is well worth the expense.

There were four wines, and all showed why Averill Creek continues to be the leader on Vancouver Island. First off, their 2010 Brut Reserve Sparkling Wine would give many Champagnes a run for their money. Still young at nine years old, it has just a tinge of yellow to it, and is filled with that classic toasty/yeasty/crisp flavour profile! Next up, their 2015 Reserve Pinot Gris. They oak this wine – something which can be controversial to some – but I loved it. It was light gold, with just the right amount of vanilla and butter to go with the citrus fruit. The final dry wine was the 2016 Reserve Pinot Noir. Just a baby, it was super tight, with tannin covering the cherry fruit, but you could sense the potential beneath it. I would give it at least 3 – 5 years before drinking. Last but not least was a Tawny Port style wine made from blackberries…and it was a dead ringer for Port!

Averill Creek is a Pinot Noir specialist, and while I didn’t taste their “regular” wine on the trip, I can highly recommend it (I have already bought four bottles). It is a great cross between Burgundy and California, with earthy, dark cherry fruit that is super ripe (but not candied). Year in, year out, it matches up with the best Pinots in BC.

The second of the old guard that is doing fine – thank you very much! – is Vigneti Zanatta, which is located west of Duncan. For years this winery has specialized in sparkling wines, sometimes from non-traditional grapes, and sold at very reasonable prices…and that continues to be the case.

I tasted three, all technically non-vintage, and can heartily recommend them all. The Brut Tradizionale is made in the Champagne style from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is crisp, clean, dry and relatively full-bodied with a touch of green apples – kind of like Spanish Cava crossed with Champagne. It would be great for any occasion.

Next, the Allegria Rose Brut is really something to look at – one of the darkest sparkling Roses I have ever seen! It is made from 100% Pinot Noir, and explodes with berry flavours. Again, bone dry…this one would be great really cold on a hot day.

Finally, my favourite of the trio is the Glenora Fantasia Brut. This used to be vintage designated…not sure why it isn’t any more…but I was told it is from the 2013 vintage…so almost 6 years old! This is definitely a Champagne style wine, loaded with aged flavours of yeasty and toasty bread. Made from the obscure Cayuga grape and aged on its lees for two years…wow!

Zanatta also makes still white and red wines, which are nice, but a surprise was one called Castel Nero, made from a clone of Cinsault and some grape I can’t remember. It would easily fit in at a Provence tasting…no oak, peppery dried berries and earth…I had a full glass at lunch, I loved it so much!

Speaking of lunch, if you are going to be a Zanatta around lunch, book a table – in advance – at their little restaurant. It has a beautiful patio, almost all the wines are available by the glass and the food is amazing (and well priced).

Final of the old guard I visited – the “newest old one” for me – is Rocky Creek. I had a great chat with the Assistant Winemaker (daughter of the owner/winemaker), who also took me through what continues to be a very solid lineup of white and red wines, as well as a sparkler. My favourites? The 2017 Pinot Gris has won all kinds of awards and is almost sold out. It is a fruity, dry, medium bodied beauty for drinking while it is fresh. For the reds, I will stick with the Pinot Noir – the wine that attracted me to Rocky Creek in the first place! It continues to be made in a California style, with lots of ripe cherries and just the right amount of vanilla, spice and cedar. It drinks well right now, but will keep for a few years if you want (although why wait?).

That’s it for the old guard I visited…stay tuned next week for the new kids on the block!



August 7, 2019

I managed to get a day to do some wine tasting on Vancouver Island this past weekend, first time in a few years (since I updated the last issue of my BC Wine Guide). It was a great day – beautiful weather, lovely drive up, down and back on the Malahat, and some pleasant surprises on the wine side of things as well!

I titled this piece “The Old and New” for two sets of reasons. This first is related to the wine region itself. The other has to do with the wineries…stay tuned for more on that next week.

On the “old” side of things, I encountered some of the same old issues that I see elsewhere in BC. The biggest is price – none of the wines I tasted were under $15, and most were in the $25 – $30 range (after tax). Now, some of that has to do with taxation…which wineries have no control over. And some is just overhead – land, equipment, salaries, etc. Again, not much you can do about that. And it didn’t look like people were making millions (just a living).

