Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cold Is Gold for Icewine Makers

By Julianna Hayes

Christmas came early for Okanagan winemakers when an unseasonal cold snap sent temperatures plummeting over the weekend allowing for the harvest of the region's priceless icewine grapes.

Vintners from north to south in the Valley were able to bring in a large quantity of the crop, which needs consistent temperatures of -8 C or less to get the Vintner's Quality Alliance stamp of approval.

Mission Hill Family Estate's chief winemaker John Simes noted that the winter blast this early has been fairly unusual this decade and that it is more common to have to wait until January/February for it to reach sufficiently cold levels to pick the icewine grapes.

He said the earliness of the harvest has resulted in fruit that is in excellent condition. Of note, a recent similar early harvest was in November 2006, which also produced superior Icewine grapes, as exemplified in the honour bestowed on Mission Hill’s 2006 Riesling Icewine that was awarded the International Wine Challenge (IWC) Trophy for the World’s Top Icewine at Europe’s major wine competition this fall.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

B.C. In the Grand Scheme of All Things Wine

By Julianna Hayes
Have you ever sipped a wine from the Finger Lakes, Nebraska, Idaho, Texas or Mexico?

Most people I know haven’t. These are not wine-growing regions with which most British Columbia. consumers are familiar. Indeed, anything from North America that ends up in our glass is either locally produced or hails from California’s Napa or Sonoma regions, or maybe Oregon and Washington states.

In fact, I’d venture a guess that a majority of people would consider those aforementioned regions as insignificant in the grand scheme of all things wine. Thus it would surprise them that the B.C. industry, despite its staggering growth, is considered slightly more or less trifling to most in the world of wine.

Acclaimed critic Jancis Robinson certainly made this apparent as her point of view in an article in the London Financial Times a couple years ago and lambasted us for our Canadian pride.

“In my experience no nation is more defensive about their own wines than the Canadians, perhaps because they have so little vineyard, less than, say, Slovenia or Japan. Every time I go there to launch a book, usually a reference book about the wines of the world, I am berated for not having devoted more space to the land of maple syrup. I suspect this is partly because Canadians tend to be fed stories which rather overstate Canadian wine’s place in the world of wine.”

Just to put Robinson’s comments into perspective, let’s consider some stats: There are currently 154 grape wineries in British Columbia and the total vineyard planted is 9,100 acres. We produce just over 13 million litres annually.

By comparison, Nebraska is about where B.C. was about 15 years ago with 23 wineries and under 1,000 acres under grapes, while Idaho has 32 wineries and 1,200 acres – about what B.C. had in 1995. Mexico’s Baja California region is home to about 50 producers and is experiencing unprecedented growth

The Texas industry closer in size with 163 wineries, but smaller in overall scale than B.C., having less than half the vineyard with 3,700 acres.

The Finger Lakes region of New York State has about the same number of wineries and vineyards as we do, yet somehow produces more than double the amount of wine as B.C. Still, little of what it makes seems to trickle our way and thus the region still seems obscure.

Now let’s take a look at some world’s largest producers:

California has more than 1,200 wineries and about 480,000 acres under vine – more than 50 times what is grown in B.C. Meanwhile, Argentina is the largest producer in South America and the fifth largest in the world, making some 1.5 billion litres of wine annual of its 520,000 acres of vineyard.

France and Italy are two largest producers of wine in the world. Both have more than two million acres of grapes in the ground and each produce more than five billion litres annually.

We make fine wines in B.C., but we’re a drop in the barrel…no, not even half a drop. Does this make us unworthy? No, but it makes it difficult to achieve worldwide recognition and appreciation mainly because we’re just “not out there.” There isn’t enough wine made here to find its way into the glasses of thirsty wine consumers worldwide.

Recently, a considerable milestone was reached by a winery on this side of the border. For the first time ever, a Canadian wine made it into Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the year. Albeit, the wine was from Niagara, Ontario, not B.C., and was 100th on the 2008 list released earlier this month – but it was a significant achievement on the list.

So much so that it created quite a buzz on Wine Spectator’s online forum. A poster from Toronto started the thread and it lead to some discussion about the lack of recognition for Canadian wines. One individual from Edmonton expressed disappointment that the successful Canuck product – Konzalmann’s 2006 Vidal Icewine – was a dessert wine.

“I just wish that WS would rate more dry white and red wines from Canada. I'm not sure if that is the magazine's choice or that not enough Canadian producers send samples to New York.”

That prompted a reply by Wine Spectator Senior Editor James Molesworth, who pointed out the supply problem concerning Canadian wines.

“We don't really 'choose' to review wines. What we review is a reflection of what is submitted, and to a greater extent, what is available in the marketplace. We make every effort to review everything that we can, and that we think our readers would be interested in knowing about...Many Canadian wines are simply not available here.”

Wine Spectator did review some 80 Canadian wines within the pages of the magazine throughout 2008, but that’s a puny amount when you consider the sheer volume of wines it writes about.

Still Molesworth comments must be reassuring for local producers that the lack of recognition for their products doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality and value, but rather an issue of scale.

Wine Notes

Van Westen 2007 Vivacious
Aromas: Floral, mineral, green apple skin, lime, spice, vanilla, lees
Flavours: Apple, mineral, citrus, spice, lees
Body and Finish: Crisp entry, bright flavours and medium-light weight, racy finish
Overall Impression: A bright, fresh wine that goes down easy but would make a lovely food wine (think roast pork loin) – Made with Pinot Blanc and a hint of Pinot Gris
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Would I Buy It: Yes, price is right
Points: 89
Price: $18.90
Availability: Winery, Private Retailers, VQA Shops


Burrowing Owl 2006 Syrah
Aromas: Black berry jam, smoke, pepper, earthy, coffee bean, dark vanilla, spice
Flavours: Black fruits, pepper, tobacco, herbal, vanilla, earthy
Body and Finish: Very weighty on the palate, ripe fruit with some drying tannins and a hot, elongated finish
Overall Impression: This is a bit of a monster and rather alcoholic tasting, but shows some finesse
Cellaring Potential: Hang on to it for a couple more years
Would I Buy It: Occasionally
Points: 89
Price: $38
Availability: Winery, Private Retailers

Monday, December 15, 2008

Xmas 2008: Give Wine Not Wine Gadgets

By Julianna Hayes

For Christmas last year, I received a pair of fuzzy red socks, a cheese plate, reindeer patterned flannel pyjamas, and hand towels with a Noel motif.

I never got around to hanging the calendar and tucked the pjs and socks away unworn. The cheese plate sits in a cabinet unused and I ditched the towels on sight.

Some say I’m difficult to shop for. But as an obsessed oenophile, I think the ideal gift is obvious. You can’t go wrong with a bottle of wine.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Many people are panicked at the idea of having to choose a wine for someone they perceive as an “enthusiast.” They don’t feel they have the knowledge to make the right selection to suit the more sophisticated palate of the receiver.

So if they do embrace a wine theme for their gift-giving, more often than not it consists of a collection of gadgets, most of which only serve to clutter up a junk drawer. For instance, in addition to the aforementioned goodies, I also received floral-shaped foam wine glass charms, grape-shaped oven mitts and an antique-style corkscrew.

Unless the wine geek on your list enjoys re-gifting, don’t waste your money.

Which brings me back to wine itself – it’s the preferred option for aficionados. Here’s four good reasons why:

- As serious wine enthusiasts, we are also serious wine consumers, thus we go through a lot of bottles.

- Even if we aren’t agog with the wine you’ve selected, I can assure you it won’t go to waste. Someone we know will enjoy it – either a visitor or host of a party we attend.

- We always need wine for cooking. A halfway decent bottle will fit the bill in most cases.

- We can always dump the wine into a holiday punch, make mulled wine or sangria.

As the giver, the gift of wine is a no brainer. You’re probably going to the liquor store/wine shop anyway to stock up on festive refreshment, so picking up a few bottles for your wine weenie recipients eliminates a stop in what is likely already a hectic holiday schedule. Plus, presentation is inexpensive and a snap. Just drop the bottle into a dollar-store wine bag – which will likely be recycled by the receiver, so it’s eco-friendly too.

Plus shopping for wine for someone else will compel you to think about your own vinous purchases – so many of us tend to go back to the same bottles time and time again. In your hunt, you might be inspired to try something new yourself.

Having said that, don’t get caught up in trying to find the perfect wine for your connoisseur. And for heaven’s sake, don’t worry about spending too much and whether the wine got 90 points from Wine Spectator Magazine. It’s a myth that enthusiasts only drink award-winning, pricey wines. Like most people, we can’t afford to tuck into a $100, $50 or even $25 bottles every Friday night. I, for one, have plenty of favourites in the $15 to $20 range.

It’s certainly swell if you want to splurge on a fabulous bottle of Bordeaux or rare vintage Port. But many wine weenies would be just as happy with an affordable quaffable wine. Collectors, in particular, likely have plenty of cellar dwellers and don’t really need to add to their stash of untouchable-until-2015 wines. What they want are wines they can drink now – without the guilt that they’ve opened a vintage long before its prime.

When choosing a wine – whether it’s for a serious connoisseur or a fledgling enthusiast – first set a budget and then look for recommendations on wines in your price range. Many stores have what are referred to as “shelf talkers” which are hand-written by qualified staff. They’ll often include tasting notes and critical scores. VQA shops, private retailers with solid wine programs and Signature Liquor Stores often have knowledgeable personnel who can provide one-on-one consultation.

If you know what type of wine the person you’re shopping for enjoys, then look for something different in the same style or varietal. For example, if the individual typically drinks French Burgundy or British Columbia Pinot Gris, then consider similar wines from alternate regions. In the case of the Burgundy, look for a New World Pinot Noir from California or B.C. Choose an Alsatian Pinot Gris or Italian Pinot Grigio in place of the local Pinot Gris. Write a note to accompany the bottle explaining your selection.

