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.