Monday, August 25, 2008

If I Had a Million Dollars....

If you had $5,000 to start a wine cellar, what would you buy?

This may seem like a pie in the sky question – much like the oft asked “what would you do if you won the lottery?” But readers thinking of starting a cellar frequently seek my suggestions on what wines they should stock.

Personally, I’ve never had the good fortune to have five grand in my jeans to spend on a wine shopping spree. But I know of people who have made such deliberate investments in a quest to build a cellar from scratch. One such individual was Robin Mines, a fellow wine critic from Vancouver, who more than an decade ago sunk that amount in a wine collection in a concerted effort to become serious about the subject and educate her palate.

That might seem like a lot of cash to, well, liquidate, but at today’s prices you might be surprised at how stark your racks still look when the money’s spent. A 750 ml bottle of decent Bordeaux will set you back easily $200 – $600-plus is not unheard of – while Italian Barolos range $50-$100.

Do the math. If you spend an average of $30-$50 a bottle – which is modest when you factor in the big guns – you’ll only end up with 100-166 wines. Thus I don’t recommend you simply grab a shopping cart at the local liquor store and fill it willy-nilly, as tempting as that may be.

It would be prudent first to do a little soul searching and researching. First, think about the main purpose you want your cellar to serve. Do you want to buy wines as a investment? Are you planning to age them for extended periods? Or do you simply want a stash of everyday drinkers so you don’t have to make frequent trips to the liquor store?

One blogger on the Wine Spectator online discussion forum asked for wine buying suggestions for long-term cellaring with an eye to spending upwards of $2,500. After fielding recommendations in favour of first-growth Bordeaux and chewy Chateauneuf du Papes, the poster declared that he was not prepared to pay more than $50 for a bottle and that he preferred sweet wines to “leathery, magic marker, tobacco, or nasty flavors.”

A fellow forum member suggested he hadn’t done his homework. “Your description of what kind of wine you like seems at odds with the point of long-term cellaring. Most people buy long-aging wines for cellaring purposes in order to eventually obtain complex and nuanced wines, often with leather, tobacco, earth, graphite, and other such flavors. If you like ripe, lush, fruit-forward wines (and that's perfectly fine if that's what you prefer), there is neither much need nor desirability to cellar wines. For the most part, you're best off buying wines like that within the year or two of when you intend to open them.”

Indeed, not all wine improves with age, a myth I’ve been trying to bust for years.

If this is your first cellar and you are what can be described as a fledgling aficionado then an “all-purpose” collection is your best approach. Suppose your initial target is 100 bottles – then a good breakdown would be 50 red, 30 white and 20 being a mixed lot of rosés, sparklers and other specialty wines (desserts, sherries, ports, maderias etc..). Within this collection, one quarter should be everyday quaffing wines of low to moderate value, another quarter should be ready-to-drink wines of higher quality and value and one half should be a mixed bag of assorted value wines of various age-ability.

On the Wine Spectator forum, one man offered this very sage advice: “Spend your money gradually by buying a wide range of wines from different regions, different grapes, in different styles. Most of your buying at first should be good value wines in the $10-30 range, most of which should be capable of being opened and enjoyed young. Don't try to skip ahead into buying expensive wines and/or wines which you'll need to hold for many years before opening, or you'll end up spending your money on a small number of bottles to stare at for years instead of on trying lots of good wines and learning what you like and don't like (and keeping in mind that what you like and don't like will change significantly over the years).”

If you don’t know what you are doing, don’t leap into the wine-as-an-investment gig or you may end up with substantial losses. It’s a high-stakes game because wine is not only tradable commodity, it’s a perishable food item and most “investment wines” are already outrageously pricey.

When choosing what wines to buy, set goals in the following areas:
* By region, wine category, varietal, color, wine type, quality level and score
* By aging period
* Cost
* Favorite years to target (birth years, anniversaries, etc.)?

Here are some tips on buying wines for your cellar:

Develop a good relationship with one or two local wine retailers and government store product consultants – Besides providing advice and recommendations, if they get to know you they will often contact you when great products come in. Although you will want to pay government store prices wherever possible, some of the rarer, most desirable and unique wines aren’t carried in the provincial liquor stores, thus private retailers are invaluable. A B.C. VQA wine shop is also a good resource and make sure you are on the mailing lists of your favourite local wineries.

Taste before you buy – Learn to trust your own palate and don’t always rely on critic ratings for your wine investments. Be open to experimentation. Don’t just keep buying those tried and true favourites.

Pace your purchases - Your taste preferences will change over time so if you’ve squirreled away a wine nest egg, don't try to spend it all in six months. While you may be tempted to backfill your new cellar with mature vintages and to give it a “full” look you can get hosed. Ideally, you should buy new releases annually and lay them down.

Perform quarterly inventories - While you may scoff at the idea that you might forget a wine, it happens and bottles will sometimes surpass their prime unnoticed and be undrinkable. Also these quarterly check-ups will alert you to areas in which you may be getting low or high – such as having too few white moderately priced drinking wines and too many high end cellar dwellers – so you can adjust your buying habits to suit your consumption rates.

Target cellar size - How much do you consume annually? How much do you entertain? Consider your budget constraints and your current age.

Plan storage requirements - Whether you're installing a home cellar, cave, refrigeration unit, or expect to store your wine at a professional storage facility, figure it out before you invest thousands of dollars in wine. There's no point creating a wine collection if you're can’t store it properly.

Consider insurance - If you amass a collection worth tens of thousands of dollars, the last thing you want is to lose it all in a fire or burglary and not be compensated for it. Many basic homeowners’ policies, however, don’t provide coverage for wine collections of high value so you will want to check with your insurance broker for details of your policy or to acquire additional coverage.

Wine Notes

Noble Ridge Meritage 2004 (0) ***1/2
Heavily weighted on the Merlot with a kick of Cabernet Sauvignon, this two-grape blend has heady aromas of plum, black cherry, vanilla bean with black pepper and savoury notes. Plush on the palate with tangy black fruit flavours, hint of menthol and a slightly hot and peppery finish. $25
Remarks: Still needs a bit of age, but silky texture and loads of dark fruit make it one worthwhile for the cellar
Cellaring Recommendation: Drink now with food, cellar up to four years
Where to Find It: VQA shops or order direct from winery

Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay 2006 (0) ****
Aromas of baked apple, honey, spice with leesy and oily notes. Flavours of pear, apple, honey, spice and a creamy, fat, sweet, nutty texture in the mouth. Quite yummy. $25
Remarks: One of the bigger, creamier B.C. chards with. Appealing to those who like fat, juicy wines a touch on the sweet side.
Cellaring Recommendation: Drink now to retain maximum freshness
Where to Find It: VQA shops and government liquor stores

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2005 (0) ***1/2
A robust Syrah with aromas of roasted coffee bean, vanilla, black cherry, plum, licorice, sage and a touch of leather, earth and herbaceous notes. Silky, supple on the palate with smoky, black cherry, coffee, vanilla and mocha. Spicy dry finish. $38
Remarks: Has all the chewy, earthy, bold character you want in a Syrah.
Cellaring Recommendation: Drink now to 2011
Where to Find It: Winery wineshop, private retailers, restaurants.

Friday, August 22, 2008

20 Under $20

Arrowleaf 2007 Bacchus $14 (Lake Country)
Peach, rose petals, pink grapefruit and lemon-lime aromas followed by flavours of green apple, lemon rind, grapefruit, spice and mineral. Crisp entry and a clean finish with a lingering acidity, this is the quintessential summer sipper ideal served well chilled on hot days.

Calona 2005 Artist Series Cab Merlot $15 (Kelowna)
A Friday-night quaffer of wine with bright cherry aromas, toasty oak character and hints of cloves and vanilla. Soft and fruit-forward – goes down easy.

CedarCreek 2007 Ehrenfelser $18.10 (Kelowna)
A delightful bouquet of honeysuckle, peach and pink grapefruit that also shines through on the palate. Refreshing sipper with nice racy acidity on the finish. Flavours of fresh peach and grapefruit and just enough residual sugar for balance.

Domaine de Chaberton 2006 Canoe North Bluff Red $13 (Fraser Valley)
Aromas and flavours of black cherries, stewed plums and pepper spice. Medium body, sweet entry and simple finish. A Merlot that is nice for the price, definitely a crowd pleaser and a terrific little barbecue wine.

Ganton and Larson 2006 Ogopogo’s Lair Pinot Grigio $17 (Oliver)
A bouquet filled with tropical fruit, apricot, floral and fresh citrus acidity. Some tree and tropical fruit flavours with fresh acidity on the palate and a racy finish. A delightful everyday sipper.

