Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer is Time to Do the Twist

By Julianna Hayes
July has all but come and gone and the weather remains smoking hot, which demands fresh and racy for me in the wine department.

A summer sipper, in my opinion, starts with a screw-cap, is affordable and is usually white or the palest shade of red.

Light, bright whites or rosés are a no brainer as they are cool and refreshing – ideal during the typical Okanagan summer. And you shouldn’t have to pay a lot for a late afternoon patio quaffer. But why screwcaps, you ask?

They’re convenient, for one – a simple twist and you’re off to the races. Summertime is all about living easy and who needs the extra fuss that goes along with a cork and the contraptions required to remove them?

Secondly, summer wines must be kept cool – not an easy task in 30-plus degree weather. Screwcaps make re-sealing a snap so they can be popped back into the fridge or cooler for continued chilling without worry. The seal is usually pretty tight, so there’s little risk of leakage or getting that nasty cooler water in your bottle. Take it from someone who has had a glass or two of watered-down wine – the cork, just doesn’t cut it.

But most of all, screwcaps are the best at preserving young, fresh wines, so they don’t lose their appealing zip like those under a cork can.

More and more wineries in British Columbia are making high-style wines under the closure that used to be associated with products the calibre of Lonesome Charlie. Still there are sceptics who argue they cheapen the look of wines and lack the romance of a cork and that is preventing a full-on conversion.

Wine Access Magazine recently scolded naysayers and reluctant wine producers in an issue in praise of twist-offs.

“If you are making an aromatic summer sipper or a rosé and it is not under screwcap, you can forget about selling it in any progressive Canadian markets. We don't want any white wine or rosé that is made to be drunk fresh and young to be cork-finished.”


So, get off your high horse, stash the corkscrew for a rainy day and source out some summer sippers under this simple seal. I’ve compiled a list of some of pocket-friendly, quaffable twist offs that will compliment any hot-weather table.

Wine Notes

Arrowleaf 2007 Pinot Gris
Green apple, orange rind, pear, some floral notes, mineral aromas with some fresh apple flavours with citrus, grapefruit and pear on the palate.
Body and Finish: Slightly sweet entry with plenty of zippy character and fresh finish
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: B *Cheeky and bright at a cheap and cheerful price
Price: $15
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, private retailers

Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery 2008 Pinot Grigio
Tropical fruit, peach, mineral, nectarine bouquet followed by a fresh palate full of citrus, peach, mineral.
Body and Finish: Good acidity on the palate and finish
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: B *Quaffable, bright patio pal
Price: $15
Availability: VQA shops, BC LDBs, private retailers

Tinhorn Creek 2008 Gewurztraminer
A new classy label greets you on a bottle that has been among the first under twist off in B.C. Aromas of sweet apples, ripe peach, lychee, ginger and rose water which come through on palate.
Body and Finish: A touch sweet but has nice acidity to balance it.
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now, well chilled
Score: B+ *A perennial favourite among B.C. Gewurzs and priced right
Price: $16.50
Availability: VQA shops, BC LDBs, private retailers

JoieFarm 2008 Rose
Bright ruby colour, very spicy nose and palate with rose petal, strawberry extract, cranberry, rhubarb and pink grapefruit. Lovely dry food style.
Body and Finish: Bright fruit entry with a zippy palate, and dry finish
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: A- *Made in the Old World style roses were meant to be
Price: $18.90
Availability: Private retailers, restaurants

Quails’ Gate 2008 Rose
Think pink with this wine full of strawberry, rhubarb, blood orange, mineral and slight hints of spice.
Body and Finish: Fresh fruit and bracing acidity.
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: A- *Dry, crisp and dirt cheap – all the things I like in a summer rose
Price: $13
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, BC LDBS, private retailers

Road 13 2008 Old Vines Chenin Blanc
Green apple, mineral, honey, peach aromas and flavours, this variety is overlooked by many but performs exceedingly well here. Loads of character from the older vines.
Body and Finish: A hint of sweetness that is well balanced by loads of fresh acidity.
Would I Buy It? Definitely
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: A *Seafood anyone?
Price: $19
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, BC LDBS, private retailers

St. Hubertus 2008 Pinot Blanc
Pear, peach, green apple with some lemon-lime character. Simple, quaffable patio style
Body and Finish: A touch of sweetness on entry, fresh lemon-lime palate and simple finish
Would I Buy It? Once in a while
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: B- *Priced right for summertime sipping
Price: $14
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, BC LDBS, private retailers

See Ya Later Ranch 2008 Nelly
Echoes of “whoa, Nelly!” are being sung – but aside from the cliché, this is a concentrated rose more reminiscent of a light bodied red. Aromas and flavours of sour cherries, raspberries, watermelon and even a hint of spice and smoke.
Body and Finish: Heavier than your average rose, there’s a hint of sweetness on entry, but finishes quite dry and slightly hot.
Would I Buy It? Once in a while
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: B *For red wine lovers looking for something a little brighter and chillable
Price: $17.50
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, BC LDBS, private retailers

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Of Fire and Wine

By Julianna Hayes
Some friends and I were sitting on my deck when we noticed the orange glow of the Rose Valley fire across the lake in West Kelowna.

Already wired after an afternoon of media drama over the Glenrosa blaze, which broke out earlier that day, this new and unrelated natural disaster developing before us was pretty much impossible to tear our eyes from.

We sat mesmerized by the spreading flames until the wee hours of the morning. Our collective weariness and mental turmoil, combined with the effects of an endless stream of wine, eventually compelled us to contemplate our own actions should we ever be faced by a fate similar to that of the West Kelowna evacuees.

One of my friends asked if my home was threatened by a forest fire and I was forced to flee what I would choose to save from the flames. The situation is unlikely considering I live a block from downtown - any fire would most probably originate in the house itself and there would be no time to consider rescuing any belongings other than live bodies.

Nonetheless, I humoured her and thought carefully about my answer. “My dogs, of course,” I said, “but the rest is just ‘stuff’ and can be replaced.” (Granted, I suspected even then that this was merely bravado bolstered by booze talking.

“What about all your wine?” she persisted. “Wouldn’t you want to take that?”

“Maybe some,” I replied, “but not to save it… to drink it.”

We all chortled over that, but the fact is I was deadly serious. After my recent move, I know I couldn’t face schlepping all those bottles again, even for a fire. But I reasoned that some liquid balm would be required to soothe tattered nerves amidst all hassle, haste and hysteria.

The next day found me in my little cellar turning over the wines, studying the labels and making a perfunctory note of what wines would be scoped up for medicinal purposes and which ones would be sacrificed to the fire gods. It occurred to me that not only would the remaining bottles not survive the embers, but would very likely feed the flames.

I decided that since there was a risk that I might return home to any empty shell following a hurried exit it made no sense to leave the best behind. So the bottles I chose to accompany me on my fantasy evacuation were treasured. They guaranteed that even if I ended up herded like cattle into some public school gymnasium, I’d be enjoying something pretty sweet out my paper cup.

Of course, my disaster plan also meant that should my house be unscathed, I’d have pillaged my collection for nothing, and have only uncelebrated dregs facing me in the aftermath.

I recall reading stories about wine collectors in areas at high-jeopardy of wildfires fitting their homes with flame-resistant storage systems - ideally rooms built out of concrete and ranging in price from $15,000 for a tiny closet to a cool quarter million for a the flood-proof, earthquake-proof, bomb-proof model. My own sad assembly hardly justifies such an expense.

Other at-risk homeowners with less disposable income have opted for the off-site secure storage route, where they stash their precious cargo in a climate-controlled warehouse - a sort of oversized safety deposit box. While this will keep your collection protected from harm, it also bars you from easy access to it. That’s a bonus for those not capable of keeping their mitts off their wine, for me the convenience of having bottles at the ready is half the pleasure of a cellar - kind of like having a wine shop in your home.

Still, practical matters are something local interface residents with a penchant for wine might start wanting to consider, given that we’re experiencing the second major fire season in six years. While many belongings can be packed into a storage van and left indefinitely, wines will perish in 30+ degree heat in rather short order.

And friends you’ve arranged to camp out with might not be enthused if you show up with your kids, dogs and 1,000 bottles at their door - or, at least, not without a corkscrew.

