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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Allure of Sexy Labels

Q. Hi… I was wondering if you could give your insight on the sexiest wine labels in B.C. I see there's quite the difference in marketing in Canada compared to the U.S. and was wondering what sells your spirits there...
- Stacy

A. People taste with their eyes almost as much as they do with their palate. Certainly if you haven’t had the opportunity to try a particular wine, what is it about it that will inevitably compel you to part with your money? The label, of course.

Sexy packaging has become as big here in B.C., as it has everywhere else…perhaps even more so. That’s because local wines not only have to compete amongst themselves, but with everything else on the marketplace – namely wines from the Australia, California, France, Italy, New Zealand and so forth. While, B.C. consumers do embrace local product, there is an underlying cynicism toward anything domestic – particularly when it comes to wine. Thus the label must grab them, otherwise B.C. bottles will get lost in the sea of choices.

A pretty label goes a long way toward attracting the buyer’s attention, but so does the name. If you need confirmed examples of this, look no further than the struggling local wineries that have gone on to success following a simple name change. With monikers like Prpich and Scherzinger, the proprietors of these two wineries couldn’t give their products away.

But once their names changed to Blasted Church and Dirty Laundry respectively, the bottles just flew off the shelf. Add to that the fact that they introduced some rather imaginative packaging and a great story – Dirty Laundry with a past association with a brothel and Blasted Church and its whimsical Tim Burton-esque labels – and there was instant success.

Wineries I consider to have sexy marketing are:

Laughing Stock – Proprietors David and Cynthia Enns hail from the financial world and used their background for a clever play on words. The packaging features a ticker tape etching wrapping around the bottle.

Howling Bluff – The label features a simple, but charming caricature of a wolf baying.

Road 13 – The new name of the winery formerly know as Golden Mile Cellars, it is named for the road on which it sits and the label is a simple, but eye-catching graphic featuring a black silhouette of a tractor and dog and the name written boldly in red.

See Ya Later Ranch – Formerly Hawthorne, the marketing features anecdotes of the former ranch property owner who was passionate about his dogs. The wines are named for the late pets and many feature angelic depictions of them.
Sandhill – Wines from the Small Lots program are bottled in dark vessels with simple, but elegant etching on them.

Therapy Vineyards – Let’s just say they do Freud proud.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Shipping Wines: No More Mr. Nice Guy

By Julianna Hayes

Several weeks ago I received a question about with shipping wines across provincial borders. The reader who wrote wanted to know how relatives from Saskatchewan to the Okanagan Valley in B.C. could bring back or ship wines home.

I said that although cross-border shipping is supposed to be prohibited, many people do it without consequence. In fact, a large portion of B.C. wineries offer the service, as evidenced by this comment from a reader of my blog:

“Last year I had 19 cases of wine shipped by various B.C. wineries to my residence in Manitoba…Every bottle arrived in perfect condition. We visited dozens of wineries and not once was it suggested this was not possible or was illegal, in fact shipping was a regular service offered. – LW”

Call it incredible timing but suddenly liquor boards, including the one in B.C., are cautioning wineries of a crackdown on this practice. It started with Red Rooster winery on the Naramata Bench in the Okanagan, which received a stern warning by the Manitoba Liquor Commission for shipping wines directly to consumers in that province. Andrew Peller Limited, which owns the winery, as well as Sandhill and Calona, responded by ordering all its B.C. operations to cease filling out-of-province orders.

Now, many wineries are getting cold feet about what consequences they'll face.

At issue is liquor sales tax collection. All boards add a mark-up to booze entering the province and thus wineries shipping directly to buyers are viewed as tax evaders.

The ones who suffer, of course, are the out-of-province consumers. There has been a push for sometime to lift this archaic law, at least for homegrown wine producers. Indeed, if wineries from B.C. can’t ship directly to customers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan or Quebec, for example, it’s likely residents there will have to opt for mostly imports since their liquor boards don’t carry much domestic product.

Don’t expect the situation to change anytime soon. Governments are greedy when it comes to liquor and taxes, and the wheels of progress turn very slowly in this country.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wine Q&A: Headache in a Bottle

When wine causes physical grief for rather than the obvious, it can impede its appreciation. Indeed, the so-called “red wine headache” appears to plague a disproportionate amount of people. But what causes it? It might not be what you think.

Q: Just about every time I drink red wine, I wake up with a splitting headache and its not because I’ve over indulged. In fact, sometimes the headache starts after just half a glass. It starts in my sinus and spreads behind my eyes. I love red wine, but I suspect I am allergic to sulfites. Can you recommend any organic reds?
- Alison

A: There are two misconceptions here. First of all, if the headaches are a result of drinking red wine only, sulfites are not likely to be the culprit. Second, organic wines are not necessarily sulfite-free. Sulfites occur naturally in virtually all wines as a by-product of fermentation, so there is little chance of getting around them. Sulfites are also added to varying degrees by many winemakers, including those producing organic wines, to prevent bacterial growth and oxidation. White wines, particularly sweeter one, usually have a higher percentage of sulfite than reds. I’d also like to add that according to the American Food and Drug Administration, only about one per cent of the population suffers from sulfite allergies, the majority being asthmatics. And breathing problems, not headaches, are the more typical reaction to sulfites.