Gehringer Brothers 2006 Cuvée Noir $13.10 (Oliver)
Baked black cherry, chocolate, smoked meat, black pepper aromas with a medium body texture, soft mid palate and flavours of dark berry, cocoa, spice and a slightly hot alcoholic finish. But it’s priced right for group gulping.

Golden Mile Cellars 2006 Road 13 White $17 (Oliver)
Citrus rind, spicy, mineral, peach and ginger aromas. Crisp, dry entry with viscosity on the palate and a zesty finish. A multi-layered value white for those who crave something different.

Gray Monk 2006 Siegerrebe $16.50 (Lake Country)
Aromas of floral, spice, pink grapefruit, orange, peach. Fresh entry with lovely off-dry acidity and a racy finish. Flavours of peach, honey, grapefruit, orange, spice.
Easy sipper that should be served well chilled.

Hester Creek 2006 Cabernet Merlot $16 (Oliver)
Aromas of cherry, blackberry and pepper and a touch of sweet oak. This is an uncomplicated sipper with ripe cherry, blackberry flavour and soft tannins. A great choice for barbecues and pizza.

Jackson-Triggs 2004 Proprietor’s Reserve Meritage $19.99 (Oliver)
One of the top rated value wines in the country featuring a full bouquet of cassis, violets, chocolate, spice and toasty oak. On the palate is luscious dark fruits, cocoa, spice, toast, vanilla and moderate tannins.

Joie 2007 Rose $18.90 (Naramata)
Lively strawberry extract and bing cherry aromas with some honeysuckle, rose and peach notes. Lively on the entry with loads of fresh strawberry and cherry flavours and a racy clean finish.

Nk’Mip 2005 Merlot $19.99 (Osoyoos)
An earthy Merlot with luscious black fruits, spice, toasty oak notes. On the palate there is considerable weight, good fruit extraction, spice and a bit of a tannic bite on the finish. A winner with a juicy steak. Cellar for future smooth sipping.

Quails’ Gate 2006 Chardonnay $19 (Kelowna)
Honeyed apple, citrus and a touch of toast and butter on the nose. Lovely roundness on the palate with good weight without being overdone. Clean finish with good length. This a quaffable well-balanced Chard at a great price.

Recline Ridge 2006 Kerner $12 (Salmon Arm)
Waxy apple skin, lemon, lime, green peach and floral notes. The entry is crisp and the mid-palate is bright and racy with flavours of citrus, mineral, lemon-lime, apple skin. A superb value worthy of stocking up for ongoing patio/hot tub sipping – can’t go wrong

Red Rooster 2007 Riesling $16 (Naramata)
Pear, mineral, floral, apple, tangerine and lemon aromas followed by flavours of green apple, candied lemon, mineral, grapefruit, lemon zest. Slightly sweet and luscious entry with crisp mid-palate, racy finish.

Sandhill 2006 Pinot Blanc $17 (Kelowna)
Aromas of pineapple, melon, lemon-lime, pear and a touch of spice and oak. Bright acidity on the palate balanced by luscious flavours of tropical fruit, citrus and a clean, racy finish.

Sumac Ridge 2006 Private Reserve Chardonnay $19.95 (Summerland)
One of the few truly buttery wines left in the Okanagan – ideal for those who like that bold style. Features sweet tropical fruit, pear, vanilla, buttered toast and sweet spice.

Therapy 2006 Pink Freud $18 (Naramata)
A lively wine that is also a conversation starter with its name and packaging. This shiraz/merlot/pinot noir blend offers up citrus and berry notes and a hint of spice. Clean, zesty finish.

Thornhaven 2007 Gewurztraminer $17 (Summerland)
Lovely sweet entry with lively acidity on the mid-palate and a fresh, snappy finish. Candied lemony fruit flavours, lychee, grapefruit and rose petal character. They set the bar for Gewurz in the valley.

Tinhorn Creek 2004 Cabernet Franc $18 (Oliver)
Aromas of spice, toasted nuts, blackberry, roasted vegetables and black pepper. Ripe fruit flavours on the palate with toasty oak and roasted nuts plus some dark vanilla and a spicy pepper finish. Good length.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Wine By Any Other Name....

By Julianna Hayes

You say toe-meh-toe and I say toe-MA-toe.

You say Pinot Grigio and I say Pinot

When it comes to grapes and wine, I get a lot of queries about varieties that are bottled under slightly different names. The two aforementioned are a case in point. And let’s not forget que Syrah, Shiraz.

People are always asking me to explain the difference between them and I’m tempted to reply, “not a darn thing.” But that would be an oversimplification.

Let’s start with the Pinots. The Gris is what the French call the grape, Grigio is the Italian version. In theory, the terms also refer to two different winemaking styles.

In France, particularly the Alsatian region, the wine from this variety is known for being peachy, floral, perfumy and full-flavoured, with some winemakers opting for oak contact making it even more robust. The Italian version is far more austere and often described as being lean, racy, fresh and lemony crisp, largely due to the fact that winemakers there tend to pick the grapes earlier so they aren’t as ripe. Oak use is rare.

As one writer put it: “The theory is that one’s fat and one’s skinny, like a kind of Laurel and Hardy duo of wine.”

Now for the Syrah/Shiraz conundrum. The former is again French, typically grown in the Rhône Valley, while the other is Australian, the name stemming from the belief that the grape's origin is the town of Shiraz in Iran.

Again there are contrasts in the winemaking styles. The French like their Syrahs earthy and spicy, while in Australia – where the grape is a true workhorse – vintners lean toward big, full-bodied, fruity styles.

That all seems basic enough, but where the concepts get truly tricky is when the Pinot Gris/Grigio or Syrah/Shiraz in question is neither French, Italian nor Australian.

Indeed, these two grapes are gaining popularity in wine regions in all corners of the globe, not the least of which is in British Columbia. It likely hasn’t escaped your notice that B.C. vintners haven’t adopted one name for each of the varieties. Indeed, there’s a plethora of locally-produced Gris, Grigio, Syrah and Shiraz on the market. In fact, some wineries even use all four names.

One would think if you picked up a bottle of, say, Okanagan Pinot Gris, you might expect the fat, French version. But that isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, several wineries are producing Pinot Gris that is more like the Italian version. And example of this is the Blasted Church 2006 “Pinot Gris” which exhibits fresh, citrus, mineral and apple skin characteristics – delicious, but not at all like the Alsatian style. Then there’s the 2006 Gris from Red Rooster, which critic Anthony Gismondi described as a “clean fresh citrus flavoured styled gris that tastes more grigio-like this year.”

On the flip side is the 2006 “Pinot Grigio” from Noble Ridge, which can hardly be described as lean and dry. With some oak contact and some residual sugar is has fat, tropical fruit aromas and flavours and quite a lot of leesy character.

You’ll have better luck with Shiraz/Syrah in terms of name equaling style. Syrah actually is the most commonly used term by vintners growing this variety, which has cropped up in droves in recent years. Only a handful wineries have adopted Shiraz on their labels, including, not surprisingly, La Frenz, which is owned and operated by a pair of Aussie transplants, Jeff and Niva Martin. But here’s the kicker, the one made by Jeff Martin, the winemaker, “is not a jammy Australian Shiraz,” says critic John Schreiner. And neither is it French-like. It is instead, according to Schreiner, “one that expresses the cool-climate terroir of the Okanagan’s Naramata Bench.”

The B.C. versions are invariably compared to the “originals” – the Mission Hill 2005 Shiraz was described by Gismondi as “true to its Oz-like styling,” while he pegged its 2004 Syrah as “a more Euro style.” But the sudden success of this variety locally (practically unheard of in the 1990s with only one producer, it is now the fifth most widely planted red grape in B.C.) is owed to its own emerging styles. Schreiner says Okanagan Syrah in general has “classic peppery notes,” and Naramata Bench-grown Syrah in particular is known for its “sensuous elegance.”

B.C.-made Syrah/Shiraz is certainly being judged favourably on its own merits. In the last two years, wines made with this variety took three of the 10 coveted Lieutenant Governor’s Awards of Excellence. And in 2006, the wine world was turned on its ear at the prestigious International Wine and Spirits Competition in London when it was announced that the Rosemount trophy for World’s Best Shiraz was going not to an Australia winery, but to a British Columbia one. Jackson Triggs Okanagan made history by taking home this haughty prize for its 2004 Proprietor’s Grand Reserve Shiraz.

Not bad for a wine critics argued could not be made in B.C.