If the above task seems too daunting, how about looking for something fun, like bottles with crazy names, unusual shapes or striking colours? Even if the wine itself isn’t up to snuff, you’ll guarantee the recipient a conversation starter.

How about a fruit wine? Many people dismiss this option and don’t take this category seriously, but many locally-produced fruit wines, such as those from Elephant Island or Raven Ridge Cidery, are a real treat.

One of your best bets is sparking wine. I can’t think of any enthusiast who doesn’t like bubble and there are plenty of very good wines of this style for under $30. And nothing is more festive.

Here are 10 hot wines for gifting:

Tinhorn Creek 2005 Oldfield’s Collection Merlot $28

Recently awarded 90 points by Wine Access magazine – denoting a wine of excellent quality. Features jammy black fruit, earthy flavours, some menthol. Robust on the palate with a long finish.

Peller Estates 2006 Private Reserve Pinot Noir $18
One of this winery’s four gold medal winners from the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, this is a stunning wine at an affordable price. Lovely cherry, chocolate characteristics with some earthy herbaceous notes. Silky texture. A best buy and widely available.

CedarCreek 2006 Merlot $20
This quaffable value wine is a real crowd pleaser, yet will appeal to even the most discerning palate. Concentrated red fruit characteristics, nice weight and silky tannins. Fill’er up!

Road 13 2007 Old Vines Chenin Blanc $19
Honestly, this winery could get away with adding another five bucks on this price and it would be well worth it – but we’re not complaining. Aromas of smashed lime jujubes, green apple, mineral, and tropical fruit notes in the bouquet and loads of racy acidity on the palate. Yum

Ganton & Larson Prospect Winery 2006 Shiraz $16
Few B.C. Shirazes/Syrahs come in under $20, so when you see one of this quality at this prices, grab it. Earthy tobacco notes, vanilla bean, black cherry and menthol. Smooth and easy to drink.

Quinta Ferreira 2006 Syrah $22
A truly stunning wine with aromas of violets, blueberries, jammy blackberries, vanilla and a distinct pepperyness. Quite savoury but with loads of ripe fruit. A bold effort worth double the price

Van Westen 2007 Viognier $25
One of the up and coming varietals in the valley and this one is a beauty with peach, floral notes, ginger spice, lemon, butter characteristics. Lots going for it.

Arrowleaf 2007 Snow Tropics Vidal $16
You don’t often see this variety in this drier style (it’s a 02), so an aficionado will certainly appreciate it. Quite perfumey and nutty with distinct stone fruit and floral notes, some citrus on the finish.

La Frenz 2007 Viognier $20
If you can locate a bottle of this stunner, the wine enthusiast on your list will be forever grateful. Selected Best White Wine in Show at the Northwest Wine Summit, among other accolades, this wine features super ripe character of dried apricot, peach and tropical fruits, plus some floral notes. It literally coats your palate and makes your mouth water. And can we talk about the price?

If you have your heart set on a non-wine wine gift, then think practical and choose something you know will be put to good use. Here are some ideas:

Wine Skins
In response to the banishing of wines in airplane cabins, the industry came up with these bags made of strong plastic and lined with bubble wrap and dual adhesive closures, sealing and cushioning individual bottles of wines so they can be safely tucked in your luggage. Perfect for the traveling oenophile on your list. $4 at the B.C. Wine Museum

Intelliscanner
If you have a wine collector on your list, this little gadget makes organization a snap. You use it to simply scan the barcode on a bottle of wine for automatic identification of the name, varietal, winery, country, region, type, and price. The information can then be downloaded to your Mac or PC for electronic storage. Saves inputting all the information by hand. http://www.intelliscanner.com/

White Wine Decanter
Most serious enthusiasts have a decanter for their red wines, but what about their whites? There’s a cool one available for $80 at the B.C Wine Museum, and I mean “cool” literally. The decanter sits on a glass reservoir that holds ice so the wine stays cold. So there’s no reason for your whites not to be just as pretty on the table.

Gift Basket
If you want to give wine, but want to dress it up a little more, then a wine gift basket is a logical, practical, yet beautiful option. A BC wine and artisan food basket from Discover Wines celebrates local foods and wines. For $80, staff will tuck bottles of Arrowleaf 2006 Merlot and Gehringer Brothers 2007 Pinot Auxerrois in with olive oil and cracked pepper Gone Crackers, Sea Change Ice Wine glazed smoked salmon, Aunty Penny's vegetarian antipasto, Bernard Callebaut dark chocolate, Okanagan Lavender jelly and Langford Petals Layered Fieldberry shortbread. Other selections and prices are available.

Books
Most enthusiasts I know appreciate a good wine-related book, particularly a buyer’s guide. Unfortunately, many of the internationally-produced ones from the likes of Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke contain bottles that can’t be found on our soil. Which is why I love the ones written by Canadian writers, particularly those from B.C., such as The Province wine critics Kenji Hodgson and James Nevison. Had A Glass: Top 100 Wines for 2009 under $20 appeals to the local and frugal consumer. This is their third edition. http://www.halfaglass.com/

And if you’re looking for a stocking stuffer, my own pocketbook, Okanagan Wine: A Guide to Valley Wines, contains tasting notes on 80-plus local wines, and retails for $10. http://www.theokanagan.net/

Friday, December 12, 2008

How Well Do B.C. Wines Age?

By Julianna Hayes

Since 95 per cent of wines are consumed within 24 hours of purchase, you wouldn’t think many people would get all worked up about the age-ability of their bottles.

Yet I get scads of queries from enthusiasts who want to know how long they can reasonably cellar a wine and how well they can expect it to age, should they ever have the urge. Typically the questions come from individuals who want to hold onto a special wine to enjoy on a momentous occasion in the distance future – such as a significant wedding anniversary, child’s 21st birthday or graduation.

I do my best to provide the information based on my own experience with aging wines, how the wines are made, and recommendations from vintners. But when it comes to B.C. wines, for the most part it’s been a crap shoot.

Old World wineries have centuries of making age-worthy wines under their belts. It’s fair to say that a proper Bordeaux from France can safely be tucked away for 10-plus years – but what about an Okanagan Meritage?

That’s what Rhys Pender of Wine Plus Consulting set out to resolve with a unique seminar last week studying how well local wines mature. Ten Years of Okanagan Wine featured a tasting of 12 B.C. bottles, all at least a decade old.

As someone with a few dusty local relics lurking in my wine rack, this seminar could potentially reveal whether I had a number of gems tucked safely away, or if simply I was in possession of some well-fermented vinegar.

Looking at Pender’s list, I suspected a number of the wines to be well past their prime. Included was a 1987 Gray Monk Riesling – complete with the garish red and black label that was the bottle’s uniform of the day.

There was also one of B.C.’s most famous wines – the 1992 Mission Hill Grand Reserve Chardonnay, which won the industry’s most talked about wine award: Best Chardonnay in the world at the 1994 International Wine and Spirits Competition. But at 16 years of age, I didn’t have much hope of it having held up.

Yet those wines and all the others surprised me – and pleasantly, I might add. While they might not be to everyone’s taste and a couple had certainly seen better days, none of them had deteriorated to the point of being undrinkable. In fact, many of them were quite delicious, which pains me to think of the potential lost in all those bottles I’ve opened and downed.

Pender, with the help of two skillful panelists – Sommelier Mark Filatow and Road 13 Winemaker Michael Bartier, facilitated the tasting, which included three Rieslings, two Chardonnays, two Cabernet Sauvignons, four Bordeaux-style red blends and one sparkling wine. Having multiples of most of these styles or varieties was terrific for comparison purposes.

Here are some of the more interesting points made during the seminar that you should consider of if you plan to age wines, local or otherwise:

There is a lot of bottle variation with older wines. Even bottles stored under identical conditions will sometimes not age and taste the same when opened even side by side. For example, one of two bottles of a wine we tried had a dusty, woody aroma that we assumed came from the cork. The cork wasn’t tainted, but somehow imparted some of its own characteristics into the wine. The other bottle was fine and both came from Pender’s cellar. That’s why it’s always a good idea to stock more than one bottle of a wine you plan to keep for a while.

As wines age, dominant fruit flavours begin to fade and are replaced by secondary flavours – more earthy, mineral or flinty, spicy and nutty characteristics. If you like them fresh and fruity, then drink them young. Sweetness also fades, acid and alcohol become more noticeable.

A wine that ages well should taste good on release, meaning you should also be able to drink it young. Unsavoury characteristics will not improve over time, said Bartier. Wines shouldn’t taste better or worse with aging, just different.

Cellaring wine may actually save you money – the average bottle of B.C. wine in 1992 was just over $6. By 1998, the price had risen to around $12. Now the average bottle retails for $17-plus.

It’s an accepted fact that the more mature the vines are, the better the age-ability of the wine. The Okanagan’s vineyards are considered quite youthful, so if wines made from such young vines are showing well after 10 years, the future should be very bright, remarked Filatow.

Alcohol content has risen significantly in the last decade, noted Pender. Most of the whites sampled in this tasting were under 12 per cent and the reds under 14 per cent. Now 13-14 per cent and more is the norm.

Check out Pender's website for information on his education programs – http://www.wineplus.ca/

Wine Notes

Here are some brief notes from the 10 Years of Okanagan Wine tasting:

Sumac Ridge 1997 Blanc de Noirs Brut
Still bright and fresh with fresh apple aromas and more pronounced yeasty, nutty character than would have been apparent when first released. Mineral and petrol hints, common to more aged sparkling wines.