Tannins are also often to blame for red wine headaches and that is indeed a possibility. Lab studies have shown they provoke blood platelets into releasing serotonin, and high serotonin levels can cause headaches.

Another possible cause are histamines, which are naturally found on grape skins. Since the skins are required to steep in the fruit juice to extract the colour we all love in red wines, they will contain about 20-200 times more histamines than white. The deeper the colour, the higher the histamine level is likely to be. Even if you don’t suffer from allergies as a rule, they may cause you some grief. I attended a tasting of big Australian reds some years ago and virtually everyone on the panel was stuffed up afterwards – we all suspected histamines to be to blame.

Try drinking some lighter-coloured reds that are unoaked, such as Beaujolais Nouveau (released every year on the third Thursday in November). If you still are suffering, you may have to switch to white.

I have a friend who takes a mild, non-drowsy anti-histamine before she drinks red wine. But before you mix any drug with alcohol, consult your doctor.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Wine When Cheap Is How You Feel...

By Julianna Hayes

One of the very first bottles that whet my appetite for wine was a German Riesling called Blue Nun.

I was attracted to it first by its appealing packaging – a tall sleek, iridescent cerulean glass bottle adorned with a virginal, establishment symbol. In my youthful, defiant eyes it was an amusing metaphor for everything I struggled against.
I bought it as a lark for a university dorm party, but I instantly loved its soft, off-dry style. Equally as important was its price. For a financially-strapped student, dollars always had to be factored into the equation – I could hardly justify blowing my book budget on a Chateau Latour, no matter how much I was into wine.

Blue Nun became a regular staple in my dorm room. Though there were a few other wines I indulged in, I frequently returned to this tried and true favourite. After graduation, I continued to buy and serve it at parties and dinners as I struggled to find my financial footing throughout the 80s.

My tastes and interests changed, my pocketbook expanded and the wine became a decidedly retro symbol in my eyes. I haven’t poured or tasted a drop of of it in close to 20 years. But Blue Nun certainly represented good value back in the day.

And apparently it still does.

The 2007 German Riesling was among 29 wines chosen as category champions in Wine Access Magazine’s 2008 International Value Wine Awards. At just $10.99 a bottle in B.C. liquor stores, it was tops in the Riesling category following a blind tasting earlier this summer by a panel of esteemed judges.

The Value Wine Awards are held annually by the magazine to reveal some of the best wine buys available in Canada for under $25.

“The results are simply some of the best information available to wine drinkers in the country who appreciate well-made wine, but do not want to spend a fortune to taste it,” said Wine Access editor-in-chief Anthony Gismondi.

In the sea of wines that now top $50, $75, $100, even $500 a bottle, this is an important competition that truly appeals to the average wine drinker.

What is interesting about the results is the overall regional breakdown. Among the top category winners were four from California, three from Spain, three from Chile, two from Germany, two from Argentina, one from South Africa, one from Italy, one from Portugal, one from New Zealand, and one from France.

And surprisingly perhaps to many, eight wines were from British Columbia. You do the math.

B.C. producers take a lot of heat for “overpricing” their wine. In fact, it’s the most common gripe I hear from readers. How can you explain that almost a third of the top wines in a blind competition that included hundreds of international wines of great value comes from our own soil?

I have my own thoughts, but I’ll let you stew on it for a while.

On to the local results:

* Therapy Vineyards, located on the Naramata Bench, was champs in two categories – taking the top spots with the 2007 Pinot Gris ($24) and 2007 Artist Viognier ($23) for those respective varietals.

* There was a tie between two B.C. producers in the Merlot category – Inniskillin Okanagan’s 2005 Merlot Reserve and Sumac Ridge’s 2005 Private Reserve Merlot both wowed the judges and pleased them with their prices.

* Another local tie for a best-of spot prevailed in the Aromatic Blends category between Joie’s 2007 A Noble Blend ($21.40) and Mission Hill brand Rigamarole 2007 White ($16).

* Despite the fact that Austrialian Shirazes are often considered cheap and cheerful, it was also an Okanagan wine that took the Shiraz/Syrah category. That honour went to Jackson-Triggs 2006 Proprietor’s Reserve Shiraz ($18).

* Rounding out the local success stories was Wild Goose, which won the top spot in the Rosé category with its 2007 Blanc de Noirs ($19).