Wine Notes

Blue Mountain Brut (NV)
Talk about value in this crisp, dry bubble. Features delightful effervescence and a clean nose of green apple, lime, mineral and just a touch of yeast. Dances on your tongue deliver tree-free freshness, apple skin, lime zest, mineral and snappy finish. Pair with anything!
Would I Buy It? It’s already a household staple
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: A *Awesome value for bubbly fun
Price: $23.90
Availability: Winery, select private retailers

Stoneboat 2008 Pinot Blanc
Peach, pear, honey, spice, apple, mineral and grapefruit aromas. Bright entry of tree fruit and citrus and a bit of creaminess. Nice minerality on the finish. Perfect for a lovely white fish dish.
Would I Buy It? Definitely
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: A- *Underrated varietal that really delivers on quality and price
Price: $17
Availability: Winery, select private retailers

Mt. Boucherie 2006 Summit Reserve Syrah
Nice surprise from this under-the-radar West Kelowna winery. A Syrah that packs a punch with blackberry, black cherry, plum, savoury components of soya, pepper and some vanilla and sweet spice. Luscious fruit on the palate, spice and savoury flavours and a hint of black pepper. A finalist in the Lieutenant Governor of B.C. Awards of Excellence in British Columbia Wine.
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink over the next five years
Score: A- *Everything you seek in a scrumptious Syrah
Price: $25
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, select private retailers

Blasted Church 2007 Merlot
Black cherry, chocolate, pepper, resin, cedar, black olive, earthy and slight Madeira-like notes. The palate is full and round with intense dark fruit flavours, earthy, spicy and Porty. Shows some aged character. A finalist in the Lieutenant Governor of B.C. Awards of Excellence in British Columbia Wine.
Would I Buy It? Once in a while
Cellaring Potential: Drink over the next couple years
Score: B+ *No mediocre Merlot here
Price: $25.90
Availability: Check with winery

Thursday, July 23, 2009

BC Lieutenant Governor's Top 12 Wines

By Julianna Hayes
After eight years as a judge for the Lieutenant Governor of B.C. Awards of Excellence in British Columbia Wine, I now know one thing for certain - this province makes some awfully good wine.

When it comes to finding ones that have that ‘wow factor,’ each year there are only a select number worthy of one of the LG’s elusive medals. But the bar keeps getting set higher and it becomes tougher to narrow down the lot.

This competition is unique in a number of ways. It celebrates the province’s industry exclusively and is open to every winery in British Columbia, as long as the wines submitted are made with 100 per cent B.C. fruit. No more than 12 medals are awarded each year, which means the winners have to be la crème de la crème among the hundreds of entries. And virtually the same judges are at the table year after year - establishing a consistency in evaluation not often found in competitions.

After eight years, I can say we have gelled as a group and are pretty clear on what we’re looking for. That’s not to say we always agree - not by a long shot. In fact, each of us brings a certain level of expertise, has a certain criteria we adhere to, as well as our own personal preference. In the end, I think the results are well balanced.

When our picks are finally unveiled after a gruelling marathon of tasting, there are always a number of winners that are repeats, which speaks the consistency in the quality and excellence of their products. But there are also usually a few first-timers - some of them surprises and always in a good way, particularly when small, lesser known wineries receive this impressive accolade.

This year’s new winners includes: Howling Bluff of Naramata; Bounty Cellars of Kelowna; Peller Estates of Kelowna and Church and State of Victoria.

Here are some of the highlights from this year’s competition:

* JoieFarm of Naramata was a double winner with the 2007 Reserve Chardonnay and 2008 Riesling.
* Seven of the 12 medals went to red wines, including two Pinot Noirs and two Syrahs.
* No sparkling or dessert wines won this year.
* A medal was awarded to a Vancouver Island-based winery for the first time ever - Church & State. However, the wine in question is made from Okanagan-grown grapes.
* Jackson-Triggs and Sumac Ridge - consistent winners over the years - were both shutout this year.
* The winning wines range in price from $16.90 to $40.10.

Here’s the winning list:

Bounty Cellars 2007 Pinot Blanc $16.90
Fabulous value presents itself in this charming PB with peach, pear, pineapple, honey, almond oil and citrus character. Lovely fresh style and zippy finish.

CedarCreek 2006 Platinum Reserve Merlot $40.10
Intense black fruit aromas with coffee bean, vanilla, chocolate and menthol plus some spicy and smoky notes. Quite luscious and round with a weighty mid-palate. Black cherry, blackberry, coffee and cocoa flavours.

Church & State Wines 2006 Syrah $26
Intense magenta colour with spicy, peppery, gamey aromas with brambleberry and very savoury notes. Luscious on the palate with intensity of black fruit flavours, some menthol and savouryness.

Howling Bluff 2006 Pinot Noir $29.60
A wine with wow factor, it features cherry, chocolate, dark vanilla, raspberry and baking spice. Lovely aromas of sweet red fruits, dark petaled florals, cocoa and vanilla. The palate is super silky with moderately soft tannins at the end.

JoieFarm 2007 Reserve Chardonnay $34.90
Buttered toast, pineapple, honey, melon, peach and spice in the bouquet. Soft, round, butter palate with bright golden tropical fruit flavours. Some toastyness on the mid-palate and just enough clean acidity on the finish.

JoieFarm 2008 Riesling $27
Green apple, pink grapefruit, peach, blossoms and honey aromas. Flavours of peaches, apple skin and lime. Bright and fresh with snappy acidity on the finish. Very drinkable style.

Pellar Estates 2007 Private Reserve Pinot Noir $18
Another solid effort from Peller. This is soft round accessible pinot with a strawberry floral undertone flecked with cedar and earth. The flavours mix a hint of cocoa with cedar, strawberry and vanilla all in a warm soft finish. Simple well made pinot.

Road 13 2006 Fifth Element $35.99
Leather, cocoa, smoke, earth aromas with luscious black cherry, plum character. This is a complex, yet elegant Bordeaux-style blend. Features lots of jammy black fruits on the palate with some smoke, dark vanilla and pepper.

Sandhill 2007 Small Lots Syrah $35
A big, bold effort with concentrated black cherry, brambleberry and savoury soya, coffee bean, dillweed accents. A jammy black fruits palate with savoury spice and lifted freshness. Deep, dark and intense.

See Ya Later Ranch 2008 Gewurztraminer $18
Pale rose petal aromas with lychee fruit, pink grapefruit, citrus peel. Bright fruit entry with loads of racy acidity on the finish.Stoneboat Vineyards 2007 Pinotage $24.90Intense magenta colour with plum, black cherry, dark vanilla, chocolate, spice, pepper and cedar. Has plenty of ripe luscious fruit on the palate with loads of spice, pepper, chocolate, menthol and earthy character. Firm tannins for structure and longevity.

Wild Goose 2008 Pinot Gris $19
Honey, pear, citrus peel, lemon oil, peach with some floral and mineral notes. Dry but fresh palate. One of the most consistently good PGs in the valley from a producer that knows how to bring the best out of this grape.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Of Wine and Dirt

By Julianna Hayes
The next time someone yaps on about how glamorous my job is, I'm going to tell him about the day I spent staring at dirt.

I was on a media tour focusing on the geology of the Oliver/Osoyoos region, where we studied the soil and the lay of the land. Thanks to a rather brisk April wind, I think I tasted about as much dirt as I did wine that day. So if I describe a wine as being “earthy” you can bet I know what I’m talking about.

Truthfully, this is the part of my gig I like best - digging deep, literally, into what makes B.C. wines unique. The varied landscape of the Okanagan, in particular, often means no two wines will be alike, even when made with identical varieties planted on the same plot.

At Oliver’s Covert Farm, for example, we stood on a breathtaking bench where 30 acres of organic grapes are grown for Dunham & Froese Winery. If you were to scratch beneath the surface, you’d find sections of gravel, sand and dense loam, all which lend different characteristics to the fruit that will ultimately end up in the glass.

Across the highway at Quinta Ferreira Winery, the terrain there can only be described as beach-like. Excavation work being done on a building project the day we visited revealed metres deep of soft, astonishingly white sand. And to add to the mix was the discovery of an ancient fossilized tree and a second believed to be still living, according to an archeologist consulted by owner John Ferreira.

Just a stone’s throw away, metaphorically, we scoped out the rocky vineyards of Gehringer Brothers. Proprietor Walter Gehringer described clearing operations that took the better part of a year to complete in order to simply prep his land for planting.

“Some places are like the Great Wall of China,” he quipped.

Some people might file all this dirt in the “who cares?” category. But in my humble opinion anyway, great wines are grown, not made. Understanding the land – the “terroir” – enables me to relate better to what is in my glass. And it also seems to improve the taste of the wines I drink.

Not everyone is as inclined as I am to traipsing through the vineyards, turning over rocks and sifting through the dirt. In fact, most would probably argue that every appellation boasts a unique mix of soil types that sets them apart. And they wouldn’t be wrong.

But aside from what’s underfoot, the Okanagan Valley’s varied elevations and exposures as winds its way around lakes and mountains has also created individual micro-climates. Thus, the same site not only can feature mixed pockets of stones, clay and sand, but could also be several degrees hotter or cooler from one end to the other.