But the end result is that most of these wines have to compete in price with well established and – often – better wines from places like the south of France and Italy (as well as cheaper ones from South America and Spain). And that is a tough sell!

On the positive side of the price issue, thought, I didn’t see any trophy wines i.e. $60+ a bottle (except for library releases). Now, don’t get me wrong – I support the free market, and if you can get that for your wine, then go for it. But from a comparative quality point of view – not just on Vancouver Island but across BC – there is just no way that we can compete with similarly priced wines from areas like the Cotes du Rhone, Tuscany, and Piedmont.

Overall quality was up as well, and it was also nice to see  that the grapes which have historically done well on the Island – Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, in particular – continue to be the focus for most wineries, and still produce the best wines. I saw no Cabs or Chardonnays…probably because they just won’t get ripe enough there. There was also a nice mix of Marechal Foch and some Cabernet hybrids – on the red side – and various white wine grapes being used to make fruity, easy to drink whites. Oh, there was one Merlot…but more on that in a future blog…

Finally, perhaps the best of the “good” things was that sales of many of these wines on Vancouver Island are very good – many of the best were actually sold out! The purchasers are a mix of locals and tourists, with the former actually being a bigger market! That is great, as “buy local” should also include wine, and people are obviously willing to pay a bit of a premium to do that.

Overall, then, I was very impressed with the wine situation on Vancouver Island! As for the individual wineries – and their wines – stay tuned for next week!


Pacific Northwest Wine Tasting Surprises!

May 9, 2019

Just finished #dish2009 tasting by the BC Hospitality Foundation and – once again – lots of surprises!

The wines were from Washington State, Oregon and California, and there was a pretty broad representation – over two dozen wineries and close to 100 wines. I decided to focus on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and ‘big’ reds, as I only had about 90 minutes.

The Chardonnays were mostly what I call the ‘Cali’ style – fermented/aged in oak, with at least some degree of malolactic fermentation. That resulted in nice golden colours, lots of lovely buttery/vanilla citrus fruit. Only one completely unoaked wine, but a few a mix of stainless steel and oak. My favourites were from Deloach (2016 Russian River Valley), Ponzi (2015 Reserve), Ferrari-Carano (2016 Sonoma) and Walt Wines (2016 Sonoma Coast).

Pinot Noirs were next and they were my first surprise – and a good one! Sometimes North American Pinot can go off the rails in two ways – too much ripe fruit, making it taste like candy, or too much of trying to be Burgundy (which means not enough fruit and more wood/herbs).

But almost all of these wines were in the middle – lots of ripe fruit but very sophisticated indeed! And there were some truly stunning – if expensive – wines! Oregon Producer Ponzi had their ‘15 Reserve and it was dark but full of ripe, dark cherries and ripe tannins. My tweet said ‘a world class wine’, and it was! Only slightly behind was the ‘16 Russian River Valley by Paul Hobbes and the 2016 Sonoma Coast from Walt Wines – both were beautiful, rich, young wines with lots of life ahead of them. Finally, the 2017 Russian River Valley from Deloach was also very nice. A general observation was the wines from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma were the best, confirming its Pinot rep!

On to the ‘big’ reds from California, and my other surprise – and not a good one!

I tasted about a dozen Cabs, Cab blends and Zin/Syrah/Petit Syrahs and found – tannin. Super tannin, so much my cheeks were sucked in! And I couldn’t find the fruit!

What a disappointment! Similar to many wineries in BC, these seemed to going for Bordeaux style instead of taking advantage of the regional strength – ripe fruit! I will never forget my first Cali Cab wines in the mid ‘80s – they were stunning for their ripe black currant fruit. Even the Reserves were ripe and could be drunk young.

But not these ones! Maybe they will become smooth and elegant, but they will never be fruity. Too bad!



May 3, 2019

I had chance this week to attend New Zealand Wine’s “Pure Discovery” tasting in Vancouver and came away both impressed and with some different views on that country’s wine!

I always try to avoid bringing in pre-conceived ideas to wine tastings, so with this one the key word was Sauvignon Blanc. New Zealand has been famous for it for years, including from popular producers like Oyster Bay, Kim Crawford and Babich. Now, I like SB, but wanted to know if there was more to New Zealand!