These wines were in good company, winning alongside wine giants known for producing excellent value wines such as J. Lohr of California and Finca Los Primos of Argentina.
Here’s the complete list of category winners. I’ve included prices for those of which I found a listing in B.C.:
Leaping Horse 2007 Chardonnay, CaliforniaSANGIOVESE
Altesino 2005 Rosso di Toscana, Altimo, Tuscany, Italy ($21)

Torres 2003 Gran Sangre de Toro Reserva, Cataluña, Spain
Graham Beck 2006 Shiraz Viognier, Robertson, Breede River Valley, South Africa (tie)
Tin Roof Cellars 2005 Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast, California (tie)
J. Lohr 2006 Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, California ($22)

Arboleda 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley, Region de Aconcagua, Chile
Campo Viejo 2004 Reserva, Rioja, Spain
Therapy Vineyards 2007 Pinot Gris, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley ($24)
Blue Nun 2007 Riesling, Rheinhessen, Germany ($11)
Inniskillin Okanagan 2005 Merlot Reserve, Okanagan Valley (tie) ($18)
Sumac Ridge 2005 Private Reserve Merlot, Okanagan Valley (tie) ($17)

Taylor Fladgate 2002 Late Bottled Vintage Port, Douro Valley, Portugal ($25)
Torres 2006 Viña Sol, Catalunya, Spain

Casas del Bosque 2006 Pinot Noir Reserve, Valle de Casablanca, Region de Aconcagua, Chile ($23.30)

Soljans Estate N/V Fusion Sparkling Muscat, Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand
Castillo de Monséran 2006 Garnacha, Cariñena, Spain (tie) ($11)Illuminati 2006 Riparosso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy (tie) ($18)

Wild Goose 2007 Blanc de Noirs, Okanagan Valley ($19)

Jackson-Triggs Okanagan 2006 Proprietors’ Reserve Shiraz ($18)

Maison Chapoutier 2006 Belleruche Blanc, Southern Rhône Valley, France
Arboleda 2006 Carmenère, Valle del Colchagua, Valle del Rapel, Chile
Rodney Strong 2006 Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California ($23)
Viniterra 2005 Malbec, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (tie) Finca Los Primos 2007 Malbec, San Rafael, General Alvear, Mendoza, Argentina (tie) ($10)
Therapy Vineyards 2007 Artist Viognier, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley ($23)

Joie 2007 A Noble Blend, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (tie) ($21.40)
Rigamarole 2007 White, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (tie) ($16)

Bürgerspital 2007 Scheurebe Würzburger Stein-Harfe, Franken, Germany

When I see results like these I’m always curious as to what people are willing to cough up for a bottle of wine. Indeed, there’s a profound difference of option between individuals who won’t spend anything over $12 and those who think a well-made wine under $25 spells good value. This contest speaks to the latter, though truly frugal enthusiasts will find some picks among the winners in their price range.

I’d like to know the average you spend on a bottle of wine - take my price poll.

Here are the results from the previous poll:

What percentage of the wine you consume is from B.C.?
* 13 per cent of respondents said they only drink B.C. wine
* 56 per cent indicated that B.C. wines make up more than half of their total wine consumption
* Only four per cent of respondents indicated they’re B.C. wines make up for less than 10 per of their consumption
* All respondents indicated they drink at least some B.C. wine

Wine Notes

These are my notes on three of the local Value Wine Award winners:

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.

Rigamarole 2007 White
Appearance: Clear straw colour
Aromas: Green apple, floral, peach skin, spice, lemon, touch of mineral
Flavours: Apple and peach skin, spice, grapefruit, mineral
Body and Finish: Clean entry with light crisp palate, sweet and sour finish
Overall Impression: Simple, drinkable, fresh style with just the right amount of residual sugar
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Would I Buy It?: Yes
Score: 86
Price: $16
Availability: VQA shops, BC LDB, private retailers

Inniskillin 2005 Merlot Reserve
Appearance: Dark, black cherry hue
Aromas: Black cherry, chocolate, vanilla, pepper, menthol, plum, dillweed
Flavours: Black fruits, vanilla, mocha, pepper, spice, herbaceous
Body and Finish: Rich fruit entry, nice mid-palate weight, slightly hot, extended finish.
Overall Impression: A quaffable red at a quaffable price, lots going for it.
Cellaring Potential: Drink now through 2010
Would I Buy It?: Yes
Score: 88
Price: $18
Availability: VQA shops, BC LDB, private retailers

Sumac Ridge 2005 Merlot
Appearance: Deep, dark berry tones
Aromas: Blackberry jam, black plum, toast, floral, dark vanilla, spice, cedar, touch of smoke
Flavours: Jammy dark fruit, baked pie crust, savoury hints, spice, smoke, chocolate, vanilla
Body and Finish: Super ripe and concentrated entry, soft mellow tannins, smooth easy finish.
Overall Impression: One of my favourite quaffers – what more can I say?
Cellaring Potential: Drink now and over the next few years
Would I Buy It?: I do
Score: 89
Price: $17
Availability: BC LDBs, VQA shops, private retailers

Monday, September 8, 2008

Wine By The Numbers

By Julianna Hayes

The proprietors of my favourite watering hole aren’t exactly wine connoisseurs. Indeed, their inventory of wine is limited to just four bottles – two that are drinkable, two which I can only describe as “challenged.” Obviously, I go there for the company.

Recently, I noticed they’d posted a tasting note on their chalkboard for one of the lesser wines in their repertoire:

“The ripe, plum-strawberry fruit is immediately inviting in this hulking whopper. Then it opens up unexpectedly like a linebacker with degrees in literature and art history, offering up stimulating layers of lavender, provençal herbs, licorice and an elegant, mineral-laced finish. Brawny but complex.”

