Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Winning by a Nose: A Look at Wine Judging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine Notes

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

BC Wine Lists Wow Judges

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best First Time Entry

Cin Cin Restaurant (Vancouver)

The Pointe Restaurant at Wickaninnish Inn (Tofino)

Atrevida Restaurant (Galiano Island)

Best Small Restaurant Wine List

Atrevida Restaurant (Galiano Island)

Haus Uropa Restaurant (Gibsons)

The Mark at the Hotel Grand Pacific (Victoria)

Best BC Wines-by-the-Glass


Atrevida Restaurant (Galiano Island)

Aurora Bistro (Vancouver)

Hotel Eldorado (Kelowna)

Best Overall Wine List


La Bussola (Kelowna)

C Restaurant (Vancouver)

Front Street Bar & Bistro (Penticton)

Best All BC Wine List

Cobblestones Wine Bar (Naramata)

Aurora Bistro (Vancouver)

Front Street Bar & Bistro (Penticton)

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

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

For more information on the BC Wine Museum & VQA Wine Shop and its programs, please visit

Okanagan Fall Wine Fest: Shiny Happy Medals

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

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

Here's a list of the gold medal wines:

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

For a list of the silver and bronze recipients visit:

Friday, October 10, 2008

Gobble Gobble - Thanksgiving Wines

By Julianna Hayes

Let’s talk turkey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 3, 2008

Okanagan Fall Wine Festival: More Than Close Contact Wine Tasting

By Julianna Hayes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine on the cheap


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

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

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

Next best thing to free…

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

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

Not exactly free but great value…

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

Early Risers

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


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

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

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

Art and Music Buffs

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

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

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

For Flesh and Fur Families

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

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

Brain Candy

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

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

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

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

Foodies’ Choice

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

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

And now for something completely different….

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

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

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

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