How the plots are managed is another factor. Gehringer prefers a manicured operation. His rows are straight and neatly planted with no weeds between the vineyards. That’s fairly old-school, but Gehringer argued that vegetative growth encourages insect activity and raises humidity levels which can lead to mildew and other diseases.

“We tried using straw but had a problem with mice which ate chewed the vines underneath,” he said. So he sticks to the tried and true formula of weed killer.

Meanwhile, vineyards for Dunham & Froese are less pretty to look at, but the latter system is tantamount to blasphemy at Covert Farms, where organic growing practices forbid the use of weed sprays.

Gene Covert said the family relies on mechanical weeding and some bio-dynamic practices and have no problem with humidity.

“It’s about developing an eco-system that works for you, such as planting wild roses or using ladybugs which do most of our pest control.”

Some growers choose to keep vegetation between vines on the long side, saying that pests, like the dreaded leafhopper, will take the “path of least resistance” and won’t climb or hop on the vines, if they can feed on the weeds below.

Even if you don’t care about any of this – the terroir, vineyard maintenance or blight and disease control - the vineyards in the Okanagan are worth exploring if only for the scenery.

They are easily amongst the most stunning of spaces as they are often set on plateaus, with unparalleled views of lakes and mountains, the grids of green vineyards magnifying every dip and roll. I’ve stood in many vineyards over the years and felt almost dizzy by their topsy-turvy sightlines.

I have yet to snap a photograph that does winery lands justice. It’s one of those “you-just-have-to-be-there” situations.

Poplar Grove 2007 Chardonnay
The price tag belies the elegance and quality of this yummy Chardonnay. French oak lends itself to a toasty nose full of baked apple, butterscotch, white blossoms and orange peel. Tree fruit flavours and citrus with butterscotch
Body and Finish: Lovely butter on the palate without being overdone and a good balance of acidity on the finish.
Would I Buy It? Definitely
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: A – Like finding a designer outfit at a knock-off price
Price: $22
Availability: Winery, private retailers

Dunham & Froese 2007 Merlot
Aromas of blueberry, mocha, plum, licorice, some meaty notes and a touch of pepper. On the palate there are ripe blue fruits, dusty chocolate, white pepper and some smoky flavours
Body and Finish: Ripe entry with some chewy tannins and a bit of a drying finish but no bitterness.
Would I Buy It? Yes, to cellar
Cellaring Potential: Let it age a year or so to soften the tannins
Score: B – Nice solid effort with good varietal character
Price: $22.90
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, private retailers

B.C. Buy of the Week

Thornhaven 2008 Rose
Sippable style full of fresh wild strawberries, herbaceous and floral notes, sweet cherries and hint of spice. Some citrus on the palate with some residual sugar for easy drinking, but I would like it drier. Add a splash of sparkling soda for patio parties.
Body and Finish: Light- body, crisp palate and clean finish.
Would I Buy It? Once in a while
Cellaring Potential: Drink up
Score: B- - Would be a much better buy at $14.90
Price: $16.90
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, private retailers

Import of the Week

Domaine Roc des Anges Segna de Cor 2006 (France)

This blend of Syrah, Mouvedre and Grenache features all those earthy barnyard and savoury aromas that many consumers seek in an Old-World red. Pepper, some dark red fruits and acid on the palate with a touch of smoke.
Body and Finish: Mouthfilling but not overly weighty and some freshness on the finish.
Would I Buy It? For a special occasion
Cellaring Potential: Drink over the next several years
Score: A- - If you like savoury over juicy fruit, this will fit the bill.
Price: $35
Availability: Private retailers

Friday, March 13, 2009

By Julianna Hayes
What do you get when you throw two acclaimed chefs into a kitchen and challenge them to create a meal around a selection of wines? You get a cook-off, a heck of a meal and a fair amount of chest pounding.

That scenario played itself out recently at Cabana Grille Restaurant when co-owner/head chef Ned Bell faced off against Mission Hill Family Estate Winery executive chef Michael Allemeier in what could easy be construed as Kelowna’s version of Iron Chef.

The two men are long-time friends and even co-hosted the show Cook Like a Chef on the Food Network. Their kitchen reunion was nothing short of a culinary showdown in front of a formidable crowd of 110 hungry patrons.

The inspiration for the evening was a selection of Mission Hill wines and each chef was challenged to make a dish to pair with each using a specified ingredient. For example, the ingredient in question for the 2007 Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio was shellfish, but beyond that the menu was script free.

Allemeier explained that each chef would give his “interpretation of the wines” in his choice of the final ingredients and their preparation and presentation.

For the shellfish course, Allemeier opted to use B.C. spot prawns and scallops from which he made a ceviche. The cold dish featured basil, yogurt, parsnip, micro greens and tiny “verjus” pearls made from the wine itself.

Bell, meanwhile, served up a roasted Ocean Wise – meaning it comes from sustainable seafood sources – jumbo scallop with organic walnuts, golden raisins soaked in the Pinot Grigio, curried lobster emulsion and eggplant puree.

Both dishes delivered big in the flavour department, but Allemeier was the clear winner when it came to the wine pairing component. The lemony bright citrus and mineral character of the wine mirrored the freshness of the ceviche, which tasted like it was plucked fresh from the sea. Bell’s version, while scrumptious, overpowered the lightness of the wine, which, despite its abundant acidity, failed at cutting through the richness of the colossal scallop and its robust accents. A better match would have been a crisp and aromatic Riesling.

Wine number two was the 2006 Perpetua, a Chardonnay from the winery’s new luxury line of products know as the Legacy Series. The secret ingredient was rabbit and this time it was Bell who served up a cold dish featuring a “finger sandwich” of rabbit brioche, brassica mustard crème fraiche and a galantine of rabbit with hazelnuts. Allemeier opted to make a rabbit Sheppard’s Pie.

In my view, both chefs executed their dishes beautifully, but came up a tad short in the pairing. I thought the elegance and refinement of the Perpetua – a wine to be treasured for its full palate yet delicate balance between fruit and oak – was somehow lost next to these culinary offerings.

The third course featured the another Legacy wine, the 2005 Quatrain – a blend featuring Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon – matched with venison. Allemeier elected to run with venison loin served with mushrooms and mint bread pudding. Bell produced braised venison shank on stoneground polenta with roasted carrots and plum.

Both dishes were incredible and picking a winner was a challenge as each had merits. Bell’s option was rich, flavourful and the meat melted in your mouth, mirroring the wine’s velvety texture. But Allemeier triumphed slightly with his rare loin cut and wild mushrooms, which picked up on the wine’s underlying earthiness.

Not to be outdone, Bell conquered in the next round when the men squared off with aged cheese for the 2005 Oculus, a Bordeaux-style blend also from the Legacy series. His dish of blue cheese shortbread and Camembert was simply yummy. Blue and hard cheeses have an underlying saltiness and their proteins cut through young, bold, tannic wines like the Oculus and soften all their hard edges. Bell accomplished this masterfully. Allemeier tackled a soufflé made from Salt Spring Island’s Moonstruck White Grace cheese and hazelnuts on beetroot with a side of cherries soaked in Oculus. In theory, it should have worked, but the dish was a little fussy and was easily manhandled by the big wine.

The last course was dessert featuring some kind of citrus to be paired with the 2007 Reserve Riesling Icewine. Dessert and the sweetest of dessert wines are always uneasy co-pilots. Both chefs got the pairing bang on though by balancing the sugary component of their dishes with healthy hits of citrus that picked up on similar characteristics in the wine without giving diners too much of a good thing.

If I had to pick a winner though, it would be Bell, and this is purely a case of personal preference. I’m not a fan of chai thus Allemeier’s orange and cardamon-scented chocolate chai didn’t appeal to me. I also struggle with foods that have semi-firm textures like tofu and Allemeier had two of those components in his dish – a cold lemon madeleine “cake” that sat in the chai and a lime gelatin “marshmallow.” But others loved the dessert and got a kick out of the presentation.

Bell’s dessert was a simple lemon and white chocolate cream with a honey pistachio baklava that was refreshing, light with a lovely sweet-sour component.

In the end, most people – including myself – thought the battle came to a draw, certainly if you tallied the votes in this could. But I thought people reading this might think that was a cop-out, so I came up with two tie breakers – best overall wine pairing and best overall dish. Here’s how that played out:

Best Wine Pairing Overall - Ned Bell for the aged cheese and Oculus course
He nailed the 2005 Oculus, an earthy, robust, Old-World style blend with his blue cheese shortbreads. The savoury, salty flavours were simply ideal with the wine. If this were a round of golf, this pairing would have represented that pleasing “ping” you hear when you connect with the ball in just the right way.

Best Dish Overall – Michael Allemeier for his rabbit Sheppard’s Pie
I don’t even care for rabbit, but I could not stop eating this dish and that was something I heard from many other diners that evening. While it may not have gone perfectly with the wine for which it was intended, Allemeier rocked the ultimate in comfort foods and brought it up to a whole new level.