The description was not of their own hand, but rather ripped from the pages of a national newspaper, which publishes a regular wine column. It was a lark, with the patrons and proprietors poking fun at the prose used by the author.

I laughed right along with them. But as a writer myself of such things, the ribbing struck a cord. While the linebacker-slash-scholar analogy was arguably clever, what purpose did it serve other than providing a source of amusement?

I confront this question a lot because I see this sort of thing creeping into tasting notes more and more. As writers, there’s an ongoing temptation to get fancy with our words whenever we put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard, as it were. But when it comes to wine critiquing, at what point does imaginative prose simply become superfluous?

Superfluous is precisely the word one reader used to describe my original tasting notes, which featured a five-star rating system:

“I look forward to your column each week, particularly your recommendations on wines as my wife and I are always looking for new and great wines to drink,” wrote Steve K. “I’m just not that impressed with the way you rate the wines. First of all, the definitions you provide for the one-to-five star levels are amusing, but they’re superfluous and don’t really tell me much.”

In fact, according to Steve my entire system of rating wines was fundamentally flawed: “If I were to take the five-star system literally it would mean that a four-star wine is 20 per cent better than a three-star wine. I know that is probably not what you intended. But the 20-point differential is pretty broad, wouldn’t you say?”


When I received that letter, I hadn't been happy with the way I critiqued wines for some time. But I struggled to come up with a superior format. After much research and plenty of soul-searching, I implemented a new system a few months ago.

Since I have an entire column in which I can flex my dubious creative writing skills, I decided that wine tasting notes should be utilitarian and provide the information I believe wine enthusiasts are looking for when they read them. And if the queries I get from readers are any indication, consumers want to know the following:

How does it taste?
What does it cost?
Where can they find it?
How does it rank?

In this no-frills format, I hoped to provide all this information along with a few notes on the appearance, body and finish, my overall impression of the wine and its cellar-ability.

The ranking system was a trickier issue. I agreed that the five-star system wasn’t working and that too many wines were falling into the 3½- to four-star range. But until now, I resisted switching to the more popular 20- and 100-point scales, as used by Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker respectively.

I have finally opted for the 100-point system, but with some personal tweaking. This is how it works:

Each wine will be awarded a certain number of points in six key categories:
Appearance – 5 points
Appropriate colour, clarity, brilliance vs. off colours, cloudiness or dullness
Aroma – 25 points
Intensity, complexity, many detectable and appropriate aromas vs. little or no aromas, off smells
Taste – 25 points
Several flavours detected, well-balanced sweetness, tannins, acidity, oak vs. few flavours, lack of balance (overly sweet, acidic, bitter, oaky, tannic)
Body – 15 points
Excellent texture and weight feel in the mouth vs. too little structure, too weighty.
Finish – 15 points
Flavours linger, smooth and rich or clean and crisp aftertaste (depending on the wine) vs. taste and flavours end abruptly, little or no aftertaste.
Overall Impression – 15 points
Is the wine multi-layered as opposed to one-dimensional? Is it pleasant to drink? Does it have that wow factor?

Appearance gets the least amount of points as it has lesser importance is there is very little room for error. Any form of cloudiness is undesirable and will likely indicate a wine with flaws in other areas. However, unfiltered wines should not be penalized for sediment or wine diamonds – but the should be otherwise clear. As for colour, reds tend to fade and lighten in hue as they age, while whites deepen and darken and should be assessed accordingly. A young red wine that has brown or brick tones has likely prematurely aged, for example. A wine may lose a point or two if they are exceedingly light in colour when they should be more concentrated, but otherwise unflawed. Appearance is perhaps most important when it comes to sparkling wines, where the mousse and bubble size is assessed.

Aroma and taste are the two most important considerations in wine assessment and thus are awarded the most points. Consideration in these categories is given to the variety and blend as well as production practices as certain characteristics can expected from certain grapes and winemaking styles. I.e. aromas reminiscent of “cat’s pee” is considered desirable in New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but would not be highly sought after in Pinot Noir. Wines that have more complexity in aromas and flavours tend to be superior. Balance is key in taste particularly where residual sugar, oak use and tannin structure are concerned. For example, Icewine may have pack a punch on the sweetness scale, but high levels of acidity temper the impact of the residual making these wines appear far less sweet than one would imagine. Meanwhile, oak-aged wines suffer if woody, smoky characteristics overpower the fruit flavours.

Body and finish each receive 15 points and again assessment will vary depending on the variety/varieties and styles. Certain Chardonnays can have a creamy, almost round texture not unlike milk. Some wines intended for aging may have a slightly drying finish from the tannins that should not be penalized unless overdone. A lingering finish is desirable in all wines, but more so with fuller bodied reds. Highly alcoholic wines can burn on the finish, which can be unpleasant if overdone.

Overall impression is the most subjective of the six categories but provides me the opportunity to award wines up to 15 points depending on whether they seem to have all the ingredients but are still lacking something or have bring the wow factor to the glass.