So, for whites, I went Chardonnay hunting – and I was surprised for sure! I tasted about ten wines and came away with one common theme regarding the style. It was French – not Californian – but also the Chablis-style of French Burgundy. That meant not as much vanilla/butter/hazelnut on the nose (which usually comes from oak) and more fresh, crisp citrus fruit (from making and aging the wines in stainless steel instead of oak barrels). Even those producers that did say they used oak usually relied on previously used barrels to limit the influence. If you enjoy this style of Chardonnay, I would highly recommend New Zealand, especially from producers like Kumeu River Estate (a particular favourite of mine), Greywacke, Villa Maria and Sacred Hill. While none of the wines were cheap – ranging from $22 – $50+ – they are certainly cost-competitive compared to Chablis from France.

I went to Pinot Noirs next, as they have become the “go to” red wines for New Zealand. I really didn’t know what to expect, so was surprised to once again feel like I was in a Burgundy tasting! Medium red in colour, lean red cherry fruit, a mix of herbs and wood, and fine to medium tannins – that was a fairly consistent description of most of the wines. You would certainly never mistake them for fruit-forward, vanilla laced California wines, that is for sure! It would be interesting to see how they aged, which is something I have had mixed results with for Burgundy as there is not a lot of obvious fruit when they are young, and many can therefore dry out over the years. Leading producers at the tasting included Craggy Range, Luna Estate, Mud House and Sacred Hill.

Last but least I had to look for some Syrah, of course…and I found a couple of beauties! Te Awanga had two – an entry level for about $22 and a reserve for about $28, and they were lovely! 100% Syrah, slightly riper than the northern Rhone (but not jammy or oaky at all), I really liked them! And the best wine of the tasting – as well as the most expensive – was the Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah. It had some Viognier in it, and was a young Cote Rotie look alike. Although at $110, it was out of my snack bracket!

So “big picture” takeaways? There is a lot going on with New Zealand wine, well beyond Sauvignon Blanc and the big-name producers. Go check out some Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and – if you can find it – Syrah. You won’t be disappointed!



March 27, 2019

Well, its that special time of year again…no, not Christmas, or even back to school…It is Spring, which means the wineries are starting to offer tastings of their new releases!

First one was today, from Okanagan Falls. Fourteen wineries and a total of 56 wines…not all new releases, but some very interesting wines indeed, and many that I can recommend.

For those not familiar with Okanagan Falls, it is the area northwards along the East Bench of Skaha Lake and across the water to Kalenden. From there, it is south over rolling hills above Vaseux Lake. Beautiful country, to be sure…and home to some very good wines!

I started with the new white wines. Among the most impressive for me was the 2013 Rousanne/ Marsanne/Viognier from Pentage Winery. At almost 6 years old, this hardly qualifies as a “new release”, but it was beautiful and still tasted very young. Dry and quite full bodied – as is usually the case with white Rhone wines – with crisp citrus flavours.

The other white wine I really enjoyed was the 2018 Albarino from Stag’s Hollow. This varietal – from Spain – is rare for BC, but showed great freshness, with dry citrus fruit and no oak at all. Great for summer sipping!

There weren’t as many new Rose’s as I would have thought, but I did find a couple I liked. The 2017 Nelly’s Rose from See Ya Later was one of them, and though now almost two years old, it still had fresh strawberry fruit and was just a touch off dry. Even better was the 2018 Syrah Rose from Stag’s Hollow. It was light pink and bone dry, crisp and refreshing – definitely a summer patio wine.

As for reds, the best were – no surprise – Pinot Noirs and Syrahs. The 2015 Reserve Pinot Noir from Nighthawk Vineyard was very nice – done in concrete vats, so no excessive oak to cover up the ripe, earthy red cherry fruit. Even better was the 2016 Pinot Noir Stag’s Hollow Vineyard from Stag’s Hollow. This was a beautiful, full-bodied wine with earthy cherries that have just a touch of vanilla and ripe tannins – at least 2 – 3 years aging here.

Finally, Syrah, my favourite varietal from BC! First a surprise – 2016 from Blasted Church, who I did not know made one. It is classic northern Rhone style, with peppery, earthy back cherries and no oak. Gorgeous for drinking now. The other one that really stood out was from Pentage – the 2014. It is two years older but a bigger wine, with the same flavour profile but still fine tannins, suggesting a few years in the cellar wouldn’t hurt.