So after the bonus round, we still have a draw. Hey, it even happens on Iron Chef from time to time.

Wine Notes

Pentâge 2005 Pentage
Aromas: Leafy tobacco, meaty, compost, mushroom, herbaceous, cherry, coffee bean, pepper
Flavours: Coffee, cedar, pepper, cherry, dusty cocoa, cranberry, tea, mentho
Body and Finish: Dry, earthy palate with moderate tannin and a slightly hot finish
Overall Impression: More Old-World and earthy in style than the fruit bombs we typically see in the Okanagan – not to everyone’s taste
Would I Buy It? For something different.
Cellaring Potential: Hang onto it for a couple years
Score: 89/100
Price: $29
Availability: Winery directly, private retailers

Mission Hill 2007 Five Vineyards Rose
Aromas: Orange blossoms, cranberry, strawberry extract, pomegranite, citrus
Flavours: Pomegranite, strawberry, orange zest, vanilla
Body and Finish: Bright fresh entry, nice acidity at the mid-plate, lots of zip on the finish
Overall Impression: A tasty little rose blend of Merlot, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Cab Sauv made in a lively, quaffable style.
Would I Buy It? Sure
Cellaring Potential: Drink Now
Score: 89/100
Price: $14.99
Availability: Winery Only

BC Buy of the Week

St Hubertus Estate Chasselas 2007 $15.99
Light bright wine of fresh green apple, a hint of peach, citrus and lemon. Easy sipping wine. Think cheese fondue.

Import of the Week

Sileni Cellar Selection 2007 Pinot Noir (New Zealand) $20.99
Forward bright fruit expression with aromas of fresh ripe Bing cherries, strawberries, and a touch dillweed. A graceful wine with juicy red berry flavours, menthol and mouthwatering acidity. Easy to drink.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wine Q&A: Which Wines Are Best for the Cellar?

Q: Recently I’ve been inspired to start collecting wines and have accumulated a couple of cases. That may not seem like much, but it has been tough to resist drinking those wines. I’d like to get more serious about collecting, but am curious about a few things. What criteria do you use when selecting wines you think are suitable for cellaring? And how do you know when a wine is ready to drink?
- Roger

A. Tucking wines away for future drinking can be a rewarding experience. To wine geeks like me, there is nothing quite like sipping a fine wine that has been aged to perfection. All the bite is gone and what greets you in the glass is luscious and smooth liquid gold – at least that’s what you envision.

But there’s a risk. You can make reasonable guesstimates as to the future prospects of a wine, but such as it is with an item often referred to as a “living thing,” many factors come into play that can spoil your fun.

There is a lot of bottle variation with wines kept over time. Even the same wines stored under identical conditions will sometimes not age and taste the same when opened side by side and these differences cannot easily be explained. A bum cork often assumes the blame, but it is sometimes not as simple as that.

There is also no exact science when it comes to assessing when the wine is ready for consumption. It is disappointing to open a wine you’ve invested some time in and discover you’ve jumped the gun. But it’s even more distasteful to wait too long and end up with a wine that has gone off and is virtually undrinkable.

That being said, I recently attended a tasting of 12 Okanagan wines that had been stored at least a decade and most of them were still quite lovely, which was a delightful and encouraging discovery.

When deciding how much time to put into a bottle, consider that as wines age, they lose their freshness. Dominant fruit flavours begin to melt away and are replaced by secondary flavours – more earthy, mineral or flinty, spicy and nutty characteristics. Sweetness also fades, while acid and alcohol become more noticeable. So if you like your wines zippy and bright with fruit-forward character, drink them sooner rather than later. I recommend buying a bottle to taste immediately before investing in more to put away. A wine that ages well should taste good on release, meaning you should also be able to drink it young. Unsavoury characteristics will not improve over time.

Wines shouldn’t taste better or worse with aging, just different.I personally seek out wines that exhibit good fruit character and complexity both in the nose and on the palate. I prefer those without a great deal of alcohol and aren’t excessively oaked. In reds, some tannin is desirable but the wine should not be bitter, which suggests unripe fruit.

Experts suggest that you can evaluate the wine’s age-ability by opening and decanting and tasting it at different intervals over several hours. While this method won’t mimic true aging, it will give you some idea how a wine may develop over time. Aerating the wine will open it up some and reveal some of the various layers that may be hidden in a tightly wound young wine.

Keep in mind that your cellaring conditions will affect the wines you store. Ideally, you want a climate-controlled environment if you’re putting serious money and time into your collection. Apart from that, chose a cool, dark, quiet, dust- and odour-free location in your home and store the bottles which have corks on their sides (this is not necessary for wines sealed with screwcaps). It is preferable that you take them out of the box.

Examine bottles before purchase for signs of any leakage. Bottles that appear to be seeping should be avoided, but if you notice this in ones you’ve already acquired, drink them immediately – hopefully they’ll still be good.

Wines kept for extended periods may have to be professionally re-sealed as corks can shrink and disintegrate over time.

Look for literature on the wines you invest in for clues on recommended aging periods and make note of when you think they should be opened. Have some fun by setting dates for the “big reveal” and invite your friends over if you’re willing to share.

In Focus: Disgorgement and Dosage
These two elements are involved in making of traditional sparkling wine. At the end of the process, a plug of yeast has to be removed from the bottle and this is called disgorgement. The neck of the bottle is isolated and frozen allowing the plug to be easily kicked out. Following that a "dosage" of sparkling wine is used to top up the bottle, and it is corked. The dosage is often blended with sucrose which will determine the sparkling wine’s overall sweetness.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

BC Wines at Yellow Tail Prices

By Julianna Hayes
I recently wrote about a study, which showed overall Canadian consumption of wine was escalating dramatically but complained that the report failed to provide specific details explaining why. I wanted to know why foreign wine sales were far surpassing local ones and what people were spending on average were per bottle. Well, several readers were more than pleased to provide me with the answers.

"B.C. wines are substantially pricier than imports,” wrote John. “If I’m looking for good value I head to the Chilean and Australian shelves.”

"I'm not ashamed to admit I buy a lot of Yellow Tail," wrote Hugh, referencing my cheeky suggestion that Canadians are now merely blowing their beer budget on this wildly popular Australian wine brand that has saturated the market. "It's reliable and affordable."

"I may be drinking a bit more wine than I was five years ago, but I'm trying to cut back on what I pay per bottle, especially now," said Karen. "Consequently, I don't buy a lot of local wine."

Ironically, nobody saw fit to provide me with an exact dollar figure, range or ceiling on which they base their spending.

But using Yellow Tail products as the benchmark, it appears the magic number lies between $13 and $18. Which makes me wonder where people do their shopping.

I did a little simple sleuthing and discovered that B.C. VQA stores list some 180 wines under $18. Let me repeat that – 180. Meanwhile, government stores list 120 local wines under that price point. And they don’t include all the bulk plonk from fruit of questionable origin that is made by the truckload in this province. Now if you can’t find something local you like and can afford in this lot, I’m at a loss.

I’m not going to get all preachy about how you should drink only local wine. I’m every bit in favour of people doing a little global trotting when it comes to their wine purchases.
But when people make blanket statements about the lack of value in B.C. product, it drives me to distraction.

Granted, there are indeed $25-plus wines aplenty in the marketplace. But the same holds true for products from Australia, Chile, Argentina and the like. Isn’t it time you give homegrown wines a fair shake?

O.K., I’m stepping off my soapbox now. I think the numbers speak for themselves. But since price is such an issue to consumers, I’m introducing a new feature – a tasting note called “B.C. Value Wine of the Week,” which will focus on products in the under $18 category.

And I’m kicking it off with a bang with an introductory list of value wines to get the party started.

18 Under $18

* Please note – availability of these wines at these price points are either through VQA stores or BC LDBS. Some may be available through private retailers, but expect a price mark-up.

Arrowleaf Red Feather 2007 $11.99
A blush that is earthy and full of red berries, fruit leather, mineral, spice. A touch of residual sugar but finish with a fresh, clean snap. Think hot tub for now and patio in the summer. Great deal.

Blasted Church Hatfield's Fuse 2007 $16.99
Fresh approachable white blend featuring green apple, citrus rind and flinty aromas. Has a fresh bright fruit entry with sweet-sour character and clean finish. Value and great packaging too, plus a twist off.

Cedar Creek Estate Pinot Gris Classic 2007 $16.99
If you like bone-dry, food friendly gris, this represents great value in a stylish version that features green apple, orange peel, mineral, and lime. Bright fruit on the palate with a lemon-lime slightly sour finish.

Gehringer Brothers Cuvee Noire 2007 $12.99
Surprisingly complex nose and palate of smoked meat, pepper, dark berries, mocha, earth and tobacco. Supple, silky and easy to quaff and at this price point, there should be no complaint.