Now when the are all added up, what do the numbers mean?

95-100 Set the bar.
90-94 Outstanding, superior character and style.
80-89 Good to very good.
70-79 Average, may have minor flaws.
60-69 Drinkable, but not recommended.
50-59 Undrinkable, not recommended.

I would appreciate your feedback on whether this new critiquing system works for you as I am willing to tweak it further. Send me your comments and any suggestions.

Nk’Mp 2005 Merlot
Appearance: Brillant cherry red colour and good clarity
Aromas: Black currants, dried cherries, vanilla, chocolate, cloves, herbs.
Smells: Dark berries, cocoa, leather, roasted vegetables, herbs, spice.
Body and Finish: Good mid-palate weight, above average length, moderately tannic, slightly alcoholic and peppery
Overall Impression: An earthy rather than fruit-forward merlot with a bit of a bite. Good value.
Would I Buy It? Yes, to pair with a juicy, medium-rare steak. No, to drink on its own. Maybe, to cellar
Cellaring Potential: Age 2-5 years
Score: 88/100
Price: $20
Availability: BC LDB, VQA shops, private retailers

Quinta Ferreira 2005 Merlot
Appearance: Deep concentrated cherry/berry hues
Aromas: Cherries, violets, chocolate, vanilla, cloves, cinnamon
Flavours: Spiced cherries, chocolate, vanilla, pepper
Body and Finish: Luscious and velvety, weighty mouthfeel, fine tannins leave a lingering smooth finish.
Overall Impression: A real treat of a wine. Deliciously fruity and concentrated with a balanced use of oak that is easy to drink now.
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Age 2-5 years
Score: 89/100
Price: $25
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Van Westen 2006 Viognier
Appearance: Pale golden hues, bright clarity
Aromas: Peaches, melons, pineapple, honey, orange blossoms, lemon, allspice
Flavours: Pineapple, peaches, pears, citrus, honey, mineral
Body and Finish: Sweet tasting on the entry, but there’s a pleasing mineral and citrus tang that cleanses and lingers.
Overall Impression: A lovely, well-balanced, fruit-driven wine with loads of character.
Would I Buy It? Absolutely
Cellaring Potential: Drink it now
Score: 90/100
Price: $25
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Friday, September 5, 2008

Creature Comforts

By Julianna Hayes

What is it with the wine world and its obsession with the animal kingdom? It seems every time I turn around there’s another bottle with a critter on the label – kangaroos, emus, goats and hippopotamuses, just to name a few.

Virtually every region around the world has a raft of these wines and in B.C. we are equal opportunists. Here you’ll find labels decorated with baying coyotes; angelic canines; barrel-rolling rodents and endangered birds; and even, hooved herbivores native to Africa.

Browsing the wine aisle at your the liquor store isn’t just shopping, it’s a trip to the zoo.

Many of the wineries are named for a particular animal and thus their use on the label is obvious. That African herbivore depicts Antelope Ridge winery in Oliver, while that endangered bird belongs to Burrowing Owl.

Other name brands have a more subtle association with beasts on their bottles. For example, Australia’s phenomenally successful Yellow Tail line features a bounding golden-hued wallaby. The French Fat Bastard series is graced with a portly hippo. Locally, Howling Bluff in Naramata is depicted by that baying coyote I mentioned earlier. And those barrel-rolling mice belong to Church and State’s Church Mouse line.

Other brands don’t provide any obvious clues as to why a creature was trotted out for their label. No, for that you have to dig a little deeper. Take for example, the curious winged and haloed dog on the bottles of See Ya Later Ranch wines. It actually depicts the beloved canines of Maj. Hugh Fraser, the first inhabitant of the ranch-turned-vineyard where the dogs are now buried.

Why wineries choose to market their products with an animal sometimes has a great story behind it like See Ya Later Ranch or is perfectly random. It may be that the creatures are commonly found in the area such as in cases of Blue Heron Winery in Pitt Meadows, Black Widow Winery in Naramata or Quails’ Gate in Westbank.

It gets harder to figure out the story behind the brand when the beasts are not considered to be native such as with Antelope Ridge – although there is an indigenous plant called Antelope Brush – or Elephant Island Winery, which is located neither on an island nor in an area where elephants roam.

Actually, there is logic behind the madness of the latter’s name. When the Naramata property was acquired by the family’s matriarch, “Grandmother Catherine,” her husband “Grandfather Poppy” dubbed it a “white elephant.” Later, Grandfather Poppy began referring to the property as Grandmother Catherine’s “eye-land.”

Whatever the reasons for putting them there, having a pig, a penguin, a panda or any other beast on your bottle gives you a marketing edge.

That’s because sales of new wines with an animal theme outperform all other new table wines by more than two to one, according to the marketing information company ACNielsen.

"While placing a critter on a label doesn't guarantee success, it is important that winemakers realize that there is a segment of consumers who don't want to have to take wine too seriously," said Danny Brager, a vice president with ACNielsen.