Hainle 1997 Riesling
Most of the fruit character has given way to aromas and flavours of petrol, spice and mineral. Wine has searing acidity and alcohol is evident even at the relative low percentage. Would make a stylish food wine – Filatow recommends something like a cream of celery soup.

Wild Goose 1996 Riesling
Still fresh honeyed apricot, orange muscat aromas that are almost late-harvest or boytritis-affected in style. Pleasant sweet and sour on the palate with quite a lot of zip on the finish

Gray Monk 1987 Riesling
Some apple, honey, mineral, nutty and spicy character and lots of acidity. That aged petrol character is also evident. Impressive for a 21-year-old wine.

Mission Hill 1992 Grand Reserve Chardonnay
This big medal winner still shows peach, honey, with some petrol and a hint of aged sherry character. Comments were made that it tasted like a fine “Old World Chardonnay.”

Quails' Gate 1994 Family Reserve Chardonnay
This wine made an indelible impression on me when it was released and I was surprised to find just how much it still tasted the same after 14 years. Smoky bacon fat, baked apple, lime, nuttiness, spice and plenty of acidity.

Kettle Valley 1995 Cabernet-Merlot
Quite a lot still going on with cherry cough syrup, floral, olive, black cherry, orange zest characteristics. Quite a lot of acidity and some tannin remain.

Sumac Ridge 1998 Black Sage Meritage
Cherry, violet, blackberry, licorice and pie crust aromas. Velvety texture and still fresh and lively. Still has age-ability – has loads of finesse.

Mission Hill 1998 Oculus
Barnyard, earthy aromas with leather, soya sauce and coffee bean. More fruit is apparent on the palate with some white pepper, orange zest, spice and some tannin. Some people might find this too funky, but others love the style.

Poplar Grove 1998 Legacy
Cherry, chocolate, herbal, orange zest, kirsch and floral aromas. Texture is quite silky with some remaining tannin. Quite a yummy wine and still has further ability to age.

La Frenz 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon
Smoky, meaty, spicy aromas with coffee bean, black cherry and a touch of green bell pepper. Ripe black fruit and meaty, smoky flavours and a hint of herbaceousness.

Burrowing Owl 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon
Coffee, chocolate, cherry, olive juice, canned tomato paste and some herbal notes in the bouquet. Concentrated flavours of soya sauce, chocolate, dark fruits and spice.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wine Planning for Parties

Q: I am planning a holiday wine party for about 20 people. I have yet to finalize the menu, but rather than a sit-down dinner (I don’t have the table space or place settings anyway), I want easy finger foods that I can serve at different intervals that will allow my guests to nibble on at their leisure and encourage them to mingle. I’m open to your suggestions. I can’t afford to buy all the wine for the evening, thus they’ll be bringing their own, but I would like to have a selection of bottles on hand that will go with the food. What advice do you have?
- Shelley

A: Wine parties are popular this time of year. And I certainly appreciate that in these challenging economic times, it isn’t feasible for most but the truly wealthy to offer up a endless supply of booze – thus BYOB is the norm in most situations.
To this end, might I offer a suggestion? Rather than having your guests bring a bunch of random bottles, why not consider a “wine club” format?

Wine clubs are becoming very popular and the idea behind them is that the host sets a theme and purchases a variety of wines that suit the menu. The guests then pitch in some cash - $20 to $40 a piece (depending on the caliber of the wines) to assist with the cost.

This is advantageous for a number of reasons:
1. It simplifies things for your guests. They can attend without worrying about what and how much to bring.
2. You can ensure that the wines served will best showcase the food and vice versa.
3. You can select the order in which the wines are poured so that they will go side by side with the appropriate foods.
4. You can control the amount of wine poured – if you serve one- to two-ounce tastes your guests can sample more wines and you can limit the amount you and your guests drink. 5. You can select a range of price points enabling you and your guests to sample bargain bottles – perhaps finding a few new affordable favourites – and experience higher-end, rare and/or revered wines you might not normally have the opportunity to enjoy.

Let’s consider the food. Start with platters of gourmet cheeses, meats, smoked fish, olives, nuts and dried and fresh fruit. These are lovely in terms of presentation, flavour and texture and can be left out most of the evening for people to snack on at their leisure. But because there is so much variety, wine pairing is often difficult. This is when to break out the sparkling wine because it will act as a palate cleanser and refresher.

Many people think of bubbly only for special occasions, but it is an ideal food wine because it can stand up to just about anything – sweet, salty, briny etc. B.C. makes a number of sparkling wines in the traditional Champagne style (only bubbly from the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne) and most are under $30. Comparable sparkling wines from France would be twice that at least.

Any other wines you serve with these foods should be light and refreshing. Think aromatic whites in an off-dry style like Ehrenfelser, Riesling or Gewurztraminer for goat and blue cheese and spiced nuts or a prepared appetizer like prosciutto-wrapped melon. Rosé wine would be lovely with smoked salmon or spicy salami. Lemony Chenin Blanc or Pinot Gris are naturals with fresh shucked oysters. Super dry Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon are great with olives.

Supplement these platters with a few well presented “amuse bouche” which you can bring out at various intervals and wow your guests. Consider chicken “lollipops” which are bite-size pieces of flattened chicken, skewered and either grilled or broiled and served with a variety of sweet/spicy dipping sauces – serve up an off-dry white such as Bacchus or Auxerrois. Lime and chili marinated shrimp or scallops served on a Chinese soup spoon make for a delightful presentation – dry whites or sparkling wine pairs best.

One of my favourite recipes is grilling or roasting a mustard and herb-crusted rack of lamb, then cutting it up and serving the individual rib chops as an appetizer – no utensils are necessary, guests simply hold the meat by the bone. This is when you break out the big reds such as Syrah or Bordeaux-style blends.

I know you said “finger foods,” but the truth is most people attend parties with an empty belly so they’ll need something fairly substantial to metabolize the alcohol they drink. How about considering a couple of one-pot dishes like Coq Au Vin, Beef Bourginon or Lamb Stew? These are easy, can be made well ahead and left to simmer in a slow cooker so they’ll be ready when your guests arrive. All you’ll need in terms of serving are some small bowls, cutlery and a ladle. What’s more these dishes tend to be very wine friendly as wine is often a key ingredient in the recipe itself. Wine selection is easy as you can simply serve the same wine you used in the dish.

Other tips

1. There are roughly five medium-size glasses in a bottle and you can count on at least two glasses per person. That means if you have 10 guests, you should have at least five bottles. (Or if you’re one of my friends 10 bottles).
2. For “tasting” size portions you can squeeze out about 10 pours.
3. Pour the wine for your guests rather than having them serve themselves. It’s the responsible approach because they will drink less that way. If you are confident enough, talk about the wine and why you chose it for the occasion.
4. Be sure that you have different glasses for the whites, reds and sparkling wines. Consider renting them if you don’t or asking guests to bring their own.
5. As for serving temperatures, I tend to like my wines on the chilly side for parties as the temperature in the room goes up a notch with added bodies. I find the whites will taste fresher and fruitier when good and cold. Light bodied reds would benefit from 20 minutes in the refrigerator before serving. Open fuller bodied reds, pour into a decanter and leave in cool place to aerate for at least an hour prior to serving.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Luxury Lines of Wines

By Julianna Hayes

The packaging of a new Mission Hill Family Estate Chardonnay is minimalist yet undeniably upscale.

The Burgundy-style bottle is unadorned save for a band of real pewter on which the wine’s name – Perpetua – is embossed. Even without tasting it, you have the immediate impression that the wine must certainly be delicious.

Perpetua is part of a luxury line of wines called the Legacy Series introduced by the Westbank producer last week. Winemaker John Simes said the wine “gets the best of everything we can possibly do with a Chardonnay.” This includes coveted grapes from 10-year-old vines found in a single vineyard that is thinned aggressively to maximize ripeness and flavour. The wine spent about 10 months in “the best barrels that we know of.”

“I think this is close to being the best Chardonnay we’ve made. I’m really pleased with it,” said Simes. That bar was already impossibly high – the winery walked away one year with the trophy for the best Chardonnay in the world at a prestigious competition in the UK.

Perpetua is a beauty indeed – full and lush, loaded with ripe fruit, but without being annoyingly oaky. It’s the kind of wine that ruins you for all others unable to measure up.

But developing a taste for it will cost you. At $33 a pop, it’s by no means the priciest wine on the market, but it puts it out of reach for everyday quaffing.

Perpetua’s cellar mates in the Legacy Series are equally as rich in the glass and on the pocketbook. Quatrain, a four-grape red blend, is savoury, spicy and jammy and retails for $48. Oculus, a Bordeaux-style red blend – which has been part of the Mission Hill portfolio for some time, but will now be part of this line – is elegant and complex and sells for $70.

In today’s economy, when everyone seems to be clawing back spending on the non-necessities, it may not seem foolish to launch such top-of-the-line products. Simes acknowledged the timing might not be perfect, but the series was hardly a spur of the moment project.

“We’ve been working on it for quite a while,” he said, pointing out that the Quatrain and Oculus releases are both 2005 vintages. “We’ve been sitting on Quatrain for awhile. It’s nice to finally be able to talk about it.”

Even though the marketplace may seem volatile, Simes said the series has been well received at other launches in Vancouver and Calgary. And the wines are getting rave reviews – all three were awarded more than 90 points by renowned Canadian wine write Anthony Gismondi, a critic notoriously stingy with his marks.

And Mission Hill certainly isn’t the only B.C. producer targeting the high-end market. While a decade ago, a local wine selling for more than $25 was almost unthinkable – now that price-point is close to being average and “luxury lines” of wines are becoming more commonplace.