Granite Cellars Ehrenfelser 2006 $17.90
Great value in a intensely aromatic wine featuring a bouquet of peach, orange peel, floral notes, spice and mineral. Sweet entry on the palate balanced by intense citrus fruit, peach flavours.

Inniskillin Merlot Reserve 2005 $17.99
This is not the fruit bomb you’d expect from Merlot, but if you like savoury reds, this peppery, earthy, leafy, black olive, resiny, smoky cedarbox is your kind. Think big, fat juicy steak.

Jackson Triggs Merlot Proprietor's Reserve 2006 $15
Yearly consistency with this wine, it features ripe, round black fruit aromas, licorice, spice and a touch of smoke. Juicy intensity in the mouth. Killer value.

Little Straw Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2007 $16.90
Classic SB aromas of gooseberry, fresh cut grass, green apple and grapefruit. Bright, lean, crisp palate with a pleasant saltiness – for those who like a fresh personality. Pair up with oysters or other shellfish.

Mission Hill Five Vineyards Cabernet Merlot 2006 $15.99
Nice, fruity, easy drinking style with supple texture and great freshness on the finish. Loads of cherry, cassis, cranberry, herbal notes in its blended character.

Peller Estates Family Series Merlot 2007 $14.49
Another savoury merlot featuring aromas of cedar, smoke, black cherry, plum and pepper spice. Nice weight on the palate, a bit of a dry finish, but tannins are moderate.

Prospect Winery Riesling 2007 $12.99
Apple, apricot, candied citrus peel, lemon-lime and a hint of floral in the nose. Fresh on the palate with a lingering acidity on the finish. A great buy.

Quails’ Gate Dry Riesling 2007 $16.99
This winery has done up dry riesling right with loads of green apple, floral, grapefruit and a touch of lemon character. Lemon oil, mineral, apple skin and grapefruit on the palate. Very stylish.

Road 13 Honest John’s White 2007 $17
Green jujubes, apple skin, orange peel, floral, pear, spice, grass and pink grapefruit with hints of honey. This is a complex blend made for foodies. Delicious.

Sandhill King Family Vineyard Pinot Gris 2007 $17.99
A perennial favourite among critics and consumers alike, this is always full of green apple, orange peel, mineral, yellow grapefruit, floral notes with a nutty hint. Bright acidity with mineral, lemon lime, apple skin and a clean finish. Could double the price.

St Hubertus Estate Chasselas 2007 $15.99
Light bright wine of fresh green apple, a hint of peach, citrus and lemon. Easy sipping wine. Think cheese fondue.

Sumac Ridge Estate Merlot Private Reserve 2005 $16
Deep.dark, aromas of black cherry, pepper, chocolate, coffee beantobacco leaf, spice, vanilla. Has all the lusciousness you’d expect in a ripe merlot. Long, slightly hot finish.

Tinhorn Creek Estate Cabernet Franc 2005 $17.99
Herbaceous, tobacco, pepper, black cherry, meaty, smoky, leather and vanilla notes. Features black berry, tobacco, bell pepper, herbs and a hint of orange peel on the palate. Terrific cab franc.

Township 7 Chardonnay Unoaked 2007 $17.99
Orange blossom, tropical fruit, marmalade, spice in the nose and on the palate. It features crisp acidity along with its lusciousness. A delight to drink.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Study Suggests Canadians Becoming Major Winos

By Julianna Hayes
Canadians may consume beer and maple syrup by the gallon, but it appears we’ve also got a hearty appetite for wine.

According to research conducted on behalf of VinExpo, France’s huge international wine fair, Canadian consumption of wine increased by almost 27 percent between 2003 and 2007. During that time, we polished off more than 454 million bottles. And we’re apparently unstoppable. The report predicts we’ll have guzzled another 595 million bottles by 2012.

In fact, the Canadian wine market is growing at a rate three times the world-wide average.

Perhaps we’ve been draining the barrels and tanks to see us through the harsh winters. Or maybe it’s an indication of a looming social problem. Whatever it is, our humble native land is now to be reckoned with when it comes to global wine buying power.

It’s the one bright spot in an otherwise bleak economy – at least for the world’s wine producers, including those at home. They’ve no doubt been sweating the consumer-wide belt-tightening, particularly given that wine – while it might help get you through a tough day – isn’t exactly a necessity.

The study, titled Current Trends in the International Wine and Spirits Market and Outlook to 2012, contained some interesting observations. For example, importers were the big winners when it came to our insatiable thirst. Foreign wine sales soared by almost 30 per percent with consumers soaking up 32 million cases in 2007.

That makes little old Canada the sixth largest importer of wine in the world – and that’s nothing to sniff at. Plus we’re expected to knock have knocked back another 37 million cases by 2012.

France remains the number one supplier Canada-wide, but just narrowly edges out Italy. This isn’t the trend, however, in B.C., where Australian imports lead the sales, but its hold is slipping slightly. Next in line on our soil are U.S. wines, mostly from California, then Italy and Chile. French wines are in a distant fourth place.

While these figures might be discouraging to local enthusiasts, domestic wines are no slouches either. Sales of home-grown products shot up almost 17 per cent and in B.C., our locally made wines have a pretty strong hold on buyers. That’s excellent news for regional producers. And though an official from VinExpo admits the organization doesn’t have a crystal ball given the volatility of the current economy, the forecast is bright.

The condensed version of the study supplied to us media types raises more questions than provides answers, at least for me. It doesn’t say why Canadians are thirsting more for wine and what exactly it is that they crave. It doesn’t provide average price points or outline emerging consumption trends based on wine styles or varietals.

For example, it would be of interest to me to know if a good chunk of those 454 million bottles we recycled were simply [yellow tail] or if consumers were showing more imagination with their buying habits. I’d be curious to see which varietals wine enthusiasts are beginning to embrace and if they are willing to spend more to try them.

I’m also wondering if the slower growth in terms of domestic wine sales is due to lack of availability or if buyers continue to believe anything imported is superior as a rule.

The full report – at almost 300 pages and includes a CD-ROM – could contain some of those questions. But I’m not willing to fork over the 1,000 Euros to find out. One thing is certain though, plenty of market-hungry importers will cough up the cash in hopes of flooding our shelves with product that will find its way into to the Canadian consumer’s selective heart.

Incidentally, VinExpo runs June 21-25 this year in Bordeaux, France. Check out for details.

And speaking of upcoming events, check out the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, which this year celebrates British Columbia as the feature wine region for the first time – in anticipation of 2010. Tickets for signature events sell out fast, so if you intend to go, you’ll want to book early. In the coming weeks, I’ll spotlight some of the go-to events that shouldn’t be missed.

Wine Notes

Mission Hill 2006 Reserve Shiraz
Aromas: Chocolate, black cherry, white peppercorn, smoked meat, herbaceous, flinty chalk, coffee bean
Flavours: Savoury, herbal, black cherry, pepper, chalk, smoked meat, cocoa bean, expresso
Body and Finish: A savoury, racy fresh palate with good mid-palate weight, peppery, slight hot finish
Overall Impression: Elegant for its price point, more European in style. Not a fruit bomb
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drinkable now with food, cellar up to five years
Score: 89
Price: $22
Availability: BC LDBS, VQA shops, private retailers

Sumac Ridge 2007 Pinnacle (White)
Aromas: Honey, butter, spice, orange rind, mineral, grapefruit, tropical fruit, ginger and floral notes
Flavours: Citrus, apple, spice, mineral, ginger, butter, herbal, olive, floral, lemon oil
Body and Finish: Fresh entry with mouthfilling and butter texture on the palate and some zip on the finish
Overall Impression: Quite complex, robust, yet has some zip. Drink well chilled
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: 89
Price: $25
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Fairview Cellars 2007 Sauvignon Blanc
Aromas: Gooseberry, fresh grass, lemon peel, grapefruit rind, mineral, green apple skin
Flavours: Cut grass, mineral, white grapefruit, lemon, spice, herbal, apple skin and a touch of salt Body and Finish: Racy, lemony, zippy entry that dances on the tongue…finish is fresh and lingering with a hit of saltiness that makes this wine sing
Overall Impression: Quintessential version, loads of racy acidity, all that you want front this variety. And this was just a barrel sample
Would I Buy It? Absolutely
Cellaring Potential: Drink when its released
Score: 91
Price: $TBA
Availability: Winery, private retailers

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wine Q&A: Can My Diet Include Wine?

Q: Going on a diet may be clichéd when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, but I am committed to losing 20-30 pounds in 2009. I plan to do it by eating sensibly and exercising, instead of following an expensive program or some fad diet. The trouble is I LOVE wine and would hate to give it up. But everything I have read indicates that clear liquors are ok but wine is a no-no when it comes to dieting. Why is that? Is there such a thing as a low-calorie wine? Do you have any suggestions on how I can include wine in my weight-loss program?
- Jennifer

A: Most dieticians would say that anything in moderation is acceptable, but if you’re like me you probably find that advice hollow and unsatisfactory.