"Not only are they (consumers) willing to have fun with wine, they may just feel 'good' about an animal label presentation."

Brager attributed this trend to Yellow Tail, which he said "was a spectacular success."

"And I think it taught the industry a lesson: You don't need to get bogged down into the details of wine pretension or snootiness to be a success, if you have the right product."

But with the stable of beastly beverages growing, it may not be enough to slap the image of a bird on a label and be done with it. Vintners are having to be a bit more creative with the theme to keep their edge.

For example, Les Grands Chais de France, a company responsible for a fifth of French wine exports, has a product range with each bottle containing cartoon images of a different farmyard animal; indicating to consumers what meat they should drink the wine with.

In a variation of the theme, a South African winery opened under the name Goats do Roam, which is a critter spin on the fabulously high-brow wine region, Côtes du Rhône.

Meanwhile, in B.C., Burrowing Owl does more than just feature the creature that dwells in the nearby desert landscape. It has taken a conservation stance by helping to raise awareness of the area’s fragile eco-system and by donating proceeds collected toward the preservation and reintroduction of this little bird.

And See Ya Later Ranch holds a dog-friendly, family-fun day at the winery each year during the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, raising funds for the SPCA – Maj. Fraser was actually the first president of the Penticton branch.

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.

Burrowing Owl 2005 Meritage
Appearance: Rich, black inky colour
Aromas: Cassis, coffee, dark vanilla, earth, chocolate, plum, pepper, clove and leather
Flavours: Smoky, cassis, pepper, olive, vanilla, mocha, cloves and coffee
Body and Finish: Warm, silky entry with good weight on the palate, dry, slightly hot but extended finish
Overall Impression: Well made, stylish and balanced wine that needs a couple years to soften up.
Would I Buy It? Yes, to cellar
Cellaring Potential: Age 2-8 years
Score: 90/100
Price: $45
Availability: Direct from winery, private retailers

Church and State 2005 Church Mouse Merlot
Appearance: Brilliant ruby red colour
Aromas: Black cherry, plums, vanilla, chocolate, herbal, leather, spice
Flavours: Sour cherry, mocha, herbal, pepper, vanilla and earth
Body and Finish: Medium weight and texture, fine tannins, slightly hot but long finish.
Overall Impression: Packs a wallop for this price point, good choice for a hearty spaghetti and meat sauce dinner
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drinkable now, age up to 4 years
Score: 88/100
Price: $20
Availability: BC LDB, VQA shops, private retailers

See Ya Later Ranch 2006 Jimmy My Pal
Appearance: Straw colour with golden hues
Aromas: Apple, honey, vanilla, citrus rind, touch of butter
Flavours: Baked apple, lemon, apple skin, vanilla, orange peel
Body and Finish: Slightly sweet entry with a bit of roundness on the mid-palate, clean finish, average length
Overall Impression: This blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris has some oak aging, but it is simple, clean and straightforward. Great value though
Would I Buy It? At this price point? Yes, to drink ice-cold on the patio
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: 86/100
Price: $15
Availability: BC LDB, VQA shops, private retailers

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Is Taste Trainable?

By Julianna Hayes

Five years ago, almost to the day, a familiar name from days long past popped up in my email inbox. It was from an old college buddy who “googled” me during a sudden quest to reconnect with some forgotten pals.

His web search uncovered my connection with all things wine and he gushed about his own recent, but enthusiastic foray into the vinous world. He asked me to recommend some wines, without revealing what styles he preferred.

“Hmmm, let me guess,” I replied, “You’re into big, full-bodied Australian Shirazes.”

“My god, that’s amazing,” he exclaimed. “How did you know?”

Lucky guess. Well, actually, not so lucky. I took a cue from the fact that the majority of new wine enthusiasts at that time were cutting their teeth on these bottles and were seduced by their affordability and bold, easy-drinking properties. I know my audience.

After revealing my powers of deduction, I explained that if he pursued his interest in wine, his tastes would become more sophisticated. I predicted that in five years time, he’d be asking me for recommendations on Pinot Noirs.

But now I’m not so sure.

As a fledgling wine enthusiast, I was always assured by the experts that my palate was trainable. They said that it was natural to start out liking certain wines and detesting others, but that over time – and after many, many bottles – I would very likely begin to revere what had turned me off up about some wines. Like oysters, scotch and Cuban cigars – the more challenging aspects of wine were believed to be “acquired taste.”

I’ve repeated this same theory in my classes and my columns, soothing harried beginners who are inclined to spit out their first sip of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. But new research is suggesting that taste isn’t necessarily as acquirable as we thought it to be.

Now I have always argued that taste is subjective – even at the risk of rendering myself and my wine recommendations redundant. But I have always believed that this subjectivity was rooted in personal preference.

Yet according to Tim Hanni, a California wine consultant and researcher, wine consumers will often have physiological differences in their tongues that will cause the same wines to taste different to each of them, regardless of their level of knowledge.

For example, at a tasting last month in Washington, DC, he presented 11 wines to two individuals with similar vinous experience. Tom Natan, a DC-based importer and retailer, identified a full-bodied, fruity Tuscan red as his favourite wine in the group. Adam Manson, a wine bar owner, hated it.