Some of the smaller Okanagan wineries don’t even bother to cater to the low- to mid-range consumer. The cheapest wine at Le Vieux Pin, for example, is a rosé for $25, while its priciest bottle is $65. Likewise, Black Hills Winery routinely sells out its wines in days, if not mere hours, even though nothing comes cheaper than $24.

Larger wineries like Mission Hill, CedarCreek and Jackson Triggs don’t really have that option, as they need broader consumer appeal to move their volumes of wines. Which is why their top of the line products must truly stand out.

Sandhill Estate, a spin-off of the Calona Vineyards portfolio, is marketed as a producer of “single vineyard” wines which come from carefully tended sites in the Okanagan. The Small Lots Program under the label goes even further by isolating “unique and distinctive barrels that deserve very special attention.” These bottlings are usually limited to a few hundred cases and are considered “finely crafted creations.”

At Quails’ Gate, the luxury line is the Stewart Family Reserve wines, which are produced from the “very best blocks of fruit the Quails' Gate vineyards have to offer.” The winery makes the series rare and exclusive by producing Reserve wines from vintages where the quality is exceptional – meaning some years the wines might not be available at all.

Jackson-Triggs already had Proprietor’s Reserve and Proprietor’s Grand Reserve lines when it launched its Sunrock Vineyard series three years ago. These wines narrowed the focus down to just one key vineyard in the very south, and arguable hottest, part of the Okanagan Valley. The emphasis is heavily on viticulture and wines made in limited quantities.

Among other wineries with specialty high-end bottlings are CedarCreek (Platinum Reserve), Road 13 ( Jackpot), Tinhorn Creek (Oldfield’s Collection), Summerhill Pyramid (Platinum Series), Sumac Ridge (Pinnacle) and Gray Monk (Odyssey).

Here are some notes on Mission Hill’s Legacy Series wines:

Mission Hill Perpetua 2006 Chardonnay $33
Luscious fruit aromas of orange, green apple, hints of lime, some buttery notes, a touch of toast and mineral and lovely vanilla. Very fresh on the palate with just enough roundness and creamy character without being overly woody. Citrus, apple skin, tree fruit flavours, a hint of nuttiness and a clean elegant finish. 91 points


Mission Hill Quatrain 2005 $48
Very jammy, blackberry pie aromas, fresh red berry fruit, black cherry, chocolate, spice and peppery notes with hints of tobacco and cedar. There is a distinct fresh dark fruit and earthy character on the palate, spice, pepper and a silky texture. Tannins are moderate, but the dryness on the finish will disappear with a bit more time in the bottle. This is a four-grape blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. 90 points

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Waste Not Want Not: Cooking With Leftover Wine

Q: I keep a decanter on my kitchen counter in which I pour all my leftover wine for use when I am cooking. I much prefer this to the stuff they sell in the supermarket. But a friend recently told me that mixing the wines is a bad idea and I could potentially ruin a recipe by using the stuff in my decanter. What do you think?
- Wendy

A: Cooking with wine is a great way to add flavour to foods. You are wise to avoid so-called grocery store “cooking wines.” They are typically overly sweet and tend to be high in acid and sodium. Not only will these characteristics be heightened during cooking, you'll want to be extra careful using these if you're on a low-salt diet.

That being said, the number one pitfall when it comes to using wine in recipes is most people think any wine will suffice. Your friend is right that dumping a bunch of different wines together could be a problem. Also, wine has a shelf life – a decanter of remnant left to sit for extended periods on a counter, or worse, a stove-top will eventually turn into vinegar.

If your recipes call for only a dash or two of liquid, you're probably not doing too much damage. But quality makes a difference when quantities start to add up. While I encourage you to keep leftover wines for later use, anything that has been uncorked for more than a few days -- especially if it is stored at room temperature -- just won't do.

Here are a couple good rules of thumb:

· Taste your wine before you add it to your dish. If you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it. This is especially important if the wine is oxidized -- it will add bitter, harsh flavours to your food.

· When it comes to white wine, stay away from sweet and acidic wines. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris are good choices.

· Low tannin, fruity wines are best when it comes to red – unwooded or slightly oaked Gamay or Pinot Noir, for example, are great bets. Stay away from super heavy reds, which can overpower a dish.

· Store all leftover wine in a refrigerator – the colder temperature will slow the aging process. Transfer the wine to a smaller container with an air-tight seal, if possible – this will prevent further oxygen from getting into the wine and oxidizing it.

· Consider serving the same wine at the table that you cooked with. It's a guaranteed match and will bring out the flavours of your dish.

· Cooking wines don't have to be expensive -- you can usually find them in the $12-15 range. In fact, when a recipe calls for a port or sherry, lower-end bottles tend to be preferable because their fruity qualities are more desirable in cooking.

· Do not thin a sauce or stew by simply adding wine -- it will leave it with a hard, raw taste.

If you want to get a little more adventurous, try looking for wines that exhibit characteristics that match ingredients in your recipe. For example, if the dish has mint or mushrooms, look for herbal or earthy descriptors on the wine label such as what you might find in an Old World Pinot Noir or Merlot. Sauvignon Blanc is well known for its herbaceous character, which would work in a recipe in which herbs are prominently figured.

Wine is frequently a key ingredient in basting liquids for roasting, as a marinade, in dressings and dips, fondues and a wide array of desserts. It is also used in reduction and deglazing.

Reduction is when you add a liquid and then allow it to simmer in order to concentrate and thicken it. When you use wine, this method will intensify its flavours, but also reduce most of the alcohol content, which can overpower the dish, not to mention the diners.

As a rule, you should aim for a 50 per cent reduction -- meaning you want half the liquid you started with.

Deglazing is another good way to bring the flavours of wine into your cooking. You simply add wine to dissolve bits stuck to a pan after food has been roasted or sautéed. For example, if you've roasted a turkey, you can substitute wine for water to scrape up the food particles in the roasting pan and use it as a base for a delectable sauce. Try this also after you've sautéed wild mushrooms and herbs, carmelized onions or broiled root vegetables.

In Focus: Grenache
This is considered a workhorse of a grape, which is used a lot for blending. Grenache’s light and sweet berry character, makes it a great candidate for rosé wines, in fact, the French appellations of Tavel and Lirac make some delightful products in this style. The wines made with this grape are typically fruity, spicy and quaffable. Grown in Spain, California and other warm-weather regions, it is finding its way in small planting in Okanagan vineyards where it will likely be a challenge given that it is late ripening and favours very arid, hot climates. Local producers are eyeing it for rosé wines and blending.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Winning by a Nose: A Look at Wine Judging


By Julianna Hayes
Drinking out of a brown paper bag at nine in the morning would be unthinkable for most people – at least those without serious social issues.

Yet an elite group of individuals do so frequently and aren’t ashamed to admit it. I am speaking of wine judges – the people responsible for putting all that shiny hardware on bottles that the industry loves to brag about.
You might think this to be a sweet gig, but I assure you, there is nothing glamorous about it. Unless, of course, you enjoy spitting into a stryofoam cup and having purple teeth.
While you get to taste some pretty nice wines, you have to slog your way through plenty of dogs as well. Certain flights will test a judge’s stamina – just try making it through 38 icewines without weeping.

And though several people have quipped about trading “jobs” with me when I talk about it being a grueling exercise – judging can’t really be classified as work, as that would imply a pay cheque. Aside from getting reimbursed for basic travel expenses – one organization gave me a daily meal allowance of 20 bucks and expected me to get around on city transit – judges are largely volunteers.

Wine judging always leaps into the forefront during the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival when the buying public looks to the results of the annual competition for benchmark bottles. Each year dozens of wineries are decorated with some serious jewels and this year was no exception. There were a record 425-plus entries and medals were handed out to 281 wines including an astonishing 38 gold – one of the biggest yields in the competition ever.

Were the judges overly generous or are B.C. wines really that good?

Let me explain how the competition works. Though I’ve been on a number of wine judging panels, I have never tasted in this particular competition. I did observe this year and discovered that it uses the same basic premise as most.

The eight judges were divided into two panels of four and each group tasted half of the wines – standard practise for competitions of this size. The sheer enormity of the entries makes it impractical, not to mention inhuman, for the judges to taste them all.

All wines were tasted blind – this is one of the most important bits. Flights of wine were presented according to variety or style and divided by vintage, but the judges had no idea of the producer or price so there is no opportunity for bias They were given a scoring sheet on which they could jot down comments and provide a numerical score if desired, but they usually only do this for their own information. For the purposes of the competition, they were asked to tick a box recommending each wine for either a gold, silver, bronze or nothing at all.

Wines that received an average silver or bronze rating automatically received those medals and the competition was over for them. Wines with a majority gold recommendation were set aside for a second round of tasting involving all the judges.

Unlike the Lieutenant Governor Awards of Excellence in B.C. Wine, for which I judge, where only up to 12 wines are recognized, there is no limit to the number of medals that can be handed out during the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival. Thus the competition has a bit of a reputation for being charitable. The silver and bronze medals are sometimes seen to be default honours for wines incapable of scoring golds – they in essence give judges an out. What has happened as a result is that the luster has faded on the latter two medals and only those that won gold seem to capture the interests of consumers.

The debate actually came up during the session I sat in on. Coke Roth, a wine critic from Tri-Cities, Washington, who is one of the top judges in America, said the competition shouldn’t be concerned of awarding huge numbers of medals. If the wines are worthy – and he thought the ones in the competition were – then why should the numbers matter? A huge haul of medals should be considered a great thing for the local industry and the wineries should wear them proudly. It’s a valid point.

