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.