To Natan, the wine was big, juicy and luscious. Manson thought the same wine’s characteristics were overwhelming, even bitter.

After watching them taste and examining their tongues, Hanni determined that Natan was a “tolerant” taster – having fewer taste buds overall, which helped explain his preference for ripe, concentrated wines. Manso was dubbed a “sensitive” taster, with more taste buds and thus liked more balanced wines without strong tannins or high alcohol.

One might think that having more taste buds would be desirable in an enthusiast or a critic, the opposite is actually true, as they’ll intensive the bad components as well as the good, such as the bitterness in tannins.

Hanni can’t scrutinize everyone’s tongue to determine what kind of taster they are, so he developed a computerized palate assessment tool based on his research. It is called the Budometer and asks consumers a series of questions. Depending on the answers, they can be classified as a Tolerant, Sensitive, Hyper-Sensitive or Sweet taster. You can try the online version at http://www.budometer.com/.

I thought the name alone was absurd and questions simplistic – asking testers things like if they take cream in their coffee and prefer pale or dark beer. Turns out I’m a “tolerant” taster – meaning I like intense wines with plenty of oak and power. That doesn’t surprise me in the least, but the assessment isn’t terribly scientific, in my opinion.

Yet, Hanni’s work is being taken with real seriousness, warranting section front articles in the Washington Post and San Fransisco Chronicle, plus furious discussion in wine forums and chat rooms.

On Wine Spectator’s popular discussion forum – where posters routinely discuss things like Bordeaux futures and wines rated 90 or higher by Robert Parker – regular blogger “Indybob” was the first to weigh in on the subject. “In using this logic, it makes sense why I don't ‘get’ Pinot Noir at all.” A “sensitive” taster, he covets wines that are rich, smooth and well-balanced – attributes not often associated with Pinots, particularly youthful ones.

While “Ozarks21” shared my skepticism on the accuracy of the test, he concurred it had merit. “I think there may be something to this. I took the overly simplified budometer test and it aligned about where I am. It explains my love of ‘over-oaked’ wines, my difficulty in finding whites I am crazy about, and why I don't get rose. I would like to see this further refined and a large number of wines cataloged based on this criteria.”

“I tested out as hyper-sensitive,” replied Purple Teeth. “The test appears to have at least some validity, as it nailed my wine preferences.”

Those that would appeal to Purple Teeth are delicately balanced wines with finesse and reasonably lower alcohol, such a unoaked Chardonnay, dry or off-dry Rieslings, lighter Italian and Spanish reds.

For the most part, though, the people who remarked on the test were enthusiasts already comfortable and secure in their knowledge of wine and found the Budometer an “amusing novelty” at best. Where they thought it might be useful is for beginners who have difficulty trusting their own palates and tend to rely on the recommendations of others – particularly writers and critics.

Some thought it might also serve as a marketing tool aimed at wine drinkers who have a low tolerance for high intensity wines.

“I was thinking this could be to wine what hot, medium and mild is to salsa. Not really telling me what grapes I like, but a type of intensity gauge,” suggested Spo. “I moan and cry about bitter wines all the time. I would love to see bottles with a little sticker that says ‘sensitive taster approved.’

“No matter how much you know, there will always be a bottle out there you know nothing about,” he added.

Which is precisely why people like Hanni and writers like myself keep trying to make it easier on you.

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.

CedarCreek 2007 Dry Riesling
Appearance: Pale golden colour with crystal clarity
Aromas: Green apple, mineral, mango, peach, honey
Flavours: Orange, green apple, mineral, tropical fruits, peach
Body and Finish: Crisp but luscious fruit bomb of an entry, nice acidity on the mid-palate with an extended lemony finish.
Overall Impression: Delicious, racy Riesling for those who love all those aromatics but want a drier package
Would I Buy It? Definitely.
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: 90/100
Price: $18.10
Availability: BCLDB, VQA shops, private retailers

Joie 2007 Rose
Appearance: Brilliant salmon hue with twinkling light reflection
Aromas: Strawberry extract, cranberry, citrus peel, rhubarb, mineral
Flavours: Bright berries, sour cherry, pink grapefruit, mineral, citrus
Body and Finish: Slightly off-dry entry is at once crisp on the palate with lovely fruit extraction, racy, palate cleansing finish.
Overall Impression: This blend of Pinot Noir, Gamay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Gris is drier than roses of previous years, but there’s plenty of fruit and fresh acidity to be a patio pleaser all summer long
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: 89/100
Price: $18.90
Availability: Restaurants, private retailers

Van Westen 2005 Voluptuous
Appearance: Inky rich black cherry colour – no murkiness
Aromas: Blackberry, plum, blueberry, chocolate, black pepper, tobacco, herbaceous
Flavours: Ripe black fruits, mocha, pepper, herbaceous, spice
Body and Finish: Dark and luscious on the entry with some dustiness on the palate and grippy tannins. Extended, slightly hot finish.
Overall Impression: A blend of 67 per cent Merlot with the balance Cabernet Franc, it’s a big youthful wine with loads of potential.
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Keep your paws off it for at least two years
Score: 89/100
Price: $30
Availability: Restaurants, private retailers

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Wine On Demand

By Julianna Hayes

While shopping for new appliances for our kitchen renovation, I was seduced by the new built-in coffeemakers on the market. They are sleek and stylish, designed to blend into your cabinetry without taking up valuable real estate on your countertop. They can be plumbed in with water and hold a generous amount of beans or pods, promising a fresh, hot cup of coffee, espresso or cappuccino in seconds at the press of a button.