One new element in this year’s competition. In addition to awarding gold, silver and bronze, the judges were also asked to select the best white and red wine overall, as well as the best new winery. The top red honours went to Sandhill 2006 Phantom Creek Vineyard Small Lots Syrah, while the top white was Lang Vineyards 2007 Farm Reserve Riesling. The tiny Oliver winery of Dunham and Froese was selected best new winery.

Jackson-Triggs repeated history once again by winning the most golds with a total of five. But a surprise to all was the impressive showing by Peller Estates, which has never done well before. It took home four golds for the Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon in its Private Reserve line. Road 13 Vineyards picked up three golds.

Wine Notes

Kalala 2007 Pinot Gris (Organic)
Appearance: Clear, pale straw colourAromas: Mineral, citrus peel, yellow peach, green apple, spice
Flavours: Green apple, lemon-lime, mineral, hints of herbal spice
Body and Finish: A fresh, dry entry with lots of zest on the palate, finishing clean
Overall Impression: Those who like a steely dry Pinot Gris, lovely and refreshing – a bronze medal winner
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Would I Buy It?: Yes
Score: 88
Price: $16
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Sandhill 2006 Phantom Creek Vineyard Small Lots Syrah
Appearance: Opaque black cherry colour
Aromas: Black cherry, cassis, black pepper, jam, violet, chocolate, herbal notes, toast
Flavours: Intense black fruits, pepper, mocha, toast, herbal
Body and Finish: Luscious entry with a great deal of complexity on the palate, moderate tannins, slightly hot, elongated finish
Overall Impression: Yummy – not much else to say
Cellaring Potential: Best cellared a couple years
Would I Buy It?: Yes
Score: 92
Price: $35
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Road 13 2006 Merlot
Appearance: Dark magenta, ruby tones
Aromas: Red plum, cassis, caramel, prune, toast, chocolate, floral, herbaceous notes
Flavours: Jammy red fruits, spice, chocolate, smoke, mint
Body and Finish: Ripe red fruit entry, fresh on the palate, silky tannins, smooth long finish
Overall Impression: A delightfully concentrated effort that also represents great value. Gold medal winner
Cellaring Potential: Drink now and for five years
Would I Buy It?: Yes
Score: 91
Price: $24
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

BC Wine Lists Wow Judges

A restaurant from the tiny coastal island of Galiano won two gold medals and a bronze in the British Columbia Wine List Competition held during the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival.

Atrevida Restaurant, part of the Galiano Inn, took the top honours in the Small Restaurant and Best BC Wines by the Glass category. It also won a bronze in the Best First Time Entry division.

Cobblestones Wine Bar in Naramata, the gold winner in the Best All BC Wine List category, was the Grand Prize Winner of the competition and received a prize package courtesy of EAT Magazine and WestJet, the official airline of the Okanagan Wine Festivals. EAT Magazine is a food and drink publication based out of Victoria and will feature Cobblestones Wine Bar in its winter issue. (http://www.eatmagazine.ca/)

The Best Overall Wine List gold went to Kelowna’s La Bussola.

Eleven restaurants in total from across the province received medals in the competition. There were ninety entries in total, evaluated by a panel of judges - Dennis Dwernychuk, Senior Product Consultant for the Orchard Park Signature Liquor Store in Kelowna; Julianna Hayes, an Okanagan Valley-based wine writer; and Suzanne Mick, co-founder and co-owner of Discover Wines in Kelowna.

Awards were handed out in five different categories. The complete set of winners are:

Best First Time Entry

GOLD
Cin Cin Restaurant (Vancouver)

SILVER
The Pointe Restaurant at Wickaninnish Inn (Tofino)

BRONZE
Atrevida Restaurant (Galiano Island)


Best Small Restaurant Wine List

GOLD
Atrevida Restaurant (Galiano Island)

SILVER
Haus Uropa Restaurant (Gibsons)

BRONZE
The Mark at the Hotel Grand Pacific (Victoria)


Best BC Wines-by-the-Glass

GOLD

Atrevida Restaurant (Galiano Island)

SILVER
Aurora Bistro (Vancouver)

BRONZE
Hotel Eldorado (Kelowna)


Best Overall Wine List


GOLD

La Bussola (Kelowna)

SILVER
C Restaurant (Vancouver)

BRONZE
Front Street Bar & Bistro (Penticton)


Best All BC Wine List

GOLD
Cobblestones Wine Bar (Naramata)

SILVER
Aurora Bistro (Vancouver)

BRONZE
Front Street Bar & Bistro (Penticton)

The BC Wine List Competition is presented by the BC Wine Museum & VQA Wine Shop in partnership with the British Columbia Restaurant & Foodservices Association and the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society. This provincial competition, which was founded in 1997, will run biennially, with the BC Wine Label Awards occurring on alternate years. Registration for the 2009 BC Wine Label Awards will begin in August of next year.

The BC Wine Museum and its partners gratefully acknowledge event sponsors EAT Magazine and WestJet and extend their congratulations to all the winners.

For more information on the BC Wine Museum & VQA Wine Shop and its programs, please visit http://www.kelownamuseums.ca/.

Okanagan Fall Wine Fest: Shiny Happy Medals

If you traditionally go for the gold, you won't have a shortage of options to choose from Okanagan Fall Wine Festival. A stunning 38 wines were awarded the shiny yellow hardware, while dozens of others won silver and bronze.

And for the first time, the festival awarded three prestigious medals - best white wine, best red and best new winery. Those honours went to Lang Vineyards 2007 Farm Reserve Riesling (white); Sandhill Vineyards 2006 Phantom Creek Vineyards Small Lots Syrah (red); and Dunham and Froese (new winery).

Here's a list of the gold medal wines:

* Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
* CedarCreek Estate Winery Ehrenfelser 2007
* CedarCreek Estate Winery Estate Select Meritage 2006
* Church and State Wines Merlot Coyote Bowl Vineyard 2006
* Church and State Wines Syrah 2006
* Desert Hills Winery Gewürztraminer 2007
* Ganton & Larson Prospect Winery “Ogopogo’s Lair” Pinot Grigio 2007
* Ganton & Larson Prospect Winery “Census Count” Chardonnay 2007
* Gray Monk Estate Winery Gewürztraminer 2007
* Hester Creek Estate Winery Pinot Gris 2007
* Inniskillin Okanagan Malbec Discovery Series 2006
* Inniskillin Okanagan Dark Horse Vineyard Riesling Icewine 2007
* Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Proprietors’ Grand Reserve White Meritage 2007
* Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Proprietors’ Reserve Shiraz 2006
* Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Proprietors’ Grand Reserve Shiraz 2006
* Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Proprietors’ Grand Reserve Sparkling Riesling Icewine 2007
* Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Proprietors’ Grand Reserve Riesling Icewine 2007
* Lang Vineyards Riesling Farm Reserve 2007
* Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Riesling Icewine 2007
* Peller Estates Winery Private Reserve Pinot Noir 2006
* Peller Estates Winery Private Reserve Merlot 2006
* Peller Estates Winery Private Reserve Syrah 2006
* Peller Estates Winery Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
* Red Rooster Winery Reserve Merlot 2006
* Road 13 Vineyards Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2007
* Road 13 Vineyards Merlot 2006
* Road 13 Vineyards 5th Element Red 2006
* Sandhill Wines Small Lots Syrah Phantom Creek Vineyard 2006
* Sandhill Wines Cabernet Franc Sandhill Estate Vineyard 2006
* See Ya Later Ranch Chardonnay 2007
* See Ya Later Ranch Riesling 2007
* Soaring Eagle Gewürztraminer Icewine 2007
* Sumac Ridge Estate Winery Pinnacle 2005
* Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Gabriel Blanc de Blanc NV
* Therapy Chardonnay 2007
* Tinhorn Creek Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2006
* Wild Goose Vineyards Mystic River Pinot Blanc 2007
* Wild Goose Vineyards Mystic River Gewürztraminer 2007

For a list of the silver and bronze recipients visit: http://www.owfs.com/festivals/Judging%20Awards.pdf

Friday, October 10, 2008

Gobble Gobble - Thanksgiving Wines

By Julianna Hayes

Let’s talk turkey.

Despite the trend toward more avant garde foods, good ol’ fashioned turkey remains the crowning glory on just about every Thanksgiving table. Forget the mustard-seed rubbed sashimi or garganelli and grain fed veal cheeks – the bird is still the word.


So every year, I get the same question many times over: What wine should be served with holiday turkey?


That’s a tricky one, because it is not the bird that poses the problem with most festive feasts. It’s everything else you’ve cooked up that presents the challenge – the stuffing, candied yams, brussel sprouts, cranberries, gravy, jellied salad, marshmallow potatoes and so on.


Take the jellies and dressed up yams for example. They’ll make dry wines taste sour and sweeter wines taste dull. Don’t get me started on the cranberries. Bitter berries, combined with heaps of sugar, make most wine pairing experts want to weep.


If you can modify your recipes a little so they aren’t as sugary, the food will be much more wine friendly. Skip the marshmallows and make garlic mashed potatoes instead. Opt for buttered squash instead of candied yams. Forget the jellied salad altogether – I never understood the attraction in the first place. But if you’re heart is set on the sweet stuff, just keep it away from the Chardonnay – or anything else you pour.


When choosing a wine, think low-tannin, young and racy reds and fresh and fruity whites. You want the wines flavourful, but not too complicated. You want them to have good body but not be heavily oaked. Big California Chardonnays or Australian Shirazes just don’t work. The sweeter foods will heighten the bitterness of the tannins in those wines. And their heaviness will coat your palate and leave you feeling droopy when combined with all that food.


The good news is the wines that go best with Thanksgiving dinner are usually pretty affordable.
As a rule, you can’t go wrong with a New World Gewurztraminer or Riesling. They tend to be off-dry and fruity in style, which means they can hold their own with the sweeter stuff. They work nicely as a refreshing cleanser between bites, particularly if they’re well chilled.