Wine Notes

95-100 Sets the bar.
90-94 Outstanding, has wow factor.
80-89 Good to very good.
70-79 Average, may have minor flaws.
60-69 Drinkable, but not recommended.
00-59 Undrinkable.

Mission Hill 2004 S.L.C. Syrah
Appearance: Intensely dark cherry red colour with brilliant undertones
Aromas: Black cherry, smoke, pepper, licorice, roasted bell pepper, mocha, leather
Flavours: Black cherry, plum, cocoa, peppery spice, licorice and herbs
Body and Finish: Silky entry on the palate, medium weight, moderately tannic and tight on the finish. Good length
Overall Impression: A spicy but elegant wine that should improve with age.
Would I Buy It? Yes, to cellar
Cellaring Potential: Age 2-8 years
Score: 88/100
Price: $40
Availability: BC LDB, VQA shops, private retailers

La Frenz 2005 Shiraz
Appearance: Deep, black cherry colour
Aromas: Earthy, cherry, plum, pepper, a bit of smoke and meatyness
Flavours: Spicy, plum, blueberries, cherries, sweet oak
Body and Finish: Elegant and silky texture, medium weight, supple tannins and elongated finish
Overall Impression: Beautifully executed wine that is both delicious and good value.
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Age 2-6 years
Score: 91/100
Price: $29
Availability: Sold out. Future vintages direct from winery.

Blasted Church 2006 Pinot Gris
Appearance: Crystal pale straw colour with a slightly green tinge
Aromas: Citrus, green apple skin, mineral, touch of peach, lemon
Flavours: Fresh apple, peach, lemon, citrus rind, mineral
Body and Finish: Clean, fresh entry, medium to light body, citrusy finish. Good length
Overall Impression: A racy, clean fruit forward effort. Nicely refreshing.
Would I Buy It? Yes, to sip on the patio or match with simple summer salads and white fish
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: 87/100
Price: $20
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The ABC Conundrum

By Julianna Hayes
It amazes me when consumers are driven to buy or snub a particular product based on the preferences or whims of a fictional character.

Wine enthusiasts swooned over Pinot Noir when cynical imbiber Miles sang its praises in the wine-soaked black comedy Sideways. Meanwhile, the movie had the opposite effect on another varietal in an infamous scene outside a restaurant when Miles declared, “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any @#$%& Merlot!” That led to a significant cooling in the marketplace toward that wine.

Hollywood’s vinous tentacles were far reaching, even affecting local sales of these products. The interest in B.C. produced Pinot Noir was piqued and local makers who have focused on this challenging variety were finally rewarded for their efforts.

Fortunately, the insatiable thirst for B.C. wine in general balanced out the negative press for Merlot, which is the most planted grape in the province. But elsewhere in the world, sales of the wine truly suffered.

Now it seems Hollywood has done it again and this time the victim is Chardonnay.

Renowned British wine writer Oz Clarke sounded the alarm last week following the release of statistics demonstrating slumping sales of the white wine. He blamed it on the “Bridget Jones effect.”

“Chardonnay has made some of the world’s greatest wines. Everyone appreciated it – until Bridget Jones,” said Clarke.

After yet another dismal attempt at finding love, the hapless heroine goes back to her “miserable bedsit,” said Clarke, and writes in her diary, “I’ve failed again, I’ve poured an enormous glass of Chardonnay and I’m going to put my head in the oven.”

“Until Bridget Jones, Chardonnay was really sexy,” said Clarke. “After, people said, ‘God, not in my bar.’”

Personally, I think Clarke is seriously behind the times. Bridget Jones was a phenomenon for about a decade, appearing first as the lead character in Helen Fieldings’ books, then as a weekly column in the UK newspaper, The Independent, and finally as two blockbuster Hollywood flicks, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. But her run ended in 2005. Surely it couldn’t have taken this long to have an impact. The influence of Sideways, released in 2004, was almost immediate.

Seems I’m not the only one who thinks so. British wine expert Christopher Piper attributed the most recent sales slump to the tail end of the “ABC” – Anything But Chardonnay – backlash, a consumer boycott of all the over-oaked and unremarkable Chards in the marketplace.

He said consumers are now starting to come around and that the white wine is no longer uncool to drink. I agree.

On the local front, Chardonnay is the second most planted grape in the province, ironically. And while I have heard the ABC term bandied about, for the most part it has come from individuals who never embraced Chardonnay in the first place.

Like Merlot, there is a disproportionate amount of mediocre Chardonnay in the marketplace. The bulk and lower-end versions tend to flabby, flat and cloying without the cleansing acidity needed to give this fruit-bomb of a variety its balance. Adding to the problem has been the heavy-handed use of oak, resulting in wines that were little more than a mouthful of sweet butter.

Being touted as the “red wine lover’s white” didn’t help matters either. After all, if you prefer red, why bother with a white wanna-be?

But there are a lot of reasons to love Chardonnay. It’s tremendously versatile with its wide range of styles. It is the one white grape that winemakers can truly sink their teeth into, as it can be taken in various directions in the cellar.

There are the unoaked, crisp, lean, mineral versions in the style of world-famous Chablis. There are the unoaked, super ripe, perfumey, tropical fruit-forward wines common in New World regions. There are the understated oaked and refined versions in the Burgundian style. There are the super oaked, buttery and full-bodied wines attributed to Australia, California and Chile. And there are the sparkling versions in the style of Champagne.

In British Columbia, you can find examples of all five distinct styles and many more in between. Thus somebody who claims to not like Chardonnay has clearly not explored the options available.

All appeal to me in someway or another, whether it be for pairing with certain foods or for sipping on their own poolside or fireside. But my preferences lean toward the understated oak variety – wines that have complexity and age-ability with toasty, buttery qualities, ripe fruit and acidity all in perfect harmony.

At virtually every mass tasting I attend, one of the goals I set is to find one or two stellar Chardonnays to add to my drinking repertoire. I am rarely disappointed.

Taste Test

95-100 Sets the bar.
90-94 Outstanding, has wow factor.
80-89 Good to very good.
70-79 Average, may have minor flaws.
60-69 Drinkable, but not recommended.
00-59 Undrinkable.

Mission Hill 2006 S.L.C. Chardonnay
Appearance: Brilliant golden colour, fat legs
Aromas: Apricot preserves, pear, green apple skin, orange, golden apple, hazelnut, butter, some floral notes
Flavours: Apricot, orange peel, apple skin, nuts, butter, lemon oil.
Body and Finish: Well balanced on the palate with roundness and acidity, clean, extended finish.
Overall Impression: Rich, delicious but not over the top, this winemaker knows his way around Chardonnay.
Cellaring Potential: Drink now and through 2010
Would I Buy It?: Yes, for special occasions or for a treat
Score: 89
Price: $29.99
Availability: BC LDBs, VQA shops, private retailers

Jackson-Triggs 2006 Sunrock Chardonnay
Appearance: Luminous gold colour
Aromas: Baked apple, pineapple, hazelnut, honey, lemon, lees, butter, vanilla
Flavours: Baked yellow tree fruits, bright tropical fruit, nectarine, lemon oil, vanilla.
Body and Finish: Ripe, round and sweet entry, oily palate with some citrus on the finish for balance.
Overall Impression: Ideal for those who like a rich Chardonnay without a lot of acid.
Cellaring Potential: Drink now to retain its freshness
Would I Buy It?: Once or twice
Score: 87
Price: $25.99
Availability: BC LDBs, VQA shops, private retailers

Red Rooster 2007 Reserve Chardonnay
Appearance: Lustrous pale gold colour
Aromas: Vanilla, lemon, clove, pineapple, baked yellow fruit, faint toast and butter
Flavours: Golden apple, tropical fruit, citrus, vanilla, lemon.
Body and Finish: Ripe entry, medium body on the palate, refreshing finished with good length
Overall Impression: A well-balanced fruit-forward version that is highly quaffable
Cellaring Potential: Best young and fresh
Would I Buy It?: Occasionally
Score: 88
Price: $21.99
Availability: BC LDBs, VQA shops, private retailers

Monday, August 18, 2008

Wine Q&A: Cleaning Stemware

Q: How do you care for Riedel stemware? I bought eight glasses a month ago and have already broken two. On both, the stems snapped off while I was hand drying them. This is frustrating because they were expensive. But I love the look and feel of Riedels.
- Suzanne

A: I feel your pain. Several years ago I purchased a set of 10 top-of-the-line Riedels of various shapes and sizes at a time when I didn’t have much money. I justified it by telling myself it was an investment in my livelihood, much like a mechanic must acquire tools for his trade. One of the very first times I used a glass, it slipped out of my hands and began its tragic descent to the slate floor below. It was like watching it in slow motion and I braced myself for the inevitable carnage. But the glass didn’t shatter – it bounced! Upon inspection there was nary a crack or mark on it. But that’s where my luck ran out. Not a single glass from that set survives today.