Actually I can totally relate to your dilemma. A broken foot brought my otherwise active lifestyle to an abrupt halt a number of years ago. While it healed I became lazy so even after I was fully on my feet again it took months to shake the lethargy. That resulted in a shocking weight gain. For the record, I managed to shed my extra pounds without giving up wine – more on that later. Let’s address some of your questions first.

Booze in any way, shape or form is a weight watcher's nemesis. They don’t call it “bellying up to the bar” for nothing. While “clear liquors” like vodka or gin may have relatively fewer calories than wine, the minute you add a mixer like cranberry juice or tonic water, all bets are off – unless you choose diet pop or soda water, in which case, why bother at all?

A lot of people who monitor their waistline don't factor alcohol into the equation. Unfortunately, all booze (clear liquors included) contains extra calories that our bodies don't typically use for energy. The calories from alcohol are easily stored as body fat, which then cause weight gain.

When it comes to wine, there are a couple things to consider when dieting: alcohol content and sugar. You might be surprised to know that robust Australian Shiraz may contain as many calories as a luscious Icewine. That’s because all the sugar that was in the grapes grown for the Shiraz was fermented into alcohol which will drive up the calorie count. The Icewine may be far sweeter, but it is typically much lower in alcohol.

Therein lies the real rub.

Another caveat when it comes to wine consumption is using a generic calorie-counting formula. Most basic dietary information pegs an average glass of wine at about 80 calories.

That doesn't sound so bad, right? But it’s time for a rude awakening. “Average” according to this formula is three to five ounces of wine at 10-12 per cent alcohol.

I don't know about you, but I don't know anyone who considers three to five ounces a “glass.” Most people will pour about eight ounces. Heck, I own stemware that can hold half a bottle.

And 10 per cent alcohol may have been common when bell bottoms were first in fashion, but today the demand for fuller, richer wines has driven up the average to 14-15 per cent.

The proper formula in the real world for calculating the calories in a glass of dry wine is this: 1.6 multiplied by percentage of alcohol multiplied by number of ounces. So if you drink eight ounces at 14 per cent alcohol, the calorie count is 180.

If you've got a penchant for big reds, which can tip the scales at 16 per cent alcohol, you're sipping 204 calories. Drink a whole bottle -- which a lot of people have been known to do -- and you're in the 610 to 665 calorie range. That, my friends, is more than in a Big Mac.

There's something else to consider -- booze gives us the munchies. Alcohol increases your appetite and the more you drink, the more your resolve will dissolve. That's OK if you reach for the carrot sticks, but most people tend to snack on foods higher in fat. The truth is, it's not just a beer gut you're packing, it's a nacho chips and cheese gut.

If you're a wine weenie like me, the danger zone is with those wine receptions, themed dinners and festivals where platters of triple cream brie, crustinis and fois gras are the norm.

So how did I do it? Since sampling wine is part of my work, avoiding it altogether simply wasn’t practical. So anything I tried for review purposes I spit out. I restricted actual consumption to two days a week and factored it into my diet plan as an actual food. On days I indulged in a glass or two of wine, I gave up a high-calorie carb to compensate such as potatoes, rice or pasta. And I assumed each glass was the equivalent to 250 calories to err on the side of caution. Another thing that worked for me was matching each sip of wine with a healthy gulp of water. It helped me drink my wine slower and filled me up so I craved less. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to pull it off with monumental self-control.

One final tip: read the label and stick to dry wines with moderate levels of alcohol such as Riesling, Chasselas, Chenin Blanc in the case of whites, and Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir in the case of reds.

Good luck!

In Focus: Midpalate

I am often asked to explain this tasting term used by critics. The “entry” is that initial impression you get when you first sip the wine, while the “finish” is the aftertaste and length when you swallow or spit. The “midpalate” is in between those two elements and simply refers a sense of the wine “unfolding” in your mouth. Typically, this is when you notice secondary, more complex or understated flavours that should form the most lasting impression on you as the drinker. Unfortunately, a high percentage of wine consumers skip this important step by drinking their wine too quickly. It’s crucial to savour the wine at the midpalate in order to fully appreciate it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentine's Wines from the Heart

By Julianna Hayes
There’s little dispute that among the people I know wine plays a supporting role when it comes to romance and seduction.

In fact, I’m willing to bet a good number of them hooked up after a glass or four of wine. It sets the mood and lowers inhibitions in a way other romantic task masters – such as roses, candlelight and chocolate – never could.

Even the language of wine is sensual with words like body and legs, soft and silky, racy and spicy, robust and voluptuous often peppering in its descriptions.

Thus it stands to reason that wine would be a key component when it comes to wooing a significant other or potential one on Valentine’s Day.

By virtue of its colour, people are typically drawn to red wine. Indeed that hue is Valentine’s Day’s signature shade. In the weeks leading up February 14th, one can’t walk into a shopping mall without being bombarded visually by red heart-shaped boxes, ribbons and bows.

Sales (and prices) of red roses go through the roof – in fact, they make up more than 50 per cent of floral purchases by star-struck lovers. I suspect that percentage would be higher if the supply of healthy, full crimson blooms was plentiful. But last-minute courters are typically greeted by sickly, spent petals at $100 a dozen.

Statistics bear out that red wine – of which there is an endless supply – is also preferred by more than half of V-Day imbibers. And why not? Its luscious aromas and warm, rich flavours and mouth-filling texture are practically x-rated. Plus it’s likely to be a good match with those rich, dark chocolates you also purchased or received. But should you and your honey share a whole bottle of Cabernet, you’ll both be sporting ghastly purple teeth and breath to match, which might bring the whole seduction to a screeching halt.

My advice? Keep it light. That doesn’t mean you have to forgo red entirely, but consider brighter, fresher options with less tannin to avoid the “Dracula Effect.”

Depending on who you’re courting, and the mood you want to invoke, here are some options for romancing with wine this Valentine’s.

If your date is curvy, vibrant, sensual with a spicy personality:

Inniskillin 2007 Discovery Series Marsanne Roussanne $17
Apple sauce and baked pear, orange marmalade, butter, cardamom, baking spice, mineral. Slightly sweet palate of pear, apple sauce, spice and some nice acidity on the finish. 86/100

Quinta Ferreira 2007 Viognier $20
Butterscotch candy, baked apple, nutmeg, candied lemon peel, ginger, coconut. Fleshy palate with some buttery oak, lemon rind, ginger, apple. 86/100

Herder 2007 Chardonnay $20
Barlett pear, apple, bees wax, pineapple, orange peel, luscious with a touch of butter, candied tropical fruit and citrus peel. 87/100

Oliver Twist 2007 Chardonnay $20
Apple skin, peaches, cream, caramel, butter, tropical fruit. Slight sweet entry, mouthcoating balanced by nice acidity. 88/100

Summerhill 2007 Ehrenfelser $20
Mango, spice, honeyed citrus, peaches and cream aromas. On the palate the texture is luscious and tropical accented by pink grapefruit and spice. 89/100

For classy, reserved, well-read, sophisticated lovers

Nk’Mip 2007 Pinot Noir $18
Bright red fruits, some toast, leafy aromas, coffee bean, herbal, fruit leather. Quite silky on the palate with some bright red fruit and a touch of lifted citrus. Finishing clean. 85/100

Mission Hill 2007 Reserve Pinot Gris $22
Nectarine, apricot, floral notes with citrus peel and granny smith apple, plus a hint of spice. Fresh and lively on the palate with lemon oil, bright tree flavours and clean acidity on the finish. 88/100

Sumac Ridge 2001 Pinnacle Sparkling $35
Red berries, peaches, mineral, citrus zest, floral, yeast and lemon in the nose. Lovely effervescence and a nice aged quality plus plenty of citrus, tree fruit and yeasty flavours. 90/100

For fresh-faced, cheeky and outdoorsy dates who have a rebellious spirit

Dunham and Froese 2007 Rose $17
Red berries, earthy, mossy, savoury notes, citrus zest, spice. Lots of racy acidity on the palate with sour cherries, wild strawberries, snappy tart apple, spice. 88/100

Domaine de Chaberton 2007 Canoe North Bluff Pink $14
Bright sour cherries, cranberry, sweet strawberry and lifted citrus character. Zesty red berry flavours, nice acidity, clean finish. 85/100

For dark and brooding types for whom only the richest, heaviest reds will do:

Jackson Triggs 2006 Grand Reserve Shiraz $26
Chocolate, savoury notes, soya sauce, blueberry, black cherry, cassis, peppercorn, leather. Earthy, extracted dark fruit flavours, smoky notes, bittersweet chocolate, soya, pepper and heat on the finish. 91/100

CedarCreek 2006 Platinum Reserve Merlot $40
Plum, blackcherry, blueberry, coffee bean, cedar, spice, mocha, dark vanilla and marmalade. Luscious, mouthfilling and rich on the palate, with lifted acidity and a long finish. 92/100

For sweet-natured, perpetually happy types:

Mission Hill 2005 Late Harvest Riesling $30
Baked apple, spice, honey, apricots, lemon oil, butterscotch. Bright, luscious flavours balanced by good acidity. A dessert wine that’s not so cloying. 88/100

Tinhorn Creek 2007 Kerner Ice Wine $25
Apricots, marmalade, butterscotch, candied citrus peel, and some tropical fruit aromas. Luscious but not overly sticky on the palate. Finger-licking good. 89/100

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Do Wine Judges and Critics Lack Consistency?