If your heart is set on red, lighter wines like Beaujolais, Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Lemberger and Pinot Meunier are good selections.


One of my favourite holiday pairings, is a blush or rose wine. Many of the ones made here in B.C. have distinct cranberry characteristics and, well, what could be a better match for your bird? And the colour of the wine is decidedly festive, don’t you think? If you go this route, look for a wine that is dry or semi-dry. You don’t want anything too sweet.


Some foodies insist that the way you dress your turkey should dictate what kind of wine you should serve. It’s a pretty safe bet if you’re unsure of what choice to make. Here are some suggestions:


* Sausage and apple stuffing – Gewurztraminer, Beaujolais
* Wild mushroom stuffing – Pinot Noir, Grenache
* Fruit and nut stuffing – Gamay Noir and Pinot Meunier (better for dried fruit recipes), Pinot Blanc or Viognier (better for fresh fruit)
* Corn bread stuffing – Riesling
* Oyster stuffing – Unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc Bread and herb stuffing -- Sauvignon Blanc

Friday, October 3, 2008

Okanagan Fall Wine Festival: More Than Close Contact Wine Tasting

By Julianna Hayes

Elaine Fraser doesn’t drink. Yet for the past four years, the Calgary resident and her husband Tom have been making the pilgrimage to the Okanagan for its celebrated Fall Wine Festival.

“Tom is really into the wine,” she says. “I go for the food, the scenery and the entertainment.”

Fraser has never been disappointed. Indeed, the annual vinous event, which kicked off October 2, is no one-trick pony. There’s as much going on outside the glass to seduce teetotalers like Fraser, as well as those who fully appreciate wine.

It could easily be re-packaged as a culinary extravaganza or promoted for its art and music components. There are events to appeal to moms and dads with kids in tow, outdoorsy types, even dog lovers.

Perhaps that is why the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, now in its 28th year, is consistently voted one of the top 100 destinations in the continent by the American Bus Association.

But as the festival’s popularity has grown, so have the choices on how you can spend your time over the next 10 days. That may seem like a good thing – variety being the spice of life and all that – but the sheer volume of wine-soaked options, 180 at last count, is enough to make one’s head spin before ingesting a single drop.

Even people like Fraser are overwhelmed. “I don’t even drink the wine. Yet every year it gets tougher to decide what events we want to go to. There are so many attractive options.”

A good place to start is with the official Okanagan Fall Wine Festival guide, which is available at wineries, tourist information centres, liquor retailers, as well as online in PDF format by clicking the link to the right of this page or by visiting http://www.thewinefestivals.com/.

It’s a good idea to flip through it and circle the events that fall on the dates you plan to attend, then eliminate them one by one, depending on your criteria – price, location, available time, interest.

To help you out with your last-minute planning, here are a few picks based on theme. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so check out the guide for additional dinner options, seminars, tours and more. Events, dates and times are subject to change, so please contact the organizers before finalizing your plans:

Wine on the cheap

Free….

I hear a lot of whining about the expense of wine fest. But there are plenty of pocketbook friendly events for the more frugal enthusiast – even free stuff. First of all, most wineries are hosting open houses so there is absolutely no excuse not to participate in some way. There may be a nominal charge for tastings at some wineries, but most will reimburse you if you purchase.

Rootstock ’08: Two Days of Wine & Entertainment Naramata Style features the Bench wineries throwing open their doors for an eclectic blend of wine and the performing arts. At each venue you’ll find an interesting array of musicians, belly dancers, roving minstrels, mimes and magicians. Oct. 4 and 11. All Free. Visit http://www.naramatabench.com/ for more details.

Five art galleries in Kelowna offer an annual Progressive Tasting, Oct. 4 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., where you can view art and taste the ware from a local winery stationed at each venue. It’s all free and no reservations are necessary. You can start at any one of the galleries – Turtle Island, Art Ark, Picture Perfect, The Evans Gallery and Hambleton Galleries – and make your way to each at your leisure.


Next best thing to free…

Test your sensory evaluation skills with a Blind Barrel Tour at Rollingdale Winery located on Kelowna’s Westside. Participants will get a chance to guess varietals, compare wines made from single vineyards or how they present themselves with certain pairings or in different glasses. All this for $8! Offered daily. Call 250-769-9224

For a little more money you can throw a Shrimp on the Bar-by’-eh! at Greata Ranch October 4. The winery, located between Peachland and Summerland, will offer up a tasty barbecued snack with its wine to drop-ins willing to drop $15. No reservations necessary, but weather permitting.

Not exactly free but great value…

Icewine Discovery Tours – Inniskillin’s specialized tour focusing on Icewine, running daily through October 7 for $10; Nk’Mip Cellars – Cooing With Wine seminar, Oct. 1-5, $25; Harvest lunch at St. Hubertus, Oct. 3-4 and 10-11 – you won’t go away hungry, thirsty or starved for ambience, $27.99; Tinhorn Creek’s Vineyard and Habitat Walking Tour and Lunch, Oct 1-3, $25; Autumn Patio BBQ at Wild Goose, Oct. 4, $20.


Early Risers

If you must have a drink before noon, consider one of the festival brunches or breakfasts. Join the Nk’Mip Cellars Breakfast Club at 9:30 a.m. daily through Oct. 5 for a tutored tasting of wines. The idea is a clean morning palate is the best to taste with – well, that’s their theory and they’re sticking to it. Or you can choose from one of several brunches: The Thanksgiving Brunch at Manteo, which gets under way at 9:30 a.m., Oct. 12; Summerhill’s Wild and Organic Brunch, 11 a.m., Oct. 5; Tiny Bubbles Brunch at Gray Monk, 11 a.m., Oct. 5; Quails’ Gates’ Harvest Brunch, 11:30 a.m., Oct. 5 and 12.

Wine-O-Rama

If a bottomless glass is all you're after, you’ve got a few options including the WestJet Wine Tasting, Oct. 3 (Oct. 4 is sold out), at the Laurel Packinghouse in Kelowna, $55, and the Grand Finale Consumer Tastings at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre, Oct. 10-11, $50. Each give you a choice of hundreds of wines to sample representing dozens of B.C. producers. Plus you get to keep a souvenir wine glass and get a free cab ride home. Phone 250-860-1470. There’s also the People’s Choice Awards, Oct. 2, at the Coast Capri Hotel in Kelowna, where you get to decide who wins the medals. Cost is $50, call 250-860-6060.

For a bit more money, you’ll see a bit more action along with your overflowing glass of wine at the Going Once…Going Twice Benefit Wine Auction, Oct. 4, at the Ramada Inn in Penticton. The cost is $78.75, 250-770-3272 x 4412. Careful how much you tipple or you might find yourself bidding on a barrel of wine.

If you love a winner, consider the Medal Winners Tasting, Oct. 10, at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre. What sets this event apart is being able to taste only those wines awarded medals in the Okanagan Fall Judging Competition, $65. There’s also Lunch With a Winemaker option for $60. Call 250-860-1470 for details.

Art and Music Buffs

Going along with the adage that wine aficionados also seem to appreciate fine art and music, several events combine these elements into one big cultural package. Organizers Wine Occasions have put together Art & Wine – A Perfect Pairing, a progressive tour of private artist studios in Kelowna, where participants can nosh on canapés and wine as they view the art, Oct. 5 and 9, 250-215-1368.

WAM! Wine, Art and Music, is an evening of the three in Kelowna’s downtown Cultural District, Oct. 11. It features live music and an open house of the resident galleries and studios within the Cawston Avenue block. The cost is $50 and includes 50 WAM dollars towards the purchase of art from participating venues. 250-860-1470.

Calling Art and Wine Enthusiasts features a tutored wine tasting and a seminar on the fundamentals of collecting art, Oct. 7, at Hambleton Gallery in Kelowna. Cost is $80. 250-860-2498.

For Flesh and Fur Families

The Oliver Festival of the Grape, Oct. 5, is one of the few family-friendly events where the young ones are kept busy by the Oliver Cubs & Scouts in the Kidzone, while adults savour wines poured by more than 30 Okanagan wineries. All this for $19 for advance tickets or $22 at the gate. 250-498-6321.

Rover gets some loving too at the Dog Days of Summer, an annual event welcoming canine companions at See Ya Later Ranch in Okanagan Falls, Oct. 4. Furbabies get eatable treats while their flesh parents partake in treats of the liquid persuasion. The cost is free, but a donation to the BC SPCA is encouraged. 240-494-0451.

Brain Candy

If you’re only here to drink, fine. But if you’re here to learn, then consider one of several terrific seminars being offered during the festival. Several blind tastings are featured that will test you palate in a light and friendly atmosphere. Among them are the Wine Fest Warm-Up offered by the B.C. Wine Museum in the Laurel Packinghouse, Oct. 2, which will pit men against women in a battle of the sexes. The evening also features an educational overview of the tremendous growth of the Okanagan wine industry. Cost is $40 – 250-868-0441.

Mission Hill’s Blind Wine Tasting, Oct. 12, will include a “double blind” component where wines will be poured in an opaque black tasting glass so you can’t see the colour. $40 – 250-768-7611.

What’s in the Bag? at the Keg in Kelowna, Oct. 8, features is six mystery wines paired with six mystery cheeses. $40 – 250-860-1470.

And for people concerned about their carbon footprint, the 100-Mile Diet Wine Pairing, Oct. 5, at the Rotary Centre for the Arts, aims to address the issue of sourcing out local produced foods with samples paired with local wines being served. $40 – 250-878-8050.