Riedel glasses are beautiful, classic and their shapes and the thinness of the crystal are what make drinking out of them such a pleasure. Wines just seem to taste better when served in this stemware. But they are terribly fragile and need extra special care – even the lower-end lines. For everyday use, I suggest looking to an alternative brand– ones that have the classic shapes and styles of Riedel, but are sturdier, even dishwasher safe. Glassware retailers have a lot of options.

To care for your glasses, wash them individually by cupping them in your hand by the base of the bowl – never grip them by the stem. Rinse them first several times with hot water only – that should be sufficient to remove the wine if you haven’t let the glasses sit too long. Add a drop or two of detergent if you must and rinse the same way. Avoid sticking your hand in the bowl. To remove lipstick stains, use a damp paper towel with a little detergent and gently wipe. Air dry the glasses rather than hand drying them, preferably by setting them upside down on a rack that allows for complete air circulation. Once dry, store in their original boxes, if possible, or upright in a cupboard away from other glasses and dishes.

Q: Friends of ours from Saskatchewan are coming to visit in August and we plan to take them on a wine tour. They expect to purchase at least a case of wine. But since wine is no longer allowed on planes as carry-on, they want to know the best way of shipping home.
- Katherine

A: This is a tricky one. Legally, you are prohibited from shipping wine across provincial borders. That’s not to say people don’t do it. Actually, several wineries do it on the Q.T. Check out the order forms posted on the websites of some of the mid-to-larger sized wineries. They often include this wording: “Due to customs and duty regulations we cannot ship across international borders.” They don’t come right out and say they will ship across Canada, but the forms often contain a drop-down menu that includes the other provinces. Thus, if your friends plan to purchase wines from only one or two places, having the wineries do the shipping may be an option.

However, if they plan on collecting bottles from numerous vintners, they’ll have to arrange the shipping themselves and this is a gamble as courier services may refuse to do it and it’s pretty hard to disguise a box of wine.
Their best bet is to package the wine up as best they can to prevent breakage and have it loaded as cargo on their flights. Technically, you aren’t allowed to transport liquor across provincial lines either, but it isn’t well policed and I’ve done it numerous times without problems. One word of caution: fuel costs are compelling airlines to crack down and you may get dinged for extra baggage charges.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Pocket-Friendly B.C. Wines

By Julianna Hayes

When it comes to wine, what do you consider good “value?”

Is it a wine that is beautifully crafted and priced within the range of products of similar style? Or does good value equal cheap? For most people, the latter is the obvious answer and yet the expectations of superior quality are taken for granted.

There’s no question that wine prices around the world have been creeping up as of late and the under $10 bottles are dwindling in rapid fashion. Fair enough, everything is more expensive these days – wine hasn’t come close to increasing in cost at the rate of gas and real estate in B.C.

Nonetheless, wine enthusiasts desire a bargain and write me frequently to complain about the inflating costs of local products. Indeed, bottles in the $30 to $50 range are not uncommon and hardly appropriate for everyday quaffing.

But I take exception to the argument that there are no “value” wines in B.C., even when the definition of cheap is applied. And to prove my point, I spent some time shopping for and sipping local vintages in the under $15 category – and there were plenty, I might add.

In fact, the B.C. LDB has 64 such products listed and that doesn’t include the bulk plonk churned out by the bucketful by the commercial arms of some local operations. And I counted 70-plus wines in this range at a Kelowna VQA shop. If you are willing to pay just a buck more, there are dozens of others.

Ok, so you are unlikely find much Okanagan Syrah or fine Pinot Noirs for under $15, but there are some perfectly quaffable red blends and lovely German aromatics that are debit-card friendly. Here is just a small selection of great value B.C. wines:

Wine Notes

95-100 Sets the bar.
90-94 Outstanding, has wow factor.
80-89 Good to very good.
70-79 Average, may have minor flaws.
60-69 Drinkable, but not recommended.
00-59 Undrinkable.


Recline Ridge 2006 Kerner (Shuswap)
Appearance: Clear pale straw hue with a slight green tinge
Aromas: Waxy apple skin, lemon, lime, green peach, floral
Flavours: Citrus, mineral, lemon-lime, apple skin
Body and Finish: Crisp acidity on entry, bright and racy on the palate, clean and fresh on the finish
Overall Impression: A superb value worthy of stocking up for ongoing patio/hot tub sipping – can’t go wrong
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: 86/100
Price: $12
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Recline Ridge 2006 Optima (Shuswap)
Appearance: Brilliant yellowy straw hue
Aromas: Peach, apricot nectar, honey, orange blossoms, perfume
Flavours: Peach juice, honey, mineral, nectarine
Body and Finish: Sweet entry, mouthfilling, nice acidity on the finish
Overall Impression: This is a wow wine at this price – with loads of flavour and nice acidity for balance. Might be a touch sweet for some, but superb. Serve well chilled
Would I Buy It? Absolutely
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: 86/100
Price: $13.60
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Domaine de Chaberton 2006 Canoe North Bluff White (Fraser Valley)
Appearance: A green to yellowy tinge with some effervescence
Aromas: Grassy, green apple skin, fresh lime, pear
Flavours: Green apple, lemon-lime, mineral, green pear, tender grass
Body and Finish: Loads of crisp acidity with mineral palate and a clean, extended finish
Overall Impression: Not a crowd pleaser, but ideal for those seeking racy acidity, mineral character at an affordable price
Would I Buy It? Yes, to pair with crisp summer salads or to cook with
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: 82/100
Price: $12
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Arrowleaf 2007 Bacchus (Okanagan Centre)
Appearance: Clear pale straw colour
Aromas: Peach, rose petals, pink grapefruit, lemon-lime
Flavours: Green apple, lemon rind, grapefruit, spice, mineral
Body and Finish: Crisp entry, lovely racy acidity on the palate, clean finish with a lingering acidity
Overall Impression: The quintessential summer sipper ideal served well chilled on hot days
Would I Buy It? Definitely
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: 86/100
Price: $14
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Calona Artist Series 2007 Sovereign Opal (Kelowna)
Appearance: Clear, almost watery colour
Aromas: Spice, floral, slightly soapy, tropical fruit, apple, dill weed
Flavours: Apple, pear, citrus rind, spice, herbal and mineral.
Body and Finish: Slightly sweet but fresh entry, light body, clean light finish
Overall Impression: A simple but refreshing summer sipper.
Would I Buy It? Yes, to sip well chilled on the deck
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: 84/100
Price: $14
Availability: BC LDB, VQA shops, private retailers

Ganton and Larson 2006 Birch Canoe Pinot Blanc (Oliver)
Appearance: Clear, pale straw colour
Aromas: Pear, grapefruit, honey, floral, mineral
Flavours: Honeyed pear, citrus rind, apple skin, mineral
Body and Finish: Slightly rounded on the palate, a bit oily in texture, clean finish
Overall Impression: Easy to drink, simple PB style, nicely affordable.
Would I Buy It? Once or twice
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: 84/100
Price: $14.95
Availability: BC LDB, VQA shops, private retailers


Domaine de Chaberton 2006 Canoe North Bluff Red (Fraser Valley)
Appearance: Deep berry hues
Aromas: Black cherries, stewed plums, pepper spice
Flavours: Cooked black fruits, spice, pepper
Body and Finish: Medium body, sweet entry and simple finish
Overall Impression: A Merlot that is nice for the price, definitely a crowd pleaser and a terrific little barbecue wine.
Would I Buy It? Yes, for pocket-friendly group gulping
Cellaring Potential: Drink now, cellar up to two years
Score: 84/100
Price: $13
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Domaine de Chaberton 2006 Cuvée Rouge (Fraser Valley)
Appearance: Deep black cherry colour
Aromas: Plum, prune, cooked black fruit, smoked meat, roasted bell pepper, earth, black pepper Flavours: Smoke, cooked black cherry, bell pepper, herbal, black pepper,
Body and Finish: Racy, peppery palate with medium weight and spicy finish
Overall Impression: Not a wine for everyone, but will appeal to those who like earthy, peppery wines – should be opened and allowed to breath
Would I Buy It? Maybe to pair with pepper steak or to cook with.
Cellaring Potential: Drink now, cellar for a couple years
Score: 82/100
Price: $11.50
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Gehringer Brothers 2006 Cuvée Noir (Oliver)
Appearance: Dark ruby hue
Aromas: Baked black cherry, chocolate, smoked meat, black pepper
Flavours: Dark berry, chocolate, pepper spice, alcohol
Body and Finish: Medium body, soft mid palate, slightly hot alcoholic finish
Overall Impression: A decent everyday wine that will please those who like a bit of alcohol bite in their reds.
Would I Buy It? Yes, for group gatherings
Cellaring Potential: Drink now, cellar up to two years
Score: 83/100
Price: $13.10
Availability: BC LDB, VQA shops, private retailers