Those are the highlights, then, at least for me. Lots to choose from this spring from Okanagan Falls!



Reflections on Summer 2018

September 6, 2018

Well, I’m back…both from summer and from spring (judging from the last time I wrote a blog!).

Lets start out with some reflections from the summer of 2018!

  1. Rose is good, but it needs to be cheap – we were fortunate enough to spend some time in France in June, and while it wasn’t stinking hot yet, it was hot enough that Rose was the wine of choice! And that was fine, since it was available for cheap – like 3 – 4 euros a bottle in the store! So when we got back and I couldn’t find it for less than about $15 a bottle plus tax…ouch!

2. Rhone style whites are better than I remember – Over the years, I have been off Rhone white wines. My memory was a lot of acidic, resiny wines. But in the south of France I tasted some super fresh blends, and found that when I got home they were the same!

3. You can still drink red wine  in the heat – Also in France, I was tasting big reds – Hermitage, Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas – and even though the temperature was in the 80’s, I had no problem at all, including with having them at lunch and dinner!

4. Pinot Noir and Syrah are the best BC reds – I also got up to the Okanagan this summer, and tasted at some of my favourite wineries (as well as some new ones). And it confirmed what I already knew – Syrah and Pinot Noir are the best red wines in BC! Minimal oak, lots of fruit, great ageability! Oh, and by the way – La Frenz is still the best winery in BC by a country mile!

5. Wine prices are still too high at home – Last but not least – surprise – is that wine prices at home are still way to high. I was able to buy some Gigondas in Gigondas that was rated 95+ points for 14 euros…wine that when I can get it here is over $40 a bottle! That is crazy…if I lived in France, my cellar would be crazy good for half the price!

Here comes fall…stay tuned for more!




February 1, 2017

Okay, been a while, but I am back…and with the Vancouver International Wine Festival just a couple of weeks away, how about a primer on two of the most popular grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir – and what you can expect from their wines.

While the grapes are very different in terms of where they are grown and their flavour profiles, they are somewhat similar in terms of the two primary styles of wine.

The more traditional style for both grape varieties is what is usually called old world. For Cabernet Sauvignon, that tends to mean from Bordeaux (where it is usually the main player in a blend of grapes) and Burgundy (where Pinot Noir stands alone, except for the Beaujolais region). Both are from France.

What are the characteristics of that style? Well, in my experience and taste, the emphasis is more on wood – usually oak and cedar – and herbs. Tannins, too, tend to dominate, particularly when the wines are young. As they subside, the result can be smooth, but the amount of fruit that is still there? Except for the great wines – which are way too expensive for me – it is usually long gone.

You can probably tell, these are not my style of wines. I have had a small number of mind boggling older Burgundies and Bordeaux, but that is more than offset by the number of woody, herbal and dried out Bordeaux and Burgundy wines (young and old). Having said that, they are the most popular red wines in the world!

But there is another style of wine which I really like…some call it new world, but it has one key word to describe it – fruit!

Luscious black currants and cassis for Cabernet Sauvignons, and cherries (black and red) for Pinot Noir. Lovely vanilla and spice can overlay but not dominate this fruit.

You probably already know where the best of these kinds of wines come from! The USA – California, Oregon (for Pinot Noirs) and Washington (for Cabernet Sauvignons). But also from Australia and my home province of British Columbia (especially for Pinot Noir).

And don’t think that “fruity” means they can’t age. Some of the Cali Cabs can easily go for 15 – 20 years without losing their fruit.

Ironically, the best ones can also be almost as expensive as their French cousins (as anyone who has heard of so-called “cult wines” like Screaming Eagle or Harlan Estates).

What does this mean for the VIWF? Well, in looking at the list of wineries, I would recommend trying the following wineries in each of the styles:
• Old World Cabernet – Baron Phillipe de Rothschild, Dourthe, Borie Manoux (France), Mission Hill, Osoyoos Larose, Jackson Triggs (B.C.)
• New World Cabernet – Kendall Jackson, Robert Mondavi (California), Columbia Crest (Washington), La Frenz (B.C.)
• New World Pinot Noir – Etude (California), Whitehaven (New Zealand), La Frenz, Howling Bluff, Averill Creek, NkMip (B.C.)



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!