By Julianna Hayes
If you’re the kind of wine consumer who relies on critical reviews or gold medals to decide what to drink, consider this: apparently, so-called experts like me can’t always tell when they’re sipping the same wine over and over again.

A four-year study published last week in the Journal of Wine Economics revealed that only 10 per cent of judges were able to consistently give the same rating, or something very close, to the identical wine sampled multiple times in a large blind tasting.

Even more unsettling is the fact that another 10 per cent of judges at the California State Fair gave the very same wine far different ratings, ranging from deserving of a gold medal to meriting no medal at all.

Now you might think that the small percentage who gave consistent scores would be considered “super judges” and would be the “go-to” people for future competitions and ratings, but you’d be wrong. The study also found that these judges didn’t maintain their consistency from year to year.


In the wine-soaked movie, Sideways, the character Maya spoke about wine being a “living thing” that is constantly changing. “I love how wine continues to evolve, how every time I open a bottle it's going to taste different than if I had opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive.”

Though Maya may have been a fictional person, what she said is, in fact, true. And it accounts for how judges in one competition could assess a wine differently months later in another. But it can’t easily explain away how a wine can be so profoundly different to the same taster on the same day.

"Consumers should have a healthy skepticism about the medals awarded to wines from the various competitions," said Roberts Hodgson, a retired Humboldt State professor, who conducted the study.

He also said he doesn't have any more faith in the 100-point-scale ratings of wines in magazines, newspapers and newsletters, like the ones published in this column.

I have always said consumers shouldn’t be distracted by shiny hardware or allow reviews to dictate their buying patterns. That’s because I want them to have the confidence to trust their own palates and decide for themselves what they like. But I realize the findings of this study are troublesome.

There are, however, some explanations. Despite its glamorous image, if you’ve ever had the opportunity to observe a wine judging, or better yet, serve as a “ghost judge,” you’d understand how gruelling an ordeal it is. It’s not uncommon for a taster to sample in excess of 100 wines in a sitting. Over time our once fresh palates will become weary and battered, even though we’re spitting and cleansing with water regularly. I leave the judges’ chambers with teeth befitting a ghoul and a tongue that tastes like my gym socks.

I’ve noticed throughout the exercise that my taste buds start to get numb, but my sense of smell gets more heightened. Thus I suspect if a wine I tasted earlier in the competition appeared again before me later in the day, I might notice less on the palate but more in the nose and those differences may or may not do the wine justice.

And like how food will change how a wine tastes, sampling other wines will affect our perspective of a given wine’s characteristics.

Consumers may be alarmed by these factors but they should consider a few things before dismissing the worthiness of all those gold medal wines they’ve invested in over the years. First of all, no wine wins or loses on the say so of a single judge. There has to be a majority consensus of the panel – usually consisting of a half dozen or more judges – for a bottle to score gold.

The second consideration is that most wines aren’t awarded the top prizes based on just one taste. Typically, wines that show well get pushed forward for a second tasting, usually the next day when the judges’ palates will be refreshed and they’ll also be trying a new bottle.

Is the situation ideal? No, but wine, and one’s perspective of it, is subjective – I’ve never pretended otherwise.

The study has prompted California State Fair officials to consider changes in the way they operate future wine competitions.

They plan to reduce the number of wines sampled per day -- currently is 150 or more -- to around 75 to in hopes of avoiding palate fatigue. They also want to start weeding out judges who demonstrate a lack of consistency year after year.

Hodgson, who taught oceanography and statistics at the university, now owns Fieldbrook Winery in Humboldt County. He designed the study because he didn't understand why "we would have wines that we sent off and would get gold medals in some competitions and in others would get poop. It seemed like a gold medal was just a matter of luck."

But the study’s findings have created a bit of a quandary for Hodgson, who has been using medals to sell his wines.

“And now I have written this paper saying the wine competition system that awards those medals isn't perfect."

Wine Notes

Township 7 2006 Chardonnay
Aromas: Butter, orange rind, vanilla, tropical fruit, peaches, lemon oil, some mineral
Flavours: Fresh tropical fruit, citrus rind, butter, spice, caramel
Body and Finish: Bright ripe fruit entry, soft and round with a layer of butter on the palate, clean finish
Overall Impression: Consistently well made year after year. Definitely for those who like some oak that is not overdone
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: 88
Price: $20
Availability: BC LDBS, VQA shops, private retailers

Mission Hill Five Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Merlot
Aromas: Chocolate covered cherries, cassis, menthol, earth, pepper, coffee bean
Flavours: Bright, jammy fruit, pepper, spice, black cherry, dusty chocolate, herbaceous notes
Body and Finish: Bold entry with nice weighty texture on the palate, moderate tannins, slightly spicy finish
Overall Impression: Budget-friendly wine is stylish and shows good depth
Would I Buy It? Once in a while
Cellaring Potential: Drinkable now, cellar up to five years
Score: 88
Price: $19
Availability: BC LDBS, VQA shops, private retailers

Zero Balance 2007 Project
Aromas: Quite aromatic with peach, nectarine, marmalade, floral and spicy notes
Flavours: Peach, apricot, nectarine, spice, some mineral
Body and Finish: Racy entry with luscious fruit and good mid-palate acidity
Overall Impression: A bright, easy to drink wine with some residual sugar making it a good choice for Asian fare – Another Holman Lang enterprise on the Naramata Bench
Would I Buy It? Occasionally
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: 86
Price: $18
Availability: BC LDBS, VQA shops, private retailers

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Is That the Sound of Prices Falling?

By Julianna Hayes

Last January when the first rumblings of an economic slowdown were making themselves heard, I recall real estate purveyors trying to soothe frayed nerves with reports suggesting the market had “slowed but was holding steady.”

Despite the fact the real estate crisis south of the border was beginning to creep north of the 39th, there was this sense in the Okanagan that we were immune, untouchable even. After all, this is a highly desirable place to live – we certainly couldn’t anticipate the same challenges as Pilot Butte, Saskatchewan, or Wawa, Ontario.

I was well acquainted with the hopeful sentiments as we were preparing to list our home. We simply couldn’t imagine the white hot real estate market in our area could turn stone cold in short order.

Yet, now a year later, the average price of a family home in Kelowna has been dropping at an alarming rate and people in need of selling are helpless as their precious equity circles the drain. Our house still isn’t sold and it’s now listed for almost $100,000 less than realtors originally suggested we ask for it.

Where am I going with this – aside from lamenting my own sad story? Well, I’m now wondering what the future holds for the wine industry, particularly on the local front.

Much has been written on the subject in recent months – but the reports have been contradictory. Studies indicate that wine consumption in most parts of the world, including Canada, is actually up, but others suggest that wine sales are down, which doesn’t seem to jive.

It all made sense when I came across some numbers from – an online U.S. retailer that moves a tremendous amount of product. It reported that the number of bottles it sold in December 2008 was 15 per cent higher than what was peddled the same month last year. But – and it’s a big one – the average price of a bottle of wine sold in December 2008 was 17 per cent below the average price of one sold in December 2007.

So Americans seem to be drinking more, but what they’re drinking is quite a bit cheaper.

If this same trend also spreads north, that unfortunately doesn’t bode well for the B.C. wine industry. Since 1992, the average cost of a bottle of VQA wine has virtually tripled. It will now cost you $17.83 for a wine that typically retailed for $6.86 17 years ago.

Those consumers with loyalty to all things local may simply opt step down a tier and buy more wallet friendly B.C. products – perhaps driving prices down. That would be the best case scenario. The worst case would be if wine enthusiasts looking to save a buck simply switch to cheap and cheerful imports without giving the domestic market a chance to correct itself.

There has already been a softening of the once incredibly buoyant local wine market. The dollar value of VQA wine sales rose four per cent in 2007/08, but that was entirely due to price changes. The volume of sales actually dropped by three per cent. This is following double digit volume growth in six of the seven years leading up to this period.