Other options to consider:

Arrowleaf Red Feather $14
Bounty Cellar Semillon $14.90
Calona Artist Series Pinot Noir $14
CedarCreek Classic Pinot Blanc $14.95
Gehringer Brothers Ehrenfelser Dry $14
Gray Monk Latitude 50 Rose $14
Inniskillin Reserve Pinot Blanc $14
Jackson Triggs PR Dry Riesling $14
Okanagan Vineyards Cab/Merlot $12
Peller Estate HSER Pinot Gris $12.50
Ganton Larsen Prospect Winery Sauvignon Blanc $14.99
Red Rooster Bantam $13.90
St. Hubertus Pinot Blanc $14
Sumac Ridge Rose $13
Thornhaven Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay $14.90

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Taste Test - August 14, 2008

Golden Mile 2006 Black Arts Pinot Noir (Oliver)
Appearance: Brilliant ruby tone
Aromas: Sour cherry, rhubarb, chocolate, leather, smoke, spice, menthol, earth
Flavours: Cherry, spice, leather, tobacco, smoky fruit
Body and Finish: Bright fruit entry, silky on the palate, dry elongated finish
Overall Impression: An elegant earthy wine made with loads of finesse. Well made. A finalist in the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellent in British Columbia Wine
Cellaring Potential: Cellar for at least another two years
Would I Buy It?: Yes, but it’s pricey
Score: 89
Price: $35
Availability: Winery, private retailers

Inniskillin 2005 Discover Series Zinfandel (Oliver)
Appearance: Dark red colour with ruby hues
Aromas: Bing cherry, blackberry, jam, chocolate, perfume, coffee, toast, earth
Flavours: Black cherry jam, pepper, licorice, vanilla, spice, chocolate, toast
Body and Finish: Luscious entry, round full palate, slightly tart, long finish
Overall Impression: Super ripe and luscious, full bodied wine. Well made. A finalist in the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellent in British Columbia Wine
Cellaring Potential: Drink now and for up to five years
Would I Buy It?: Yes
Score: 89
Price: $30
Availability: Winery, private retailers, sometimes at VQA shops

Hillside 2007 Gewurztraminer (Naramata)
Appearance: Pale straw with golden hues
Aromas: Rose petals, lychee, apple, peach, grapefruit and floral spicy notes
Flavours: Peach, apple, pear, grapefruit, citrus and spice
Body and Finish: Sweet fruit entry, bright and luscious on the palate, racy finish
Overall Impression: Very aromatic, bright Okanagan-style.
Quite delicious. A finalist in the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellent in British Columbia Wine
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Would I Buy It?: Yes
Score: 90
Price: $18
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, private retailers

Cherry Point 2007 Siegerrebe (Vancouver)
This is the quintessential summertime quaffer from Vancouver Islands with a fresh lemony nose full of grassy, mineral character. Lovely white peach, orange peel, almond aromas and flavour. Serve chilled with fresh shucked oysters or steamed fillet of sole.
Price N/A (Availability at winery only)

Therapy Vineyards 2006 Chardonnay (Naramata)
Buttered toast, vanilla, baked apple and smoky oak upfront, this is a big complex style for those who enjoy an oaky Chardonnay. Elegant entry with apple, toast, but not over the top buttery.
$25 (Sold out most places, might be available in some private stores)

Sumac Ridge Black Sage Vineyard Meritage (White) (Summerland)
Another big winner typically with judges and consumers, this blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc is the biggest in B.C. with buttery popcorn, lemon oil, pear, apple, melon. Big, slightly oily palate with good fruit expression some lemony acidity. Not a summer sipper though.
$25 (Available at VQA shops, private retailers, BC LDB)

Arrowleaf Cellars 2007 Pinot Gris (Okanagan Centre)
Lovely nectarine, spice, apple, pear nose with floral and lemony notes. Light and fresh fruit-forward entry with apple, melon, pear and lemony flavours, some mineral character and a juicy freshness on the finish.
$16.85 (Available at VQA shops, private retailers or direct from the winery)

See Ya Later Ranch 2007 Riesling (Okanagan Falls)
Crisp green apple, lemon, floral notes on the nose. Fresh entry on the palate with green apple, mineral, spice, and lemon. Good racy acidity on the finish. A lovely patio sipper good for fresh, light hot weather fare. Come under screw cap too!
$17 (Available at VQA shops, private retailers, BC LDB)

Noble Ridge 2006 Pinot Noir (Okanagan Falls)
Brilliant red colour with Sour cherry, plum, pepper, vanilla, earthy notes on the nose. Bright, fresh entry with pronounced fruit flavours of cherry, plum, accented by spice and earthy character. Some dryness on the palate that should soften up in time.
$26 (Available through the winery, VQA shops, private retailers)

Nk’Mip Cellar 2005 Qwam Qwmt Merlot (Osoyoos)
Big aromas of blackberry jam, toast, spice, smoky notes and dark floral bouquet. There is a distinct savoury, earthy character of olives and coffee beans as well. Luscious berry and savoury flavours finishing off with supple tannins. A superb effort.
$25 (Available at some VQA shops, private retailers)

Inniskillin 2005 Discovery Series Malbec (Oliver)
A complex nose of blueberry, black cherry, hints of smoke, anise spice and mocha. Features an elegant entry of ripe red fruits, but with some savoury flavours and a touch of dryness. Has a peppery kick on the finish.
$30 (Available through the winery or private retailers)

Poplar Grove 2005 Cabernet Franc (Naramata)
Lush fruit aromas of raspberry torte, black cherry, pepper and crush violet petals. Dark fruit, menthol, savoury flavours and none of the bell pepper character that turns people off. Supple tannins and a nice hit of pepper on the finish. Elegant.
$40 (Available through the winery)

Granite Creek 2006 Ehrenfelser Icewine (Shuswap)
Luscious tropical fruit aromas of mango and pineapple with some fresh peach and honey. Fat golden fruit flavours with honey and a nice nectarine acidity on the finish. Lovely and delicious without being cloying.
$40 (Available at VQA shops, private retailers)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lighten Up Under the Sun

Last weekend, I pulled a bottle of red wine from my tiny cellar in anticipation of a visit from a friend who doesn’t care to drink white.

My collection, while not in a climate-controlled space, is located in a much cooler section of our house. And despite our lack of air-conditioning and daily highs that well surpassed the 30-degree mark, the wine was at a palatable temperature when I retrieved it. My friend, however, arrived two hours late while the wine sat on my kitchen counter. By the time I poured our glasses, I could swear steam was rising from the contents.

I don’t often drink red in the summertime. When I do, I typically opt for fresh, light, simple styles that can be chilled slightly before drinking. I’m not above dumping ice-cubes and chunks of fruit in a glass of low-end red and turning it into a patio-friendly sangria. My preference, though, is for crisp, dry whites and rosés that don’t leave me feeling as parched on the inside as I do on the outside under the blistering Okanagan sun.

For years, I’ve been trying to convince people that reds – particularly the chewy, full-bodied, high alcohol styles many prefer – do not a summer drink make. But most present-day enthusiasts have cut their teeth on these big, bold wines thus making their palate numb to the relatively subtle, light and simple nuances of whites.

There has been a subtle shift, however, and more people seem to be embracing whites and, in particular rosés – finding pleasure in their refreshment, not just on hot summer days, but year round.

When it comes to hot-weather sipping, I like to keep the wines light and simple and the reason for that is I also like my beverages extra frosty. It’s not unusual for me to sink my bottles in a cooler or bucket of ice until their contents are so frigid, you can see your breath when you drink them.

The caveat with that is the colder the wine, the harder it is to smell and taste. Many of the wines more subtle and delicate components will be impossible to detect. Overchilling an expensive Chardonnay or Bordeaux-style blend with loads of complexity would be a waste.

Here are some summertime dos and don’t:

* Do select wines that are young, fruit-forward wines with loads of acidity. I prefer them dry or slightly off-dry and look for ones with lemony, tree or tropical fruit and some mineral characteristics.

* Don’t choose anything with age or oak and described as oily, soft, round or buttery.