Foodies’ Choice

Once the signature of the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival, The Masters of Food and Wine: Cooking with Terasen Gas, Oct. 5, is a delightful mid-day event that’s a no-brainer for a fall Sunday when festival goers are seeking a low-key but intelligent event to fill their time. Located in Kelowna’s Laurel Packinghouse, it features an interesting mix of restaurateurs serving everything from lamb burgers and kangaroo loin carpaccio to dark chocolate and double cream brie. $55. Call 250-860-1470.

Don’t forget to check out the numerous luncheons and dinners offered throughout the festival.

And now for something completely different….

If you are looking for something with an original spin, look no further than Blasted Church’s Midnight Service events, where attendees will flock to the venue that inspired the winery’s name and hear the Gospel Experience Choir on Oct. 10 or the Ruthie Foster on Oct. 11. Food will be served by Memphis Blues. Courtesy bus service is offered from the Grand Finale Tasting in Penticton. Cost is $90. 888-222-6608

Or how about Savour the Shuswap, a progressive winery dinner/wine tour of North America’s northern most wineries? You start at Larch Hills with appetizers, wine and autumnal views of the northern part of the valley, plus witness a live chain saw carving (only in the north) before moving on to dinner, wine and music at Recline Ridge. The evening concludes with dessert and dessert wine at Granite Creek. The event is offered on October 4 and 11 and the cost is $119. Call 1-866-632-3456 for info.

Think wine can be paired with just about anything? Wine not? That’s certainly the thoughts of the organizers of Taste the Aromas of Coffee and Wine with Starbucks, Oct. 5 at Manteo Resort. Participants will get a chance to sample six different roasts with six different wines. $40. 250-860-1470

Not to be outdone, Manteo Resort offers an intriguing World Tapas Tour Oct. 9. You’ll get to stroll around the resort’s villas where you partake in the culinary delights of Canada, Italy, India and Korea, all paired with B.C. wines. The cost is $89. Call 250-860-1031.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ready or Not, It's Harvest Time!

By Julianna Hayes

One morning in mid-September, I awoke to a peculiar sound, a low rumbling I hadn’t heard in months – the furnace.

Though the temperature that day eventually climbed into the comfortable low 20s, summer as we know it in the Okanagan, with its 30 C+ days, is over.

Oh, sure, there may be the odd record-making blip, a day or two for which we’re hanging onto the shorts and t-shirts before packing them away for winter’s long respite. But we’re just as likely now to get frost in our gardens and snow in the higher elevations.

Though I mourn the end of long balmy days, refreshing dips in the lake and frosty beverages on the patio, I won’t miss summer’s more frantic pace, the jam of traffic and the throng of tourists. I love the fall and its promise of a more relaxed pace.

Ironically, it is – without a doubt – the most feverish time in the industry I love so much.

Up and down the valley, vintners are elbow deep in grapes. The harvest of 2008 started last weekend for most wineries with vineyards in the South Okanagan. Tinhorn Creek reported that it started Sunday, September 21, hand-picking 17 tonnes of Gewurztraminer grapes. As of Tuesday, at total of 37 tonnes of Gewurz, Chardonnay and Semillon had been collected.

Though everyone is about one- to two-weeks behind normal, growers are happy with what they see so far. The cooler season meant a great deal of crop thinning was required, but the addition of new vineyards in recent years means the total yield will be up 10 per cent from last year.

Vintners will be working pretty steadily until the end of October when the last of the reds should be pulled off the vine. It means long hours outdoors, on the crush pads and in the cellars – the grapes wait for no one.

And if that isn’t enough, harvest always coincides with the industry’s largest tourist draw – the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, which kicks off October 2. It is not unusual to attend a winemaker’s dinner during the 10-day celebration to see the guest of honour greeting people with hands stained deep red.

I have frequently questioned the timing of the festival. I know that when the public retires after a day or night of revelry, winemakers and their staff often go back to work into the wee hours. It’s a relief for them when the final wine is poured and the party’s over.

On the flipside, I can appreciate why organizers are reticent to change the dates. It’s a stunning time in the Okanagan, and the excitement of harvest is palatable, which is probably why the celebration continues break records for attendance year after year.

This is why I encourage visitors to take advantage of this time and use it as an opportunity to educate themselves about what it takes to go from grape to glass.
Several wineries from north to south have recognized that programs such as these would appeal to fledgling enthusiasts who want to better appreciate the effort that goes into wine. They have organized unique events that celebrate the harvest and teach wanna-be connoisseurs a little about viticulture.

Hunting Hawk Winery in Armstrong is offering a day-long opportunity October 3-4 called So You Want to Be a Winemaker? Participants will “job shadow” the winemaking team, helping to pick, crush, press and start the fermentation of the 2008 vintage. But the experience doesn’t end there. Sometime later, the wanna-be winemakers will receive delivery of a bottle of the wine they helped to make. The cost is $50 per person and includes lunch and wine tasting. Call 250-546-2164 for more information.

Quails’ Gate Estate Winery in Kelowna is offering a two-hour program daily October 6-10 called the Vineyard Exploration & Tasting, where participants will get to inspect newly planted Pinot Noir vines and well established Marechal Foch plants and learn about the annual cycle of the grapevine. The cost is $25 and includes a sit-down wine tasting. Call 250-769-4451

Further to the south in Okanagan Falls, there’s an event called Harvest & Lunch at Noble Ridge on October 9. Depending on what stage the harvest is in on that day, guests will find themselves touring and assessing grape readiness, picking grapes, touring the crush pad and/or tasting freshly fermented juice. They’ll conclude their tour with lunch and wine. The cost is $44. Call 250-497-7945.

In Oliver, Inniskillin Okanagan is offering tours of its Dark Horse Vineyard with winemaker Sandor Mayer on October 4. Dubbed the Annual Discovery Series Vineyard Event, visitors will hear about the challenges of working with the more unusual varieties planted there, including Malbec, Zinfandel, Marsanne Roussanne and Pinotage. Guests will also get a chance to taste wines made from these grapes, paired with various foods. The cost is $45. Phone 800-498-6211 for more information.

Also in Oliver, Tinhorn Creek has an event called the Vineyard and Habitat Walking Tour and Lunch, October 6-8. Owner Kenn Oldfield will lead guests on a hike through the winery’s Golden Mile area vineyards and discuss its viticulture and conservation projects. The cost is $25 and includes lunch and wine samples. Phone 888-484-6467 for info.

Many other facilities do allow their guests to conduct self-guided walking tours of their vineyards and some have demonstration areas where grapes are grown for educational purposes. Visitors are often welcome to pick and taste (within reason) the grapes and compare varieties.

Since crush pads are typically out-of-doors, tourists are often able to view vineyard workers process the grapes brought in. Tinhorn Creek, for example, has a balcony overlooking the pad, where visitors can perch themselves and view the process safely.

Keep in mind, that these places are working wineries, so be mindful to stay out of the way and dress suitably.

For more information on the 28th Annual Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, click on the festival guide link at the right or visit http://www.owfs.com

Wine Notes

Fork in the Road 2006 Oliver Block 249 Red
Appearance: Deep inky magenta colour
Aromas: Blackberry, cocoa, pepper, menthol, resiny, earth, leather
Flavours: Robust but fresh black fruit, pepper, mocha, earthy, herbal
Body and Finish: Nice weighty mouthfeel, silky tannins, smooth finish with decent length
Overall Impression: A nice blend of Merlot, Syrah and Cab Franc, it’s a pleasure to drink, if a little pricey for quaffing
Cellaring Potential: Drink now through 2012
Would I Buy It?: Occasionally
Score: 87
Price: $23
Availability: VQA shops, BC LDB, private retailers

Tinhorn Creek 2005 Merlot
Appearance: Black cherry hue with ruby tones
Aromas: Smoky oak, licorice, dill, black cherry, leather, smoked meat, leafy
Flavours: Smoky oak, dill, sour cherry, dark vanilla, meaty, pepper
Body and Finish: Quite a lot of power on the entry, moderate tannins with a dry, extended finish
Overall Impression: An earthy rather than fruity wine, still nice and fresh and good value
Cellaring Potential: I’d let it cellar another year or two
Would I Buy It?: Occasionally
Score: 86
Price: $19
Availability: VQA shops, BC LDB, private retailers

Soaring Eagle 2007 Merlot Rose
Appearance: Brilliant pink hueAromas: Strawberry extract, cranberry, candied cherries, citrus peel, spice
Flavours: Fresh strawberry, cranberry, citrus, spice, Bing cherry
Body and Finish: Very fresh and lively on the palate with some residual sweetness.
Overall Impression: Bright, fresh and lovely rose made from a variety not often seen in this style Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Would I Buy It?: Occasionally
Score: 86
Price: $19
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cellar Savvy

Q: I would like to start collecting wines but don’t have a cellar nor can I afford to build one or buy one of those fancy self-contained climate controlled units that I’ve read so much about. I was hoping you might have some suggestions on how to best store my wines for future drinking without investing in an expensive system. I would rather put my wine budget into the wines themselves.
- Paul

A: This is a dilemma encountered by many whose interest in wines have extended beyond the buying and drinking stage and want to take it to the next level – purchasing bottles they can allow to age to their full potential for future enjoyment. Indeed, buying wines when they are first released is the most economical option when it comes to those that are intended for aging. If you wait to purchase them when they are at their prime, their price will invariably have risen, sometimes two, three, even 10 times their original cost depending on how long they’ve been kept by the winery, the critical reviews they’ve received and medals they’ve – assuming that they’ll even be available by then. The top wines often sell out quickly and they are impossible to find beyond their initial release date.