In an industry where owning a winery seemed like a license to print money, this slowdown may come as a shock to local producers, especially if we haven’t seen the worst of it. Many of the more exclusive vintners have become accustomed to their wines being in high demand, selling out long before most people get a taste. There’s a certain headiness to that power. But enthusiasm seems to be dwindling. Indeed, I’ve noticed more and more elusive bottles lurking on retail shelves – selection is better than ever.

Despite all the doom and gloom, two major events are coming up that will thrust B.C. wines into the spotlight. The Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, one of the world’s oldest and most respected wine events, has selected B.C. as this year’s theme region. The event, scheduled March 23-29, is expected to attract some 25,000 consumers and trades people globally. These are individuals with substantial buying power and, assuming the wines show well, sales should be brisk.

B.C.’s selection as the theme region is to whet appetites for local wine in anticipation of the other event I want to mention – the 2010 Olympics. I expect visitors for the games will snap up B.C. bottles simply out of curiosity, given that the local industry is largely unknown in other parts of the world.

Speaking of the Playhouse Festival, consumer tickets go on sale Tuesday and are known to sell out fast, particularly for signature and key events related to the theme region. Call 604-873-3311 for more information or visit

Wine Notes

Burrowing Owl 2007 Chardonnay
Aromas: Baked apple, vanilla, butter, orange peel, mineral, spice
Flavours: Apple, nutmeg, vanilla, citrus, butter, peach, mineral, lime
Body and Finish: Quite luscious on the entry with good weight on the midpalate, mouthcoating but clean on the finish
Overall Impression: Lovely effort without the overkill of oak.
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now, but could cellar a couple years
Score: 88/100
Price: $25
Availability: Winery, some VQA shops, private retailers

Twist Tree 2006 Syrah
Aromas: Black fruits, meaty, pepper, orange rind, black vanilla, earth
Flavours: Earth, ripe black fruits, citrus peel, pepper and vanilla
Body and Finish: Ripe fruit entry with a weighty palate and a long slightly hot finish and good acidity
Overall Impression: Nicely done and a reasonable price for Syrah.
Would I Buy It? Once in a while
Cellaring Potential: 2-5 years
Score: 87/100
Price: $25
Availability: Winery, private retailers

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Top Drops of 2008

By Julianna Hayes

From the mail I get, the article identifying my top 25 wines of the previous year seems to be my most anticipated column.

While I try to impress upon people to trust their own palates, I understand the appeal a list of this nature has to the consumer. I also clip recommendations of this type written by other critics. I enjoy discovering new wines and I want to taste anything a critic raves about that I haven’t tried yet.

I was asked last year how I selected the wines for this list. I can tell you it isn’t easy. It’s not a matter of simply selecting the wines that got the highest scores, but also about the wines which made the best impression on me. Certain wines seem to leave their mark and typically they are ones I choose to fill my own cellar – assuming I can even find them again.

Here are my 25 picks from the past year. I’m including brief tasting notes.

My Top 25 Drops of 2008

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

2. Lang 2007 Farm Reserve Riesling $20
Fabulously bright, green apple, white peach, mineral, spice, lime and the slightest hint of petrol. Loads of mouth watering acidity and a snappy finish that lingers.

3. Black Hills Nota Bene 2006 $43
Black cherry, cassis, black plum, smoke, tobacco, menthol, leather, earth, toast, blueberry and violets. Big entry, firm tannins and elongated finish
Overall Impression: A yummy wine with a lot big fruit and surprisingly easy to drink for its youth.

4. Sandhill 2006 Phantom Creek Vineyard Small Lots Syrah $35
Black cherry, cassis, black pepper, jam, violet, chocolate, herbal notes, toast. Luscious entry with a great deal of complexity on the palate, moderate tannins, slightly hot, elongated finish.

5. Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2006 $33
Cedar, savoury, earthy, chocolate, dried cherries, bell pepper, orange rind, cigar box, black pepper. Hard tannins require some time in the bottle.

6. Sumac Ridge 2005 Pinnacle (Red) $50
Blackberry, tobacco, leather, plum, jammy black fruits, nuts, baking spice, olive. Ripe, luscious entry, velvety texture, rich, warm and mouthfilling, extended finish, moderate tannins

7. La Frenz 2005 Shiraz $29

Earthy, cherry, plum, pepper, a bit of smoke and savoury meatyness. Spicy, plum, blueberries, cherries, sweet oak on the palate. Elegant and silky texture, medium weight, supple tannins and elongated finish.

8. CedarCreek 2006 Platinum Reserve Merlot $40
Spice, plum, black cherry, blueberry fruit, chocolate, orange peel, vanilla, mineral and some savoury notes. Luscious big fruit on the palate with a long finish. Needs some age.

9. Jackson-Triggs 2006 SunRock Vineyard Shiraz $35
Peppery, meaty, savoury, earthy notes with black fruits, a touch of smoke, and chocolate. Quite firm tannins, and a slightly hot finish that will soften up over time.

10. Laughing Stock Portfolio 2006 $39
Black fruits, dried cherries, chocolate, mint, dark vanilla, leather, violets, coffee bean, leather, meaty notes with ripe luscious black fruits on the palate. Savoury finish, lovely effort.

11. Quails’ Gate 2006 Family Reserve Chardonnay $30
Apple, pear, vanilla, citrus, buttery leesy notes with nutty, spicy, baked apple character in flavours. Mouth-coating and buttery on the finish.

12. Stoneboat Vineyards 2006 Pinot Noir $22
Nice complexity on the nose with bright fruit aromas of Bing cherry, straw.berry and a touch of rhubarb accented by tobacco, vanilla, white pepper and a bit of smoke. upple mouthfeel with bright fruit flavours, pepper and good length on the finish.

13. Sumac Ridge 2004 Steller’s Brut $27
Displaying a fine mousse with long lasting bubbles and a slightly peachy hue. This sparkling wine offers up a crisp nose, aromas of apples, yeasty notes and mineral. Nice, clean effervescence on the palate with loads of crisp acidity on the finish.

14. Wild Goose 2007 Autumn Gold $19
A delightful blend that includes Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer, it features baked apple, rose petal, apricot and spicy notes. Bright and fresh fruit character on the palate with some mineral and lime on the finish.

15. Road 13 2007 Old Vines Chenin Blanc $18
Floral, grass, green jujubes, green apple, mineral, yellow grapefruit, lime, gooseberry. Clean, crisp entry, touch of spritz on the palate, zippy finish. Fabulous price.

16. Blasted Church 2006 Syrah $27
Perfumy aromas of blueberry, plum, violets, blackberry jam, pie crust, vanilla and spice. Luscious on the plate with black fruit flavours, lots of elegance and a smooth, round and slightly spicy finish.

17. Red Rooster Winery 2006 Malbec $23
Complex nose of crushed violets, plum, blueberry, leather, pepper spice, smoky oak, vanilla. A big, weighty mouth feel with good fruit concentration, toasty oak, coffee bean, earth and moderate to firm tannins.

18. Tinhorn Creek 2005 Oldfield’s Collection Merlot $28
Excellent effort – gets better each year. Features jammy blackberry, black cherry, herbaceous, savoury flavours, some menthol. Robust on the palate with a long peppery finish.

19. Osoyoos Larose 2006 Le Grand Vin $45
Black cherry, pepper, savoury, leather, black vanilla, coffee, meaty, smoke, herbaceous notes, licorice, black olive. Has flavours of black cherry, herbal, leather, spice, earthy, coffee bean, meaty, vanilla. Elegant and multi-layered.

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

21. Church & State 2006 Syrah $26
Black cherry, mocha, pepper, some savoury notes, licorice, vanilla. Black fruit flavours, mocha, smooth tannins, orange peel. Quite pleasant to drink even young.

22. Inniskillin 2005 Discovery Series Zinfandel $30
Bing cherry, blackberry, jam, chocolate, perfume, coffee, toast, earth. Licorice, pepper, vanilla. Super ripe and luscious, full bodied wine. Well made.

23. Quinta Ferreira 2006 Obru-Prima $35
Blackberry jam, plum, pie crust, smoke, violets, cedar, coffee, vanilla, spice. Luscious ripe fruit, big mouthfeel, dryness on the mid-palate with some tannin and a long peppery finish.

24. Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay 2006 $25
Aromas of baked apple, honey, spice with leesy and oily notes. Flavours of pear, apple, honey, spice and a creamy, fat, sweet, nutty texture in the mouth. One of the bigger, creamier B.C. chards with. Appealing to those who like fat, juicy wines a touch on the sweet side.

25. Van Westen 2007 Viognier $25
Distinct spicy, ginger, butter, floral, peach and lemony character. Apple and lemon peel, some floral, orange flavours. Crisp citrusy finish.