* Do buy wines made from the previous vintage, such as 2007 Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Ehrenfelser, Bacchus, Gewurztraminer, Siegerrebe, Ortega and Riesling. They’ll be fresher with more acidity.

* Don’t buy wines with high alcohol…anything with more than 13 or 14 per cent is too much in the heat.

* Do opt for a dry rosé or a crisp sparkling wine – both offer great versatility with food pairing – steer clear of the white Zins, however.

* Don’t refrain from buying reds altogether. In fact, now is a good time to buy them and stock your cellar. Many will be ready by the time you’re taste for them returns, whereas a lot of the reds available in the fall will be new releases and thus too youthful to drink.

* Do buy wines under screw cap. You can’t deny their convenience for opening and re-sealing, and if you’re keeping them on ice, there will be less risk of water seeping into the bottle.

* Don’t leave wine in your car for anything length of time. Plan your shopping trip so they are the last thing you purchase before heading home, otherwise they’ll get cooked in the heat. Be especially cautious with sparkling wines. If you must delay going home or are doing a wine tour, pack a cooler with ice or refrigerated packs.

Vineyard Dinners Hollywood-Style

Many moons ago I watched a tedious TV movie that perpetuated the glamorous stereotype of the winery business. It was the story of a wealthy Italian winemaking family whose endless and tiresome dramas I’ve long thankfully forgotten.

What did stay with me were the visually stunning scenes when everyone from the patriarch of the family to some winery hand’s third cousin twice removed gathered around a mile-long table set up in the vineyard during harvest and feasted heartedly and drank liberally as the sun set brilliantly behind them.

It was a romantic and appealing, if not entirely honest, depiction of winery life. In truth, most proprietors have neither the means, nor the time – particularly during harvest – to put on such a spread. But at my impressionable age at the time, I bought it all and fully expected that such displays would greet me at any winery to which I paid a visit. You can imagine my disappointment.

While wineries today are answering to the call for alfresco dining with superb facilities and cooking staff, it’s been hard to shake the vision of a long, single table around which a group gathers to celebrate food and wine – gifts the earth provides. It commands a greater respect and connection with the land.

Last week, I got the opportunity to have such an experience – perhaps not as elaborate as the Hollywood version, but one that far exceeded my expectations nonetheless.

During the summer months, Joy Road Catering and God’s Mountain Estate Bed & Breakfast host two series of alfresco vineyard dinners where guests convene around one large table overlooking Skaha Lake and nosh on freshly prepared foods beautifully paired with wines.

Like the scene in the movie, there is something enchanting, yet down to earth, about this type of open-air communal dining. And though virtually all the guests at the dinner I attended were strangers, it encouraged a comfortable intimacy that no typical restaurant can hope to achieve. No awkward silences, no tedious small talk – just a group of people who loved and appreciated food, wine and their surroundings, which inspired an easy flow of conversation.

Of course, Mother Nature’s hand had something to do with that. Despite, a rocky start to the spring/summer of 2008, we were greeted that evening with a balmy clime and brilliant sunshine reflecting off a glass-flat lake below. You couldn’t ask for a prettier sunset behind the hills on the Westside of the lake. It might have been a very different experience had Mother Nature chosen to be her more temperamental self.

And what can I say about the setting? Perched high above the valley on sandy cliffs, the views are panoramic, stretching unparalleled distances on a clear day over vineyard, lake and communities below.
The B&B itself is something altogether different – part Spanish hacienda retreat, part museum with, how one individual put it, a “labyrinth” of rooms. Indeed, you would enter one and not know where you might end up, as it was a seemingly endless maze.

And though the places boosts no televisions or radios in the place – which is fairly isolated – there is no shortage of things with which to entertain yourself. In fact, you could spent a week alone studying all the unusual antiques and objects owner Sarah Allen has amassed and jammed into the place. And Allen admits to having plenty more she has yet to unpack…after five years on the property.
All this helped lend itself to the conversation, as did the various guests at the table. On of my dinner mates was a gentleman visiting from Bowen Island, who works for a large hotel chain and has had much opportunity to travel to eclectic places. He regaled us with stories of his trips to Dubai where he was privy to the extravagant lifestyles of the ridiculously wealthy.

But it was the food and the wine that stole the show. The evening I attended was the first of the Winemaker’s Culinary Series, held every Thursday through September 4. Each week, Joy Road chefs Dana Ewart and Cameron Smith prepare a four-course menu to suit the wines of a particular Okanagan winery – in this case, Naramata’s Poplar Grove.

Their menu was full of seasonal and regional ingredients, such as the English pea soup, for which Ewart spent hours earlier in the day shelling fresh pods. It tasted of pure springtime and was ideal with the Poplar Grove 2007 Pinot Blanc with its fresh grassy, gooseberry aromas and flavours.

That wine was also stunning with the fresh bread and Amelia olive oil from Umbria, Italy, served for dipping. The oil’s earthy, herbal flavours are a departure from what people have become accustomed to in supermarket brands, but it’s price of $25 for a litre makes it surprisingly affordable.

The second course was an antipasto featuring regional goodies such as Oyama salamis, Poplar Grove tiger blue cheese with local dried pears, wild arugula with roasted peppers and a tasty slow-cooked pork rillet (which has a pureed-like spreadable texture) handmade by Smith. The wine chosen to pair with that was 2005 Syrah which picked up on the spicy, herbaceous notes on the platter.

Charcoal grilled guinea fowl-legs with roasted garlic and baby Zeebroff potatoes made up the third coarse, served alongside lemon pepper grilled radicchio and a broccoli and pine nut salad with a surprising anchovy and Marjoram sauce. The dish was decidedly savoury and beautifully matched with the Poplar Grove 2004 Merlot. Winemaker Ian Sutherland commented that grapes will often pick up flavours from things growing around it and in the case of this Merlot, it gathered savoury characteristics from nearby sagebrush.

Sutherland added that people need not pre-occupy themselves with finding the perfect pair for wine and food every time.

“Sometimes it doesn’t have to be a marriage, sometimes it can be just a date.”
Vineyard dinners are held every Sunday and Thursday starting at 6:30 p.m. Advance booking is a must. For the full schedule, reservations and contact information, visit:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Winners of the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards of Excellence in B.C. Wine

Sumac Ridge 2004 Steller’s Brut
Displaying a fine mousse with long lasting bubbles and a slightly peachy hue. This sparkling wine offers up a crisp nose, aromas of apples, yeasty notes and mineral. Nice, clean effervescence on the palate with loads of crisp acidity on the finish. Very refreshing. $27 (Availability: VQA shops, BC LDB, private retailers)

Calona Vineyards 2007 Artist Series Chardonnay
This unoaked version features apple, pear, orange peel, lemon oil, honeydew melon characteristics. Nice crisp acidity on the palate with tropical fruit, apple and melon flavours with a lemony finish. Not a fruit bomb, just a well-balanced, quaffable style at an awesome price. $13.99 (Availability: VQA shops, BC LDB, private retailers)

Wild Goose 2007 Autumn Gold
A delightful blend that includes Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer, it features baked apple, rose petal, apricot and spicy notes. Bright and fresh fruit character on the palate with some mineral and lime on the finish. A top of the line patio wine. $18.95 (Availability: VQA shops, private retailers, winery direct)

Wild Goose 2007 Pinot Gris
Lovely aromas of nectarine, peach, honey, mineral spice and a touch of ginger greet you from the glass. It features a crisp entry with loads of lemon-lime, peach and spice on the palate. And has a refreshing spritz-like acidity on the finish. Delightful. $18.95 (Availability: VQA shops, private retailers, winery direct)

Stoneboat Vineyards 2006 Pinot Noir
Nice complexity on the nose with bright fruit aromas of Bing cherry, strawberry and a touch of rhubarb accented by tobacco, vanilla, white pepper and a bit of smoke. upple mouthfeel with bright fruit flavours, pepper and good length on the finish. Quite elegant and affordable. $21.90 (Availability: winery direct, private retailers)

Golden Mile Cellars 2006 Black Arts Syrah
More savoury than fruity, this wine has aromas of sausage meat, earth, poultry spice, cocoa, pepper and some brambleberry, black cherry, coffee bean and menthol. The complexity continues of the palate with a weighty mouthfeel, moderate tannins and extended length with some pepperyness. $34.99 (Availability: select VQA shops, private retailers)

Blasted Church 2006 Syrah
Perfumy aromas of blueberry, plum, violets, blackberry jam, pie crust, vanilla and spice. Luscious on the plate with black fruit flavours, lots of elegance and a smooth, round and slightly spicy finish. Tannins are moderate, but mellow enough for current drinking. Yummy. $26.90 (Availability: select VQA shops, private retailers)

Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate 2005 Proprietors’ Grand Reserve Shiraz
Both fruity and savoury, this bold version is smoky, meaty, peppery with complex black fruit aromas, some soya and cedar. Big dark fruit entry with a good deal of peppery character on the palate, although well balanced. Needs a bit time in the bottle to bring out its suppleness, but worth the effort. (Availability: select VQA shops, private retailers)

Red Rooster Winery 2006 Malbec
Complex nose of crushed violets, plum, blueberry, leather, pepper spice, smoky oak, vanilla. A big, weighty mouth feel with good fruit concentration, toasty oak, coffee bean, earth and moderate to firm tannins. Needs some aging but a fantastic effort that bodes well for this variety in the valley. $22.99 (Availability: Winery only - may be sold out)

Sandhill Wines 2006 Cabernet Franc
Peppery, herbaceous aromas with black cherry, black currant, bruised violets, cedar, tobacco and dark vanilla. Silky entry with black fruit flavours, cedar, vanilla, smoke and herbal characteristics. Superb effort and a great price. $19.99 (Availability: VQA shops, BC LDB, private retailers)

Taste Test - August 11, 2008

95-100 Sets the bar.
90-94 Outstanding, has wow factor.
80-89 Good to very good.
70-79 Average, may have minor flaws.
60-69 Drinkable, but not recommended.
00-59 Undrinkable.

See Ya Later Ranch 2006 Chardonnay (Okanagan Falls)
Appearance: Lemon yellow, viscous
Aromas: Apple, citrus, honey, lemon oil, pineapple, light toast, nuttiness
Flavours: Bright tropical fruit, apple, nuttiness, butter, citrus peel
Body and Finish: Ripe, slightly sweet entry with mouthfilling weight and nice acidity on the finish.
Overall Impression: A perennial favourite among judges and consumers alike. Awesome value
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Would I Buy It?: Once in a while
Score: 90
Price: $20
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers, BC LDBs

Burrowing Owl 2005 Merlot (Oliver)
Appearance: Black cherry with ruby hues
Aromas: Quite herbaceous with pepper, menthol, cherry, blackberry, smoke and spice
Flavours: Black cherry, herbal, earthy, black peppery, tobacco, spice
Body and Finish: Supple entry with a weighty mid-palate, dry and slightly hot on the finish, yet elegant
Overall Impression: For those who like an earthy, smoky, herbaceous wine with some finesse but not a fruit bomb
Cellaring Potential: Best in a couple to three years
Would I Buy It?: Yes
Score: 89
Price: $30
Availability: Sold out, but the 2006 vintage is now available

Mission Hill 2006 Reserve Riesling Icewine (Kelowna)
Appearance: Golden brilliant tones
Aromas: Concentrated nose of honey, baked apple, fresh peach, candied citrus peel
Flavours: Luscious honeyed peach, baked apple, lemon oil, candied citrus peel, spice
Body and Finish: Very luscious and mouthfilling with loads of fruit, lovely viscosity, but balanced acidity
Overall Impression: Beautifully done
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Would I Buy It?: Once in a while
Score: 91
Price: $60
Availability: Winery, BC LDBs, VQA Shops, Private Retailers

Pentâge 2005 Merlot (Penticton)
Appearance: Black cherry, ruby hues with fat legs
Aromas: Sweet Bing cherry, plum, black tea, cedar and mocha
Flavours: Cherry, plum, coffee, dusty chocolate, earth, spice
Body and Finish: Luscious entry with good mid-palate weight, firm tannins and a dry, lingering finish
Overall Impression: An elegant Old-World style of wine with solid structure for aging. Good value
Cellaring Potential: Best left for a couple years, cellar up to eight
Would I Buy It?: Yes
Score: 89
Price: $25
Availability: Winery, private retailers

Mission Hill 2006 S.L.C. Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon (Kelowna)
Appearance: Straw tones with golden highlights
Aromas: Pineapple, orange peel, lime, lemon oil, grassy notes with floral, mineral hints
Flavours: Tropical fruit, spice, citrus peel, lemon-lime
Body and Finish: Ripe, rich entry with a weighty mid-palate and lean citrusy finish.
Overall Impression: A rich, but elegant wine with well-balanced intensity and acidity
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Would I Buy It?: Once in a while
Score: 88
Price: $30
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers, BC LDBs

Lake Breeze 2007 Gewurztraminer (Naramata)
Appearance: Crystal clear with pale straw hues
Aromas: Peach, apricot, rosewater, mineral, citrus
Flavours: Bright tree fruit, spice, mineral, lemon-lime
Body and Finish: Sweet entry with nice fruit intensity, clean finish.
Overall Impression: A fruit-forward but well balanced wine ideal when nicely chilled
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Would I Buy It?: Yes
Score: 88
Price: $19
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Lake Breeze 2006 Seven Poplars Chardonnay (Naramata)
Appearance: Straw tones with golden highlights
Aromas: Peach, floral, honey, nutty, citrus peel
Flavours: Tropical fruit, spice, butterscotch, peach, citrus
Body and Finish: Smooth luscious and slightly sweet on the entry, with juicy, buttery texture on the palate, clean long finish.
Overall Impression: A fat, fruit-forward style with loads of finesse. Lovely to drink
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Would I Buy It?: Yes
Score: 90
Price: $23
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Monday, August 11, 2008

Wines for Climate Change

I've been asked a dozen times how I spent my $100 “Climate Action Dividend.” Most of these queries were preceded with a do-gooder pitch by various charitable organizations wanting my money.

But this “windfall” is part of the provincial government’s new green agenda and while the powers that be can’t dictate how you use it, the rebate was intended to help you take a step toward a lower carbon lifestyle. The government even set up a website called Smart Choices BC which offered suggestions on how to spend the money in an environmentally sustainable way, from buying energy-efficient light bulbs and installing low-flow shower heads to shopping locally for produce.

I liked that idea – which is why I blew the whole wad on B.C. wine.

For years, particularly in the last decade, Canadian wines have struggled for global recognition. In fact, just last week, I saw a news story about an alliance of B.C. and Ontario wineries, known as the “Eh Team,” which is trying to get their wines on restaurant lists around the world.

But the Canadian industry’s dismal beginnings with the likes of Fuddle Duck and Hot Goose and its relatively small size have caused it to be overlooked, even dismissed at times. Thus it has come to depend heavily on domestic sales to stay afloat. Famed wine critic Jancis Robinson said as much in an article she penned for the London Financial Times. “Canada doesn’t make anything like enough wine to supply their own market, let alone export in any meaningful quantity.”

Indeed, producers of Yellow Tail, one of Australia’s largest export brands, likely spill more wine in the making of it than we produce in this whole country. Robinson’s article, while she praised many of the Canadian products she tasted as being “world-class wines by any point of view,” was on the whole scathing, mainly toward the industry’s size, its minimal international presence and the seemingly overblown pride we Canucks have in our domestic product.

But given the current climate, local producers find themselves in a rather enviable position – a veritable win-win situation loaded with irony.

First of all, global warming is heating up B.C. vineyards and extending the growing season allowing vintners to plant varieties not previous thought to thrive here. Cases in point are Zinfandel, Malbec and Syrah. Plus an adoring domestic marketplace means most B.C.-produced bottles don’t make it beyond the borders of Canada’s two most westerly provinces.

Meanwhile, other winemaking regions are feeling the heat, literally. I received a press release on the subject of climate change from the makers of Yellow Tail, which acknowledged that areas previously too cold to produce wine, such as England, are now “sprouting vineyards left and right.”

“That’s great for them, but warmer regions like Australia may face threats due to climate change, like rising alcohol levels in its wine and irrigation problems.”

In the same release, Yellow Tail producers insist they are working on doing their part to reduce carbon emissions and reverse the effects of global warming. They insisted that since they ship their wine by sea to North America drinking their products is a carbon-wise option.

“For the eco-friendly consumer, Yellow Tail is not only the enjoyable and economical wine choice, but also one of the greenest…the wine is packed efficiently into containers, wrapped in an insulating blanket, trucked from Yenda (in New South Wales, Australia) to a port, and loaded onto a container ship. The Pacific journey takes about 33 days to Los Angeles. From there the container is loaded on a train or truck and sent to Chicago.”

Uh-huh. Let me mull that one over a glass of Pinot Noir from an Okanagan winery five kilometres from my door.