Coffee preparation has always been a bit of a bone of contention in our household, often culminating in a lively game of “paper, rocks, scissors” to determine who will be forced out of the warm bed to make the morning’s life-giving pot. Granted, the machine we currently have came equipped with a timer, so just 45 seconds of prep in the p.m., and we’d be blissfully roused by the delicious aroma of coffee percolating in the a.m. Whether we are shamefully lazy or simply forgetful, we rarely do it and thus the ritual morning stand-off.

The built-in coffee system seemed the perfect way to resolve the impasse, dispensing coffee on demand, without the fuss. But at $2,500-plus for even the most basic unit, we decided to stick to our current system and suck it up. At the time I thought a system that dispenses wine might be worth the investment.

Careful what you wish for. A couple months later, I stopped into The Rotten Grape wine bar in Kelowna and was immediately drawn to a new machine that does just that. It’s a sort of fancy wine-on-tap system called the Enomatic, from which servings of wine from eight bottles are available at the push of a button.

I have seen wine-dispensing systems in the past, but this one – the gadgety name aside – is ingenious. It prevents spoilage by oxidation of open bottles by automatically filling the airspace above the liquid with an inert gas, such as argon or nitrogen. The company claims wines can be kept as fresh as the day they were opened for up to three weeks. The volume amounts of each serving can be pre-set – The Rotten Grape offers them in one-, two- and five-ounce measures – and the spouts are automatically cleaned after each pour. There are also climate-control and serving temperature options.

What’s more, the system can run on a “smart card” which restaurant customers can pre-load with a certain dollar amount and then use at their leisure on a self-serve basis. For me, this is one of the Enomatic’s strongest selling features.

First of all, when we go out as a couple, or as a group, we typically order wine by the bottle because options are far superior. What this usually means is someone has to compromise. While by-the-glass selections are getting better in many higher-end restaurants, I don’t relish the idea of drinking a $10-$15 glass of wine from a bottle that was open a day or two before, sometimes earlier. Most wines have a very short shelf life and while the changes may be subtle, perhaps undetectable, in many instances, you can bet that wine will not be nearly as good on Thursday as it was when it was opened on Tuesday.

The Enomatic also gives restaurants the option of serving samples of wines that would be out of reach for most consumers price-wise if available only by the bottle. For example, The Rotten Grape charges $2 to $7 an ounce for its Enomatic selections, depending on the wine. While that might seem like a lot, its an affordable way to try wines like the St. Francis Winery 1998 Nun’s Canyon Merlot from Sonoma, which is a $100-plus per bottle,

The system also enables consumers to better select wine pairings for each dish, rather than having to drink the same wine throughout the meal, regardless of whether you have seafood as an appetizer and game meat as the main course.

I like the self-serve option of the Enomatic – it’s sleek and state-of-the-art and everyone gets a kick out of pushing buttons and observing cool devices spin and whir as they work. But what I think is best about the system is the kind of automated self-control it gives consumers. By pre-loading your smart card upon arrival, you can set your dollar limit to better suit your budget, eliminating that “sticker shock” when the tab arrives at the end of the night. And perhaps because it was such a unique experience, I observed those customers taking advantage of the system really savouring what was in their glass, rather than gulping it down like it was the first bit of liquid to cross their palates in months.

The Rotten Grape was the first B.C. establishment to install the system – there are about 100 in place across the country. But at $16,000 for the eight-bottle unit (there are models much larger than that), it may take a while for the concept to catch on. Partner Rita Myers admitted it was a substantial investment, but the way it has caught on with customers, she expects it to pay for itself within the year. The system is advantageous in many ways. Restaurateurs can rotate higher-end bottles much faster. There’s little risk of loss due to spoilage and waste due to spillage and pouring too much product, as the measurements are exact.

Enomatic is also trying to tap into the home market by enticing wine enthusiasts to consider a system for their private cellars. Collectors, in particular, wouldn’t need to struggle with opening up prized wines and having to drink them all in one sitting.

For me, it would solve the problem I face of having to open several bottles at once for the multiple tastings I do for my work.

Four-bottle “consumer-friendly” units, sans the smart card software, are available for about $4,000. And while that’s still a big chunk of change, it makes a lot more sense to me than the fancy, schmancy coffee system that was the apple of my eye a few months ago. For more information: http://www.enomatic.ca/

Wine Notes

Pentâge 2005 Merlot
Appearance: Black cherry, ruby hues with fat legsAromas: 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
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
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