The good news is you don’t have to spend thousands on a state-of-the-art system. While a climate-controlled space would be ideal, those of us with tight budgets prefer to invest our funds in wine rather than having a fancy, mostly empty cellar – and I am included in that statement. I have amassed a decent collection which I keep tucked away in the crawl space of our home. A series of Costco racks line an outside wall – which remains cool even in the height of summer, but there is no risk of freezing come winter. The area doesn’t get a lot of light and there’s little vibration, both issues which can affect wine over the long run.

I have had reasonable success with this set-up. Only a couple of wines over the years have failed the test of time and I’m not entirely sure that they weren’t flawed to begin with. I have kept some wines under similar conditions for close to 10 years and have been delighted with the results. Truly, there are very few wines that should be cellared as long as that. The idea that all wines improve with age is a myth. The majority of wines are made to consume young and I rarely keep any beyond three to five years. Whites, in particular, should be enjoyed when they are fresh and youthful.

To set up your cellar, find a place that doesn’t see a lot of traffic and where the temperature is consistent year round. A basement corner is a popular choice, but closets located on an outside hall work well as they rarely have heating vents and are surprisingly cool when the doors are closed.

Q: My wife and I were fortunate enough to purchase a couple of bottles of the Mission Hill 2006 Riesling Icewine (which recently captured the International Wine Challenge (IWC) Trophy for the World’s Top Icewine). We currently have them laying on their sides in the display tubes. Will the quality improve over time if we keep them this way? If we were to sell them for a profit (because they are hard to come by), do you think it would be best to list them now or several years down the road.
- Richard

A. Congratulations, you have indeed acquired a lovely wine. In the past eight years only three Icewines have been successful in achieving this award. And you are right, it is rather hard to come by. In fact, it is currently sold out at the winery. That being said, selling wines for profit is a tricky business. Sure the wine is rare and it won a prestigious medal, but how many people would want to buy it and how much they are willing to pay for it is virtually impossible to determine. You could certainly throw it on Ebay and command a crazy price and you might get lucky or you could risk it and list it with an auction house and end up getting less than you paid for it. It’s a crap shoot. In fact, according to Ritchie's Auctioneers, which consistently holds rare wine auctions in Toronto, only a tiny number of wines appreciate in value as they age.

Which brings me to your other question – will this wine’s quality improve over time? Not necessarily. Icewines are revered for their luscious sweetness, but a truly great one is also well balanced with a lot of acidity. An Icewine without adequate acidity will be cloying – you might as well be sipping a glass of maple syrup. Unfortunately, acidity tends to drop off with age and thus, for my tastes at least, I prefer Icewines to be fairly young. If you cellar this wine, some of the characteristics that made it the great Icewine that it is will invariably be lost over time.

But its age-ability is the least of your worries if you want to keep this wine as a long-term investment. Unless you can guarantee that the wine was stored under perfect conditions, nobody will be willing to pay top dollar for it. Unlike the first writer, who is planning to age wines for his own enjoyment, cellaring for profit requires an impeccable system or the wines will most certainly not increase in value. Even perfect conditions won’t assure that the wine will still be drinkable at the end of the day, but it lessens the risk for buyers.

In Focus - Mourvèdre
This grape may be among the most challenging of the varieties now being experimented with in the Okanagan Valley. It's extremely late-ripening - about two weeks behind Syrah (already considered a considerable challenge for the region). Plus, even under ideal conditions, its production is known to be irregular. One year it may produce a good yield, followed by a poor one, for no apparent reason. But the effort is apparently worth it, as the grapes produce wines of serious power, colour and flavour. Spain grows the lion's share of this grape. In the Okanagan, small plantings are being attempted in the Black Sage Bench region by Road 13 Vineyards. The plants are currently two years old and thriving.

Friday, September 19, 2008

BC Vintners Have Grape Expectations

By Julianna Hayes
Beneath a brilliant September sun, Michael Bartier, the winemaker at Road 13 Vineyards in Oliver, gestures toward a row of vines and describes them as a “crap shoot.”

They are of the Mourvèdre variety, common to Spain but virtually unheard of among the Okanagan landscape. Indeed, they are the type of grape no one would ever imagine being rooted in the soils of the Great White North. They thrive on an extended growing period of mild, frost-free days in order to fully ripen.

The two-year-old plants look healthy enough, which is promising. But everyone knows that the weather above the 49th parallel can be unpredictable and the winters especially harsh and unforgiving – even in the Okanagan, which has come to be recognized for its unique microclimates that nurture grape growing.

Still, Bartier is hopeful for the Mourvèdre and the other challenging varieties he’s attempting, which include Grenache, Roussanne and Tempranillo. After all, merely 10 years ago, few would expect a grape like Syrah – among the world’s most sought after and responsible for the Australia’s famous Shiraz wines – would survive, much less thrive here. But it took the pioneering spirit of local growers and vintners to ignore the naysayers – as they have with Merlot, Chardonnay and just about every noble variety – and plant it anyway. Today, the grape is considered one of the area’s best performers.

“Mark my words,” said Bartier, during the tour of his “experimental” vineyard. “Syrah will become the Okanagan’s signature wine.”

Statements such of these are bold. But they are a testament to the boundaries that those in the local wine industry are willing to push. And thankfully so. If they acquiesced to the critics, regional cellars would be still filled with such atrocities as Fuddle Duck and Hot Goose, the vineyards with such native grape curiosities as Okanagan Riesling, or have died out altogether.

Local growers, of course, owe a lot to the world’s changing climate. While it's spelling potential disaster overall, it has ironically been a boon for more northerly wine regions. There have been countless reports and papers about how areas previously considered unsuitable for wine grape growing are now being cultivated for vineyards.

But that’s not to say it’s making things easy in the Okanagan. Each year presents its own unique challenges and this one is no different. With the fall harvest rapidly approaching, all vintners – especially ones like Bartier, who have tackled extra challenges – are in nail-biting mode. They are doomed if they get complacent.

So how is the harvest shaping up? Despite all talk of global warming, the summer of 2008 can hardly be called a splendid one. The spring was wet and cool and growers were worried they might have to drastically thin the crop of some of the more challenging varieties by as much as half to encourage ripening.

But by the end of June, the sun and heat arrived with a vengeance and was steady for several weeks. By late July, many vintners indicated they were pretty much caught in the vineyard.

By mid August, however, summer sort of petered out and they found themselves slipping behind again. Kenn Oldfield, owner and general manager of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, said the grapes on his winery’s Oliver site are about one-to-two weeks behind where the winemaking team would like them to be.

Indeed, most growers would agree they need to milk September for all its worth. It’s a crucial time in the vineyard when the sugars and flavours fully develop in the grapes. The good news is the sun has been shining pretty steadily since the beginning of the month, with daily daytime highs climbing well into the 20s.

“A week of above normal in September can make up for two to three weeks of poor weather in May,” said Mission Hill winemaker John Simes several months ago. “That’s when the weather really counts.”

Still, many vintners have been proactive and opted to thin the grape crop just the same. With less of a load, the plant can focus all its energy on ripening the remaining fruit.

What this means, however, is less quantity and ultimately less wine, when supply is already a problem in the valley.

Bartier doesn’t need to worry about his experimental varieties at the moment. That’s because the plants have already been vested of their fruit. At just two years of age, they are too young to be relied upon for producing good quality berries, thus they are pruned before any bunches form in order for the vines to put all their energy in growing healthy and strong.

It will be at least a couple years yet before anyone gets a taste of the first Okanagan Mourvèdre – if Bartier’s science project proves a success.

Here’s a look at some of the challenging grape varieties being attempted by Bartier and others in the Okanagan:

Tempranillo
This black grape native to Spain is the main variety used in Rioja. Its name is the diminutive of the Spanish temprano, which means early, a reference to the fact that it ripens several weeks earlier than most Spanish red grapes, but still later most varieties common to the Okanagan. The wines tend to be dry, deeply coloured and scented with relatively low alcohol. They also are know to be low in acid, which has been a drawback, but the Okanagan's cooler climate may well drive those acid levels up.

Mourvèdre
This grape may be the most challenging of all Bartier's experiments. It's extremely late-ripening - about two weeks behind Syrah in hotter climes, and its production is known to be irregular. One year it may produce a good yield, followed by a poor one, for no apparent reason. But the effort is apparently worth it, as the grapes produce wines of serious power, colour and flavour. Spain grows the lion's share of this grape.

Grenache
This is considered a workhorse of a grape which is used a lot for blending. The wines it produces are fruity, spicy quaffable reds and pinks. In fact, Bartier is considering the variety for a rose. Grown in Spain, California and other warm-weather regions, it is late ripening and favours arid, hot climates.

Roussanne
This white Rhône grapes is often blended with Marsanne and such a blend has already been made in the Okanagan from valley fruit by Inniskillin, as part of its discovery series. Late-ripening for a white, it features a rather distinctive herbal, floral tea character and relatively high acid. In the southern Rhône, it is only one of four grape varieties permitted in white Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Marsanne
In the Rhône, Marsanne is the most widely planted white wine grape in the Hermitage AOC where it is a component of the white Hermitage wines in a blend with Roussanne. On its own it can produce deeply-colored, full-bodied white wines with distinctive floral and nutty aromas.

Carmenere
This is a recently revitalized European variety that was one of the original six grapes of Bordeaux. Now with of its plantings in Chile, it has found its way into the Okanagan by way of Black Hills winery. It produces wines that are intensely crimson in colour - in fact, that is where it gets its name - with characteristics of red berries and spices.

Zinfandel
Despite its association with the sweet, sickly, low acid white Zins of the 80s and early 90s, Zinfandel is a red grape capable of producing wines of impressive power. It's a very late-ripening variety, yet several Okanagan wineries have been growing and producing stunning versions for several years.