Yellowtail’s PR campaign might seem ludicrous at first glance, but it’s a pitch being looked at by many overseas wineries that depend heavily on exporting to the lucrative North American market. A growing number of green consumers who consider miles traveled when selecting a bottle could spell problems for those producers with virtually no domestic market to speak of – like Yellowtail.

Yellowtail’s position is backed by a paper called, Red, White and “Green”: The Cost of Carbon in the Global Wine Trade, written by Dr. Tyler Colman, who produces a wildly popular wine blog called Dr. Vino.

Colman and his colleague came up with a “green line” for purchasing wine in the U.S., which cuts through the mid-west. “For points to the west of that line, it is more carbon efficient to consume wine trucked from California. To the east of that line, it’s more efficient to consume the same sized bottle of wine from Bordeaux, which has had benefited from the efficiencies of container shipping, followed by a shorter truck trip.”

This “green line” starts in middle Ohio and kind of zigzags it’s way south, making it impossible to predict on which side you may fall as a Canadian. But bloggers on Colman’s site and other wine discussion boards said that consumers should look to regional producers if it’s a lower carbon footprint is what they’re after.


While B.C. wineries might have some work to do in the eco-friendly department on their own turfs, those who choose to sip domestic juice can at least feel good about the fact their bottles didn’t spend a month in transit to get to their table.

Wine Q&A: What's Best with Salmon?

Q: My husband went fishing off the coast and caught a rather large salmon, so we are hosting a dinner party and intend to cook it up on the barbecue for our guests. What wines should we serve with it?

A: With salmon, you can certainly shelve the old “white with fish” formula. Depending on how it is prepared, it offers a great deal of versatility when it comes to pairing the dish with wine. The richness of the meat and its texture isn’t easily overwhelmed like the more delicate flesh of many white fish. If you poach it and serve it with a butter sauce, it will go beautifully with a rich, buttery Chardonnay. But a crisp, lean, lemony sparkling wine will work equally as well, as it will cleanse the fat from your palate.

Grilling the salmon will intensify the flavours and carmelize the flesh, adding further complexity. Thus it will be complimented by a light- to medium-bodied red wine, such as a Pinot Noir or Gamay. If you use a rich glaze on the fish – such as one that is balsamic-vinegar based – a fuller bodied red is an option.

In the height of summer, especially if you are dining alfresco, a dry rosé is one of your best bets for grilled salmon. You’ll enjoy the intensity of flavour you get from red, while having the refreshment of chilled white. Plus the acidity in the rosé will be a natural palate cleanser. Stay away from rosés on the sweeter side. Among my favourite local choices are the rosés from Dunham and Froese, St. Hubertus and Gray Monk’s Rotberger.

Wine Q&A: The Price is Right?

Q: An article you wrote recently suggested that the Okanagan grape crop may not be as good this year as in past years because of the weather in the spring. Does that mean we can expect prices to go down? I find B.C. wines rather expensive.

A: I’ll refrain from wading too far into the debate about local wine prices as everyone seems to have a different idea of what is considered affordable and what is expensive. It is true that the average cost of a bottle of locally-produced wine has climbed notably in recent years, but then so has the cost of land on which the grapes are grown, labour, transportation and tax levies. Then there’s the issue of supply and demand – our unquenchable thirst for regional wines has driven up their value. Enough said.

I can’t see wine prices coming down – not for the reason you imply, anyway. First of all let me clarify something – poor weather won’t necessarily translate into a poor crop. Experienced, talented vintners have ways to compensate for climate challenges. For example, they can thin the grape crop – in some cases by as much as half – to encourage ripening.

If consumers were to see any significant fall out from a challenging growing season, it’s most likely going to be the overall supply of local wines. If they are forced to thin the crop, it will mean less yields and lower volume. Some wineries refrain from releasing top-end wines from difficult growing seasons, adding to their exclusivity and perhaps having the opposite effect you hope and actually driving up the price.

Look at what happened with this year’s cherry crop. April’s record-breaking cold (and snow) during a crucial period in that fruit’s growing cycle meant availability was down, but prices were up.

Field Feasting

By Julianna Hayes
Diane McQuarie and Paul Wilson have found a most unusual way to do some sightseeing this summer.

The Dallas, Texas, couple are something of “food groupies.” They are following a caravan traveling to local farms across North America and celebrating regional cuisine. Called Outstanding in the Field, the highlights of this culinary road tour – which made a stop in the Okanagan August 4th – are dinners served at a huge communal table set in an open field.

“We saw something about it on television and thought it would be a great way to travel to beautiful places and have good food,” said Wilson, who marveled at the view of Okanagan Lake from Little Creek Gardens, located on Kelowna’s Westside, near Fintry.

So far the couple have sampled the regional foods of Marin County and the Bay areas of California, Seattle, Vancouver and the Okanagan. Upcoming stops include New York City, Washington, DC, and their home state of Texas. In all, they will have attended eight dinners once the tour is complete.

Wilson said he and his wife would have never have considered visiting the Okanagan had it not been for Outstanding in the Field. And though they were only here for about 48 hours, they intend to return.

It was the first visit to the valley as well for Outstanding’s founder Jim Denevan, who said he was pleasantly surprised by what greeted him here. “It 's amazing. I can see why people talk about this area,” said Denevan, who compared it to Lake Geneva, Switzerland.

Denevan was a chef in Santa Cruz, California
, when he started the Outstanding in the Field program in 1999. He said there is often a disconnect between consumers, people who work in food hospitality, and those who supply what we eat.

In a cookbook he published this year and inspired by the program, Denevan wrote: “We buy fruit, vegetables, meats, fish, and grains; then we bring this bounty home, cook it, and eat it, in many cases without any idea where it grew or was born, whi it was cared for, what it was fed, or by what means it was harvested or slaughtered. Above all, we are utterly ignorant of the people responsible for every step on our food’s path…”

Denevan told the Okanagan guests that Outstanding in the Field is “on a mission to find the places where regional agriculture thrives and the people who know the story of those places share their stories so agriculture can be accessed and appreciated.”

At each location, Denevan sets up a large alfresco dinner table in a produce farm, ranch, dairy, vineyard or even a community garden and assembles various local growers, food producers, chefs and winemakers to prepare and present their regional, seasonal fare. The hosts of the property conduct a tour of their facilities, before guests sit down for a leisurely meal of the freshest ingredients imaginable. Each supplier is invited to share his or her stories and talk about their products as the food is served.

On this trip, Dale Ziech and Donna Denison of Little Creek Greens of West Kelowna explained how they acquired the property from Denison’s great aunt and uncle and set about converting the heavily forested land into a small produce farm. They began growing gourmet certified organic salad greens under contract for local restaurants, for which they have a comfortable niche, but are probably most famous for their Little Creek salad dressings, which have garnered a substantial local cult following.

Ofri Baromar of Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisan described how some of the 20 different cheeses they produce are made from goats raised on hers and her husband’s small farm in Kelowna’s Mission area. Using pasteurized and raw milk and various aging processes, all the cheeses are organic and made free of preservatives or additives and with little use of machinery. To them it is important that goats are raised without the use of hormones and are treated with care and respect in excellent living conditions.

Some of the highlights of the Okanagan menu included “Misty” goat cheese from Carmelis and Similkameen Apiary honeycomb and toasted local hazelnuts on a bed of Little Creek salad greens; fresh water rainbow trout from Enderby with local fennel and Little Creek tomatoes; and grilled lamb from North Okanagan Game Meats with local oregano, baby carrots, eggplant and baby zucchini. One of the biggest hits of the meal was Carmelis’ indulgently creamy goat milk gelato served with fresh berries and cherries. The food was paired with wines from CedarCreek Estate Winery.

Although, Denevan still cooks at some of the dinners, most times he engages local chefs for the meals. In the case of the Okanagan, Cameron Smith and Dana Ewert of Joy Road Catering in Naramata did all the prep and presentation.

In its 10th season, Outstanding in the Field has served up more than 100 alfresco dinners, all but two of them attended by Denevan. He travels to each region with a small entourage in a 1953 Flxible bus of “intermittent” reliability. In fact, the bus didn’t make it to Vancouver and the Okanagan, staying behind in Seattle for the necessary maintenance for its upcoming trip across the U.S.

Denevan said the table for 60 at the Okanagan gathering was the smallest since the program started – it’s been known to seat as many as 175 guests. Still, dressed in white linens and mismatched dishes (guests are encouraged to bring their own plates) and stretched across a tree-lined bench overlooking the lake, it was an impressive sight nonetheless.

Denevan said he expected the table to grow in years to come, indicating his intention to return to the valley. He added the abundance and accessibility to regional fare here was among the most extraordinary he’s seen.

For more information on the program, visit